Mucking about with WINE

It was the prospect of having Photoshop Elements going on Linux that got me thinking about working with WINE. The cause of that was Elements’ inability to edit, create and save files to a VMware shared folder. As it turned out, there was more to my WINE adventures than getting Elements working. Because I was in learning mode, those adventures turned out to be messy ones with WINE getting uninstalled and reinstalled a number of times. For the last of these, I forced matters by installing from a DEB package rather than going through Ubuntu’s normal channels. The openSUSE journey was a bit more orderly and that VM option remains if I want to go experimenting more.

Along the way, I got the Windows version of Opera going as a test. When trying out WINE in former times, I never tried installing applications into it like I do now. I don’t know if this was because I hadn’t made an important connection or that wasn’t the way that things used to be. Flushed with the success of Opera, I went further and discovered that Dreamweaver 8 and Altova’s XMLSpy 2007 Professional work without my breaking a sweat. Photoshop Elements was another story and one that I have told before. Apple’s iTunes was another thing that I tried but without success, even with a useful guide on Wine Review; for some reason, I’m having trouble getting the installation to complete successfully. I think that I’ll leave my tinkering at that for now but my general impression is that WINE works well these days, even if there is the odd crash or inexplicable disappearance of an application window. The latter happened with Dreamweaver and XMLSpy and I needed to log off and back on again to clear the slate for further progress.

Why I’ll be keeping Windows close to hand for a while to come

Even though I have moved to Linux and it has been fulfilling nearly all of my home computing needs, I do and plan to continue to retain access to Windows courtesy of virtualisation technology. Keeping current with the world of the ever pervasive Windows is one motivation but there are others. In fact, now that Windows is more of a sideline, I may even get my hands on Vista at some point to take a further in-depth look at it, hopefully without having to suffer the consequences of my curiosity.

Talking of other reasons for hanging onto Windows, listening to music secured by DRM does come to mind. DRM is seen in a negative light by many in the open source world so Linux remains unencumbered by the beast. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the whole furore about Vista and DRM earlier this year had me wondering about a Linux future. However, I have been known to buy music from iTunes and would like to continue doing so. WINE might be one way to achieve this but retaining Windows seems a sounder option. That way, I am saved from having to convert my protected music files into either Ogg Vorbis or FLAC; the latter involves a lossless compression unlike the former so the files are bigger with the additional quality that an audiophile would seek. MP3 is another option but there are those in the Linux world who frown upon anything patented. That makes getting MP3 support an additional task for those of us wanting it.

In my wisdom, I have succumbed to the delights of expensive web development tools like Altova’s XMLSpy and Adobe’s Dreamweaver. While I have found a way to get Quanta Plus to edit files on the web server directly and code hacking is my main way to improve my websites, I still will be having a bimble into Dreamweaver from time to time. I have yet to see XMLSpy’s grid view replicated in the open source world so that should remain a key tool in my arsenal. While I haven’t been looking too hard at open source XML editors recently, there remains unexplored functionality in XMLSpy that I should really explore to see if it could be harnessed.

I have included implicit references to this already but keeping Windows around also allows you to continue using familiar software. For some, this might be Microsoft Office but OpenOffice and Evolution have usurped this in my case. Photoshop Elements is a better example for me. Digitial transfers from scanners and DSLR’s will stay in the world of Linux but virtualisation allows me to process the images whatever way i want and I might just stick with the familiar for now before jumping ship to GIMP at some point in the future. With all that is written on Photoshop, having it there for learning new things seems a very sensible idea.

While open source software can conceivably address every possible, there are bound to be niches that remain outside of its reach. I use mapping software from Anquet when planning hillwalking excursions. It seems very much to be a Windows only offering and I have already downloaded a good amount of mapping so Windows has to stay if I need to use this and the routes that I have plotted out before now. Another piece of software that find its way into this bracket is my copy of SAS Learning Edition; there are times when a spot of learning at home goes a long way at work.

So, in summary, my reasons for keeping Windows around are as follows:

  • Learning new things about the thing since I am unlikely to escape its influence in the world of work
  • Using iTunes to download new music and to continue to listen to what I have already
  • Using and learning about industry standard web development tools like Dreamweaver and XMLSpy
  • Easing the transition, by continuing to use Photoshop Elements for example
  • Using niche software like Anquet mapping

I suppose that many will relate to the above but Linux still has plenty to take over some of the above. In time, DRM may disappear from the music scene and not before time; accountants and shareholders may need to learn to trust customers. NVu and Quanta Plus could yet usurp Dreamweaver and there may be an open source alternative to XMLSpy like there is for so many other areas. The Photoshop versus GIMP choice will continue to prevent itself and all that is written about the former makes it seem silly to throw it away, however good the latter is. Even with changing over Linux equivalents of applications fulfilling standard needs, it still leaves niche applications like hillwalking mapping  and that, together with the need to know what Windows might offer in the enterprise space, could be the enduring reasons for keeping it near to hand. That said, I can now go through whole days without firing a Windows VM up and that is a big change from how it was a few months ago. I suppose that it’s all too easy to stick with using one operating system at a time and that is Linux for me these days.

