Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the month “November, 2007”

DesktopBSD day 21 – Planning and Project Management (II)

Yesterday I was enchanted with GanttProject and with that experience in mind I started playing with the three other project management applications.

Planner a.k.a. Project Management

desktopbsd-1-projectmanagement-day20.png

The Planner website isn’t a treasure chest of information.

Planner is the GNOME project management tool.

That’s about all you can find about the application. It’s a typical GNOME application with a pretty straightforward interface. The taks bar to the right gives quick access to the Gantt chart, the tasks, the resources and the resources in use. It’s use is quite similar to GanttProject. You can add tasks and resources and they will appear as a single line in the list. Under the right mouse button you can access the window to edit the rest of the information.

It was kind of weird to add various single day tasks and then to see three task bars of varying lengths

desktopbsd-3-projectmanagement-day20.png

Then I realized that the first day had been cut short because the day had already started and the third day took the whole weekend along with it. The weekend is defined as a no working days, which makes this kind of representation confusing.

KPlato

desktopbsd-1-kplato-day20.png

KPlato is the project management application for the KDE desktop. It’s relatively young. If memory serves me right, it was included in KOffice earlier this year. KPlato is short for K PLAnning Tool.

KPlato is a project management application. In this first public release we focus on planning and scheduling of projects.

As expected KPlato is somewhat richer in it’s interface than Planner. You can fine tune the settings for working hours per day, per week, per month and per year. This is very useful if you have a team of people that work parttime on varying days per week or freelancers that work a specified amount of hours.

desktopbsd-3-kplato-day20.png

desktopbsd-4-kplato-day20.png

When creating new tasks agan you find options not available (at least this visible) in the other programs. You can add scheduling to the task and add some risk settings.

desktopbsd-5-kplato-day20.png

It wasn’t a problem to enter all the information and create a new project with tasks and resources. Once that is done, you can change the view options, giving you various scenarios for the project.

desktopbsd-7-kplato-day20.png

TaskJuggler

TaskJuggler began it’s life as a commandline program and had the graphical interface added to it later. When I checked the website my interest rose. Just read the lingo yourself:

TaskJuggler is a modern and powerful project management tool. Its new approach to project planning and tracking is far superior to the commonly used Gantt chart editing tools. It has already been successfully used in many projects and scales easily to projects with hundreds of resources and thousands of tasks.

TaskJuggler is Open Source project management software for serious project managers. It covers the complete spectrum of project management tasks from the first idea to the completion of the project. It assists you during project scoping, resource assignment, cost and revenue planing, risk and communication management.

TaskJuggler provides an optimizing scheduler that computes your project time lines and resource assignments based on the project outline and the constrains that you have provided. The build-in resource balancer and consistency checker offload you from having to worry about irrelevant details and ring the alarm if the project gets out of hand. The flexible “as many details as necessary”-approach allows you to still plan your project as you go, making it also ideal for new management strategies such as Extreme Programming and Agile Project Management.

I had to install TaskJuggler via ports and while I waited I kept reading the information from the website. The sentence: “It usually takes no more than 2 to 3 hours to get productive with TaksJuggler” became an ominous sign. Two to three hours? It took minutes to get started with the other three programs.

Well, TaksJuggler isn’t like the other programs. It does have one of the nicer graphical interfaces.

desktopbsd-1-taskjuggler-day20.png

However, there are no icons, wizards or even windows to add new projects, tasks or resources. It’s all taken care of by a text file:

desktopbsd-2-taskjuggler-day20.png

To be honest, I stared at it for a couple of minutes and decided it wasn’t worth the time right now.

Conclusions

GanttProject, Planner and KPlato are very similar in how you work with them. KPlato is the youngest program, but already gives the most flexibility. I must admit that I have my own needs and will readily agree when experienced Microsoft Project users say they miss feature X or Y. GanttProject stood out as a fast and responsive Java application. Planner the program is okay, but it’s website was a complete turn-off. The maintainers should really have a look at the site of the other programs.

The good thing is that all of these programs run very well on the DesktopBSD platform, so it were two good days of work.

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DesktopBSD day 20 – Planning and Project Management (I)

I have been involved in project management since the early days of my working career. I love the project management method and the way it helps me to organize complex tasks. All of the projects I have been involved in were of a non-technical, non-linear and -let’s say- chaotic nature. Deadlines? Yes. Milestone? Sure. Logical breakdown of work? Not really. Careful planning of resources? Well, the paper the planning was written on was more endurable than the actual execution of the plan. The way the projects could progress was highly influenced by outside and unstable factors. Over the years I have looked at more that one program to ease project planning, but all of them were way too rigid to be of use.

Basically, I was curious as to the current set of programs for project management for the open source desktop and since I am working with DesktopBSD it fits nicely in this series of articles. I will look into four programs. Planner (GNOME), KPlato (KDE) , TaskJuggler (KDE) and GanttProject (Java).

