Tag Archives: Reviews

Telegram Provides Nuclear Option to Erase Sent Messages | Developers

By Jack M. Germain

Mar 26, 2019 5:00 AM PT

Telegram Messaging on Sunday announced a new privacy rights feature that allows user to delete not only their own comments, but also those of all other participants in the message thread on all devices that received the conversation. Although the move is meant to bolster privacy, it’s likely to spark some controversy.

Telegram Provides Nuclear Option to Erase Sent Messages

Telegram, a cloud-based instant messaging and Voice over IP service, is similar to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Telegram Messenger allows users to send free messages by using a WiFi connection or mobile data allowance with optional end-to-end encryption and encrypted local storage for Secret Chats.

Telegram’s new unsend feature does two things. First, it removes the previous 48-hour time limit for removing anything a user wrote from the devices of participants. Second, it lets users delete entire chats from the devices of all participating parties.

Unsend Anything screenshot

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Telegram also changed a policy regarding how users can or can not forward another’s conversation.

Privacy policies are critical to people who rely heavily on chat communications, noted Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate with

“Many people use chat apps under the assumption that their communications are private, so it is very important that chat apps meet those expectations of privacy,” he told LinuxInsider.

Obviously, if you’re a dissident in an autocratic country that cracks down on free speech, privacy is very important. However, it is also important to everyday people, said Bischoff, for “sending photos of their kids, organizing meetings, and exchanging Netflix passwords,” for example.

Potential Controversy

Telegram’s new unsend feature could stir controversy over the rights of parties to a message conversation. One user’s right to carry out a privacy purge could impact other participants’ rights to engage in discourse.

Regardless of who initiated the chat, any participant can delete some or all of the conversation. Criticisms voiced since the change in the company’s unsend policy suggest that the first participant to unsend effectively can remove control from everyone else. Telegram’s process allows deletion of messages in their entirety — not just the senders’ comments.

The chat history suddenly disappears. No notification indicates the message thread was deleted.

Privacy Treatments

Telegram Messenger, like its competitors, has had an “unsend” feature for the last two years. It allowed users to delete any messages they sent via the app within a 48-hour time limit. However, users could not delete conversations they did not send.

Facebook’s unsend feature differs in that it gives users the ability to recall a sent message — but only within 10 minutes of sending it.

“Telegram doesn’t enable end-to-end encryption by default, but you can get it by using the “Secret Chats” feature,” said Comparitech’s Bischoff.

End-to-end encryption ensures that no one except the intended recipient — not even Telegram — can decrypt messages, he said. WhatsApp and Signal encrypt messages by default.

Telegram has an incredibly strong brand, according to Jamie Cambell, founder of
Go Best VPN. It has a reputation for being the app of the people, since it’s been banned from Russia for not providing the encryption keys to the government.

“Its founder, Pavel Durov, actively seeks to fight censorship and is widely considered the Mark Zuckerberg of Russia,” he told LinuxInsider.

Why the Change?

The new unsend feature gives millions of users complete control of any private conversation they have ever had, according to Telegram. Users can choose to delete any message they sent or received from both sides in any private chat.

“The messages will disappear for both you and the other person — without leaving a trace,” noted the Telegram Team in an online post.

The change was orchestrated “to improve the privacy of the Telegram messaging application,” the post continues. “Its developers upgraded the Unsend feature “to allow users to remotely delete private chat sessions from all devices involved.”

The privacy changes are to protect users, according to the company. Old forgotten messages might be taken out of context and used against them decades later.

For example, a hasty text sent to a girlfriend in school can return to haunt the sender years later “when you decide to run for mayor,” the company suggested.

How It Works

Telegram users can delete any private chat entirely from both their device and the other person’s device with just two taps.

To delete a message from both ends, a user taps on the message and selects the delete button. A message windows then asks the user to select whether to delete just his/her chat messages or those of the other participants as well.

Telegram’s new feature lets users delete messages in one-to-one or group private chats. Selecting the second choice deletes the message everywhere. Selecting the first choice only removes it from the inbox of the user initiating the delete request.

The privacy purge allows users to delete all traces of the conversation, even if the user did not send the original message or begin the thread.

Forwarding Controls Added

Telegram also added an Anonymous Forwarding feature to make privacy more complete. This feature gives users new controls to restrict who can forward their messages, according to Telegram.

When users enable the Anonymous Forwarding setting, their forwarded messages no longer will link back to their account. Instead, the message window will only display an unclickable name in the “from” field.

“This way people you chat with will have no verifiable proof you ever sent them anything,” according to Telegram’s announcement.

Telegram also introduced new message controls in the app’s Privacy and Security settings. A new feature called “Forwarded messages” lets users restrict who can view their profile photos and prevent any forwarded messages from being traced back to their account.

Open Source Prospects

The Telegram application programming interface
is 100 percent open for all developers who want to build applications on the Telegram platform, according to the company.

“Open APIs allow third-party developers to create applications that integrate with Telegram and extend its capabilities,” Bischoff said.

Telegram may be venturing further into open source terrain. The company might release all of the messaging app’s code at some point, suggests a note on its website’s FAQ page. That could bode well for privacy rights enthusiasts.

“Releasing more of the code will have a positive effect on Telegram’s appeal, barring any unforeseen security issues. That allows security auditors to crack open the code to see if Telegram is doing anything unsafe or malicious,” Bischoff added.

Win-Win Proposition

Telegram’s new take on protecting users’ privacy rights is a positive step forward, said attorney David Reischer, CEO of
LegalAdvice.com. It benefits both customers who want more control over how their data and communications are shared and privacy rights advocates who see privacy as an important cornerstone of society.

It is not uncommon for a person to send a message and then later regret it. There also can be legal reasons for a person to want to delete all copies of a previously sent message.

For example, “a person may send a message and then realize, even many months later, that the communication contained confidential information that should not be shared or entered into the public domain,” Reischer told LinuxInsider.

Allowing a person to prevent the communication from being forwarded is also an important advance for consumers who value their privacy, he added. It allows a user to prevent sharing of important confidential communications.

