A fallback method of installing Nightingale in Linux

When I upgraded to Ubuntu GNOME 13.10 and went for the 64-bit variant, I tried a previously tried and tested approach for installing Nightingale that used a PPA only for it not to work. At that point, the repository had not caught up with the latest Ubuntu release (it has by the time of writing) and other pre-compiled packages would not work either. However, there was one further possibility left and that was downloading a copy of the source code and compiling that. My previous experiences of doing that kind of thing have not been universally positive so it was not my first choice but I gave it a go anyway.

In order to get the source code, I first needed to install Git so I could take a copy from the version controlled repository and the following command added the tool and all its dependencies:

sudo apt-get install git autoconf g++ libgtk2.0-dev libdbus-glib-1-dev libtag1-dev libgstreamer-plugins-base0.10-dev zip unzip

With that lot installed, it was time to checkout a copy of the latest source code and I went with the following:

git clone https://github.com/nightingale-media-player/nightingale-hacking.git

The next step was to go into the nightingale-hacking sub-folder and issue the following command:

./build.sh

That should produce a sub-directory named nightingale that contains the compiled executable files. If this exists, it can be copied into /opt. If not, then create a folder named nightingale under /opt using copy the files from ~/nightingale-hacking/compiled/dist into that location. Ubuntu GNOME 13.10 comes with GNOME Shell 3.8, the next step took a little fiddling before it was sorted: adding an icon to application menu or dashboard. This involved adding a file called nightingale.desktop in /usr/share/applications/ with the following contents:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Nightingale
Comment=Play music
TryExec=/opt/nightingale/nightingale
Exec=/opt/nightingale/nightingale
Icon=/usr/share/pixmaps/nightingale.xpm
Type=Application
X-GNOME-DocPath=nightingale/index.html
X-GNOME-Bugzilla-Bugzilla=Nightingale
X-GNOME-Bugzilla-Product=nightingale
X-GNOME-Bugzilla-Component=BugBuddyBugs
X-GNOME-Bugzilla-Version=1.1.2
Categories=GNOME;Audio;Music;Player;AudioVideo;
StartupNotify=true
OnlyShowIn=GNOME;Unity;
Keywords=Run;
Actions=New
X-Ubuntu-Gettext-Domain=nightingale

[Desktop Action New]
Name=Nightingale
Exec=/opt/nightingale/nightingale
OnlyShowIn=Unity

It was created from a copy of another *.desktop file and the categories in there together with the link to the icon were as important as the title and took a little tinkering before all was in place.  Also, you may find that /opt/nightingale/chrome/icons/default/default.xpm needs to be become /usr/share/pixmaps/nightingale.xpm using the cp command before your new menu entry gains an icon to go with it. While the steps that I describe here worked for me, there is more information on the Nightingale wiki if you need it.

Setting up a WD My Book Live NAS on Ubuntu GNOME 13.10

The official line from Western Digital is that they do not support the use of their My Book Live NAS drives with Linux or UNIX. However, what that means is that they only develop tools for accessing their products for Windows and maybe OS X. It still doesn’t mean that you cannot access the drive’s configuration settings by pointing your web browser at http://mybooklive.local/. In fact, not having those extra tools is no drawback at all since the drive can be accessed through your file manager of choice under the Network section and the default name is MyBookLive too so you easily can find the thing once it is connected to a router or switch anyway.

Once you are in the servers web configuration area, you can do things like changing its name, updating its firmware, finding out what network has been assigned to it, creating and deleting file shares, password protecting file shares and other things. These are the kinds of things that come in handy if you are going to have a more permanent connection to the NAS from a PC that runs Linux. The steps that I describe have worked on Ubuntu 12.04 and 13.10 with the GNOME  desktop environment.