GanttProject: an enormous surprise

I started with GanttProject, but -in all honesty- I didn’t expect much from it. I don’t really like Java-based applications. Too often I find them slow, sluggish, eating too many system resources, lacking functionalities and plain ugly with horrible font-rendering. GanttProject is none of that.

GanttProject is a free and easy to use Gantt chart based project scheduling and management tool.

desktopbsd-day20-ganttproject-1.png

This program doesn´t try to be the software to beat all other project management software. There are two main views: your resources and the tasks in the project as a Gantt Chart. You can download GanttProject in various formats. One package has various launchers for UNIX/Linux, Windows and MacOSX with which you can run without installing it. The main requirement is JRE. I downloaded the package, unzipped it, cd-ed into the ganttproject directory and launched the application with #sh ganttproject.sh . It takes a while for the program to be ready for use.

You can then create a new project (Project -> New) via a simple wizard. First you give the project a name and some additional information. Then you select the roleset and the calendar. You don’t have a lot of options here, but that’s just fine with me.

desktopbsd-day20-ganttproject-2.png

Adding resources should be the next logical step. Again, this reveal a simple screen where you can add some general information about the resource like name, the e-mail adress, the phone-number and the default role the person has. The default role is that of project manager. You can change that by going to Edit -> Preferences -> Resource role. There you can add the roles you have in your project. All resources can be seen in the resource tab.

desktopbsd-day20-ganttproject-11.png

From here it is a matter of adding the tasks. When you click on the icon New Task you enter the basic information on the first line in the Gantt chart: name, starting and finishing date. After that you double-click on the bar in the chart and a new window pops up. This window has an easily understandable layout (though -of course – you need to have some background knowledge in project management). There are five tabs. The first one holds the task specific information. You can’t enter a lot of information (name, priority, progress, milestone yes/no, starting and finishing dates and duration), with the benefit of not being overly complicated.

desktopbsd-day20-ganttproject-6.png

In the second tab you determine whether it is a isolated task or one that is related to a previous task. The tab Resources gives you the possibility to add one or more persons to that task. The fourth tab is meant for some notes and with the fourth tab you can set the columns for the Gantt chart, allowing some customization of each task line.

With this basic set I could design a first project within minutes without being stonewalled. When looking a bit further I noticed that GanttProject also create Pertt charts for you project and that you can import and export Microsoft Project XML files. The program is responsive and attractive to look at. Really, it was fun to work with it and for that reason GanttProject also found it’s way to my Portable Applications collection on the mobile hard drive.

]project-open[

One final element to add to the appeal of GanttProject is the integration with an open source webbased ERP/Project Management package, ]project-open[ . You can create, change and upload GanttProject files to ]project-open[. That alone would be interesting, but the online demo revealed a rounded out online hub for CRM, Finance, project management, some HRM. Add a wiki, forum and some document management to the mix and you could have a small organization migration to a complete open source solution for project management. I absolutely love the dashboard and the indicators tabs that give graphical representations. ]project-open[ wasn’t part of today’s plan, but it will be on the list soon.

Conclusions

GanttProject got me sidetracked today and I love it when open source software does that to me. It did leave me with insufficient time for the other three programs, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

DesktopBSD day 19 – Evolution

“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” wrote Rudyard Kipling. Fortunately Bob Dylan also sings to us that “the times they are a-changin”, which means that divides can be crossed with the right kind of bridges. In this case, East is KDE and West is GNOME (or the other way around). Under Ubuntu I haven’t experienced any problems with running KDE applications on GNOME or vice versa as all underlying dependencies are taken care of. No doubt it means a less leaner install base and does it cause quite a few headaches for the distro maintainers, but for me -as end-user- it provides the maximum freedom to use the applications I want to use and not find myself locked into specific subsets.

Yesterday I wrote about Kontact as personal information manager and concluded that it is almost sufficient for desktop users. Kontact makes sense for the KDE desktop. However, the real powerhorse for PIM in the open source world is Evolution. Indeed, a GNOME application and it didn’t look pretty on the DesktopBSD KDE desktop (no icons). I am not going to describe how I fixed this problem (I didn’t, I just switched to the GNOME desktop to write this article), but simply look into Evolution a bit deeper and answer the same question as with Kontact: “Is it a good personal information manager for novice DesktopBSD users?”

What is Evolution about?

Evolution is a GNOME application and GNOME applications have a knack for simplicity. Just compare the mission of Evolution with the one from Kontact :

Evolution provides integrated mail, addressbook and calendaring functionality to users of the GNOME desktop.

