November 18, 2003 Edition

By Jorge "whiprush" Castro (mailto:jorge@whiprush.org), Charles "ctkrohn" Krohn (mailto:ctk23@cornell.edu), and Stephan "windi" Windischmann (mailto:windi@myrealbox.com)

Welcome to this week's edition of Linux.Ars. Today we follow up on last week's coverage of the aXe (now known as XComposite) and XDamage extensions, discussing their integration into freedesktop.org's new X server. We also take a look at Multisync, a nifty application for synchronizing information between multiple computers, and keep you up to date on current happenings in the Linux community. Once again, we know that we owe you a SUSE 9 review; and indeed, one is in the works. Look for it in next week's issue.

 

A (sort of) new X server

Several years ago, Keith Packard began working on TinyX, a project whose goal was to create a slimmed-down X server, suitable for use in low-memory environments. TinyX was used successfully in several distributions targeting PDAs, Internet appliances, and old PCs. The XFree86 project also distributed it along with their own source code. Later, the project became known as KDrive, and received accelerated drivers for certain video cards. Recently, freedesktop.org decided to base their own X server project off of KDrive. The new server incorporates the improvements that we discussed in our previous issue (http://arstechnica.com/etc/linux/2003/linux.ars-11112003.html), including Keith Packard's XDamage and XComposite extensions to the X11 protocol. These extensions allow an X server which implements them to draw many sophisticated graphical effects. These effects can not only be used to draw eye candy such as drop shadows and translucent menus, but may also be used in accessibility programs for visually-impaired users.

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The Freedesktop.org Server in Action (and before you ask, I often do use all of those virtual desktops)

From my experience, the Freedesktop.org server is currently very unstable; it hard locked my system as I was using it. This, combined with no 2D acceleration for my GeForce3-based video card, makes it unacceptable for my day-to-day use. Other users with different video cards have reported no problems. If you're curious, it may be worth a try; the new server may work perfectly for you, and hopefully, these stability issues will disappear over time. It would also be nice if the server were bundled with a small application for adjusting the size of the shadows and the translucency of the menus. In addition, the window manager will probably have to take care of some other things, such as choosing which windows have shadows and drawing translucent title bars.

As it stands now, there are no binary packages. However, it is very easy to build and install the server. Detailed instructions can be found at the freedesktop.org website (http://freedesktop.org/Software/XserverInstallGuide). I used their installation script on a fresh Fedora Core 1 installation and it ran without a hitch. Just make sure you have installed the development tools which came with your distribution, and you should be all set to check out what may very well be the future of GUIs on Linux. The server has not been ported to any other operating systems at this time.

 

IBM on desktop Linux

At the recent Desktop Linux Conference held by the Desktop Linux Consortium (http://www.desktoplinuxconsortium.org/), IBM held a presentation (http://www.desktoplinux.com/news/NS9189274301.html%22) (filled with marketing babble) on Linux and open source on the desktop, covering both its present situation and future. According to IBM market research data, Linux is going to exceed MacOS market rates and have a market share of 7% by 2006 (with a new-unit market share of 10%), making it the most common desktop system after Windows. The reason given for Linux over other systems are varied, from decreased vendor lock-in, improved customizability due to the system's openness, and the fact that Linux is a very powerful platform. IBM, through IBM Global Services (the consulting arm of the company), will offer complete desktop Linux support and consulting services, using the Red Hat and SuSE distributions and the Ximian GNOME desktop. Having IBM standing firmly behind Linux on desktops is not only going to help push corporate workstation migration to Linux, it will help the entire Linux on the desktop "cause" as well, moving it out of niches and into the mainstream.

 

Cool app of the week

Multisync

Have you ever wanted to have a shared calendar, contacts, and task list in Linux? Well, don't we all? This week's Cool App squarely falls into the "Why haven't I heard of this before?" category. The application is called Multisync (http://multisync.sourceforge.net/). Multisync aims to be the ultimate synchronizer, supporting phones, PDAs (including Microsoft PocketPC PDAs), and most importantly, for the purpose of this column, the Evolution (http://arstechnica.com/www.ximian.com/products/evolution) mail client.

Installation is fairly straightforward. There are packages for each of Multisync's plug-ins available. I grabbed the Evolution and SyncML plug-ins. A quick look at these diagrams (http://multisync.sourceforge.net/newdocs/c83.htm#AEN86) should give you a quick understanding of how the program works. In this column, we're going to look at how to setup a desktop and a laptop to share Evolution contacts, calendar and to-do list. When complemented with an IMAP e-mail account, this provides powerful roaming capability.

First, let's set up our desktop. Multisync calls each relationship between plug-ins a "pair", so the first thing we do is to create one. One is the Evolution plug-in while the other is the SyncML plug-in:

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We repeat the same setup on the laptop and then we visit the SyncML plug-in's options.

 

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As you can see, we select the desktop as SyncML server. We then assign a log-in name and password to this new server. Note the inclusion of SSL and the port number in this option screen. You'll need to forward that port through your router or firewall if you plan on connecting from the outside world. The inclusion of SSL makes this tool really stand out. You weren't going to sync your contact information in plain text over the Internet, were you?

Configuration for the laptop is just as simple, except that in the SyncML section, you will choose client instead of server. Now, launch Evolution on both machines and keep Multisync running on both ends. Multisync provides a freedesktop.org compliant "system tray icon", so it fits in both GNOME and KDE. Clicking on this icon hides Multisync. As you use Evolution it will automatically detect changes and synchronize the two computers.

We've been using Multisync in this configuration for about a week, and it has already become a "must have" for us. It's very easy to get up and running as there are very few sync options to set in the program and it seems smart enough to note when we haven't connected in a while. We have not tested it with more than 2 PCs or in a collaborative group configuration, but if you've been looking for "roaming profile" capabilities for Evolution, Multisync does it well. Also of note is the included backup plug-in, so you can regularly backup your data transparently.

 

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