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Getting out the vote

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Yes, I know LinuxCon has come and gone, and I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing, the gala party, and with Linus being there and all. The buzz is still going, and that’s good. But if you’re going to a Linux show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

With the upcoming deadline for the Linux Journal Readers’ Choice 2011 Awards upon us — it closes this Saturday — other bloggers have been been taking to beating the drum and holding the phone for their favorites.

Not to be outdone, of course, there are a few candidates on the LJ ballot that deserve special mention. If I were campaigning for them, I’d definitely cast votes for items in the following categories (note, however, the list of categories and software on the ballot is long, and they’re not all here):

Best Linux Distribution: No question, hands down. Fedora. Judging which is the best distro is akin to picking the best ice cream flavor — each of us has our own favorites, and hopefully you’ll vote for yours. Mine comes in blue, is based on Red Hat, has the best desktop background release after release (the Design Team at Fedora is the best in the FOSS realm, period), it’s always rock solid, and even if I can’t use the default GNOME 3 desktop, Fedora runs great under KDE or Xfce. Fedora is reaching a point now where the myth that it’s “only for experience users” is falling by the wayside, and if a lack of confidence in your skills has kept you from using Fedora, you should give it a try.

Best Desktop Environment: Oh, look! A minefield! Let’s skip through it! You all know how I feel about GNOME 3; the aspect that I can’t use it due to older equipment moreso than anything else (if I could vote for GNOME 2.32, that would be great). KDE? I like KDE though — truth in advertising — I’m a post-KDE 4.x user and not familiar with the way things used to be (and not familiar with why there’s such a hubbub about it). I don’t know why Openbox and Fluxbox, both windows managers, are in this category, and why isn’t there a separate WM category? How did I vote? I’m cast a vote this year for Xfce, because I’m using it on Fedora 15 and will be using it again on Fedora 16, and while it’s reputation is a lightweight environment, I’m finding there’s a significant degree of tweakability to it. Also, if you really like WMs, I’d vote for OpenBox.

Best Web Browser: Konqueror. Just kidding. While there are some advantages to Konqueror that do not involve Web browsing, for getting on the information superhighway I usually go with Firefox, though on the Windows box at the newspaper I use Chrome. It’s a toss up between those two.

Best E-mail Client: Another minefield and another tough call. What I use most is Thunderbird, because everybody knows the ‘Bird is the word, and it’s always worked well for me. What has always worked well for me in the past, too, and something I’ve always thought was one of KDE’s stars is Kmail, which deserves a vote if you’re so inclined. Claws is something I’m looking to try and haven’t yet, so maybe if it wows me, it can be a leading candidate for 2012.

Best IRC client: Simple — it’s irssi. It’s what the cool kids use, once they graduate past Xchat. Konversation gets high marks, too, and readily available on KDE. But I voted for irssi.

Best Office Suite: OK, here’s where we get to make history. Vote for LibreOffice — it’s OpenOffice as it should be. It would be outrageously cool if LibreOffice took home the prize in this category, for starters because it deserves it, and it would be a good nose-thumbing to Oracle as well.

Best Graphic Design Tool: All of them. I’m serious. If there’s ever been a category where each of the candidates deserves to win, it’s this one. GIMP finally gets a single window, I’m told, thank $DIETY, but I ended up voting for . . . Inkscape. I’m not the artist in the family; that title goes to my daughter Mimi, but having drawn a little, I do like Inkscape a lot.

Best Audio Tool: Audacity. If Carla Schroder uses it and writes a book about it, then I’m there.

Best Kid Friendly Application: Another easy one — Tux Paint. I should be ashamed to admit this, but I’m not: Ever since Mimi was younger and we used Tux Paint together when she was learning her way around a computer, I have always loved this program and I still fiddle with it from time to time when I’m not doing anything else. Also, I count Tux Paint as one of the main influences in cultivating the artistic talent Mimi has shown.

Best Game: As bad as I am at it, I still think Super Tux gets the nod here, as it’s a very creative game. Truth be told, I’ve never played any of the games on the list, except for Tux Racer, and I know my good friend Ken Starks over at the HeliOS Project is a fan of World of Goo.

Best Database: Our first heart-versus-head conundrum. If MySQL were the best, I may not vote for it on principle, but fortunately other databases have knocked MySQL from its perch at the top. I’ve only used two other databases and have liked them both: PostgreSQL and MariaDB. I really want to see MariaDB do well, but PostgreSQL is clearly the best of the bunch.

Best Programming Language: Again, the ice cream comparison comes into play and in my limited programming experience, I vote for what I know best. That would be Python.

Best scripting language: bash — accept no substitutes (OK, ksh if you need to).

Best IDE: Emacs in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing (and sadly, that’s not me) is simply an amazing tool. But I’m voting for vim. I can get more done using it, and I’m never backed into a corner, as I am sometimes with Emacs. Sorry, RMS.

Best Package Management Application: If it sounds like it tastes good, you have to go with it: yum. Honorable mention goes to Synaptic.

Best Content Management System: I’ve used Mambo and Joomla! in the past, and those happen to be my CMS roots. However, having used Drupal over the last few months, I have to say that I’ve made the switch. Drupal gets my vote this year.

