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Archive for February, 2007

GNU/Linux and BSD: What a zoo!

February 27, 2007 Leave a comment

I realize that this may be old hat — a fedora of any color — to long-time GNU/Linux users, so please indulge me on this discourse into the animal kingdom.

One of the joys of having my daughter look over my shoulder while dealing with the GNU/Linux learning curve — despite learning a very colorful and spicy vocabulary (okay, that’s a joke: She gets enough of that when I bring her to the newspaper) — is that she’s enamored by the wide variety of characters that symbolize GNU/Linux (and GNU/Solaris) operating systems, to say nothing of those other-worldly (netherworldly?), but unbearably cute, BSD mascots.

Granted, I’ve weighed in on my animal of use — the beast of burden on my Macs — in earlier blog postings, but as Mirano points out, there sure are a lot of animals out there (“. . . and why no chickens?” since she’s partial to chickens). But this observation, courtesy of a 9-year-old who puts together her own Web site with a classmate, started me thinking: Dang, the ethereal world of free software/open source software is full of animals — and we’re only talking about the mascots here.

There are the standards
GNU and Tux, the former for GNU’s Not Unix, and the latter being the ubiquitous, happy penguin Tux, symbolize GNU/Linux, although in the public mindset, these two animals should be thought of together rather than separately. But there has been an effort, especially around those in the free software movement, to rightfully link the two together, so we have GNU and Tux becoming superheroes battling the multinational corporate software hegemony, as shown below.

As you know, nearly all the wide varieties of GNU/Linux distros have some variation on the theme, but mostly they have Tux as their mascot, without the GNU (pronounced “guh-new”) gnu (pronounced “new”). While we find that unfortunate and hope that developers will rightfully put the two together in their own mindset, and that of the public, we all have our favorites. I can’t get all of them into this blog, but if you comment on which ones I missed, I could give them a fair shake in a later posting.

Who let the dogs out?
Not all GNU/Linux distro mascots graze on the African plains or waddle and eat herring: Speaking of standard-bearers, one of the Linux-for-Macintosh pioneers was Yellow Dog Linux, which has long since expanded not only all the latest Mac hardware, but they’ve blazed a trail into the realm of operating systems for Sony’s PS3 — that’s a good dog, Potter! Despite the fact that I have several distros lined up and waiting to audition to be my GNU/Linux flavor of choice, I currently have Yellow Dog 3.0 on the Old World Macs that I use on a daily basis. Speaking of real dogs, Norway’s http://wolvix.org/”>Wolfix keeps the canine motif going, with their symbol being a little more direct: a wolf’s footprint.

Reptilian GNU/Linux
All jokes about Novell executives being legless reptiles for entering into an agreement with the evil empire of Redmond notwithstanding, SuSE has been represented by the noble reptilian iguana for years. It comes in a couple of flavors, Novell and their Enterprise Linux and the German-based OpenSUSE.

Go Dolphins!
Having grown up in Miami, I know a lot about Dolphins, even the ones that swim in the ocean. So it comes as no surprise that GNU/Linux mascots aren’t limited to land animals. In fact two distros distros — Zenwalk and OpenTLE — take to the seas with their mascots. Zenwalk is a French distro that asks the eternal question: Have you ever tried Zen computing? (although we would have asked, “What is the sound of one app clapping?”), and OpenTLE is a Thai distro for Thai users (and if you visit their sites, make sure you have your Thai fonts, because despite clicking on their British flag link, apparently they’re not ready for English-language visitors yet).

Back on the savannah . . .
With its mascot coming from the African grasslands, Nexenta, an American distro, brings an interesting twist to the GNU family: GNU/Solaris running on a Sun kernel. According to its Web site, “NexentaOS is a complete GNU-based open source operating system built on top of the OpenSolaris kernel and runtime . . . . NexentaOS is completely open source and free of any charge. It contains Apache, MySQL, Perl/Python/PHP, Firefox, Evolution, software update manager, Synaptic package manager, Gaim Instant Messenger, abiword, administration & development utilities, editors, graphics, GNOME, interpreters, libraries and many others. All of this is running on the state-of-the-art SunOS kernel.” Naturally they get such a long listing here thanks to the length of the giraffe’s neck.

The devil made me do it
Continuing on the mascots-from-hot-places theme, FreeBSD is (as they say on their Web site) “an advanced operating system . . . derived from BSD, the version of UNIX developed at the University of California, Berkeley” (which begs the question: Why didn’t developers adopt the bear, since UCB are the Golden Bears?). BSD distros tend to be devil-themed (like PC-BSD, although you have to go seaside for the OpenBSD’s blowfish), which may or may not lend itself to the suggestion that the devil is in the details, or that they’re hell to work with (and I’m on the side that says they’re not, so keep those cards and letters).

