IT’S been an exciting couple of months for Ubuntu users.
The release of the latest version (12.04) of the popular Linux distribution in April has been accompanied by a flurry of development elsewhere that has made this a great time to be running Ubuntu. After successfully upgrading my operating system, I checked out some of the goodies that are available.
My first stop was the latest release of Gimp, the free and open source image editor. Version 2.8, released in May, has been long anticipated for two new features: an optional single-window edit mode and on-canvas text editing. Users of Adobe Photoshop might take these features for granted, but Gimp users have waited three years to see them incorporated into their favorite free image editor.
Single-window mode (which can be activated in the “Windows” menu), gathers all of the program’s floating windows, docks and its toolbox into one main window, making it less confusing and unwieldy. This feature should reduce the culture shock for those who are just shifting from Photoshop, but even experienced Gimp users will appreciate the more efficient work flow that it enables.
Direct on-canvas editing of text means Gimp users will no longer need to enter text in a separate dialog box. This gives the design process a more intuitive feel and enables you to quickly visualize the outcome of your typing. You can also now select a word or even just a letter within the bounding text box and change its font, size, spacing or color, making it much easier to manipulate text as a graphic element.
For the hardened Gimp user, these two features alone would make the upgrade worthwhile, but there’s a whole lot more. Gimpuser.com lists 36 of them, including the ability to group layers and merge them down, rotatable brushes, a customizable toolbox, and enhanced paint dynamics. About the only thing I still miss is a way to export the RGB images to CMYK separations, a crucial feature for professional designers who need to send their work to press.
Ubuntu users who want to move to the latest version of Gimp can cut and paste these two lines into Terminal:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:otto-kesselgulasch/gimp
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install gimp
Whether you are an old hand or new to Gimp, this is the version you’ll want on your Linux box.
Another update I installed was the latest version of my favorite video player, VLC. Version 2.0.2 is described as a major upgrade, but the most significant improvements seem to be for the Mac version. I downloaded and installed the program on my Linux desktop for the bug fixes, anyway, with three lines in Terminal:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:videolan/stable-daily
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install vlc
A third update I installed was VirtualBox (4.1.18), a virtual machine from Oracle that lets you install and run other operating systems within your host computer. I was planning to try out Windows 8 in a virtual machine, but wasn’t able to download the preview version in time for this week’s column. If you’re on Ubuntu and want to move the latest version of VirtualBox, you can find a good guide in Ubuntu Geek (www.ubuntugeek.com).
I always look forward to improvements on old favorites, but there are a lot of new applications coming, too.
A nifty utility I stumbled upon recently is Downverter (http://www.downverter.com), which gives you a fast and easy way to download streaming videos from YouTube and Metacafe and save them to your local drive for offline playback. You can download videos in high definition and automatically convert them to MP3, AVI, 3GP, MP4, MOV, WMV and a slew of other formats for your iPod, PSP or mobile phone. I’ve used many YouTube downloaders before; Dowverter is the best one yet. While I tested the program on Ubuntu, it is also available for Windows and the Mac.
More new programs are on the horizon, thanks to the Ubuntu App Showdown, a three-week programming contest organized by Ubuntu sponsor Canonical. The contest, which ended July 9, has gathered an impressive gallery of new applications, including MenuLibre, an advanced application entry and menu editor; LiberEdit, an epub development application; GWOffice, a desktop client for Google Drive and Docs; Web Form-er, a visual form builder; DayJournal, a digital journal; HumanTask, a personal task manager; and Cuckoo, a simple alarm clock with Ubuntu in mind.
Top prizes include System 76 laptops (with Ubuntu installed, of course) and Linux-based Nokia phones, but the biggest winners may well be the end-users, as the new harvest of applications find their way to the Ubuntu Software Center.