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Linux users, start your engines

September 26, 2011 4 comments

Unless you’re a motorhead to a varying degree — and an older one at that — you probably don’t know who John Cooper is. His contributions in racing circles — putting the engine behind the driver in his Cooper Formula 1 cars in the late 1950s — would normally cement his place in automotive history, but he didn’t stop there.

The thing for which Cooper is more widely known is modifying the British Motor Corporation’s Mini in the 1960s, adding his name to make it the Mini Cooper while adding a higher degree of performance that won the little car that could a warehouse full of rally trophies and Sports Car Club of America club racing victories.

Around the same time as the development of the first Mini Coopers, across the pond in America Carroll Shelby took the Ford Mustang and with a vision of making it faster and better, he gave us the Shelby Mustang along with the whole Shelby Cobra series (not to mention, later, the Dodge Viper). Shelby’s association with Ford started a trend in the U.S. of taking a mass produced car and making it into a high performance machine.

So go ahead and ask: “Larry the Free Software Guy, what the heck does this have to do with Linux and FOSS?”

It’s simple. Linux and FOSS has their own versions of John Cooper and Carroll Shelby making high performance versions of mass produced distros, building on the foundation of one of the “big three” Linux distros to make fire-breathing, pixel-burning distros; distros that are the digital equivalent of vehicles that are more than just for taking the kids to soccer practice or zipping over to the grocery store.

Not everyone can drive a Cobra or a Testarossa, nor does everyone want to. But knowing that the option is there, and that there are people out there providing those options, is one of Linux/FOSS’s strengths.

We see this in distros like Kororaa, where Chris Smart and his team once based their distro on Gentoo and switched “manufacturers” to use Fedora in producing a solid, quick distro that works well right out of the box.

Jeff Hoogland and his band of developers at Bodhi Linux marry the lightweight Enlightenment desktop environment to Ubuntu. A combination of the lightweight desktop and the users’ choice of what to include in their own digital vehicle makes this perhaps the best combination of getting the best performance out of one’s machine.

Pixel-burning performance is one of the hallmarks at Crunchbang. Philip Newborough, a web developer and GNU/Linux enthusiast living and working in Lincoln, England, takes John Cooper’s legacy to heart — in a digital sense — while he and his team provide a Openbox-based window manager with Debian rumbling under the hood.

We even see this high performance riff on the enterprise Linux side, where in a digital “garage” Derek Carter, Clint Savage and others are gearing up GoOSe Linux. This project deserves special mention because not only is the performance measured on the instruments, but also on the community building process in an enterprise realm.

Examples are abundant, and forgive me if I don’t get to all of them. There are others who deserve mention: Salix OS provides a distro worthy of flamed fenders and racing stripes. Kenneth Granerud had a high performance distro in Wolvix which, due to some personal upheavals, became dormant, but in talking with him recently we might see it come back sometime soon.

So when someone complains about the fact that there are 320-something distros out there, bear in mind many of them are not for everyone.

So buckle up, and let’s be careful out there.

[FSF Associate Member] (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!

Taking a look a Salix

September 13, 2011 6 comments

There seems to be a mad dash lately of bloggers tripping over themselves to write reviews of Bodhi Linux. Jeff Hoogland and his merry band of developers have come out recently with version 1.2.0 and I’ve put it through some paces. Overall, I like it, but rather than yet another Bodhi review getting lost in the shuffle, I thought I’d put that one off for another time.

I have a MicroPC TransPort T2200 laptop on which I change distros as often as I change socks. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it is pretty much a test bed for distros I try out.

Several days ago, I was thinking about how I had not really done a lot with Slackware-based distros other than OpenSUSE. I looked for the latest version of Wolvix, which I had written about a few years ago, but found it was discontinued. This is unfortunate, because while writing that blog item a few years ago, I got the sense when talking to lead developer and new-dad-at-the-time Kenneth Granerud that he was on to something.

