Tuesday, 24 March 2015

MusicBee: Music Manager and Player



The best music managing, or playing software is quite difficult to choose. Of course, we've all used iTunes, Windows Media Player, and Winamp. But, there are quite a lot of applications out there which do a better job. The one we'll be talking about here is MusicBee.

General Information:

  • Distribution Type: Freeware 
  • Developed by: Steven Mayall
  • Reviewed Version: 2.5.5404 (18th October, 2014)
  • Available for: Windows XP onwards
  • Download Size:  15MB
  • MusicBee Official Website 


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Top 5 Free Multiplayer Games for Ubuntu/Linux Mint

Switching to Linux can be quite a problem for gamers. The number of games natively supported by Linux are nowhere near the sheer volume of games supported on Windows. Of course, there's always Wine, or PlayOnLinux to get Windows software to run; but nothing beats the experience of a game running in its native environment. That being said, Linux users do have some great games to choose from for a weekend with friends. The best part is, you don't really need to pay to play. So, save yourself some cash, and enjoy your weekend for free.

Xonotic

 



Available for: Linux, Windows, Mac OS X.
Link: Download Xonotic

This is the ultimate upgrade to Quake III Arena. Xonotic has been inspired from Quake III Arena and follows a rather similar style of gameplay. It originated as a fork of the game Nexuiz, when it was faced with some controversies regarding its development. The game features standard multiplayer game modes including deathmatch, capture the flag, team deathmatch, etc. What sets this game apart is its beautiful graphics and advanced weapons. Most weapons feature alternate firing modes and generally have a unique strategic advantage in certain situations. Support for bots is built-in for all you lonely folk. This game will certainly appeal to fans of the FPS genre, and more so to Quake III Arena fans.

Dota 2

 



Available for: Linux, Windows, Mac OS X
Link: Download Dota 2 (Steam)

Dota 2 is one of the most widely played multiplayer RTS games in the world. The level of complexity involved in the game is baffling, allowing almost infinite different kinds of gameplay strategies. Most gamers out there would be well aware of how Dota 2 works, and probably have sunk precious hours of their lives in mastering the nuances of this game. There isn't much I can write here which hasn't already been written elsewhere. Just grab your free copy, and start playing.

Although this game is free to play, it requires a Steam account, and also offers optional paid downloadable content. Steam is freely available on Linux, Windows, as well as Mac OS X.

Team Fortress 2

 



Available for: Linux, Windows, Mac OS X

Team Fortress 2 is another gem by Valve Software (the team behind Counter Strike, Dota 2, Half-Life, and Portal). It follows the team deathmatch pattern with a twist. Instead of dumping rudimentary player characters into teams, it allows every player to pick one out of nine character classes. Each character class has it's own unique special abilities and weapons. These characters need to strategically co-ordinate with each other in order to win the game. You can think of it as a more advanced version of Counter Strike if you please.

This game also requires a Steam account, but is free to download and play.

No More Room in Hell

 


Available for: Linux, Windows, Mac OS X

Fans of Dawn of the Dead would probably remember this quote from the film. This game is a tribute to Dawn of the Dead and features co-operative multiplayer. The premise of the game is rather simple: team up with your buddies and shoot some zombies. What sets this game apart from most other zombie shooters, is its attention to detail. Voice communication is relative to your distance from your team-mates. You won't be able to hear them if they are too far away. If you are bitten, you can either tell your team mates to put an end to your (and their) misery, or you can stay quiet about it in hopes of finding a cure before you turn. Ammo and weapons are rather scarce, and you don't get a crosshair. Your best bet is to aim down your sights, and blow their brains out.

Unlike Team Fortress 2, and Dota 2, this game features no paid downloadable content. It's completely free to download and play.  

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory

 



Available for: Linux, Windows, Mac OS
Link: Download Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory

If war games are more up your alley, then this one is for you. The game presents two factions to choose from, and up to 32 players in an all out war. Objectives are set for one faction to complete, while the other faction prevents them from doing it. There are 5 character classes to choose from, each having unique abilities. It may not have the production values of America's Army, but it offers a pretty good team based war experience. On field co-ordination is mandatory to win the game, and it's also possible to turn on your teammates. Kill a fellow soldier, and it may get you booted if he so wishes. The only significant drawbacks of the game are the scarcity of maps and some minor glitches. The glitches are minor enough to work around, and maps can be downloaded when you're bored of the six maps bundled with the game. That is more than one can expect from a free game; especially when it's developed by the likes of id Software, and published by Activision Blizzard.

