Future of FLOSS password storages: combined solution soon?

In a recent discussion about the future of KDE’s password manager KWalletManager it was mentioned that it is currently discussed to share a common password manager across all important FLOSS projects. While there is no result yet this is indeed a promising – and necessary – development.

It started with a question by Michael on the list kde-core-devel regarding the possibility to switch KWalletManager’s backend to the Qt Cryptographic Architecture (QCA) entirely. Robert answered that there was indeed discussion going on during FOSSCamp to merge all existing solutions (KDE, GNOME, OpenOffice, Firefox) to make it easier for the user to use these applications, but also to have the ability to sing-sign-on (meaning one login as user, and than automatically login everywhere else), which is a need for modern desktops. Afaik Fedora also has this topic on its radar, and it would surprise me if no one at OpenSuse, which constantly tries to bring these two desktops closer, has already put some thought into that.

While there are no visible results currently the need for such a solution is definitely present: At the moment it can happen that there are multiple programs used to store different keys in one single user session: Firefox on KDE introduces for example a second key storage right besides KWalletManager. Since the Open Source world does not want to force any solution on anyone, it should be possible to switch between Konqueror and Firefox without the need to take care of your passwords.
Technically there is no reason against a shared password storage, but it might tricky to convince the application/desktop developers. On the other hand, if KDE would get a pluggable KWalletManager backend it could even become possible to use the native key storages on other platforms if such APIs exist.

Short Tip: Move an X window in Linux with the Alt key

Usually an X window is moved under Linux via a click on the tile bar (and a following drag&drop). However, sometimes there are over-sized configuration dialogs or some strange behaviours of windows which move the title bar out of the screen. At that moment the window cannot be moved anymore via the window bar because it is not reachable.

But there is an easy way in Linux (and I wish Windows would have the same!) to move X windows regardless of the window title bar: by pressing and holding the Alt key any window can be moved with the left mouse button. This works under KDE as well as under Gnome.

Everyone who used Linux for a longer time knows that simple shortcut – but maybe there are some new users who don’t know it, and this post is for them.

Arora, a WebKit browser in Qt

The release of Qt 4.4 came along with the WebKit browser engine which could be tested with an included demo browser. This demo browser is now developed independent under the name Arora and is already, while in early development a cross platform Qt browser.

WebKit is a browser engine which was originally forked from KHTML and is now developed further by Apple, Nokia, Adobe, Trolltech and others. Up to a certain point there is also cooperation going on between KHTML and WebKit.

With Qt 4.4 WebKit is officially part of Qt, and therefore every Qt app can take advantage of WebKit (this is also true for every KDE app, but they can use KHTML for quite some time now anyway). The demo browser of Qt 4.4 was shipped with the release to show what the engine is actually capable off. Since it was already a (basically) working browser its own code repository under the name Arora. The WebKit code used is the one of Qt which is directly developd in the WebKit trunk.

Arora main window

Arora preferences

The browser is currently under heavy development and is still in an early phase, so it can hardly be compared against the “old” ones like Firefox or Konqueror/KHTML. However, the browser already has a nicely working Rich Text Editor support which for example works with WordPress blogs:

Arora support for the WordPress Rich Text Editor

Also, there special private browsing mode which makes it possible to deactivate the history and cookies just for a short time:

Private browsing mode Arora

Besides, recently the support for flash plugins was included, and Arora can restore closed tabs. Currently planned features include the support for password store mechanisms in the form of plugins which will make it possible to connect Arora to kwalletmanager and therefore integrate it seamless with KDE – or to connect it with the Gnome keyring and integrate it with Gnome.

But it can also be seen that Arora is still in development: in the version tested on this machine there were some issues with the scroll bar and also with the line-edit field and the buttons on the Google home page:

Arora display errors

Additionally, there are some things missing: especially web shortcuts which I really got used to should be added at some point in the future. Also, the preferences dialog does not list options which are normal for other browsers (always display tabs, always open in a new tab, etc.).

However, given that the development continues at the current speed these features should be available soon. In the long term Arora could become a real competitor to Firefox: while it is also cross platform like Firefox it could actually adapt the native design of each platform thanks to Qt. Additionally, with intelligent chosen plugins it should be easy to integrate it into the platform (password storage, favourites, desktop search, etc.). Last but not least thanks to its origins it features a much smaller memory foot print and is simply faster than Firefox.

For KDE users it could be an interesting alternative to Konqueror to have a look at WebKit and simply as a stand alone browser inside KDE.

