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Remember RSS? You know, the short headlines and sentences of a few words each. Every major news site and blog has a feed. You can still get news the old fashioned way, only in a much nicer format.

In the world of social media, RSS is still relevant. RSS feeds deliver the news we care about and nothing else. There are no tedious updates and pictures of cats to skim through, just plain textual information about the latest headlines, an absolute must for anyone seriously caring about staying up to date.

Delivered right to your desktop

Tickr is a GTK+-based RSS reader that will display all our favorite RSS feeds as a simple but rather useful headline ticker right on your desktop. It integrates seamlessly with GTK-based environments like Unity or GNOME. It looks and works simple yet offers various customization options under the hood.

You can get Tickr on Ubuntu 14.04 or later straight from Ubuntu Software Center, or by typing:


apt-get install


To get Tickr for other systems, visit their official download page.

Setting up Tickr

When you first run the software it will look for configuration files (stored in a directory named .tickr in your home folder). If it cannot find any, it will give you an option to run a Quick Setup to make using Tickr easy as a breeze

First you will set the location. The default is “top” (of the screen). You can also choose “bottom” or just specify any offset (from the top of the screen in pixels).

Next it will ask you whether you want it to always be on top. If you leave this unchecked, normal windows will overlap the scrolling newsfeed. If you check it, your RSS headlines will always stay visible.

You then get a choice to disable any error or warning popups.

You are all set. or at least that is what the last popup message would have you believe. Of course there will be a URL list set, as this is your first time running Tickr. If you are a heavy RSS user and have an OPML file ready, you can specify it here.

If you skipped the previous step, you get a message reminding you again that there is no URL list saved yet, probably in case you forgot. Here you have the option to use a sample list, which you could gladly accept, as it contains over thirty news source URLs to pick from.

Once you’ve done that, your news feed, from three preselected URLs, will start ticking, scrolling in from right to left at the previously specified position of your screen.


Tickr is a simple and unobtrusive RSS feed ticker that lives on your desktop, delivering you the latest news. While it takes a few minutes to set up initially, Tickr is highly customizable with many useful options.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Attila Orosz

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Setting Up The Ideal Linux Desktop

Comment at the bottom of this page: what are your choices for the best Linux desktop?

I confess: leave me alone in your house, and I’ll browse through your books. I don’t usually have the chutzpah to pry into your desktop and configuration files if you leave your computer unlocked, but the temptation is strong. What seems natural to one user isn’t always natural to me, and I’ve learned a lot when I’ve been allowed to look around another person’s system.

After years of authorized and — I admit — the occasional unauthorized but non-tampering snooping, I’m overdue to offer reciprocity. I’m not naive enough to throw open my machine for everyone to examine online, but, over the years, I have developed several pages of hard-earned notes that I follow and revise whenever I buy and set up a new computer.

Since I’m currently mulling buying another computer in the spring, I’m sharing them now. I figure that many other people share my insatiable curiosity, and, like me, can find a benefit or two by seeing how someone else approaches the task of preparing a computer to run with their favorite free operating system.

If I were doing nothing more than writing and web work, I wouldn’t buy a new computer. Instead, I’d get a refurbished two or three year old computer from Free Geek Vancouver, saving me cash and making me environmentally responsible while giving me all the computing power I need.

However, I occasionally do graphics work or review software that strains system resources, so I try to have at least one reasonably up to date computer. I always buy a customized workstation from a small specialty store (every major urban center should have a couple) after researching GNU/Linux hardware compatibility. Then, when it’s assembled, I take a live CD — preferably from my distribution of choice — and test the assembled computer at the store before I take it home. These days, hardware compatibility is less and less of an issue, but, by making this effort, I sidestep any problems that might lessen the joy of a new machine.

Annoyingly, I don’t have the same option for a customized machine if I buy a laptop. At least, though, a laptop pre-loaded with GNU/Linux is an option these days. I won’t have the instant gratification of picking it up off the shelf, but I can have one if I have the patience to wait a few days.

Whether my next machine is a workstation or a laptop, the major issue for me will be the video card. I want to avoid video drivers that are either free but unable to give me access to a card’s full capabilities or else proprietary but buggy and requiring reinstallation with every new kernel. What’s more, I’m tired of waiting for the situation to improve. So, next time around, I’m thinking I’ll avoid ATI or NVidia cards, and go with an on-board Intel card. If complete and free drivers become available before I buy, I’ll rethink.

