Changing horses in midstream

August 27, 2014 1 comment

OK, let’s not make a big deal about this.

A few months ago, Christine Hall at FOSS Force asked me if I’d like to write for her site. I mulled it over for awhile. After seeing my good friend Ken Starks get a significant amount of exposure from his regular columns there, I thought I’d follow suit.

So now you’re going to see a midweek item every week — possibly more — from yours truly at FOSS Force. While I will still continue to write this blog from time to time, I’d like for you to follow me over to FOSS Force for some of the best coverage of what’s happeneing around the Free/Open Source Software and hardware paradigm (including the excellent commentary you’ve always gotten here).

The first installment, in case you missed it, is here.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Toys and tools

August 17, 2014 2 comments

LibreOffice plans to come out with an Android version in their efforts to bring their great office suite to the mobile realm, hopefully aimed at Android-based tablets and nothing smaller than that.

No one else has asked yet, so I guess I’ll have to.

Why?

LJ-Extremist-red-stampDon’t get me wrong. I love LibreOffice and use it extensively. The progress that LibreOffice has made in bringing a viable replacement for what passes as office software out of Redmond is nothing short of remarkable. But I think that moving LibreOffice toward mobile is a burdensome load placed on improving development on more useable form factors — form factors like laptops or desktops, which were designed specifically for programs like LibreOffice.

Allow me to tip my hand and point out that you really can’t get much work done on an Android tablet or a Android smartphone, or any other tablet or smartphone for that matter. The form factor wasn’t really designed for it. For all intents and purposes — and marketing types will back me up on this — a tremendous majority of tablets and smartphones are used primariy for very basic digital functions like Web surfing, e-mail, texting, and watching your favorite movies thanks to Netflix. In other words, tablets and smartphones are toys, and LibreOffice wants folks to use them as a tool.

Aye, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say, using the LibreOffice word processor on a laptop.

Sure, it can be done: You can use a tablet for word processing or presentation-making, if necessary. But that begs this comparison — you wouldn’t try to cut down a redwood with a pocket knife. With enough effort you can do it, of course, but why would you when you should probably use a tool more appropriate for the job?

It is akin to using Vim or Emacs on Android — it exists and when I had an Android phone, I tried downloading both and using them. Bear in mind that although the phone had a keyboard — a HTC G2 that I passed down to my daughter after getting a ZTE Open with Firefox OS — both Vim and Emacs were hilariously unworkable on such a small form factor. Again, they may work on a tablet, hopefully, but the point remains that if you are doing something important, use the right tools.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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We’re everywhere

August 3, 2014 1 comment

My good buddy Ken Starks is never at a loss for a good Linux tale.

A master at putting Linux boxes in front of underprivileged kids in Texas through Reglue, Ken is also a master of weaving a folksy story in the tradition of other Texas wordsmiths like Jim Hightower (oooh, he’s going to hate me for that), and his latest installment on FOSS Force is one shining example.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait. As is usually Ken’s standard fare, it’s a good story.

LJ-Extremist-red-stampKen’s FOSS Force item puts the exclamation point on the fact that Linux users are everywhere, whether any of us have had direct involvement or not in introducing someone to it. Not only that, it accents the fact that the general reach of Linux is much further than the arm’s length we expect it to be when we hand someone a live disk or live USB stick and give them some instructions on how to use it.

Many of us who advocate for the adoption of Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) have been waiting for the day when we can say, “Yeah, we’re ready for prime time.”

So, yeah, we’re ready for prime time.

When the Felton Linux Users Group hosted the table promoting FOSS as “organic software” (no artificial additives or preservatives, all natural 1’s and 0’s) at the Felton Farmers Market in the past, we would encounter many Linux users who were introduced by friends or neighbors. These were people we know from our town — it’s not very big — and for whatever reason they had for not coming to meetings, they used Linux and were happy with it.

It’s not perfect. You still have to pay attention to your hardware and software when using Linux, much in the same way you pay attention to your house as a do-it-yourselfer who frequently haunts Home Depot or Lowe’s. As mentioned with mantra-like frequency in this blog, Linux and FOSS work best for those who consider hardware as more than just a toy or a diversion, and paying even a marginal amount of attention to it, not to mention learning some of the most basic maintenance practices, pays huge dividends.

So we’re everywhere.

