Trending December 2023 # How To Integrate Google Services Into Your Linux Desktop (Part 2) # Suggested January 2024 # Top 16 Popular

You are reading the article How To Integrate Google Services Into Your Linux Desktop (Part 2) updated in December 2023 on the website We hope that the information we have shared is helpful to you. If you find the content interesting and meaningful, please share it with your friends and continue to follow and support us for the latest updates. Suggested January 2024 How To Integrate Google Services Into Your Linux Desktop (Part 2)

This is the continuation of the “Integrate Google Services into Your Linux Desktop” series.

While Google’s online storage was previously just the folders you kept your Google Docs in, now the company wants to position it as an alternative to services like Dropbox and chúng tôi (i.e. as a generic online storage medium). In addition, the expansion of the Android Market to “Google Play” brings with it movies, TV shows, music, books, and magazines. The community, including Google itself, has had its work cut out for it keeping up with all these developments. But fortunately, solutions exist for Linux users to enjoy these services as well.


Google Drive isn’t as transparent of an online file store as, say, chúng tôi (which is accessible via WebDAVS). But in addition to the InSync application recently highlighted here there are two other solutions that will allow Linux users to easily access these files:

Grive: Grive is a command-line client that will synchronize a local directory with your GDrive. Currently an in-development project, it’s installable via the excellent Web Upd8 PPA in Ubuntu, which as of this writing is up to date with the latest version. Once installed, the simple command “grive” will synchronize your current directory with Google Drive.

The figures above show this authentication process, where the command line program asks you to open a URL. Once you open this, Google will confirm that you want to give grive access to your account.

Once you confirm, you’ll be given a code to paste back into the terminal where you ran the grive command.

GWOffice is also available in Ubuntu by adding this PPA to your software sources.


Google’s Picasa is steadily losing mindshare to photo-only services such as chúng tôi but the availability of an API means the free software community can support it with Linux applications. The F-Spot and Eye of Gnome (both installable from the universe and main repositories in Ubuntu, respectively) both include functions to upload pictures to Picasa, as does Shotwell, the default picture manager. The figure below illustrates activating the Picasa plug-in in Eye of GNOME (this requires installing the eog-plugins package), and the resulting menu item that will upload the currently-viewed picture to Picasa.

While a Linux version of the Picasa application was available at one time, it’s also possible to install the Windows version using WINE by following these instructions.


This concludes our Google services on Linux Desktop series. What other ways do you use to access Google services on your Linux desktop?

Aaron Peters

Aaron is an interactive business analyst, information architect, and project manager who has been using Linux since the days of Caldera. A KDE and Android fanboy, he’ll sit down and install anything at any time, just to see if he can make it work. He has a special interest in integration of Linux desktops with other systems, such as Android, small business applications and webapps, and even paper.

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You're reading How To Integrate Google Services Into Your Linux Desktop (Part 2)

How To Integrate Paypal Payment Into Your WordPress Site

The Internet eliminates the geographical barrier between buyers and sellers. As long as there’s an internet connection, you could live on a remote island in the middle of nowhere and sell your goods or services to someone from other parts of the world, all thanks to the revolution of online payment.

Using PayPal.Me

In September 2023 PayPal launched to help ordinary people get paid easily using a simple web address.

To use chúng tôi you need to register your name as the address, and you will have a unique link that you can use to ask for payment. The link will look like this: “”

You can also add a specific amount of money to the last part of the link if you want to. For example, if I want my friend to send me one dollar, I could modify my link to look like this: “” where “1” at the end of the URL represents one dollar.

You can insert your chúng tôi link into an email, tweet, short message, or anything else including a web page or a WordPress post.

Quick PayPal Payments Plugin

The Quick Paypal Payments plugin is simple and powerful. You create a payment form via the settings and add the form to any page using a shortcode. You can also customize the appearance of the payment form using an easy-to-use user interface.

PayPal Donations Plugin

Although the name comes with the word “donation,” this plugin can be customized to accept any payment. It uses shortcode similar to Quick PayPal payment but also comes with a ready-to-use WordPress widget that you can use in the sidebar or other available widget areas.

WordPress Simple PayPal Shopping Cart Plugin

If you want to sell multiple products, either digital or physical, you need more than a simple buy/pay/donate button. You need a shopping cart. This plugin is the plugin that you need to add a simple shopping cart (hence the name) where people can add your products, and when they’ve finished shopping they can go to the checkout to pay you using PayPal.

Easy PayPal Shopping Cart Plugin

This plugin is another shopping cart plugin for WordPress that can help you sell items on your site. Adding a cart button is as simple as inserting it into any WordPress post/page.