In the past, I’ve guiltily included a small Windows partition on my machines, because clients sometimes required me to work on Windows, and I occasionally do comparison articles. However, next time, I don’t think I’ll bother. Increasingly, I can deliver work that’s acceptable to clients without booting Windows, and the older copies of Windows I have floating around should do for any comparison articles. I must say I’m relieved — both for political reasons and for the extra hard drive space I’ll save.

My first step after bring my next computer home will be to partition it, using gParted or some other free partition editor. I’m a long time believer in extensive partitioning, so I will probably have separate partitions for root, /tmp, /usr, /var and /home for increased security and ease of recovery in the event of hard drive failure. The trade off is that I may have to adjust the size of some partitions occasionally, but with gParted that is a straightforward enough operation.

Next Page: Installing a Distro

Right now, I’m using Debian on my main workstation and Fedora on my main laptop. I use Debian because of my long familiarity with it and because stability is what I want in a workstation. By contrast, I use Fedora to keep me in touch with RPM-based package management and because many innovations in GNU/Linux generally appear in Fedora first.

However, software freedom is an increasing priority for me. More and more, there seem to be fewer and fewer reasons for compromising it. Since Debian has voted to ignore the inclusion of proprietary firmware in its repositories, my next workstation may use GNewSense, which is based on Debian by way of Ubuntu, but at least tries to remove proprietary elements. For the same reason, I am inclined to replace Fedora with Blag, although I’ll check first to see how whether the Fedora install option to remove proprietary firmware is permanent or whether the proprietary package needs to be deleted with every kernel upgrade. I will also look closely at GNewSense’s and Blag’s repositories to check what software is available.

Desktops tend to accrue to my systems, because I am always experimenting with new ones. At installation time, however, I generally install GNOME, KDE, and Xfce. Although I spend most of my time in GNOME, I refuse to cut myself off from such KDE applications as digiKam or KPDF, or Xfce ones like Xfmedia, whose small desktop footprint makes it ideal for transcribing recorded interviews. Often, too, I switch my main desktop in the hopes of keeping myself informed. In total, the three desktops occupy only a few gigabytes — a small exchange in hard drive space in return for the freedom to work with the applications I prefer.

Once I finish installing, my second step is to upgrade the system. The third, whenever the distribution is supported, is to run Bastille to tighten security. The average modern distribution has become so lax about security that you can easily increase security several notches without any inconvenience. I prefer programs like Bastille to ones like SE Linux (although I use both kinds), because Bastille takes a pre-emptive approach to security rather than a reactive one. When Bastille does not support a distribution I’m going to use for a while, I run it on another machine and use it as a guide to doing my own system hardening.

Much of my everyday software is installed by default by most distributions, including Firefox, the GIMP, and chúng tôi To these basics, I make a point of adding SpamAssassin to help deal with junk emails, Inkscape for vector graphics work, gFTP for file transfers, Amarok for music, and Xchat for IRC. My bias is towards programs with small desktop footprints and extensive customization features, because I like maximum space for my work, and have strong opinions on the subject of fonts and backgrounds.

I submit much of my work in HTML, so HTML editors are an important consideration. For quick and dirty HTML, I add KompoZer, but much of the time, I work in Bluefish, a non-WYSIWYG editor that automates the adding of format tags — the perfect compromise, I think, between the clean code you get with manual inputting and the convenience of graphical editors.

Next Page: GNU Backgammon, Battle for Westnoth, FreeCiv

Another important application for me is Evolution, which I value as a centralized work area. Numerous other programs handle email, notes, to do lists, and contact information as well or better, but few are as convenient as Evolution. However, with KDE 4 maturing, I am considering investigating KDE-PIM in depth, so that I can make an informed choice between the two.

As a sometime designer, I also check what fonts a distribution installs by default. These days, the number of free fonts is increasing, and many distributions install all that are available. However, if necessary, I make a point of installing Red Hat’s Liberation fonts to ensure I have metrical equivalents of Times Roman, Helvetica/Arial and Courier, the standard Windows fonts, and a selection of SIL fonts for their expanded Unicode support, so that I can type in non-English languages without looking ignorant — or, in the case of people’s names, discourteous. I am particularly careful to include SIL’s Gentium, one of the most drop-dead gorgeous fonts I’ve ever seen, regardless of the license.

For games, my preference is for short classic games, like GNU Backgammon or PySol, which has all the games of solitaire you could ever want. I also install the Civilization-style game FreeCiv and the combat-oriented Battle for Westnoth for when I have spare time and want a strategic challenge.

the Sun Presenter Console (which requires configuring for dual monitor use), and the Sun PDF Import extensions.