ONE MORE THING: Speaking of friends, Don Marti posted an interesting blog item where he asks if you’re seeing buttons on his page. Are you? If you are, you need to get Disconnect or Privacy Badger (Shameless plug: I use Privacy Badger and I think it’s fantastic — thanks, Electronic Frontier Foundation).

As a Privacy Badger user, I get a small button saying “Privacy Badger has replaced this button.”

Good exercise, Don. Thanks for posting it.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Looking out over the horizon

July 6, 2014 3 comments

The last couple of weeks have been filled with resume-sending, waiting by the phone for the resumes to do their trick, and a trip to Arizona for a plethora of family reasons (wife went to do some New Age thing in Sedona while daughter visited friends in Phoenix — heck, I even got a phone interview with a tech company there). But while I was driving around the Southwest, a few things crossed the proverbial radar that deserve special mention, like . . .

Congratulate me, I’m an “extremist”
: And give yourself a good pat on the back, too, because if you’re a Linux Journal reader, the NSA thinks you are an “extremist,” too. Kyle Rankin reports on the site on the eve of Independence Day — irony much? — that the publication’s readers are flagged for increased surveillance.

LJ-Extremist-red-stampThat includes — oh, I don’t know — just about everyone involved to some degree with Free/Open Source Software and Linux (and yes, Richard Stallman, that would also include GNU/Linux, too), from the noob who looked up “network security” to the most seasoned greybeard.

Rankin writes, “One of the biggest questions these new revelations raise is why. Up until this point, I would imagine most Linux Journal readers had considered the NSA revelations as troubling but figured the NSA would never be interested in them personally. Now we know that just visiting this site makes you a target. While we may never know for sure what it is about Linux Journal in particular, the Boing Boing article speculates that it might be to separate out people on the Internet who know how to be private from those who don’t so it can capture communications from everyone with privacy know-how.”

So, a quick note to our friends in the main office of the NSA in Maryland, where someone has drawn the unfortunate assignment of reading this (my apologies for not being a more exciting “extremist”) because . . . well, you know . . . I’m an “extremist” using Linux. Please pass this run-on sentence up your chain of command: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

That’s the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in case you hadn’t noticed.

One more thing: Linux Journal webmaster Katherine Druckman (sorry, the term “webmistress,” as noted on the LJ site, needs to be thrown into the dustbin of history) says that, yeah, maybe readers are a little extreme and asks readers to join them in supporting “extremist” causes like Free/Open Source Software and hardware, online freedom, and the dissemination of helpful technical knowledge by adding the graphic featured above (it comes in red, black, or white) to your site, your social media, or wherever you deem fit.

On a more positive note . . .

Introducing Xiki: Command-line snobs, welcome to the future. In a Linux.com article, Carla Schroder introduces Xiki, an interactive and flexible command shell 10 years in the making. It’s a giant leap forward in dealing with what some consider the “black magic” of the command line, but Carla points out another, more significant, use for the software.

Carla writes, “When I started playing with Xiki it quickly became clear that it has huge potential as an interface for assistive devices such as Braille keyboards, wearable devices like high-tech glasses and gloves, prosthetics, and speech-to-text/text-to-speech engines, because Xiki seamlessly bridges the gap between machine-readable plain text and GUI functions.”

It could be the next big thing in FOSS and deserves a look.

Another day, another distro: Phoronix reported last week a peculiar development which either can be considered yet another Linux distro on the horizon or a bad joke.

According to the article, Operating System U is the new distro and the team there wants to create “the ultimate operating system.” To do that, the article continues, the distro will be based on Arch with a modified version of the MATE desktop and will use — wait for it — Wayland (putting aside for a moment that MATE doesn’t have Wayland support, but never mind that). But wait, there’s more: Operating System U also plans to modify the MATE Desktop to make it better while also developing a new component they call Startlight, which pairs the Windows Start Button with Apple’s Spotlight.

The team plans a Kickstarter campaign later this month in an attempt to raise $150,000. A noble effort or reinventing the wheel? I’d go with the latter. Our friends at Canonical have dumped a ton of Mark Shuttleworth’s money into trying to crack the desktop barrier and, at this point, they have given up to follow other form factors. Add to this an already crowded field of completely adequate and useable desktop Linux distros that would easily do what Operating System U sets out to do, and you have to wonder about the point of this exercise.