“Privacy rights advocates, such as myself, see these technology features as extremely important because the right to privacy entails that one’s personal communications should have a high standard of protection from public scrutiny,” Reischer said.

Still, there exists a negative effect when private conversations are breached through malicious actors who find an unlawful way to circumvent the privacy features, he cautioned. Ultimately, the trust and confidence on the part of senders could be misplaced if communications turn out to be not-so-private after all.

Privacy Concerns First Priority

Privacy is extremely important to those who use chat communications — at least those who are somewhat tech-savvy, noted Cambell. For Telegram, privacy is the most important feature for users.

Privacy is extremely important to many Americans who want to have private conversations even when the communications are just ordinary in nature, said Reischer. Many people like to know that their thoughts and ideas are to be read only by the intended recipient.

“A conversation taken out of context may appear damnable to others even when the original intent of the message was innocuous,” he said.

Additionally, many professionals of various trades and crafts may not want to share their confidential trade secrets and proprietary information, Reischer added. “Privacy is important to all business people, and there is typically an expectation of privacy in business when communicating with other coworkers, management, legal experts or external third parties.”

Other New Features

Telegram added new features that made the app more efficient to use. For example, the company added a search tool that allows users to find settings quickly. It also shows answers to any Telegram-related questions based on the FAQ.

The company also upgraded GIF and stickers search and appearance on all mobile platforms. Any GIF can be previewed by tapping and holding.

Sticker packs now have icons, which makes selecting the right pack easier. Large GIFs and video messages on Telegram are now streamed. This lets users start watching them without waiting for the download to complete.

VoiceOver and TalkBack support for accessibility features now support gesture-based technologies to give spoken feedback that makes it possible to use Telegram without seeing the screen.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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SparkyLinux Incinerates the Hassle Factor | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Mar 21, 2019 10:24 AM PT

SparkyLinux Incinerates the Hassle Factor

SparkyLinux is a Linux distro that can ignite your daily computing experience. Its spark is pushing me to rethink my computing priorities.

Regularly reviewing so many Linux operating systems for Linux Picks and Pans has a serious consequence for my computing sanity. Normally, I have a flirtatious episode with a new release each week. I’m always on the lookout for something new and shiny.

Then my flash-in-the-pan relationship flames out in favor of some other newly released rival a week later. I love the freedom of choice that open source Linux OSes offer with each visit. I like the routine of downloading several promising weekly review candidates. I adore putting them through their paces and selecting the one with the best potential, thanks to some innovation or tweak.

On the other hand, I fervently dislike dealing with the sheer number of distros that try to reinvent the OS marketplace and fall flat in the process. Let’s face reality here. Open source Linux software offers so many options and design characteristics — Debian, Gentoo, Slackware, Arch, and desktop environments galore, ad nauseum — that it can be boring and repetitive.

All of those choices, I suspect, lure typical users to latch onto one favorite distro that works for them. Having found it, they stay with it.

Many base their decision on usability, performance and the hassle factor — you know, the glitches and anomalies that make a particular distro frustrating or overly bothersome to install and maintain. The challenge is finding a distro that lets you compute without getting in the way.

Enter SparkyLinux, an alternative to the myriad of options and trial runs into the world of Linux. In general, SparkyLinux does not target Linux beginners, although new users will find it easy to use and hassle-free. This distro is an ideal choice for those in the middle — neither Linux newbies nor yet Linux pros.

 SparkyLinux 5.7 System Tools menu

SparkyLinux 5.7 is uncluttered and has an intuitive user interface. It is surprisingly spry whether run from a USB or a hard drive installation.

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What It Is

SparkyLinux is a GNU/Linux distribution built on top of the Debian GNU/Linux operating system. It is a fast, lightweight and fully customizable OS that utilizes the
Openbox window manager and the
LXQt desktop.

SparkyLinux is available in three primary editions. The Stable releases are based on the stable line of the Debian family and should be the starting point for new Linux users. The Rolling release is based on the Debian testing branch and offers frequent updates of fresh software packages that can make the OS a little less stable. The Development release is strictly for experienced Linux testers and is not a choice for typical users.

The developer also offers four specialty editions for different tasks, all with Openbox as default. GameOver is for gamers. Multimedia is for creating audio, video and HTML pages. The Rescue edition is for fixing broken OSes. The MinimalCLI edition has no X server, so advanced users can build and configure their desktops their own way.

Fits the Bill

Over the years, I have reviewed several of the SparkyLinux special editions. Among the three primary editions, the developer provides a variety of window lightweight desktop versions for different users and different tasks.

A few weeks ago, I grabbed the latest edition of the Rolling release of version 5.7 posted on March 6. The series 5 version, the Nibiru releases, began rolling out last July. It is a new snapshot of the project’s Rolling branch, which is based on Debian Testing.

This is the first of this year’s ISO images of the Rolling line, which is based on Debian Testing “Buster.” It is a full-featured OS that works out of the box and contains a selection of preinstalled common use software applications for home users.

I had not planned on reviewing version 5.7. Instead, I was looking for a quick replacement for the discontinued Quirky Linux. I had been using Quirky on a USB drive for convenience and portability when bouncing around computers on various work projects. However, my positive experience led to this review.

Why the glee over rolling releases? This upgrade method pushes the latest packages and edition upgrades as they are ready, without requiring a complete reinstallation. This approach is a big convenience, especially if you’re running SparkyLinux from the USB drive.

Rolling Update and Portability Too

Quirky Linux was a Linux-on-a stick derivative of
Puppy Linux. Although Puppy Linux and other offshoot distros still exist, I was drawn to the rolling release potential on a USB drive installation.

Being able to pop a USB stick into any computer I use remains part of my work routine. It is a workable solution and better alternative to carrying around my own hardware when my location deadheads to a room filled with other people’s gear.

SparkyLinux Nibiru’s rolling update capability adds to the convenience by eliminating the need to create updated versions of the portable OS periodically. Installing Linux distros to a USB drive can have its drawbacks.

