Collaborative editing, the missing Vim feature (pentadactyl + etherpad?)

Do you wish, like I do, you could edit collaboratively in Vim? This feature is number 10 on the Vim voting page, so it seems I’m not alone. How about Pentadactyl coupled with any of the existing web-based collaborative editors, such as Etherpad? OK, so it’s not quite Vim, and there are some rough edges to this particular pairing, but I’m finding it’s good enough for my needs. It even gives me a Vim-like editing experience while other participants use the default Etherpad editor.

Yes, I know about whiteboard.debian.net, but for the past three years I have been using a single instance of Etherpad with my family to maintain a shopping list to which we all make contributions. First of all, that’s not a Debian activity, so to make the switch, I’d need to make a personal clone of the service for our personal use. But more importantly, we find Etherpad features such as colours for different participants and the timeline are just too useful to give up on. On the other hand, the less the web editor interferes with your web browser’s default textarea behaviour, the easier time Pentadactyl is going to have. Indeed, I asked on #pentadactyl @ irc.oftc.net about some problems I was having and I was told flat out that Pentadactyl does not work with graphical web editors. So, you may wish to use another web-based collaborative editor for this reason. That being said, I did learn a few things about helping Pentadactyl get along better with Etherpad, so if you would like to try it yourself, read on.

The key to getting started was to enter ‘text edit mode’ within the textarea with <C-t>. For the most part, this behaves like Vim ‘normal mode’. I am still learning, but many basic motion and editing keys behave just as they would in Vim. Fantastic!

However, the moment I tried to :undo I hit my first problem. Using the latest release version of Pentadactyl (1.0rc1 at time of writing), pressing "u" to :undo produced no visible result. I tried the latest daily build as well, and only saw a marginally more helpful "Node not found" error message displayed in the status area. But it turns out you can use ‘passthrough mode’ to use the textarea’s own undo. Just :tmap u <C-v><C-z> and we’re back in business again.

I’m still experimenting with this setup, so the jury’s still out on whether I’ll stick with it, or whether the remaining incompatibilities between Pentadactyl and Etherpad will drive me nuts. But it looks promising. Clearly, judicious use of :autocmd to always start in ‘text edit mode’ and bind that undo key whenever I enter the site will help make the experience even better. If you try it out yourself, I’d love to hear how things went for you. Or if you have found an even better solution that works for you, do share.

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Bits from the Eee PC team, Spring 2009

Lenny well supported

We’re pleased that Lenny released with good support for the Eee PC and are now turning our efforts to make Squeeze even better, while continuing to provide support for our Lenny user base.  The standard Lenny installer can install Debian on all models of Eee and our custom installer provides the ability to install over wireless for almost every model (more about this later) from a very small image.  The latter continues to be our recommended install method, since in addition to being wireless-ready, the custom installer also handles a few other small eee-specific configuration chores to make as much as possible “just work” right after the install.

Solid mainstream support

We’ve made good on our promise to make Debian work on the Eee PC, not a derivative, many of which use a custom kernel instead of the stock kernel as we do and use a special desktop instead of our users’ favourites.  While we agree that some intriguing things can be done in these areas, it is no substitute for mainstream support.  Our users are better served by a solid foundation than specialised modifications that limit their choices.  We want them to be able to enjoy the freedom to mold Debian, the universal OS, into whatever suits them best.

Squeeze support started

Work is well underway on supporting all Eee models in Squeeze.  For months, several team members have been experimenting with new kernels, producing support for them in eeepc-acpi-scripts.  The current release of this key package (version 1.1.0) supports Linux 2.6.29 and contains enhancements for wifi, sound hotkeys, bluetooth, external displays and OSD.

Squeeze will support wired & wifi on all current models

With the appearance of 2.6.29 in Sid, all ethernet and wifi cards used in all models of Eee today are supportable without the need for out-of-kernel or non-free drivers.  Madwifi is replaced by the free ath5k driver, the non-free rt2860 package is replaced by mainstream kernel support, (though it still requires non-free firmware provided separately by firmware-linux — for now in 2.6.29, the firmware is included in the kernel, but that is a bug fixed in 2.6.30,) rtl8187se is included, making it possible now for us to support the model 701SD, and ath9k is included, making full support for newer models such as the 1000HE possible.