If you are expecting Battlefield, then maybe Wolfenstein isn't for you. But, if you are looking for a solid, free, war based multiplayer game, then just download your copy, and give it a go.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Linux Mint Editions (Flavors) Explained


So you've decided to switch to Linux Mint 17.1, and have headed over to the website to download your copy. Before you go about downloading your copy of Linux, you need to understand the various different editions available on the page. The download page can be intimidating for a user who isn't familiar with Linux environments.

Note: Although this guide was written for Linux Mint 17.1, it is applicable to all versions of Linux Mint.

Linux environments are simply user interfaces which you will be interacting with when using your PC. If you are familiar with Android, imagine a Samsung phone against say a Sony or HTC phone. They all use similar versions of Android but have a different interface and feel to them. This is exactly what these different editions of Linux Mint are. The basic system remains the same; what changes is your way of interacting with it. 

There are 4 major editions of Linux Mint 17.1:
  1. Cinnamon
  2. Mate
  3. KDE
  4. Xfce
All are available in two versions:
  1. 32-bit
  2. 64-bit
We'll take a look at all these editions, and which edition should you choose for your system.

32-bit or 64-bit? 

Before we go talk about the various different editions available on the page, let's clear out some basics first. Deciding between 32-bit or 64-bit can be difficult for all PC users. Linux as well as Windows offer both options. Unfortunately, there is no rule which can determine which version works best for you. So, to make the decision process easier, here are some simple guidelines you can follow.
  • Does your processor support 64-bit instructions? 
    • If you're using a Pentium D (not Pentium 4 or lower), or anything later than that, your processor supports 64-bit. Intel Core 2 Duo/Quad/Extreme, Intel Core i3/i5/i7 all support 64-bit.
    • Amongst AMD processors, if you are using an AMD Athlon 64, or anything later, your processor supports 64-bit. If you are using any AMD processor released after 2007, it most definitely supports 64-bit.
    • If your processor does not support 64-bit instructions, you CANNOT install a 64-bit operating system on your PC. Once we have this out of the way, we can move on to the next point.
  • How much RAM does your system have?
    • Rule of thumb is, if you have 4GB or more RAM, you should opt for a 64-bit operating system.
    • Although 64-bit systems run fine with just 2GB of RAM, your system won't exactly be able to take advantage of the features of 64-bit instructions. 64-bit systems aren't necessarily faster than 32-bit systems, but they manage large resources more efficiently.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon comes in 3 versions:
  1. Cinnamon
  2. Cinnamon No codecs
  3. Cinnamon OEM
Cinnamon is the default, recommended edition of Linux Mint 17.1. Most users can safely download the 64-bit version of Cinnamon and use it without any problems. It features a customisable desktop which behaves quite like Windows. Plenty of visual effects are provided, which can be tweaked to your liking.

Cinnamon No codecs: This version is only if you wish to commercially distribute Linux Mint 17.1 along with a magazine, software bundles, etc. Support for multimedia is added to Linux via codecs, which may violate copyrights if distributed commercially. To avoid any copyright infringement, this version does not contain the codecs by default, but offers you the option to download them during installation.

Cinnamon OEM: This edition is for PC builders and distributors, who wish to allow end-users to customise settings like username, password, language, location on first use. This edition also allows manufacturers to install custom software on the PC before it is sent to the end-user.

If you're in doubt, select Cinnamon.
 

Mate

Mate also comes in 3 variations:
  1. Mate
  2. Mate No codecs
  3. Mate OEM
The versions of Mate follow the same pattern as Cinnamon described above.
Mate is the more lightweight edition of Linux Mint 17.1. It uses an older desktop environment known as Gnome 2. If you don't know what that means, it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that Mate edition is generally lighter on your system and consumes fewer resources. If at all you feel that Cinnamon is too sluggish on your computer, or you own an older computer, you could use Mate.