One of the big ones is the need to use special frugal installation tactics. Another is having to create and use multiple partitions on the USB drive to save personal data and configuration changes as persistent memory.

Usually, the USB installation merely creates a live session environment much like using a DVD session. That eliminates the ability to save configurations and personal data. Not so with SparkyLinux.

Best of Two Linux Worlds

SparkyLinux is not a Puppy Linux wanna-be distro. Like Puppy Linux-style distros, you can run it from a thumb drive, and like Puppy Linux, SparkyLinux initially loads into available RAM on the host computer for speedy performance. Unlike Puppy Linux strategies, SparkyLinux does not use a frugal installation or require special antics to provide persistent memory on the USB storage device.

SparkyLinux is intended to be fully hard-drive based. Regardless, I was curious to see how well the rolling updates, paired with a full installation on a USB drive, would solve my need for a reliable portable Linux OS. The fact that I could do a full installation to hard drive was merely a huge added benefit.

I installed SparkyLinux 5.7 to an 8GB USB drive, unsure of the storage size adequacy and the performance. That process involved installing GRUB on the USB drive.

I already had my computers configured to boot from DVD or USB drives, so all I had to do was turn on the computer, press the appropriate key to not boot from the hard drive, and press the enter key to boot the SparkyLinux option I wanted directly from the USB drive.

No matter what changes I made to the configuration — add/remove software, change desktop backgrounds, alter system preferences, or save files to the USB drive — those changes were retained on the USB drive on subsequent reboots. Even better, regardless of whatever computer I booted that SparkyLinux USB drive from, SparkyLinux appeared on the screen exactly the way it appeared in my last session on a different computer.

Unlike with other distro options, no tweaking was required. There was no need to make screen resolution adjustments or re-establish Internet connection settings each time I booted from the USB drive placed in another computer.

What’s Next?

That was a pleasant surprise. SparkyLinux performed with the USB installation far better than any other portable Linux-on-a-stick distros I’ve used over the years. SparkyLinux’s USB installation worked so well, I used it on multiple computers for weeks without missing a beat.

The takeaway from that USB-based performance is that SparkyLinux installed on a hard drive can compute circles around many other Linux distros, and at least keep an even track record with the rest.

I know that from actually putting SparkyLinux 5.7 Testing release on an aging computer. The LXQt and Openbox combination runs fine on legacy gear with at least 256MB of RAM and 10 GB hard drive space.

Remember, the intent of the developer is to use SparkyLinux as a normal, full installation on the hard drive. I may very well put SparkyLinux on the hard drives of several computers, but right now, I am getting all the functionality I need from the USB installation.

I will dual-boot some Sparky installations rather than replace other existing distros dedicated on those machines, but I definitely will burn a new SparkyLinux installation to a 32GB USB drive to ensure that I do not run into storage limitations down the road.

My bigger personal dilemma now, as I hinted at the beginning of this review, is how to handle my mainstream computing platforms.

Streamlined Inventory

Until last year, SparkyLinux offered many editions and development branches with a wide range of desktop environments. This provided users with a dozen or more different download options.

However, due to time constraints and a refocusing on a core product, the developer retired most of the choices. The result is a trimmed-down inventory, based solely on one main, Openbox-based desktop in combination with two similar lightweight desktops.

The first option is with LXQt for the Rolling edition or LXDE for the Stable edition. A second option is MinimalGUI (Openbox)/MinimalCLI as a text-based edition that lets you install a desktop with a small set of apps. The third choice is the Special Editions with Openbox, as noted above.

I installed the Google Chrome browser. Much of my work routine is embedded in the Google infrastructure. I was pleased to discover that even with an 8GB USB drive to hold it, Chrome did not tax the performance.

I was additionally pleased to discover that I did not have to compromise on performance or other restrictions in my regular daily computing routine with SparkyLinux. It comes with my needed essentials preinstalled:

  • LibreOffice version
  • Skanlite, a KDE-based scanning application based on libksane
  • Take a Screenshot app

It also comes with a bevy of system tools and accessory apps.

 SparkyLinux 5.7 cascading menu

SparkyLinux 5.7 has a second menu launched with a right-click anywhere on the desktop. Shown here is the cascading menu filled with an abundant inventory of system tools.

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Adding to the Mix

SparkyLinux comes with a few basic tools, along with some of the most popular productivity applications. The text editor is FeatherPad, a lightweight plain-text app with a tabbed interface. Also included are the file manager (PCManFM), a screenshot utility, an image viewer (LXImage-QT), Firefox Web browser, and several terminal emulators (gExec, XTerm and UXTerm).

I had to install only two applications essential to my workflow: GIMP image editor and Geany IDE Editor. Both up and running from the USB drive to RAM did not impair the OS’ performance.

SparkyLinux uses the Synaptic Package Manager to add/remove non-system applications. For rolling update and system maintenance, SparkyLinux has Sparky APTus.

This is is a collection of small scripts to manage the system’s packages. It is basically a front end that automates the process of downloading and installing system packages.

Highlighting the Sparky Experience

Installing SparkyLinux to the 8GB USB stick took nearly 45 minutes. The suggested time frame is 15-30 minutes. The process was straightforward. Ample videos and Wiki documentation are available on the developer’s website to walk you through the installation.

For what it is worth, the online documentation about how to install SparkyLinux to a USB drive may be a bit outdated for this latest release. Even though the directions tell you to create three partitions on the USB drive — one for the OS, one for the home directory, and one for the swap space — I deliberately did not do that.

The installer includes a partitioning tool, but I did not use it. Everything worked fine using the USB installer tool in the live session DVD I burned from the downloaded SparkyLinux ISO file.

When I rebooted after installation, the system asked if I wanted to do an upgrade. That process using APTus went smoothly but took another 30 minutes. The installation and upgrade intervals are the result of the slower writing speeds to the USB drive.

Subsequent logons brought fewer upgrades. The shorter download and install list made for quicker completion.

