I was refining a new Linux Mint 17.3 Cinnamon x64 installation. In several other posts, I described how I looked for Linux (or cloud-based) alternatives to my primary Windows 7 programs, installed those alternatives, and — where no suitable Linux alternatives were available — made some Windows programs capable of running in Linux. Now it was time to go beyond selection and installation, to actually start handling various computing tasks. Note: this post remains a work in progress.
The first thing I noticed about web browsing in Linux was the somewhat clunky interface. That was true of Linux computing in general; I just noticed it especially in my web browsers. I used Opera for this blogging, Chrome for reading news articles, and Firefox for almost everything else. They all had these unnecessary title bars, though I found ways to suppress those in Chrome and Firefox; their menus and tab bars were too wide, especially in Chrome; some of the fonts were not as small, well-formed, or pretty as in Windows. Firefox was the best of the three: it did look at least as nice as its Windows counterpart.
On the positive side, I found that it took very little tinkering before I was up and running in these browsers in Linux. The sync capabilities of Firefox and Chrome worked very well. Everything was in place and working, almost immediately. It felt like there were occasional glitches or imperfections, but not necessarily any more than in Windows, where there always seemed to be something that needed fixing. At the time when I started my transition to Linux, certainly, my Windows browsers were nothing to write home about. Firefox, in particular, was having a hard time. I couldn’t help wondering whether that was somehow part of Microsoft’s pressure, to make Windows 7 computing unpleasant, so that I would feel more driven to switch to Windows 10. Whatever the situation in Windows, it was nice to get back to the stable, productive browsing that I was now experiencing in Linux.
While I might continue to use Cinnamon’s default Nemo file manager occasionally, I wanted something more like Windows Explorer for my day-to-day work. Among the many available choices, I started by trying Double Explorer, but it appeared it was not capable of being adapted to a WinEx-style navigation pane layout. I wanted to make sure of that; unfortunately, there did not appear to be any user guide; a search did not seem to be leading anywhere; there was no Contact Us link; and on two different browsers in Linux, the forum page was dysfunctional, so that I could not join.
I had noticed the KDE file managers cited by OpenSource, including Dolphin (which may have been the most favored choice aside from Nautilus) as well as Konqueror and Krusader. While I disliked the Teutonic k-spelling of some such programs (not to mention the warlike choice of names), I appreciated the apparent attempt to signal that these hailed from the KDE desktop. I had gotten the sense that bringing in a KDE program could entail a massive download and/or complication of a Cinnamon system. I went into Synaptic and marked Dolphin for installation. It indicated that the installation would entail 31 new packages and a download of only 9MB.
I unmarked those and, after perusing results of a search, tried again with Krusader. That was a different matter: 61 packages and 64MB. Still not massive, and I could always uninstall it. So I tried it. I liked that Krusader, like Double Commander, allowed me to see the results of configuration changes as soon as I clicked Apply in its settings dialog. Unfortunately, I was not able to configure it to show a navigation pane. I was also not sure whether it would remember tabs from one session to the next; at least I did not see a settings option for that. When uninstalling, I noticed that only 14MB was removed. Presumably the supporting packages installed with it were not removed, in case some other package needed them; presumably I would have to run a cleanup command to remove those.
At any rate, what I was really looking for was not precisely Windows Explorer; it was something more like Q-Dir or Explorer++, both of which had been better than WinEx in my Windows system. I turned to the possibility of running those programs in Linux via Wine. The WineHQ AppDB had little on Explorer++ and nothing on Q-Dir, but a glance through results from (1 2) Wine-related searches inclined me to try with Q-Dir first, especially since that’s what I was currently using in Windows. I was able to install its 32-bit (x86) portable version in my Wine setup [as detailed in the post discussing Linux program installation]. I chose the portable version so that, before installation, I could replace its default .ini file with the customized .ini and start.qdr files from my 64-bit Windows installation.
That worked: Q-Dir ran. But it was not going to suffice. The following image (click to enlarge) shows Q-Dir on the left and Cinnamon’s default Nemo file manager on the right. Q-Dir looked much worse here than in Windows, but that was not the key concern. Rather, note two things: (1) Q-Dir offered a much smaller and denser listing, which I wanted, but (2) Q-Dir could not see Linux hidden files and folders. Both of those tools were looking at the same /home/ray folder, but what they saw could not be more different.