When it comes down to actual usage, there aren't too many major differences between Mate and Cinnamon. You might find fewer visual effects and a more dated interface. But that doesn't stop it from being intuitive and highly usable. It's about as customisable as Cinnamon.

KDE

KDE is another popular Linux desktop environment which is used in various other Linux operating systems. Those who have used a KDE based operating system before, should feel right at home here. The first thing you notice about a KDE environment is the abundance of pretty visual effects. The interface is beautiful, functional, and really worth showing off. All this comes at a price though. KDE is also the most resource hungry environment you'll find for Linux.

If you have a powerful system and want something worth showing off, you'll enjoy using KDE. You'll find a lot of apps specifically designed to work well within a KDE environment. You could try KDE if you want to flaunt your rig. Otherwise, Cinnamon is a lighter option.

Xfce

This is the lightest environment of the lot. It looks and feels a bit more like Windows XP. It's simple, efficient and gets your work done while consuming the least amount of resources amongst all the other editions of Linux Mint 17.1. It's quite simple to use, and uses minimal visual effects to keep your system running smooth and fast.

If you have a fairly old system, or you're using a low power laptop/netbook, then Xfce is the best option for you. It may not have the pretty effects offered by Cinnamon or KDE, but it's just as functional and usable as either of them. You should be able to use it comfortably with as little as 1GB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive.

Conclusion:

Which edition to choose, and which one would be best suited to you is a matter of personal taste. Albeit, Cinnamon is the most recommended of the lot. It provides everything you will need for a solid Linux experience. If you need something lightweight, you could try Mate or Xfce.  

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Linux Mint 17.1 vs. Windows: Is Linux right for you?



Most computers these days are bundled with some version of Windows installed. Here we'll be looking at a comparison of Windows and Linux Mint from the perspective of an average PC user. Windows 7 is quite a popular choice among PC users, with Windows XP coming in at a distant 2nd. Windows 8 comes in at 3rd, pretty close to Windows XP. These are statistics as of December 2014. I'm quite sure there wouldn't be any drastic change in them by now. Fact is, that a whopping 90% of PC users today are using Windows. Now why am I telling you this? I'm telling you this because most of these 90% of people, aren't aware that there are better options out there. Sure, you have Mac, but is it really affordable for everyone?


Overview:

Obviously, the first question which you'd ask is: Why should I switch when what I have is working fine? That is a very good question. For anyone who's used Windows, system slow downs, viruses, annoying interfaces are all common place. Windows 8 has a rather notorious reputation for having a poorly designed interface for non-touch screen devices. You could argue that Windows 7 has a rather decent interface, but then again, security, system clean-ups, partition management, is all left to the user to handle. This is where Linux Mint comes to the rescue. It handles most of the technicalities for you, leaving you free to focus on your work. Let's look at the various aspects of Linux Mint and where it stands when compared to Windows.

Interface:

Looking at a Linux Mint 17.1 (Cinnamon) desktop out of the box, you will be reminded of a Windows like interface. But the similarities end there. The Menu replaces the Windows Start button giving you access to all your apps. Apps are neatly and automatically categorised by usage, such as Office, Internet, Sound & Video, etc.



There are no tiles to sift through, or a large list of programs to go through to find what you're looking for. Everything is in its place. If you feel you still have trouble looking for something you need, you can simply start typing in the search bar provided.

Configuration and settings are handled rather gracefully by the System Settings panel which is the alternative to the Windows Control Panel.


Unlike Windows, all settings are laid out categorically and labelled in a self explanatory fashion. Do you see a pattern emerging here? Almost all interface elements in Linux are sorted categorically. You'll hardly ever need to look for anything too long. If you do, all windows contain a search bar.

Internet:

Let's look at what Linux Mint 17 has to offer out of the box when it comes to Internet usage. I'm only including the software you'll find on the system immediately after installation. None of it has been installed separately.
  • Internet Browser: Mozilla Firefox
  • Email Client: Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Torrent Engine: Transmission
  • Instant Messaging Client: Pidgin (supports most IM accounts including Facebook, Yahoo, MSN, Gtalk, etc.)
  • IRC Client: HexChat
In comparison, this is what Windows offers:
  • Internet Browser: Internet Explorer
You read that right. It only offers a single browser in its internet access arsenal. Most users today only use Internet Explorer to download another internet browser. Everything else needs to be installed.