Lenny backports and live demo

All of these changes can be enjoyed today by Lenny users.  Just add Daniel Baumann’s Lenny kernel backport repository and then install the 2.6.29 kernel and an updated acpid.  See our upgrade howto for details.  You can try a small (less than 256M) demo of this configuration by downloading beta 2 of our Live USB image.

Accessibility

Late last year, we discussed how to make it easier for the blind to install Debian unassisted on their Eee PCs.  As it was a simple change, we now include brltty in the custom installer, but we understand that some users also need software synthesized text-to-speech, something for which there is no support yet in the standard Debian-installer.  We understand this isn’t an easy thing to fix, but hope someone will rise to the challenge.

Growing team of developers

We welcome Darren Salt and Raphael Geissert to the team this year.  Both have been actively making contributions to the eeepc-acpi-scripts package over the past months, fixing some outstanding bugs and readying it to handle changes in more recent kernel releases.

Moved eeepc.debian.net to new hosting

Nico Golde, who hosted eeepc.debian.net for the first year development, has turned his focus to other areas of Debian.  Glenn Saberton has stepped in to provide a new home for it.  We thank them both for their efforts and for a smooth, uneventful transition from one host to the other.

Size of user community

Speaking of the move, earlier this year, Glenn shared with us some interesting archive traffic statistics that give us a rough idea how many users we have.  For the months of December and January, after factoring out bot hits, we were seeing about 300,000 hits from 15,000 unique users per month.  The site handles roughly 60G of traffic per month, most of that from thousands of downloads of our custom installer image.  It’s hard to draw any firm conclusions about the size of our user base from these stats, as many users may be on dynamic IP numbers, inflating the numbers, but we can conservatively say we have at least 5000 users.  Other interesting statistics are that we have anywhere up to 80 users at any given time on our irc channel and over 250 users on the mailing list.

Help wanted

The Asus Eee PC line continues to expand, with 24 models listed so far.  It is a challenge to keep up support for all of them.  We’re encouraged to see Asus choose a new b/g/n wifi chipset for their 1002HA that is supported by a DFSG free driver — ath9k in this case.  It appears that the new Atom N280-based 1000HE uses the same chipset as well (though be careful: I know of at least one user who bought a 1000HE in Argentina expecting it to have this chipset and was disappointed to find it had the Ralink chipset instead, we guess because of availability).  If this trend continues, we’ll be that much closer to our goal of full support for Squeeze main.  As it stands, we’re already as close as we can get given the state of rt2860 and no prospect on the horizon for replacing the non-free firmware.

If you would like to help us out in any way, whether by testing, debugging, patching, or improving our documentation, get in touch with our team.  We rely on your feedback to keep Lenny in good shape and work towards making Squeeze even better for all users of Debian on the Eee PC.

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Mythgame player to run native Linux games

I recently started to be aware of a problem in our family. Ever since we configured Mythgame to run Xmame games, we started to ignore native Linux games. This is a shame, because often the quality of such games is much higher, and besides, they are open source, which I strongly believe in.

I looked around for help configuring Mythgame to run Linux games, and was unable to find a way to make a game player that would play any Linux game. So I devised the following solution:

Step 1: Set up directories for pseudo-roms, command switches and snapshots


mkdir /usr/share/games/roms
mkdir /usr/share/games/switches
mkdir /usr/share/games/snaps

Step 2: Define a player in Mythgame


Player name: Linux
Type: OTHER
Command: %s `cat \`dirname %s\`/../switches/\`basename %s\``
Rom Path: /usr/share/games/roms
ScreenShots: /usr/share/games/snaps

Step 3: Populate the directories with data


cd /usr/share/games/roms
ln -s /usr/games/oolite
ln -s /usr/games/starvoyager
cd /usr/share/games/snaps
cp ~synrg/snaps/oolite.png .
cp ~synrg/snaps/starvoyager.png .
cd /usr/share/games/switches
touch oolite
echo "-f" >starvoyager

Step 4: In Mythgame, “Scan for Games”

Step 5: Play!

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