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The Three Faces of Fedora 11, Part 1: GNOME

June 16, 2009 2 comments

Yeah, I’m late. I said I’d have this written by Monday. I’m sorry, or “Mea damn culpa,” as San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll likes to say.

While I blew that deadline — only the second in a 31-year journalistic career — I have what I think is a pretty good excuse.

It’s Fedora 11′s fault.

There’s a 12-step program for this, no doubt, but I’m powerless in trying to tear myself away from Fedora 11, putting version with the de facto default GNOME desktop through more paces than I really should (about nine straight hours worth, last time I looked up, counting the download of OpenOffice — more on this later).

GNOME 2.26.1, the desktop version that comes essentially as the default with Fedora 11 is like an old friend; an old friend with a couple of extra benefits. Most notable in the additions department in 2.26 like a new Brasero (with which I burned the Live CDs that went into each of the three test machines) and monitor detection improvements that prevented me from the xorg.conf tango I usually have to perform this time around.

What makes the rock-steady, ever friendly GNOME a good fit is what’s new under the hood for Fedora 11, especially ext4 and PackageKit to name only two of the 60 or so new features which, even with all the time I’ve spent on it, I haven’t gotten to yet.

Because this test machine doesn’t have a DVD drive — while I proudly built this frankenbox myself several years ago, it does lack a certain je ne sais quoi in the hardware department — the install came courtesy of the Fedora 11 Live CD, upon which OpenOffice is absent for space reasons (i.e., it doesn’t fit). Adding OpenOffice and other software was a snap and, while I have no benchmarks to go by, seemed a lot faster this time around.

In addition, everything worked right away, right out of the box, so to speak. Everything I downloaded came right up and, with the standard tweaking, ran flawlessly.

In closing, I’d like everyone to remember the adage, “Your mileage may vary,” meaning in this case that you may not have the same results as I do.

But having said this, I can now safely proclaim that this latest release is nothing short of remarkable.

Coming tomorrow: Follow the bouncing cursor when I detail The Three Faces of Fedora 11, Part 2: KDE.

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

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Categories: Fedora, GNOME Tags: , ,

The Three Faces of Fedora – Prologue

June 13, 2009 6 comments

Although the title above takes a page from film history, Joanne Woodward won’t be appearing in this blog.

[Okay kids, Joanne Woodward was an actress in the mid-20th Century who was married to Paul Newman, another actor around the same time who retired from acting to race cars and make great salad dressing and cookies. One of her most famous roles was playing the schizophrenic woman in “The Three Faces of Eve,” hence the source of the title of this blog series.]

[No, I'm not saying I think Fedora is schizophrenic. I'm just playing off the film title. Sheesh.]

With a few of boxes to spare at the offices of Redwood Digital Research in beautiful downtown Felton, Calif. — no, you can’t have them — I thought I’d run a small experiment: Take Fedora 11 and run it on separate machines with three different desktop environments. You know the lineup — GNOME, KDE and Xfce, which comes as a Fedora spin.

Then, of course, write about the results and observations here.

Starting Monday: The Three Faces of Fedora: GNOME on F11. Watch this space.

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

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Hey, your distro sucks!

March 26, 2009 17 comments

I’m sitting in a room at HeliOS Solutions West/Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with computers running primarly Fedora. However, there are also boxes (going clockwise from where I’m sitting) running OpenSUSE, AntiX Mepis (it’s old), Debian, Xubuntu and Ubuntu.

“So?” You’re asking yourself, and that’s a valid question. This first-paragraph revelation will make more sense at the end.

Having said this, there are few things I like more than working a booth — usually dbEntrance or Fedora — at various shows, whether it’s a large one like LinuxWorld or the Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE), or even talking up Free/Open Source Software in the minuscule venue of a LUG meeting.

Discussing in good faith the likeness and difference between distros, between desktop environments, and between FOSS programs is something that is part of the process; the process that helps uplifts all of us — those using different distros, different desktop environments and different FOSS programs — in this thing called the Free/Open Source Software community.

Helping in good faith people who ask — whether it’s something in Fedora that doesn’t work for a user or something in another distro that is not working — is a common and unavoidable occurrence at all show levels, and it’s good to be able to get someone’s problem solved, assuming you show him/her what’s wrong. It’s the teach-a-man-to-fish-and-feed-him-for-life concept in action.

In good faith: Those are the three key words here.

I bring up those three simple words because invariably at Linux shows like LinuxWorld and SCaLE you have some who don’t follow the “in good faith” part of this equation. You know who they are (and you know who you are): These are the folks who will come to any given booth and essentially tell you what’s wrong with your distro/software/hardware, without offering a shred of evidence, an inkling of cause, or the remote possibilty of a solution to their, um, “revealing discovery.”

They’ll continue by asking why your distro/software/hardware can’t solve world hunger, put astronauts on Mars and cure cancer, among other impossibilities.

In short, their schtick is simple: Your distro/software/hardware sucks and you’re pretty lucky I’m here to tell you why.

A word to those who persist in this behavior: Stop.

It may come as a shock to you that you — and you alone — are the only one impressed with your knowledge and self-importance. In reality, everyone else thinks you’re a world-class, Olympic-caliber annoyance. Rather than helping, you’re getting in the way of those who are trying to assist others who may not be as experienced, and certainly aren’t as arrogant, as you.

So either help us with your degree of knowledge without rubbing anyone else’s nose in it, or just step the hell aside.

Folks tried to spar with me at SCaLE last month, but I blew them off — different strokes for different folks. This issue, however, actually came to a head when Red Hat’s Karsten Wade and I were getting dinner to take on the road on Sunday evening and I was confronted by one of the dogmatards whom I had spoken to earlier in the day. Not being in the mood for hearing an additional litany of what was wrong with Fedora, I just nodded and shrugged while being “schooled” about what was lacking in the distro. But Karsten took a more proactive approach, which was described by Karsten’s response to an item in the previous blog post.

