Thursday, October 28, 2010

Weather Applet Re-Wrapped

For a number of years we have used a global weather applet which has become very popular. The reason why this application is worth the time to develop is because otherwise you have hundreds of people during the day navigating around the Internet to look for information; this is especially true during inclement weather. Instead just one daemon runs and downloads all of this information ONCE and saves it to a shared directory. Then when users activate this applet, they load in these pictures and get current information. This greatly reduces Internet usage and helps our bandwidth.

I re-wrapped this application with greater flexibility and made it consistent with the new desktop helper MIME bars that I wrote. One of the biggest problems that users have is getting information around the network, "I'm looking at this image, but I have no idea how to get it to email or to print it". So there are now options to take the currently displayed image and save it, copy it to the clipboard for later paste, print it or email it directly from the UI.

I just pushed this live and bound it to the Super-F9 key, let's see what my early beta testers say. :)

Up next: Cleaning up other dialogs and screens from the older desktop, installing patches and poking for bugs and installing more icons with links to our internal software. Still on target for wider beta deployment in November.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Desktop Cleanups Continue

Still working on prepping GNOME 2.30 to replace our very aged GNOME 2.16 server and also on getting Firefox 4 ready. I have been testing different cache lockdowns in gnome-mplayer to find a good middle ground between the clip starting and having enough cache to play without interruptions. Obviously this depends greatly on the remote server, but testing it to find a good sane setting that will work most of the time. I don't want users tinkering with these settings; because they will randomly increase and decrease values and then wonder why things are broken. :)

In testing the workflow of the new Picture Options bar that comes up when you double-click on a picture, I decided to add two very basic features. EOG doesn't have a way to put the image into the clipboard, and it's a shame to have to wait for GIMP to start in order to perform this step. So I added a feature to send the image to the clipboard. It's very common for users to want to rotate pictures they have taken, and having to start EOG to perform this step was clunky. Since EOG doesn't copy to the clipboard, after rotating the photo they then have to save the photo and then double-click on it again. A simple 90 degree clock-wise rotation was added and works great. (seen in screenshot below). The python Image library is awesome and easy to manipulate photos. Did I mention something about clipboards twice? :)

With some help from the avant guys, I was able to get software to better sit under their corresponding launcher icon. This combines the launcher icon with the window list functionality nicely and provides more space on the panel. Next up is pondering the fact that all rdesktop instances come back with a WM_CLASS of "rdesktop". (current panel seen in shot below).

At this point the functionality is mostly in place and it's time to bring over the rest of the software packages and create artwork and icons.

I had to do something clunky to application-browser to get around a bug. In previous versions of GNOME if the user selected this software process again, it would connect to the already running process and reuse it. In the current release there is a bug and it keeps adding another instance to the process list. If a user clicks on this menu system 20 times during the day, they would have 20 processes. :| So the code below resolved that issue. Hopefully a patch is forthcoming; this is some serious nastiness.

Current desktop screenshot:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Panel, Browser Stress Test & Thanks

With some tinkering of lockdowns and gconf settings, I have gotten avant-window-navigator working well enough to push to some early beta testers. Very nice applets and a clean modern look. Let's see what kind of feedback I get back tomorrow. :)

Thanks to Kevin for your help with understanding that xrdb is a g-s-d plugin. Testing Motif applications right now to see how the themes are working.

So with that in place I'm giving mplayer, Firefox/Flash and Pulse Audio a stress test to try and get them to crash. So far sound is strong even running remotely over the network, frame rates are excellent. I think the user community will be pleased with these upgrades.

Monday, October 18, 2010

64 Bit Firefox + GNOME 2.30 Continues

Happy Monday,

Work continues on the new servers and things are making nice progress. I brought down the latest release of avant-window-navigator along with Extras to see how the project has advanced in the last few years. One of the cool things is that it now works on a regular 2D desktop. I'm testing the bare minimum of applets we need to go live and will push it to some beta testers later this week. One possibility is using it as replacement for the regular gnome-panel. I'll see what kind of feedback that I get in the coming days from the 'regular users'. (screenshot follows)

Sadly one possibility is that we won't be bringing the 3D (Compiz) configurations with us to the new server. 3D has helped users conceptually understand how to use multiple desktops to avoid opening and closing windows all the time. However my initial tests indicate that it's crashing the Xserver on the thin clients a great deal, and being that I have gotten no feedback whatsoever on my Debian bug report...I'm not sure that anything is coming in that regards. Trying to upgrade Mesa and all of its hooks into X doesn't seem pleasant. I'll continue to tinker and see if I have some ideas in this area. This is not a high priority feature; users can certainly work fine with the 2D desktop.

It seems like someone pulled out the code in GNOME that set traditional X resources to match your theme. I'm sure the thinking was that very few applications were still running in this regard, but actually we still use them heavily. The Citrix manager uses Motif, and our in-house applications still run this way too. I hacked a quick ksh script to try and read your current theme and get the *background and *foreground colors; but it's not pretty and the themes don't store these colors consistently. If someone wants to hack a little C app to dump the colors of the current theme to standard out, that would really help a great deal.

One idea that came up was to use the five seconds during login to display current calendar information about City events. So I built a quick mockup that displays during authentication. In theory we could cron the City global calendars to dump an image once a day with updated information and lay it over the top of this wallpaper. (shot below)

I finished the MIME helper applications on the GNOME desktop and have copied them over to the new Internet server and hooked them into Firefox. So the users get a consistent interface when interacting with content on the Internet. This helps them quickly and easily print, save and view such content. (shot below).

Since it seems like 32bit Acrobat Reader isn't going to wrap inside 64bit Firefox well, I have once again pulled it out and made it a helper application again. I have been testing those (nasty!) 3D PDF animations to ensure that a few of them being opened concurrently isn't going to clobber our server. Thankfully Reader doesn't seem to be using multiple-CPUs at once. In the shot below, the video is playing (propellers are spinning) and it's only using one of the cores.

Lots of progress and very happy with the results. A few more pieces being finished and I can widen the beta program and solicit more feedback.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Dear Adobe

Dear Adobe:

Thank you for the 64bit beta of the Flash player, it's starting to work better. Thank you too for the just released 9.40 version of Reader. But unfortunately it didn't put a smile on my face; the lack of 64bit support for Reader is absolutely making server upgrades miserable. As you can see from the message below, there is no ETA on making 32bit Reader work on 64bit Firefox 4.0. The Mozilla developers don't have the resources to debug it, nor should they have to. Your help in this matter is appreciated.

Disclaimer: Yup, I know about the open source readers...they aren't robust enough to use at this time.

Monday, October 04, 2010

MIME Update, Work Continues

I got a quiet day in today (no meetings!) to work on the new desktop design. I feel like the last major pieces are falling into place and once a good work flow is finalized, I can install the rest of the icons and increase the number of beta testers.

I'm testing some new ideas on the MIME bars that launch when you double-click on files. I wanted to try a "one stop shop" type approach. Everything you need to perform your task is on one screen. No further dialogs or hidden screens. I added a gtkcombobox with system printers. Once a printer is selected it 'sticks' each time a new document is double-clicked. This lets the user clearly see which printer will get their documents. With nearly 60 printers, people send things to the wrong printers *all* the time. I also have added a gtkentry widget to house a quick technique to send the file directly to the email post office. Very often we have users that have to email files to the same people over and over again. One click, and it's delivered; without having to wait for the Evolution composer and enter all of the details. I also connected the areas at the bottom that indicate the size of the file as a visual cue of file sizes.

I'm testing this dialog right now, and hope to have the rest (Pictures, Documents, Video) all finished by tomorrow.