Review – Adobe Photoshop Express

I will confess I am a GIMP guy on Linux. I often see forum and USENET posts from Microsoft fanatics that state since (insert commercial software here) cannot be found for Linux no one is going to use Linux. One of the oft mentioned applications in this category is Adobe‘s Photoshop. Others will recommend GIMP only to be told that GIMP is not as good as Photoshop. Now we all know that is really just personal opinion, not objective fact. In any case there is now a Photoshop that should even work on Linux. I am talking about Adobe Photoshop Express, a web based application. (For more news on Adobe Photoshop Express see this AltaVista News Search)

I am not an “arteest” but I am an occasional graphics creator and editor for images I need to put on a web site. I decided to try out Adobe Photoshop Express to see how well it works under Firefox on Linux. I opened the site in Firefox and immediately noticed the Flash “thing” in the middle of the page. I am no fan of Flash, I truly loathe having to use it for anything other than games, so this immediately put me off (You say you don’t like Flash either? Try Flashblock with Firefox.). But I want to try this “free” application so I went ahead and clicked through to the registration page. I encountered yet another Flash widget for the sign-up page. Basically if one does not have Flash installed and working then one cannot sign-up to use Adobe Photoshop Express which is not a good thing in my opinion. In spite of this In My Face use of Flash I gritted my teeth and signed up. One has to await a confirmation e-mail to be sent before one can continue. So I twiddled my thumbs and waited for the e-mail … (actually I started writing this article).

The e-mail finally came through my greylisting e-mail host and I clicked the verification URL. I get a confirmation page and a button to click to sign in. I click the button … EGAD! More Flash. This is becoming painful for an avowed Flash loather like myself. However I soldier on. The login is a flash widget which completely breaks my Firefox browser’s ability to save the password for me. It appears that the whole Adobe Photoshop Express “application” is Flash based. At this point I am thinking I am not going to be using Adobe Photoshop Express very often after this review.

I land on a greeting page that has several clickable options. To get started I decide to upload some old photos I took at a Video Surveillance System install I did a while back. I choose to put them in a new album related to this review. Then I click the button to upload them. I watch with increasing interest as each of the photos I have chosen are marked as unsupported (this is humorously ironic, The GIMP gives me an error popup but will work with these photos just fine and I can view them all with GQview.). I then get an upload error notice after all my picture files are rejected by Adobe Photoshop Express. Since these pictures were made with an older digital camera and Adobe Photoshop Express does not like its’ pictures I decide to try just one picture from my new digital camera. I choose to upload it to the existing album that was created even though my previous picture uploads failed. Although this picture is much larger in size than the ones from my old camera the upload works and I click the Done button. I am automagically placed into the album where I just uploaded the photo.

Now to see what I can do with this photo. I hold my mouse pointer over the photo and get a drop down menu button across the bottom which I then click. I decide to choose “Edit Photo” from the menu. This loads my photo into a new screen with several clickable actions on the left. I browse through each option and play with the photo a bit. This is not intended to be an exhaustive review as I am mainly looking to see if this “application” works under Linux and I have already found that it does. All the edit options appear to work as intended and I can totally screw up my photo in many ways (since I am no “arteest”).

My conclusion is there is now a version of Photoshop that will work on Linux. Would I personally want to use it? No. Should Adobe still make the commercial version of Photoshop available for native use on Linux? Yes. However, I am sure there are those in the Linux community who would like to use Adobe Photoshop Express for whatever the reason. Oh, and of course we can now rub it in the face of the Microsoft fanatics on USENET and elsewhere. 🙂

(Edit Fri Mar 28 14:29:18 UTC 2008: One needs a blog user account to post comments here. Registration for a blog user account is currently only by request using the form provided. The comment problem appears resolved with a change to a new WordPress theme. Gene)

(Edit Sat Mar 29 23:37:26 UTC 2008: Based on user feedback the registration process has been reopened for users to register themselves. We’ll see how this goes. Gene)

Who Uses Linux and Why?

Over the years I have spoken with many folks about using alternatives to Microsoft operating systems (a.k.a. Windows). Since I found and began advocating Linux distributions I have been asked many times “Why …?” and “Who uses it?”. I have also gotten statements that “Everyone uses Windows.”. Well, not everyone, I do not. Here is a URL with some answers as to “Who” and “Why”:

http://www.aaxnet.com/design/linux2.html

Note specifically these Linux users from the above URL: U.S. Army, U.S. Federal Courts, U.S. Postal Service.

Edit Tue Oct 14 19:12:09 UTC 2008: The URL above is rather old and out of date. The URL posted in the Edit below is more up to date.