So after doing a few laps on Distrowatch.com, I settled on Salix, a Slackware-based distro from Europe. According to its Web site, Salix is a linux distribution based on Slackware “that is simple, fast and easy to use.”

No truer words were spoken. After a relatively quick download and installation, Salix flies on the MicroPC laptop.

I opted for the Fluxbox version of the distro — it also comes in Xfce, LXDE and KDE flavors — and the lightweight window manager version does not disappoint. While it might be objectionable to free software purists (and I’m a little flexible on this issue, though I’d prefer the decision of installing it be given to the user), the presence of Flash on the distro out of the box is a plus for those who want to get online and straight over to YouTube. With the Gslapt Package Manager, you can dig around for programs you’d like to add.

It’s refreshing when you don’t have to pop the hood right away. Right out of the box, so to speak, the distro ran flawlessly. Connectivity is a snap, and there have been no glitches with the wireless since using Salix. I added Conky because I enjoy having a rundown of what’s going on beneath the keyboard that sits on my desktop, and I also added Irssi, because that’s what the “cool kids” use to talk on IRC. Why these two programs aren’t already included on distros — I’ve only encountered Irssi being native on Debian — is a mystery.

As a matter of personal preference, I changed the cursor. I have seen this before on Fluxbox-based distros: It comes with the cursor that has a large black arrow and I prefer the smaller white one. With this exception, there was nothing I needed to tweak right away.

Again, I can’t get over the speed of this distro. Salix flies on this laptop, even with multiple programs running simultaneously. I cannot say that for every distro that has graced this laptop. Salix is clearly one of the better distros I’ve come across.

I am not completely up to speed on Fluxbox and its nuances, but I’m getting there. In the hubbub that is known as the current desktop environment soap opera, I’m starting to like window managers more, and you may find that more distro test drives will include them.

The symbol for Salix is the bonsai. Like a bonsai, Salix is small, light and the product of infinite care.

If you have the time and the inclination, give it a try.

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.

[FSF Associate Member] (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!

Spending the day with an Ocelot

August 14, 2011 3 comments

Yes, I know LinuxCon is next, and that’s in mid-August, but I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing and with Linus being there and all. But if you’re going to the next show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting, so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!)

First things first: No one in their right mind would review an alpha version of a distro, just as no one in their right mind would take the advice in a review of an alpha version. I can’t remember who said it recently — for some reason, Jeff Hoogland of Bodhi Linux comes immediately to mind (and if it wasn’t you, Jeff, I apologize) — but reviewing an alpha version is like telling someone how a cake tastes after just trying the batter. So let me make it perfectly clear this is not a review — I repeat, “This is not a review!” I mention this because to the first person that says, “Larry the Free Software Guy reviewed Oneiric and he said . . . ” I’d like to remind you, ahem, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW.

Got it?

After reading a few articles about the Alpha 3 version of Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot and finding that it was available (though it’s a little hard to find — perhaps by design — on the Ubuntu site), I thought I’d give Oneiric Alpha 3 a try since I had a day to spare — actually a unusually slow day at work — and not much else to do with it. Such is my life on a Saturday.

The caveats: I didn’t install Oneiric but ran the distro on the ThinkPad T30 from a USB stick. Also, sucking it up and taking a deep breath, I promised myself I would resist rolling my eyes this time and took a proactive approach to the Unity desktop environment, brushing up a little on Unity before going back in there to avoid repeating my disastrous introduction to it.

I still think that Unity leaves way too much to be desired, however the Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot Alpha 3 remarkably behaved like a version of a distro well beyond the alpha stage. Programs come up quickly — bear in mind again that I’m running this from a USB stick — and there were no noticeable hiccups normally associated with early pre-release versions.

However, I did encounter a crashing program for which I was prompted to file a bug report through Launchpad, which I attempted to do. Unfortunately, when signing in to Launchpad, I was told that I was “stale” — no truer words were spoken, perhaps. After “freshening up” my account, though, I wasn’t able to reproduce the glitch, so I wasn’t able to file a bug report.