It seems simplicity is highly integrated in the Evolution mindset. It doesn’t mean that it is a simple application in the sense of lacking functionality or features. The website claims that Evolution has “Intelligent Junk Mail Control” (I hope it is intelligent and I suspect no one would want to use “Idotic, unreasonable and moronic junk mail control”), that it integrates with for instance Pidgin (IM client) and Planner (project planner, limited support) via the evolution-data-server and supports Exchange 2000/2003 and Groupwise. The claim is that integration with Exchange to 2007 is supported when using MAPI after installing the Evolution Brutus plugin. Compared to Kontact that appears to be somewhat better, though the statement:

Also there are also several projects underway to enable Evolution to support more collaboration servers including OpenGroupware.org

seems to point to a better support of open source groupware servers by Kontact. This won’t be of much interest to the average home user, of course.

Calendar

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-calendar-1.png

You might like it or you might hate it. My guess is that if you put an Outlook user behind a desktop with Evolution in front of him/her, it would take some time to actually notice that something is different. The positioning of the various panels is almost the same as in Outlook. It wouldn’t take much of a training to get used to it. Even the icon to add new appointments, contacts or create a new e-mail is at the same location as in Outlook.

Clicking on the icon brings up a new windows where you can add the appointment information. Clicking on the Recurrence icon brings up another window. Both windows are pretty bare with only the minimum of functions. The Recurrence options can be set with pull-down menus. This makes for a lean and quiet layout, but experience tells me that casual users have more problems with these than with tick-boxes.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-calendar-2.png

What I missed is the easy button to invite other people. This function was accessible as a tab in Kontact, but I didn’t notice it in Evolution. Until I didn’t click the “New”-button, but the pull-down menu. There it was, the option to schedule a meeting.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-new.png

Contacts

Via the taskbar on the right there is quick access to the other functions of Evolution. The Contacts screen is quite minimalistic again and then I realize that minimalism has it’s limits. I like Philip Glass, but sometimes I prefer somewhat richer music to tickle the ears. I guess it wouldn’t hurt for Evolution to have a richer flavor for the eyes.

Adding a new contact shouldn’t pose too many problems. Like in Kontact you can add the weblog address of your contacts, but it doesn’t do anything with it. It’s not even a hyperlinked address to launch another application. Where Kontact has Akkregator to take care of RSS feeds and Thunderbird helps you to keep track of newsfeeds as well, Evolution doesn’t appear to have support for it on-board.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-contacts-2.png

Mail

I have multiple e-mail accounts and I prefer to keep them separate. This isn’t complicated in Thunderbird. I just disable the tick-box “Use Global Inbox” and each account will have it’s own subset of folders. Again I couldn’t find it in Evolution. The “Search Folders” option apparently replaces that and you can save your various search routines. Via Search -> Create Search Folder from Search it’s possible to create your own subsets of folders. In this way content or sender is more important than the originating e-mail account. Maybe I need to get used to this feature before I like it more.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-mail-search.png

Notes and Tasks

Adding Notes or Tasks is a matter of clicking on the “New icon” and adding your information. You even have the ability to create a shared memo. When you go from one function to the other, you can’t escape the thought that you are constantly working in the same window. The layout of each window is so similar you really have to take a good look and not mix up notes, with tasks or appointments. The consistency is … well, consistent.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-task-1.png

Wrapping up

After all this I went back to the settings and browsed the various options. With tons of spam entering my mailboxes I am primarily interested in the handling of junk mail (remember “Intelligent Junk Mail Control”). Evolution makes use of SpamAssassin and you can’t find fault with that. Strange enough the messages stated that the SpamAssassin plugin wasn’t available and that I should check whether it was installed. Answer: yes it is. SpamAssassin itself wasn’t installed on my system and I tried to fix that. The operative word is “tried”, because Package Manager could only tell me that it couldn’t fetch the package. Hmmm.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-spamassassin.png

I didn’t feel like digging much deeper and try installing SpamAssassin via Ports today. This will have to wait until later. But I have to say this: Thunderbird has anti-spam functions on-board. I like that.

Conclusions

Evolution is an Outlook look-a-like for the GNOME desktop with a consistency in layout for all it’s functions. With Evolution you send out the message that you mean to do business. It’s a good program, though boring to look at. When comparing it to Kontact, I prefer Kontact over Evolution because it is more configurable and because of Akkregator. Evolution is more a business contact application than an information manager, a hub for various related information channels. The fact that Kontact has more support for open groupware servers than Evolution gives it some more credit points. Of course, it makes sense for Novell to put more emphasis on Exchange and Groupwise. Given the choice I would suggest two DesktopBSD versions, one for the home user with Kontact and one for the business environment with Evolution. Maybe Kipling was right in some fashion after all.

