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Felton Diary: March 24, 2008

March 24, 2008 Leave a comment

[Note: This is the first of probably a plethora of installments around preparations for, and observations about, Lindependence 2008 in Felton.]

This typical Monday started with a flurry of e-mails sent to those I had e-mailed a couple of weeks ago regarding garnering support from various distros and FOSS programs for Lindependence 2008.

I have to confess, I thought support would be more forthcoming from all segments of what is nebulously referred to as the “Linux community” (I would call it the “GNU/Linux community,” but never mind). By Distrowatch.com’s count, there are about 360 distros and a few hundred FOSS software programs, but so far, here is who has responded positively to our request for support.

AntiX.

Mepis.

Wolvix.

OpenOffice.org.

Mandriva.

OpenSUSE and Kubuntu are discussing it and e-mails have been forwarded to whomever need to read them.

But after two weeks, that’s it.

I’m willing to cut wide swatches of slack here. For the most part, unless I actually have corresponded with someone or actually have an e-mail address of someone in authority in a distro or FOSS program, I sent the message to “Contact Us” and asked the recipient to make sure it gets to whomever needs to see it. Whether that actually happened, only the recipient knows.

(Also, there’s the issue of Debian elections, which excuses them from an answer, but not for long.)

So again, it’s back to the e-mails, mentioning again that this is a good opportunity for distros and FOSS programs to make inroads in Central California, and to see which distros and FOSS programs respond to this opportunity.

This event will go on regardless, and it remains to be seen whether people who talk the FOSS talk actually walk the FOSS walk.

Clear and cool in Henry Cowell State Park, and the rest of Felton.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Eight Distros a Week: Epilogue

February 16, 2008 1 comment

Eight distros. Seven days. One tired blogger.

In seven words, that pretty much wraps up the “Eight Distros a Week” series, named after (of course) the Beatles song “Eight Days a Week.”

I have used more than eight distros — AntiX, Debian, Fedora, Fluxbuntu, gNewSense, Linux Mint, Wolvix and Xubuntu — but these eight are the ones that I use most, talk about most and would recommend to those looking for a distro.

I do sometimes — and have in the past — used others. These include:

Yellow Dog Linux: While Yellow Dog seems to be putting its proverbial eggs in the PlayStation 3 basket, the distro does have a history as being the distro for Macs. Yellow Dog 3 “Sirius” is a better-than-average distro for Old World Macs using BootX on a separate partition, and its Red Hat roots make is very adequate for those Macs that predate the turn of the 21st century. However — you knew that was coming — Terra Soft Solutions, the parent company for Yellow Dog, is not exactly the most user-friendly company, unless you plop down $70 for an “Enhanced User Account” for YDL.net. By the way, if you’re tired of digging around for the download page for Yellow Dog, it’s here. You’re welcome.

Red Hat: I use Red Hat at school (Go Cabrillo College Seahawks!). Red Hat works behind the scenes for a variety of companies with which I have daily contact. As a distro, Red Hat is ubiquitous and there’s really nothing I can add to the volumes written by one of the oldest distros. It’s huge, it works, it’s corporate — what more can you say?

Mandriva: I can’t figure out Mandriva. At a recent installfest at Cabrillo College in Aptos, Calif., an 11-year-old installed Mandriva on his Dell boxes. In the process, I put it on a Dell box that was doing nothing but sitting there, and I thought the distro worked well. But I installed it once on a laptop and, for some reason, when I went to change the distro, the BIOS had changed to where I couldn’t boot from the CD. Easily fixed, of course, but the thing is I didn’t change the BIOS. My wife and daughter didn’t, and neither did the cat. Mysterious, I know, and more than likely it had nothing to do with the use of Mandriva, but until I can explain some of the strange things that happen when I try Mandriva, I’m avoiding it.

Knoppix: I’ve had this Knoppix CD that I’ve been carrying around for nearly two years, but it wasn’t until recently that I used it for an emergency. If there were a Nobel Prize for distros, Klaus Knopper should top the short list — not only was the disk helpful in solving my problem, I kept it on the machine for a significant amount of time while I waded through what it had to offer. It’s great, but I don’t use it too often.