But on the whole, if this alpha version is any indication of what Ubunteros have to look forward to in October, this should be a good release.

Things I liked about Oneiric (bearing in mind it’s an alpha) :

  • Despite running from a USB stick, programs respond quickly with a “right out of the box” feel, almost as if the distro is installed on the hard drive.
  • LibreOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird native to Ubuntu 11.10 (though I am told that LibreOffice may not make the Live CD. Rethink that one, guys and gals)
  • Things I didn’t like about Oneiric (and, remember, it’s still in the alpha stage) :

  • Unity (yes, I know you can opt for Kubuntu/Xubuntu/Lubuntu, which I would do if I were an Ubuntu user; probably using Xubuntu)
  • This is probably more of the fact that I’m using old hardware, but the splash screen as the laptop boots looks like a bad acid trip (not that I know what this would be like first hand — no really!)
  • Unity. Oh, did I say that already? Sorry.
  • A pet peeve: I don’t want to use Empathy for IRC, and I know that space on the Live CD is scarce (and I know I can just get it after installing the distro), but you could stand to put something like Xchat or Irssi on for the hardcore IRC types. Just sayin’ . . .

    As the auto ads say, “Your mileage may vary,” and you may have a completely different experience with Oneiric. However, with Alpha 3 being a solid release, with the upcoming tweaks in the next months finalizing it when it’s unleashed on the public in October, there’s a good chance that Ubuntu 11.10 will be a strong, solid release.

    [Want to comment? Please do, but you're going to have to give me a name -- it can be an IRC nick -- and a legitimate e-mail address. If not, it won't appear. That plain, that simple. "Anonymous," "anon" or any variations thereof get held immediately -- if I can't reach you to confirm, then it doesn't run. Same with any suspect comment that can't be confirmed. So let's be above board here.]

    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.

    [FSF Associate Member] (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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  • Does it matter what Linus uses?

    August 11, 2011 19 comments

    Yes, I know LinuxCon is next, and that’s in mid-August, but I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing and with Linus being there and all. But if you’re going to the next show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting, so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!)

    First things first: I’m certainly not calling out Marcel Gagne for getting it wrong in a recent blog post — the “it” in question is that Linus Torvalds uses Linux Mint. On the contrary — to his credit Marcel corrected himself and, hey, it could have happened to anyone.

    Also, we’re not going to go to the GNOME thing right now, at least not right way, despite the fact there has been a parade of “me toos” following Linus’ unhappiness with GNOME’s new desktop offering.

    But it occurred to me today after reading Marcel’s mea culpa that, in the grand scheme of FOSS things, it really doesn’t matter what Linus uses. Before you all collectively brand me a heretic, allow me to explain.

    Linus has been quoted in the past as being a Fedora user, because it worked on the PowerPC hardware he was using. That’s great — he joins thousands of others using Fedora. He may not be one now, and if that’s the case he’d join thousands of others not using Fedora. There’s also an instance in the past — the distant past, as opposed to a week or two ago — where he switched desktop environments.

    All that’s OK.

    It means Linus is like us.

    Think about it. Which of us has not switched distros or desktop environments? Which of us has not expressed extreme displeasure over a program or desktop environment and made that dissatisfaction public on mailing lists and/or forums? We certainly allow ourselves the luxury of making these switches — on a whim or more — so shouldn’t we grant that same right to the man who brought us where we are today?

    The question isn’t so much “What distro does Linus use?” as much as possibly “How many distros does Linus use?” Think about it and put yourself in Linus’ shoes. You have your favorites, and so does he. If you have a chance, and the hardware, to use more than one distro, wouldn’t you? I bet Linus would.

    Or not, if you — or Linus — are really enamored and happy with one and truly want to stick with it.

    I am primarily a Fedora guy — that has been mentioned in this blog often in the past. But while Fedora KDE runs on my constant companion, also known as “the football” and the laptop that never leaves my side, I also have machines running Debian, Kororaa and CrunchBang (we’re going to need a moment of silence for a recently departed Fujitsu laptop once running Bodhi Linux, which went to its final rest through no fault of the distro).