Edit: Other than the included software mentioned above, it is just as simple to install other apps as and when required. Popular apps available for Linux Mint include Skype, Google Chrome, Dropbox, and many many more. A bundled software store takes care of most of your app requirements, whereas certain apps require you to download the setup separately. This is just as easily done as in any Windows operating system.

Media Handling:

Windows offers impressive media handling capabilities out of the box. Windows Media Player is a great tool for handling large libraries, and handles commonly used video formats out of the box. What's sorely missing is the support for H.264 videos and external subtitles. Of course, most of us would gladly download VLC player or an equivalent codec pack to enable support, but it's another task to be performed on a fresh Windows installation. Another missing feature is the ability to play FLAC and OGG files. OGG is not very commonly used, but FLAC is often used to store music without losing any of its original fidelity. Since both formats are open-source, Microsoft has no excuse for leaving them out.

Linux Mint 17 comes with the following applications installed:
  • Audio Player: Banshee
  • Video Player: VLC Media Player
Banshee is a pretty simple music player which can organise your files in its library and play standard music files without requiring any special configuration. It handles most audio files you can throw at it and supports addition of more codecs for some obscure audio formats.



VLC Player doesn't need any introductions. If you're not aware of it, it's a rather well known video player famous for its ability to play practically any video file and format you can think of. It has excellent support for embedded as well as external subtitles, and also supports content streaming. It's available for Windows, but it comes bundled with Linux Mint 17.

Office and Productivity:

Unfortunately, the only remotely useful office tools you get with Windows are Notepad and Wordpad. Microsoft Paint barely counts as an image editing tool. Although it provides a basic set of tools for making minor changes to pictures, you can't hope to create masterpieces (except for the most adventurous amongst us). If you're hoping to get any serious work done, you'll probably invest in Microsoft Office. It's rather unfair to pay for an office productivity suite after paying so much for an operating system.

Linux Mint 17 bundles along an office productivity suite as well: LibreOffice. It comes with a word processor, a spreadsheet processor, slide presentation creator, and also tools for handling mathematical formulas and flowcharts.


  

 



Microsoft Office users should feel right at home. Interface elements would be quite familiar if not the same. All Microsoft Office documents and files are also natively supported by LibreOffice. Picture and photo editing is handled by GIMP which is a fully loaded photo editing software.

Most compressed files are handled by the bundled archive manager. Rest assured, RAR, ZIP, 7-ZIP, and a fair number of other formats are natively supported.

Gaming:

If there is an area which Linux lags behind in, it is gaming. There is simply no substitute for the DirectX API provided by Microsoft in Windows. Every single game available for PC out there works flawlessly on Windows with supported hardware.

What Linux DOES support is Steam. It has a respectable number of games for Linux which can be played directly through Steam, just like in Windows. That being said, there are a good number of popular games with Linux support. Here are a few.
  • Dota 2
  • Entire Half-Life, and Half-Life 2 series
  • Counter Strike, Counter Strike: Source, Counter Strike: Global Offensive
  • Borderlands 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
  • Team Fortress 2
  • Metro 2033, Metro: Last Light
  • Portal, Portal 2
  • Sid Meier's Civilization V 
  • and many more..... 
Honestly, Linux is not quite there yet when it comes to gaming. Although a number of good games are supported on it, it simply doesn't run everything that Windows can. In spite of that, the performance of supported games is rather solid.