Simple Forum

On day 16 I was pleasantly surprised by KMail and it’s import options for e-mail boxes. This isn’t the first time I looked at Kontact and it’s components, but I decided to dig a little deeper and answer the question whether Kontact is a good personal information manager for novice DesktopBSD users.

desktopbsd-day17-kontact-summary.png

What is the idea behind Kontact?

First of all. If you want to install Kontact, don’t start looking for a package called Kontact. It’s called kdepim and you can install it via package or ports. If you want to find more information online about Kontact you can go to two websites: the KDEPIM website for developers and contributors and the Kontact website for users. It’s always a bit of fun to see the marketing machine churning out business lingo and the Kontact machine has done it’s job as well:

The KDE Kontact Personal Information Management suite unites mature and proven KDE applications under one roof. Thanks to the powerful KParts technology, existing applications are seamlessly integrated into one.

The components of KDE Kontact are tailored to work well with each other. This results in features like intuitive drag-and-drop between appointment handling, task lists and contacts. KDE Kontact supports various groupware servers. When using these servers your workgroup has access to features like shared email folders, group task lists, calendar sharing, central addressbooks and meeting scheduling.

In short: KDE Kontact delivers innovations to help you manage your communications more easily, organize your work faster and work together more closely, resulting in more productivity and efficiency in digital collaboration.

The mission statement for KDEPIM is even better:

We intend to design an extensible cross-desktop storage service for PIM data and meta data providing concurrent read, write, and query access. It will provide unique desktop wide object identification and retrieval.

Integration and cooperation between the various components is at the heart of development.

First stop – the Calendar or KOrganizer

desktopbsd-day17-kontact-calender.png

In order to compete with Outlook the open source desktop needs a good calendar application. Not just a decent application, but one that is rock solid, easy to use and feature-complete. At first sight, Calendar seems a bit barren but looks are deceitful. For one, Calendar can be integrated with various mail- and groupware servers that you normally would find in a business environment. Think Novell Groupwise 6.5, think Microsoft Exchange, think Citadel, Kolab, eGroupware, OpenGroupware.org and Suse Linux Openexchange.

desktopbsd-day17-kontact-calender-2.png

And Calendar doesn’t stop here with making an impression. Just try to add new events and set the pattern of recurrence. Maybe I missed it in other programs, but I could easily set the recurrence pattern and select the days of expection. It shouldn’t be a problem to import calendars from other programs since Calendar supports both the iCalendar and vCalendar standards. Should you wish to migrate from Outlook to Calendar, you can use the Outlook2vCal tool to get all your appointments in vCalendar format.

desktopbsd-day17-kontact-calender-3.png

One thing I couldn’t test -but which would be very important in a business environment- is the ability to synchronize the data with my PDA. Kontact uses Kitchensync to take care of that. If you want to test it out, first check the device compatibility list.

Mail or KMail

On day 16 we already took a closer look at the mail component. I went over the configuration screen and was amazed by the available options. I guess I still have to get used to the KDE way of doing things. The security settings alone would require me to read up on things.

desktopbsd-day17-kontact-mail-1.png

Mail supports anti-spam and anti-virus programs, though there are not part of the program itself. The respective wizards -found under Tools- ended in messages that no spam detection or anti-virus tools were detected.

A bit of a disappointment – Contact or KAddressbook

Where Calendar left a good impression, Contact left me wanting. Oh, Contact can also hook up to various groupware servers and it is possible to import contactfiles in various formats (like Microsoft Exchange, Eudora and CSV). Adding new contacts is very simple and you can store quite a lot of information here, including various security settings and crypto keys. The field “Blog feed” is original and seemed quite Web 2.0 to me. It seemed like a good idea to keep track of the online activities of your contacts with their own weblogs.

From that perspective I found it disappointing to see the end result of adding a new contact. I expected to see a live feed, not the URL of the blog.

desktopbsd-day17-kontact-contacts-6.png

Maybe in the next release.

News or KNode

There was a time I kept track of various newsgroups intensively and even today I glance at them from time to time. When you click on News, you immediately see the window to add the account information. It’s simple and straightforward with a familiar interface.

desktopbsd-day17-kontact-news-1.png

On the other hand, Usenet seems to become more of a place to find new music, video and/or software instead of finding information. News doesn’t support binary downloads or the so-called .NZB files (or did I miss something?).

Some smaller and/or minor components

A few years ago I read Stephen Covey’s “The seven habits of highly effective people” for the first time. Let’s say I was in need of a better method for time management. One thing I learned was that simple to-do lists are not sufficient, because those lists tend to get longer, not shorter. Franklin Covey, the company, has a nice program that wraps itself around Outlook. It’s fun to organize your life around a list with A, B, C and D priorities. If you stick to it.

Anyway, let’s not drift to far from the subject at hand. Kontact has a To-do list component, you can add sticky notes (KNotes) and keep track of how your spend your time (KArm). If you need them, they are there. Personally I found them to be a bit behind some of the other components.

