October 22, 2003

K3b: better than advertised

Author: Joe Barr

There are a number of Linux desktop apps that I hadn't been aware of prior to the recent studies we've done about our readers' favorites. One of the apps that got a lot praise and ringing endorsements from NewsForge.com readers is K3b. It's claimed to be the Linux equivalent of the best/easiest-to-use tools for burning CDs on the monopoly desktop platform. Given all the coasters I've made trying to create an audio CD in the past, I just had to give it a whirl. This is my report on that great adventure.

My adventure began by downloading k3b-0.10.tar.gz from the website. That was probably a mistake. I spent the next two days looking in vain for a separate program called k3bsetup2 and trying to figure out why k3b behaved differently each time I used it. Sometimes mp3 was a supported format, sometimes not. But those two days did give me the opportunity to download and build kdelibs-devel, arts-devel, eMovix, normalize, mad, nasm, libfame, libmad, ffmpeg, a52dec, faad2, imlib2, lame, transcode and maybe a few others I've forgotten. But all to no avail. I never did get K3b working correctly.

Then I tried the RPMs Mihai Maties built for RH9 from this site. Actually, I think I may have begun the adventure trying this RPM, but found the list of unmet dependencies so long I opted to build from source. I won't swear to that, though. This time all I needed to add to install the RPM was libmad.so, which I found on freshrpms.net.

The "new" K3b looked and behaved differently than my previous install. There was a new splash screen at startup. Plugins appeared where none had been before. Mp3s were supported. I immediately went to the directory holding the mp3s I've been trying to burn off and on over the past couple of years and dragged them from the directory display and dropped them onto an an audio CD project area. Whoops, I had too many mp3s and not enough CD. I removed mp3s one at a time until I got the total size required down to a size the CD could hold, then clicked burn. After that I just sat back and waited.

Some time later, the CD drawer opened in an offering gesture. I removed the disc and looked at it. It looked just the same as before. I slipped it back in the drive and closed it. Then I saved the project file and quit K3b. In another moment or so, XMMS started up. And shortly after that, the sound of Saint Willy singing "Amazing Grace" filled the room. How sweet the sound! In that instant I was transformed from a coaster-burning dolt into a fully certified, authorized, and credentialed member of the Audio CD Burners Club of Central Texas. What I had struggled to do on numerous attempts before, K3b had accomplished without breaking a sweat. No wonder K3b has so many fans.

As often happens in software development, my general cluelessness about audio CDs helped expose a small, almost insignificant bug in the latest version of K3b. I wanted XMMS to show the artist and title being performed as it played each track. Because I am a knownothingski of the first order, I thought the way to do that was to use the K3b features and enter the information as cd-text. So I did, and then burned another CD to see if it worked. But XMMS still didn't show who was singing.

Thinking I had done something wrong in K3b, I began to search for more documentation on how to use it. All that I found was a Howto written in Turkish. Being stubborn as well as clueless, I wrote Sebastian Trueg for help.

Well, you know what happens when an ubergeek like Sebastian Trueg comes in contact with a hopeless noobie, right? Wrong. Now, I'm not saying Sebastian didn't bust a gut laughing at me, but he didn't let me know about it if he did. What he did was to ask me for more details about the problem, so I sent him the information he requested: screenshots of K3b displaying info about the CD, console debugging info, and output from cdda2wav. Oh, he also let me know very politely that XMMS didn't display cd-text.

Long story short. He found a bug. He fixed it. He asked me to download the fix from CVS and try it out. I did. It worked. Of course, it still doesn't display in XMMS. Nor in any Linux CD player I've found yet, as a matter of fact. I'm looking now for a CD label application that might use it, but my hopes are not that high. Everything seems to look to CDDB for that information. But instead of making me feel stupid, Sebastian made me feel like I was contributing. Amazing.

I've been waiting to burn some ISOs I downloaded a week or two ago for the lastest distribution of SuSE. That was the next thing I tried on K3b. I simply dragged the image for the first file onto a Data CD project and dropped it, then selected burn. It didn't work. Instead of making a bootable CD, I made a data CD with an ISO file on it. I looked around K3b for a moment and found a tool labeled "Burn CD ISO Image." It did exactly what I wanted with a single click. I proved that by booting from the CD it burnt a few minutes later.

K3b does more than burn audio, ISO, and data CDs. It can clone CDs and it handles DVDs, too. And it can make bootable multimedia CDs by using eMovix as well. It's a really great application. I rank it up there with Scribus in terms of being the one of the best (new to me) open source programs I've seen. The only thing it doesn't have (yet) that I wish it did have is complete documentation. But it really is so easy to use that unless you are as clueless about burning CDs as I am, you don't really need a HowTo.

K3b is better than advertised. Kudo's to Sebastian Trueg and the other developers on the project for their excellent work, and to SuSE for supporting the effort.

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