Firefox being released with open source video and audio codecs

The Mozilla team has announced that Fiirefox 3.1 will come with native support for Theora and Vorbis media. So, this means that:

  1. open source media can become a bit more mainstream (finally moving away the proprietary mp3 monopoly);
  2. no longer will we have to install Firefox plugins to see embedded audio and video files (as long as they’re in .ogg format)

The code is already out, available in Firefox’s nightly builds releases for large scale testing.

We have a bunch of Theora and Vorbis files and the quality is pretty good (some say ogg audio is even better than mp3). If you’d like to see/hear for your for yourself, go to Jamendo.org, they have tons of music files you can download in ogg, and you can check out the Wikimedia page to watch some ogg videos.

Prevent RSI with Workrave

workrave mascotWorkrave is a Windows and Linux only program that can help prevent dreaded repetitive strain injuries. Unfortunately techies are quite familiar with RSI.

Once installed, Workrave runs silently in the background monitoring how much time you’re using the computer. In pre-set times of activity, the program gives you alerts on when breaks are needed. You’ll see three types of alarms:

  • Micro-Pause of 30 seconds;
  • Rest break of 20 minutes;
  • Daily limit (to turn off the computer).

The times established for each alarm can be modified according to your preferences or, better yet, you can leave everything as standard.

In its standard settings, after 30 minutes of continuous activity you will see a notification that you need a Micro-Pause, a break of 30 seconds. When the warning is activated you can ignore it, delay it but it is recommended that you obey it. You will be able to see the 30 seconds countdown and in the meantime you can stand up, move a little or just stop typing to give your fingers some rest.

micro-pause

After about one hour and a half of activity its time for you to take a longer 30 minute break. The program takes so much care of you that it will even recommend some exercises for your arms, shoulders, neck and fingers.

exercises

And… after 6 or 8 hours Workrave will tell you to shut off the computer. Enough!! Your daily limit has expired.  While the alarm windows are activated your keyboard and mouse will be locked, so you’re prevented from cheating.

daily limit

You can also extract reports of your activities to measure how much work you’re doing per day. A neat feature that always scares me with the proof that I’m really a workaholic.

All of this to help take care of your health. A really nice program to have installed on your machine, but it is only worth it if you follow the advices and take the regularly scheduled breaks. Which is really hard to do when an alarm comes up in the middle of an important assignment you’re working on.

Review of the New OpenOffice 3 beta

Our favorite office app, OpenOffice has just released the OOo 3.0 beta version. My review can be summed up in two words: it rocks! Ok, now you can go back to your other activities.

Just kiddin, let’s dig a bit deeper. First, since this isn’t a stable release you might not want to install this version yet as your main office application. But, so far the tests I’ve done were without crashes.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is their new Start Center which gives you a fast access to all of the different programs inside OOo, and a few other setup options.

OOo 3 beta startup

Second eye candy will be the new icon set, a needed visual improvement to say OpenOffice doesn’t look that ugly anymore.

OOo icon set

In Writer, the text editor application, you can now navigate through your document with a multi-page view:

OOo multiple pages

Setting by zoom level that you select from a bar that sits on the bottom right of the screen.

OOo zoom

What else is new? Still in Writer you can now have a better support for viewing notes. In Calc you now have a limit of 1024 columns (instead of 256), and improvements in chart options. In Draw and Impress finally you have the option to crop images, but I still wanted to see a “set transparent background” option.

Mac users should be really happy as this release can be installed without the complicated X11. I tried to convert a Mac user before without success, now I can finally try again.

Also, with document formatting OOo will now support ODF 1.2, and even import files from Microsoft Office 2007 . Of course, import here isn’t going to be perfect but it is an easy way for you to view those docx and pptx files even older versions of MS Office can’t open.

A feature that is much expected but will come at a later release is PDF import. This feature is promised for the final 3.0 release, we’ll wait to see.

I installed and ran OpenOffice 3.0 beta on my Windows machine. It installed right beside my main OOo installation, didn’t upgrade the earlier version I had installed. But, this is actually smart so you can still have the stable release in case any problems happen.

A very good release with some important changes. I can’t wait for the full stable release.

Project Management (Linux)

Taskjuggler is an interesting option for project managers using Linux. The program seems to be pretty complete with all the bells and whistles to keep track of tasks, time, resources, and costs.

Taskjuggler

From the site, here is a couple of its features:

  • Automatic resource leveling, tasks conflict resolutions, and task filtering
  • Comprehensive and flexible views and reports so you can find the information you need when you need it
  • Built-in templates to get you started
  • Unlimited number of scenarios (baselines) of the same project for what-if analysis
  • CSV data export for exchange with Office Suites
  • Risk analysis
  • Flexible working hours and vacation handling
  • Multiple time zone support
  • Generation of iCal files for data exchange with standard productivity tools

Cool OpenOffice extensions

While OpenOffice is a pretty handy office suite in itself, you can add even more functionality to it with different plug-ins. Some of my favorites are:

I’ll also keep an eye on Writer to Palm and see how it performs.

Any more tips from our readers?

New OpenOffice 2.4.0

OpenOffice.org has just released OpenOffice version 2.4.0. At this moment, mysteriously there is no information coming from the main website, but you can download it through Filehippo. Sorry, no change log yet, no information as to what is new, and on my Linux distro OpenOffice still is showing as the most recent version so I’m assuming version 2.4 is Windows only.