Perfect round up – Feeds or Akkregator

Strange enough there is no information about Akkregator on the KDE PIM or Kontact webpages. With Akkregator you can keep track of various newsfeeds and it was here that I expected the blog feed from the contacts to appear. What I really like is the integration with Konquerer. When you land on a page with an RSS feed, it takes only a click to add that feed to Akkregator.

desktopbsd-day17-kontact-feeds-2.png

desktopbsd-day17-kontact-feeds-3.png

Is Kontact a good PIM for novice DesktopBSD users?

This is one those questions that you really, really want to answer with “yes”. Kontact has some very strong components like Calendar and Feeds. Mail is fine, but not overly distinguishable from other programs. Importing your e-mail from other accounts is a strong point though. Contacts is a weak component. Overall, Kontact is fast and responsive and the integration is marvelous. It is highly configurable and that would be fine for quite a large group of users. When I look at it, the answer to the question is: “almost”.

NaNoWriMo – I made the 50.000

nano_07_winner_large.gifAnother challenge of life finished. It was fun to push myself to writing 50.000 words over a period of one month. With a few days to spare I finally crossed the 50.000 words barrier today. The basic idea is that you just keep writing and not allow yourself to be stopped by a writers’ block or other chores. One focus, one goal and in the end a lot of builiding blocks for a book.

In my case I have gathered and written about BSD mostly. Once the 30 day series about DesktopBSD is finished I will start re-working all the material into a publication again. But not today. Today I simply enjoy the feeling of succes. 😉

DesktopBSD day 17 – Flock and Freshports

Sometimes a program proliferates quite rapidly to all my computers. My friend Jos Herni wrote about Flock less than two weeks ago and I decided to give it try. Flock is called ‘the social webbrowser’ and makes it easy for users to participatie in the social web, upload photos and videos. Personally I like the blog editor most. It’s a fat browser, loaded with functions, but it outperforms Firefox on my computers. The overall impression was so good I decided to install it on my computer at work, on the laptop and the various desktops. And -working with DesktopBSD for 30 days- I decided to try it out for this series as well.

Looking for Flock

The Package Manager is the first port of call for finding and installing software and it was no trouble locating Flock in the list of available packages. There were two versions actually: flock 0.7_6 and linux-flock 0.9.0.2. I don’t think I mentioned it before, but FreeBSD, PC-BSD and DesktopBSD come with Linux binary compatibility. This allows Linux software to run under *BSD, which could be of benefit to users who want to push the edge a little bit. In the case of Flock you can see the difference in version numbers. Flock 1.0 isn’t available yet, but I was willing to use a somewhat older version.

Unfortunately, the Package Manager reported back that both packages couldn’t be found. I updated the lists (again), but to no avail. I went to the fall-back position, the commandline, and ran # pkg_add -r flock. Again nothing. What was wrong?

Finding enlightenment at Freshports

I went to Freshports since I expected to find the most up-to-date information about the ports there. At least that’s what the website states:

FreshPorts has everything you want to know about FreeBSD software, ports, packages, applications, whatever term you want to use.

Typing the keyword Flock resulted in a short list with packages that have ‘flock’ in their names. The packages referring to the webbrowser had some interesting messages:

flock 0.7_6
BROKEN: Does not build on amd64
IGNORE: is marked as broken: Does not build on amd64

linux-flock 0.9.0.2
FORBIDDEN: multiple vulnerabilities
IGNORE: is forbidden: multiple vulnerabilities

Since I wasn’t installing Flock on an AMD64 box I was curious as to why it wouldn’t install. The next two sentences gave the explanation:

To install the port: cd /usr/ports/www/linux-flock/ && make install clean
A package is not available for ports asked as: Forbidden / Broken / Ignore / Restricted

The Freshports FAQ page gives some more information about the flags for broken of forbidden. In short, when software is marked as forbidden, broken or ignore you can’t use # pkg_add to install it. You might give it a try to install it as port and compile the software.

Personally, once I had seen the warning “multiple vulnerabilities” for linux-flock I decided against installing it via the ports. I like my webbrowser to be a bit more secure. It would have been nice to see the warnings and the above mentioned flags in Package Manager. It makes perfect sense to disable binary installs for software with these flags. As it is now, the average user doesn’t have a clue as to why the install failed. The first conclusion drawn most likely will be that the Package Manager is broken and/or that package management in *BSD sucks. That conclusion would be unfair, but could be prevented by adding the flag information in the Package Manager.

On a side note

There were a few components of the GNOME2 desktop I wanted to install (hacker tools etc.). The Package Manager invariably came up with the message that the packages couldn’t be found. This weekend I decided to use the commandline option and it worked. I know there is a difference between the list in Package Manager and the actual DesktopBSD repositories, but that difference would be lost for a novice user. If it’s in the list, you should be able to install it.