PayPal for WooCommerce Plugin

Adding PayPal for WooCommerce will give users extra support for both PayPal express checkout and PayPal Pro API for all WooCommerce websites. You can configure it in the PayPal Payments Pro tab under the “Checkout” settings.

Jeffry Thurana

Jeffry Thurana is a creative writer living in Indonesia. He helps other writers and freelancers to earn more from their crafts. He’s on a quest of learning the art of storytelling, believing that how you tell a story is as important as the story itself. He is also an architect and a designer, and loves traveling and playing classical guitar.

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Linux Desktop: Seven Leading Applications

While many CIOs like the idea of Linux in principle, most of those who have shifted have done so in limited ways. Committing to Linux on servers can be justified through cost and performance considerations, but when it comes to the desktop, most enterprises are still reluctant.

With so many applications so tightly linked to Microsoft operating systems, the thought of migrating all that data is daunting. Beyond that, finding the appropriate open-source counterparts to the most critical applications, fine-tuning those applications, and retraining both IT and end users are all potential show-stoppers.

However, it’s wrong to think that migration is virtually impossible, and as Vista begins to penetrate the market, requiring application upgrades anyway, now might be the time to take the leap.

For those serious about considering Linux as a desktop alternative, here are seven applications and open-source projects that could help tip the scales towards Linux, moving it beyond servers to full enterprise adoption.

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1. Versora’s Progression Desktop

What it does: Versora’s Progression Desktop migration software automates the process of moving files, settings, and data from Windows-based applications to Linux. The software also facilitates Windows-to-Windows migrations and can be used to upgrade to Vista.

How it will help you: Let’s be honest here, most Windows-to-Linux migration is done by open-source true believers and experimental techies. It happens on a small scale, one machine at a time. When it’s done organizationally, it usually involves a limited number of devices and only a single department or work group.

If you ask those same true believers and techies to replicate this for hundreds or thousands of users, even the most intrepid ones will contemplate strangling you. There are simply too many data types, appearance preferences, networking options, and application settings to do this manually.

This is where Versora comes in, automating the migration process. Versora’s Progression Desktop moves critical data, application settings, network settings, desktop settings, directory structures, etc. in a predictable way that can be automated by your IT staff.

Obstacles to adoption: As of now, migration tools are niche items, since enterprise adoption of Linux on the desktop has been slow. On the other hand, Versora’s ability to migrate data between Microsoft OSes means that its success isn’t entirely tethered to Linux.

Another consideration is the Web Services/Software as a Service trend. If these applications ever do migrate online, something like Progression Desktop won’t be nearly as alluring in the long run.

Developer: Versora, in Santa Barbara, CA.

Management Team: Mike Sheffey, CEO, previously served as VP of sales and professional services at Miramar Systems, which was acquired by Computer Associates in 2004.

2. CodeWeavers’ CrossOver Linux

What it does: Provides a middleware layer between Linux and Windows applications.

How it will help you: Not ready to commit completely to Linux? Not sure you like the idea of upgrading to Vista either? Concerned about continuing support of your legacy Windows applications? Sick of dealing with Patch Tuesdays?

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CrossOver Linux could be just what you’re looking for. One reason many balk at switching to Linux is that they fear losing their favorite applications. After all, part of why Microsoft has such a stranglehold on enterprise OS deployments is the nearly ubiquitous use of applications like Outlook and PowerPoint. Even as replacements to these apps emerge, people then start worrying about their niche or industry-specific applications, which often have no Linux or Mac counterparts.

CodeWeavers’ CrossOver Linux corrects this problem. Based on the open-source Wine Project, CrossOver Linux provides an API that allows Windows applications to integrate with GNOME and KDE, and enables those applications to run in a Linux environment as if they were doing so natively.

You can now run Word, Excel, Outlook, Photoshop, FrameMaker, Quicken, and many other applications on a Linux distribution. CrossOver Linux also supports many Explorer browser plugins, such as QuickTime and Shockwave, enabling them to operate directly on whichever Linux browser you choose.

CrossOver Linux also provides what the company calls “Bottles.” These create virtual Windows environments, each with a discrete compatibility layer that isolates each application. The point here is to improve stability, while also avoiding potential interoperability issues.

The net benefit is that you can ditch Microsoft OSes and their attendant problems, while retaining the applications. An additional benefit is that you’re less at risk when it comes to viruses and malware, since the underlying OS is no longer Windows.

For enterprise installations, CodeWeavers provides a CrossOver Server version, which enables server-based versions of things like Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes.