Additionally, for a team portraying itself to be so committed to open source, there seems to be a disconnect of sorts around what community engagement entails. A telling comment in the article is posted by flexiondotorg — and if it’s the person who owns that site, it’s Martin Wimpress of Hamshire, England, an Arch Linux Trusted User, a member of the MATE Desktop team, a GSoC 2014 mentor for openSUSE and one of the Ubuntu MATE Remix developers.

Martin/flexiondotorg says this: “I have a unique point of view on this. I am an Arch Linux TU and MATE developer. I am also the maintainer for MATE on Arch Linux and the maintainer for Ubuntu MATE Remix.

“None of the indivuals involved with Operating System U have approached Arch or MATE, nor contributed to either project, as far as I can tell. I’d also like to highlight that we (the MATE team) have not completed adding support for GTK3 to MATE, although that is a roadmap item due for completion in MATE 1.10 and a precursor to adding Wayland support.

“I can only imagine that the Operating System U team are about to submit some massive pull-requests to the MATE project what with the ‘CEO’ proclaiming to be such an Open Source enthusiast. If Operating System U are to be taken seriously I’d like to see some proper community engagement first.”

Proper community engagement — what a concept!

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Start spreadin’ the news

June 7, 2014 2 comments

I want to be a part of this, New York, New York.

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos recently introduced the Free and Open Source Software Act (FOSSA) that, if passed by the City Council, would require the City to look first to open source software before purchasing proprietary software.

Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and chairs the Council’s government operations committee, also introduced the Civic Commons Act, embracing the notion that government should be sharing technology resources by setting up a portal for agencies and other government entities to collaboratively purchase software.

“Free and open-source software is something that has been used in private sector and in fact by most people in their homes for more than a decade now, if not a generation,” Kallos said in an article on the political Web site Gotham Gazette. “It is time for government to modernize and start appreciating the same cost savings as everyone else.”

If FOSS can make it there, it’ll make it anywhere.

The Web site nextcity.org outlines some of the legislation that’s currently on the New York City Council radar, with some insights from Kallos as well.

Like, “Our government belongs to the people and so should its software.”

European cities like Munich and Barcelona have already shown the benefits of using FOSS in municipal governments. While he was mayor of San Francisco, California’s Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom also got the ball rolling for FOSS in the City by the Bay. There are numerous other examples of how the free/open source paradigm has provided a shift — hugely for the better — in the societies it touches.

These two bills — FOSSA and the Civic Commons Act — hold huge promise not only in the wide range of benefits that FOSS will provide the local government, but it will also show how important to society, generally speaking, FOSS is to the wider world.

Their adoption and implementation in New York — perhaps the world’s greatest city — would signal a quantum leap for those who advocate for the free/open source philosophy and strive for its implementation to create a better world.

So thank you, Councilman Ben Kallos, for going to bat for Free/Open Source Software, and you have my support from 2,967 miles away. Consider done anything I can do from such a distance, if anything.

It’s up to you, New York, New York.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Horning in on a pair of laptops

June 5, 2014 6 comments

This is a tale of two laptops, the two that often accompany me — individually or occasionally together — when I leave the house.

I like them both. But now I sit on the horns of a dilemma because I don’t know which should be my Number One.

One is a behemoth: The Toshiba Satellite L455 is nearly big enough for me to live in, should I become homeless. It’s got a nice screen, 4GB of RAM, and a lot of other things going for it. Despite its anchor-heavy weight, it is a spotless machine, and over the past several weeks it has served as my daily road warrior.

The other has been at my side for as long as I’ve ever owned hardware: An IBM ThinkPad T60. This laptop has only 2GB of RAM — only, he says — in the standard-issue workhorse in years past of the Linux set. The years and conferences have left its mark on this one, with stickers on the cover that would put any NASCAR racer to shame. The wireless card in this machine deserves special remark — I can pick up wifi from rural Canada with this ThinkPad (OK, a slight exaggeration), and the square screen allows a larger workspace than the Satellite.

The Satellite weighs about a ton and a half and I schlep it around with a Targus backpack. The ThinkPad is a lot lighter and goes in a Dell laptop bag ($2.50 at the Abbot’s Thrift Store on half-price day).

The Satellite has a slightly larger hard drive — not the original equipment, since I saved this laptop from recycling doom when my former employer was about to throw it out, sans hard drive and memory (“Hey, do you have any use for this laptop?” “Um, yeah.”). The ThinkPad, though with a smaller drive and less memory, never fails to get the work done that I expect from it.