Part of the solution was right in front of me. I had forgotten that these Linux file managers — Nemo, in particular — could be made to provide a denser presentation. I just had to go into Edit > Preferences > List View Defaults > 33%.
The remaining issue was tabbed browsing. Nemo did offer an Extra Pane option, for those who wanted that, and it would allow new tabs with Ctrl-T. But it did not remember tabs (or folder views) from one session to the next. I wondered if an alternative would be to have different Nemo shortcuts preconfigured to open different folders. Results of a search suggested that numerous users would like this feature. Several said that it was available in Krusader. So I may have overlooked something there. Another suggestion was SpaceFM (but apparently not PCManFM). I saw that SpaceFM was in Synaptic. Wikipedia said Cinnamon used GTK+ version 3, so in Synaptic I chose spacefm-gtk3. This gave me an icon: Start > Administration > SpaceFM. Ctrl-T would open new tabs here too, and SpaceFM would remember them after being closed and reopened. SpaceFM offered a plugins page. There were plugins for file conversion, file renaming, file finding, and so forth. I did not yet know whether I would need any of these, so I did not try any at this point. For the time being, it appeared I had a file manager approximately as good as Windows Explorer in visual appearance and better in tabbing.
Based on my experience with WinRAR in Windows, I wanted a GUI that would offer the options of deleting the files being compressed into a .zip or .rar file, and of adding a file to an existing archive. PeaZip offered the former but seemed to lack the latter: I was not able to combine a .zip file into a .tar.gz that PeaZip had created. As far as I could tell, file compression options in Linux would not be as good as those that I had enjoyed in Windows.
My first task in this department called for capturing and cropping the screenshot shown in the discussion of file managers (above). In Windows, to capture a screenshot, I would hit PrintScreen, paste the screenshot into IrfanView, crop it, and save it. In Linux, when I hit PrintScreen and then went into a new, empty file in the Pinta photo editor and hit Ctrl-V, I got an error:
Image cannot be pasted
The clipboard does not contain an image
A search yielded the discovery that this was the way gnome-screenshot (underlying at least the Cinnamon desktop environment (DE)) was designed. In Cinnamon, PrintScreen did not put the image into the clipboard; instead, it saved it as a file in the /home/Pictures folder. Double-clicking on that file opened it in the default (GNOME) Image Viewer, which did not have a cropping feature. Back in Pinta, File > Open defaulted to that same /home/Pictures folder, where I was able to open, crop, and save that file.
But then I had a screenshot where I wanted to draw a rectangle or circle around a menu option (see Video Editing, below). Pinta had no such capability. I tried Start > Graphics > GIMP Image Editor. That opened the main GIMP screen and, at the left side, the Toolbox. At the top of the Toolbox, GIMP (like Pinta) offered a Rectangle Select Tool. At first, that didn’t seem to work; moving the cursor around onscreen was still drawing a line. But then it took hold, somehow, and I drew a rectangle that I could use to crop (in the main GIMP window: Image > Crop to Selection). (Note: in GIMP, Esc didn’t undo anything; I had to use Edit > Undo or Ctrl-Z.) Then I used Image > Scale Image to make the cropped image large enough. Now, for drawing that circle: the Toolbox also had an Ellipse Select Tool, alternately available via Tools > Select > Ellipse Select. With that selected, I could draw my circle. But how to make the circular line thicker and of a different color? Unlike Microsoft Excel or Adobe Acrobat, there wasn’t a simple solution here; I couldn’t just right-click on that new circle and change its characteristics. Instead, I had to start by going to the color boxes at the bottom of the toolbox (black and white rectangles by default) > click > Change Foreground Color as desired > OK; then use Edit > Stroke Selection to change the thickness of my circle > Stroke; finally, File > Export As > desired filename.
Next, I had a different task: I needed to convert, sort among, and edit 75 photos. A separate post describes how I was able to use IrfanView, installed in Linux via Wine, to do everything with those images that I would have done with IrfanView in Windows.
