Every once in a while, a piece of software comes along that really makes you stop and think “That’s so simple, why haven’t we been doing it this way all along?” One such program is Specto, an extraordinarily simple yet amazingly useful desktop utility. As many of you have likely noticed, most modern operating systems rely heavily on notifications. Everything from “Update your Antivirus” and “You’ve got mail” to error reports and sometimes even chat and other messages that pop up from the panel. What Specto does is sift through your online identity for all pending notifications, and pipe them into your panel. It can handle Facebook notifications, email, Wave, Twitter, Reader, RSS, even local system events like watching files and processes for changes. I’ve only recently begun with Specto and I can tell you right now, it will soon be a part of every Linux desktop I own.
Depending on your Linux distribution, you may already have Specto available in your standard repositories. If not, or if you’d like to use the latest development versions, you can download Specto here.
If you are using Ubuntu Lucid, you can install Specto from the Ubuntu Software Center or simply type in the terminal:
sudo apt-get install specto
Other distros can check out the download page for the Specto Launchpad PPA.
Setting Up Internet Services
Once the installation is complete, you can start Specto by running directly from command line or Run box, or by clicking Applications -> Accessories -> Specto from within Gnome.
It’s mainly for web services, and includes support for many of the most popular social network and email services. Click Add and you’ll have options as to which service you’d like to add. As an example, we’ll begin by entering a Facebook login to see how Specto handles those types of notifications.
The Name field can be whatever you wish. It’s not limited by login name or anything like that, it’s only used as an identifier for your sake, in case you have several accounts with the same service, or something of that sort.
It may be tempting to set the interval to something extremely short, but doing that with all your services will just waste your bandwidth and possibly make the site you’re checking a bit annoyed with you. Some may even block access to your account if they feel you’re “hammering” them. For internet-based checks, try to set the timer to AT LEAST a full minute, preferably more. Checks on local files and processes, as described the the following section, can typically be safely set to shorter intervals.
It’s not just web sites that need to be monitored, there’s quite a bit on your average home PC that it would be useful to watch. Specto can keep track of changes to files, folders, ports and processes.
This can be EXTREMELY handy for system administrators, who often need to keep a close eye on changes to files and folders. As soon as a watched item is changed in some way, Specto will know it and throw up a notification.
Specto is proof that and application doesn’t need to be flashy and complicated to be great, just simple and functional. With the new notification system and panel applets in recent Ubuntu releases, Specto compliments the existing functionality perfectly to allow for more than the standard system can do on its own. These tools combined provide single point in the Gnome panel to manage communications of all sorts, in a manner so clear and simple it’s a wonder we don’t all use this every day.