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What’s that sound?

November 27, 2011 6 comments

Originally I had planned to write about Philip Newborough of Lincoln, England, who some know as corenominal and who even others know as the lead developer of CrunchBang GNU/Linux. The tale I had originally conceived to put on pixels here was how Philip not only talks the FOSS talk, but he also walks the FOSS walk: He has decided to leave gainful employment recently in order to concentrate on developing CrunchBang.

That’s no small feat, for starters, and it takes an enormous amount of courage to make that proverbial leap, especially when one has a family, as Philip does. Additionally, this leap of faith multiplies by a factor of several due to the enormous amount of confidence in the project one must have to press forward with this life-altering change.

Fortunately for Philip, his Debian-based distro CrunchBang does not let him down.

And while I had planned to write about Philip and how he took the plunge, I thought it would be a better blog to talk about the improvements he has made to what can clearly be described as the best distro you’ve never heard of.

With the cacophony of writers singing the praises of Linux Mint on the release of Linux Mint 12 Lisa, it might be a good idea to listen to the more dulcet tones of a Crash and a Bang and take a look the new release of CrunchBang Statler as well.

Over the weekend, Philip made available some updated CrunchBang Statler images. The changes were somewhat profound and, as Philip points out in his blog, “the new images are not really about additional features, but more about what has been removed and/or cleaned up (although there are a few new features to look forward to).”

CrunchBang is going the window manager route with Openbox, so that means Xfce version of CrunchBang is retired. the main thing to have been removed/retired is the Xfce version. “Besides,” Philip writes, “there are plenty of brilliant Xfce based distributions available, and if you know what you are doing, installing Xfce under Debian is really not too difficult.”

GDM? Gone, and it’s replaced by SLiM.

Plymouth? Gone, and the decision to remove it was really a personal preference. “I apologise to any bling lovers, but personally, I believe that graphical boot loaders take away more than they give,” Philip writers. “Also, CrunchBang is not really an exercise in branding and so removing a flashing logo is not a problem at all.”

So what’s new and/or added to CrunchBang Statler?

Openbox 3.5 — The latest and greatest version of the window manager.

Iceweasel/Firefox 8 replaces Chromium 9 — CrunchBang seems to switch back-and-forth between default browsers, according to Philip, probably like a lot of users
do. “I do not think this is problem, but merely reflects the state of browser development and availability at the time.” Agreed.

Geany replaces gedit — Geany is highly configurable, has lots of great plugins and is desktop environment independent. So it serves as an adequate replacement.

Gigolo and Thunar for managing connections to remote file systems — CrunchBang Statler includes Gigolo, configuring it to work out-of-the-box with Thunar. It is now simple to connect to remote file systems via SSH and Samba, among others.

LibreOffice replaces OpenOffice.org — Writes Philip: “Actually, CrunchBang ships with AbiWord and Gnumeric, but many people choose to install a more feature rich office suite via the CrunchBang post installation script. The script has been changed to suggest LibreOffice.”

I’ve been using CrunchBang since July on a second laptop that usually accompanies me wherever I go (long story there, but part of it can be found in an old blog here). I have always liked the speed CrunchBang afforded this old laptop, and if it runs this well on older hardware, it must fly on newer machines.

You can easily consider me a convert to the ranks of the CrunchBangers, and as such I put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Philip and CrunchBang are raising funds to get things off the ground, and I’d invite you to join me in donating to help CrunchBang along.

So thanks to Philip and the CrunchBang team for making an excellent distro.

(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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Three for the road

November 9, 2011 1 comment

It’s one of those days: Driving a lot today taking family from point A to point B allows one a significant amount of thought that can go into a blog post. But we’ll have to tackle the weightier issues of FOSS another time in order to give you a few tidbits, like

Take ‘er down, ensign: Fedora 16, with the release name Verne (as in Jules, as in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” — hence the submarine motif), is ready and available from the Fedora Project. This one is a keeper — a solid release. Kudos to the Fedora Project team once again. Clearly there will be more on this in forthcoming blog item.

SCALE 10X registration opens: Yep, that’s right. It’s only November, but since SCALE 10X happens a month earlier next year — the Martin Luther King Day weekend in January — things are ramping up for the Southern California Linux Expo. Want to go? Head on over to the site and register.

You don’t have to live like a refugee: Michelle Blowers wrote in her blog yesterday about the open arms Debian has for anyone — from developers to users — who are unhappy with the direction Ubuntu is taking to “return home.” Without Debian, of course, there’s no Ubuntu, so keep in mind your lineage, Ubunteros.