To Firefox, I add two main categories of extensions. Since I regularly have several dozen tabs open while researching and writing an article, I use several to enhance the manipulation of tabs, such as remove tabs, TabHistory, Tabs Open Relative, and Undo Closed Tabs Button. An especially useful tab extension is Session Manager, which allows me to store different sets of tabs for easy reopening later.

From this list, anyone who doesn’t know me would have little trouble identifying who I am: a free software-loving user whose main purposes including writing, designing, and using the web, and only the simplest of programming. That makes me, if not quite a typical user, typical enough for many purposes.

But enough of me. What are your considerations when setting up and configuring a new computer with GNU/Linux? And what can other people learn from them?

Why Xfce Is The Best Linux Desktop

In this article, I’ll explain why I still feel that XFCE remains the best Linux desktop available, even after trying other desktop environments.

For anyone who has seen previous articles on my desktop preferences, you might be wondering what happened to my love of GNOME. Well my love for GNOME hasn’t gone anywhere. As a matter of fact, my main desktop machine still runs GNOME 3 to this day. Where I find myself leaning heavily with XFCE is for any PC I share with others.

Case in point, I have one PC that I share with other members of my family for media and games. As much as I might like for them to use the GNOME desktop, previous experience has taught me that they prefer something a bit more menu driven. Since all of us have had success with XFCE driven distributions in the past, sticking with XFCE makes the most sense overall. So while I maintain a fondness for GNOME, others in my family prefer to keep it simple.

And let us not forget, XFCE is friendly in the “system performance” department. Fact is, I can run XFCE on lower end systems that might otherwise be bogged down with more feature rich desktop environments. This performance is then passed onto the end user, who can apply this speed to the applications being used.

Holy wars could be waged over XFCE vs LXDE vs MATE vs Openbox. It should be noted that Openbox is actually a window manager and must be used in conjunction with one of the desktop environments listed above.

Some individuals in various forums have made the claim that LXDE is more “modular”, and therefore easier to develop for than XFCE. Others still have pointed out that MATE brings with it all that was great about the GNOME 2 desktop, completely discounting the fact that MATE isn’t about being lightweight, rather, it simply provides a menu drive desktop for GNOME 2 fans.

At the end of the day, there is no one desktop that is “better” than the other, only those which folks prefer over others. For myself, I’d be inclined to go with MATE as my second desktop choice for a shared computer. MATE’s menu driven, yet doesn’t feel quite so basic as LXDE.

With regard to speed, Openbox (within a predetermined desktop environment) is the speediest GUI-centric desktop experience in my opinion. Lightning fast, easy enough to use and it’ll work on practically anything resource wise.

If there is one constant in the universe, it’s that tweaking XFCE is a blast. The best part is, tweaking XFCE is just difficult enough that outside of wallpaper changes, others in your household aren’t too likely to make any drastic changes without your helping hand. Because there are no tweak tools, fully installing new themes isn’t as simple as it might be with say, KDE.

Personally, I feel this is a good thing because it means I get to pick a them and it sticks.

Expanding on setting the tone of which theme we use, I’ve found the best approach to theming with XFCE when multiple users are concerned is to have one main family account. Then have another account that is for my own use personally.

Obviously on other PCs that are being used by my family, this is a moot issue. They can theme their own machines any way they wish. But for a shared computer used for gaming, media and so on, I’d rather keep the themes simple.

I don’t care who you are, sometimes things on the Linux desktop just break. Sometimes it’s a bug, other times it’s another user who hopped onto the machine and goofed things up. The nice thing about using XFCE is that most visual items are dead simple to fix.

2023: The Year Of The (Ubuntu) Linux Desktop On Windows

For over a decade, the running joke in the Linux community was that whatever year you were in, that was the year of the Linux desktop. For even longer than that, Microsoft Windows has been the arch-nemesis of everything that Linux is and represents.

Yet somehow, someway karma has twisted fate such that now in 2023, Microsoft loves Linux so much that 2023 is now the year of Linux on Windows. To be precise, at the Microsoft Build conference this week, Microsoft and Canonical, the lead commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux, announced what only a few years ago would have been labelled as an unholy alliance, enabling Ubuntu’s user space and bash shell to run natively inside of a Windows 10 Anniversary edition command console.