Best Linux Laptop Vendor/Best Linux Desktop Workstation Vendor/Best Linux Server Vendor: I’m lumping these three categories together because the vote is the same in each category — ZaReason. The Berkeley, Calif., outfit makes outstanding, dependable hardware that’s Linux based (or if you’d prefer, no operating system) and the service is top notch. You’ll have to write in ZaReason in the Best Linux Desktop Workstation Vendor category, but you can mark the ballot in the other two.

Best Linux Book: A real page-turner, especially if you’re into audio — “The Book of Audacity,” by Carla Schroder. Buy it now.

Again, there’s a plethora of other categories that I haven’t touched on. Polls are open until Saturday. Vote early.

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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CrunchBang worth more than just a test run

July 24, 2011 19 comments


OSCON 2011
Next up: OSCON. Get there if you can, and give them my regards because I can’t make it this year :-(

Those of you who read these hallowed pages know I have an affinity for distros that — how can I put this tactfully? — are unique and can be arguably considered as “boutique” or specialized distributions. While others may consider them as such, I don’t necessarily see them that way — I liken them to modified distros in the same way a Shelby Cobra is a step above a mere Ford Mustang, with the proviso of course that ultimately, like the Shelby, they’re not for everyone.

When I test these distros — as I did recently with Kororaa and Bodhi (not to mention the BlueBubble spin of Fedora 15 that Juan Rodriguez built from the ground up, nearly single-handedly) — I generally put them through their paces and, until I update them, I don’t use them on a regular basis despite the fact they remain on the laptops they’re tested on. Generally after the review consisting of a day or two of use, I go back to my old trusty Fedora for daily digital duties.

However, I’m on my fourth day of using CrunchBang — also known in shorthand as #! — and, for once, the temptation to use it for longer that the simple “test drive” is overwhelming, to the point where it’s completely feasible that I may be using this for quite awhile.

The last time I had an opportunity to use the words “crunch” and “bang” in the same sentence, I was describing how an old pickup truck had run a red light and, not seeing it thanks to traffic in the left lane, I ran into it with my Volkswagen Jetta last January.

Yet for those of you keeping score at home, there’s nothing close to resembling a crash here. CrunchBang, so says its home page, “is a Debian GNU/Linux based distribution offering a great blend of speed, style and substance. Using the nimble Openbox window manager, it is highly customisable (Editor’s Note: That British English for “customizable”) and provides a modern, full-featured GNU/Linux system without sacrificing performance.”

Without sacrificing performance — let me emphasize this for a moment, because when I first used CrunchBang, running the ThinkPad T30 from a USB stick, the performance from the live media was the fastest I’ve ever experienced from live media. I’ll give credit to the Openbox desktop atop the Debian Squeeze for that. Further, installing it on a hard drive and running it for the last few days, the speed with which this old T30 runs is nothing short of remarkable.

For the uninitated, the Openbox desktop can take a little getting used to, with navigation being a little different than some of the other, more common desktop environments. But what you give up in lacking familiarity (albeit temporarily) you get back with speed and efficiency — I would go out on a limb and assume that the processor temperature never going over 50 has to do with the fact that the ThinkPad’s not breaking a sweat thanks to the lighter desktop.

One of the features that I found astounding in CrunchBang was that the VLC Media Player, for the first time, actually worked on this old Thinkpad; I’ve never been able to get it to run on other distros. I watched part of “Mr. Baseball” on a laptop which had never shown a DVD before. Also, CrunchBang comes with Chromium as a web browser, with Flash support — this may not appeal to some free-as-in-freedom software advocates, but for those who absolutely, positively must have their YouTube and other Flash-driven sites, it saves those users from having to set it up themselves.

A deal-breaker that became a deal-maker: The only quirk it took awhile to overcome was not being able — at least immediately — to replace OpenOffice.org with LibreOffice. There are workarounds outlined on the CrunchBang forums, however the way I did it was to follow the instructions on the forum regarding changing a Debian repository and changing Synaptic to “Download from : Server for United States.”

CrunchBang is probably not for the neophyte, but if you’ve been using GNU/Linux and FOSS for about a year or longer and you are comfortable tweaking your system, you should have no trouble getting up to speed on this quick distro. The site does have a caveat on the “about page” at the bottom that “CrunchBang Linux is not recommended for anyone needing a stable system or anyone who is not comfortable running into occasional, even frequent breakage. CrunchBang Linux could possibly make your computer go CRUNCH! BANG! Therefore CrunchBang Linux comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by applicable law.”

I think the lawyers made them say that, because after four days of tweaking, some of which not exactly the most advised (but nonetheless corrected), I have yet to make it go “CRUNCH! BANG!” In fact, I think I may keep the drive with this distro installed in the ThinkPad for awhile for use on a daily basis.

Finally, the naming convention for CrunchBang does not escape mention: Currently, CrunchBang is based on Debian Squeeze — keep that letter S in mind — and the name for the current CrunchBang version is Statler, as in Waldorf and Statler, the two elderly gentlemen in the balcony on “The Muppet Show.”

CrunchBang is one of the more pleasant surprises on the Linux distro scene, and it’s clearly worth a test drive. Or more.

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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