Cool Software for your Desktop

Salutations fellow Linuxers! Welcome to my Top Five Support Questions for this issue. My answers this month focus on personal productivity solutions and how to get the most out of Linux at several key levels.

Salutations fellow Linuxers! Welcome to my Top Five Support Questions for this issue. My answers this month focus on personal productivity solutions and how to get the most out of Linux at several key levels.


I would like to be able to read Usenet postings when I’m not at work. Does Linux have some kind of offline newsreader that will let me read news from my laptop?

Well, of course! This is Linux after all. One of my favorite solutions for this is a little tool called leafnode. leafnode provides a mini Usenet news server that connects to your regular NNTP news server. I use it to connect to AirNews, which is a commercial news provider.

This comes in especially handy when I’m traveling, since I don’t have to be connected to my office’s NNTP server. To do this, all I need is my AirNews user name and password, and I can read news offline, post new articles or followups, and e-mail responses that leafnode then queues and sends automatically.

I use leafnode in conjunction with the Unix cron utility so that it will automatically check for and send my news at preset times. To do this you need to add another line to your computer’s crontab file, which should be located in the directory var/spool/cron/crontabs/ yourusername.

To make effective use of leafnode to download e-mail automatically, su to the root account on your system by entering the command su and entering the root password. Now enter the command crontab -u news -e. This will launch you into a text editor where you can edit the crontab file. Add the following line to your crontab file and quit the editor.

* 12 * * * /usr/local/sbin/   fetchnews

This will poll a news server every day at noon. You can poll the news server at a certain minute, hour, day of the month — basically whenever you choose. To get an idea about the flexibility of the cron daemon, take a look at the man pages: man 5 crontab. You’ll want to know how to use your default editor (it’s probably vi) before you try editing your crontab, too.

leafnode can be found in RPM format by searching at Freshmeat or by going to http://www.rpmfind.org. It is easily compiled on most modern Linux distributions, and the sources are at http://wpxx02.toxi.uni-wuerzburg.de/~krasel/leafnode.html.


I still need to use some Windows applications and would like to be able to run them on my Linux desktop. How can this be done?

In an earlier column, I discussed several up-and-coming emulators, but I would now like to focus on VMware and give a better estimate of its possibilities. I use VMware for many of the same reasons that you would want to. I still need access to a few Windows programs like Visio. I tried the other alternatives like WABI and WINE but found that VMware is best suited for my needs.

VMware installs either in a virtual mode, in which all the guest operating system’s files are kept in one large configuration and disk file, or in “raw disk” mode. In raw disk mode, VMware accesses a native Windows partition that you dual boot to and makes that available. I prefer using the first approach.

You can run a variety of operating systems with VMware, including Linux, NT Server and Workstation, Windows 98 and Windows 95, DOS, FreeBSD, and Solaris. It does not yet support OS/2 or BEos.

Remember not to run VMware as root or superuser. Always run it as a regular user. In fact, it’s never a good idea to run things as the root user, unless you have to, since you can basically reduce your Linux desktop to a shambles this way.

Now, start the VMware session and load all of the necessary applications. VMware will ask if you want fully bridged networking or host networking. Fully bridged networking means that your virtual machine has contact with other machines on your network and to the Internet. Host networking means that your virtual machine will have access only to the Linux host. One rather fascinating approach to this whole thing is to use Samba file-sharing services to act as an integrator between the Windows 98 guest and the Linux host.

With VMware you can set up printers, change configuration on your guest system and add additional devices as needed. This is one unusual piece of software, when you consider that the entire thing comes in a tar archive about 2 MB in size. Visit http://www.vmware.com for more information.


I would like to schedule my appointments, keep track of day-to-day stuff, and manage a calendar. What can I use for this stuff?

I carry around a Palm 5 that does all that stuff by using the pilot-link program. I can do a pretty good job of synchronizing my data with two KDE programs, KPilot and KOrganizer. Both of these come with KDE 1.1.1. You will also need the pilot-link software to use them.