What I was surprised to discover that you cannot just set up a symbolic link that points to a file share. Instead, it needs to be mounted and this can be done from the command line using mount or at start-up with /etc/fstab. For this to happen, you need the Common Internet File System utilities and these are added as follows if you need them (check on the Software Software or in Synaptic):

sudo apt-get install cifs-utils

Once these are added, you can add a line like the following to /etc/fstab:

//[NAS IP address]/[file share name] /[file system mount point] cifs
credentials=[full file location]/.creds,
iocharset=utf8,
sec=ntlm,
gid=1000,
uid=1000,
file_mode=0775,
dir_mode=0775
0 0

Though I have broken it over several lines above, this is one unwrapped line in /etc/fstab with all the fields in square brackets populated for your system and with no brackets around these. Though there are other ways to specify the server, using its IP address is what has given me the most success and this is found under Settings > Network on the web console. Next up is the actual file share name on the NAS and I have used a custom them instead of the default of Public. The NAS file share needs to be mounted to an actual directory in your file system like /media/nas or whatever you like and you will need to create this beforehand. After that, you have to specify the file system and it is cifs instead of more conventional alternatives like ext4 or swap. After this and before the final two space delimited zeroes in the line comes the chunk that deals with the security of the mount point.

What I have done in my case is to have a password protected file share and the user ID and password have been placed in a file in my home area with only the owner having read and write permissions for it (600 in chmod-speak). Preceding the filename with a “.” also affords extra invisibility. That file then is populated with the user ID and password like the following. Of course, the bracketed values have to be replaced with what you have in your case.

username=[NAS file share user ID]
password=[NAS file share password]

With the credentials file created, its options have to be set. First, there is the character set of the file (usually UTF-8 and I got error code 79 when I mistyped this) and the security that is to be applied to the credentials (ntlm in this case). To save having no write access to the mounted file share, the uid and gid for your user needs specification with 1000 being the values for the first non-root user created on a Linux system. After that, it does no harm to set the file and directory permissions because they only can be set at mount time; using chmod, chown and chgrp later on has no effect whatsoever. Here, I have set permissions to read, write and execute for the owner and the user group while only allowing read and execute access for everyone else (that’s 775 in the world of chmod).

All of what I have described here worked for me and had to gleaned from disparate sources like Mount Windows Shares Permanently from the Ubuntu Wiki, another blog entry regarding the permissions settings for a CIFS mount point and an Ubuntu forum posting on mounting CIFS with UTF-8 support. Because of the scattering of information, I just felt that it needed to all together in one place for others to use and I hope that fulfils someone else’s needs in a similar way to mine.

A place for GNOME?

There has been a lot of doom and gloom spoken about the GNOME desktop environment and the project behind it. These days it seems to be the fashionable thing to go constantly criticising it, especially after what Linus Torvalds said. KDE went through the same sort of experience a few years ago and seems to have got far enough beyond it that some are choosing it in preference to GNOME. For a good while, it was the other way around.

Since its inception, the GNOME Shell has attracted a lot of adverse comment. However, since my first encounter, it has grown on me to the point that I add it to Ubuntu and Linux Mint and use it as my default desktop environment instead of Unity, Mate or Cinnamon. The first of these may not be so surprising because of the unique approach has been taken. The use of lenses and an application launch bar are items to which I could adapt but its the merging of application menus and title bars with the top panel of the desktop that really puts me off it. Application window buttons can be moved to the right everywhere but on this global menu so I tend to view things from afar instead of using it everyday. There just is something about the experience that won’t grow on me. Strangely, that also applies to my impressions of KDE albeit in a different; there just is something less slick about the appearance of the bottom panel, the plasmoids and other items like them.

Given that Mate and Cinnamon continue the GNOME 2 approach to things that dominated my home computing for much of the last five years since I turned to Ubuntu, my decision to use GNOME Shell in preference to either come as a surprise. It isn’t that the environments aren’t slick enough but that I have come to prefer the way that GNOME Shell handles workspaces, spawning them as you need them. If that could be an option in Cinnamon, then it might become my desktop of choice but that seems to go against the philosophy of the project even if someone adds and extension for it.

For a time, I played with going with LXDE rather than either Unity or GNOME Shell; as it happened, my first impressions of the latter weren’t so positive until I spent a day with the GNOME variant of Fedora 15. Being not dissimilar to GNOME 2 in the way that it worked was the main attraction of LXDE and my initial use of it was with Lubuntu running on a netbook; the LXDE version of Linux Mint 12 now runs on it so there hasn’t been so much change on that machine.