A web development toolbox

Having been on a web building journey from Geocities to having a website with my own domain hosted by Fasthosts, I should come as no surprise that I have encountered a number of tools and technologies over this time and that my choices and knowledge have evolved too. I’ll muse over the technologies first before going on to the tools that I use.

Technologies

XHTML

When I started building websites, HTML 4 was not long in existence and I devoured most if not all of Elizabeth Castro’s Peachpit Visual Quickstart guide to the language in a weekend. Having previously used fairly primitive WYSIWYG tools like Netscape Composer and Claris Home Page, it was an empowering experience and the first edition (it’s now on its third) of Jennifer Niederst Robbins’ Web Design in a Nutshell took things much further, becoming something of a bible for a number of years.

When it first appeared, XHTML 1.0 wasn’t a major change from HTML 4 but its stricter more XML compliant syntax was meant to point the way to the future and semantic mark up was at its heart at least as much as it was for HTML 4. XHTML 2.0 is on the horizon and after the modular approach of XHTML 1.1 (which I have never used), it will be interesting to see how it develops. Nevertheless, there is a surprising development in that some people are musing over the idea of having an HTML 5. Let’s hope that the (X)HTML apple cart doesn’t get completely overturned after some years of relative stability. I still bear scars from the browser wars raging in the 1990’s and don’t want to see standards wars supplanting the relative peace that we have now. That said, I don’t mind peaceful progression.

CSS

Only seems to be coming into its own in the last few years and is truly an amazing technology in spite of the hobbles that MSIE places on our ambitions. CSS Zen Garden has been a major source of ideas; I wouldn’t have been able to customise this blog as much as I have without them. I was an early adopter of the technology and got burnt by inconsistent browser support; Netscape 4 was the proverbial bête noir back then, fulfilling the role that MSIE plays today. In those days, it was idea of controlling text display and element backgrounds from a single place that appealed. Since then, I have progressed to using CSS to replace table-based layouts and to control element positioning. It can do more…

JavaScript

Having had a JavaScript-powered photo gallery before my current Perl-driven one, I can say that I have definitely sampled this ever pervasive scripting language. Being a client side language rather than a server side one, it does place you rather at the mercy of the browser purveyors and it never ceases to amaze me that there is a buzz around AJAX because of this. In fact, the abundance of AJAX cross-browser function libraries is testimony to need for browser-specific code. Despite my preferences for server-side scripting, I still find a use for JavaScript and its main use for me these days is to dynamically control CSS elements to do such things as control the height of a page element or whether it is shown or not. Apparently, CSS may get some dynamic capabilities in the future and reduce my dependence on JavaScript. In the meantime, Jeremy Keith’s DOM Scripting (Friends of Ed) will prove as much of an asset as it has done.

XML

These days, a lot of the raw data underlying my personal website is stored in XML. I did try to dynamically transform the display of the XML into something meaningful with CSS and XSLT when I first scaled its dizzy heights but I soon resorted to other techniques. Browser support and the complexity of what I required were the major contributors to this. The new strategy involved two different approaches. The first was to create PHP/XHTML pages from the precursor XML off-line and this is how I generate the website’s directory pages. The other one is to process the XML as text to dynamically supply an XHTML page as the user visits it; this is the way that the photo gallery works.

Perl

This still powers all of my photo gallery. While thoughts of changing it all to PHP linger, there is a certain something about the Perl language that keeps it there. I suppose it is that PHP is entangled in the HTML while Perl encases the whole business and I am reasonably familiar with its syntax these days which is why it still does a lot of the data processing grunt work that I need.

PHP

PHP is everywhere these days, though it doesn’t attract quite the level of hype that used to be the case. It still appears with its sidekick MySQL in many website applications. Blogging software such as WordPress and content management systems like Drupal, Mambo and Joomla! wouldn’t exist without the pair. It appears on my website as the glue that holds my visitor directories together and is the processing engine of my WordPress blog. And if I ever get to a Drupal element to the site, by no means a foregone conclusion though I am spending a lot of time with it at the moment, PHP will continue its presence in my web site scripting as it powers that too.

Applications

Macromedia HomeSite

I have a liking for hand coding so this does most of what I need. When Macromedia (itself since taken over by Adobe, of course) took over Allaire, HomeSite sadly lost its WYSIWYG capability but the application still soldiers on even though Dreamweaver offers a lot to code cutters these days. Nevertheless, it does have certain advantages over Dreamweaver: it is a fleeter beast to start up and colour codes Perl syntax.