Movie & Video Players
I had a video saved in .iso format. I tried right-click > Open With. No video playing program was listed. I went on into Open With > Other Application. That gave me what seemed to be a list of every program on the system. I tried Banshee — which, for some reason, was listed three times. I liked the “Add to List” option, but I wasn’t yet confident Banshee should be associated with ISOs. Selecting Banshee just opened Banshee; it did not play my video. I tried SMPlayer. That worked: it could play ISOs. So I went back in and clicked “Add to List” for SMPlayer. I tried once more, with VLC. It worked too, so I added it, too, to the list. Now I saw that the program I had last selected to “Add to List” became the right-click default — meaning that, in this case, VLC was at the top of the right-click context menu — and the others (e.g., SMPlayer) got bumped to the “Open With” list. That was OK. The ISO played correctly. The world was at peace.
I had become accustomed to using Adobe Premiere Elements in Windows. I used CyberLink PowerDirector occasionally, but hardly ever used any other video editors. I would occasionally do some moderately complex things in Premiere Elements, but wasn’t at all a video pro who would quickly understand and adapt to anything else. So I didn’t expect any Linux video editors to satisfy me.
In the post perusing Linux alternatives, I had decided that Cinelerra-CV could be a starting point. Now that I tinkered with it a bit, though, I wasn’t too excited. It might in fact get the job done. To verify that, I would have to invest time into learning its ways. But within the bounds of reasonable initial skepticism, seeking to avoid such time investments where a dead end might result, I could not help but notice evidence of imperfection. For instance, the following screenshot (click to enlarge) shows, in the upper right corner, the visual artifacts (weird white space) resulting from a simple attempt to reize Cinelerra’s Compositor window, filling that quadrant of the screen. And that particular imperfection jumped right out at me: this was the first screenshot I took of Cinelerra, and that was the first time I had tried to resize its windows. Closing and reopening the Compositor window did not dismiss that artifact. Generally, the large default font plagued the interface, most obtrusively in the Resources windows (lower right quadrant), where thumbnails apparently had to be spaced far apart to accommodate the oversized typeface. Again, these indicators might seem persnickety, but there was a fair question as to whether these signs would beckon me to start my Linux video editing odyssey here.
I tried again with Flowblade. Certainly it felt more coherent out of the box, with a single program surface, in contrast to Cinelerra’s half-dozen random windows popping up, around various parts of the screen (though later I realized that Cinelerra might have something like GIMP’s Windows > Single-Window Mode menu option). I couldn’t figure out how to get media files into Flowblade, so I found its Reference page and went into Media tab > Add > Open > select a media file. I selected an MPG file. I got an error: “Can’t open non-valid media.” A search yielded no insight into that. It seemed that perhaps I was supposed to convert MPGs into AVI, or something, before Flowblade could use them.
I tried again with Lightworks — but in this case, my “try” consisted of just watching part of a Quick Start video and looking at the User’s Guide linked on the Lightworks download page. Both were professionally done themselves, and revealed a program with the kind of tight little fonts and attention to detail that I had encountered in Windows programs. The reason for this relative sophistication appeared to be that Lightworks was developed for a mass Windows market, as well as for Linux and Mac, with a price (for Lightworks Pro) of $438 outright, or $175-300 per year, depending on version. The feature comparison confirmed that there was a free version, but it appeared to lack (among other things) timeline rendering and the ability to export to anything other than MPEG-4. The latter deficit, I felt, was not problematic for my purposes, since the free version would export MPEG-4 at up to 1080p: I mostly used AVIs as intermediate video, simplifying or consolidating a set of complex edits for re-insertion into a final edit, and in that case 720p or 1080p MPEG-4 would preserve ample detail. As for timeline rendering, a search indicated that this referred to the ability to render a section of the timeline into a separate intermediate video, perhaps for purposes of simplification, or to capture the effects of a third-party tool in WYSIWYG output. That was not crucial to my ordinary usage.
Even so, I was afraid that I would get knee-deep in Lightworks and then find out that some other desired feature was not available. Or more than knee-deep. TechRadar said,
If it’s real editing power you need, then Lightworks has the biggest set of features among the free pack. . . . There is a price to pay for all this functionality, though: an extremely steep learning curve. This is not a tool for beginners, and you should expect to spend plenty of time reading the documentation before you can do anything useful at all.
But my alternatives were limited. A Tech Drive-In article circa 2013 still seemed relevant:
Video editing in Linux is a controversial topic. There are a number of video editors for Ubuntu that works quite well. But are they any good for serious movie editing? Perhaps not. But with the arrival of Linux variants from many big-shots such as Lightworks, things are slowly starting to change.