    Why four different distros? Simple: It’s because I like those distros and I have the hardware that will run them.

    And that’s as it should be.

    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.

    [FSF Associate Member] (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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    How I found Enlightenment

    May 16, 2011 2 comments

    Linux for the GNU South – Attend if you can.

    If you know anything about my past — no, that’s not me on the Post Office walls across the country . . . honest — you’ll know that I was a resident at the San Francisco Zen Center in the early to mid ’90s where, among other things, I was trying to find enlightenment.

    So I’m familiar with the Bodhi tree and with Bodhidharma. Good thing, too, because when trying Bodhi Linux, those leaves from the tree swirling around the screen could be a little disconcerting.

    Jeff Hoogland and his group of FOSS bodhisattvas who put together this distro deserve a gassho in eternal homage for their efforts in producing an outstanding distro. While I am limited to running tests on hardware that is — how can I put this tactfully? — old, the distro ran flawlessly on two laptops — a ThinkPad T30 and a Toshiba Satellite.

    Based on Ubuntu (which is based on Debian, to give credit where credit is due), Bodhi Linux 1.0.0 was a breeze to download at under 400MB and easy to install.

    What you get once you reboot after installation is, well, Enlightenment.

    No, not karmic bliss, but Enlightenment the desktop environment which, in this age of new desktop environments, is a fresh and viable alternative to those now vying for attention in the FOSS world. Enlightenment is a very clean environment with a gradual learning curve that takes some attention at first, but it’s easily adaptable to what you’re used to with a minimum amount of effort (for example — getting the X pointer instead of the triangular Delta thingie is a snap. Sorry, guys, but that big triangle has got to go). Enlightenment is as elegant as it is functional, and in getting used to it quickly, it is one that can appeal to a wide range of users. Also, it looks like a computer desktop, unlike some of the other more popular desktop environment offerings as of late, and that personally is a huge +1.

    The philosophy behind Bodhi Linux installing a system with only a few programs is as logical as it is interesting: It provides the user an opportunity to build the system the way he or she want to build it. This could be intimidating to the newer users, but for those who have been around the Linux block a few times, it’s a welcome option to put together what you want and how you want it. For example, for me, a few apt-gets on the command line later (one of the first, for me, was sudo apt-get install synaptic — OK, so I’m lazy) and I had what I wanted and was on my proverbial way.

    On the old hardware that I’m destined to be stuck with thanks to my economic status as a terminally poor guy, Bodhi runs very well. I can imagine that it probably flies on newer, more powerful hardware (although I understand that Bodhi Linux currently comes in 32-bit version only). Not only this, while I have put back Fedora 15 beta on the ThinkPad — while Bodhi is good, Fedora is my distro of choice — I will keep Bodhi Linux on the Satellite.

    If you have time and want to give it a test-drive, Bodhi Linux can be found here.

    Again, thanks to the Bodhi Linux crew for putting out a good distro and keep up the great work.

    [FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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    Saturday morning coffee

    May 14, 2011 3 comments

    One of the great things about The White Raven in Felton — reason number 982 that I come here when I can — is that after dropping off Mimi for her concert over the hill, I can come here at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning and the coffee is good and there’s Dylan and Hendrix already blasting in the cafe.

    So while the wind still whispers Mary, I’m catching up on things.

    I promised you a test drive of Bodhi Linux last week. After kicking the tires earlier this week, I’m still driving — in fact, I’m writing this from a ThinkPad running Bodhi and while I will go into detail when I blog about it, overall it’s a solid distro that has done everything I’ve asked it to. Except make me breakfast, but I haven’t had a distro do that yet. Watch this space.

    One of the things I wanted to point out with an item today is that we’re ramping up Lindependence again this year to a more regular event. While the debate raged for weeks about when to hold it — on Independence Day or on Software Freedom Day — it was decided to hold it on the latter to give us more time to prepare and to emphasize not the independence of Independence Day so much as to focus on Linux itself and celebrate Free/Open Source Software on a date specific to it.