In case you want to give Arora a first test the easiest is to run Ubuntu (probably in a virtual machine) and install the precompiled binary. Since Arora does require quite recent Qt packages it can’t be compiled in Fedora 8, and even Fedora 9 might not be sufficient at the moment.

Using Dell’s D/Dock docking station with Linux

Dell is shipping docking stations for it’s Latitude Laptops. I’ve tested a D/Dock and it does work with Linux. The only real problems have their roots in Linux’ shortcomings.

My new laptop has docking station support, and since these docking stations can be bought second hand at very reasonable prices I got myself a D/Dock.

It worked out of the box: the laptop, plugged to the docking station, just works. External devices connected via USB or the external monitor also work as they would be plugged directly to the laptop. I didn’t test the media bay, the DVI connector or the additional PCI slot, so I’m not sure if they would work. However, since there were no other problems I would at least be confident in trying these.

Hotplugging is also not an issue: the laptop can be plugged on or off the docking station while it is running. Of course, mounted USB devices connected to the docking stations should be unmounted before plugging off! But besides that there are no real problems.

The only real disadvantages of the docking station itself I was so far able to recognize are that it has too few USB ports and that it is a bit noisier than I would have expected.
There are just 3 USB slots at the back plus one at the side (which is a bit extended to work with Dell stuff, but still works as a normal USB slot), but I would have preferred to have at least 6. Mouse, keyboard, external hard disk, webcam, USB stick and a MP3 player are not uncommon devices these days.
The other problem is the noise of the docking station fan: while it is not really disturbing and far away from the fan of my former laptop it is at least noisier than the laptop’s fan. But since the docking station was quite cheap I might open it to check if I can do anything about it.

So basically everything works very well – however, there is one problem due to the shortcoming of Linux – or X to be more specific – itself: the external monitor is not detected and activated automatically. And the other way around, if the external monitor is activated alone and the laptop is unplugged, the laptop screen stays blank and there is no way to bring it back.
So the actual shortcoming is that, while the basic hotplugging support is available, there is too little automation there: X should make clear that at least one connected output device is active all the time! Also, there should be easy ways to define specific situations: if monitor xyz is connected, switch to xyz only, if monitor abc is connected, switch to abc and laptop monitor. The first one would be the external monitor of the docking station, the second one could be a projector.

But again, this is a problem due to Linux, not due to the docking station. I guess this will have to wait until the proprietary drivers deliver XRandR 1.2 support and until the distributions ship XRandR 1.2 GUIs at a larger scale and really implement these into the system. Fedora 9 will ship with a Gnome interface, and afaik KDE 4 has basic XRandR 1.2 support anyway. Still, I’m not aware of any demon like capabilities to enable automatic device selection as mentioned above…

Howto: Test the WebKit engine in Fedora

The Fedora repository contains a set of WebKit packages. Once installed they can give a first impression of WebKit’s abilities.

WebKit is a browser engine which was once forked from KHTML by Apple. Nowadays it is developed by the WebKit project where Apple still has quite some weight, but others are in the boat as well: Trolltech, Nokia, Adobe, some KDE developers, some GNOME developers, etc. Besides, WebKit will be part of the upcoming Qt 4.4, will play an important role in KDE’s Plasma and can also be used as a backend in GNOME’s Epiphany browser.

However, at the moment most of these developments are not here yet. But Fedora’s WebKit packages come along with basic WebKit browsers which can be used to test some websites against WebKit:

# rpm -qa|grep -i webkit

# rpm -ql WebKit-qt

# ls /usr/libexec/WebKit/
DumpRenderTree  GtkLauncher  QtLauncher

The two executables QtLauncher and GtkLauncher are a simple browser based on Qt or Gtk, respectively. Since the path is usually not part of PATH the browsers must be started from the command line with the full path, /usr/libexec/WebKit/QtLauncher for example. After you’ve called that line via ALT+F2 the browser comes up.

But don’t expect too much: these are just basic browsers to show off the capabilities of the WebKit engine – nothing more. They are definitely not ready for production use – or any real use at all. The Qt version does not know how to handle addresses without the http://, usual shortcuts like Ctrl+L are not working, and plugins are not embedded at all. However, the Qt launcher has a nice effect of showing a link address when you hover over a link. The Gtk launcher is in a bit better shape: it does at least understand addresses, but than again it does not fill in the http:// after loading the page.

But nevertheless these two launchers can give you a first impression how this web engine works on a web page – in case you are a web developer this might come in handy. Also, if you are up for tests, you can check the current state of WebKit in regards to the Acid3-Test. Also, the first impression of the engine is rather nice: it seems to be rather quick and layouts web pages just nice. I’m looking forward to see new browsers based on WebKit.

