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Stop the presses

February 24, 2012 6 comments

It consistently awes me, sometimes to tears, to see how consistently wrong some Free/Open Source Software commentators are about things like the current state of the desktop. To hear some of them tell it, it’s a hand-wringing, brow-furrowing situation in which the fate of the entire paradigm rests in the delicate balance.

Let me explain this in simple terms: It’s not. If anything, it’s an invitation to a front-row seat to witness digital Darwinism at its finest.

So stop acting like this is a crisis. It’s not.

Unity is a dog — it’s a textbook case of incredibly bad judgment by The Mark to make a cookie-cutter, all-in-one user interface across a wide range of different hardware. But that’s all it is. Is it the death knell of the desktop? Hardly. It’s not even the death knell of Ubuntu.

The same with GNOME 3: Arguably a bad move, but not one that is forcing GNOME to fold up the tents and go the way of the Studebaker or the hula hoop.

KDE thriving? In my opinion, it is. That’s a good thing, and they have weathered some bad times recently to come out stronger and with a good product for those so inclined to use it.

Xfce making progress at GNOME’s expense? Tough if you’re a GNOME guy or gal, but not bad in the grand scheme of things. Xfce has always been a good desktop environment which is finally getting the recognition it deserves — it will be interesting to see how they take advantage of this (and good luck, guys and gals).

There is even more attention now toward window managers like Openbox and Fluxbox, as the current desktop environment “crisis” ushers in a sort of renaissance for window managers that gives users a new look at a facet of Linux that is not often discussed.

The bottom line is that’s what it’s all about: choice. Choice is good. Having choices is a virtue, not a vice. It’s simple: Get that and you get FOSS.

[Note to the Linux Foundation: You may think that events@linuxfoundation.org works, but I'm still getting bouncing e-mails across a wide variety of machines using various e-mail programs on FOSS and non-FOSS platforms. Tell you what: I'll just print out my blog from yesterday and mail it to you. Watch your mailbox.]

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

This is Strata!

February 15, 2012 9 comments

There is only one word to describe the speed, style, and power of the ZaReason Strata 6880 laptop.

Damn!

First things first: This laptop is wide — a 15.6-inch-screen-wide-in-high-definition wide — and it is powerful, to the tune of the test model’s Intel i7 Quad-core with 8 threads running at 2 GHz. The 8GB of memory below the keyboard coupled with the Nvidia GTX 540M video card make this a well rounded machine for, well, just about anything. The width of the laptop — oh, it still fits on my lap because that itself is wide, too — allows the laptop to have a full keyboard that includes a number pad on the right.

For something this fast and powerful, you should probably have a license of some sort — a pilot’s license comes immediately to mind.

As mentioned yesterday in my review of the ZaReason Alto 3880, my current ThinkPads come in the basic black. This laptop, too, comes in basic black, but it’s a shiny, slick black as opposed to a staid, utilitarian black favored by IBM and then Lenovo. In terms of black, if the ThinkPad makes you think of a limousine, the Strata 6880 in turn makes you think of the Batmobile.

Strata 6880′s strengths

Originally, I thought that for a laptop, this was kind of big — maybe wide would be a better word to describe it. Sure, I have a wide lap, as I mentioned before, but for something this size? Anyway, it only took an hour or two to become accustomed to the extra witdth in screen real estate — a bonus on a machine like this that’s so nimble and quick. Multiple windows are a snap here and there’s a lot less promoting and reducing when working on multiple projects simultaneously. And the screen: a crystal-clear LCD display with a 1980-by-1080 footprint shows whatever I choose to bring up with a clarity bordering on perfect. This comes in handy especially when watching DVDs or streaming video — which you can do while working on other things (why would you? I don’t know, but for the sake of testing this machine, the Strata 6880 handled everything I had thrown at it) . Not only does the streaming audio/video come across clear and uninterrupted while working on other things, the performance was nothing short of remarkable. I would imagine that most of the graphics performance would have to do with the Nvidia video card, that seems to handle things easily.

Like in yesterday’s review of the Alto 3880, the Strata 6880 ran three different distros: Linux Mint 12, Fedora 16 and CrunchBang Statler. It ran each perfectly and, with the addition of Flash on Fedora in the post-install, everything ran as it should out of the box. If you’re wondering, I did spend extra time with Fedora, only because I wanted to give some extra time to GNOME 3 and, while I can see some of its advantages now working on a machine that will run it, personally speaking that desktop is not for me. As for Linux Mint, MATE and Cinnamon ran quite remarkably, and my home distro — CrunchBang — was flawless and fast on this hardware.

