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The Linux Chronicles – Download Managers

Yesterday was spent looking for download managers and getting “Free Download Manager”, the best damned download manager on the net, running under Wine.  It was refreshing to have a day of success.

For those of you who are not familiar, a download manager is a program that runs outside of your browser (or in the case of Firefox extensions, outside the browsing window) that downloads files in the background.  The best of ’em integrate with your browser to grab the command when you click on a download link.  They take a potentially large queue of files and download them one at a time, riding through things like dial-up hang-ups, service interruptions, reboots and other things that typically break a download.  Admittedly they are of much more value to dial-up users than broadband (try getting a Linux distro ISO over dial-up any other way!) but they can benefit anyone who does a lot of downloading.

Free Download Manager (FDM) is the gold standard.  In addition to all the above features, it can categorize the download as to music, video, programs, etc., and file it away as appropriate.  Best of all, it knows how to fool Youtube and other video sites so that downloading and saving videos becomes as trivially easy as any other file download.

Unfortunately FDM is windows-only right now, though they’re talking about a Linux port.  Fortunately it runs under Wine.   Unfortunately it can’t hook into FF  and grab downloads away.  Crossing the Linux/Wine barrier is probably too much to ask.

Just in case FDM and wine suddenly become alienated, I decided to look at some other download managers, ones that are native to Linux.  Unfortunately Linux is playing catch-up in this area too.  There are several available but none approach FDM.  In my searching, I found this page [1] that takes a quick look at the top 6.  It’s a few years old but best I can tell from searching elsewhere, not much has changed.

Based on that site, I downloaded “Downloader for X” and “Gwget”.  Downloader for X (DfX) is your basic plain vanilla manager.  You give it files, it takes the list of files and downloads them.  It works but it doesn’t do much more than the downloader built into FF (which as of Version 3 can resume after a hang-up or even reboot) or Opera.

Gwget is a Gnome wrapper to go around the very powerful command line tool called wget.  Wget can get just about anything that you can develop a URL for. Problem is, since it’s a command line utility, one has to either type the URL or cut and paste it.  GWget puts a nice GUI around wget and stores configuration data so that you don’t have to populate a command line every time.  I would give it a slight edge up on the other one.  Neither of these hook into the browser.  One has to copy the URL from the browser window and paste it in the DM.  Not nearly as convenient as FDM in windows (and hopefully shortly, Linux).

There are two fairly important features missing from both of these applications.

Scheduled downloads are especially important for Hughsnet satellite internet users and some dial-up users.  Hughsnet puts a severe daily cap on bandwidth.  However they have several hours in the early morning that are designated as “free hours” when one can download all he wants.  Without a built-in scheduler, one either has to stay up to O-Dark-Thirty or figure out how to use cron and/or at.

Hanging up and/or shutting down the machine can be important for very large downloads, downloads that might take days.  For people like me who are stuck on dial-up and whose “unlimited” internet is really 300 hours a month, it’s not good to have the machine sitting there dialed up and logged in doing nothing but using up minutes after the download is finished.  I want it to disconnect the instant the download is finished, especially as is the case most of the time, when that happens at night while I’m sleeping.

I might also want to sic the download manager on, say, the latest Ubuntu distro image and then leave for a weekend getaway.  At the end of the day and a half that it’ll take, I want it to not only hang up the phone but also to shut down my machine.  No use wasting power (and display life) just sitting there doing nothing.

FDM, of course, has both of these features.  I’m still tinkering trying to get the hangup order to propagate out of Wine and actually kill the connection.  It’s not working as of this instant, though I think I can get it to work.

For now I’m going to stick with FDM [2] running under Wine and hope and pray that they get a Linux port done soon.

CD/DVD Burning

I also got CD/DVD burning working.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it took almost no work.  I am even more pleasantly surprised to find that this actually works better than anything I’d ever tried under windows.

Stick a blank CD or DVD in your drive and in a few seconds, the drive is mounted and an icon on the desktop that says “Blank DVD +R Disk” (Because I stick a blank DVD+R disc in the machine).  If I click on the icon, what appears to be a file browser window pops up except that up top it has “burn:///” in the file location blank and has a “burn” button off to the side.  Just drag or paste files here to burn them.

Only one major problem.  It doesn’t tell you that you’ve loaded too many files for the media until AFTER you click the “burn” button.  One finds himself in an iterative loop, removing files and trying “burn”.  Not the best experience.

Sooo, I looked in the repository (started up Synaptic package manager) to see what else was available.   The first one that I found was X-CD-Roast.  XCDR looks really nice but I don’t know how it works because I never got it to work.

When I first fired it off, it told me that it had to be configured by superuser before use by us ordinary users.  Oooookay.  Guru moment approachith.  I opened a terminal session, su’d to super user and fired it off from the command line.  It popped up a window saying that it was scanning for drives and…. Hung.  Because it said that this could take some time, I gave it 30 minutes.  After that I looked at the process table and found that it was sleeping so I killed it.  It has a debug level command so I set debug to level 9 (the most detailed) and found that it simply hung on the scandrive procedure call. Major guru moment unfolding.

I brought up the man pages for the application.  It had a short explanation for each command line switch and then stated “this man page is too short. See http://blablabla”.  Ooookay again.  So I went to the page.  The page starts right off saying that what is included in most distros is crap.  Hmmm.  I looked around for an already-built .deb package and didn’t find one.  Supposedly there was one on the Sourceforge page but it was down.

Then I noted a statement to this effect “If you don’t have a SCSI drive then SCSI emulation must be enabled in the kernel”.  Oooooooookay.  Ain’t gonna happen.  I could figure out how to do that but most in my audience definitely could not.  Time to forget that one.

Brasero Burning

After looking in the repository for a bit I found Brasero.  This is a slick and lightweight little package that actually works as advertised.  It looks a lot like Nero Burning.  There is a file manager window and a burning window.  Drag files from the file manager window or from any other file manager window, cut and paste or use any other method that gets the file names in the burning window and that files get burned.  It shows what percentage of disc is used and even has an over-burn function for if you like to push the limits.

I very quickly moved 9 DVDs worth of winders crap off my big hard drive for off-line storage.  My only real complaint is that it computes the disc’s checksum as a separate step that takes almost as long as burning does.  OTOH, it can keep the drive full of data so burning take only half as long as it does under winders using the same hardware.  A minor complaint is that it core dumped (crashed) at the end of the process a couple of times.  No biggie, as it didn’t affect the burn.  Give this one a thumb’s up.

Well, that about does it for today.