An incomplete list of high quality Open Source games

It is often mentioned that many games are not available on Linux. While several big titles are indeed missing such Linux ports, the Open Source community itself produced some impressive titles. Here is a short list together with some promo videos.

Most of the Linux Distributions out there are shipped with the set of games included in GNOME or KDE. These games are nice for short breaks, but not comparable with big, hour consuming games sold by the big publishers. However, the Open Source community stepped up there to deliver its own products, and many of them are not only interesting, but simply impressive. Also, there is a game for almost every taste available.

First of all the games where I also found a promo video:
The first person shooter Nexuiz speaks for itself:

The same is true for the first person shooter Tremulous:

In case you loved the UFO-XCOM series, you will find yourself at home at UFO: Alien Invasion:

Glest, a real time strategy game with wizards, trolls and the like:

In case you love classical Jump’n’Run games, Secret Maryo Chronicles is the way to go:

Next a set of games which might be a bit calmer (and don’t have a promo video), but are nevertheless exciting:

  • Freeciv is the game of choice for everyone who loves to crush and rebuild entire civilizations.
  • Wormux is – as the name suggests – a Worms clone.
  • FlightGear gives you a fuzzy feeling if you love to fly from one airport to another with different types of machines.

All of these entries above have three things in common: they are all actively developed by a healthy community, they are all very appealing and have high quality graphics, and they are all comparable to the proprietary competitors of the corresponding game type. Some of them are better, some of them are as good as, some of them fall a bit behind – but not much. And they definitely meet the requirements of the occasional player and are a way to spend hours and hours.

Of course I’m well aware that there are many more Free Software games – but I’ve kept my focus on the games which at least released one full working (feature complete, playable) version and are in active development. And of course I only listed games I know of. Although I think I covered all the shooting stars of the Free Software games genre I am open to any other suggestion!

But while these games are great, the Open Source community sometimes fails to advertise them. For example, many of these games are included in the distributions – but did you ever see a Linux distribution review featuring the included games? It should be included in the release notes and reviews that a Linux distribution most often is not only a nice set of Office software but also comes along with a rich set of high quality games.

Fedora for example has a dedicated project for games, the Fedora Special Interest Group Games which helped to bring many games to Fedora. Except Secret Maryo Chronicles all games above are available on Fedora and just a click away. It takes more than 1 GB to install all these games – but that is definitely worth the space. And if you like them: promote them!

There is btw. only one genre which I personally miss badly: MMORPG. Of course there are projects dealing with it, but none of them has released a full, stable version yet. But that might be not too bad for my person because I still have to finish and hand in my final thesis these days, and a free MMORPG would give me quite some time problems.

Klik2 RC to be around in February 2008

Klik2 RC to be around in February 2008
The Klik project plans to release the new klik2 RC in February next year. Among other technical improvements the new version will feature a new mount mechanism and simpler dependencies.

Klik2 basics

The first test version of klik2 was released in August this year by the klik project and featured the new mount mechanism based on FUSE instead of the old loop mounts. FUSE will make it possible to mount as many images as the user wants instead of a number which have to compiled into the kernel. Additionally klik2 will not any longer require X to run a GUI but will run on the command line as well.
In September the klik2 project released a first screencast of a new Gnome GUI interface of klik2. ALso it was announced that klik2 will run on any distribution which is LSB compliant, which should be most distributions. While the old klik was targeting on deb distributions mainly klik2 will be fully distribution agnostic.

Since the new klik2 packages can be generated from unmodified rpm or deb packages with the help of specific recipes it should be fairly easy to provide a large database of klik2 packages for all distributions without the need to worry about incompatibilities. As an example I asked if I could use my Fedora packages to produce klik2 versions out of them – the answer was promising:

To answer you question yes klik2 can use your RPMS ! As a bonus your rpms will then work on just about any modern linux
desktop distro including Debian based ones
You just need to write a simple recipe telling klik which rpms to use.

As a result it will also become much easier to spread packages of Beta software on Linux: the developer will only have to build one proper package for the distribution of his/her own choice (and complying with the Freedesktop menu spec). Afterwards, klik2 will take care of the rest.

However, it should be clear that Klik2 does not aim at system libraries or services – things like X and the basic libraries should already be there!

The upcoming release

In November the project mentioned the February as a possible release date. I asked back to confirm this and was told that indeed a release candidate can be expacted by that date:

> There is just one question left:
> Is 23 February 2008 a final release or a Beta/RC release?
At this point I’d say an RC

We will release the final when its finished😉

I’m looking forward to test-build some beta versions of applications to see how well this works out.