Linux Mint 17 with Windows 10 look

This weekend finally took the time to upgrade Windows 7 on my old laptop and try out that button on the system tray with the free Windows 10 install.

Was surprised, that was an old laptop from 2009 that came with the stock Windows 7 version and still worked fairly OK. Have to say that the new interface, which is indeed looking better and simpler. The desktop is enjoyable, but the fact that this Windows version beams up to Microsoft whatever I'm doing with on my own laptop is still a bother and a cold shill on the spine.

On my newer laptop I run Linux Mint. This is an old version installed back in 2013 and could really use an update. So, since it was upgrade-weekend I've decided to simply go ahead and bring up this Linux machine to a more recent version of Mint and see what had changed over the past years. While doing this upgrade, a question popped up: "how about adding the design of Windows 10 with Linux underneath, would it work?"

And this is the result:

The intention wasn't creating a perfect look-a-like, but (in my opinion) to try mixing and getting a relatively fresh looking design based on Windows, at the same time without opening hand from our privacy.

Operating System

I've got Linux Mint 17.2 (codename Olivia, Cinnamon edition for x64) downloaded from http://www.linuxmint...tion.php?id=197

Instead of installing to disk, this time I've installed and now run the operating system from a MicroSD card connected to the laptop through the SD reader using an SD adapter. The MicroSD is a Samsung 64Gb with advertised speed of 40Mb/s for read operations. Cost was ~30 EUR.

Installing the operating system followed the same routine steps as one would expect. There is a GUI tool from within Linux mint to write the DVD ISO into a pendisk connected on your laptop. Then boot from the USB and install the operating system on the MicroSD, having the boot entry added automatically.

Window 10 theme and icons

Now that the new operating system is running, we can start the customization.

The windows style you find on the screenshot can be downloaded from: http://gnome-look.or...?content=171327

This theme comes with icons that look exactly like Windows 10, but that wasn't looking balanced nor was our intention to copy pixel per pixel the icons. Rather, the intention was re-using the design guidelines. While looking for options, found Sigma Metro which resembled what was needed: http://gnome-look.or...?content=167327

If you look around the web, you'll find instructions on how to change the window themes and icons. Otherwise if you get into difficulties, just write me a message and I'll help.

Firefox update and customization

Install Ubuntu Tweaks. From there, go to Apps tab and install the most recent edition of Firefox because the one included on the distro is a bit old.

Start changing Firefox by opening it up and going to "Addons" -> "Get Addons". Type on the search box "Simple White Compact", this was the theme that I found the simplest and will change the browser looks, from icons to tab position as you can see on the screenshot. Other extensions that you might enjoy adding while making these changes are "Adblock Plus" to remove ads, "Tab Scope" to show miniatures when browsing tabs and "Youtube ALL HTML5" to force youtube running without using the Adobe Flash Player.

Office alternative and customization

Then we arrive to Office. I only keep that oldish laptop because it has the Adobe Reader (which I use for signing PDF documents) and Microsoft Office for the cases when I need to modify documents and presentations without getting them to look broken. So, I was prepared this time to run both apps using Wine (it is possible) but decided to first do an update on the alternatives and try using only Linux native apps. Was not badly surprised.

LibreOffice 4.x is included by default on the distro. Whenever I'd use it, my slides formatted in MS Office would look broken and unusable. Decided to download and try out version 5.x and to my surprise notice that these issues are gone. Both the slides and word documents are now properly displayed with just about the same results that I'd expected from Microsoft office. I'm happy.

To install LibreOffice 5.x visit https://www.libreoff...reoffice-fresh/

For the Linux edition, read the text document with instructions. Quite straightforward, just one command line to launch the setup. So, I was happy with LibreOffice as a complete replacement to Microsoft (no need to acquire licenses nor run office through Wine). However, those icons inside LibreOffice still didn't look good, they looked old. On this aspect the most recent version of Microsoft Office simply "looks" better. I wanted LibreOffice to look that way too. So, got icons from here: http://gnome-look.or...?content=167958

It wasn't straightforward to find out where the icons could be placed because the instructions for version 4.x no longer apply. To help you, the zip file with icons need to be placed inside:

Then you can open up "writer" and from the "Tools" -> "Options" -> "View" choose "Office2013" and get the new icons being used. The startup logo of LibreOffice also seemed too flashy and could be changed. So I've changed with the one available at http://gnome-look.or...?content=166590

Just a matter of overwriting the intro.png image found at:

Alternative to Adobe Reader for signing PDF

Every now and then comes a PDF that requires being printed, signed by pen and then scanned to send again to the other person. I stopped doing this kind of thing some time ago by adding a digital signature that includes an image of my handwritten signature on the document. This way there's no need to print nor scan any papers. Adobe Reader did a good work on this task but getting it to run on Wine with the signature function was not straightforward.

