Posts tagged free software

Firefox 86.0 released

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Firefox logoEarlier this week, version 86.0 of the Firefox web browser was released.

I have a great affection for Firefox, as I started using it in the early 2000s before version 1.0 was released when the browser market was dominated by Microsoft’s unloved but ubiquitous Internet Explorer.

Firefox is also bundled as the standard web browser in many Linux distributions including my long-term preferred distro, Debian.

According to the release notes, there have been several privacy improvements and other enhancements in the latest version.

As regards privacy, Firefox 86.0 has now introduces Total Cookie Protection to Strict Mode. In Total Cookie Protection, every website gets its own “cookie jar,” preventing cookies from being used to track users from site to site.

For those able to concentrate on several things at once, Firefox now supports simultaneously watching multiple videos in Picture-in-Picture.

Print functionality has also been improved, with a cleaner design and better integration with your computer’s printer settings.

There have also been several bug fixes.

Get the latest Firefox.

Collabora working on Wayland driver for Wine

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Following on from an initial proposal by Collabora for a Wayland driver for the Wine emulator (which enables Windows applications to be run on Linux. Ed.), the company’s developers have now posted a Request for Comment (RFC) on the upstream mailing list, Germany’s Linux Magazin reports.

The goal of this driver is to allow Windows applications to run directly on Wayland compositors, eventually removing the need for XWayland for many uses.

The goal of this driver is to allow Windows applications to run directly on Wayland compositors, eventually removing the need for XWayland for many use cases. Consequently, it should not be assumed that XWayland will get support for modern features. In a post on Collabora’s blog, chief developer Alexandros Frantzis mentions HDR imaging as such a function. Furthermore, as an additional layer, XWayland represents an unnecessary complication and possible breeding ground for inefficiency.

This RFC contains additional details of how the Wayland driver should work with Wine. Copy/paste, Drag-and-drop and changing the display mode are mentioned. Copy/paste support is already working well in both directions, according to Frantzis, i.e. both from native Wayland applications to Wine applications and vice versa. Drag-and-drop works from a native Wayland application to a Wine application in many established formats. Progress on these aspect of the driver can be seen in the video below released by Collabora.

Open source on Mars

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As per the title of the old Hawkwind song, Uncle Sam’s on Mars. Again.

On 18th February NASA’s Perseverance Rover touched down in Mars’ Jezero Crater.

Perseverance rover

Perseverance rover

However, what is less well known is the role played by Linux and open source software in the Perseverance mission to the Red Planet, particularly as regards its hitch-hiking companion – the Ingenuity helicopter.

This has been revealed by Steven J. Vaughan-Nicholas in a piece for ZDNet.

Anatomy of the Ingeuity Mars helicopter

The Ingenuity Mars helicopter. Click on the image for the full-sized version.

Ingenuity weighs 1.8 kg and is attached to the belly of the 1,025 kg Perseverance rover. If its mission is successful, Ingenuity will be the first man-made vehicle ever to fly on another planet. It will fly itself using a combination of Linux and a NASA-built program based on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory‘s (JPL) open-source (F prime) framework.

This will not be easy. Mars’ atmosphere is so thin, its density is one per cent that of the Earth’s whilst its gravity is one-third that of Sol III. Ingenuity is expected to make one or more flights within 30 days as a technology demonstration, according to NASA.

Timothy Canham, a JPL Embedded Flight Software Engineer, stated the following in an interview with IEEE Spectrum:

This the first time we’ll be flying Linux on Mars. We’re actually running on a Linux operating system. The software framework that we’re using is one that we developed at JPL for CubeSats and instruments, and we open-sourced it a few years ago. So, you can get the software framework that’s flying on the Mars helicopter, and use it on your own project. It’s kind of an open-source victory because we’re flying an open-source operating system and an open-source flight software framework and flying commercial parts that you can buy off the shelf if you wanted to do this yourself someday.