Sometimes, the only way to deal with change is to take a look at it to see what’s coming and to decide what you need to do about it. In the case to GNOME Shell, my day with Fedora 15 on a backup PC changed my impressions and Linux Mint 11’s GNOME 2 desktop looked a bit old-fashioned afterwards. In fact, I popped GNOME 3 on there and have been using it as my main desktop environment ever since.

In computing, there always are some who expect things to just work and be the way that they want them. The need for extra configuration is a criticism that still can be levelled at GNOME Shell. Before going with Mate and Cinnamon, Linux Mint went the same way and I wonder what be done with such an approach. Will someone else pick up that baton and do the handiwork so that users don’t have to do it? Not yet, it seems. Since no one is following the lead of Linux Mint 12, there is a need for user tweaking and I have found which ones work for me and it no longer takes so to do them either.

The first place to begin is GNOME’s Extensions website and I raid a few extensions from there every time I do an operating system installation. The Alternative Status Menu extension is among the first to get added so that I have the shutdown option again on the user menu, a common criticism of the default set up. Since I always install the GNOME Tweak Tool from the distro repositories, I add the Advanced Setting in User Menu extension to get an entry in the status menu that grants quick access. Frippery Bottom Panel comes next on the list because of its workspace switcher and application window list. Others like Frippery Move Clock, Monitor Status Indicator, Places Status Indicator, Removable Drive Menu, Remove Accessibility, Shell Restart User Menu Entry and User Themes follow in some order and make things feel more pleasing, at least to my mind.

You aren’t stuck with the default theme either and I have chosen Elementary Luna from deviantART. For adding your own themes, the above listed User Themes extension is needed. Because I want Frippery Bottom Panel to match the top panel, I tweak its stylesheet and that’s where the Restart User Menu Entry extension comes in handy, though some care is needed not to crash the desktop with constant shell restarts.

Doing the above makes GNOME Shell really amenable to me and I wouldn’t like to lose that freedom to customise. Saying that, the continued controversial changes aren’t stopping yet. Those made to the Nautilus file manager in GNOME 3.6 have caused the Linux Mint project to create Nemo, a fork of the software, and Ubuntu is sticking with the previous version for now. Taking some action yourself instead of just complaining loudly sounds a more positive approach and it too makes its own statement. Many want the GNOME project team to listen to users and the new Nautilus appears not to be what they needed to see. Could the project go on like this? Only time can answer that one.

While it appears that many have changed from GNOME to other desktop environments, I haven’t come across any numbers. A reducing user base could be one way of sending a message and it makes use of a great feature of free software: there is plenty of choice. If the next version of Nautilus isn’t to my taste, there are plenty of alternatives out there. After all, Cinnamon started on Linux Mint and has gone from there to being available for other distros too; Fedora is one example. Nemo could follow suit.

Now that GNOME’s constituent applications are seeing changes, it may be that GNOME Shell is left to mature. Computer interfaces are undergoing a lot of change at the moment and Microsoft Windows 8 is bringing its own big leap. Though controversial at the time, change can be a good thing too and us technical folk always like seeing new things come along (today saw the launch of iPhone 5 and many folk queueing up for it; Google’s Nexus 7 ran out of stock in its first weeks on the market; there are more). That could be what got me using GNOME 3 in the first place and my plan is to stick with it for a while yet.

Widely differing approaches

The computer on which I am writing these words is running Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop environment, a fork of GNOME Shell. This looks as if it is going to be the default face of GNOME 3 in the next version of Linux Mint with the MGSE dressing up of GNOME Shell looking more and more like an interim measure until something more consistent was available. Some complained that what was delivered in version 12 of the distribution was a sort of greatest hits selection but I reckon that bets were being hedged by the project team.