Started looking for a native Linux alternative and found "Master PDF Editor". The code for this software is not public but I couldn't find other options and these were the only ones that provided a native Linux install supporting digital handwritten signatures: https://code-industr...asterpdfeditor/

If you're using this tool for business, you need to acquire a license. Just for home-use is free of cost. Head out to the download page and install the app. I was surprised because it looked very modern, simple and customizable. I'll buy a license for this tool, does exactly what I needed. Having LibreOffice and MasterPDF as complete alternative to MS Office and Acrobat,  there is no more valid reason (on my case) to switch back the old laptop whenever editing documents. This can be done with same (or even better) quality from Linux now.

Command line

A relevant part of my day-to-day involves the use of command line. In Linux this is a relatively pleasant task because the terminal window can be adjusted, customized and never feels like a second class citizen inside the desktop. With these recent changes that were applied, was now possible to improve further the terminal window by showing the tool bar (see the screenshot).

Open a terminal, click on "View" -> "Show tool bar". Usually I'm against adding buttons, but that tool bar has a button for pasting clipboard text directly onto the console. I know that can be done by the keyboard using "Ctrl '+ Shift + V", but found it very practical to just click on a single button and paste the text.

Non-Windows tweaks

There are tweaks only possible on Linux. One of my favorite keeps being the "Woobly windows". Enable Compiz on the default desktop environment:

With Compiz there are many tweaks possible, I've kept them to a minimum but certainly is refreshing to use some animations rather than the plain window frames. If you never saw this in action, here is a video example:

Skype alternatives

Many of my friends and business contacts use Skype. It is not safe, it is not private, and I'd prefer to use a non-Microsoft service because the skype client gets installed on my desktop. Who knows what it can do on my machine when it is running on the background. One interesting alternative that I've found was launching the web-edition of skype that you find at

From firefox, there is the option to "Pin" a given tab. So I've pinned skype as you can see on the screenshot, and now opens automatically whenever the browser gets open, in practice bringing it online when I want to be reachable. A safe desktop client and alternative would be better, this is nowhere a perfect solution but rather a compromise that avoids installing the skype client.


There are more small tweaks happening to adjust the desktop for my case, but what is described above are the big blocks to help you reach this kind of design in case you'd like to do something similar. If you have any questions or get stuck at any part of customization, just let me know.

Have fun!

.ABOUT format to document third-party software

If you are a software developer, you know that every now and then someone asks you to create a list of the third-party things that you are using on some project.

This is a boring task. Ask any, single, motivated developer and try to find one that will not roll his eyes whenever asked to do this kind of thing. We (engineers) don't like it, yet are doomed to get this question every now and then. It is not productive to repeat the same thing over and over again, why can't someone make it simpler?

Waiting a couple of years didn't worked, so time to roll up the sleeves and find an easier way of getting this sorted. To date, one needs to list manually each and every portion of code that is not original (e.g. libraries, icons, translations, etc) and this will either end up on a text file or a spreadsheet (pick your poison).

There are ways to manage dependencies. Think of npm, maven and similar. However, you need to be using a dependency manager and this doesn't solve the case of non-code items. For example, when you want to list that package of icons from someone else, or just list dependencies that are part of the project, but not really part of the source code (e.g. servers, firewalls, etc).

For these cases, you still need to do things manually and it is painful. At TripleCheck, we don't like ourselves to do these lists so started looking into how to automate this step once for all. Our requirements: 1) simple, 2) tool-agnostic and 3) portable.

So we got inclined to the way how configuration files work because they are plain text files that are easy for humans to read or edit, and straightforward for machines to parse. We are big fans of SPDX because it permits describing third-party items in intrinsic detail, but a drawback of being so detailed is that sometimes we only have granular information. Example, we know that the files on a given a folder belong to some person and have a specific license (maybe we even know the version), but we don't want to compute the SHA1 binary signature for each and every file on that folder (either because the files might change often, or simply because it won't be done so easily and quickly by the engineer).