There are times when using the Strata 6880 that I feel like I am driving a Testarossa to go to the grocery store and back. I don’t mean this as a slight — the capabilities and potential for this machine are far wider that what I would use it for. What I’m currently using it for is this — Web stuff (including streaming audio and video), a little testing (though most of that is done on a desktop), correcting photos in GIMP, making and running presentations in LibreOffice Impress (which worked well, by the way), and watching DVDs. This laptop, though, does make me want to break out the Blender book again and give that program another shot, maybe seeing what more the laptop can do.

Still, when I was running multiple programs like GIMP, LibreOffice and streaming a video, the warmest the Strata 6880 got was 54 degrees C — doing the same thing with the ThinkPad usually get the temperature up to the 70s (though, kids, don’t try this at home). All of which is to say that the laptop does all the work thrown at it and seems to look for more.

I understand that the Strata 6880 can be a gaming platform, and I would believe it judging by the high performance. I don’t “game” — I may have game, but I don’t usually play on the computer — so I didn’t try it out the gaming side of things. But with the current setup, it would not surprise me that games would be an easy fit for this laptop.

Needs improvement?

To be honest, I had a few qualms about the wide screen at first, but they quickly subsided as soon as I started getting used to the width and found I could put it to good use. Like the Alto 3880, it has the same single-button-on-a-fulcrum setup where you push either side of the single button to get the left/right mouse button, and having a separate left- and right-button mouse set up on the laptop is more of a personal preference than anything. Unlike the Alto 3880, the Strata 6880 had a stiffer keyboard which was more to my liking, so it gets high marks there. One thing that could be a reflection of how much I was using the machine unplugged moreso than anything — and I don’t think it’s a “need improvement” item, but some might: I only got a little over two hours of battery time while unplugged, but again it was while multiple programs — including streaming video — were running. To be honest, I’m never more than two hours away from an electrical socket, so battery life is not a big issue with me.

A final look

As I said a couple of days ago, I don’t have a ranking system — I still don’t, even after yesterday’s review of the Alto 3880 — but I would give the Strata 6880 the highest marks across the board for design and performance. Looking more closely at the machine itself and judging by the firmness of the keyboard, the laptop also feels durable. My only regret in having this laptop for several days is that I couldn’t make it break a sweat — again, the activities I normally do in my day-to-day digital life include the typical Web stuff augmented by some Web and photo work, some software testing for programs that are not terribly complex and a lot of LibreOffice, either writing or using Impress. Also, as I mentioned yesterday, I can’t emphasize enough how important considering a purchase from a Linux hardware vendor is, and apparently the differences in prices are not as much as I thought: After a trip to Best Buy in Capitola yesterday, the difference in price between this laptop and others like it is marginal. The $849 base price for the Strata 6880 is about $50 less than a comparable HP laptop with similar specs on the showroom floor at $799. So if this is in your price range, the Strata 6880 is a good buy.

Of course, the worst part of this process now comes with me having to pack up these laptops and send them back to Berkeley. Thanks, ZaReason, for allowing me a chance to give these two laptops the once-over, and thanks, too, for making such great Linux-based hardware.

Specs as tested

Screen: 15.6-inch bright glossy LCD display at 1920-by-1080 pixels
Processor: Intel i7-2630Q 2 GHz, Quad-core, 8 thread
Memory: 8GB DDR3-1333
Graphics card: Nvidia GTX 540M 2GB
Hard Drive: 128 GB SSD
Optical Drive: CD-RW/DVD-RW
Audio: Speakers above the keyboard for quality sound output
Wireless: #WZF B/G/N
Reader: 3-in-1 card reader — SD/MMC/MS supported
Camera: 1.3 Megapixel webcam included
Ports: HDMI and VGA monitor ports; Gigabit Ethernet port; 2 USB 2.0 ports; 1 USB 3.0 port
Operating System: Your choice from a variety of Linux distros, or no operating system
Battery: Six-cell battery
Weight: 5.51 pounds
Basic price: $849
Price as tested: $1,426

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

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!

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