Lower life forms
Being lower on the food chain does not reflect the quality of http://www.dragonflybsd.org/”>DragonFly BSD, an operating system and environment originally based on FreeBSD. Going even further down on the food chain — down to plants — a stylized tree represents gNewSense, one of our favorite distros due to its commitment to free software, and Slax has its four-leaf clover (that I’ve overlooked before, but not now) as a symbol.

Once again, I know I’m missing some of your favorite distros and their mascots — and if so, please comment below and I’ll make sure I get it mentioned in another posting.

[FSF Associate Member]

Does Dell finally get it?

February 26, 2007 Leave a comment

A news item today at PC World heralds some groundbreaking news in the way of GNU/Linux being preinstalled on Dell desktop and laptop computers. So when I wrote in the Open Source Reporter FAQ that (and I’m paraphrasing here) your Grandma wouldn’t be using Debian, perhaps I had spoken a wee bit too hastily.

This is not to say that the distro on the Dell machines will be Debian, unfortunately, but the PC World article does mention that “other Linux distributions were also suggested by users, and that Dell will look into possible certifications with other Linux brands across its product lines.” All of which means that users may not be locked into Novell SUSE, but that remains to be seen.

But whatever Dell should choose to put on their GNU/Linux boxes, the underlying fact remains that when a corporate giant like Dell — and who hasn’t used a Dell, either at work or at home (and possibly both)? — provides the option away from prepackaging solely the Redmond-based digital sludge masquerading as an operating system they’ve previously offered, you know Dell isn’t doing it out of the goodness of their corporate hearts.

The demand is there, and Dell knows it. For all the nasty things I have said about Dell in the past, most (if not all) of it deserved, I now have to hand it to Dell: Maybe they get it after all.

Arguably, and with all the fanfare the news warrants, if nothing else this signals that GNU/Linux has officially arrived as a mainstream operating system.

Further, given a choice between a bloated operating system like the Microsoft’s new “Vis-duh” and a more streamlined GNU/Linux operating system that frees up the computer workings for more important things, which would you use (especially on a lower-end machine)?

This is not to say that I’m embracing Dell. On the contrary: I know their products well, having used them in the many office environments in which I have worked over the past couple of decades. In my current job, I use a Dell as a copy editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. So let me be frank (and children, you can leave the room now): Dell has always lived up to its reputation as manufacturing hardware that absolutely and unequivocally blows. The fact that Windows-on-Dell can easily be described as hell squared is not lost on many people.

Having said this both here and over the last 15 or so years, however, no one is more ready than I am to give Dell another shot in using a Dell box or laptop equipped with GNU/Linux; crossing my fingers all the while that their hardware dependability may have increased as well.

If anything, improved Dell hardware coupled with Linux could just break me from the habit of spitting on the ground every time anyone mentions the computer maker’s name.

[FSF Associate Member]

Richard Stallman at Berkeley

February 26, 2007 Leave a comment

Richard Stallman and others in the free software movement may not like my choice of words to describe his speech on Friday, Feb. 23. But to quote a large software conglomerate way north of here: Wow.

Tod Landis, the Technical Editor of Open Source Reporter, and I drove up to Berkeley from Santa Cruz to see Stallman speak (but not before picking up mutual friend, uber-geek and Web host operator without peer Cameron Spitzer on the way in San Jose), and Stallman did not disappoint. In fact, he was engaging, funny, passionate and thought-provoking during the course of the two hours in which he spoke.

More importantly, Stallman was convincing about the need to promote the free software philosophy and further the free software movement. Specifically, he touted the need for people to get involved not only with the Free Software Foundation, but also with some of the FSF’s projects, primarily their efforts around stopping DRMs and Bad Vista (both of which can be found on the FSF site).

Also, he explained how GNU was really a significant part of the operating system everyone calls “Linux,” and that because Linux is only the kernel and all the other aspects of the operating system were from GNU. Hence, it should rightfully called GNU/Linux instead of just “Linux.”

So noted, Professor Stallman: We at Open Source Reporter have made a note of it, and will refer to all operating systems as such in the future.

He also revealed what he uses on his computers (Blag), and stated that there were only three distros that provided fully free software: Blag, gNewSense and a third one that I didn’t get (Ulteo, maybe?).

As one of the crowd’s non-geeks (or as a geek apprentice, perhaps), my observation is that Stallman comes across as a very eloquent and very engaging in presenting his views to the audience. I understand his passion and urgency in promoting things like abolishing DRMs and calling Vis-duh and Microsoft on their individual and collective shortcomings. He effectively and convincingly lays out the reasons why free software and open source software are different, and how open source could stand to be more like free software.