Turns out we we're not alone on this kind of quest. NexB had already pioneered in previous years a text format specifically for this kind of task, defining the ".ABOUT" file extension to describe third-party copyrights and applicable licenses:

The text format is fairly simple, here is an example we use ourselves:
name: jsTree
license_spdx: MIT
copyright: Ivan Bozhanov
version: 3.0.9

spec_version: 1.0
download_url: none

# when was this ABOUT file created or last updated?
date: 2015-09-14

# files inside this folder and sub-folders
about_resource: ./

Basically, it follows the SPDX license abbreviations to ensure we use a common way of talking about the same license and you can add or omit information as much as it is available. Take attention on the "about_resource" field that describes what is covered by this ABOUT file. When using "./" means all files and files in respective sub-folders.

One interesting point is the possibility for nesting of multiple ABOUT files. For example, place one ABOUT on the root of your project to describe the license terms generally applicable to the project and then create specific ABOUT on specific third-party libraries/items to describe what is applicable for such cases.

When done with the text file, place it on the same folder of what you want to cover. The "about_resource" can also be used for a single file, or repeated in several lines for covering a very specific set of files.

NexB made available tooling to collect ABOUT files and generate documentation. Unfortunately, this text format is not as known as it should be. Still, it fits like a glove as easy solution to list third-party software so we started using it for automating the code detection.

Our own TripleCheck engine is now supporting the recognition of .ABOUT files and adding this information automatically to the report generation. There is even a simple web frontend for creating .ABOUT files at

From that page, you can either create your own .ABOUT files or simply browse through the collection of already created files. The backend of that web page is powered by GitHub, you find the repository at

So, no more excuses to keep listing third-party software manually on spreadsheets.

Have fun! :-)

Something is cooking in Portugal

I don't usually write about politics, for me that is more often a never-ending discussion about tastes, rather than facts.

However, one senses a disturbance in the forces at Portugal. For the first time over the last (35?) years we see a change in landscape. For those non-familiar with Portuguese politics, the country is historically ruled by either one of the two large parties. Basically, one "misbehaves" and then comes the other to "repair". Vice-versa on next elections as voters grow anemic and disconnected from whomever gets elected.

This year wasn't the case. The ruling party is seen as "misbehaving" and the other party didn't got a majority, in other words, didn't convinced a significant part of the population to vote for them. This isn't unusual, what happened as different was the large number of votes going to other two minor parties and the fact that most citizens got up from their sofas to vote who "rules" them for the next years.

For the first time, I'm watching how the second largest party is now forced to negotiate with these smaller parties to reach an agreement. How since a long time they have to review what was promised during election time and get audited by other parties to ensure they keep what was promised.

In other words, for the first time watching what I'd describe as a realistic democratic process happening in our corner of Europe. Might seem strong words, but fact is that ruling a government by majority (in our context) is a carte blanche to rule over public interests. Go to Portugal, ask if they feel the government works on their behalf or against. Ask them for specific examples from recent years that support their claim, they quickly remember epic fights to prevent expensive airports from being built (Ota) by government or the extensive (and expensive) network of highways that got built with EU money and are today empty, still serving only the private interest of companies charging tolls on them.

There was (and still exists) a too-high level of corruption on higher instances of government (just look at our former prime-minister, recently in jail) or the current prime-minister (ask him about "tecnoforma" or about his friend "Dr. Relvas") and so exists a positive impact when small parties get higher voting representation, forcing the majority administrations to be audited and checked in public.

You see, most of this situation derives from a control of mind-share. In previous centuries you'd get support from local cities by promoting your party followers to administrative positions. Later came newspapers (which got tightly controlled), then radio (eventually regulated to forbid rogue senders), then TV (which to date has only two private channels and two state-owned channels) and now comes the Internet.

With the Internet there is a problem. The local government parties with majority are not controlling the platforms where people exchange their thoughts. Portuguese use facebook (hate or like it, that's what common families and friends use between them) and facebook couldn't (currently) care less about elections in Portugal, nor could either of the large parties have resources to make facebook biased to their interests. So what we have is a large platform where public news can be debunked as false or plain biased, where you can see how other citizens really feel about the current state of affairs, where smaller parties get a balanced chance to be read, heard and now even voted by people who support what they stand up for.

For the first time I see the Internet making a real difference in enabling people to be connected between themselves and enabling the population to collectively learn and change the course of their history, together. As for the Portuguese, you see the big parties worried that this thing of re-elections in automatic pilot is no longer assured. They too need to work together now. Portuguese, please do keep voting. For me this is democracy in action. Today I'm happy.