Ubuntu: While I’m happy with Xubuntu, whenever I try Ubuntu on an Intel box or laptop, I keep thinking, “You know, this screams out ‘Debian’ to me,” and I generally lose interest. Another thing that usually keeps me at an arm’s length from Ubuntu is the split-screen syndrome — the Live CD always gives me a bonus in the screen department with two screens, and I know how to fix it (and do), but I have to say I’m just not a bandwagoner, although I recognize and appreciate Ubuntu’s contributions to FOSS.

One of the universal digital truths is that the difference between most distros is painfully minuscule, and that the object with having a plethora of options — some 350 active distros, according to Distrowatch‘s count — is the beauty behind the freedom of choice you have regarding what runs your computer.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Eight Distros a Week: Fluxbuntu 7.10

February 12, 2008 4 comments

[This is the fourth in an eight-part series on distros I use. These observations are based on distros running on one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 Pentium II, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary.]

Take the massively popular and versatile Ubuntu distro and minimize the impact on system resources so newer machines are raised to a higher level of performance while older machines can utilize it. What would you call it?

Fluxbuntu — Ubuntu under the hood with a Fluxbox desktop.

Fluxbuntu, which is based on Ubuntu (and, therefore, has its roots in Debian), is a wise choice for users who seek a low profile operating system, which would include a wide variety of users ranging from those who crave performance in their newer machines to those who wish to revive an older computer (something we’re fond of here — in the same way some folks would like to keep their ’57 Chevy or ’65 Mustang in top condition).

Fluxbuntu, like its distant cousin AntiX (which is based on Mepis, and also traces its roots to Debian), provides users with a lean, efficient operating system that accents performance and reliability. This was evident when we ran Fluxbuntu 7.10 — which was released at the same time Ubuntu’s Gutsy Gibbon saw the public light of day — on an IBM PL 300 (384MB RAM, Pentium II), which if you worked in an office in the 1990s was the machine with which you shared the most face time.

A minor caveat here was the boot time: While it took slightly longer to boot than AntiX on the same machine — Fluxbuntu provides a numberless stopwatch on the start-up screen in its green and gold motif that hung at what would have been the 4 o’clock position had there been numbers on it — but once over that minor hurdle, the distro and the programs associated with it ran without a hitch. The performance of programs on this office workhorse of decades past was flawless, and provides an exclamation point to the testament to Fluxbuntu’s versatility.

On a Pentium III-based laptop, the paces at which Fluxbuntu runs — and I do mean run, as in sprint — are nothing short of optimal. Multiple programs run seamlessly both together in the same window as well as in different windows (a GNU/Linux gimme, I know, but something I find incredibly endearing).

On the whole, Fluxbuntu conceivably could be all distros to all people, and Joe Jackson (not the musician/composer, but developer Joe Jackson IV, aka JoeJaxx) and his team have done a remarkable job with Fluxbuntu.

However — and I have to mention this — I am a little taken aback by my inability to sign up on the Fluxbuntu forum list. While this does not reflect on the distro’s performance or usability, it is a little annoying. In their defense, I know there was a problem sometime in the middle of 2007 which may have wiped out my account, but signing up should not be so difficult. In addition, personally my hopes were high that the PowerPC version of Fluxbuntu — discussed in the late spring of last year — would show up somewhere along the line, and it hasn’t. If one is forthcoming, those of us PowerPC users would like to know; and if not, that’s okay too.

Coming tomorrow: gNewSense 1.1

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: AntiX, Debian, Fluxbuntu, Mepis, Ubuntu

Eight Distros a Week: AntiX ‘Spartacus’ / ‘Lysistrata’

February 8, 2008 Leave a comment

[This is the first in an eight-part series on distros I use. These reviews come using one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 PII, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary, and our opinions may not agree. But then, that's what freedom is about, no?]

Let’s start with a question: How hard is it to resist trying out a distro that is named, arguably, after Kirk Douglas’ greatest movie role (not to mention one of Stanley Kubrick’s best films)?

[For those who need a refresher, go out to your video store and rent "Spartacus," or if you're too lazy, here's a clip from a Pepsi ad parodying the climax scene in the movie. Of course, my favorite line of the movie is Laurence Olivier chirping, "I'm not after glory. I'm after Spartacus," and I drive co-workers nuts with it. But I digress . . . .]

