Thu, 22 Jun 2006

Life in Text Mode

I primarily use Unix-based computers, mostly Linux. On those computers, I live in text mode. This entry is an attempt to document the software I find most useful to my text-mode guerrilla lifestyle. Included are links to the programs I rely on, links to alternative programs, and links to my config files.

screen (.screenrc, .screenrc-mithrandir). Simply indispensable. It slices and dices console sessions. Pretty much everything I do, I do in screen. For extensive details, see my ode to screen.

zsh (.zshrc, .zshenv, .zshprompt). My shell of choice. Think of all the good features of bash, ksh, and tcsh rolled together. (Without much of the ickiness, particularly the csh heritage.) Personally, the killer application of zsh was that fact that not only did it have context-sensitive completion but (unlike tcsh) it shipped with hordes of completion definitions right out of the box. Type 'dpkg -L fo<tab>' and zsh will autocomplete on the Debian packages currently installed on your system. With an ssh-agent running, type 'scp otherhost:fo<tab>' and zsh will ssh to the other system and autocomplete on the files available on that host.

irssi (config, theme). The best IRC client I've come across, certainly beating out IrcII, BitchX, and even epic. Multiple windows, extensible, tons of plugins available.

bitlbee. This is actually an IRC-to-Instant-Messaging gateway. It allows me to use AIM, Jabber, and the like from within my preferred chat program, irssi.

snownews. curses-based RSS aggregator. I shopped around a bit before finding an aggregator that I liked. snownews does everything I need.

mutt (.muttrc, config directory). Possibly the best mail client around, GUI or not. While pine is okay (and simpler to use), mutt is much more customizable and scales better to large volumes of email.

procmail (.procmailrc). Slices and dices my email. I have procmail rewriting things so they're easier for me to deal with, sorting my list mail into separate mailboxes (automatically; no need to add new lists by hand), and checking (and dealing with) spam. Essential to my email usage.

Emacs (.emacs). My text editor of choice. Feel free to substitute XEmacs or vi (preferably vim) at your own preference. I prefer emacs to vi, though I know a decent amount of vi, as any sysadmin should. I actually like XEmacs a little better than GNU Emacs, but GNU Emacs has better UTF-8 support.

w3m. Web browser. Among other things, w3m does tabbed browsing, though it's not multithreaded, so you can't read one tab while another is loading. It even has image support; run it with a valid $DISPLAY and it'll render images on the page. There are other text-mode browsers, most notably links. I'm not tremendously familiar with links because w3m fills all of my needs. (My original decision between the two came about because w3m had better HTML support, but I don't believe this is any longer the case.) The grandaddy of text-mode browsers is, of course, lynx, but it's lagged far behind w3m and links in support for newer aspects of HTML.

moosic (config). This is a music jukebox. The features that distinguish it from other such programs are twofold. First, it runs as a standalone server; you interact with it via a command line client. (In theory, a curses or GUI client could be written, but to my knowledge none yet has.) Second, it's customizable with regards to how it plays music. It has a config file where you tell it what programs to use to play various music formats (it does come with reasonable defaults). A program with similar design is mpd. mpd does its own music playing, which allows some advantages over moosic, but moosic has much better playlist management.

mplayer (config). Okay, this is kind of a hedge. I do indeed use it purely in text mode on occasion--it has better support for streaming media (usually mp3s) than any of the actual mp3 players I use. mplayer's main advantage is that it will play pretty much any video format I throw at it. (I'm not quite masochistic enough to watch the videos in aalib, though.)

surfraw (.surfraw.conf). surfraw is a collection of command-line based jumping-points to various web-based information, mostly searches. For a quick google search, I need only go to a command line and type 'sr google my search terms'. (Debian uses a single program, 'sr', as a wrapper for all of the surfraw "elvi". On other systems, you would probably just run 'google your search terms'.)

wget. The swiss-army-knife of grabbing things off the web (and via FTP). I've automated many downloads, some tweaked in interesting ways, with wget.

tdl. Completely command-line todo list manager. Along similar lines is DevTodo; I haven't really played with it because tdl does everything I need. Those two are both command-line based. For more of a todo list editor, you might want to take a look at hnb or woody. (Though, of those two, hnb has better support for todo lists.)

Those are the bigger programs that jump to mind most readily. I use a host of other programs, too. Listed briefly, they are: less (pager), mpg321 (mp3 player), GnuPG (OpenPGP implementation) (options), aumix (volume control), teTeX (TeX implementation), pal (nice colored calendar with a number of features), bc (simple command line calculator), dict (actually a dictionary network protocol but their command-line client is also named 'dict'), mp3gain (normalization of mp3s (ideally should be done non-destructively via ID3v2 but no one supports that)), netcat (connect directly to TCP sockets), BitTornado (bittorrent client; slightly nicer than the standard one), subversion (source revision control; nicer than cvs), abcde (CD ripper) (.abcde.conf), lame (MP3 encoder), nmap (portscanner), hping (packet generator), and tcpdump (packet sniffer).

I do normally run X; it lets me have multiple xterms on the screen at once. For managing those xterms, I run ion (config directory), a tiling window manager.

There are a couple of GUI programs I use regularly. I've already mentioned mplayer; you really need a pixelmapped interface to watch movies. There's also Ethereal, an excellent network sniffer and protocol analyzer (much nicer than plain tcpdump), and GnuCash, one of the best asset management programs I've come across. (But see clacct for straight command line checkbook balancing.) Oh, and Firefox, for those websites that just won't work with w3m.


Phil! Gold