Stallman’s “Saint Ignutius” schtick was very entertaining, and in ordaining the crowd into the Church of Emacs, he warned that as adherents we should “beware of Vi, Vi, Vi — the mark of the beast” (get out your geek-to-English dictionaries: Vi is another editor, and VI of course is the Roman numeral for six; hence six-six-six, ba-da-boom!).

The talk was attended by between 75-100 people, mostly Cal students with a few of us older folks in the audience.

I understand that the audio for this speech is supposed to be available on the Free Software Foundation’s Web site (http://www.fsf.org), but I haven’t found it yet. It would be good to give it a listen, because it touches firmly on the need for free software, and how we should go about promoting it.

I came away from this speech with a better understanding of free software, converted to the free software movement, and with a couple of items of worth — a FSF lapel pin and a Richard Stallman autograph on my FSF card.

[FSF Associate Member]

Random musings from No. 442317

February 20, 2007 Leave a comment

As I take my head out from under the hood — rhetorically speaking — of my G3 minitower (code-named Wowbagger — and those of you who are “Hitchhiker’s Guide” fans don’t have to ask), a quick scan of the usual Linux news sites, with cup of coffee in hand, accompanies the following “random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots,” as San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Scott Ostler likes to say:

Late to the party again: No sooner do I ask for an opinion regarding “GNOME or KDE” that LXer — probably the best Linux new source out there — relays an update from Linux.com on the latest in the desktop environment family feud food fight. For those of you (like me) who missed the original tete-a-tete, apparently Linus Torvalds asked Linux users to use KDE over GNOME because “This ‘users are idiots, and are confused by functionality’ mentality is a disease. If you think users are idiots, only idiots will use it. . . . Please, just tell people to use KDE.’

Not to put out this fire with gasoline, but who exactly are you calling an idiot, Linus?

Are these idiots acutal idiots with room-temperature-in-Celsius IQs? Or are these “idiots” simply people who are either not up to speed on Linux yet (raising hand here), or just people who would rather spend their time on simple computing pursuits rather than concentrating on the minutiae of micro-configuring their desktop?

I happen to use both GNOME and KDE desktop environments — GNOME on Wowbagger and KDE on a G3 PowerBook (code-named Arthur Dent; you’re seeing a trend here, right?) — and to this newbie-with-portfolio, both have their advantages and disadvantages. I like them both — let me repeat that: I like them both.

Of the two, though, I happen to think GNOME is easier to use, even though KDE seems to have a wider variety of things to tweak. This “tweakability” can be a blessing and a curse — the latter, of course, when you configure something you can’t configure back, which has happened to me with KDE. And while I may be the guilty party thanks to a lack of knowledge, I have to say that I’ve never backed myself into a corner configuring GNOME.

As I score it, the advantage goes to GNOME, but you won’t find me calling KDE users idiots. Quite the contrary: Open source and free software is about choices, and rather than degenerating into the Mac-vs.-PC arguments of decades past (What? You mean they’re still going on?), the diversity of desktop environments — and there are more than have been mentioned here — should be celebrated.

What would Jesus boot?: I saw this last month, but I wasn’t going to comment on it until now — Ubuntu Linux 6.06 Christian Edition joins a wide cast of secular Linux distros. Jim Lynch at ExtremeTech.com reviewed it here, and while he addresses the same first question I had — specifically, “why a faith-based distro?” — he also points out some of the features that non-Christians may find appealing.

Lynch writes, “After using it for a while, I realized that the Christian theme in this version of Ubuntu had less to do with appearances and more to do with providing a more wholesome environment with controls on content to keep out some of the adult material available on the Internet.”

So you can hold the jokes about this distro, and I offer a sincere mea culpa for asking, “If you uninstall it, does it reappear three days later?” Mea maxima culpa.

Speaking of distros based on beliefs, Buddhists out there might want to take a look at Zenwalk, the distro formerly known as Minislack.

Signing up: While looking for something else, I happened upon The Linux Counter, where a Linux user can sign up and get a number (like the one in the title of this blog) and register your hardware. “For what reason?” you may ask, and that would be a good question. While I don’t think there’s any real advantage or disadvantage to registering, it’s merely a curiosity and, in some small part, it helps researchers keep track of who’s using what distro on what kind of machine in the ethereal cyberworld.

You can’t say "Argh!" without saying "Ah!" first

February 17, 2007 Leave a comment

You’ll have to forgive me for being AWOL for the last several days, but apparently the open source gods have dealt me an interesting hand that I’ve been playing to the best of my ability.

While spending most of my time trying to get the hang of Yellow Dog Linux on my G3 Wallstreet (while hoping I can figure out how to go all Linux, rather than booting from BootX), my home machine — the G3 minitower with a G4 processor (thanks, Sonnet!) — seemed to take a vacation when I tried to burn a CD (the drill here is to boot into OS 9 to use the SCSI CD burner, which the machine did not like).