Impressions of what’s coming

By default, you get a single panel at the bottom of your screen with everything you need in there. However, it is possible to change the layout so that the panel is at the top or there are two panels, one at the top and the other at the bottom. So far, there is no means of configuring which panel applet goes where as was the case in Linux Mint 11 and its predecessors. However, the default placements are very sensible so I have no cause for complaint at this point.

Just because you cannot place applets doesn’t mean that there is no configurability though. Cinnamon is extensible and you can change the way that time is displayed in the clock as well as enabling additional applets. It also is possible to control visual effects such as the way new application windows pop up on a screen.

GNOME 3 is there underneath all of this though there’s no sign of the application dashboard of GNOME Shell. The continually expanding number of slots in the workspace launcher is one sign as is the enabling of a hotspot at the top right hand corner by default. This brings up an overview screen showing what application windows are open in a workspace. The new Mint menu even gets the ability to search through installed applications together with the ability to browser through what what’s available.

In summary, Cinnamon already looks good though a little polish and extra configuration options wouldn’t go amiss. An example of the former is the placement of desktop numbers in the workspace switcher and I already have discussed the latter.  It does appear that the Linux Mint approach to desktop environments is taking shape with a far more conventional feel that the likes of Unity or GNOME Shell. Just as Cinnamon has become available in openSUSE, I can see it gracing LMDE too whenever Debian gets to moving over to GNOME 3 as must be inevitable now unless they take another approach such as MATE.

In comparison with revolution

While Linux Mint are choosing convention and streamlining GNOME to their own designs, it seems that Ubuntu’s Unity is getting ever more experimental as the time when Ubuntu simply evolved from one release to the next becomes an increasingly more distant memory. The latest development is the announcement that application menus could get replaced by a heads up display (HUD) instead. That would be yet another change made by what increasingly looks like a top down leadership reminiscent of what exists at Apple. While it is good to have innovation, you have to ask where users fit in all of this but Linux Mint already has gained from what has been done so far and may gain more again. Still, seeing what happens to the Ubuntu sounds like an interesting pastime though I’m not sure that I’d be depending on the default spin of this distro as my sole operating system right now. Also, changing the interface every few months wouldn’t work in a corporate environment at all so you have to wonder where Mark Shuttleworth is driving all this though Microsoft is engaging in a bit of experimentation of its own. We are living in interesting times for the computer desktop and it’s just as well that there are safe havens like Linux Mint too. Watching from afar sounds safer.

A few thoughts on Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 1

After an aborted installation in VirtualBox using the direct installation, I got a VM instance of Ubuntu 12.04 in place by installing from a loaded Live CD session. That proceeded without any trouble and downloaded the required updates too. First impressions revealed a polished Unity interface that ran without any crashes. Adding VirtualBox’s Guest Additions in the usual way was all that was needed to tart up the experience even more. However, there remains a wish list for improvements to unity so here are mine:

  1. Merging of an application title bar with the desktop’s top panel on maximisation: In 11.10, removing the appmenu packages does force menus into application windows and that seems to be destined as a configurable item in Unity at some point; it’d be good to see it in 12.04 though it’s not in the first alpha release. the merging of the panel and title bar would be a good thing to have as a user setting too because I am unconvinced by the current behaviour when there is plenty of screen space.
  2. Rearranging icons on the application launcher: There seems to be no obvious way to do this at the moment and attempting to move them with a mouse only moves the launcher up and down. There is no doubt that this behaviour is a bonus for those working with small screens but it is a nuisance unless there is another means for achieving the same end.
  3. Desktop environment switcher on the login screen: This seems to have disappeared for now. Hopefully, this is an oversight that will see correction in later stages of the development of Ubuntu 12.04. This is how I currently get Ubuntu 11.10 to boot into GNOME Shell so its loss would be a step backwards. Then, a Gubuntu project would become truly necessary though I have to say that Linux Mint makes such a good alternative that I wonder how they would get going.

In summary, it does look as if the Unity interface is getting more and more polished. However, there are niggles that I have described above that I think need addressing and I hope that many of them will addressed in either 12.04 or 12.10. Usability seems to be improving but I still am left with the impression that it has a way to go yet.