CodeWeavers also earns street cred by being the principal corporate backer of the Wine Project, an open-source initiative that is re-implementing the Win32 API under UNIX. Wine makes it possible for Unix-based OSes (like OS X and Linux) to run Windows applications. While users could conceivably opt for Wine instead of CrossOver Linux, Wine requires a lot of technical know-how that CrossOver Linux automates for the end user.

Finally, CodeWeavers has started to support Windows-based games, and it has long supported various media players. This isn’t a big requirement in the enterprise, per se, but with the work-home divide getting fuzzier all the time, CodeWeavers’ ability to support games and things like iTunes is certainly a plus.

Developer: CodeWeavers, in Saint Paul, MN

Management Team: Jeremy White, founder and CEO, previously was the founder and CTO of Holten, White and Associates, a Minneapolis-based computer consulting firm. Alexandre Julliard, CTO, was one of the first developers of Wine when it started in 1993. In 1994, he assumed the responsibility for maintaining the Wine project, and has led the project ever since. Jon Parshall, COO, has a background in business and systems consulting.


What it does: Offers an open-source alternative to the Microsoft Office suite.

How it will help you: In any enterprise environment, the typical Office suite is a must. Word, PowerPoint, and Excel are practically standards, and they are so tightly coupled with Microsoft OSes that the Office suite alone is enough to justify vendor-lock for many CIOs.

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However, chúng tôi offers a viable alternative. chúng tôi has its roots in StarOffice, which was developed by StarDivision and later acquired by Sun. After Sun released the StarOffice source code in 2000, chúng tôi was born. Supporting the OpenDocument standard, it is available under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL).

One thing to be aware of is that chúng tôi does not offer the email, calendar, and contact applications included in Outlook and commonly bundled as part of the Office suite. You’ll have to select something like Evolution or Mozilla Thunderbird to fill that void.

PIM features are on the chúng tôi roadmap, according to Michael Bemmer, who is engineering director at Sun and is also in charge of the development of chúng tôi and StarOffice. These will be based on Mozilla Lightning, which is an extension of Thunderbird. Lightning is a relatively new projects that adds calendar and task features to Thunderbird, while providing support for PDAs.

Obstacles to Adoption: It’s not inaccurate to think of chúng tôi as Sun’s attempt to chip away at Microsoft’s market share. Many open-source evangelists aren’t big fans of this sort of corporate parenting, believing it sullies the intentions of the open-source movement. While Microsoft dominates the market, chúng tôi claims to have at least 50 million users. In an average week, 100,000 people register copies of has momentum in the open-source community, is perfectly stable, and is rather feature-rich. Potential threats to chúng tôi include Google, through Google Docs. However, Sun and Google have a strategic partnership focused on chúng tôi applications that includes joint marketing and development efforts. In the near-term, Google Docs are the online collaborative productivity suite, while chúng tôi resides on the desktop.

Developer: chúng tôi with support from Sun Microsystems.

4. Symark Software’s Access Control and Identity Management products

What it does: Helps secure your Linux environment through root access protection, user management, and administrative account management.

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How it will help you: One of the allures of Linux is that it is not nearly as riddled with security flaws as Windows. Many mistakenly believe, though, that Linux is trouble-free. Not so. In fact, in one area – root access risks – Vista is superior to Linux. While hackers will never target Linux as fervently as they do Microsoft products, this doesn’t mean Linux users are free from risk.

In an enterprise setting, the biggest security risk comes from insiders. According to the most recent CSI/FBI survey, 52% of respondents said that they experienced security breaches. Of those experiencing a breach, a whopping 68% believed that the attacks came from within the organization. An IBM study found that 70% of businesses believe that insider attacks are more of a threat than those from traditional hackers.

Without controls in place, nearly anyone can gain root access to Linux accounts, which not only creates a serious security risk but also threatens your compliance with industry regulations. The most dangerous accounts are those given to your IT staff, giving them so-called “super-user” status – meaning they can access just about any organizational information they want.

While IT needs to be able to access various user accounts in order to do their job, they still need to be controlled and audited. This is where tools like those from Symark Software come in.

Symark’s PowerBroker gives system administrators an automated way to delegate administrative privileges and authorization without disclosing the root password and to grant selective access to UNIX and Linux-based corporate resources.

PowerPassword gives administrators a tool for securely deploying and managing user accounts, passwords, and login policies across heterogeneous UNIX/Linux environments, while keeping a centralized audit trail.

Finally, PowerKeeper automates the management of administrative account passwords. Administrator passwords are the most risk-oriented ones in any organization, yet they are often the ones subject to the least control. PowerKeeper provides a secure release mechanism for administrator passwords and automatically changes the password on the managed system based on parameters and policies set by the organization. PowerKeeper eliminates the problem of users who know passwords prior to being put under control.