No setup was required other than clicking on the clock applet in the bottom panel to select 12-hour and change the orientation of the date and time in the panel display. The hardwired Internet connection was automatic. Same for the mouse.

Settings tips:

  • Go to the Main Menu/Preferences/LXQt Settings to make selections;
  • Go to Firewall Configuration to enable the firewall;
  • Go to Openbox Configuration Manager to finish setting up the look and feel of the OS; and
  • Go to Desktop Preferences panel and click the Advanced tab to select which system icons to display on the desktop.

Look and Feel

The developer modified the LXQt desktop environment in SparkyLinux to provide a clean, simple and traditional graphical session. The bottom panel is pleasantly uncluttered.

The show desktop icon is on the far right. To its left is the date/time display. Further left are the audio control, an applet to manage media devices, an applet for Internet access status, and the Qlipper clipboard icon.

The desktop switcher and the main menu button hug the left end of the panel. The switcher is preconfigured with only two virtual workspaces. You can change this default setting in Openbox Configuration Manager.

Scrolling the mouse wheel on the desktop switches workspaces. Or you can click the workplace switcher applet on the panel. Even better, you can spin the mouse wheel with the pointer on any open area of the desktop to cycle through workspaces.

 SparkyLinux 5.7 wallpaper selection tool

You must manually point the wallpaper changer tool to the default location (/opt/artwork). The file manager browser window does not point to this location by default.

– click image to enlarge –

Changing desktop background images is not intuitive. Images are stored in /opt/artwork. You must navigate through system folders to get there from within the desktop preferences panel. An easier configuration would be to have the browse button within this panel default to that location. Instead, you must do this manually.

Bottom Line

SparkyLinux gives you an operating system that is out-of-the-box ready for use. It comes with multimedia plugins, selected sets of apps, and its own custom tools to ease different tasks.

SparkyLinux is a well-thought-out Linux OS. It has straightforward controls that let you get your work done without distractions. The user interface is friendly, intuitive and efficient.

SparkyLinux is a very functional Linux OS. It is a solid choice for use as an all-purpose home edition with all the tools, codecs, plugins and drivers preinstalled.

You may not need the USB installation. However, if your computer runs Microsoft Windows or another Linux distro, putting SparkyLinux on a USB stick is much easier than setting up a dual boot on the hard drive or replacing whatever is running on that computer already.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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8 Great Linux Time-Tracker Apps to Keep You on Task | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Mar 14, 2019 10:11 AM PT

Time-tracking software records the time you spend on tasks. The time-tracking helps you create billing reports, prepare invoices, and analyze your workflow for better efficiency.

This week’s Linux Picks and Pans product review highlights some of the best free time-tracking applications for Linux. The apps included in this roundup are not presented in any quality order. Also, they are not individually rated.

Most of these apps offer basic time-tracking functionality and little else. Some have some very useful additional features. A few are strictly old school Linux with only command line and/or text-based input and display.

However, your skill sets won’t be taxed with a majority of these software options, and you likely will find a suitable solution in one or more of them to meet your particular needs.

Project Hamster: Basic Tracking Treadmill With Limited Steps

Project Hamster is a workable solution for individuals who do not mind a little fiddling to keep current with a time-tracking process. It is fairly simple to use, it’s light on features, and it has a classic minimalist design.

Project Hamster screenshot

Project Hamster sports a simple, minimalist design for tracking your work.

Project Hamster is all about three things: It tracks the time you spend on tasks throughout the day; it calculates totals; and it exports time-tracking data into an HTML report.

Everything happens in a simple Activity window. Enter a new task and add an optional tag to refine report generations later. Or click on an existing task from the displayed list. Click the “Start Tracking” button. Then go about your task.

Tagging your activities makes it easier to search through your historical data. Tags serve as a category marker. The results will be split by tags and shown in the Statistics section.

Adding descriptions to the activities helps keep track of specific parts of work in the overall progress. To track time expenditures in Hamster, change your activity in the program when switching from one task to another. The program counts time totals and shows them in the interface.

is available in .deb package format for Ubuntu Linux and its derivatives. If your flavor of Linux does not provide Hamster in its repositories, you will have to forget about using it. The link on Github no longer takes you to a download page for other installation options.

Rachota: Flexible Filtering of Data

Rachota is a portable time-tracking application for Linux. The portability is a nice feature. You can run it from the USB drive in most Linux distros and can store updated time-tracking data there as well.

Rachota Timetracker screenshot

Rachota Timetracker analyzes what you do and suggests how to use your time more efficiently.

Besides collecting your time-tracking data, this app analyzes what you do and suggests how to use your time more efficiently. It is even more helpful if you use its customizable reporting and invoicing functionality.

Rachota displays time data in diagram form. The user interface is built around a three-step process. All of the tasks are displayed in the center of the Activities window. The display shows three tabs: Day, History, Analytics. However, you need to set up what you want Rachota to track before you can get down to business.

Step one is planning your tasks. Rachota excels in cataloging regular tasks that repeat on a daily or weekly basis. You enter the tasks in the Settings dialog before you can track them.

To do that, click the Add button. The Task settings dialog shows up. The entry or setup screen has each data point labeled. All you have to do is enter a brief description or select from a drop-down list.

Step Two is working your plan. Start working on a task by highlighting it and clicking the Select button. This sets the task as current. Then click the Work button to have Rachota start measuring the time you spent on the task.

You can pause the measuring log by clicking the Relax button. When you finish a task, click the Done button. Rachota continues to measure time spent until you tell it to stop or switch tasks.

Step Three is analyzing your time data. You can generate reports that display your time data by switching to the History tab and selecting the period of time you want in the report or working hours by switching to the Times tab. Rachota provides three types of graphs and allows you to highlight tasks based on certain criteria.

You can customize reports by specifying tasks during the selected period. The Report generation wizard lets you specify properties like format (TXT, CSV, HTML), file name, description and content.

You can switch to the Projects tab to view your projects in terms of their timeshare, tasks, state or priority.