Conclusion:

Linux may not be the best operating system out there, but it surpasses Windows in many ways. Did I mention it doesn't need an anti-virus? There are no viruses for Linux, and there probably never will be. If you are looking for a system which works straight out of the box, then Linux is for you. It can very well replace Windows. Driver support for most hardware is built-in, and proprietary drivers can be handled quite easily with the provided Driver Management tool. All in all, it's a great system for PC users out there. Stay tuned for my guide on Linux Mint 17 installation, which I shall be putting up soon. For everyone else who is confident enough to try it out, the website link is provided below.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

GIMP: The Open-Source Photoshop



Comparing it to Photoshop is perhaps stretching it, but it comes mighty close. If you're even remotely into photography, you've probably used Photoshop (or at least tried to) to clean up your photos. It costs a lot of money and is used by all professional photographers today. You might be wondering how much could GIMP possibly offer? You'll be surprised.

General Information:

  • Distribution Type: Free and Open-Source
  • Developed by: The GIMP Team
  • Reviewed Version: 2.8.14 (26th August, 2014)
  • Available for: Windows XP (SP3) onwards, Mac OS X, Linux, BSD, Solaris
  • Download Size: 87MB (Windows), 61MB (Mac), 19MB (Linux)
  • GIMP Official Website


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

CDBurnerXP: Great Disc Management Tool



Although Windows offers a basic CD/DVD burning tool, it does not offer most of the features you'd probably hope for. The first application one thinks of when referring to disc burning tools is Nero. There are few others who use Roxio, but Nero is pretty much a standard these days. OEMs bundle it with their computers, and sometimes, you'd find it bundled with the brand new optical drive you bought. Nero is a great tool, but it offers a whole lot of features most people wouldn't really use. This also adds to its already large size. For everyone who doesn't need the heavy duty functionality of Nero, but still want a decent, functional, free disc burning tool, we have CDBurnerXP.
 

General Information:

  • Distribution Type: Freeware
  • Developed by: Canneverbe Limited
  • Reviewed Version: 4.5.4.5306 (21st December, 2014)
  • Available for: Windows 2000 (SP4) or better 
  • Download Size: 5.4MB
  • CDBurnerXP Official Website




Design:

CDBurnerXP uses a more or less simplistic design, giving its users only as much information as needed. On start up, it presents a simple selection menu to select which task you need to perform. Most of the windows and prompts you encounter follow the same simple design principle. Nero users should feel right at home here. 





Adding data to a disc uses a tried and tested, drag and drop interface. You can drag and drop all your content from Windows explorer straight into the compilation window, or else, you can use the provided file explorer within the windows itself. Library structures from recent versions of Windows are also supported, so navigation from within the application shouldn't be a problem.



A bar at the bottom of the screen shows the amount of space available on the disc for burning, as well as the amount of space already used. It scales automatically depending upon the type of disc inserted.
Toolbars on the screen provide access to most of the functions you would use, while more advanced options would need some digging.

Overall, the design should please novices and experts alike. Novices have all of the commonly used functions at easily accessible locations, whereas experts can choose to dig through the standard drop-down menus to access to more advanced features.


Features:

Most of the tools anyone would need for managing and burning CDs/DVDs/BDs are provided within the software. It also contains some advanced tools which can be tweaked to your liking.Creating standard data discs, or MP3 discs.
  • Creating standard data discs, or MP3 discs.
  • Creating DVD player compatible video discs
    Note: The software does not convert videos for you, you must convert them into a compatible format yourself before attempting to burn them.
  • Creating standard Audio CDs compatible with all audio CD players (not MP3)
  • Burning image files (ISO images) to a disc
  • Copying discs
  • Saving a disc on your PC as an image (ISO or MDS) file.
  • Erase a rewritable discs.
Some of the more advanced features present are:
  • Creating bootable discs
  • Spanning data across multiple discs
  • Changing file-system of discs (ISO 9660 or UDF)
  • Adding CD-Text data to Audio CDs
  • Converting disc images into ISO format.
You can click here for a complete list of features provided on the website.

Performance: 

CDBurnerXP performs quite solidly on almost every machine. I tried using it on a laptop, desktop, and even a netbook. I did notice some minor slowdowns when navigating through files from within the compilation window on a netbook, but otherwise, I didn't have the application crash even once. CD and DVD burning works flawlessly as long as you make sure that you have selected the correct burning speed for the disc inserted in your drive.

There were some inconsistencies regarding speed detection with certain blank discs that I tested. It will still allow you to burn, but, you might have to select the burning speed manually.