Obstacles to Adoption: The most obvious obstacle to adoption is awareness. Too many people believe that you can get away with security on the cheap with Linux (or Mac for that matter) because most attacks focus on Microsoft products. While the risk related to outside threats is certainly less for Linux environments, it’s not zero, and risks from insiders are just as bad, if not worse, than with Windows systems.

Symark will need to work to raise awareness and overcome complacency. One force working in its favor is compliance. Many industry regulations mandate that controls be in place to protect sensitive information and that audit trails are kept.

Symark also faces competition from other security vendors, such as Fortefi and Centrify. If Linux ever does gain real market penetration on enterprise desktops, expect the incumbents to rush in here as well.

Developer: Symark Software, in Agoura Hills, CA.

Management Team: Bob Farber, COO, was formerly the manager of technical support operations for Candle Corporation. John Kendrick, CFO, was previously CFO of Broadcast Media Group. Anita Rose, SVP of sales, formerly held executive positions at Intersecting Concepts and Executive Software.

Dick DeVillers, VP of technology, spent over ten years in management positions at CA. Ellen Libenson, VP of product marketing, was previously VP of marketing at Thinque Systems.

5. Acronis’ True Image Family

What it does: Provides enterprise-class backup and recovery for Linux servers, workstations, and desktops.

How it will help you: We’ve all heard this one before: back up your data, often. Yet, it’s like eating your vegetables. Not everyone does it as often as they should, even if they know it’s good for them.

In the enterprise setting, you can’t trust backups to good intentions. Automated backup and disaster recovery are a must, and any worthwhile enterprise-class solution must have the ability to create compact, ready-to-deploy images.

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Acronis True Image 9.1 Workstation provides bare-metal restore capabilities for both workstations and desktops. System administrators can create exact images of hard drives, allowing complete restores with all of the necessary software and drivers already installed.

If Linux hopes to compete in the corporate desktop market, solutions for quickly deploying new machines in a distributed environment are a must. Acronis Snap Deploy 2.0 meets this need, enabling enterprise users to create a standard configuration for a new PC or server that can be can then be quickly deployed.

What’s more immediately relevant for most organizations, though, is Arcronis True Image 9.1 for Linux Server, since many mission-critical servers are already running Linux. True Image Server for Linux creates exact server disk images that include OSes, applications and configurations, while also backing up mission-critical databases.

After any crash, it allows users to perform a full system restore, a bare-metal restore or just a restore of individual files and folders, depending on the severity of the crash. True Image Server for Linux creates a server disk backup image without interrupting server operations.

Upgrades in the more recent versions of its products include support for virtualization and transportable images. Acronis also offers Windows versions of its products, as well as products geared for the consumer market.

Obstacles to Adoption: First off, Acronis’ real market is still Windows. When it comes to Linux, their focus has been on the server market, since there really isn’t much of a corporate Linux desktop market yet.

That said, the market leader for Windows-based imaging and backup products is Symantec with its Norton Ghost. Response to Symantec’s version of Ghost that supports Linux, though, has been less than stellar, providing a potential opportunity for Acronis.

Partimage, an open-source imaging utility, is fine for home users, but most corporate users want more bells and whistles. Other alternatives include Zmanda’s Amanda, Storix Backup Administrator, and Acreia’s backup solutions. SOHO and mid-tier users may also consider products from Yosemite.

Developer: Acronis, in Burlington, MA.

Management Team: Walter Scott, CEO, previously served as the CEO of Imceda Software. Ed Harnish, VP of marketing, and Ellan Murphy, VP of sales, were also formerly with Imceda. Max Tsypliaev, co-founder and chairman.

6. Userful’s Desktop Multiplier

What it does: Provides a solution for thin-client computing based on Linux, supporting up to ten distinct desktops (and users) from one machine.

How it will help you: According to Userful, modern PCs spend most of the day idle. Userful proposes to take this under-utilized capacity and leverage it. Connect extra monitors, keyboards, and mice, and Userful’s software enables a single Linux PC to serve ten users at once.

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Before you run through a checklist of why this won’t work for your organization, realize that Userful isn’t focusing on the typical office setting. Instead, Userful envisions Desktop Multiplier being used for public computing. Think of information kiosks, shared terminals at Internet cafes (which are still popular overseas), public terminals at a hospital nursing stations, or computer labs in schools. In each case, processing needs are minimal and user data isn’t stored locally. Essentially, the PCs serve as a conduit between the user and either the Internet or server-based applications – a perfect situation for streamlined computing.

For a more typical office setting, Desktop Multiplier could be used to provide guest access terminals or for shared Internet or application access in conference rooms.

