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Where desktop sanity prevails

November 7, 2011 11 comments

While the knock-down drag-out debate over the great leap in desktop environment “developments” has raged over the last several months, Clement Lefebvre and the team over at Linux Mint have been taking a more sane and sound approach — mostly under the radar — to the whole desktop interface hubbub.

Thankfully this approach comes with enormously positive results: Desktop environment developments on tap for Linux Mint 12 could be an enormous boon for both Linux Mint itself and for other distros choosing to integrate some or all of these UI developments.

Lefebvre outlines in great detail what’s in store for Linux Mint 12 in a blog item posted Friday. After apologizing to folks for not being more forthcoming with the changes — “The reason we’ve been so silent is because we didn’t want to promise something we could not guarantee,” he writes — Lefebvre delves into an excellent solution to the whole desktop fiasco, which includes:

An improved GNOME 3 experience thanks to Mint GNOME Shell Extentions: To their credit, Linux Mint stuck to their GNOME 2.32 guns in Linux Mint 11. However, realizing that the writing was on the wall for the lack of future for GNOME 2.32 (more on this later), Lefevbre and the Linux Mint team put together a set of extensions — MGSE — which “makes it possible for you to use Gnome 3 in a traditional way. You can disable all components within MGSE to get a pure Gnome 3 experience, or you can enable all of them to get a Gnome 3 desktop that is similar to what you’ve been using before. Of course you can also pick and only enable the components you like to design your own desktop,” according to Lefevbre.

As an aside, if you’ll permit me a Captain Obvious moment, this is how things work in the FOSS realm. Ideally, extensions like MGSE can be picked up by GNOME and integrated into later updates or releases of the desktop environment, providing a lot more flexibility for users who may be using another desktop because of GNOME 3′s rigidity.

Check MATE: Not one to shy away from herculean tasks, the Linux Mint team will try — try is the key word here — to provide MATE, a fork of Gnome 2.32, on Linux Mint 12. Conflicts between GNOME 2 and 3 are many and profound, which makes this an arduous task to provide that GNOME 3 and MATE will coexist peacefully on your computer, switching freely between desktops from the login screen. But Lefevbre sounds hopeful: “Conflicts with Gnome and the migrations of applications and themes are easy to fix. So if MATE makes it to our liveDVD, it’s likely to come with some rough edges but with your feedback we’ll be able to solve most problems very quickly.”

Linux Mint 12 is expected to be released later this month, around the 20th. A release candidate could be available by the end of this week.

Numbers being what they are — mostly misleading on Distrowatch for any category past seven days (it’s a “lies, damned lies and statistics” situation, as outlined by Mark Twain, for any category other than a week) — it’s this kind of listening to the community, and responding in a positive manner, that makes Linux Mint a rising popular choice when it comes to Linux distros.

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.

(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!

Moving on

September 8, 2011 17 comments

OK, it’s crunch time. At the end of the week, you should be in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Linux Fest — if you’re going to a Linux show before the year’s out, make it this one. This is the last big show on the North American continent until SCALE in January. At OLF, Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

KDE’s Aaron Seigo, “a shift-key-challenged KDE hacker,” wrote an interesting blog item this week where he outlines where KDE is going with Plasma Active. While the blog item itself may not be terribly earth-shattering, the significance of a member of the KDE project leadership taking the time to outline where things are going, so there are no surprises down the line, is significant.

Most telling and reassuring, at least to me, is this paragraph: ” . . . [W]e do not believe in the ‘one interface that runs on both your desktop and your tablet’. We believe in code reuse, in component-reuse (and, where beneficial, drop-in-replacement), compatibility and interoperability; but we also believe that a tablet interface and a desktop interface are not, and should not, be the same thing. The use cases and form factors are just too different.”

He adds later: “So those who are concerned that we’re going to do something nasty to the desktop interface: breath easy.”

Amen to that, Aaron. Thanks for bringing that up and I’m breathing easier as a result.

“Hue and cry” is something at which various Linux and FOSS communities excel. When we find something going amiss, usually a controversy of biblical proportions ensues, where the end of the whole Linux/FOSS paradigm — not to mention yet another delay in the Year of the Linux Desktop — is inevitable unless said problem/redirection/error is fixed, and fixed now.

But while wailing and gnashing of teeth is a hallmark of Linux and FOSS communities, so is the ability to overcome these missteps and improve the programs, or if improving is impossible, forking the program to make a new one. Think LibreOffice, which was trapped by Oracle before being released into the Apache wild. Or this: Not that it’s a fork per se, but my Fedora colleague and friend, Juan Rodriguez — who wanted GNOME 2.32 on his Fedora 15 — stated his displeasure of GNOME 3, but rather than harping on it, he went to work and created the BlueBubble respin of Fedora which has the older GNOME desktop atop Fedora 15.

So amid the upheaval of desktop environments, we have a precedent to look at with KDE having gone through this before. Fortunately for GNOME, KDE’s experience serves as a cautionary tale. KDE seems to have ridden out the rough spots after their release of version 4, though there are some that are just not going to be happy with anything other than their KDE 3.x, and they aren’t shy about saying so.

Arguably, GNOME has stepped in a steaming pile with GNOME 3, and it would bode well for them to take a page from KDE’s playbook here and recover in the same manner. Frankly, I’m expecting GNOME to get over this rough patch, circled as they seem to be by angry users (and ex-users) with torches and pitchforks. The folks at GNOME could learn something from Aaron’s blog item about not making one desktop fit all, but I digress.

