An Autumnal Tour of Linux Workshops

As the days get shorter and temperatures get cooler here in the northern hemisphere, it’s clear Linux geeks’ thoughts have begun to turn to the many delights of the season.

Yes, there are pumpkins, hay rides and apple pie aplenty as October wears on, but for real Linux geeks, one of the keenest joys of the season lies elsewhere. True FOSS fans need look no further than their own basements, garages or workshops, that is, because everyone knows fall is a season for tinkering.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

‘7 Cool Linux Projects’

Bloggers on TuxRadar, in fact, were already on top of the situation late last month, when they posted a list of “7 Cool Linux Projects” for fall.

“As autumn begins, the nights start drawing in and you’re no doubt itching for new things to do with your Linux box,” they began. “Well, we asked our projects expert to rustle up 7 great things you can do on your penguin-powered machine.”

Hosting a photo album, making music and creating stop-frame animations were just a few of the projects they came up with, all described with screenshots and step-by-step instructions.


After weeks on end of some pretty acrimonious debates in the Linux blogosphere — just check out the latest on the Great Sexism Debate, for example, if you’re in the mood for strife — it seemed to Linux Girl to be a good time to take a break from all that and remind ourselves of the fun FOSS can provide.

So, leaving her flame-retardant suit at home for a change, she took to the streets of the blogosphere and asked geeks far and wide what projects they’ve got planned.

Deep breath — now exhale and enjoy!

An Angstrom Build

“I’m working on a build of Angstrom Linux for the DT Research DT366,” Slashdot blogger drinkypoo told LinuxInsider. “It’s a fanless AMD Geode LX800-based ‘webpad’ system with an 800×600 touchscreen.”

Such machines “seem to be all over eBay suddenly for around $100 apiece, and they tend to come with Bluetooth, WiFi, and either PCMCIA or CompactFlash,” drinkypoo added.

Since Angstrom is a distribution of OpenEmbedded oriented toward PDAs, “it should help wring the maximum benefit from this limited system,” he explained. “I occasionally run it on an iPaq H2215.”

A New Browser

Writing a new Web browser, on the other hand, is what Slashdot blogger David Masover is currently working on.

“I like Firefox, but it has gotten huge and bloated, and as cool as add-ons are, they’re harder to write than they could be,” he explained. “I like Konqueror for its speed and simplicity, and I like the fact that Webkit came from KHTML. But Konqueror’s Javascript is slow, plug-ins don’t always work properly, and it seems to have more issues just rendering pages properly.

“On top of all that, it’s the most difficult to write any kind of add-on for, at least anything nearly as powerful as Firefox add-ons,” he added.

‘Stack Them Together Like Legos’

Masover also likes Google Chrome — “it’s the best of all worlds — but most of Chrome is written in C++, so the extension API is limited,” he said. “For example, I can’t remove the tab bar.”

Uzbl also has its benefits, “but it’s likely to have slow Javascript execution, and it’s *too* lightweight,” he opined. “You have to add dozens of scripts to get anything useful, and the scripting interface is Unix, sort of — it’s strange and wonderful, but mostly strange. It’s also not at all portable to non-Unix platforms.”

So, Masover’s plan is “to take Webkit and V8, maybe a bunch of code from Chromium, stack them together like legos and make a much simpler browser,” he said. “I’ll use straight Javascript and HTML for everything it’s reasonable to do so, which means anyone who can program a Web site can program the browser, or extend it.

“I’ll probably release it under something like the MIT license, and the initial version will (of course!) run on Linux,” he noted.

‘Master the Mainframe’

Also on Masover’s to-do list is entering IBM’s Master the Mainframe competition, he added.

“For the fall, I’m working on integrating Linux with some of my home-automation devices,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

For Chris Travers, meanwhile — a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project — time is tight this fall.

“All my time is spent getting LedgerSMB 1.3 ready for release,” he explained.

‘An Oversized MP3 Player’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet, on the other hand, is “a PC repairman,” so he gets “some pretty weird requests,” he says.

This fall, for example, “I have a customer that wants me to take a low-end SFF PC — something around, say, 733MHz to 1.1GHz — and turn it into a ‘jukebox,'” he began.

“What the guy is basically wanting is me to turn the PC into an oversized MP3 player that he can load up all his CDs into and have it piped all around the house,” he explained.

‘I’m Willing to Give It a Shot’

Using Linux for the project could involve some challenges, hairyfeet noted. One, for example, is “if the guy wants it headless,” he said.

“I know .bat files, and could easily set up Win9x or Win2K to be a low-resource MP3 player with something like Winamp controlled by keyboard commands,” hairyfeet explained. “Not sure if I can pull that off with something like Puppy Linux, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

“More likely I can talk him into a cheap 13-inch flat panel which can then not only easily allow him to pick tracks, but would give him trippy visuals that went with the music,” he noted.

‘An El Cheapo Analog Capture Card’

Capture cards could also be a problem, hairyfeet asserted. “To set this up and still stay within the guy’s budget, I’m gonna have to pick up an el cheapo analog capture card for use of the remote control functions,” he explained. “That way, instead of dealing with a wireless keyboard, he can just use the remote or program it into his universal.

“But I have NO CLUE as to whether the cheapo no-name capture cards are well-supported in Linux or not, or if I’ll be able to send remote control commands from it into something like Amarok for controlling tracks,” he pointed out.

So, “in all likelihood I’ll start out trying the project with either DSL or Puppy, but if it turns into a multihour CLI nightmar,e I’ll just toss it and go with one of the Win98 or Win2K licenses I have lying in a drawer,” he concluded.

‘Advertise GNU/Linux to Schools’

“I had not thought of doing anything special,” blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider, with the exception of:

  • “Watching out for another poor quarter for the beast, M$, before revenue from upselling to a locked-in consumer market of ‘7’ kicks in;
  • watching for ARM to make its move on netbooks/smartbooks in the run-up to Christmas; and
  • watching for more good news about GNU/Linux on the desktop likely being the icing on the cake of 2009 – -my official Year of GNU/Linux on the Desktop.”

What Pogson says he should do, however, is “plan something more personal,” like:

  • “Advertise GNU/Linux to schools — I could finish the pamphlet I have been working on for months;
  • Contribute some netbooks for Christmas giving;
  • Run off some GNU/Linux installation CDs;
  • Write another article about setting up a GNU/Linux terminal server using virtual machinery and tons of images; or
  • Write another article about why thin clients make sense in schools — perhaps I should participate in another migration and document it.”

‘GNU/Linux Is Not a Spectator Sport’

The options are clearly many for all of us; as always, choosing among them can be the most difficult part.

Nevertheless, Pogson added, “thanks for reminding me that GNU/Linux is not a spectator sport.”

And that, dear readers, is a point worth remembering.

As the arrival of Windows 7 looms large, the controversies and bitter debates will almost certainly continue. Get caught up in them, and the Linux community will only be weakened, Linux Girl would venture to suggest. To stay strong, Linux aficionados need to remember what unites them — the power, the freedom and, perhaps most of all, the glorious fun that is FOSS.

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