    More to follow on this, too.

    That’s what brings me here today — not “here” as in The White Raven, but here in Felton, where we’re moving the office space and preparing for the Felton LUG meeting this afternoon — 2 p.m. at the solar-powered fire station behind the Community Center on Highway 9 (directions enough in Felton). Grant Bowman — a tireless FOSS advocate and wearer of many digital hats — will be giving a Natty Narwhal presentation.

    Bob is right: I used to be so amused at Napoleon in rags and the language that he used.

    [FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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    Take a breath, then respond

    May 6, 2011 4 comments

    [Note: I wrote this in the LXer.com forum in response to Jeff Hoogland's blog posting on #fedora that was linked to LXer.com. I did spell out "asshat" below, where I did not do that in the forum posting. Jeff's blog item is here, and I would invite everyone to read it first before reading my response below. Or not. It's up to you. Also, I fixed the link to the Eric Raymond/Rick Moen tome that's worth a read as well.]

    Truth in advertising disclaimer: Many of you already know that I have been an active participant in the Fedora Project for several years; for those of you who don’t, that secret is now out (and, man, do I feel relieved admitting it!). I have also been a regular in many IRC channels, both Fedora and non-Fedora related, though I am not a regular in #fedora — in fact, I avoid #fedora for the same reasons Jeff outlines in his self-proclaimed “rant.”

    That said, Jeff accurately points out a situation that has been a sticking point, and one that is being addressed and corrected, in the Fedora Project around the types of caustic responses that sometimes come up in #fedora. Also, while I don’t frequent the channel and usually find answers to my questions elsewhere — a good practice (and more on this later) — I can say that it’s something that has caused some of us in the Fedora Project some concern.

    However — and you knew that was coming — just as an observation on my part, it appears Jeff shot from the hip on this one rather than giving it some thought before writing.

    Believe me, I am not casting the first stone against this “sin” — I speak from experience here: lots of experience in which I have fired off unretractable words that a walk in the redwoods or shooting a few hoops would have tempered into something more reasonable and justifiable.

    So, Jeff, with apologies, I think your blog goes over the top in the following ways:

    a.) #fedora has not cornered the market in asshats by any stretch of the imagination, despite our mutual experience in this particular channel. The cantakerous tards who have an inflated self-worth exist in most IRC channels in every distro across the board — maybe not in Bodhi, if their leader has any say in it (I sincerely hope) — but I think it’s more the nature of things like how IRC operates as well as a wake-up call for the need for change, positive change, in this regard.

    b.) It’s a little myopic to judge the performance of a distro by the people “representing” it (and, arguably, any bad experience in any distro-related IRC channel does not accurately reflect the community as a whole, but rather reflects personality flaws in those responding to questions, regardless of whether they’re chanops or not). If that were the case, I would never, ever, EVER use PCLinuxOS, since I have had the same experience seeking information from them that we have had with Fedora (and I do have a box in the lab with PCLOS).

    c.) An aside: When I first started using Linux, I was told to read this tome by Eric S. Raymond and Rick Moen: “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way” which lives here:

    http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

    (You may have to copy/paste the link above — there is no space before the ~ though each posting insists on inserting one)

    Why this isn’t a README in all distros is a mystery, but it should be. I am not suggesting that Jeff asked the wrong question here, but often times questions are not asked in the most efficient or direct way. But as Jeff points out in his blog, we don’t know the circumstances that the user is facing in finding out an answer, but it does help immensely to ask the right question. Immensely.

    d.) Another aside: I can’t imagine Jared Smith of Fedora or Jono Bacon of Ubuntu firing off a rant like this. As a project leader for what I think is an up-and-coming distro, I hope you understand, Jeff, that as a project leader, you’re in the bigs now and what you say and do reflect on your project for better or worse.

    For those of you who have gotten this far, thanks for staying awake. I’ll now put on my Nomex and feel free to flame away.

    [FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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