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Accessing internet radio (or eRadio) stations in Ubuntu is pretty simple. Most of the media players installed by default in Ubuntu can handle the task, and you can easily find and install many other great apps (like Amarok) via Synaptic Package Manager.

The current default for this is “Movie Player” (actually called Totem), and it does the job well, but there is another app installed in every system that can do even better: the default “Music Player“, Rhythmbox.

What we’ll look at is the basics of eRadio in Ubuntu (using the default Totem Movie Player), how to set up a web radio station in Rhythmbox, and why it’s a good idea to do so.

Finding web stations to your liking is a simple matter of a few minutes in Google, and when you find some you’d like to listen to, they generally have a clearly visible link to click.

When you click the stream link, Firefox will ask what you want to do with it, so just go with the default of opening it in Totem (or “Movie Player” as it will be listed).

Totem will open, and the station will be visible in the Playlist pane. You might even find it lets you access more than one station, as some will have US (English) and European (often German) versions. Simply double-click the station name and it will start streaming music within a second or two.

Now, while Totem does the job, and all that was pretty quick and painless, there isn’t a way to bookmark the station or anything, and from the lack of any additional information you wouldn’t even be aware many stations broadcast the artist and song names along with the music data. This is why setting up stations in Rhythmbox is a great idea, but you’ll still probably need the help of Totem to do so.

As you probably know, when Firefox wants to know what to do with a specific file, you can actually choose a program other than the suggested default. Usually, a list of apps will even be presented to you, but in the case of links that point to a .pls (“MP3 ShoutCast playlist“) file, you probably won’t find a way to open it in Rhythmbox. That’s because (currently) no apps at all are suggested for that filetype, and manually specifying the command /usr/bin/rhythmbox may not help. Same goes for other formats, like .wax (“Windows Media Audio Redirector“) files (more on those at the end of this article), but there is a simple way to get around this.

Now, when you click a link that points to a playlist file, the URL will be something like http://www.heavymetalradio.com/listen.pls, and (currently) Rhythmbox seems incapable of handling that (which is why nothing happens). But if you open the station in Totem, you can right-click the station and choose Copy Location, and you’ll find the URL is something like http://www.heavymetalradio.com:8000 (the numbers on the end are the port to connect to).

When you go to Rhythmbox, just right-click the Radio icon in the left pane and choose New Internet Radio Station…

Once you’ve pasted in the address and clicked Add, you will see your station(s) in the right-pane. Once again, just double-click the desired station to begin streaming, which you can of course pause at any time, and it will begin streaming again when you click Play.

Now you will notice that not only do you have the name of the station in the title bar, but also the name of the artist and song currently playing. That information is also visible beneath the media control buttons.

It doesn’t end there, as you can do one more thing, and that is customise the “cover” artwork. You’ve probably noticed when accidentally hovering your mouse over the artwork area that a tooltip saying “Drop artwork here” appears, and this is what we’ll do for the radio station (so pick a picture you like, or download their logo).

The option for album cover artwork is actually supplied by a Rhythmbox plugin, which should be installed by default; if it isn’t, you should be able to get it easy enough in Synaptic by searching for “rhythmbox“. If you don’t have artwork visible, it is still probably installed, just not enabled, so go to Edit > Plugins and enable Cover art.

Then simply drag a picture file from an open folder window onto that area, and it will be displayed every time you activate that station.

As you can see, that’s all pretty easy to do, only takes a few minutes, and is well worth it if you want to access your favourite internet radio stations in a flash (not to mention have the current track info broadcast along with the music).

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Some notes on WAX files

When you go to open a station via a .wax file in Firefox, it should go to open as expected in Movie Player.

Once again, all you need to do is copy the URL in Totem, create a new station in Rhythmbox, and paste in the address.

But you may find that the name of the station doesn’t automatically appear, but is instead just the URL.

But that’s only a minor issue, as all you have to do is right-click the station and choose Properties to edit its information.

Simply replace the URL (or whatever text you want to replace) next to Title: and click Close.