DesktopBSD day 16 – Setting up my personal information managers

One of the key applications for desktop users is perhaps the personal information manager. Especially in an office environment it is paramount to be able to keep track of e-mail, contacts and appointments. Today I tried to set up three personal information managers on DesktopBSD.

Thunderbird in conjunction with a mobile hard drive

I have a small collection of e-mail accounts that I need/want to check a couple of times a day. I use my main desktop to download all messages permanently, but I have set up Portable Thunderbird on my mobile hard drive for use at work, on my laptop or any other PC I might use. It’s no problem on Windows PC’s, since I can use the Portable Launcher. But how to do that under DesktopBSD?

It’s quite simple actually. The first thing you have to do is launch Thunderbird for the first time from your desktop. The wizard will guide through the various steps, but you can fill in all kinds of bogus information. We won’t use this account at all, but we need to finish the steps in order to create the proper Thunderbird folder in your home directory. Once you are done, you can click on the Home icon and go to your folder (/home/user). Go to view -> show hidden files. As you can see, your folder just became somewhat more crowded.

desktopbsd-day16-pim01.png

You can go the .thunderbird folder and open the file Profiles.ini in an editor. We will change the Thunderbird settings here, so that it points to the Portable Thunderbird folders on the mobile drive. As a side note: make sure it is mounted now. Now let’s have a look at the profiles.ini file:

[General]
StartWithLastProfile=1

[Profile0]
Name=default
IsRelative=1
Path=o7cy2v72.default

We are concerned with the last two lines. In my case I had to change them into:

IsRelative=0
Path=/media/FAT (55 GB)/ThunderbirdPortable/Data/profile

The Path line points to the exact location of the files on the mobile hard drive. That drive is mounted under /media/FAT (55 GB). I have a folder ThunderbirdPortable on that drive and the mailbox files are stored under profile.

Suppose you didn’t set the path line correctly, what will happen then? Well, you could get this message:

desktopbsd-day16-pim02.png

Another option is that it will start the wizard again. In both cases, close Thunderbird and fix the path line. The problem is always there.

Thunderbird is a great e-mail client, but it needs something extra to turn it into a personal information manager. I have used the Lightning extension for a while together with Google Calendar. There is a nice extension that synchronizes your Google Calendar with Lightning. I wanted to set it up again, but I couldn´t download the Lightning extension. It appears that there is no version of Lightning for use with Thunderbird on FreeBSD. There is one for Solaris and I thought: “It’s another Unix, so why not.” Another lesson learned, because it didn’t work.

desktopbsd-day16-pim03.png


Preparing Thunderbird for mailbox migration

I knew beforehand I wanted to try out Evolution and KMail and knew they could handle mbox files, the files that contain the mail boxes. Thunderbird doesn’t have the ability to import/export mbox files on-board, but you can download an extension to handle that here.

Once it is installed you can go to Tools and select one of the import or export options. For use with the experiment I exported the boxes of one account.

desktopbsd-day16-pim04.png

If you want to read up on importing and exporting your e-mail from and to various e-mail clients, there is a good article on Mozillazine. It will help you when migrating from Windows to DesktopBSD as well.

Evolution: a GNOME application on the KDE desktop

Evolution is often presented as a complete personal information manager and positioned against Microsoft Outlook. I have to use Outlook quite a lot and Evolution still has to mature to come close. But that’s just my opinion, feel free to disagree. I launched Evolution and went through the wizard to setup the first e-mail account. The first impression of Evolution was horrible, take a look.

desktopbsd-day16-pim05.png

Apparently it takes some more fiddling to make a GNOME application look at home on a DesktopBSD KDE desktop. Under Ubuntu it’s no problem and Evolution looks like itself there. I went to File -> Import and selected the option to import a single file. Evolution gives you the freedom to import the mailbox to one of the available folders.

desktopbsd-day16-pim06.png

KMail and mass import

KMail is neatly integrated in the Kontact workspace. By default not all applications are visible in the Kontact workspace, but selecting Settings -> Configure Kontact -> Select components remedies that. In the 30 day series for PC-BSD I discussed Kontact already and was quite pleased with it. You can set up the various components from one configuration window. There is no easy wizard here to help you to setup the e-mail accounts, but for the more experienced user that shouldn’t be necessary. I can imagine it being a bit more daunting to the novice migrator that doesn’t setup his/her e-mail accounts every day.

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I went to KMail and selected File -> Import messages. This launches the KMailCVT Import Tool. Okay, the name could use some work, but it is a great tool. It can import directly from a directory with Thunderbird mailboxes.