NASA has long had an involvement with Linux and open source. Linux has been used on the International Space Station (ISS) since 2013 (posts passim), whilst the agency has over 500 Open Source 3.0 software projects, whilst its Goddard Space Flight Center built the first Beowulf supercomputer, likewise using off-the-shelf components.

It still remains to be seen whether Perseverance succeeds in its mission to find traces on ancient life on Mars and if Ingenuity’s flight(s) will be successful, but yesterday Ingenuity ‘phoned home’ from the Red Planet.

Fontaine’s schoolchildren now on Linux

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The French town of Fontaine (Isère) has recently converted 200 school computers from Windows to the elementary OS Linux distribution, Joinup reports.

Nicolas Vivant, the CIO of Fontaine, has been part of the transition to open source that the local public sector has implemented over the past 10 years. The local authority opted for open source due to openness and transparency, as well as value for money.

Elementary OS desktop

Default elementary OS| desktop

The switch to open source started in the town hall with a change from proprietary browsers and email clients to Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird. The schools’ switch to elementary OS represents stage 2.

Some of the software used by teachers presented some problems according to Vivant, as it was only designed to run on Windows, so the wine emulator had to be used to get it working.

However, Vivant remarked in an online event that for most users the switch to a Linux system has provided a better overall experience.

In addition to installing Linux on school machines, the schools are also running their infrastructure Debian servers.

According to Joinup, one of the benefits of using open source is that children’s privacy is better protected due to leaving a smaller digital footprint online, an important consideration when every third internet user in the EU is estimated to be a child.

KDE Plasma 5.21 preview

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Ever since I first starting using Linux seriously 16 years ago, KDE has always been my preferred desktop environment.

I’ve dabbled with GNOME and other desktops, but always come back to KDE for usability, customisability and good looks.

Now known as Plasma, the KDE desktop will soon be reaching the release of its 5.21 version.

Below is a sneak preview of what can be expected when the new version is released, together with a tribute at the end to Gustavo Carneiro. a KDE developer who unfortunately passed away from Covid-19 in January and whose work concentrated on KDE’s Konsole terminal emulator.

This 5.21 release of Plasma is dedicated to Gustavo’s memory.

TDF is 9 years old

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TDF logoToday The Document Foundation (TDF), the organisation behind the free and open source LibreOffice productivity suite, celebrates its 9th birthday.

On 17th February 2012 The Document Foundation was registered in Berlin as a German charitable foundation (Stiftung).

TDF had been created by members of the OpenOffice.org community to manage and develop LibreOffice, partially out of fears that Oracle Corporation would cease development of OpenOffice.org after its takeover of Sun Microsystems, the custodians of the OpenOffice.org project. The original OpenOffice.org project is now curated by the Apache Software Foundation.

The TDF’s goal is to produce a vendor-independent office suite with ODF support in a development environment free from control by an individual company.

This goal has been achieved too. LibreOffice is now on release version 7.1, is included as the standard office suite in many GNU/Linux distributions and been downloaded millions of times.

Many happy returns, TDF!

How to make a speech bubble in GIMP

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GIMP, also known as the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a great free and open source graphics creation and editing suite suite, which comes as part of the standard software installation package for many GNU/Linux distributions, although it is also available for other operating systems.

My main use for GIMP is for dealing with graphics containing text in files submitted for translation, as well as tweaking digital photographs.

Nevertheless, every now and again the urge strikes me to learn a bit more to make the most of the software installed on my systems.

If, like me, you have ever wondered how to add a speech bubble to an image using GIMP, help is at hand in the form of the handy video tutorial below.

Now you too know how to put words into other people’s mouths . 😀

LibreOffice 6.2 released

Yesterday The Document Foundation (TDF) announced the release of LibreOffice 6.2, a significant major release of the free and open source office suite which features a radical new approach to the user interface – based on the MUFFIN concept – and provides user experience options to meet all users’ preferences.