That article’s selection of the “Top 5 Video Editors for Ubuntu/Linux” was not far from my own conclusions: Lightworks, Kdenlive, OpenShot, Flowblade, and Cinelerra. Those were among the editors that others had praised most. I wasn’t sure to what extent Kdenlive’s KDE orientation would be problematic on a Cinnamon desktop, and wasn’t eager to invest time finding out. Also, it appeared OpenShot’s version 2.0 beta of January 2016 was the first program update in five years, and that video was underwhelming.
Beyond those, I had tentatively ruled out Blender, a professional-grade tool oriented more toward modeling and other esoteric uses than toward run-of-the-mill video editing. This decision seemed justified by the Blender webpage that said, “Blender even comes with a built-in Video Editor,” plainly signaling that this was not its primary focus. But there were still those, such as Videomaker (2016), who characterized Blender as a leading intermediate-plus video editor on a par with Lightworks. Otherwise, I would continue to have the option of running Adobe Premiere Elements or one of its Windows competitors in a Windows virtual machine (VM) or, better, via Wine.
I decided to take a second look at Blender. After installing, I abandoned the unhelpful Video Sequence Editor section of the Blender 2.77 Manual. It took close to an hour of digging through various sources until I finally reached the point in a video tutorial where they displayed the video editing starting point, hidden in a little box to the right of “Help” on the menu on the default screen. Clicking on that box produced a drop-down menu from which I could choose the Video Editing menu pick:
With that, I returned to that tutorial. It said, first, to go to the right side of the Blender screen that I had just been viewing, and … oops, I had already clicked the Video Editing option, and now the screen had changed, and I had no idea how to get back, other than closing Blender and starting again.
The tutorial guy admitted that he had found Blender’s interface confusing for “a long time.” I began to get cold feet. A search led to indications that Blender was not actually good at image stabilization. That feature came to mind because I was wondering whether I should have tried to virtualize my Windows copy of CyberLink PowerDirector. It was not as much my favorite as Adobe Premiere Elements, but I did like its stabilization feature. A companion search revealed that Lightworks, too, lacked stabilization. I suspected there would be other features as well that I had been using in those Windows programs and might have to struggle to match in Linux. In additional browsing, for example, I noticed the remark that, in Blender, “You can’t produce scrolling 3D credits by typing in a box.” Why would I want to struggle with something like that?
At this point I realized that, unlike the situation with image editing (above), in video editing I did want to be able to do new things. I was not making any great movies; nonetheless, I wanted to have some variety in my output — to spend my time making my videos look better, not wrestling with standard tasks.
I decided to try Shotcut. They offered a set of video tutorials. Within minutes of starting the one on Timeline Basics, I felt that this program was modeled on Adobe Premiere, or at least its interface seemed relatively familiar. As I continued watching the tutorials, I began to feel rather optimistic — that, indeed, there might be things I could do in Shotcut that I hadn’t been able to do in Premiere Elements. I went to work on a video. First thing I wanted to do: crop it. But how? There was not much in the program’s Help feature: that menu pick led to FAQs, the tutorials, or the user forums. A search yielded a manual dating from 2013. A search of that manual found nothing on cropping. Another search led me to think that cropping might be included in the Filters list, but I saw no such thing there. I tried the Size and Position filter, but the dragging seemed limited, and when I hit Ctrl-Z to undo what I had done, it undid everything — removed the clip from the Timeline! — but still kept the unwanted resizing that I was trying to undo.
My conclusion, based on this review, was that I would rather dual-boot back into Windows, if that’s what it took, to do my video editing in Premiere Elements. Short of that, there was the option of running Premiere Elements and PowerDirector in a VM.
I had installed Foxit Reader, and it had become the default PDF reader on my Linux installation. So when I viewed the Lightworks User’s Guide (above), it opened in Foxit. The text of that document was fine — it looked as nicely formatted as I imagined it would appear in Adobe Reader or Acrobat — but the menu options and the bookmarks that opened automatically in that document were presented in a large, clunky font that did not appear to wrap or be significantly reducible, so that I would have to devote a significant portion of the screen to the bookmarks panel if I wished to read and select among bookmarks. I confirmed that this was not a peculiarity of the Lightworks User’s Guide: the same was true of other PDFs as well, when opened in Foxit. I also disliked the fact that Foxit made itself the default application for programs to which it had no relevance, such as downloads of .exe files from the Adobe website.