Your new station will now have the proper name, or any that you desire.

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When you look for a particular program to install via Synaptic or any other package manager, and it doesn’t seem to exist, it’s no use typing sudo apt-get install nameofpackage in a terminal, since all of them rely on the APT Package Management system. So when Synaptic can’t find it, it means the package is not in the standard repositories, though chances are it exists in a “universe” or “multiverse” repo. What this means is rather than search for the developer’s site, and download and install their program, you might find it in Synaptic if you give it more places to look.

The first thing you should always do is enable universe (“Community-maintained Open Source software“) repos via System > Administration > Software Sources. It resides in the first tab, Ubuntu Software, as does multiverse (“Software restricted by copyright or legal issues“). Make sure both of those are enabled, and your package manager will find a lot more in searches.

The next tab, Third-Party Software, is where you can add more repos yourself. You will see an “Add CD-ROM” button at the bottom, which is useful for adding discs like the Ubuntu Alternate CD as software sources. And “+ Add” is what you use to add other sources manually. These repos can range from those that just take care of obtaining hard-to-find packages, through to ones for keeping specific programs updated, and look like this:

deb http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/debian jaunty non-free

In the case of the example, the repo is to keep Virtualbox up to date, and is added automatically, but when you download programs from sites, and they advise you to add their repo to your software sources, you now know how.

Just remember that when adding repos others have recommended you may need to change the version. In the example used, the “jaunty” refers to Ubuntu 9.04 “Jaunty Jackalope”, so replace it with your current one. For example, if you’re running 9.10 “Karmic Koala”, you would replace it with “karmic“. One thing to remember is that when the sources are being checked, if the repo you added doesn’t exist yet, it will come up with the error that it couldn’t be located; you can either wait for it to eventually be active (ie: just ignore the error), delete it from your software sources (if the error really annoys you), or edit it back to what it was. In other words, if you added deb http://repoubuntusoftware.info karmic all, but it is invalid, change it back to deb http://repoubuntusoftware.info jaunty all.

Probably the best way to get a whole lot of useful repos added at once is to add the Medibuntu repository. This will give you easy access to lots of hard-to-find software within Synaptic, not to mention “non-freepackages (copyrighted or other legal issues) which can often be seemingly impossible to get any other way. It will also make it possible to install popular apps like Skype and Google Earth without downloading from the site (and usually having to register). Medibuntu also includes even more multimedia codec packs than ubuntu-restricted-extras gives you, like proprietary non-native Win32/64 codecs. It also gives you access to libdvdcss2 for playing encrypted DVDs. For more info on this, read my post, or just go straight to the documentation page.

For additional information on Ubuntu repositories, check out the official help page.

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By far the best method of getting your package manager Synaptic to be able to find lots more useful software is to add the Medibuntu (Multimedia, Entertainment & Distractions In Ubuntu) repository. By adding it, you in fact get access to a whole lot more repos, and you could end up finding packages in a Synaptic search that you couldn’t even find via Google when hoping to download them from the developers’ sites.

Besides finally being able to install those programs you’ve seen recommended but could never locate, Medibuntu makes it painless to get a whole bunch of “non-free” packages (proprietary, copyrighted, or other legal issues). This can range from popular software you usually need to download (and often register for first), like Skype and Google Earth, to even more multimedia codecs that you didn’t get with ubuntu-restricted-extras.

Codec packs and multimedia extras to install once Medibuntu has been added are libdvdcss2 (for playing encrypted retail DVDs), non-free-codecs, and “Win32” codec binaries (required for the decompression of video formats that have no open-source alternative) w32codecs (for 32-bit “i386” systems; for 64-bit systems, install w64codecs, and PowerPC Mac users install ppc-codecs).

For those who just want libdvdcss2, you can download the 32-bit, 64-bit and PowerPC versions (37Kb .DEB installers).