Meanwhile, back at the point of this blog . . . the point of this blog today is to remind those KDE users who are constantly picking on KDE because 4.x is not 3.5, as well as to the army of GNOME 3 enemies throughout the shire mercilessly beating up on GNOME, to heed these words: Stop already — we get it.

For better or worse, or for good or evil, both KDE 4.x and GNOME 3 are here. The barn door is open and the horses are in the pasture. The toothpaste is out of the tube.

Get over it and move on.

While I remember the “false start” that accompanied KDE 4.0 and the problems and complaints that KDE users made at its release, I don’t know the situation first hand because I was an intermittent KDE user at the time. I’ve clearly warmed up to the KDE 4.x series and, to be honest, I don’t get what all the hubbub was about, since KDE 4.6 works pretty well on my Fedora 15 laptop.

I understand the animosity toward GNOME 3 — I can’t use it (I have old hardware), and I consider the “fallback mode” the digital equivalent of sitting in the back of the bus. On the few occasions I have had to use it on newer hardware, I want to like it, but I just can’t — it’s an interface that doesn’t seem to belong to the laptop or desktop.

However, that’s all I’m going to say about it, except that I hope GNOME 3.x will fix some of the problems I have with it, making it usable for me. If not, I won’t use it. That plain, that simple. As an aside, I am warming up to Xfce quite well on the whole, so I may be splitting my time between KDE and Xfce from here on in.

But I don’t plan to bludgeon GNOME every time it comes up in a forum or an on-line discussion, because beating dead horses gets you nowhere.

So the choice is yours: You can keep harping on this great injustice, picking at the scab so the unkind cut doesn’t heal, or you can move on by either accepting the way things are or adapting them to what suits you, as Juan did with BlueBubble.

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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Dropping the grammar hammer

September 5, 2011 5 comments

OK, it’s crunch time. At the end of the week, you should be in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Linux Fest –if you’re going to a Linux show before the year’s out, make it this one. This is the last big show on the North American continent until SCALE in January. At OLF, Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

Many of you already know this, but for those of you who don’t, I don’t do tech for a living. I’d like to it for a living, and I’m working on that. This is why you’ll find me with my nose in a book, studying for the Red Hat Certified Engineer certification test I’ll take someday (and, if I ever scrape up enough money, Red Hat classes).

What pays the bills — what I’ve done since my first day on the job at The Miami Herald on President Carter’s inauguration day (yes, I’m that old, and get off my lawn) — is newspaper work. I currently work as a copy desk editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, but it’s a news career that has spanned three decades, three different media (print, TV and radio) and two continents.

I am a third-generation man of letters: My father was also a newsman and his father was a mailman.

I bring this up because at the Sentinel I am known as the Grammar Hammer; a moniker which I am honored to have and one that I constantly strive to live up to. I have a three-pound sledge at my desk. I wield it with the same conviction and passion that Thor might wield his hammer, only instead of vanquishing bad Nordic guys, I’m vanquishing bad grammar and spelling.

As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time reading; more than I spend writing, as a matter of fact (isn’t that always the case?). In much of the tech realm — most in forums and comment sections — the spelling and grammar aren’t always what they should be for people who, generally speaking, are smarter than the average person (and sometimes are smarter than the things they say. But I digress . . .). In the grand scheme of things, that’s OK — I’m not really that interested in picking nits, gramatically speaking, as much as I am concerned with content.

[Note to those who speak English as a second-, third- or fourth-language. This does not apply to you, and thanks for making the huge effort to communicate in tech's lingua franca. My hat is off to you, and thank your lucky stars you don't have to communicate with me in Spanish or Japanese, the only other two languages in which I can communicate. I dare not say I "speak" them.]

But there are a few things that drive me up the wall and across the ceiling when it comes to grammatical and spelling morsels I see in comments and forums (and even in tech stories and blogs, albeit rarely), like:

MAC, as in Macintosh: It’s not an acronym. Mac is short for Macintosh, the product from the new evil empire based in Cupertino called Apple. It’s big-M small-a small-c. Not to be confused with MAC, as in MAC address, which is the Media Access Control address, and the MAC there should be all upper case. The next person who writes MAC to refer to the Macintosh, I’m going to come through your screen with hammer blazing.

It’s Xfce, but LXDE: With all the desktop hubbub going on, these two up-and-coming environments sometimes get mislabled. I’ve seen it XFCE and Lxde, most recently in discussions on the Felton Linux Users Group, which is going great guns in the desktop debate on the mailing list. I’ve never understood why Xfce is 75 percent lower case, but it is. LXDE, according to its site, is all upper case. Speaking of all upper case . . .

GNOME, not Gnome: This is not a GNOME 3 issue, surprisingly. A general rule of thumb is that if it’s an acronym, it’s all upper case. GNOME originally stood for GNU Network Object Model Environment, though I understand that this was so long ago in a galaxy far, far away that some want to drop the caps. I can live with “Gnome,” but on a purely grammatical stanpoint, I’ll keep capitalizing it, thank you. Besides, GNOME folks, do you really want KDE to be the only major desktop environment to be all caps? Fuel, meet fire . . . .

There are more, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be the Linux curmudgeon that you all know and love; at least the Linux curmudgeon you all know. But you get the idea.

All of which is to say, when posting here or elsewhere, let’s be careful out there. Dot each i. Cross each t. Don’t dangle your participles.

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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