Obstacles to Adoption: Part of why the thin-client model of computing has gone out of favor is cost. As PC prices continue to erode, how attractive will the cost savings from Userful be? Granted, administration is easier, but is that enough of a draw?

At the same time, the added horsepower on mobile devices makes them de facto mini-computers. Why not just let people access the information on your public kiosk via their mobile phones? Granted, this model has yet to gain traction, but it promises an even greater cost savings in settings where public terminals exist. One wireless server could serve innumerable users.

Developer: Userful, in Calgary, AB.

Management Team: Timothy Griffin, founder, president and CEO, previously conducted research into laptop and input device design. Daniel Griffin, VP of library services, formerly led the project to integrate LexisNexis’ print and electronic delivery departments and systems. Junsang Lee, director of IT solutions and solutions architect, previously held various positions at IBM-Korea, including senior IT architect, senior software account manager and senior sales specialist.

7. Xandros’ Desktop Management Server

What it does: Automates the administration of desktops, giving IT a simple, consistent method for deploying, upgrading, monitoring, and removing OSes and applications.

How it will help you: Xandros already has a reputation for delivering corporate-focused Linux distributions. Able to run on just about any Intel or AMD processor, the distribution looks and acts a heck of a lot like Windows XP – meaning you are spared the training headaches that come with other Linux distros.

Lately, Xandros has also been working hard to position itself as an alternative to a Vista upgrade. Recent versions come bundled with CrossOver Linux, so you can run Windows applications, and Scalix, so you have messaging, calendar, and collaboration ready to go right from the start. For cost-conscious users who don’t want to upgrade the hardware to run the corresponding Vista upgrade, Xandros may look appealing.

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That’s all well and good, but if Linux hopes to become a desktop alternative to Microsoft, there’s a lot more than an OS to consider. Just as security, automatic backups and disaster recovery are musts in the enterprise, so is centralized administration. If each user must administer, upgrade, and manage his or her own desktop, or if IT must do this manually, most enterprise customers will stick with Microsoft.

With the release of Desktop Management Server (xDMS), Xandros tackles this problem. System administrators can use xDMS to automatically deploy Xandros OSes throughout the organization. xDMS includes an intuitive GUI that shields users from command-line headaches.

xDMS also gives administrators control over desktop environments, allowing them to add, update, and remove applications from any PC on the network, while also giving them the ability to monitor applications and enforce corporate policies.

Obstacles to Adoption: Microsoft, Microsoft, Microsoft. Before worrying too much about desktop management, Linux in general and Xandros in particular have to gain some traction as an enterprise desktop option first.

There are also other Linux-based desktop management products out there, including Novell’s ZENworks Desktop Management and Shaolin Microsystems’ ShaoLin Aptus. And, of course, if Linux does make headway in the enterprise, traditional vendors of administration software, such as IBM and CA, will certainly target this sector.

Developer: Xandros, in New York, NY.

Spencer Hayman, VP and CFO; Jeffrey C. Kuligowski, SVP of sales; Ming Poon, VP of software development; Todd Kanfer, VP of marketing.

Choosing A Linux Desktop: 7 Tips

Newcomers to Linux desktop struggle with the concept of choosing a Linux desktop environment. Just the idea of having a choice is difficult if you are used to Windows or OS X, but how do you choose between a dozen major Linux desktop options, and several dozen minor ones?

The question has no easy answer, especially when most newcomers have no experience with any of the Linux desktop options. Nor are most of the articles written on the subject much help, because they decide what is best for newcomers instead of helping them decide for themselves. If you have experience with Linux, Distrowatch’s Search page is more useful, but is of limited use for newcomers.

I would like to suggest another approach: presenting opposing design choices, and letting newcomers choose according to their own preferences and work habits. Here are seven to help newcomers get started:

Classical desktops have a workspace, one or more panels, and a menu. From MATE to Xfce, they account for the vast majority of desktop environments in Linux. They are seldom flashy, but they offer a predictable interface that almost anyone who has used a computer has seen before. Those who want a desktop that operates like most versions of Windows should probably consider a classical desktop.

By contrast, innovative desktops depart from the classical design. GNOME, for example, uses an overview screen for launching applications, Unity a desktop whose true home is a mobile device. Similarly, although you can set up a classical desktop in KDE, the design extends the classical desktop with multiple desktops and several ways to easily swap icons in and out.

Users who do much of their computing on phones or tablets can choose a desktop inspired by mobile devices, with simple workspaces and multiple screen changes. For these users, GNOME is a reasonable choice, but Unity an even better choice. Alone among desktops, Unity is designed for convergence — the use of the same desktop on any form factor. Unity is especially recommended for those who have a touch-screen monitor.