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This make it almost possible for a W2L migrator to simply copy the old Thunderbird folders to a data partition or a mobile drive and import them again using KMailCVT. Almost, because it also tried to import the other files in the folders that were clearly not e-mail folders. The tool imports all folders in a separate Thunderbird folder and uses the TB folder names for the accounts. With this it took me less than 5 minutes to migrate all my Thunderbird folders to KMail, though not the various accounts settings.

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If you don’t want the mass import and have somewhat more control, you can also use the option to import mbox files. Those files are stored in their own entries with as naming conventions.

I was more than surprised to see the mass import option in KMail. I never noticed it before, but it is a great tool. If anything, it made me admire the Kontact workspace even more.

DesktopBSD day 15 – Getting the GNOME desktop

My attempts to get a working version of GNOME on my PC-BSD box were unsuccessful. GNOME 2.20 was installed, but I couldn’t get the window manager running in the time I had available. No matter how much I begin to appreciate the KDE desktop, I still find it a nice idea that the graphical work environment is a matter of choice and just a few mouse-clicks away from being altered. The webpage of the FreeBSD GNOME project indicated that installing GNOME 2.20 shouldn’t pose more problems than entering # pkg_add -r gnome 2 in the command line interface.

Installing GNOME 2.20

The DesktopBSD team didn´t develop the tools for nothing and I decided to use the Package Manager to deal with the task of installing GNOME 2.20 with just the gnome2 metapackage and only from binaries with the option “Force processing of further packages even if prerequisite packages have failed to upgrade” enabled. About four hours later I received the notification that the installation had finished. Lo’ and behold, I didn’t see any error messages waiting for me as well.

Logging out, selecting the GNOME desktop and logging in again revealed to me the GNOME 2.20 desktop. It was ugly, the fonts were hard to read and the icon set wasn’t really shining from the screen. But it worked! I could launch applications and it was simply functional. The only annoyance is a crash report about problems with the screen saver at log in.

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Fixing the GNOME desktop

After making a couple of victory dances for being successful (though I didn’t really do anything to make it successful) I sat down to fix the desktop. The GNOME look website is my one-stop-shop to get the needed eye candy. I downloaded a few themes and found a couple of icon sets that seemed to fit the wallpaper I ‘designed’ earlier.

Customizing the GNOME desktop isn’t difficult after that. I opened the “Appearance preferences” window (System -> Preferences -> Appearance) and simply dragged-N-dropped the downloaded themes and sets. Applying them immediately didn’t happen automatically. but clicking on “Customize” and selecting the correct settings solved that problem.

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However, this didn’t improve the fonts in the panel and the menu. They remained horrible and unpleasant to work with. Even selecting other fonts and changing their size didn’t really help. In the tab Fonts there is a button “Details” and there I found the solution. The default resolution was 72 dots per inch and when I increased the resolution the whole desktop looked much better.

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There wasn’t a need to fix the menu. All KDE applications were put under a separate KDE entry already. Of the various DesktopBSD tools I only found the Package Manager. Besides this there are a few remaining annoyances and tweaks. For instance, I can’t use the tools under System -> Administration due to insufficient rights (without asking for a root password).

Extending GNOME

The final step of the experiment was to install the other metapackages, which are described at the project webpage:

The GNOME 2 Fifth Toe (x11/gnome2-fifth-toe) consists of stable GNOME 2 applications that many users expect to find in a functional desktop environment. This includes image manipulation applications, chat and instant messenger applications, and music and multimedia players
The GNOME 2 Hacker Tools (devel/gnome2-hacker-tools) consists of applications developers would need to create and maintain GNOME software projects. This includes IDEs, interface builders, “hacker” editors, and code generation tools.
The GNOME 2 Office (editors/gnome2-office) consists of applications that are commonly found in office or productivity suites. This includes a spreadsheet application, word processor, project management application, database access application, groupware suite, and diagramming application.
The GNOME 2 Power Tools (x11/gnome2-power-tools) consists of utilities and applets for the technically-minded GNOME user. It also contains many useful add-on utilities for some of the applications found in the Desktop and Fifth Toe.

I know I have installed some of these applications (like Abiword and Gnumeric) in the earlier days of this month, but for the sake of the experiment I decided to select the four metapackages. It may sound weird but all of them failed and couldn’t be downloaded. Ah well, I’ll try again later.

DesktopBSD day 14 – Emulation and virtualization

I believe that in the current time frame any migration strategy to an open source desktop should also include emulation and virtualization options. At least in this way migration to an open source desktop can not be halted by one or two applications that require Windows as a platform. The Wine project is expanding it’s support for applications rapidly and the Wine website should be a first stop to see whether the needed software can be run via this compatibility layer.

