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Where desktop sanity prevails

November 7, 2011 11 comments

While the knock-down drag-out debate over the great leap in desktop environment “developments” has raged over the last several months, Clement Lefebvre and the team over at Linux Mint have been taking a more sane and sound approach — mostly under the radar — to the whole desktop interface hubbub.

Thankfully this approach comes with enormously positive results: Desktop environment developments on tap for Linux Mint 12 could be an enormous boon for both Linux Mint itself and for other distros choosing to integrate some or all of these UI developments.

Lefebvre outlines in great detail what’s in store for Linux Mint 12 in a blog item posted Friday. After apologizing to folks for not being more forthcoming with the changes — “The reason we’ve been so silent is because we didn’t want to promise something we could not guarantee,” he writes — Lefebvre delves into an excellent solution to the whole desktop fiasco, which includes:

An improved GNOME 3 experience thanks to Mint GNOME Shell Extentions: To their credit, Linux Mint stuck to their GNOME 2.32 guns in Linux Mint 11. However, realizing that the writing was on the wall for the lack of future for GNOME 2.32 (more on this later), Lefevbre and the Linux Mint team put together a set of extensions — MGSE — which “makes it possible for you to use Gnome 3 in a traditional way. You can disable all components within MGSE to get a pure Gnome 3 experience, or you can enable all of them to get a Gnome 3 desktop that is similar to what you’ve been using before. Of course you can also pick and only enable the components you like to design your own desktop,” according to Lefevbre.

As an aside, if you’ll permit me a Captain Obvious moment, this is how things work in the FOSS realm. Ideally, extensions like MGSE can be picked up by GNOME and integrated into later updates or releases of the desktop environment, providing a lot more flexibility for users who may be using another desktop because of GNOME 3′s rigidity.

Check MATE: Not one to shy away from herculean tasks, the Linux Mint team will try — try is the key word here — to provide MATE, a fork of Gnome 2.32, on Linux Mint 12. Conflicts between GNOME 2 and 3 are many and profound, which makes this an arduous task to provide that GNOME 3 and MATE will coexist peacefully on your computer, switching freely between desktops from the login screen. But Lefevbre sounds hopeful: “Conflicts with Gnome and the migrations of applications and themes are easy to fix. So if MATE makes it to our liveDVD, it’s likely to come with some rough edges but with your feedback we’ll be able to solve most problems very quickly.”

Linux Mint 12 is expected to be released later this month, around the 20th. A release candidate could be available by the end of this week.

Numbers being what they are — mostly misleading on Distrowatch for any category past seven days (it’s a “lies, damned lies and statistics” situation, as outlined by Mark Twain, for any category other than a week) — it’s this kind of listening to the community, and responding in a positive manner, that makes Linux Mint a rising popular choice when it comes to Linux distros.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software 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 has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Put me on a highway and show me a sign

November 3, 2011 24 comments

Bruce Byfield and I don’t always agree. When we don’t, it’s usually a “number-of-angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin” issue; one of minutiae rather than of substance, and sometimes we argue past each other when there’s a misunderstanding on the part of one of us, usually me.

But when we do agree, he’s far better at articulating what I would say. Today, Bruce wrote an exceptional blog item entitled “A Disturbing Dialog About Ubuntu and Unity,” where he points out a moment of clarity in what seems to be the direction of Ubuntu which is outlined in Bug #882274, filed by Tal Liron under the title “Community engagement is broken.”

It’s a bug that apparently won’t be fixed. But don’t take my word for it, go ahead and first read Bruce’s blog item (a repost of the same link above), or read the bug report itself (again, another repost). I’ll wait.

My favorite quote in the whole thing, and there are many, comes from Ubuntu SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth: “I fully accept that Unity may not be for you. Then don’t use it. On Ubuntu you can choose Unity, KDE, GNOME, XFCE, and many others.”

And there you are, folks — certainly a unique concept of “community” in three words: My way or highway. Go ahead and use one of the other ‘buntus if you so desire, since we’re not changing the flagship for anyone or anything.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog item, Shuttleworth is right about this: If Unity works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, then don’t. There are many other choices out there, and I’d be willing to bet people are choosing “highway” instead of Shuttleworth’s “my way.”

Fortunately, the FOSS highway provides a lot of adequate alternatives: Linux Mint, this lane, exit only. Fedora, next exit. Debian ahead. OpenSUSE, exit 5 miles. You can even get off the main highway and take some of the backroads to some of the less-traveled distros, if you like.