KTimeTracker: Outdated, but Flexible and Simple

KTimeTracker is the time-tracking app that is part of Kontact, the personal information manager for the KDE desktop environment. You can run it in most Linux distros, regardless of the desktop environment you use.

KTimeTracker settings panel

KTimeTracker has a familiar user interface for the three settings panels.

It does not have much in the way of fancy features. It is ideal for keeping track of billable time spent on a task. It also is a simple and effective way to track how much time you spend doing whatever you do at the computer.

KTimeTracker provides basic to-do management and timekeeping features. This lets you create task lists and track time spent on the tasks. The data is summarized and stored in a journal where you can review the results.

Use KTimeTracker to maintain a list of projects and tasks. It is especially handy if you spend your working time at the keyboard bouncing from task to task.

Whenever you switch your activity, double-click on the respective task and see how its time gets tracked. At the end of the day (or month), you can obtain a journal showing how much time you spent on what task.

This time-tracking component works fairly well as a standalone application. Its only real weakness is its age. It has not been maintained since 2013.

KTimeTracker is easy to use. Its configuration options include idle time detection, time-saving frequency and displayed details. It calculates time expenses automatically. You merely start and stop the timer as needed. You can edit already-recorded time, if necessary.

Its design makes it easy to organize tasks into sub-tasks and organize your work like a to-do list. With the ability to create up to 1,000 levels of sub-tasks, KTimeTracker can also serve as a makeshift project manager.

GnoTime: Tracking Tool Plus

GnoTime Tracking Tool, formerly known as GTT, offers simple interfaces and basic time-tracking and billing functionality.

GnoTime Tracking Tool interface

The GnoTime Tracking Tool has a simple interface to manage and display basic time-tracking and billing functionality.

You can use this app to keep to-do tasks on target. Its multifaceted functions let you organize your ideas and track your projects. If that is not enough, it also can serve as your diary or work journal.

What GnoTime does best, however, is keep tabs on how much time you spend on projects. It also generates reports and invoices based on that time log.

A unique feature in this app is auto-merging short time intervals recorded for one task. You can define the length of the intervals to be merged. Another useful feature is the ability to vary billing rates and flag entries as billable or non-billable.

GnoTime displays recorded information in various HTML reports. They can show tasks performed throughout the given day, billable amounts, and statuses of projects.

The app also shows a running timer with time totals for each project/task.

You start the timer by clicking on a task. The timer function measures the amount of time that you are at the computer. It detects idle time on the keyboard and mouse and stops the clock accordingly. If the clock stays stopped for too long, it will nag you to start it up again. You can view time totals by day, week, month or year.

You can find GnoTime as a pre-compiled package in Debian, Ubuntu, RedHat/Fedora, Suse, and Gentoo distros. For other Linux species, you can
download the source code tarballs to compile.

ARBTT: Automatically Gets Out of Your Way

ARBTT takes the manual labor out of tracking your time at the computer. That is how it got its name: “Automatic Rule-Based Time-Tracker.”

The program recognizes active windows and tracks how long they are open. It calculates that time interval.

ARBTT screenshot

The downside to ARBTT is its lack of a GUI. It uses an automatic rule-based text format to specify what you want it to do. It displays results in a similar text-based file.

Like other open source productivity projects, the developer has not released updates since 2014. ARBTT is not readily available for all Linux distros, either.

You can download it for distros that support Debian and Ubuntu repositories. The most direct way is with the terminal command: sudo apt-get install arbtt

You also can get ARBTT installed from source, either via cabal install or from the source repository. Check the developer’s website for all installation options.

ARBTT’s core component is a desktop daemon (arbtt-capture) that captures data about what you are doing autonomously and continuously stores it in a log file. A separate component, a built-in command-line statistics generator (arbtt-stats), lets you inspect the data by using simple text-based rules.

The rules are specified as a simple text-based format in a file called “categorize.cfg”. The big advantage is that you do not have to preconfigure how you select the data to record.

The program applies rules in real-time as you evaluate your data, rather than when recording it. This keeps your raw data intact. You can add more rules and forgotten special cases later. Plus, you can customize the simple rules, sort through the raw data, and reveal patterns and relevant information.

The rules may be simple to construct. Using ARBTT is a bit challenging, however, because it lacks a GUI in favor of a command line. That involves poring over a document to learn the command syntax.

JTimeSched: Lean Design Meets Intuitive Style

jTimeSched is a simple, lightweight time-tracking application with a minimalist interface and portability.

jTimeSched interface

jTimeSched has a basic interface that is both intuitive and capable of providing all the necessary functionality fortracking elapsed time for tasks and projects.

The portability comes from its ability to run from a USB stick and its coding that is stored in a single .jar file. jTimeSched stores it configuration data per directory, a design that supports multiple configurations.

Despite its minimalist interface, this specialty app seemingly does it all. The basic interface is very intuitive, and capable of providing all the necessary functionality.

jTimeSched can track elapsed time for tasks and projects. It can use the data for the recording of time worked.

This app suits those who need a simple time-tracker without advanced features, fancy interfaces, and a detailed task hierarchy.

jTimeSched lets you create as many tasks/projects as you want with one single click. It tracks elapsed time for a working day and displays overall time.

Despite a lean design, this app lets you manually set a task and start it with a single click on the start/pause icon. You can remove a task with a double click.

Other features include categorizing and sorting tasks by color title, category, date created, time overall, time today or current state. You can highlight tasks by keyword.

GTime: Covert Work Routine Logging

GTimeLog, a small time-tracking application for GNOME, is designed for tracking without overly intruding on your daily work routine.

GTimeLog Screenshot

GTimeLog is designed for tracking without overtly distracting you from your daily work routine.

Start the app and type in “arrived.” After finishing each activity throughout the workday, enter the name of the activity in the GTimeLog prompt.

Naming the activity at the end of working on the task is a key principle. Activities, in general, are categorized as two types. One type is tasks that count as billable work.

The other type does not. To indicate which activities are not billable, add two asterisks to the activity name. The program calculates your time expenditures and creates an activity report that shows how much time you have spent working and taking breaks.