Therein lies probably the tipping point: I can depend on the ThinkPad to handle everything, where the Toshiba, with its bigger drive and more memory sometimes falls short of expectations. Not wanting to get into the “inside baseball” of distro nuances on particular hardware, generally speaking the Toshiba has sometimes found ways to be — how can I put this tactfully? — uncooperative with some distros.

So I’m thinking about going back to the ThinkPad as the primary outside-the-home hardware, and I wanted to see what others thought either way, pro or con, left or right, good or bad.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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A walk on the wild side

June 1, 2014 2 comments

As some of you already know, recently my good friend and Felton LUG co-founder Bob Lewis graced me with an old Sony Vaio laptop of circa 2004 vintage. As I wrote in another blog, getting it to run Linux did not go smoothly.

In fact, the laptop has rightfully earned its current nickname: The Vaio of Doom.

[An aside: Apparently this machine sat in its box on a shelf somewhere possibly for the duration of its life, because when I unboxed it, it was good as new, with Windows disks and warranty paperwork. My first reaction was to contact Ken Starks at Reglue to see if this was a machine he could use. He responded fairly promptly: "No!" And after last week's trials and tribulations, I can see why.]

So I got three Linux distros — Korora 20 Xfce, CrunchBang Waldorf and AntiX Luddite — to work well enough to make this a useable laptop.

But did I stop there? Perish the thought.

One of the benefits of living so close to a state park full of redwoods is that walks through the forest allow me to think about things; some thoughts are profound, and some aren’t. I’ll let you decide where this one falls on that spectrum: “Hmmm, I wonder if the Vaio of Doom would fare any better with BSD . . . .”

As I may have mentioned in past blogs, FreeBSD founder and current iXsystems CTO Jordan Hubbard lives just down the street from me. It should be noted that I live on Highway 9 in the Santa Cruz Mountains and that my “street” runs from Santa Cruz to Saratoga, and Jordan is just up the road about six miles in Boulder Creek. So it’s not like I can just go up the street to his house and borrow a cup of sugar. However, a few years ago I met his wife, who is the accountant for a commercial neighbor. She came into the shop drawn by the Linux signs and said she was glad to see Tux in the window. “Do you know Jordan Hubbard?” she asked. (“Not personally”) “He’s my husband . . . goodness, you fell out of your chair. Are you all right?”

But I digress.

A short trip to Distrowatch.com to see what’s shaking on the BSD front (and, of course, find the link to download the iso files), and I ended up with the top BSD distro on the list: FreeBSD.

Because one of the more, um, charming facets of the Vaio of Doom is that I can’t boot from a USB stick, so DVD burning was the order of the day. So on another machine, I burned a FreeBSD DVD, stuck it in the VoD and off we went.

Install. Reboot. And . . . command line prompt. Hmmm. Let’s try startx. Nope.

The takeaway from this attempt is this: The most endearing facet of FreeBSD is its documentation. That’s not a snarky put-down — the documentation was easily navigated and the process to put a desktop on it and add software was unequivocally clear; perhaps the best documentation I’ve seen ever. Ever. But it was a lot of work, but clearly an education on several levels, for one afternoon. I was told by a few astute folks that FreeBSD is not the most ideal BSD to run on a laptop. A server? Yeah. But a laptop? Not quite.

Try PC-BSD, they said.

Back to Distrowatch. Download iso, burn DVD, insert DVD, reboot. Wait. Install.

Much better. PC-BSD provided me with what I needed to just reboot and be on my way — the KDE desktop along with a lot of extra software like VLC so I could do “The West Wing” test (pop in a DVD of the Aaron Sorkin classic and see how the computer handles it). The Vaio of Doom passed that test with flying colors, and I got to watch “The Stackhouse Filibuster” (Season 2, Episode 17, I think) without interruption. I’ll probably spend part of today doing things like changing the wallpaper and adding software, since the software manager is a bit of a mystery.

Having spent a few days with BSD, I have to say that it is a lot friendlier than I expected — I don’t know if it is just a lack of experience or just believing various horror stories, all untrue, about Unix. It’s not the wild and crazy jungle I had thought it was. The Vaio of Doom and PC-BSD seem to be as good a fit as the other three Linux distros mentioned earlier.

We’ll continue to experiment on this machine until we find the ultimate distro to work on it. Meanwhile, LibreOffice needs to be installed.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Categories: FreeBSD, linux, Linux, PC-BSD Tags: , , , ,
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