Conclusion:

Although it may not offer some of the more comprehensive features of its paid counterparts, CDBurnerXP provides a solid set of tools for most of your disc burning needs. Support for additional platforms is sorely missed, but there are other great tools available for them as well.

Support for older operating systems also means it covers a wider base of users. Although the official system requirements are not listed on the website, you can safely assume that it should work on all systems less than half a decade old.


Please feel free to leave a comment in case you think I've missed out anything, or you have any corrections to mention.

FAQs (Why go free?)


 

How can free be better than paid?

I believe this is the most commonly asked question amongst everyone. It’s quite hard to believe that you can get good software which doesn’t cost you a dime. What we need to understand is that unlike hardware, software doesn’t have a material cost involved. Once a piece of code has been written and compiled into an application, it doesn’t have to be rewritten every time another copy of the application is made. That being said, an application is only as good as the skills possessed by the developer who made it. It’s the developer’s choice whether to offer it for free, or charge a premium on it. You can have really bad free applications, as well as really bad paid applications. Price is not always a determining factor in this case.


But I’ve been using X software for years. Why should I switch?

There is probably no reason for you to switch if your application is serving you well. But, if you’ve been paying to keep your software updated, and have never tried anything else, how could it really hurt? More often than not, we buy software offering loads of features which we never use. For whatever application you’re using, usually, there is a free/open-source alternative which will do everything you want it to. Not only will this save you a lot of money, but it might also save you a lot of system resources. A software with fewer features will most likely be lighter on your system than one which is armed to the teeth with tools.

 

I can easily pirate this software. Why should I bother with a free alternative? 

Firstly, pirated software is illegal. Secondly, you are depriving the developers of the money you rightfully owe them. You may be against the capitalist mentality, but every time you pirate a software, some developer out there stays hungry for a day. The loss incurred by large, multi-national companies is probably not much, but it’s still wrong. If you feel you need to use a paid application, make sure you pay for it. If you cannot afford it, or do not want to pay, there’s a lot of good, free stuff around. You might even find something better than the software you pirated. You’ll be surprised how much you can do without paying anything.


How can they give it for free? There’s got to be a hidden agenda.

There are various different kinds of free software out there. Some are what are called open-source. These applications are usually developed by people who have well paid jobs or businesses, but simply want to share their project with the rest of the world. Not everyone wants to make money out of it. Open-source also means that the source code for these applications is free for everyone to view and edit. This encourages community development and support for the application. It also inspires other developers to develop projects of their own by studying the code. 

Then we have freeware. Freeware applications are basically the same as open-source, except for one fundamental difference: the source code isn’t available to view or edit. You may use the software for as long as you want, without paying anything for it. But, you may not see the source code, and you may not make any changes within the software. These are usually developed by people who prefer to maintain their own application, and do not wish to allow any external changes to it. Freeware applications may also be ad supported. You may see some advertising within the application which generates revenue for the developers. Some developers offer to remove these ads for a small fee.

A few years ago, companies released what were known as ‘shareware’ applications. These applications could be used for no charge for as long as you want, but all of its features were not available to you. Usually, the basic functionality was provided, and you had to pay to unlock the more advanced features. This type of model is still followed by some applications. For most users, the features provided by the shareware application suffice. Advanced users might decide to pay for the more advanced features.


Free applications wouldn’t provide technical support.

Shareware applications would provide limited to no technical support. But, freeware and open-source applications usually provide decent support whenever required. Open-source applications offer community support. They usually have a forum dedicated to resolving any difficulties users might face. Members of the community are generally active, and queries are resolved rather quickly. 

Since freeware applications are the developers’ responsibility, the developer(s) may provide an email address or query form to report any difficulties. The response time may not be as quick as open-source, but most of them would try to help you out.

Larger corporations have an option of neglecting you completely since one user isn’t really a threat to their reputation. Depending upon your query, tech support may or may not help you solve it. Companies wouldn’t really care if they lose one user. They’d rather put in their time and money elsewhere. Smaller developers don’t have that option. They will try their best to help you out. This way, even if they come up with a good paid application later on, you’d be willing to buy it.


If you have any more questions, feel free to leave a comment below.