Now to go pick up my daughter from her science class . . .

(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!

Loyal opposition: What it means

June 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Linux for the GNU South — it’s coming up so attend if you can.

More than one person — several actually, none of whom will be named here, to protect the innocent — asked me recently, “Did you see Carla Schroder’s article in LXer.com on Ubuntu?”

I did. In fact, all ego aside (and we’ll wait a few minutes until we’ve had a chance to move that large thing aside), I may have had a hand in this through my contribution to a LXer.com forum item where I said:

“If you’ll permit me a tangent, is Ubuntu “ashamed” to call itself Linux? If you go to their Web page, on the main page you won’t find the word “Linux” anywhere. I finally found it on an “About Ubuntu” page in the second or third paragraph. If you go to the openSUSE main page, Linux is there; same with Fedora and Debian (though Debian goes the GNU/Linux route).

Just wondering aloud . . . .”

Later, if you’re reading along with us on this forum, Carla Schroder (a.k.a., tuxchick) says:

“Ubuntu has many good points, not the least of which are kick-starting serious effort in making a really good desktop Linux, making inroads into the commercial computer market, genuinely welcoming new contributors, and inspiring hosts of respins and derivatives. Think back to the pre-Ubuntu days– Debian releases were stretching out ever longer (over three years!), Mandriva is perennially in crisis, Red Hat is uninterested in the consumer market….hmmm, methinks I spy an article in this subject.” (emphasis added)

So I’ll take a bow for contributing to the inspiration behind Carla writing this article, which is outstanding. Its outstanding nature outshines the fact that there are a couple of minuscule glitches in the article itself — one is that while Red Hat may not care about the desktop market, it established Fedora Core and the Fedora Project at the same time it “went enterprise” (not terribly clear in the article), and Fedora started roughly a year before Ubuntu came along. Also, for all the great things it rightfully says about Ubuntu — let me repeat that, for all the great things it rightfully says about Ubuntu — it still doesn’t address the community’s lack of technical contributions back to the greater FOSS community, for starters.

But let’s not go there now.

Let’s talk instead about how being respectfully critical or showing calm and reasoned dissent contributes to the greater good of all — for those being criticized as well as for those making the observations. Let’s talk about taking what’s being said at face value rather than looking into a subtext that more than likely doesn’t exist.

Bear in mind: When done for the greater good, dissent is not disloyalty.

I’m an Ubuntu user; though it’s not my primary distro of choice, I still use it on a variety of machines. My daughter is an Ubuntu user, and it is her distro of choice, as outlined in our UpSCALE talk (Mimi and I are at the 27:23) at the Southern California Linux Expo this year.

As noted here and elsewhere, I have had differences of opinion regarding how Ubuntu does things, and I have been critical of the credit Ubuntu wrongfully gets for technical contributions made by others. Until this changes, I will continue to be critical of Ubuntu, just as I am critical of Fedora — which is my distro of choice, though I am no longer officially a part of that community — and openSUSE and any other distro or community when criticism is warranted.

My purpose in bringing up shortcomings is to have those in a position to do so correct them — and if I can, I will correct them myself — rather than to berate those doing what I think is misguided or just wrong.

Also, it should be noted that I have also been known to heap praise on those communities that deserve it, bearing in mind that a distro that gets praise one day for doing something good for FOSS may get criticism on another for doing something not-so-good.

The fact of the matter is I don’t expect Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, Debian or any other distro or FOSS program, to be perfect. I do, however, demand distros and communities to live up to the higher standards that we as FOSS users and advocates have set — the most basic of which is that everyone contributes and everyone benefits — and I don’t find this an unreasonable position.

So next time you find someone being critical, ask yourself whether the criticism is valid and if there is a solution to this criticism, other than an ad hominem response (yes, I’m looking at you, Mark Shuttleworth).

Oh, and critics: It’s good to have a solution to go along with your critique. Admittedly, I should do this better, and promise to do so going forward.

[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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The ’69 Dart of Software

January 13, 2011 1 comment

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now by clicking on the winking penguin.

I got to my office and it was too cold to work. So I left the frozen tundra of Redwood Digital Research for the cozy confines of The White Raven.

From the comfort of a large coffee and a view of traffic passing New Leaf Market — a solar-powered organic grocery story which has its servers running Red Hat, no thanks to me, but still — I thought about a couple of stories I’d read this past week.