On the one hand, for some users, the desktop is no more than an application launcher. They spend as little time as possible in it, and expect nothing. For such users, Unity, and LXDE are probably suitable.

On the other hand, for some users, the desktop is part of an eco-system, and its settings determine how they work. These users should investigate GNOME, KDE, Cinammon, and MATE.

Several Linux desktops are designed to reduce clutter while offering the simplest possible layout of tools and controls. Applications designed to run on such desktops are designed for the most common circumstances, but may be lacking when problems arise. GNOME, LXDE, and Unity all fall into this category, and so do all window managers.

Some users prefer to start applications from the menu and keep their work space clean. Others prefer to add launchers to the desktop or panel for applications, document types, or URLs, cluttering their work space but allowing quick access to resources.

Which one you prefer is a matter of choice. However, if you prefer using the menu, try GNOME or Unity.

But if you prefer desktop launchers, try MATE, Cinnamon, or Xfce. If you strongly prefer desktop launchers, KDE will give you the most configuration options, including the ability to customize each virtual workspace.

Do you generally work with one or two applications at a time? Or do you regularly use more than one application, switching back and forth between them as you work?

If you answer “yes” to the first question, you will probably be content with Unity. It is not that Unity cannot multi-task so much as the fact that by default it opens applications full-screen, and the display of the top-level menu in the panel can be confusing as you switch between windows.

However, if you answer “yes” to the second question, almost any other desktop will probably be more to your liking.

Until the last few years, Linux desktops were full-featured. Both KDE and GNOME offered both a place from which to launch applications and extensive eco-systems of utilities and applications designed to work with them.

However, you may prefer to choose applications by preference instead of by desktop environments. Or perhaps you have an older, slower machine. In both cases, a lightweight desktop like LXDE, or a window manager such as IceWM or Openbox may be a better choice for you.

To narrow down the selection even further, consider the specialities of each Linux distribution. Zorin, for example, offers a Windows-like look and feel, while MATE and Cinammon are frequently recommended for Windows users because, like Windows, they are examples of the classical desktop. Similarly, although no distribution (so far as I am aware) emulates OS X, Unity was inspired by OS X, so refugees from the Mac may feel the most comfortable with it.

However, whatever method you use to choose your Linux desktop, take your time. Finding a desktop that suits your preferences and work-flow could make all the difference to how you react to the experience.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Interview, Part Four

Uncharted 2’s out on October 13th and the multiplayer demo launches this week, so we caught up with Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells and creative director Amy Hennig for an over-the-shoulder peek at the design process.

This is Part Four. (Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

Game On: You’ve developed Nathan Drake’s acrobatic repertoire in Uncharted 2 substantially. He’s much more procedural now, much less robotic or spasmodic when you maneuver him. You look at EA’s Madden series, and they’ve grappled with this issue for years and years…that juncture where your ability to control the character leaves off and motion capture for the sake of realism or visual ballet takes over. Having the visual satisfaction of seeing a tackle or lunge or spin execute realistically often comes at the expense of perfect control of the character. You seem to have the balance just about right here. How’d you pull it off?

Amy Hennig: It’s a constant challenge, and I think you expressed it beautifully in that you have to be constantly aware that there’s this line between the sort of non-interactive parts of the animation, which are there for beauty and responsiveness, and there’s a lot of games that fail at either one aspect or the other. Part of it is they may not have the complex procedural blended animation system that we developed, which is really our saving grace in this case. There are games where the animation is beautiful but you don’t actually feel like you’re controlling them because you can’t tell that your inputs are being respected. Or there’s such a delay that it doesn’t feel like you’re really playing the game.

For us, gameplay always has to come first. If there was something we really wanted to see Nate do, but it was going to feel sluggish or unresponsive, we killed it and came up with a different way to do it. So there are certain cases where we’d love his animation to be even smoother, but it would have sacrificed responsiveness, and that’s got to be number one. That’s why coming up with this blended animation system was such a priority, and actually an absolute necessity. We couldn’t have done the game without it. It’s the basis of everything, to be able to say I can be running along and still be loading my gun and still be reacting to the gunfire around me and still sort of launching into my next move. Because some of Nate’s moves…you’re not aware of it playing the game, but there may be literally 30 animations blended up on top of the one motion he’s going through right then and there.