To be fair, I’ve personally run Linux on Windows machines in various forms for a very long time. Usually by way of some form of hypervisor, like VirtualBox. Though going even further back, all the way to the Ubuntu 8.04 ‘Hardy Heron’ release in 2008, Canonical had an easy way to get Ubuntu onto Windows. Back in 2008, Ubuntu debuted a technology called Wubi, which is a Windows-based installer for Ubuntu that installed Ubuntu as a large file on a Windows partition, rather than the usual procedure of needing to create and resize partition.

What the new Ubuntu on Windows 10 effort does is something quite a bit more integrated and, shall we say, native. As opposed to a separate partition on the same drive on which Windows exists, or a hypervisor on top that creates a level of isolation, this new approach is an integration with Windows itself. The benefits are that of any sort of native integration: speed, performance better interoperability with other system tools. The risks are also the somewhat the same for Windows in that now the Windows kernel itself is the master kernel over additional processes, in this case, Ubuntu processes.

So how did the Linux industry get to this point? In 2007, a year before Ubuntu first released its Wubi installer, Microsoft loudly proclaimed publicly that open-source software infringes on 235 of its patents. Micosoft, signed and renewed a patent and interoperability deal multiple times with Novell and its successor SUSE Linux. The last time I wrote on a Microsoft patent deal with SUSE was July 2011, at which time Microsoft stated that it had committed to invest $100 million in new SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates in a deal that was set to expire in 2023.

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stated about the original agreement that, “…This patent deal does not apply to any other forms of Linux other than Novell SUSE Linux, others will still have issue.”

Ballmer is gone, a new CEO has replaced him. Linux is among the most popular operating system running on Microsoft’s Azure cloud. Red Hat works work Microsoft and so does Canonical.

So what happened to the patents?

When I asked Paul Cormier, executive vice president and president, Products and Technology, at Red Hat in 2023 about the patent question in relation to working with Microsoft, he told me directly that Red Hat and Microsoft did not acknowledge the validity or value of each other’s patents as part their working relationship

“This is a commercial deal spurred by strong customer demand for our solutions to work together,” Cormier said at the time.

When I reached out to Canonical about it’s intellectual property position in relation to the Microsoft desktop work it’s doing, I got a somewhat similar reply. Mark Shuttleworth told me that Canonical has never signed any patent pledge with any company.

Times have changed. In 2007 the only way a Linux vendor could work with Microsoft was with a patent agreement. In 2023, customer demand has changed that situation as the biggest names in Linux are working with Microsoft, without the need to compromise on the core principles that define them.

That doesn’t mean that Microsoft has abandoned its patents, cause it hasn’t. Microsoft still has deals in place with all manner of vendors and exerts patent royalties from many Android vendors too. It does mean that for various business, customer and interoperability reasons, Microsoft and the Linux vendors that inhabit Microsoft’s desktop and its’ cloud, don’t have to negotiate or pledge patents like Novell SUSE did a decade ago.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Datamation and chúng tôi Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

How To Install Retro Desktop In Linux

Do you miss KDE3?

Linux users have an almost infinite number of UI’s to from which to choose. Arguments over which is best among mainstays like KDE, GNOME, Unity, and XFCE can (and have) go on for days on Internet boards. Purists can still just use the command line. There are even desktops designed to give users the “retro” feeling by emulating earlier desktops on Linux or other operating systems. Here’s how to install some old-school desktops.

The switch to KDE4 caused some problems in the community when it was first released. For those who miss the old style of KDE, the Trinity Desktop Environment project has you covered.

To install this retro KDE desktop, take the following steps:

Add the following lines to your “/etc/apt/sources.list” file:

Also add the Trinity GPG key:


apt-get update

Lastly, install from the repository:

Then you can select it from your Display Manager next time you log in. I installed this on my old (PIII) Gateway notebook, and was pleasantly surprised (and more than a little nostalgic). Which brings us even further back in time…

Nostalgic for Windows XP?

Regardless of how you feel about Microsoft, the Windows interface (starting with Windows 95) set a standard for UI’s that many systems (including Linux) still follow today. If you’re looking for a WinXP-like experience on Linux, icewm uses a similar layout with a “Start”-style menu in the lower-left corner, a system tray in the lower right, and a list of running tasks between the two. The window manager even provides a theme for window decorations that looks like the old blue-and-green.

To install icewm on your Ubuntu system, select it from the Software Centre, or use the following command:

Note that there are configuration utilities for icewm (iceconf and icemc), but they’ve been removed from the repositories, so you may be required to manage this through configuration files found in the “~/.icewm/” directory. Fortunately, there’s a nice explanation of how to do so on the Ubuntu Help site.

Pining for Amiga?

