Five fun ways to use a Linux webcam

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Hardware

So you just set up a Linux-compatible webcam. You've tested it with Kopete, and you can send images on MSN and Yahoo! Now what? Here are some fun things you can try.

Record yourself

One of the simplest ways you can record webcam videos is with mencoder. Using the Video4Linux driver, mencoder can take input from the webcam and save it in an uncompressed AVI file. Use the following command line to record an AVI with a resolution of 320x240 pixels.

mencoder tv:// -tv driver=v4l:width=320:height=240:device=/dev/video0 -nosound -ovc lavc -o wcrecording.avi

Substitute /dev/video0 with the device node used by your USB webcam. Since my low-budget webcam doesn't have a microphone, I use the -nosound option to skip audio recording.

If you'd rather use a GUI to do the recording, try Video4Linux Grab. It can encode DivX and XviD files of the webcam input in real time using V4L. You can choose any other video and audio codec available on your system and use the GUI to select an aspect ratio.

Make a video stream

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When you have shelled out for a swanky mouse like the Logitech VX Nano, you want to make the most out of your investment, which means making its programmable buttons work. However, many Linux distributions recognize most mice as generic pointing devices, so none of the fancy extra buttons work right out of the box. The btnx utility can help you to turn your mouse into the versatile tool it is meant to be.

btnx comes in two parts: the btnx daemon that does the behind-the-scenes work of managing mouse button events, and the btnx-config tool, a graphical front end that helps you configure mouse button actions. btnx's Web site provides packages for Ubuntu and openSUSE, as well as source code archives for other distributions. As often happens, the packages are a step behind the source code distribution, so if you want to install the latest version of btnx, you have to go the usual ./configure; make; make install route.

Get the most out of your mouse with btnx