One of our imperatives in Uncharted 2 was to create these big over-the-top set piece moments, these action sequences pulled out of a summer blockbuster, like Drake being caught in a building as it’s being bombarded by helicopter missiles, and it starts to collapse and fall. We wanted that not to be a cut scene. We wanted you to be in control and playing that moment, and so that required Drake be able to, as he’s running, be stumbling, because the building’s been rocked by a missile, and yet while you’re doing that, you might be diving into cover and reloading your gun and flinching from a gunshot all at once. Our programmers are just out of this world. We’re really spoiled by having the best in the industry. Ordinarily a game designer’s coming to them asking for a feature or a request to do something crazy in the game, and the programmers cringe and say “No, that’s technically impossible.” Our programmers love the challenge. They’ll dive in and say “Okay, let’s do it–it’s crazy, but let’s do it.”

AH: Not only that, it’s trying to find the sweet spot that your own particular look. I think you could probably flip through a magazine and spot an Uncharted screenshot, even if it was unmarked. I think there’s a look to our games, without being overly stylized, that’s distinctively its own. And I think it’s because we’re starting from a realistic base, then giving the game a slight stylized approach, and I mean the characters as well as the environments.

Some of that’s in the way we use color, something that’s recently seemed unusual in games, because everybody’s been de-saturating for some reason. It’s just like a little bit of exaggeration in our game, and I think that in the case of our characters, that’s part of what helps us avoid the uncanny valley everybody likes to talk about. If you try to make something too much a simulation of reality, whether it’s your characters or the environment itself, there’s something about it that’s dead. Something that sort of falls flat. You just have to pump it up a bit.

So for instance, I don’t know if everybody realizes this, but if you look at our cinematics, yes, everything’s performance-capture or motion-capture. But we don’t capture face. We have four cameras on the stage when we do our cinematics, one master shot and then a close-up on each of the actors so that we have it for reference, and then the animators do all of that facial animation by hand. The reason is, not only is it letting them use some of their traditional skills, as opposed to just processing motion-capture data, but the effect is better than facial capture. I think you have a lot of people in this industry that are so seduced by the idea that they could literally simulate reality by either a facial capture or scan or something, that they don’t realize they’re not actually getting an attractive result.

GO: You know Introversion? The guys that made Darwinia? They did this Wargames movie homage called DEFCON that used stylized vector graphics and that looked a bit like the sequence in the movie where the computer’s simulating global thermonuclear war on these huge screens. The game was stunning beautiful, and without using a single texture or shader. I raise the point to suggest we’ve got visual appreciation in gaming largely backwards.

I mean this has been going on for a while now, right? We’ve had the last couple hardware generations with people saying “Well look at this water,” or “No, look at this grass,” and yeah, there’s a certain amount of excitement to saying “Wow, look how we pulled that off,” and “Did you see how we did the specularity and subsurface?” That’s great, but not if it doesn’t contribute to some overall goal. I think the challenge is to say, “Why are you doing those things?” You know, why are you having your programmers working for months on something? What’s the end goal? For us, with the blended animation system, the goal wasn’t to say look how clever we are, it was to say this is why Nate’s going to be a relatable character. This is why you’re going to feel for him. It’s because he’s more human and flawed and vulnerable than most video game characters.

GO: Since you mention the snow, I have to backstep slightly on everything I just said about indifference to graphics, because when I walked through the snow at the beginning of Uncharted 2 and saw it was actually piling up around Nate’s legs and leaving a trail, I had my little geek moment. Everyone else does snow like it’s just shiny hard-pack.

AH: Yeah, and we do spend a bunch of time on that stuff, like worrying in the first game about how wet Nate could get, and would the water only go up to his knees, and how would we do that. Or in Uncharted 2, he’s marching through the snow, so it should gather more around his ankles, and if he rolls through it, you want to see the accretion of the frost on his clothing. I mean yeah, we geek out on that stuff too because it’s fun, but the whole point is to say how authentic does this feel? Emotionally authentic, rather than just visually authentic so you’re not drawn out of the experience. We always say we’ve done our job right if you’re not aware how hard it was and how many months we spent on a certain thing. If we’ve done it right, it’s invisible, and you’re not pulled out of the experience even subliminally.

AH: Yeah, it’s just one big pipe with everybody’s stuff coming through.

EW: I do think it was an oversight on our part though. We have several events that we allow people to mark for Twitter updates, and on all except the chapter updates, we have frequency limiters so that we wouldn’t end up spamming people’s feeds. So yeah, it was an oversight on our part, so we took it down and now we’re working on a patch to put a frequency limiter on the chapter updates just like the others. An update or two a day is bearable, as opposed to a chapter every hour or two.

AH: Especially when you’ve got a game that we keep hearing people just want to sit down and play through in one long stretch. That could get ridiculous when the game comes out. Imagine Facebook becoming “So and so just finished chapter one.”

