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A Week in Limbo, Day 2: Fedora 16

December 20, 2011 1 comment

As the ZaReason Limbo 5440 runs folding@home in the background, allow me to continue with the series and talk about the operating system currently running it.

Before I start, though, it should be noted that one of the things — one of several things, actually — that sets ZaReason apart from its competition is that they offer a variety of distros on their hardware. Other Linux hardware providers will give you any distro you want, as long as it’s Ubuntu. ZaReason has your back on the distro front, though, offering the *buntu family as well as Debian, Fedora, and Linux Mint (not to mention “no operating system,” if that’s you’re pleasure).

SCALE 10XSo it comes as no surprise that when ZaReason sent me the Limbo 5440 to put through its paces, they knew of my reputation as a Fedora guy. Since this reputation precedes me (for better or worse), I was given the latest Fedora 16 “Desktop” — for those of you scoring at home, “Desktop” in Fedora parlance means GNOME 3, the default desktop for Fedora (why they just don’t call it “Fedora 16 GNOME” is one of those mysteries, like how gravity works or like the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey”). Fedora 16, code name Verne, is the latest and greatest of Fedora’s semi-annual releases. Native to Fedora releases since Fedora 15 is the somewhat controversial GNOME 3 desktop environment which, of course, is currently running on this machine.

Now, those of you outside my family who regularly read this blog know that I’ve had some — how can I put this tactfully? — problems with GNOME 3, most notably not being able to run it on my hardware. GNOME’s fallback mode made for an inadequate “consolation prize” too, so I switched to Xfce with Fedora 16 on a laptop I regularly use. So this is the first chance I’ve had to actually put GNOME 3 to the test.

If you’ll pass the salt, I’ll just eat some crow here before I continue. Now that I’ve used it, I was wrong about GNOME 3 being a spawn of the Prince of Darkness. With the GNOME Shell Extensions under the GNOME 3.2 desktop, the desktop environment hums along and works a lot like the GNOME 2.x that I missed dearly in the last Fedora release. In fact, for those of you who, like me, did not like what GNOME 3 had to offer, this setup — with the extensions — brings together the best of both worlds: The improvements (yes, there are many) of GNOME 3 with the functionality that we’re used to in GNOME 2.6. The desktop’s tweakability, which many felt was lacking in the later GNOME,

Note to developers: Four desktops. How hard is it to make that a default, as it’s been in days past?

This is not to say I’m going back to GNOME — on the laptop, I’m going to keep Xfce because I have to — but GNOME 3 with the GNOME Shell Extensions is much better than the pitchfork- and torch-bearing naysayers lead on, and I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a pretty remarkable desktop environment. Also, in comparison to the default desktop environment on Ubuntu — I dare not speak its name, lest I fly into a homicidal rage — GNOME 3 is head and shoulders above it and, by comparison, is heavenly.

Meanwhile, back at the hardware, putting Fedora 16 — installations, updates, etc. — through its paces on the ZaReason hardware went without a hitch. GIMP flies on the hardware, as does much of the LibreOffice suite — two things I used specifically today because my SCALE presentation needed tweaking. One comment that I hope will echo throughout this series with the use of other distros on this machine (you knew that was coming) is that the Limbo 5440 will handle all that’s thrown at it with agility, ease and grace. I can’t say that for some of the other hardware I’ve owned, and at the risk of being redundant, it’s a breath of fresh air to have a machine that does what I ask without breaking a sweat.

Coming tomorrow: A Week in Limbo, Day 3: Shifting gears

“A Week in Limbo Series” (for those of you keeping track)
A Week in Limbo, Day 0
A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood
A Week in Limbo, Day 2: Fedora 16

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, which is the development side of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, United States.)

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Eliminate DRM!

A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood

December 19, 2011 1 comment

Memory fails me at the moment (age is cruel) and I’m too much on a roll in the throes of testing to Google it, but it was either Peter Parker’s uncle — or Voltaire — who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The ZaReason Limbo 5440 give a user great power, and with it comes a certain degree of responsibility. Speaking of which, one of the responsible things you can do is take control of your computing — I know I’m preaching to the choir here, so to speak, but in the off chance a new Linux user is reading, that’s what it’s all about.

