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.comment: The Plateau - page 2

Nothing Entirely New Under the Sun

  • October 17, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell
I was thrilled to read Brian Proffitt's column this week, in which he talked about the StarOffice 6.0 beta and the latest build of OpenOffice. My thrill was not for the reason that you might think. I am married to typeface anti-aliasing. I think it is one of the three coolest things in the software world, the other two being XScreensaver and Mosfet's liquid theme. This means that I am married -- and happily so -- to KWord, which is a pure pleasure to write upon. When Brian noted that the StarOffice filters for Word for Windows work very well, and when he went on to say that the OpenOffice filters are the same, I was ecstatic -- not because I have any special interest in these office suites, though I'll keep one or the other installed here, but because if the filters are open source, there is a great potential for bringing them to KWord, which is in tremendous need of really competent filters. But then it will be just about all the word processor most people need. (I plan to package up a couple screenshots of some of the nifty things the DeScribe word processor could do and send them off to the KWord folks; if they can duplicate those, KWord will be the best word processor ever.)

We are not hearing as much as we used to about Gnome, and I think that that's sad. Not sad enough to get me to use it, mind you, but sad nonetheless, because I think competition is important in just about every area, and on the Red Hat beta I have Gnome running. It's not my cup of tea, but it's certainly quite good and I can see how there are those who would favor it for purely nonpolitical reasons. Just as it would be possible and by some standards sensible to declare Red Hat the winner of the distribution competition, it would be easy to hand the crown to KDE. But KDE would not have gotten as good as it is as fast as it did without Gnome, so even those who have never used it should wish it well and be glad it's here.

I wish I had time to become truly adept at a few of the things that are now possible under Linux: Image manipulation and audio editing. In the last few weeks we've all seen some truly professional images cobbled together (or is it Kabuled together?) by some very clever people. The news even made note of a poster used in anti-American demonstrations that somehow came to include a picture of Bert from Sesame Street looking over the shoulder of Osama bin Laden. I have a collection of 96 pictures in which the poor character who was drafted to be in the fake photo of the tourist atop the World Trade Center, plane approaching; only now he has come to be known as "Internet Tourist Guy" and to be everywhere, from the famous photo of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot, to a lifeboat escaping the Titanic, to the Concorde crash, to having his face (very convincingly) on Mount Rushmore. What I did not know, until I asked, was that many of these were produced using the Gimp.

Sound editing has become a serious artform. Years ago, when I was in the radio business, I was pretty good at it, but at that time it was pure hardware. Tape was edited with a razor blade, and sound was altered with either a parametric or an analog equalizer. (We had a really cool gadget, called a Harmonizer, which you could use to raise or lower the tone of your voice, but there were other nifty things you could do, too. For instance, you could lower your voice by half as you recorded a tape, then play it back at twice the speed, resulting in your speaking at twice the speed in your normal tone of voice. It worked with music, too, so it was possible to fit "MacArthur Park," at around eight minutes, into a Top-40 three minutes. It was hilarious.

Now it can be done on a PC, though the computer imparts neither skill nor talent -- those need to be acquired elsewhere.

We have gained and lost on the Linux platform in that regard lately. The bad news is the departure of Broadcast 2000 from the scene. Citing the potential for lawsuits, the company has ceased to distribute it to me and thee. This really nifty audio suite was one of the unheralded Linux apps, which is a shame -- a good hand with it could perform miracles.

The good news arrived by email from Guillaume Laurent, who is both a fine programmer and a considerable thinker -- someone worth paying attention to. His report was of the release of a new alpha version of the new and improved Rosegarden. There is a good chance that you have the old edition on your machine; the new one is a KDE2 application.

"We're pretty happy to have finally released something which, although alpha-level, is already featureful enough to let you put notes on tracks and play them or save them to MIDI," he wrote.

It looks good -- better than an 0.1 release can be expected to look. (There is also, he notes in a spirit of fairness that exemplifies the best of open source development, the KMusic, also known as Brahms, project, which is a different route to much the same goal.) If you have an interest in composing music, they're both worth your time -- though, please, if your taste is toward metallic technopop, don't send me the results.

Anyway, the last version of Broadcast 2000 and the new development of Rosegarden have caused me to resolve that I'll spend enough time to finally become middling competent with both of them.

Actually, multimedia is a good measure of how far Linux has come. Again due to the events of recent weeks, there have been many really amusing cartoons on the web; also, a number of broadcasts available to most of us only on the web. There was once a time when Linux users would have to sadly pass on most things of this sort. But RealPlayer for Linux now works reliably, as do the multitude of open source applications that you probably already have. We're not left out anymore.

Nor are we left out of the single greatest complaint of those seeking to move from Windows to Linux: The lack of something that does what Quicken does. Shawn Gordon's theKompany.com has just released a new pre-release version of Kapital. I haven't played with it yet (which is to say that I have not put it on my wife's machine yet and listened to her impressions), but I shall, and if what I hear from others is true, she will be impressed. Yes, I had to pay for it, as will you. Was your Quicken free?

While I'm here, I need to register a couple of complaints with my browser of choice, Opera. The first is that it does not support plugins well at all. It is supposed to, but its search for them never actually finds any. (Funny thing -- Konqueror has no problem.) This means that clicking on a multimedia file gives you the choice of saving it to disk -- pretty silly when we're talking an audio or audio/video stream -- or opening it, in which case unexpected results are the norm. (Here's a tip for Opera users: if you know it's a Real stream, select "Open Document." You'll get a line or two in Opera. You can then cut and paste into the RealPlayer File > Open location dialog and in most cases you're fine.) The second is that if you leave Opera open enough, and scoot around the Web enough, it will become very slow in all sorts of weird ways. moving the mouse pointer across the toolbar will produce a slow-motion highlighting of each of the icons in turn. I have mine set to cache nothing, but still it happens. I can't quite figure out what's up, because it hasn't sucked up all of the 768 megs of memory on my machine -- everything else is as snappy as usual. Shutting it down for awhile and restarting it solves the problem.

But Linux has reached the point that anything you want to do you probably can do.

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