3 November 2005
By Don Saunders
As FreeGuide was the first of the review software to be tested, it was necessary to install XMLTV. FreeGuide is also dependent on the Java Runtime Environment (J2RE), but this had been previously installed on my system. Fortunately, installing XMLTV proved to be trivial using the popular Synaptic Package Manager that comes with Ubuntu, the distribution that I am using for this series.
To configure XMLTV you first need to run the appropriate tv_grab program (in my case it was tv_grab_uk_rt). The rt suffix indicates that the programme data will come from the Radio Times, a highly popular printed BBC publication. Running this console program lets you configure which channels you will download. This is a bit of a laborious task, especially when you want to download lots of channels, as you have to flag individual channels you want to be included.
To install FreeGuide I downloaded the FreeGuide-0.8.6-1.noarch.rpm file, converted it into a debian package using alien (sudo alien FreeGuide-0.8.6-1.noarch.rpm), and then installed it using dpkg (sudo dpkg -i freeguide_0.8.6-2_all.deb).
Now all that there was left to do was to run FreeGuide from the menu entry, Applications / Accessories / FreeGuide.
After going through the motions of the first time wizard, and changing the grabber command to use the Radio Times as the source, I was now ready to download some programme listing. Downloading two weeks of information took a long time, much longer than I was expecting. However, this is not the fault of the software, but Radio Times' server. Although there is another source for UK programme listings, I could not get it to work with FreeGuide, as it appears my version of perl or its modules are incompatible. This will be something that I will investigate at a later date.
After downloading the information, I was presented with the screen below. You can see from this that there are a number of panes, showing the channels, the channel information, space for your personalised tv listings, and details of the tvprogramme.
Moving around the programme listings changes the panel in the bottom right hand corner, providing detailed programme notes. With the Radio Times feed, you get good information about the programmes including details of the actors, and for films a rating together with details of the director. Although the information is not as comprehensive as that provided by DigiGuide, it is nevertheless sufficient for my purposes. As you can see from the screenshot above, FreeGuide displays the listings in a grid format, but it is not currently possible to show the listings of an individual channel in a 'list mode'.
One of my main needs for a tv tool is to plan what I wish to watch and record for the forthcoming week. FreeGuide's simplicity makes it easy to flag programmes which I want to watch, and this is achieved by left clicking on the programme, which turns the entry green in the main window, and is then listed in the bottom left hand pane. Once I have finished flagging which programmes are worthwhile, you can then click the "Print this personalised listing" button which starts up your designated web browser (firefox), as shown below. This allows you to have a hard copy for future reference.
FreeGuide only has subset of the features available to the commercial windows programme, DigiGuide. There is a reasonable amount of customization options available, and you can change the layout, the look and feel, and the colours used. Moreover, FreeGuide supports Java's Pluggable Look and Feel, which allows you to install new themes if the default themes are not to your liking.
One of the features I need is a reminder that warns me when a tv programme is about to start. Fortunately, this is included in FreeGuide, as well as the ability to flag a particular programme as one of your favourites. This displays a little heart in each entry matching the programme name.