Why I personally use and advocate using a Linux distribution. It is very stable and I never have a “crash” where I have to reboot my operating system. Once I got a decent printer the printing always works. I do not have to worry about running software to protect my PC from viruses, adware, spyware and other malicious software (a.k.a. mal-ware). It has a choice of GUI (Graphical User Interface) on top of the operating system where I can pick the one I like best. Most Windows users would be comfortable with the KDE GUI (http://www.kde.org/screenshots/). Linux is “free”, the applications I use on it are “free” and my only cost is in hardware and my time learning the new system. In my case I want and need to know the configuration and maintenance internals of the system so I spend more time in the “guts” of the system than most people would.

However, I could today just buy a PC with a major Linux distribution already installed and never have to know the internal “stuff”. Then if I had a problem I could get in touch with someone to support me. This is what most people do with Microsoft operating systems. They do not know internals and they call someone (usually a technical person like me) when they have a problem.

Where would I get a personal computer with Linux installed? Well, most of you who know me personally know I build and sell personal computers preloaded with Linux in my small business. But what about major personal computer retailers … ever hear of Dell? Then check out http://linux.dell.com/ to see what Dell is doing. Go to Dell PCs Featuring Ubuntu to see the computers Dell offers with the Ubuntu Linux distribution preloaded.

I am decidedly a computer hobbyist and love to tinker with personal computers. I know most people are not and want to just get stuff done on the computer. The bottom line for me is answering this question, “Must I use Microsoft products to get done what I want to get done on my personal computer?”. I found that I can get done everything I want to get done on my personal computer for my small business and for my personal use by running a Linux distribution. Creating documents and spreadsheets (OpenOffice.org – also available for Microsoft systems), browsing the world wide web safely (Konqueror, (Firefox, Opera – also available for Microsoft systems)), handling e-mail (Kmail), managing personal and business contacts (KAddressbook), personal and small business accounting (GNUCash), games (too many to list) and more. All this software is “free”. In my opinion spending a lot of (or any) money to do the same things on a Microsoft based personal computer is really unnecessary with the choices available today for a Linux based personal computer.

Can one find reasons to not switch to Linux? Sure one can. But I can state with certainty that there are very few reasons now and those reasons are fewer and fewer as time goes on.

Please feel free to reply with your comments about this post. I look forward to hearing from you.

Update Wed Mar 26 21:24:23 UTC 2008 – See the Linux In Business page at mtechit.com for more of who is using Linux and why.

How to Change the Default Location Bar Search Engine in Firefox

I dislike Google. Ok, I know “Google is your friend!” is a common phrase on USENET, in web forums and on IRC. But in my case I Just Do Not Like Google? and do not think it is my friend. My reasons are personal and political and I will leave it at that.

So, imagine my chagrin at seeing a Google search every time I typed incorrect content in the URL location bar in Firefox. I kept meaning to look into this but kept putting it off (mostly forgetting about it) until I finally heard from my wife that she really did not like Google searches coming up on her Firefox (for the same reasons I hold). So, it was time to figure out how to change that. We both prefer AltaVista for our web searches so I decided to make that our URL location bar default. As always the Devil is in the Details.

The Details

After much web searching (using AltaVista of course) I ran across this blog post How to Change Your FireFox Location Bar Search Engine at http://blog.taragana.com/. This deals with changing the default back to Google after having the location bar search hijacked by Yahoo. What I noticed was the blank &q= at the end of the example search string. That is the query indicator at Google. “Ah ha! Just place the query key at the end!” thought I and looked for the query indicator at AltaVista. It is the same thing, imagine that. So I opened a new tab in Firefox, typed in about:config, searched for keyword.URL, and inserted http://www.altavista.com/web/results?q= in place of the Google string. A quick test showed that this works.

I then decided to see if other search engines would work. I have several user accounts on my Linux box so I su‘d to another account in a xterm session, opened Firefox and started testing. Here are the resulting strings that worked:

http://www.conservapedia.com/Special:Search?search=
http://search.about.com/fullsearch.htm?terms=
http://www.dict.org/bin/Dict?Form=Dict2&Database=*&Query=

Based on my short test it appears any search engine will work as long as the search engine’s query field is the last thing on the string in keyword.URL. Feel free to do your own testing and post comments about the results here.

Managing Mandriva’s /etc/resolv.conf from the CLI

There appears to be confusion in the Mandriva community about how to manage a PC using a static IP address (no DHCP client) with static nameserver entries in /etc/resolv.conf from the Linux command line interface (CLI). With newer versions of Mandriva the /etc/resolv.conf file is managed by the /sbin/resolvconf executable. There is a comment in /etc/resolv.conf to not edit the file directly as it will be overwritten.