Hard to resist, I know. And naturally, a good name does not a good distro make. However, in this case, AntiX 6.5 “Spartacus” and it’s younger sister 7.0 “Lysistrata” are two admirable distros that run well on older machines, and absolutely fly on newer ones.

Taking the lead in developing AntiX — pronounced “antiques” — is a British teacher living in Thessaloniki, Greece, who goes by the name of anticapitalista. It comes as no surprise — at least not to those of us who stayed awake in ancient history class — that anticapitalista has chosen to name version 6.5 after the Roman slave who emancipated his bretheren, and has chosen to name 7.0 after the heroine in Aristophanes’ play who urges the women of Sparta and Corinth to withhold sex from their husbands in order to stop the Peloponnesian War.

No, there won’t be a test on this at the end of the blog.

AntiX is based on Mepis, stripped down and built for older machines. I don’t want to keep harping on this, but a lot of times that old Pentium II box faces a landfill death sentence when it could easily and flawlessly run a distro of this caliber. So AntiX not only is a quality distro, it also helps society in general, and the environment in particular, by keeping older machines working.

While AntiX could be the best “light” distro — light in a way that older machines with limited memory can use it — AntiX absolutely flies on newer machines. The speed with which it booted — a personal-best 48 seconds — on a Pentium III-based Dell laptop was the fastest I’ve seen on any machine I’ve ever owned.

The Fluxbox desktop — although AntiX also includes the IceWM desktop, and Xfce is available (though not supported yet) on a recent Lysistrata ISO release — could take some getting used to for new users, but the Fluxbox learning curve is not that steep, and coupled with Conky (which I’ll get to later), the desktop environment and its monitors make for an interesting foray into more hands-on computer use for new or intermediate-level users. I’m new to programs like Dillo and Leafpad, and find that I like them a lot. In fact, after spending some time fiddling with Fluxbox, I have to say that this desktop environment is growing on me more and more.

As for Conky — as I mentioned when I talked about Wolvix GNU/Linux a few weeks ago, I don’t know why this small but effective program isn’t in use in more distros. You wouldn’t drive your car without gauges, so it stands to reason that Conky serves in the same manner as a dashboard on a car, and an adequate one at that.

AntiX gets high marks across the board — for usability, speed and stability — and while I would tell new users about it, I think it is geared toward those users who have a fair amount of GNU/Linux experience under their proverbial belt by virtue of the fact that it natively runs Fluxbox (although, again, the learning curve for Fluxbox is not that steep, and that of Xfce is less). For those who are more experienced with GNU/Linux, by all means try this distro. If you’re a newbie and you feel daring — like its namesakes, who took chances of historic proportions — by all means give Spartacus and/or Lysistrata a try.

A tip of the hat and thanks to anticapitalista and the crew at AntiX for making such a great distro. Keep up the great work.

Coming tomorrow: Debian 4.0

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: AntiX, Conky, Fluxbox, Xfce

Notes, quotes and gloats

February 6, 2008 2 comments

Driving Mister Stallman: My 1994 Jetta (with the specialized California license plate “GNU LNUX”) and I had a special guest over the last few days: the Free Software Foundation’s Richard Stallman. RMS, as he is known, needed transportation from Palo Alto to Santa Cruz on Saturday morning, and at 8 a.m., we appeared at the doorstep of the home at which he was staying for a ride to KUSP in Santa Cruz for an appointment with a radio show.

After a spot of tea, we loaded up the Jetta and headed southwest. For the most part, RMS kept to his work on his laptop in front of him as he rode in the passenger seat (no, I don’t know what he was working on — I didn’t look) but we did have time to talk about some of the upcoming events — the radio show, his Op-Ed piece running in the Sunday Santa Cruz Sentinel and his talk on Monday at Cabrillo College. He also commented on the road noise my car makes, but after 274,000 faithful miles, the Jetta can play Sousa marches with every passing mile for all I care.

On Tuesday morning, I drove RMS from Santa Cruz to the San Francisco airport, and the trip was a little more conversational. While negotiating the twists and turns of Highway 17 over the Santa Cruz Mountains (hoping all the while I didn’t hit anything, lest his laptop become a permanent part of RMS’s forehead thanks to the driver side airbag), we talked about a GNU-friendly “Intro to Unix/Linux” textbook (which may soon be available — watch this space) and how much alike surfing and love are. Other topics — the folly of highway expansion in the face of peak oil and a McAfee billboard on Highway 101 that said “Hackers are bad” — led us both on conversational tangents punctuated by work on his laptop.