GTimeLog is loaded with high-end features. For instance, it stores the time log in a simple plain text file.

You can edit it by choosing Edit log from the menu (or pressing Ctrl-E). Every line contains a timestamp and the name of the activity that ended at the time. All other lines are ignored, so you can add comments.

The application uses simple configuration options. These include commands to flag specific activities as not related to work, and the option to omit them completely in daily reports.

The display involves three basic views. The first shows all the activities in chronological order, with starting and ending times.

The second view groups all entries with the same title into one activity and just shows the total duration. The third view groups all entries from the same categories into one line with the total duration.

GTimeLog lacks a built-in sync system between multiple machines. The workaround is to put its files into Dropbox and create a symlink.

Download GTimeLog from the Python Package Index using this terminal command:

pip install gtimelog

Packages are available in Debian and Ubuntu formats. The released version is notably outdated.

TimeSlotTracker: Unconventional Yet Useful

TimeSlotTracker records your work in time slots against tasks in a hierarchical tree. It combines time-tracking and task management.

TimeSlotTracker Screenshot

TimeSlotTracker combines time-tracking and task management functions to record your work in time slots using a hierarchical tree organizational design.

It is a simple app that is not complicated to use. It is useful, but a bit unusual in its design.

The biggest challenge in learning to use this app is understanding how the user interface works. A more detailed documentation file would solve that problem.

TimeSlotTracker integrates with Jira and iCalendar. It runs predefined and custom reports based on the collected time-tracking data, and exports them into CSV, HTML and TXT formats.

The app collects tasks and time slots in a hierarchical tree. It has a very intuitive set of keyboard shortcuts. This is a feature most of the other apps in this roundup do not have.

It is
available in native Debian package format.

This is a very worthwhile application and is worth the time to learn it, but installation might not work, depending on your distro’s repository. Some of the dependencies are outdated and may not be easy to locate elsewhere.

Bottom Line

Most of the time-tracking apps in this Linux roundup are abandoned or in need of updating. The growing convenience and accessibility of Web-based time-tracking services make standalone software less necessary and in lower demand. Thus, developers spend little or no time releasing newer versions.

The eight applications for Linux users included in this roundup are solid performers. Other than the outdated packages and lack of support for a wide variety of Linux distros, these apps deliver on productivity and reliability.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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Parrot Home: Enjoy the Privacy Extras | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Mar 8, 2019 10:27 AM PT

Parrot Home: Enjoy the Privacy Extras

Parrot offers several options for running a Linux operating system that pays much closer attention to security matters.

If you already are handy with digital forensic tasks and want a state-of-the-art system to handle pentesting and privacy issues, check out the Parrot Security release.

Parrot Security offers a complete all-in-one environment for pentesting, privacy, digital forensics, reverse-engineering and software development. It includes a full arsenal of security-oriented tools.

For typical Linux users who just want a leg up on privacy protections built into an all-purpose operating system, Parrot Home edition could well be your do-everything Linux OS. A special edition designed for daily use, it includes easy-to-use applications to chat privately, encrypt documents with the highest cryptographic standards, and surf the Internet in a completely anonymous and secure way.

Parrot classic MATE design

Parrot implements a classic MATE design that is easy to use and easy on the eyes.

Parrot Home meets the needs of regular users who want a fully functional lightweight desktop that is always updated. It has the look and feel of the regular Parrot environment, and it comes with all the basic programs for daily work.

For advanced users, the Parrot system also can be used as a starting point to build a very customized pentesting platform with only the bare essentials. Or, you can use it to build your professional workstation by taking advantage of all the latest and most powerful technologies of Debian without the hassle.

The Security Factor

Computer and Internet security are topics that typical computer users conveniently ignore. All too often, Linux users put their blind trust in a particular distribution and assume that all Linux OSes are equally more secure than other platforms.

Yes and no! Linux is much more hardened than other operating systems, but not all Linux distros are created with the same degree of attention to security and privacy control.

You might not be knowledgeable about or keenly attentive to things like firewall configurations, Web browser privacy settings and router options, for example. That missing skillset can leave some gaping holes in otherwise well-designed Linux safety strategies.

Parrot Home edition offers an alternative to leaving your computer privacy and security to chance. I’ll leave the attributes of the Parrot Security edition for security professionals to check out separately. In this week’s Linux Picks and Pans review, I’ll focus on the benefits of the Parrot Home edition.

Why Use It?

Parrot provides general purpose tools built around a Linux core that is tuned for security and forensics operations. The Home edition is a really solid everyday computing performer.

The added user benefits let you ease your way into more privacy-centric Web browsing and encryption. The tools that build in these enhancements are easy to use.

As your comfort zone expands, you can improve your security awareness and hone your skills while using a familiar set of everyday applications, like the ones other distros provide. Parrot is a win-win computing platform that gives you an easy leg up on better personal computing security.

Parrot Home Primer

The Home edition has the same look and feel of a regular Parrot environment and includes all the basic programs for daily work. The center point of the appearance is the MATE desktop.

MATE is a great choice. It is lightweight, fully functional and very modern looking, without bogging down your system with gaudy screen animations that consume system resources.

Lightweight does not mean absence of settings controls. Quite the contrary. MATE’s control center panel provides all the system settings in one handy location.

The ability to fine-tune configuration options extends to several other menued spots. For instance, click the System button on the top panel to access Preferences for hardware, Look and Feel, Personal, and other pull-out categories. The Administration button opens access to Print Settings, Time and Place options, the Synaptic Package Manager, and User and Groups settings.

Look and Feel

Parrot implements a classic MATE design and then some. It has a top and bottom panel. You can eliminate either one and combine the menu and buttons onto a single bar, but the traditional two-panel design makes considerable sense.

Parrot MATE desktop design with a top and bottom panel.

Parrot implements a classic MATE desktop design with a top and bottom panel.

MATE goes against a growing trend in new desktop environments to tidy up the desktop. It does not prevent the placement of icon launchers there.