The proper files to edit under Mandriva for /etc/resolv.conf at this point are in /var/run/resolvconf/interface/ and/or /etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/. If one wants the individual interfaces, say on a laptop, to use different nameservers then edit the files in /var/run/resolvconf/interface/. Most folks use a laptop with DHCP only and thus the nameserver entries are managed automatically. There are situations where that may not be practical so this information is provided for those situations. However, for a desktop or tower PC with a static IP address one will most likely be using a single interface. Therefore one will edit the /etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/base file to include up to three nameserver entries. Note that the base file is only parsed if it has only lines starting with nameserver in it. Here is an example /etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/base file:

nameserver 10.0.0.1
nameserver 10.0.1.2
nameserver 10.1.2.3

The /etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/base, /etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/head and /etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/tail files are explained in the resolvconf man page:

/etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/base

     File  containing  basic resolver information.
     The lines in this file are included in the
     resolver configuration file  even  when no
     interfaces are configured.

/etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/head

     File  to be prepended to the dynamically
     generated resolver configuration file.
     Normally this is just a comment line.

/etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/tail

     File to be appended to the dynamically
     generated  resolver  configuration file.
     To append nothing, make this an empty
     file.

If one discovers that resolvconf is being used based on the comment in the /etc/resolv.conf file then reading the man page for resolvconf can be enlightening,

New 1.11.0 Release of Crossfire RPG

A new 1.11.0 release of Crossfire RPG is available. Many bugs are fixed in this release (along with new bugs inserted more than likely). One can get the latest releases here which links to here. Most folk will just want one of the clients that allow one to connect to a crossfire server on the internet. The information in that URL is from the Crossfire RPG metaserver. The 1.11.0 Crossfire RPG servers are also designed support the new metaserver v2 which gives more information about each running server. These metaservers are what provide a list of sites to user clients about current public access Crossfire RPG servers.

The user clients available with 1.11.0 have also seen a lot of updates and bug fixes. The user clients I can currently recommend are the GTKv1 and GTKv2 clients. With GTKv2 being my current favorite. There is also a fairly new Java client that is in active development called JXclient that can be gotten here. JXclient might be easier to get running under a Microsoft Windows environment than the GTK clients. If one is running an old user client one should consider upgrading to these newer user clients.

One may also checkout the absolute latest clients and server code for the game from the SVN repository. Instructions on downloading from the SVN repository are here. Note that getting the latest code from SVN will require that one know how to compile source code. (If that sounds too scary to you then just stick to the official releases.)

Gene

This article updated: Wed Feb 13 16:57:48 UTC 2008

Axis 247S Video Server (Analog to Digital)

I recently installed a pair of Axis 247S video servers with a pair of Topica TP-6360WBC-DN analog cameras attached to a ZoneMinder video server at one of our VSS(1) client sites. For those of you looking for quick information – the Axis 247S works great with ZoneMinder. One can use the Axis presets for their network cameras when setting up the monitors in ZoneMinder.

Now for the details.

The physical install included running LAN backbone cable to the punchdown block near the 8-port Linksys POE(2) switch as well as to jacks near where the cameras were to be installed. Four 3′ patch cables were used, two at the switch <-> punchdown block and one at each jack <-> 247S. The cameras were ordered with 25′ of Video / Power extension cable to connect to the Axis 247S video servers on the analog side. Also a pair of pigtails were ordered to power the cameras using the Axis 247S power connector. This is a sweet solution for powering the cameras as it avoids having to use the wall warts that come with the cameras. Also the whole thing is powered using POE meaning the power is also provided through a battery backup to keep the entire system up during short power outages or brown-out conditions.

Each Axis 247S was connected singly (as they all default to 192.168.0.90) and configured using the Firefox web browser off the VSS while running X with fluxbox on the VSS. Since the camera LAN segment on a 192.168.0.* subnet is separated from the end-user’s other LAN segment on a 10.10.10.* subnet this is the simplest way I know to configure them for use with the ZoneMinder server (especially since I forgot to take my laptop with me). The ZoneMinder server is configured like all our ZoneMinder servers with two gigabit ethernet network connections. One goes to the POE gigabit switch powering the cameras and the other connects to the client’s existing LAN. This keeps the bandwidth needed for the cameras off the client’s LAN. Once each Axis 247S was configured using its’ internal web interface it was added to the ZoneMinder server as a monitor using motion detection (modect). A tweak on each to lengthen the recording sequence so as to avoid the ext3 filesystem problem with 32000 directories (these folks keep 90 days of video and each event gets its’ own directory!) and the system was working great.

For the record, our next ZoneMinder VSS will be using XFS for the filesystem so as to avoid the problem with ext3 and 32000 directories.