We arrived at SFO after a side trip to Palo Alto to the home he had stayed in before to pick up an item he had forgotten. At 11, he had plenty of time to catch his plane. As we shook hand to take leave of each other, he left me with two words (and you can say them with me): “Happy hacking!”

[Note to P.L.: Not to worry -- I didn't tell RMS about the dream you had about him.]

Blue Screen of REAL Death: The Defense Department and Boeing plan to base their new Future Combat Systems not on Microsoft Windows, but on a GNU/Linux based system using Red Hat. The reason the generals made is clear — they don’t want to be beholden to Microsoft — but another more important issue arose, this from John Williams, a sergeant at the Boeing plant in Huntington Beach: “Soldiers don’t care about software,” he said. What they care about is “if it’s going to work.” That means the men and women on the ground have their lives depending on software, and that software has got to work or the result could be fatal. So, arguably, that counts Microsoft out.

[So how far did that chair travel, Mr. Ballmer?]

Coming soon (like tomorrow): Starting tomorrow, I am going to release eight straight blogs on eight distros I use and particularly like, and why. Call it “Eight Distros a Week” if you like, because I plan to. In any case, hope you enjoy it. Up tomorrow: AntiX 6.5 Spartacus and 7.0 Lysistrata.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Smell like I sound

January 26, 2008 Leave a comment

All you ’80s denizens get the blog’s title, no doubt, but unless you spent that decade glued to MTV, the reference may be lost. But with a wink and a nod to those who still admit to being Duran Duran fans (of which I have to say I am not, nor have I ever been), I’ve been feeling a little wolflike lately, hungry or otherwise, thanks to my latest distro foray.

Being the happy distro wanderer that I am, I had a chance to put Wolvix 1.1.0 GNU/Linux, the Hunter version, on a Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, and it easily enters into the group of distros that I think highly of, in general, and distros that I plan to use day to day, in particular.

Based on Slackware, Wolvix Hunter comes with a pretty wide array of “standard software” that provide the user with an assortment that, in some distros, you have to go get. For my purposes, getting gFTP and Bluefish — two programs I use a lot — without having to use a software updater to get them is a definite plus. Additionally, the number of items that come with Wolvix on the live CD download is probably the best, well-rounded selection of software I’ve encountered on a live CD.

But the most impressive item on this distro — other than it’s faster than I had expected on this Pentium III — is the Wolvix Control Panel. Chock full of every imaginable item you might need for maintenance and upkeep, the panel efficiently puts everything in one place.

Another plus is the Conky system monitor. Having encountered this first on the Fluxbox desktop on AntiX 6.5 Spartacus, I often wonder why this program isn’t more well-known or widely used. Geeky, perhaps, but still something that provides some vital — or at least interesting — information about what’s going on under the hood.

If you’re looking for a distro, you should give Wolvix a test run.

[For those of you keeping score at home, Wolvix joins (in alphabetical order), AntiX, Debian, Fedora, Fluxbuntu, gNewSense, Linux Mint, and Xubuntu in the list of distros I use regularly.]


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Days of our lives

January 9, 2008 1 comment

My days tend to run in one of two directions: hardware and software.

Yesterday was a hardware day. I have a house full of old computers liberated — okay rescued, actually — from my employer, who was going to put them on a pallet and send them to some dump somewhere — and I had to do something with them. So I sorted out which worked and which didn’t, which could take distros and which couldn’t, and so on.

Admittedly, these are very old machines — IBM PL series boxes, but some that actually work with distros like AntiX (pronounced “antiques”) Mepis and Fluxbuntu.

The day before was a software day. At the urging of a Cabrillo LUG colleague, I tried Mandriva 2008 and found it pretty interesting. What I liked about it is that it connected to both wireless and ethernet connections fairly easily. What I didn’t like about it is that it took over my machine (to say nothing of a plethora of proprietary software that comes with it . . . hmph).

Tomorrow: A software day, filled with tests of dbEntrance.
[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: AntiX, Fluxbuntu, Mandriva
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