In that regard, one of the things that ZaReason does, to its credit, when sending out new machines is to point out in packaged documentation where to get help — a useful page for anyone, from the new Windows refugee to the experienced Linux user. “We build these systems so they just work,” it says, (and I would add, with great understatement), and it urges folks who encounter a problem to a.) try to figure it out — “The more you play with your system, the more you know about it,” tweaking it until it’s yours, and then b.) figure out how you want to solve any problems that arise — message board, online support, e-mail, phone, etc. It’s also has a list of places where you can find help in these ways.

But I digress.

SCALE 10XNow, a confession: I haven’t had new hardware since I plunked down $2,500 a couple of decades ago as one of the first purchasers of the Apple IIc — excuse me, the Apple //c — and a daisy-wheel printer. While the laughter dies down, let me confess too that all of my Linux boxes and laptops have been hand-me-downs and castaways, computers brought back to life (and even passed on by me to others) thanks to the modern miracle of Linux, GNU/Linux, *BSD and other stars in the FOSS constellation.

Also, I’ve never had a computer with more than one processor, let alone more than one internal hard drive. Having three drives is daunting, but the situation is enviable. What’s also enviable is a computer that boots in less than 30 seconds. So this is what up-to-date computing is like: The i5 Intel processors (processors, plural) hum along without a hitch, and the ZaReason Limbo 5440 becomes Nirvana for the user.

Kid, meet candy store.

The multiple drives piqued my interest and I went a little deeper as I went under the hood. I wanted to learn more about how three drives can be juggled or used in harmony. I did some homework and asked ZaReason CTO Earl Malmrose and he explained further: The drives are currently installed as a RAID-5 array which, for those of you who are not up on it (and that included me until about an hour ago), you could remove any one of the drives without losing a byte of data. The RAID-5 array is a high-end feature that separates the ZaReason Limbo 5440 from the competition. “Forgive me for showing off,” Malmrose concluded.

You are clearly forgiven, Earl.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how Fedora 16 Desktop version — that’s GNOME 3 for those of you keeping score at home (though, truth be told, why they can’t just call it Fedora 16 GNOME is a mystery) — runs on this machine. Spoiler alert: Now that I’ve had a chance to use something other than GNOME’s “fallback mode,” I might just say a nice thing or two about GNOME. Might.

“A Week in Limbo Series” (for those of you keeping track)
A Week in Limbo, Day 0
A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, which is the development side of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, United States.)

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Eliminate DRM!

A Week in Limbo: Day 0

December 18, 2011 9 comments

When ZaReason CEO Cathy Malmrose asked me recently who I thought would make good reviewers of the Berkeley-based company’s hardware, I gave her a list of names of those I thought would give the hardware a good going-over. Selfishly, one of the names listed was mine, offered mostly in the finger-crossed hope that I’d be chosen to test the hardware and write about it here.

A few weeks after our conversation — specifically, on Friday — our friendly neighborhood UPS guy delivered a ZaReason Limbo 5440 desktop unit for me to put through its paces.

SCALE 10XI’m grateful that they chose me, and the ZaReason folks know me too well: On the Limbo 5440 they had installed Fedora 16 (awww, thanks guys!)– ZaReason provides their products with a choice of distros, with the latest version of Fedora, Debian, Linux Mint or Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Mythbuntu/Edubuntu/Ubuntu Studio available, along with a “no operating system” option — so they know what I wanted off the bat.

This particular mid tower, a low-cost box starting at $499 which is built for expansion, was delivered with a plethora of upgrades: a Dual Core Intel i5-2500M (at a screaming 3.3GHz), 8 GB of RAM (DDR 3-1600) and three — count ‘em, three — 500 GB drives turning a cool 7,200 RPM each. This particular model, with the additions, goes for $945.

So here’s the deal: With this box in my possession for a week, I will use it until Christmas Day (as an aside, my daughter Mimi — the Ubuntu user in the family — will also use it and give her impressions as well) and write an item every day entitled, wait for it, “A Week in Limbo,” Days 0 through 6, with the epilogue at the end serving as the wrap-up review of the hardware.

I’ve added a few programs that I would normally use during the course of my usual digital — LibreOffice, GIMP and XChat, for starters (more to follow, obviously) — and during the course of the week I’m also going to use other distros on the Limbo to see how it works.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some of the nuts-and-bolts features of the desktop, as well as some impressions of the Limbo 5440. Watch this space.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office.)

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Eliminate DRM!

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