Amarok … Thou Rocked.

Posted in Linux, Open Source by Rahul on June 28, 2009

When I started using Linux back in 2006, the first media player that I encountered was rhythmbox and somehow it did not appeal to me. Then I came across Amarok 1.4 and even though it pulled in a lot of KDE-3 dependencies ( I was using Ubuntu) I stuck with it for the simple reason that it was the best media player that I had ever used – including all the various ones that I had tried on Windows (foobar, songbird, winamp, windows media player, etc.) and the few that I tried on Linux (rhythmbox, banshee, etc.). As a recap, let us look at the screenshot below (taken from the official Amarok website).

Amarok 1.4

Take a look at the Now Playing view – it tells me all about the songs that I need to know. It tells me what the song is called, who is the artist, about the album, the length of the song , the year, where is it stored amongst others (eg. bit rate). The emphasis on the now playing view was what I really liked. The left tab could then be switched to display information about the artist (from wikipedia), the lyrics or display information about the song (how many times has it been played) and display other songs from the same artist that were already present in my collection.

Now, compare this to the current stable version of amarok (2.1.1). Again, lets take a look at a screenshot from the Amarok website.

Amarok 2.1

Now look at what they did to the now playing playlist. It has been banished to the right corner of the window and it shows no information other than the title of the song. If you are playing 12 songs from the same album the album and its details will appear at the head of the 12 songs and those 12 songs will not have that individual information in the playlist view. Why? How about albums when there are different artists for each song?

And let’s not talk about the stability for now. Amarok 1 was already three years old from its first official release when I used it in 2006 so it was quite a mature product. In comparison, Amarok 2 is only half a year old as of now and it would take some time to reach the same level of maturity as that of Amarok 1. However, this brings me to the question – why reinvent the wheel? I am strictly reflecting on the changes in the UI – changes in backend (integration with phonon and other KDE4 services) was, I believe, necessary to integrate tightly with KDE4 but the drastic overhaul in the UI was not. Why change something that was working – and working very well. The alignment of the playlist and the context view did not, in my opinion, require any change.

As an example of this, we can look at Kile – another of my favourite KDE applications – it is the best Latex editor when it comes to Linux. The KDE4 version does not bring any major UI overhaul – it is still tightly integrated with KDE4 and yet the user experience does not change. Something similar should have been done with amarok as well. Or maybe in the true spirit of open source, there is someone out there who would port Amarok 1.4 to Qt4. 🙂

However, at this stage, Amarok has completely lost me. I have switched over to MPD with QMPDClient and ncmpc as the two frontends. I would recommend any one else who is tired of Amarok 2 to give MPD a go. And hopefully, Amarok will be able to win me back some day. 🙂

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A gnome user’s tryst with KDE4.1

Posted in Linux, Open Source by Rahul on August 2, 2008

I have been a gnome user for nearly the past two years. Having started my Linux experience with Ubuntu, which shipped gnome as default, I never felt the need to switch. There was nothing the Windows XP DE provided (and I used) that was missing in gnome. Wireless with network-manager was the only problem that I encoutered however I soon found an excellent alternative in WICD – and that has been the default for me from then.

However, KDE4 came along with a lot of fanfare. However, the reports suggested that there were a lot of bugs with it and the official view seemed to suggest that it was more of a development release and therefore I decided to stick with gnome. But then came along 4.1 and the feedback from other users was encouraging. I decided to give it a try. However, Gentoo (my current Distro) did not have ebuilds for the 4.1 branch in the official tree yet. A simple search at the forums yielded the answer that the gentoo devs are working on it and they were expected to hit the tree sometime in the near future. Meanwhile, those who were really interested can get 4.1 from the kdesvn-portage overlay. Not wanting to wait, I went ahead and fetched the overlay. Next step was to install kde4.1. After tweaking with the use flags and unmasking the packages (they are all hard masked) , I went ahead and installed the following split ebuilds:

kdm (separately)

It took a while to compile (:P) and the download speed was legendary ( <20 kbps) so it was ready when I woke up the next morning. No idea how long it took to compile (luckily there were no breakages during the night).

Well, I changed the default login manager to kdm, logged out and was presented with the kdm login screen. Nothing special there, no difference in functionality compared to gdm.

Well, I logged in and the default KDE4.1 splash screen was definitely very nice eye candy. Defintely better than the default gnome splash screen. The default wallpaper was quite artistic as well. Surprisingly, it read my gnome-session properties. I had a few scripts added to the startup and they were executed in KDE as well. That was quite nice.

So, a side by side comparison of the apps that are provided in the DE.

Dolphin > Nautilus (Dolphin feels more responsive, and is faster)

Gwenview > eog (no comparison here, gwenview in this regard is like the picture manager in vista)

Dragon Player = Totem (Totem is the front end for gstreamer and Dragon Player for xine, so there is not much of a difference. I am not discussing about the backend here. 🙂 )

kwin and Metacity (kwin is supposed to have compisite effects, but it does not work for me, so I do not know. :P) Other than that, it works fine.
EDIT: This is solved, kwin has to be built with openGL support if you want OpenGL as the compositing method. 😛

ksnapshot > gnome-screenshot (has more options)

konsole = gnome-terminal (not much difference)

Multimedia Keys (kde) < Multimedia Keys (in gnome) -> I have set the preferences for volume control at least a couple of times in systemsettings and it seems to stop working after some time. No dea why.

HAL Integration (kde) < HAL integration (gnome) -> First of all, no external drives would be automounted by default. It pops up in this new device notifier where you have to click on the new device to mount it. I mean, what the hell is this. If I plug in an external hard drive, I want it to be mounted and not wait for me to tell it to mount itself.
Secondly, my windows partition is not mounted by default. It pops up in the new device notifier when I log in, but when I click on it, it tells me something about having to thing extra options. So, I have to mount it manually. Quite irritating.

kmenuedit > alacarte. However, for some reason, I cannot get kmenuedit to recognize that gimp has an icon. 🙂

Plasma Panels > gnome panel. Not a surprise considering they were working on it for so long and it was one of the major feature of 4.0.

Konqueror and Kmail I did not try, same with kopete. Firefox, Thunderbird and Pidgin work for me.

As for the default audio player, I do not know why JuK is installed. It is of no use, when Amarok is there.

Other than that, there is not much of a difference, and it did not take me (I have never used KDE before) to get used to the settings and all.

But, I must say, that the system responsiveness of KDE4.1 is better than that of gnome-2.22. It loads at a faster rate, and is faster when it run as well. And of course, the looks and the finish are better than gnome, in my opinion. Therefore, this time it looks like that kde4.1 is there on my computer to stay.

Below is a screenshot of my desktop with one gtk app, one qt app, and one native kde4 app.

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