LibreOffice 6.2 banner

The NotebookBar is available in Tabbed, Grouped and Contextual versions. Each one has a different approach to the menu layout and complements the traditional Toolbars and Sidebar. The Tabbed variant aims to provide a familiar interface for users coming from suites such as MS Office and is supposed to be used primarily without the sidebar, while the Grouped one allows to access “first-level” functions with one click and “second-level” functions with a maximum of two clicks.

The design community has also made substantial changes and improvements to icon themes, in particular Elementary and Karasa Jaga.

LibreOffice 6.2 new and improved features

  • The help system offers faster filtering of index keywords, highlighting search terms as they are typed and displaying results based on the selected module.
  • Context menus have been tidied up, to be more consistent across the different components in the suite.
  • Change tracking performances have been dramatically improved, especially in large documents.
  • In Writer, it is now possible to copy spreadsheet data into tables instead of just inserting them as objects.
  • In Calc it is now possible to do multivariate regression analysis using the regression tool. In addition, many more statistical measures are now available in the analysis output and the new REGEX function has been added, to match text against a regular expression and optionally replace it.
  • In Impress and Draw the motion path of animations can now be modified by dragging its control points. In addition, a couple of text-related drawing styles have been added, as well as a Format Table submenu in Draw.
  • LibreOffice Online, the cloud-based version of the suite, includes many improvements too. On mobile devices, the user interface has been simplified, with better responsiveness and updates to the on-screen keyboard.

As with every major and minor release of LibreOffice, interoperability with proprietary file formats has also been improved for better compatibility with Office documents, including old versions which have been dropped by Microsoft. The focus has been on charts, animations and document security features. To assist with interoperability, LibreOffice 6.2 is built with document conversion libraries from the Document Liberation Project.

LibreOffice 6.2’s new features have been developed by a large community of contributors: 74% of commits are from developers employed by companies on the TDF’s the Advisory Board, such as Collabora, Red Hat and CIB and by other contributors such as the City of Munich. Individual volunteers account for 26% of commits.

In addition, there is a global community of individual volunteers taking care of quality assurance, software localization, user interface design and user experience, editing the help pages and documentation.

LibreOffice 6.1.5 for commercial deployments

The Document Foundation has also released LibreOffice 6.1.5, a more mature version which includes some months of back-ported fixes and is better suited for commercial deployments, where features are less important as individual productivity is the main objective.

Companies wishing to deploy LibreOffice are advised to seek assistance for such matters as software support, migrations and training from qualified professionals.

Download LibreOffice 6.2 or LibreOffice 6.1.5

LibreOffice 6.2 and LibreOffice 6.1.5 are now available for immediate download. Builds of the latest LibreOffice Online source code are also available, released as Docker images.

LibreOffice Online is fundamentally a server service and should be installed and configured by adding cloud storage and an SSL certificate. It might be considered an enabling technology for the cloud services offered by ISPs or the private cloud of enterprises and large organisations.

LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members are encouraged to support The Document Foundation with a donation.

Public Money? Public Code! The video

As part of its campaign to increase the use of free software in the public sector (posts passim), the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has also produced a short video explaining the benefits for the public purse, citizens and the common weal.

Guillemets (French quotation marks) on a Linux keyboard

My first experiences of computing took place before the widespread use of graphical user interfaces (GUIs).

Consequently, I use a lot of keyboard* shortcuts.

These can also be used to create individual characters and, if known, represent an alternative such as using a visual character map, such as KCharSelect, the character map on the KDE desktop environment on my Linux machines.

KCharselect with the left-hand guillemet selected

KCharselect with the left-hand guillemet selected

So what’s the keyboard shortcut alternative for French quotation marks?

On Linux, most special characters can be inserted into a text editor or office package using the AltGr key plus one or two other keystrokes. If you have the patience to learn them, they can save a lot of time.

For the left guillemet, AltGr+z produces «.

For the right guillemet, AltGr+x produces ».

As you can see, it’s a lot quicker than using a GUI-based alternative.

* = I’ve always used a standard EN-GB keyboard layout.

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