Just right-click on an application in the main menu and select your choice of either pinning it to the desktop or adding it to the favorites display in the main menu. However, you can not pin application launchers to either panel bar. You can right-click anywhere on the desktop itself to get a context-specific popup menu.

Both top and bottom panels let you add applets that provide quick access to dozens of special features. Applets function much like extensions in Web browsers.

The geography of the two panels is well designed. Most of what you normally see on a single panel design is already configured on the top panel. A two-column cascading menu sits at the left of the bar. The Places and System dropdown menus are to the fight of the main menu button.

Icons to launch the Firefox Web browser, the MATE terminal, and the Pluma text editor sit in the center of the top panel. The right end of the panel holds several systems monitors thumbnail displays and the notifications area.

The bottom panel has a button on the far left that launches a two-column applications menu. A search window spans the top of the menu display. Three buttons reside at the bottom of the menu panel to control user and shutdown options.

The far right of the bottom panel shows the workspaces switcher with four screens already configured at launch. The center section of the bottom panel shows minimized applications and thumbnails of all running windows.

Privacy Tools

One of the really nice qualities in the Parrot Home edition is the bundled privacy and security tools. The goal here is to give everyday users a set of applications to protect their privacy.

Of course, a more knowledgeable user could install these tools separately, but having the tools preinstalled and easy to find is something that makes this distro different from other Linux distros.

Consider the Home edition an upper tier offering. Users who want even more hands-on control and develop a passion for being more involved with security can advance to the Parrot Security tier. That is where all the pentesting and digital forensics exposure happens.

Here is a rundown on the special bundle that Parrot Home edition provides:

  • Use Anonsurf to hide your IP Address on the Internet. Anonsurf anonymizes the entire system under Tor using IPTables. It takes only one click each to start and stop the tool. Click the Check IP menu entry to get a readout of the current IP address your system is using.
  • The Cryptography software makes it easy to create encrypted folders on your computer.
  • The GNU Privacy Assistant is a graphical user interface for the GNU Privacy Guard. SiriKali is a Qt/C++ GUI application that manages ecryptfs-, cryfs-, encfs-, gocryptfs- and securefs-based encrypted folders.
  • zuluCrypt is a tool for uncomplicated encryption of any data. It is handy for safeguarding personal data on an entire hard drive, or on external storage media such as USB thumb drives and external hard drives.
  • zuluMount is a general purpose mounting tool for unencrypted volumes and zuluCrypt-supported encrypted volumes. It is handy to use for mounting and unmounting volumes on a hard drive when running Parrot in live session mode from a USB or optical drive.

Everyday Software

One of the things I like best about the Home edition is it can serve as a fully functional portable Linux system. It runs well from a USB installation and a DVD drive as well.

Install Parrot Home edition to a hard drive as your everyday computing platform. The added privacy and security tools are always available. You have all the standard office and productivity tools available with less specialized Linux distros.

Parrot Home edition

The Home edition can serve as a fully functional portable Linux system. It is also a solid performer on a hard drive.

The default Web browsers are Firefox and Firefox ESR (Extended Support Release). Firefox comes with the No Script extension installed to prevent running JavaScript on your computer.

It keeps you safe from cryptojacking attacks and malicious scripts designed to monitor your activities. You also get Onion Circuits, Onion Share and Tor browser, plus lots more.

Office tools include LibreOffice Suite, HomeBank and GNOME Planner. You also get the complete set of MATE apps such as image viewer, Shotwell photo organizer and GIMP. A library of video and audio editing and viewer programs is included.

Bottom Line

The Home edition does not include a bevy of ethical hacking and testing and security apps that also are used for development, anonymity and privacy. If you want those things, step up to the Parrot Security release.

If you want a well-tuned general purpose Linux distro with a bonus offering of personal privacy tools, check out Parrot Home edition. It will not disappoint you in either performance or privacy.

The last Update is version 4.5, released in January.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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EasyOS Teaches an Old Dog New Tricks | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Mar 5, 2019 5:00 AM PT

EasyOS is an experimental Linux distribution that either will renew your passion for using something different or leave you disappointed in its oddball approach to computing.

EasyOS is a blend of the best ideas from
Puppy Linux and the now discontinued Quirky Linux. I have used several of the popular Puppy Linux variants over the years. I adopted Quirky Linux a few years ago as my go-to Linux distro on a USB stick, for use on other people’s computers while in the field.

Software developer Barry Kauler developed all three. He retired from leading the Puppy Linux project in 2013. He shut down his Quirky Linux project at the end of last year. He created EasyOS in January 2017 and continues to develop it.

This illustration shows the desktop features forEasyOS at a glance.

This illustration shows the desktop features for EasyOS at a glance.

EasyOS development is very much just a hobby, Kauler noted in a recent post — as was his work with Quirky Linux. He has little interest in seeing EasyOS become mainline or widely adopted.

That saddens me. I have enjoyed the barking quirkiness of Kauler’s Linux creations since first stumbling on Puppy Linux in its early days. I still look forward to innovations that might take EasyOS many paw steps beyond Puppy Linux.

The Makings of EasyOS

EasyOS, updated last month, represents a new paradigm for how an operating system handles security, maintainability and ease-of-use. Several things make EasyOS unusual, despite its heavy resemblance to Puppy and Quirky Linux.

It is deployed as an image file that may be written to a USB flash drive, SD card, or USB solid state disk (SSD). You do this with your computer’s USB image-writing tool. The USB drive then boots without any changes to the hard drive.

Unlike other iterations in Puppy Linux-type design, EasyOS requires creation of a user password when setting up the USB installation to access encrypted parts of the OS. The file “easy.sfs” is the entire EasyOS in a single file.

The “working-partition” has folders that may optionally be encrypted. These folders store all your work, downloads and history. Encryption, which is by fscrypt, uses AES-256 and requires that a password must be entered at bootup.

The loading process copies this file into RAM. That takes a few minutes. The wait is worth it. Applications load lightning-fast.

If you want to run EasyOS from an optical drive, you must download the ISO file instead of the image file. You then burn the ISO contents to the CD or DVD disc using your computer’s media creation tool.