[Update (03/27): here is the press release, the new features list, and the direct download page, it works on Linux!!]

OpenOffice.org

Speaking of OOo, their website has just gone through a nice change of style. Much more user friendly and organized. Maybe they are spending time tweaking the new website and forgot to update it delayed updating it. 🙂

How I manage my money – GnuCash

Not too long ago I searched through several accounting / money managing software and GnuCash was the best open source software program I could find for the job. To start, I really like it because it works on several different OS such as Windows, Linux, BSD, and MacOS X.

At first the program is a bit complicated to get used to because it uses the double-entry accounting principle where you always have to list where the money is coming from and going to. But, this system was very useful for me to track my money with quite a bit of details of where everything was going to.

GnuCash double-entry

With it you can get very useful reports and graphs to have a quick overview of your finances, compared to previews months, to other accounts you set, or even to different expenses categories.

GnuCash reports

Another thing I like about GnuCash is that it works easily with multiple currencies, just set the conversion rate and when everything is factored together, the currencies are automatically adjusted.

GnuCash also plays well with some proprietary softwares by importing QIF and OFX files. There are a bunch of other very useful features you can see on their website.

Open source desktop publishing – Scribus

Scribus logoA desktop publishing (DTP) software is mainly used to produce documents such as brochures, newsletters, newspapers, and even books. If you’ve heard or worked with Adobe’s PageMaker you’ll probably be happy to know there is an open source “alternative” project called Scribus.

Scribus Mac

Although Scribus doesn’t work with the file formats created by the other proprietary programs (ie. Adobe’s InDesign), it can work between these softwares through svg, eps, or pdf file formats.

To be quite honest, I haven’t had the need to use a DTP software for a long long time so I haven’t tested this software to give tips for it. However, the project seems mature enough to deserve a nice amount of attention if the need ever arises. Scribus seems pretty easy to use and effective for the job.

Another great advantage of Scribus is that it works on Linux, MacOS X, and Windows. I’ve also found out that there is a portable version of Scribus you can run from your pen drive.

Thunderbird – open source PIM

thunderbird logoNow it is time to say goodbye to MS Outlook, MS Outlook Express and start giving your email a fresh new home free from constraints. Mozilla’s Thunderbird is extremely handy to organize your email, contacts, and even appointments.

Thunderbird can handle well the task of managing your emails with POP and IMAP accounts. For those who don’t know by the way, IMAP is used to synchronize your email account directly from the server. This means that the email will be viewed through your program but also be stored on the server, not downloaded entirely to your computer, a good thing if you check your email from several locations.

Thunderbird is fast, has some nice security measures to protect you from phishing and bad scripts, and it plays nicely on different platforms (Linux, Windows, and Mac OS). What I also enjoy a lot about Thunderbird is the extensions available for the program, expanding greatly its functionality.

thunderbird window

I’ve used Thunderbird for many years now and recently their calendar extension (called Lightning) has made the perfect program to be my PIM program (personal information management). I handle my emails, appointments, and contact book.

Important: if you sync your contacts and calendar with a Palm device, unfortunately Thunderbird is not for you. This is the only serious gripe I have about the software.

My Thunderbird is setup on my Windows partition, then I did a copy/paste of my profile to my Linux install and for mobile purposes I have it installed on my USB pen drive.

Give it a try, you’ll be able to get this software up and running in no time.

For more info and download, visit Mozilla’s Thunderbird page, or grab the portable apps version.

OpenOffice – your free office suite

OpenOffice logoThis is one of the most popular, and most essential, open source projects currently available. OpenOffice.org, or just OpenOffice, or simply OOo, is your multi-platform alternative to MS Office.

For the basic and intermediate users, OpenOffice will suffice as an office suite. Don’t think you’ll be loosing productivity if you used OpenOffice, it has a lot of the same features that the proprietary solutions. When you start using OpenOffice, you will spend a bit of time to find where the functions are, but don’t worry, you’ll find them.

OpenOffice

OpenOffice has the Writer for your text documents, Impress for presentation slides, Calc for spreadsheets, Base for databases, plus Draw and Math for images and mathematical formulas. The documents created in OpenOffice can be opened from or saved in several different formats, from the open document (.od) up to the proprietary extensions created by Microsoft. Plus, you can easily export to PDF.

The only problem I have is to seamlessly work between proprietary formats, often documents are not 100% in the original layout. But this isn’t an issue with OpenOffice, the problem is that these extensions are closed so there is no way to find out exactly how to read these files perfectly. The solution, spread OpenOffice to everyone you know so everyone uses an open document format! Simple and easy.

Although there are other open office suite applications, OpenOffice is the best one I found to work between Windows and Linux machines (Mac OS is support as well).

As a tip to start migrating to OpenOffice only, install it to be your default office suite and set it (under Options menu) to automatically save documents using Microsoft’s format. Take your time to learn your way around OpenOffice and when you become well familiar with it, remove your MS Office installation.

Caveats: It is slower to load and the entire suite is quite larger in file size. But, it is well worth it because it is free, it is open, it has free upgrades, and it has some nice extensions.

Download it from the official OpenOffice.org website, many Linux distros already come with it installed, Mac OS users click here, and to run it on your USB drive download the portable version.