(1) VSS – Video Surveillance System|Server

(2) POE – Power Over Ethernet

Gene

ZoneMinder – Video Surveillance

ERACC started offering and installing ZoneMinder based video surveillance systems around 2.5 years ago. To date we have installed four of these systems and still manage one of them (the other three businesses where we had installed are now out of business and their assets were sold). ZoneMinder is an OSS application that typically runs on a Linux based host. ERACC custom builds the system based on customer needs. ERACC also installs the system and offers on-site and off-site management and upgrades (for a fee).

Currently I am working on adding two analog cameras with Axis analog to digital converters attached to the one system we still manage. The four cameras that exist on the system now are all Axis digital cameras. The analog cameras will be used to get close-up views of the transactions at our client site with an eventual analog capture and overlay from the PCs that print the customer tickets. The reason I decided to not go all analog or add-on an analog capture card is the fact that with a digital system running on its’ own LAN subnet the physical server location can be anywhere on or off the client site providing there is a network connection available to each camera. Therefore with the Axis converters we keep the flexibility to move the server without being tied to the limitations of analog.

The server itself at this client site is running Fedora Core 6 with a single-core AMD AM2 CPU and 2GB of RAM with the camera feeds capturing on motion detection at 5 frames per second at this point. This server is getting an upgrade to a dual-core AMD AM2 CPU and 4GB of RAM. The storage drive for the video data is a 750GB SATA drive. ZoneMinder is configured to keep 90 days of video per camera. So far this uses about 50% of the storage drive. I plan to adjust the frames per second down a bit on each camera when I add the two new cameras so as to cut back on the processing overhead and to keep the 90 days per camera storage capability. After reviewing the client’s needs I figure 2 or 3 frames per second is really all that is needed for this site.

If one is considering installing or upgrading a video surveillance system one cannot go wrong using Linux and ZoneMinder in my opinion.

Gene

Crossfire the Open Source RPG

I spoke about 3D gaming under Linux in my last post here. In the words of Monty Python “And now for something completely different”.

Crossfire is a free, open source 2D tile based role playing game that, for the time being, emphasizes game play over glitz. If you are one of those shallow gamers that prefer 3D glitz over game play then Crossfire is not for you. However, if you ever played and enjoyed D&D like games that require imagination and complexity then you will probably like Crossfire.

Crossfire has a deep and rich culture, large world, multiple player roles and other great traditions coming from games like Nethack, Rogue and similar. Since Crossfire is multiplayer one has the option to play with other players on internet connected servers or to run an offline server and play alone. Playing on one’s own offline server for a while allows one to learn about the game prior to joining others on one of the public servers. The public servers provide one the chance to play with others either antagonistically or cooperatively. Depending on the server one may or may not kill other players without penalty. All the modern Crossfire servers offer team play in “parties” where the players share experience.

I have played Crossfire for several years now and am one of the map developers at this point. I also play on, and recommend playing on, Metalforge. Metalforge is the development server for official Crossfire and runs close to the latest SVN code from the 1.x branch of the game. If you want to learn more about Crossfire then feel free to point your favorite IRC software to irc.freenode.net and join the #crossfire channel.

Are you a graphic artist that would enjoy helping create art for a free multiplayer online role playing game? Crossfire can always use your assistance. You are especially invited to check out Crossfire and join us on our IRC channel.

Other URLs for Crossfire:

Gene

Thoughts on Commercial Linux Games

So there are all these 3D games for consoles and Micro$oft Window$ that are not available for Linux as native applications. I wonder why a large chunk of the gaming industry appears to still be ignoring Linux? It is not as if excellent 3D games cannot be made to run natively on a Linux box with 3D hardware. There are both Enemy Territory and Unreal Tournament 2004 for examples of these 3D games that are native for Linux. However, if I recall correctly, Unreal Tournament 2004 required one to buy the Micro$oft Window$ version and then download the Linux engine for the full game.

More currently there is Quake 4 for Linux but unfortunately the developers and distributors once again did not include Linux support “out of the box” (Of course my current hardware is not muscular enough to run Quake 4 well anyway). One must purchase a Micro$oft Window$ copy of the game first. From the Quake4 GNU/Linux FAQ: “A licensed copy of Quake 4 retail for Windows(r) is required. You will copy the assets files from it and use the CD key.” What a way to sell a game!

Personally I will never buy a game “off the shelf” that does not include a native Linux install “in the box”. Hey, developers and distributors, keep treating me and other Linux users like unwanted stepchildren and do not get my dollars. It is that simple.

Here is hoping for a sea change to add native Linux gaming “out of the box” in the gaming industry.