Macromedia Dreamweaver

There was a time when Dreamweaver was solely a tool for visual web page development but the advent of Dreamweaver UltraDev added server side development capabilities to the Dreamweaver family. These days, there is only one Dreamweaver version but UltraDev’s capabilities still live on in the latest version and I would not be surprised if they were taken further in these database-driven times.

Nowadays, Dreamweaver isn’t an application where I spend a great deal of time. In former times, when my site was made up of static HTML pages, I used Dreamweaver a lot even if its rendering capabilities were a step behind the then current browser versions. I suppose that it didn’t fit the way in which I worked but its template driven work flow would have been a boon back then.

However, my move from a static site to a dynamic one, starting with my photo gallery, has meant that I haven’t used it as much since then. However, with my use of PHP/MySQL components on my site. its server side abilities could get a the level of investigation that its PHP/MySQL capabilities allow.

Altova XMLSpy Professional

Adding MySQL databases to my web hosting costs money, not a lot but it could be spent on other (more important?) things. Hence, I use XML as the data store for my photo gallery and XML files are pre-processed into XHTML/PHP pages for my visitor directories prior to uploading onto the server.

I use XMLSpy to edit and manage the XML files that I use: its ability to view XML in grid format is killer feature as far as I am concerned and XML validation also proves very useful; particularly with regarding to ensuring that DTD’s and XML files are in step and for the correct coding of XSLT files. There are other features that I need to explore and that would also take my knowledge of the XML further to boot, not at all a bad thing.

Saxon

For processing XML into another file format such as XHTML, you need a parser and I use the free version of Saxon to do the needful, Saxonica offer commercial versions of it. There is, I believe, a parser in XMLSpy but I don’t use it because Saxon’s command line interface fits better into my work flow. This is a Perl-driven process where XML files are read in and XSLT files, one per XML file, built before both are fed to Saxon for transforming into XHTML/PHP files. It all works smoothly and updating the XML inputs is all that is required.

AceFTP

If I were looking for an FTP client now, it would be FileZilla but AceFTP has served me well over the last few years and it looks as if that will continue. It does have some extra features over FileZilla: transfers between remote sites, and scheduling, for example. I have yet to use either but they look valuable.

Hutmil

In bygone days when I had loads of static HTML files, making changes was a bit of a chore if they affected every single file. An example is changing the year on the copyright message on the page footers. Hutmil, which I found on a magazine cover-mounted disc, was a great time saver in those days. Today, I achieve this by putting this information into a single file and get Perl of PHP to import that when building the page. The same “define once, use anywhere” approach underlies CSS as well and scripting very usefully allows you to take that into the XHTML domain.

Apache

Apache is ubiquitous these days and both the online and offline versions of my site are powered by it. It does require some configuration but it is a very powerful piece of kit. The introduction of 2.2.x meant a big change in the way that configuration files were modularised and while most things were contained in a single file for 2.0.x, the setting are broken up into different files in 2.2.x and it can take a while to find things again. Without having it on my home PC, I would not be able to use Perl, PHP or MySQL. Apart from this, I especially like its virtual site capability; very useful for offline development.

WordPress

My hosting supplier offers blogs on Blogware but that didn’t offer the level of configuration that I would have liked. It is true that this is probably true of any host of blogs. I can’t speak for Blogger but WordPress.com does have its restrictions too. In order to make my hillwalking blog fit in with the appearance of my photo gallery, I went popped over to WordPress.org to download WordPress so that I could host a blog myself and have maximum control over its appearance. WordPress supports themes so I created my own and got my blog pages looking as if they are part of my website, rather than looking like something that was bolted on. Now that I think of it, what about WordPress supporting user created themes? I support that there is the worry of insecure PHP code but what about it?

MySQL

I am between minds on whether this is a technology or a tool. The SQL language certainly would be a technology but I am not so clear on what MySQL would be. In any case, I have classed it as a tool and a very useful one at that. It is the linchpin for my WordPress blogs and, if I go for a content management system like Drupal, its role would surely grow. While I do have a lot of experience with using SAS SQL and these helps me to deal with other varieties, there is still a learning curve with MySQL that gets me heading for a good book and Kofler’s The Definitive Guide to MySQL5 (Apress) seems to perform more than adequately in this endeavour.

Paint Shop Pro

As someone who hosts an online photo gallery, it won’t come as a surprise that I have had exposure to image editors. Despite various other flirtations, Paint Shop Pro has been my tool of choice over the years but it is now set to be usurped by a member of Adobe’s Photoshop family. Paint Shop Pro does have books devoted to it but it seems that Photoshop gets better coverage and I feel that my image processing needs to be taken up a gear, hence the potential move to Photoshop