This process creates a more traditional live session loading of EasyOS. The ISO file is useful for a quick look at how EasyOS performs on your computer’s hardware.

Some of the features available from the image file installation are not present in the CD/DVD version, however. Plus, the live session requires the computer to read from the optical drive when loading applications and executing processes. The live session does not jump into RAM for faster operation.

Many Small Differences

One of the most impressive innovations in EasyOS is its container-friendly nature. It is designed from scratch to support containers. You can run any app or even an entire other OS in a container.

A simple GUI (graphical user interface), called “Easy Containers,” handles container management. Easy Containers are efficient and consume nearly no overhead.

A key design element is the way EasyOS is built. All packages in Easy are compiled from source with no reliance on any other distro. This optimizes the software packages for fast performance.

 EasyOS GUI-based configuration panel

EasyOS uses a GUI-based configuration panel for all system configuration options.

– click image to enlarge –

A somewhat controversial feature is the run-as-root design. The user runs the OS as root. Apps that run in containers run as a crippled root or user “zeus.” The practical outcome is never having to type “sudo” or “su” to run anything, and not getting hung up with file permissions, according to Kauler.

Installation is also different. EasyOS does not have a full installation that places the filesystem in an entire partition. Instead, EasyOS installs to a hard drive in “frugal” mode. This occupies a single folder in a partition. This allows you to keep whatever else you have installed in that partition. You can forget about dual-boot scenarios.

Other Big Differences

The roll-back-roll-forward feature is really cool. You can take a snapshot and later on roll-back to it. Then, you can roll-forward to where you were before. This process can work across version and kernel changes. It applies to the main filesystem as well as the containers.

SFS mega-packages is an improvement over how SFS packages work in Puppy Linux. SFS mega-packages are a collection of packages bundled into one file with the “.sfs” extension.

These never get extracted. When in use they are mounted in the overlay layered filesystem. You can uninstall an SFS mega-package simply by removing it.

A really nice change from working with configuration processes in other distros is the GUI-for-everything mentality. Everything in EasyOS is configured by simple GUIs. No more messing around with the command line.

Different Kind of Desktop

EasyOS uses Joe’s Window Manager-ROX desktop. ROX is the ROX-Filer file-manager and desktop handler. They work extremely well together.

It is totally different from Gnome, KDE, Mate, XFCE and LXDE or Cinnamon desktops. This type of desktop is a carryover from Puppy Linux. It is an extremely lightweight, fast and powerful desktop.

EasyOS classic Linux desktop with an experimental twist.

EasyOS uses the JWN window manager and the ROX-Filer file-manager and desktop handler in combination to create a classic Linux desktop with an experimental twist.

– click image to enlarge –

I found this combination easy to learn and easier to use years ago when I first started using Puppy and Quirky Linux. The desktop is a friendly environment.

It resembles the Microsoft Windows XP appearance but has the basic functionality of Xfce or LXDE. You can right-click anywhere on the desktop to get a full menu display right there.

Look and Feel

You also can click on the Menu button at the extreme left of the traditional taskbar across the bottom of the screen. It holds the configurable workplace switcher app to the right of the menu button. It holds the minimized windows in the center portion. The traditional notification icons are near the right edge of the taskbar.

You can’t place launcher icons on the desktop. The default configuration displays some 20 standard icons on the desktop. These are system menu-related. They provide quick access to configuration tools that you can find in the main menu as well.

The Apps icon opens the Easy Apps panel. It provides quick access to dozens of applications in seven categories. The MyApps categories let you configure up to eight titles to launch as a Favorites list.

The Petget icon launches the Pet package manager. SFSget provides similar access to the SFS package installer. The Easy thumb-up icon launches the container environment.

Across the bottom just above the panel bar is a row of buttons for each partition on the computer’s hard drive. This is a really convenient feature for accessing files in any installed OS on the host computer.

Personal Workaround

I tested EasyOS on a backup test computer that dual boots into six different Linux and BSD distributions. I did not do a frugal installation. Rather, I booted from the USB drive.

The task of taking numerous screenshots was hindered by having to store them in the encrypted SFS file. I only have two USB ports on that aging computer. One held the EasyOS drive. The other held the wireless plug for the keyboard.

I did not have an external USB dock handy, so I had no way to save the screenshots to another USB drive. I was pressed for time and did not want to set up a Web browser session to upload the photos to the cloud so I could access them on my main Linux production desktop.

There was a quick and easy solution. I opened one of the Linux partitions displayed at the bottom of the EasyOS desktop. Using the ROX file manager, I copied the screenshots from the EasyOS folder to the Dropbox folder in the partition holding one of the Linux distros.

Later when I exited EasyOS, I rebooted that computer into the Linux distro holding the copied screenshot images. Once I was on that desktop, the Dropbox folder automatically synced. I watched the images fall into place on the local Dropbox folder on my main desktop computer. Easy peasy.

Software Sufficiency

EasyOS is a lightweight computing system, but it shoehorns lots of heavyweight performance. It comes with a collection of typical applications and the full range of outstanding system tools Kauler first developed for Puppy Linux.

Kauler does not skimp on applications. He includes a full suite of top-rated programs. EasyOS comes complete with a full set of kernel, printing, scanning and camera drivers. It has an ample supply of multimedia libraries.

Applications include the SeaMonkey Web suite, Gnumeric spreadsheet and LibreOffice suite, plus Leafpad text editor and Geany IDE/editor. Other standard apps are ROX-filer file manager, the default Xine media player and CUPS support for printing.

Bottom Line

Do not let the fact that EasyOS is an experimental Linux distro deter you from trying it out. It is far from being dumbed down. The developer provides numerous help files and simple directions linked to the EasyOS website on how to download, create the installation media, and use the distro.

Whether you are familiar with Puppy Linux variants or other Linux distros, EasyOS has much to offer. If you are new to Linux, be assured that the detailed instructions and ample illustrations will make trying out EasyOS a less-frustrating experience.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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