As described in another post [Favorite Windows Programs in a Linux Mint System], I was not able to get Adobe Reader and Acrobat to work in Wine. But I had succeeded in virtualizing those programs in Cameyo. Now I tried right-clicking on those Cameyo packages and opening them with Wine. Reader did not work. Acrobat ran, but it looked like none of its menu picks would do anything. For example, File > Open did nothing, nor did Edit > Preferences.
By this point — especially but not only due to my struggles with video editors (above) — I was more willing to accept that some tasks were going to have to be done in a Windows VM or, if necessary, in a dual-boot. Adobe software — first Premiere Elements, and now Acrobat — was at the head of the list of programs that I would have to use in some such environment.
There were still things that I could do with PDFs in Linux. Foxit might be good enough for viewing. I would also want to be able to produce simple PDFs. I found that I was able to print PDFs from IrfanView and also from LibreOffice Writer. It appeared I would be able to do so from other programs as well. But I decided to favor Acrobat over other PDF editing tools mentioned in the other post [Favorite Windows Programs in a Linux Mint System].
Media File Conversion
I had a PNG image file that I wanted to convert to JPG. I tried WinFF for this purpose. I clicked Add, intending to add the PNG file. WinFF said, “Please select a preset.” I didn’t know what that meant, and it didn’t seem to make sense. So the first impression was of a user-unfriendly program. I went to the drop-down Convert To menu and saw no image formats, only audio and video. So WinFF was not the tool for the job. I tried XnView MP. It did create a JPG from the PNG. But it gave me no options for the quality or other characteristics of the resulting JPG. Pinta did offer a quality level option, but lacked a batch conversion option (not needed in this case). ImageMagick was another possibility: it had a rough interface, but seemed to offer many options.
As noted in a separate post, IrfanView continued to provide, in Linux, the same batch image conversion capabilities as in Windows. I also found that Format Factory worked in Wine, and appeared to have the same bulk capabilities and formatting options. I was able to use it to convert two .jpgs to .png, a .wav to an .mp3, and an .mp4 to a .wmv.
I had a document to scan on my Brother DCP-7065DN multifunction machine. I ran the Simple Scan program that I had installed on my Linux system. It said, “No scanners detected. Please check your scanner is connected and powered on.” It was. A search led to an Ubuntu Community document that suggested checking the Ubuntu compatibility list and the SANE list of supported scanners. Neither had my machine, and in any case neither seemed to signal much support for Brother printers. Now what?
The answer, it seemed, was that (of course) I should have checked with the manufacturer. It turned out that Brother had a Linux drivers page. I downloaded and unzipped the Driver Install Tool. The instructions were not entirely clear, but to run it I had to type sudo bash linux-brprinter-installer-..– DCP-7065DN. As a USB (not network) printer user, I answered no, as instructed, when asked whether I would specify the DeviceURI. It finished and printed a test print. That looked OK. I tried again in Simple Scan. When I clicked the Scan button, it said, “Failed to scan. Unable to connect to scanner.” The scan buttons on the Brother machine didn’t work either.
The Brother driver download page offered a more recent scanner driver. The installation steps there were not entirely clear — among other things, they had apparently not been updated since 2013 — but their Linux Informations (sic) page seemed to call for installation of another .deb file. I did that, entering the recommended command, but Simple Scan was still detecting no scanners. Running from the command line (sudo simple-scan) did not help.
In case it was just a problem with Simple Scan, I tried gscan2pdf. It wasn’t: “No devices found.” It seemed I would have to do my scanning from Windows, unless I wanted to try my luck with a purchase of a program like VueScan or (probably more sensibly) buy a Linux-compatible printer-scanner. I hoped that at least I could access the scanner from within a Windows VM.
To run Skype, I just clicked on its icon in the Start menu. I had to enter my username and password. It brought over my contacts from Skype in Windows. I had to start with its Echo / Sound Test Service, where it tells you whether your headset and microphone are functioning properly for its purposes. The problem here seemed to be that Linux did not immediately recognize my Plantronics ___ headset.