Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Windows or nothing - I'll take nothing

In a previous post I ranted on about the supply of software for Linux systems. I decided that it is time to moan in style on these pages. I am moaning about companies who are inflexible in their support of Linux, and many companies take a similar attitude towards Apple's Mac OS X. Note this rant and rave is not about support for Linux but the inflexible attitude of some companies towards a different operating system. I have suffered this for years having always run what is a minority operating system because I prefer that OS at the time.

The background, why I run Linux: I used Acorn's RISC OS. I needed some extra disc space and a few more peripherals. RISC OS was expensive to add the latest peripherals to. The best way of getting them was to put in a server and supply them from that. I looked at Windows and Red Hat Linux. Red hat was the cheaper solution, even though I then paid the full Red Hat license. The big plus for Red Hat was the inclusion and support of the various servers I needed. Once I made this move to Red Hat Linux 5.1. Slowly I used it more and more until it replaced RISC OS. Please note that I have nothing against Windows and I do use it on Virtual machine at times, I just prefer Linux.

So what is my problem? I have just changed the ISP supplying my broadband. The new ISP set-up could be done from Windows or Mac OS. In fact it could be done from Linux or any other operating system if only they would tell you how! That is my problem. They do have a small section on how to setup routers other than the one they supply on their web pages, from that you can set up your own router on your Linux system. How do I access this before I get on to broadband? Could they also not include similar instructions on how to set-up the router they provide? Could they not even put these in the box, just in case you are on Linux or some other operating system.

They also warn you that there could be problems if you cannot run their test program if you have problems. They of course only supply this for Windows and Mac OS X. Everyone else takes pot luck. This is the norm in the ISP market. Don't tell me about the Linux friendly ISPs, I am not in their price bracket at present. I have only moved to save money. Besides many ISPs are the same even though they support Linux, they will not help a React OS chap for example.

What I find appalling is that I sit at my bash prompt typing away attempting to configure the router via telnet or ssh. I then look at this router and realise that this CLI stuff is familiar. Is this Linux in another guise, probably. All the Windows fans who would not give Linux a home should throw out their routers. My ISP is willing to send you a Linux box but not support one, strange but true.

Is this a major problem? No. I have yet to be refused support by any ISP just because I run Linux. I have yet to fail to get a router working just because I run Linux. Most ISPs are accommodating. They want your custom. In fact I am very happy with my ISP for giving me what I want at a price I can almost afford. What they don't want to do is just give that little extra help that they could. And it is something I can use to step onto this, my favourite soap box.

What they need to do is give a simple list of technical information. An A5 sheet in the box explaining the required settings would help. They can put a little warning on it that this is only for users of minority systems and not for those willing to let their scripts configure things for them. Most have the information hidden away on their web pages, but you can see the problem with this. I am sat at home with my new ADSL connection, a new router and no instructions to help me. I am sure that the information would also be useful to those Windows and Mac OS users who prefer to do things themselves. We live in the information age, all I want is one small piece of paper.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Geeqie Whiz!

I have said that I have an interest in photography and I use Linux. Naturally my photographs are processed on Linux. In fact last week I ranted on about the supply of software for Linux systems. I had used the services of fotoinsight to produce a photo booklet. This was such a success I tried two more! So thanks to the chaps at fotoinsight they have made my family happy and supported Linux. Now my family can see my photographs so I need to improve.

There are lots of columns and articles describing photographic software available for Linux. I have tired most of it but do keep looking. In fact I have just lashed out on a commercial product, LightZone, but I am not going to tip you off about the advantages I think it presents. I do still look around for the perfect Free solution. I have not found it but I have found a gem that almost does what I want. I want something to organise my workflow. Geeqie is a fork of the GQview project. I like it. It is quick and simple. I found it very quick to review a shooting session. Problems? Of course it does not do all I want.

There is little to complain about in Geeqie other than its simplicity. This is also its strength. The authors appear to have written a specification and stuck to it. Admirable. I can see how the software could be improved. That is not too difficult as it lacks a lot of features that I would want. Most of these are available if I use the link that allows me to use the GIMP (or any other image editor) to edit my photographs. The problems are not with Geeqie but with my demands.

What are my problems with the software? I want to change a whole batch of RAW files to JPEG. This is a normal thing for those of us that shoot RAW, our friends often cannot see the photographs if we send them a RAW file (as well as saving lot of bandwidth). I have not yet found a method of converting the RAW files to JPEG in this software. On the other hand the software is the fastest way to review a shoot I have! That is praise I cannot express too loudly.

My second complaint is on Printing to a boarderless 6x4 (snap size) results in a small white margin at the bottom, left and right of the picture even though I have reduced the margins to 0. This is a common problem for me with Linux and printing boarderless prints so possibly not down to Geeqie. You have to get the frame size ratio to match the paper size ration, much easier for the program to allow a little bleed. When all boarders are zero then it is probably best just size the image so that the image covers the whole area and bleed off a couple of pixels on one edge. The biggest problem is that resizing the image is not possible, so boarderless printing is a no go area. I also got a black and white copy rather than colour but I was confused by the printer selections so it could be me. I would not use it to print photographs as it was too much hassle. This is probably the biggest flaw.