Go to the Medibuntu documentation page for more info, or just enter the following command in a terminal, and it’s all done for you! You can then open Synaptic and see all the extra software available to you, and install those invaluable codecs. Note that all of the below is one command, so copy and paste the lot:

sudo wget http://www.medibuntu.org/sources.list.d/$(lsb_release -cs).list \
--output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list &&
sudo apt-get -q update &&
sudo apt-get --yes -q --allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring &&
sudo apt-get -q update

If this doesn’t work, you could be reading this when it’s outdated, so go to the site and check the command is still the same.

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When you install either Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Xubuntu, you end up with either Gnome, KDE or Xfce (respectively) as the desktop environment. You only get one choice, but you can easily add one or more of the other desktop environments to your system later. You might be wondering if there are any drawbacks in doing this, so hopefully this will ease your worries.

Basically, the only drawback is that each system requires updates, which might be an issue for those with small download limits. For Ubuntu users, Xfce updates are infrequent and usually quite tiny, but KDE updates are usually larger than those for Gnome, as often more system packages get updated each time, and fairly frequently.

Other than that, your different desktop environments should co-exist in peace, and any “problems” will be minor, like the icons on your Ubuntu desktop being in a different order when you log into KDE. The panels and menus will be different, and some things will work differently, but that’s to be expected, and you’ll have fun learning your way around.

And while most of us are quite happy using one desktop environment, with the majority choosing Gnome, there is an upside to having more than one. You can use it as a backup desktop if things go wrong, and not have to log into Windows or Mac OS to Google for answers. Also, because you are logged into your Ubuntu system regardless of what desktop environment you’re in, you can edit system files or whatever needs to be done, without having to use a Live CD or other tool to be able to get at them (since you can’t via Windows).

Or if you suspect it was a buggy update, and one likely to have had a flood of bug reports from users, you can even sit back and use another desktop for a while and see what happens. After all, you should still be able to use most if not all your Gnome apps without issue in KDE, and updates to Gnome will still come in and get installed. From experience I can tell you it can be as little as 2 days before a bunch of system package updates are rushed out, and once installed you’re logging into Gnome again without a problem.

If you’re a “tinkerer”, and have gotten yourself into spots of bother messing with your system – and are likely to do so again – this option is a lot easier than using a Live CD each time. If you’d like to cut down on hard drive space used and downloads for updates, install Xfce, as it is quite minimalist. One thing to keep in mind though if considering this is that Xfce actually draws a lot from GTK – basically parts of Gnome – so there is at least a slight possibility that if you’ve messed up a part of Gnome it needs, Xfce won’t load either. So if you want to play it safe, and don’t mind sacrificing a little disk space and bandwidth, install KDE as your backup desktop. Or if you want ot play it really safe like me, have all three!

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For newbies, the prospect of installing software via the command-line might seem a little daunting, but it is in fact very easy, gives you greater flexibility, and most importantly is very fast. When you fire up Synaptic (or your preferred package manager), you are just using a GUI for commands you could be entering in the terminal. While you would still use Synaptic to search for new programs, so you can browse their descriptions and mark for installation a bunch of apps you never knew of before, if you actually know the name of the program you are looking for, it’s actually much quicker to install it via the terminal.

For example, if you wanted to install Mozilla Thunderbird as your preferred email client, in Synaptic you would have to search for “thunderbird“, select it from the list of results and mark it for installation, then proceed. Via the terminal, it is simply:

sudo apt-get install thunderbird

What the command means is pretty straight forward. You are using the APT package management system, and the apt-get command is the part of it that will automatically look in Ubuntu’s repositories for the required software, and download it for you. That’s right – you don’t even have to specify a web address!

The “install” option is what it seems: it’s telling apt-get to install it for you once it is downloaded. And after that, just put the names of the programs you want to install. You can install as many as you want at once; you just need to know the correct package name (more often than not just a simplified, lower-case version of the displayed program name), and separate each app name with a space.

The last thing we need to mention is the first bit of the command: “sudo“. You will see this around in forums and web pages, and you’ll soon get used to using it. Part of what makes Linux much more secure than Windows is the fact that the user has limited control of the system, and that for some tasks, one either has to log in as root, or do what most of us do (and is the recommended option): become a superuser. So when you try to run a command you have found somewhere, only to be informed you don’t have the privileges to do so, all that is needed is to run the same command again preceded by sudo and enter your password when prompted.