Pilot-link comes with various utilities to back up files from the Palm series. You might also want to try out PilotManager, which has similar functionality to pilot-link. There are also rumors that a commercial productivity-application vendor will soon be releasing PalmPilot software for Linux. You can find more information on this in David Silber’s Palm OS HOWTO: http://www.orbits.com/Palm/PlamOS-HOWTO.html.

There are also a couple of maturing open source personal-information applications: GNOMECalendar and KOrganizer. I have used both and found that the physical appeal of GNOMECalendar is greater, but the functional ability of KOrganizer is nicer. So what to do? I now use the Pilot somewhat isolated from a desktop solution, although I have used it with VMware and the Palm Desktop for Windows 9x. For standalone desktop organizing check out either the GNOMECalendar or KOrganizer. Both offer a lot of nice features.

GNOMECalendar is one of the core applications of GNOME and it can be found at http://www.gnome.org, while KOrganizer can be found at http://www.kde.org.

One of great bastions of the Windows world will soon come to Linux — groupware through the Lotus Notes Domino Server. IBM has committed to releasing the venerable groupware server as well as a future release of the client software. Rumor has it though that some other enterprising company has ported Notes. A coffee mug to the person who can send me a URL for this!


I need to create Web pages. What are some applications that can help me with the endeavor?

Producing HTML content was long done by legions of folks using the vi editor or Emacs. But today you can choose from a number of custom applications that create HTML. A nice one is the World Wide Web Consortium standard called Amaya. This is available as an RPM file that installs cleanly on Red Hat and SuSE systems. With its attractive interface, Amaya offers a great degree of usability and provides a standard way to create Web pages. It also includes a browser that is quite handy for creating Web pages with links.

If you want to go the Emacs route, you can download a number of HTML helper applications. One of these is called html-helper-el. It is made up of Lisp extensions to Emacs, which are available for downloading free from http://www.santafe.edu/~nelson/tools/.

You might want to look at the aswedit programs, which come in both commercial and free versions. You can also use Netscape Communicator’s Composer. But one of the more exciting editors is a new one by CoffeeCup, which recently ported its longtime favorite NT/98 editor (also called CoffeeCup) to Linux.

CoffeeCup comes with a lot of Javascripts and other goodies. Some of the examples for CoffeeCup include a time and date script, changing banners that you can set up, various menuing items, and different special effects like letters that can slide around on a Web page.


I want to get active in the overall Linux community. How do I go about this?

The Linux world is nothing if not diverse, and it’s safe to say that there’s room for everyone. First, determine if there is a local LUG (Linux user group) in your area by searching the LUG list at http://lugww.nllgg.nl/. You’ll find over 100 groups that hold meetings and events such as installfests.

Another opportunity for networking in the Linux community is to attend a trade show like the annual LinuxWorld convention, bake-off, and cookie sale. Such expos offer lots of vendors showing their stuff, fellow Linux users who gab about the latest software or hardware, and numerous worthwhile shows, lectures, and gew-gaws.

Or, get active on mailing lists. Joining a Linux mailing list is a great way to meet people who share your interests in a specific software product or programming language, or who just like to BS about the operating system and the movement. One of my favorites is the SuSE-Linux-e mailing list. It offers interesting (if sometimes unfocused) conversations, plus it’s fun and educational. There are some dedicated Linux-heads on that list. Check them out! You can find information on the SuSE mailing list by browsing over to http://lists.suse.com.

Other Linux distributors like Red Hat and Caldera also have comprehensive mailing-list support, and many of the distributions also have Usenet newsgroups. In fact, there are a variety of Usenet discussion groups covering different aspects of Linux, from advocacy to installation, networking to general help. The can be found at the comp.os.linux newsgroup on your news server.

Michael Perry came to Linux circuitously via OS/2 and NT. His interests include documenting technical support issues through hours spent staring vacantly at postings to Linux newsgroups and mailing lists. He can be reached at stumpmike@linuxcare.com.

Comments are closed.