So put me on a highway and show me a sign . . . .

*SABDFL — Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, a moniker picked up from Steven Rosenberg’s recent blog item. Thanks, Steven.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software 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 has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Mark is right, and Mark is wrong

November 1, 2011 24 comments

Yesterday was one of those days. Though I’m not terribly proud of it, I wrote three different blogs items during the course of the day — staying up past midnight this morning to finish the third — and posted none of them. In fact, I took the unprecedented step in just dumping them into the abyss of /dev/null, rather than putting them aside to pick them up later.

The first was a reminder about how developers should remember to send patches upstream. Some distros are good about this — Fedora, tip your hat — and some aren’t. The “aren’ts” know who they are, and those who don’t send patches upstream in a timely manner need to get on it. Now.

The second was a comparison of Unity, and to an extent GNOME 3, to the Edsel; comparing those desktop environment releases to how Ford had built up an enormous curiosity around this new “E-car” in 1957 — a car of the future — they were developing amid a shroud of secrecy before revealing to the world, well, the Edsel — which nearly everyone hated once they saw what Ford’s idea for the “future” was.

I wish I could remember the third one. It didn’t get far and it was just kind of ramblin’ — that’s R-A-M-B-L-I-N-apostrophe.

So thank you, Ubuntu SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth, for your usual pithy observations — right, wrong and ad hominem — made yesterday at the Ubuntu Developers Summit, which will allow me an opportunity to write about something today.

I had planned to give Mark a pass yesterday. Anything I say about Ubuntu or Unity is going to be taken with the grain of salt that a.) the common perception, albeit completely untrue, is that I am incapable of saying anything nice about Ubuntu, and b) another common perception, admittedly somewhat true, is that I hate Unity with the heat of a nova. Until I use something smaller than a laptop — and let’s say for the sake of argument that would be never — I’m not going to need an interface that’s suited for a mobile device on any piece of hardware I use.

There was Mark yesterday in Orlando, doling out some observations in an article by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (complete with “Ubuntu Linux” in the headline, remarkably). In it, The Mark points out that Canonical/Ubuntu will be expanding to smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, and that’s where Mark gets it right. Oh, it speaks volumes about why Unity is as it is, and it sounds like a plan that has spread-too-thin written all over it, but far be it from me to be the proverbial wet blanket — go for it, Mark.

However . . .

Mark gets it wrong when he promotes Unity as the one-size-fits-all UI solution across the hardware spectrum. It would be laughable except there are legions of Ubunteros ready to drone on about how this is gospel going forward when simple common sense would dictate otherwise, to say nothing of developers being drawn from a more balanced approach to large-hardware and small-hardware development rather than what seems to be the current course in putting all the proverbial eggs in the small-hardware basket.

But let’s go to the subtext here, shall we? There’s a grave philosophical misconception gaining traction over the last couple of years that goes something like this: People are using smart phones and tablets more, so let’s forsake the desktop and laptop and embrace smaller hardware. I think this they call this the “Post-PC era,” or some other remarkable cliche. The fact of the matter is that the advent of smaller hardware ushers in a “PC-plus era,” where you use your personal computer AND something smaller and portable in tandem with it.

Know why? Simple. Try using Blender on your smartphone or tablet. How’s that working out for you? It’s not?

My point exactly: While you can get away with some tasks on your smaller hardware, you’re still going to need to do things on something larger. So to shift focus from proven hardware form factors, albeit the larger and less portable ones, in order to develop for the flavor-of-the-month smaller hardware is textbook myopia.

Also, in an ad hominem statement typical of Mark Shuttleworth in defending Unity, he says that some of the more experienced users are “too cool” to use Unity. I think the quote goes something like this: “There is going to be a crowd that is just too cool to use something that looks really slick and there is nothing we can do for them.”

No, that’s not it, Mark. The reason some people don’t like Unity is not because it looks slick (which is completely debatable). It’s because it doesn’t work for them. By the way, actually there is something you can do for those you mistakenly think are “too cool” for Unity when all they really want is something that works: Make Unity work and make it tweakable.

Once you reach that point, would you mind coming back and letting the cool Linux power users know? Thanks.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a blog item that’s a keeper.

*SABDFL — Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, a moniker picked up from Steven Rosenberg’s recent blog item. Thanks, Steven.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software 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 has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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Eliminate DRM!

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