When installing packages, Ubuntu sees no difference between programs and packages that are part of the system itself, so by becoming superuser you are in fact approving the installation.

So that’s it. Whenever you hear of some programs you’d like to install, or see some mentioned in forums (often with the correct package name), try it via the command-line and see how much faster it is. I mean, if you wanted to install all of the suggested internet programs for newbies at once, in Synaptic you’d be there for a little while. In the terminal, it’s as easy as:

sudo apt-get install thunderbird epiphany-browser opera amsn d4x kget filezilla foff azureus ktorrent

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PLEASE NOTE: While Ubuntu Software Center is now the default package manager, Synaptic is worth installing if you don’t already have it, as being free of the bells and whistles of the former, it loads much faster.

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Synaptic Package Manager is the default program in Ubuntu for package management installing and uninstalling software. It is found in Applications > Administration, and is incredibly easy to use. Simply load it, enter your password, and you’ll be installing apps in no time.

On the left hand side, you’ll notice some categories to browse, but since there could be hundreds or even thousands of packages to sift through, I’ll show you how to get the most out of the Search feature. In the toolbar, you will see a Quick search field where you can type in something useful, like “DVD burner“, or the actual name of the program or command if you know it (eg: “gnomebaker“). You can also use the Search button next to it.

The results will appear beneath, and if you’d like to put them into alphabetical order, click once on Package at the top of the first column. As you look through the programs presented, you can mark any for installation by single-clicking on the little box at the beginning of each line, and choosing Mark for Installation. Note that if you click on the package name and not the box, you will need to right-click to get that menu. Also, if a box is green, then it means that the package is already installed.

Some packages will have dependencies – in other words, require other packages or libraries – but Synaptic will suggest that those be marked for installation as well, and will do it for you when you click OK to that suggestion.

Once you’ve finished selecting some new games and programs, simply click Apply, and everything will be downloaded and installed for you! And not only that, but anything you just installed will automatically get updates when they are released! It really doesn’t get much easier that that, does it?

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Synaptic’s “Quick Search” Explained (with Screenshots)

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Please note: Due to YouTube’s ongoing war against downloading of their clips, basically every program available (for Linux or Windows) will now fail when trying to fetch the clip with the URL supplied. You can still keep clips you’ve watched by finding them in your web browser’s cache; just watch the clip in full, and do not navigate away before saving a copy of the clip, as it will be automatically deleted by YouTube. With Ubuntu’s superior preview thumbnailing, you will spot them easily from amongst all the files in the cache; simply rename them with something descriptive, and end it with the .flv extension.

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There is a cool little app for Ubuntu called QtTube, and its sole purpose for existing is to download video clips from YouTube. As you may already be aware, Ubuntu has native support for .FLV clips (whereas in Windows you need to find a dedicated player that can handle the file type). So you can actually download your favourite YouTube vids and play them back any time you wish without having to go back and watch it from the web page!

Simply use Synaptic to mark qttube for installation, or paste the following into a terminal:

sudo apt-get install qttube

Once installed, it’s really easy to use:

  • Under Get Video, paste in the url.
  • For Destination Folder, put a path to a folder of your choosing
  • Change the File Name to something descriptive
  • Click the Get Video button to begin.

You can get QtTube to automatically download to your preferred folder by going to Edit > Preferences >  General, where you can specify something like your Downloads or Videos folder as the default download location from then onwards. The default filename for each clip will be the numbers  and letters at the end of the url, so just select everything before the .flv and type something more useful. Lastly, to successfully paste an url into Get Video when there is already one there, triple-click the previous one before pasting (you need to make sure the end of the url in the separate little field on the end changes too).

QtTube - for Downloading YouTube Clips in Ubuntu Linux

If you find that you can’t play .FLV video clips in Ubuntu, you will need to install Ubuntu Restricted Extras to remedy this.

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