The last complaint is just about lack of editing features. I am sure more simple additional 'edits' will come in later versions. I would need just 2 basic 'edits'. The most important would be format conversion, RAW to JPEG is important for me. Cropping would be useful, if only to get around the boarderless print problem. Others would be nice. If like me you use the on camera flash because it is too much trouble to get out that expensive plastic brick that weighs down the backpack then red-eye removal help is a must. Sharpening is a boost for most shots. Exposure and colour adjustments are often wanted so a simple first hit method would be nice. OK I can do all this in the GIMP but when a quick fix is required it is very slow to use from Geeqie.

With all these problems what does it do? Well first it does not require pictures to be imported into a database. It uses directories and files or this is the default mode. That is my own preferred method of filing my photographs so it suits me. You can choose to use collections. The tools are all there for the user to make their own choice. (Did I say this was simple software?)

The view pane can be structured to almost whatever you want. There are three basic panes. The image, the tools (and directory selection) and the files (image selector). You can see your photographs and decide if they are up to scratch and viewing them is fast. Since installing the software I have started to use this a quick method of reviewing a shooting session. I keep all my shots in directories based on the shooting session. Working like this makes Geeqie in folder mode work for me. Once in a shoot the thumb nails and first image are available in a flash. Even on my modest laptop it displays a session with a pace that I could only hope for.

You can get at the information your camera stored with the picture, the date and time and exposure information should all be available via the EXIF window. You can also overlay the image with a subset of the information and add a histogram of the exposure if you want. You can even show the RGB values of any pixel that the cursor happens to be on.

You can tag the photograph with a numeric mark from 1 to 6 and display the tags in the file list. You can add titles and keywords to each photograph. All this will make searches easier when you need to find a shot that you need. I admit this is where I am less than rigorous and will never keep up this matching of a shot to a keyword but the facility is there if I should choose to use it.

It is simple software! Simple in that it only does what it sets out to. Simple in that it is structured in its efforts. It is this simplicity that most of today's offerings should attempt to emulate. I can only recommend that you look at Geeqie if you use a Unix like operating system.The version I am looking at is Geeqie 1.0 beta 1. If like me you use RAW then the speed is as good as I have seen, Bibble and LightZone included. I can say that if I had seen this before I purchased LightZone it may have saved me money (but I do like LightZone, for exposure correction there is nothing better IMHO)! I expect that by version 2 Geeqie will be my preferred tool! I am already using it for the 1st review of a shoot. If they add a few basic edits and fix the printing then it will become more than a review tool. This tool has the chance of becoming the best Linux workflow tool about. Personally I think it is now, even with the limited features.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Support Linux?

Sorry for going quiet. I am attempting to satisfy all the family and their demands for my services. I like them but they are an unreasonable bunch. They just expect too much of me. I am a keen photographer and the dawn of the digital era was a gift to me. I can take photographs and only show those I want to. No longer do I need to dash from the darkroom clutching my most recent prints to a quiet spot, avoiding all human contact on the way. I do not like people to see the shots I am not happy with, most of them. Having been on the annual family jaunt to the coast I had taken a few (hundred) photographs. Now they wanted me to print them. Seeing them on my laptop is not a substitute for getting hold of paper copies I am told.

Why have I not printed them? Well not only do I moan but I am a miser. The cost of printing these photographs is getting astronomical. What can I do? Somebody suggested I get a book printed. There are lots of companies who allow you to print your own 'photobooks'. Yes, you can produce your own books for the coffee table. It all looks interesting. It costs about the same as printing the photographs but this is a new way. A new challenge.

Off I went on my search to find a suitable company. Many companies allowed you to compose your books on the internet. A good idea as you have to send the photographs to them. For me these remotely hosted applications are awkward so I avoid them. I made notes of those I liked but carried on the search for some software I could run on my desktop and demonstrate to the rest of the clan on my laptop.

My search uncovered many who offered software for Windows. Most even offered Mac OS software. I found only one offering that allowed me to use Linux, a requirement for me. I have therefore used fotoinsight to print my book. As a Linux enthusiast I have to show support for any company that supports my platform. In fact there are at least a couple of options, the software is written by cewe and their offering also uses the software.

I am not complaining about the minimal support for Linux. This is what is expected for a system used on so few computers. Most enthusiasts have access to Windows should everything else fail, this limits the minimal damage for companies. Why do I mention it? First I want those who do support Linux to know that I appreciate their efforts. Then I want to let others know that I do use commercial software when required on my Linux system. I have about 4 paid for applications on my Linux systems, that is more than my Windows using friends own on average! Linux users are not the people who make illegal copies of software, after all that is one of the points of the GNU license.

Those who follow free software do so because they care about copyright, supporting them could be worthwhile. I think you will get a better percentage of legal software take-up than on other platforms. What you will have to do is take a bit of verbal knocking from those who think that all software should be free (as in speech). If you cannot handle that then do avoid the Free Software world. If you can then we all attempt to do the right thing. But there is another option! Why create your own software? Why not put out a request to the Free Software world. Give them a specification and see if there are any takers, you may be surprised. Will this be Free (as in beer)? It should not be. The idea of Free (as in speech) is that we should all support via our support for the community. What the community will do is surprise you in the quality of their efforts.