Lastly, if you’re an Amiga fan from back in the day, you’re not alone among Linux users. The community has worked to bring the Workbench UI from the old Amiga machines to Linux in the form of amiwm. This window manager is decidedly minimalist, but Amiga users will feel right at home.

amiwm runs very light, as it consists of a single package (the dependencies of which should be installed out of the box on most Ubuntu systems), which can be installed with the following command:

Like icewm above, configuration of amiwm is done through a configuration file, specifically “~/.amiwmrc”. And while there are no utilities to help with configuration, some guidance and sample config files can be found around the Web.

To get an appreciation for how far the Linux desktop has really come, give some of these a try sometime. Or if you have a low-powered machine, one of these can be a fine alternative to the more robust (and more resource-hungry) options of GNOME, Unity, and KDE.

Aaron Peters

Aaron is an interactive business analyst, information architect, and project manager who has been using Linux since the days of Caldera. A KDE and Android fanboy, he’ll sit down and install anything at any time, just to see if he can make it work. He has a special interest in integration of Linux desktops with other systems, such as Android, small business applications and webapps, and even paper.

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Red Hat Linux Desktop Moves: Calculated Strategy

Recently, Red Hat announced that it would not pursue the consumer desktop market for the time being. Immediate reactions were almost as misinformed as those which followed the announcement made by Wal-Mart last month — an announcement that only meant to say that GNU/Linux PCs would be sold online but not off the shelf.

The latest announcement from Red Hat was neither very significant nor should it have much impact on desktop Linux as a whole. Red Hat pointed to consumer desktop dominance by an operating system behemoth called Microsoft. The more significant problems Red Hat was facing are probably competing GNU/Linux distributions.

An important factor, momentum — often closely related to user base — has over the years meant that there were leaders and underdogs in the GNU/Linux arena. Some distributions were perceived as a safe bets, whereas others were seen as a hobby, or simply derivatives that add nothing of significant value to surpass or even complement existing offerings.

Different vendors that produce GNU/Linux distributions distinguish themselves in subtle ways, but they all work together. They work collaboratively most of the time, despite their separate release schedules. One misconception is that each distribution of GNU/Linux is a case of reinventing the wheel. In reality, however, many groups just contribute specific refinements to the very same ‘wheel’, especially where subjective judgment is involved or the needs of prospective users vary. Modifications get shared, so nothing prevents one distribution from trivially mimicking another. Reuse makes it a minimal effort, too.

Red Hat’s indefinite postponement of a consumer desktop product was not the end of the world and probably the fruits of sound judgment. I will touch on reasons for this later on. It was not as though Red Hat created a product from scratch, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing it and then scraped it. Red Hat merely pondered joining a desktop development wave that had already progressed for over 15 years. Red Hat was just a part of it and improvements made to server products affect the desktop (also vice versa).

GNU/Linux desktop products will continue to evolve quickly with or without Red Hat (and the company is continuing with its Enterprise Desktop at any rate). A large pool of paid and unpaid developers will be applying many improvements to the desktop. There is no hibernation in terms of progress because developers typically take the lead depending on who is likely to capitalize or reap the most in terms of gains. There is a great deal of overlap. When Red Hat is prepared to enter this market, the codebase on which it relies will have matured further. Staying out means not freezing development but merely waiting for a more promising window of opportunity, a better timing perhaps.

Red Hat assigns to the GNOME desktop environment quite a high priority, as does Ubuntu, so what is there to visually distinguish between those two? How can one Linux vendor brag about perceived or actual added value? Ubuntu has become almost synonymous with Linux on the desktop (sometimes treated as de facto standard) just as Red Hat is quite synonymous with Linux servers for the enterprise. It can all change in the future because distributions rise and fall all the time, as measured in terms of their various public rankings.

Returning to codecs, Red Hat is a large company that is publicly traded, so it must be prudent when it comes to legal matters. Last year it was reported that Red Hat approached Microsoft to discuss only codecs, but Microsoft insisted that Red Hat should sign a deal involving software patents. Red Hat was not foolish enough to accept such as offer. This happens to be just one among several reasons, on the face of it, for Red Hat’s withdrawal from its consumer desktop plan. Fedora, the community version of Red Hat’s GNU/Linux distribution, does not suffer from the same risks. Many people do not have the same requirements. And to whatever extent they do, they already have Fedora and other so-called ‘community distributions’. The consumer market’s needs are very different from that of the educational market, for instance. To give a timely example, recently Brazil decided to migrate to Debian GNU/Linux for over 50 million students.

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