The first was a blog post by an Emery Fletcher which paints Ubuntu as the be-all and end-all of Linux implementation. While I am eternally grateful for Ubuntu’s efforts in promoting Linux in the general public (even if it is to the point of putting itself first and FOSS second, but I digress) and while the blog presents an interesting point about Linux implementation, it’s hard to determine whether this blog item suffers from anything more than mere myopia.

Current versions of Debian, OpenSUSE and Fedora are all as user-friendly as the current version of Ubuntu, but that does not enter into the equation in this blog. That’s unfortunate, too, because what both Fedora and OpenSUSE — with its new Studio spin — have done consistently with each upgrade have been remarkable. Mr. Fletcher may be lacking some perspective — think about where Ubuntu would be without the contributions to kernel development (warning: that link is a PDF file, courtesy of the Linux Foundation) and desktop development without the three distros mentioned at the beginning of the previous sentence — a harrowingly depressing thought, indeed.

The second article — the one from which this blog title derives its name — comes from a comment I made on a discussion in LXer.com regarding this blog item comparing Photoshop and GIMP.

First things first: There are some unqualified truths in life. The sun will always rise in the east and set in the west. The moon controls the tides. The San Francisco Giants will win the World Series only once every half-century.

Above all of the aforementioned is this one: GIMP is not Photoshop.

I’ve used GIMP in a professional setting — namely the newspaper for which I work. Once a long time ago, the paper did not have enough Photoshop licenses to go around for all the editors, so I downloaded GIMP (not requiring a license) and used it to process photos that ended up on the newspaper’s printed page. However — and you knew that was coming — I am fairly well-versed in GIMP and had little problem adapting to its interface; had another editor who is more Photoshop oriented had to do the same thing, s/he may have had a problem or two.

GIMP is an adequate photo manipulation program, but without the army of developers behind it — as Adobe has — it will pale in comparison with Photoshop. Always. So it’s foolish to think that professionals wouldn’t use Photoshop. In other words, if you’re a professional driver qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, you’re not going to strap yourself into a ’69 Dodge Dart to get the job accomplished — you’re going to use the appropriate tool(s) for the job. Conversely, most people don’t need a turbocharged single-seat racing car to go to work and back, and to run daily errands.

Will there be a time when GIMP can rival Photoshop? Not without a huge influx of developers to match what Adobe does. Believe me, every night before I drift off to sleep, I pray to the Almighty that developers will magically appear on GIMP’s doorstep (and the rhetorical doorstep of other FOSS programs) and that Job One will be making a single window interface for GIMP. Please, Lord . . .

Also, calling GIMP a ’69 Dart is not an insult. I had one, and it was the best car I’ve ever owned, VWs included (and those who know me know my loyalties for automotive products from Wolfsburg run deep). The Dart was the most boring and utilitarian car I’ve ever owned, too, but it was still the most dependable and reliable.

Well, now that I’m a bit warmed up, I’ll head back to Redwood Digital.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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Fedora keeps the PowerPC faith

January 5, 2011 5 comments

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now.

Yes, it only comprises a half of a percent — that’s 0.5 percent, if you’re keeping score at home — of all the Linux users. Yes, that translates to a microcosm of Linux users within a microcosm of overall computer users. So I understand if Linux on PowerPC does not apply to you.

But it might.

Regular readers of this blog know I have a soft spot for PowerPC architecture. I was a Mac guy before I was a Linux guy, and I became a Linux guy using Linux on PPC architecture before I finally — finally — warmed up to Intel, AMD and others. You’ve probably read here how well this processor works, and how fondly I remember Steve Jobs doing the Adobe Photoshop demonstration during every Macworld keynote while the PPC processor kicked Intel’s sorry butt time and time again.

While major distros have been making a bee line away from developing for the PowerPC architecture since Apple dumped the processor for the Intel one now in newer Macs, Fedora skipped its development of a PowerPC version of it’s current release, Fedora 14. They joined OpenSUSE in recently saying a hasty “adios” to an architecture that, sadly, is being used less in the hardware world.

[Currently, I have two iMacs at Redwood Digital -- a flavored G3 333MHz and an iMac G4 "desk lamp," both running Debian. Of all distros, Debian has remained consistent in its commitment to updating its PowerPC version of their distro. They also remain committed to developing for Commodore 64 and Atari architectures as well, while we're at it, but I digress.]

But there is good news for those who use the PowerPC: Fedora will be back in the PowerPC fold with Fedora 15, scheduled for release in May.

On behalf of the microcosm within the microcosm, thank you Fedora.

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