To compound the situation, for some mysterious reason, I couldn’t re-install OS X. This definitely was the exclamation point on the message I was getting from the open source gods: You talked the talk, bub, now walk the walk.

So I went through a few distros to find which one would boot.

Debian: I always have a problem with rebooting Debian after I install it. I don’t know why, but it never works for me, which is unfortunate because I really want to use it.

Gentoo: A very interesting process in installing it, but like Debian, I get a combination of nada, zilch and zero when I reboot.

[Again, this could be PEBKAC raising its ugly head once more . . . ]

So it’s back to Yellow Dog Linux for the G3, because the installer is friendly and I can get it to boot after I install it.

I’m not particularly married to the Yellow Dog, so if anyone has any suggestions for this G3/G4, I’m wide open to them. Further, this sort of speeds up my entrance into the Linux world: I had hoped to leisurely negotiate the Linux learning curve on the Wallstreet and get a handle on it, or at least to the point where I don’t have to reinstall the system if I want to change the monitor settings. The plan was to become a Linux stud, and then jump into converting the desktops at home.

So the “argh” heard ’round the world is really an “ah.”

Incidentally, I’d like to do an informal poll: Which of you readers like better as a desktop, GNOME or KDE?

My Penguin is a real Dog, or PEBKAC no more!

February 7, 2007 2 comments

As you know from reading this blog, I have picked quite possibly the most difficult machine(s) on which to install Linux, upholding generations of Cafiero family tradition by refusing to seek — let alone travel — the path of least resistance.

And it took a walk in the redwoods and a chance encounter with a man and his Golden Retriever to enlighten me to the what I was doing wrong; or rather, what I had yet to do right.

While walking through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton (that’s in Santa Cruz County, Calif.), a man and his dog walked toward me on the trail. I have a particular fondness for Goldens — perhaps the best behaved dogs on the planet — and while giving this one a pat or two and talking to his owner about him, it dawned on me that I hadn’t tried Yellow Dog Linux.

So when I returned home, I found my Yellow Dog 3.0 Sirius disks and, lo and behold, the installation and reboot went without a hitch. While not completely Linux — I have to start with the OS 9 dance until BootX comes along — it gets me into this new open source world.

That means my penguin is a real dog. To many that may be an insult, but not for those at Terra Soft in Loveland, Colo., who would take it as a high compliment.

One thing, though: Can anyone tell me how to empty the trash on KDE?

Old World guy in a New World world

February 6, 2007 Leave a comment

Despite the fact that my loyalty to my hardware borders on obsessively legendary (or just plain obsessive in legendary proportions), those of you who know me know that I’m a Mac guy. I’ve been a Mac guy since I started working on them at NBC in Burbank in the early ’90s (okay, confessional: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned — I was on the script staff of the Saturday morning sitcom “Saved By the Bell” as the assistant script supervisor). Prior to that, I had built my own PC despite owning an Apple //c (that two-see in English) and leaned toward the Intel side until ’92.

Over the years since my conversion in 1992, I’ve never strayed, facing the east toward Cupertino in homage (except for that one time that I cursed Steve Jobs for killing the Newton, because every Palm Pilot out there ever since could have been, and should have been, a Newton. But I digress . . . ). I was there when Apple circled the wagons in the mid-’90s, and I rode the crest of a victorious wave with the developments of the late ’90s. Apple’s hardware was never in doubt — it was always far superior than anything anyone else put out.

So my collection of hardware — with the exception of a G4 eMac that has been commandeered by my wife — has been of the beige and black variety: PowerBooks (1400, Wallstreet, a 160 somewhere in the house), a PowerMac 9500 with a Sonnet G3 upgrade and, the machine that I now use, a PowerMac G3 minitower, with G4 Sonnet upgrade and 544MB (2×256 plus a 32) RAM. Yes, they’re all old by computer standards, but they all work pretty damn well, and I challenge anyone to prove the same for a Wintel box or laptop of the same age.

That makes me an Old World guy in a New World world.

I bring this up because it seems that the Linux cards are stacked against Old World Macs, which is a pity because Macs tend to live forever. With Apple systematically abandoning its legacy hardware — another pity: Could you imagine General Motors forsaking the 1957 Chevrolet? — it’s not news, or a secret, that Linux developers would benefit from making Linux more available to those people with old Macs (I can’t speak for old PCs, but it’s probably the same situation, or not).

This is not to say it isn’t. I know it is. My PEBCAK exploits in trying to get Linux on my Wallstreet — not to mention the masochistic exercise of trying to put NuBus Linux on the PowerBook 1400c — are the stuff legends are made of. Between the utility of BootX and the zen of miBoot (which seems to hold the answer to the question: What is the sound of one disk clapping?), there has to be a better way of getting Linux on older Macs.

Or not.

Categories: Apple, linux, Macintosh, open source
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