AH: I think the other thing is, it could give people the impression that the game is short, when it’s not at all. I don’t know whether it’s a fluke of the way the game sends reports, but even I was looking at some of the gamer reviewers’ Twitter feeds and thinking “There’s no way this person just finished that.” We have to get it fixed, so we don’t give people the wrong impression.

EW: That player could’ve been playing on easy. You never know. [Laughs]

AH: [Laughs] Very easy.

EW: It’s certainly something I’d like to see, given the fact that we’re encouraging the franchise to grow beyond the PS3. We’ve already got the movie deal in production, so yeah, it’d be nice to see someone do a PSP version. I can say straight up that we aren’t developing for the PSP, we’re focusing entirely on the PS3 right now, but that’s not to exclude the possibility of finding a partner to work with somewhere in the future.

GO: Really-actually last question. Without giving anything away, Uncharted 2 leaves the door open, right? It’s not the end of the franchise?

GO: Thanks Evan and Amy.

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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Interview, Part Two

Uncharted 2’s out on October 13th and the multiplayer demo launches this week, so we caught up with Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells and creative director Amy Hennig for an over-the-shoulder peek at the design process.

This is Part Two. (Part One, Part Three, Part Four)

Game On: Talk about the game as interactive cinema, the sort of thing gamers and non-gamers alike can engage simultaneously.

Evan Wells: I think this is what makes it such a great spectator game. We hear time and again people saying that they really enjoy playing it with their partner or spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend because the person sitting on the couch next to them, even if they’re not playing, they’re still completely engaged because the characters and the story draw them in. Also, the way the story continues even while you’re playing through the action sequences. It doesn’t stop when the cut scenes stop. Even though we have an hour and a half of cinematics, as you’re playing through the game, you’re still getting the constant updates and in-game dialogue between the characters, the banter and such, which continue not only the story, but the character development as well.

GO: My wife was watching me play Uncharted 2 last night, and she kept interrupting to ask questions, slowly tuning in the game. Is gaming becoming collaborative performance art? The game’s the stage, we’re piloting the actors within certain design parameters, and a third entity–not necessarily a gamer–watching what we’re doing like a movie, maybe even interacting by saying “go over there” or “see what that does” or asking “why is that person doing that?”

Our genre almost requires that we rely on traditional cinematics and storytelling methods, so the challenge for us is, how do we make that not too passive an experience? It’s an interactive medium, and you want people to feel like they own the experience. Sometimes with the exposition in games you have to lay things out because you don’t want people to miss the detail.

I can’t wait to start reading the message boards and see that people are playing the game in earnest, because there’s so much I’m curious to see how people react to. They may be expecting in some cases more heavy-handed exposition. “Tell me what happened between these two characters,” that sort of thing. But you know what, I’d rather just have the characters say a couple of lines and let you imagine what might have happened between them in the past. Then it’s your game too.

GO: It’s what I find most attractive about David Lynch, which I realize is getting a little outré for gaming. But then again, we had The Dark Eye, the William S. Burroughs narrated game with Brian Froud-ian puppets sort of “through a glass darkly,” reenacting Edgar Allen Poe stories with pretty surreal backdrops. It came out of nowhere, though we haven’t really seen anything like it since.

AH: Absolutely.

GO: There’s been some debate over whether games should or shouldn’t be narrative beholden. I say they should be, or rather that they are, but more importantly, that they were never anything but. Instead of this adolescent “rebel yell” about how games need to carve out their own space, don’t gamers need to be mindful they’re not asking for the baby out with the bath water?

What I hate is when people say “we must,” as in “we must break away from any forms of traditional narrative,” and that if you’re drawing at all from that established tradition of narrative, you’re somehow this philistine that isn’t challenging yourself enough. I find that offensive.

The fact is, you can look at any form of storytelling, whether you go back to people repeating stories around the fire to early theater to radio to books to films. Every medium is built upon the previous one. So if you say somehow games are completely separate from that, that they should be breaking away from forms of traditional narrative, you’re almost saying that so should have theater, and so should have film. There’s certain commonalities and patterns to human nature and storytelling that transcend medium. You’re just being silly if you think our minds don’t work a certain way in terms of receiving narrative. Yes, it’s a different medium in the sense it’s interactive and these other mediums are more passive, but within a spectrum right? Reading a book is not a passive experience. Listening to a radio play and having to imagine the visuals is not a passive experience. I don’t see how we’re so separate from that tradition. The challenge is to say how do you take that interactivity and build on those traditions and not throw out the baby with the bath water.

This is what we’re trying to do with Uncharted. Every game that we make is an experiment, and then we see the results of the experiment and we adjust. It’s all an iterative process.

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