Wine is an Open Source implementation of the Windows API on top of X, OpenGL, and Unix.
Think of Wine as a compatibility layer for running Windows programs. Wine does not require Microsoft Windows, as it is a completely free alternative implementation of the Windows API consisting of 100% non-Microsoft code, however Wine can optionally use native Windows DLLs if they are available. Wine provides both a development toolkit for porting Windows source code to Unix as well as a program loader, allowing many unmodified Windows programs to run on x86-based Unixes, including Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, and Solaris.

If this doesn’t work for you it is a matter of going down the road of virtualization and installing Windows in a virtual machine. I have dealt with this in the PC-BSD series, but for completeness sake I will deal with various possibilities for DesktopBSD as well. First two options that aren’t really for novice users: Qemu and Xen

QEMU

What is Qemu? I think the developers have answered that question pretty clear:

QEMU is a generic and open source machine emulator and virtualizer.
When used as a machine emulator, QEMU can run OSes and programs made for one machine (e.g. an ARM board) on a different machine (e.g. your own PC). By using dynamic translation, it achieves very good performances.
When used as a virtualizer, QEMU achieves near native performances by executing the guest code directly on the host CPU. A host driver called the QEMU accelerator (also known as KQEMU) is needed in this case. The virtualizer mode requires that both the host and guest machine use x86 compatible processors.

You can install the packages for Qemu, Qemu-launcher – a graphical front-end-  and Kqemu via the Package Manager. Once installed the Qemu-launcher can be found under Utilities -> Qemu-launcher. This is easy enough.

It becomes more complicated when you wish to create a virtual machine and install the operating system. At the Qemu website you can download some prepared disk images, though obviously not for Windows.

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If you want to give installing Windows a try, checking this thread at BSDNexus is almost compulsory.

Xen

If you want to know whether virtualization is a hot issue just check the stock price for the recently published Vmware or consider the fact that Citrix bought XenSource . Xen is also supported on Red Hat and Novell’s OpenSuse 10. No support for FreeBSD as a host operating system yet I am afraid. Even instaling FreeBSD as a guest OS is a challenge. Another howto can be found here.

VirtualBox

VirtualBox has been released as open source virtualization software and I am getting more and more impressed. It’s performance is getting better and better, especially when I compare it to Vmware Server that is running on the same laptop. You can download the tarball here.

There isn’t a package or port for FreeBSD yet, but according to the wiki it is work in progress. It should be a matter of time.

Vmware

Vmware has been mentioned above and it is one of the virtualization options with it’s own port (/usr/ports/emulators/vmware3). The available version is somewhat dated, but it might do the trick for you.

Win4BSD

Win4BSD was discussed in the PC-BSD series already, but then we had the luxury of installing it via a PBI. That won’t work under DesktopBSD. The good news is that Win4BSD is available in the ports collection. Make sure you enable the option to use source in the Package Manager and it will be installed without a problem. You can then find the program under Utilities -> More applications -> Win4BSD Pro.

From experience I know that Win4BSD does it’s job and is the easiest to install and use of the current set of options. The downside is that it isn’t free, but you can get a license for $ 29,99 now (against $ 69,99 about a year ago). Strange enough Win4BSD wouldn’t launch on my regular PC, so i will have to spend some time later this month to find the cause of this.

DesktopBSD day 13 – Installing on a real hard drive

If there is one thing I don’t fondly remember about the PC-BSD series, it is the problems I had finding a hard drive that would be accepted as ‘good enough’ by the installer. The PC-BSD installer refused to cooperate with seven harddrives, ranging from 20 Gb to 120 Gb in size, reporting CRC errors etc. In the end only an old 6,4 Gb drive was deemed okay. Of course, it’s not bad to have a good hardware checkup, but in all cases the drives were and are still quite functional with Windows and various Linux distributions on them.

With this in mind I expected DesktopBSD to act similarly. I could have opted to go for the 6,4 Gb drive immediately, but that’s not the way of the empirical researcher. Again I went through the stack of hard drives. Yep, same list of errors and refusals. The DesktopBSD installer is somewhat smarter than the PC-BSD installer. Where PC-BSD would just start the install routine (only to fail at each attempted package), DesktopBSD would immediately halt with an error message.

The 6,4 Gb could indeed be used and the install was completed without a problem. The only thing I had to change were the settings for my graphics card (nVidia N6200) to 128 Mb and 2x AGP. Otherwise the boot up would crash.

I have done most of testing and playing with DesktopBSD on a virtual machine, which comes with a speed penalty. Earlier in the series I reported the responsiveness when using the live CD and I can tell you: working with DesktopBSD from a real hard drive is even faster. Lightning fast.

When shutting down the PC the graphical interface disappears and my monitor reports “Input not supported”. A bit weird, but it’s a problem that I also noticed with PC-BSD. At least I have a fast platform for some other experiments I intend to do this month. Still, it will be a matter of installing and removing packages throughout, because I don’t think 6,4 Gb is sufficient.

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