Now the reason I brought up Felton: I’m primarily a Fedora user and prefer Fedora over the rest of those mentioned in the first paragraph. However I use the other distros mentioned above. I’m also game to try others; the history of this blog bears me out — google “eight distros a week” and see what you get. Some of the machines here run GNOME, some KDE, some Xfce, and one on Fluxbox. I’m not an expert at any of them, nor am I married to any of them.

Naturally, I’m open to sharing what I do know with anyone who asks. With nearly three years under my belt on the GNU/Linux side of all things digital, I realize that I’m a relative “newb” at this. Surprisingly I’m at peace with that, despite the fact I continue to learn.

So while I’m always interested to hear the error of my ways, whatever they may be, I’m really not interested in matching wits for the sake of matching wits. You want to prove you know more than I do? If that’s the biggest challenge of your day, then let me make this easy for you: You win.

Like most others, I have more important things to do.

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

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Coming up in 2009

December 29, 2008 11 comments

A lot has been written so far about what to expect next year — some valid, some not.

But has that ever stopped me from joining the year-end pile-on? Perish the thought.

So here are 10 things to expect in 2009.

Or not.

Remember, objects may be closer than they appear, and your mileage may vary.

10. 2009 will be the year of Linux. But so will 2010, as well as 2011 and 2012. In fact, by 2013, the last pair of eyes on the planet will finally glaze over when a Linux writer proclaims the following year to be the year of Linux, and the more thoughtful pundits will just know that it’s now understood that the next year will be our year, for whatever reason, and they’ll write about something a tad more significant.

9. Fedora 11 will outshine Fedora 10. As hard as it may be to believe — and after a month I still can’t find a flaw with Fedora 10 — Fedora 11 will be an encore performance of what can best be described as a rock-solid distro, even for machines that go back a few years (in my case, a Dell 5000 Inspiron laptop and a Dell Optiplex desktop). Sadly, people will continue to be under the mistaken impression that Fedora is too “cutting edge” for anyone other than the most experienced superuser who might be too lazy to negotiate the Gentoo labyrinth (yes, that’s a gauntlet thrown at the feet of my Fedora colleagues to work next year on dispelling that stupid myth . . . ).

8. The UFC pits Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman against each other in a feature bout. What happens though is not one of those ridiculous near-death experiences for some poor troglodyte who normally gets suckered into the ring, but an epiphany for the entire FOSS community: Stallman and Torvalds meet at mid-ring and circle each other warily. Stallman opens the bout by saying maybe he was a little hasty in demanding GNU be stuck on the front of Linux, but Torvalds comes back with openly welcoming the option of joining the two names. Barriers between open source and free software dissolve. GNOME and KDE advocates embrace in a worldwide “kumbaya.” Planets align. Then I wake up.

7. Zenwalk increases the pace of its development. It becomes Zenrun, and in finding that they can add and release improvements to an already above-average distro at an even faster pace, they rename it Zenfly in 2010.

6. Lindependence comes to Redmond, Wash. The hall is rented, the fliers posted, and the riot police stand at the ready, but they remain wary since they don’t want to repeat the WTO fiasco in Seattle a decade ago. Nevertheless, yours truly — in a tribute to another overweight bald guy in the digital industry — opens the event with an insane onstage monkey dance that also brings him to within inches of a heart attack while Ken Starks unsuccessfully diverts the press’ attention. The Digital Tipping Point’s Christian Einfeldt, however, gets it all on video. Meanwhile, Debian, Fedora, Mandriva, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu reps — along with others who choose to join Lindependence in 2009 — hand out live CDs and demonstrate their distros. Yes, that’s Red Hat’s “Truth Happens” video (click here for Quick Time fans) looping in the background all the while.

5. Mandriva gets in touch with its feminine side. This distro renames itself Womandriva and becomes a more reasonable, nurturing distro, finally dropping the adolescent Mandrake zeitgeist from its early days. The distro’s leadership also realizes what a huge mistake it was to let Adam Williamson go and rectifies that situation, adding a huge bonus to his salary.

4. The Madagascar Penguins join Tux as the Linux mascots. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and the Private make Tux one of their own in their commando unit. Incidentally — this is true (you can look it up) — on the Madagascar DVD, the penguins provide their own commentary on their scenes. When Private is struggling to operate a computer while taking over the ship, Skipper comments, “What are you doing up there, playing Tetris? You told me you knew Linux, Private!” Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.

3. Windows 7 will be worse than Vista, as hard as that may be to believe. This development will result in yet another $30 million Microsoft ad campaign diverting attention from this latest offering. Realizing they picked the wrong Seinfeld character in their first campaign, the ad agency casts Jason Alexander with Bill Gates, making Gates look like the “cool one” in comparison.

2. Everyone joins the Ubuntu family. In an effort not to confuse brand new GNU/Linux users with the daunting tasks of trying to wrap their minds around 350 different distributions, distros give themselves new names: Fedbuntu, Debuntu, openBUNTU, Sabayuntu, Damn Small Buntu, CentBuntu, Dreambuntu, Slackbuntu, Pupbuntu, Mepbuntu, gNewBuntu, among others. Solbuntis and OpenSolbuntis also join the ranks.

1. Linux Foundation’s “I’m Linux” video contest’s winning entry grabs an Oscar. After Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ad campaign, and Microsoft following with a painfully original “I’m a PC” theme, the Linux Foundation garners thousands of entries in its “I’m Linux” video contest. The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences nominates the winner, which ends up awing those judging and the statuette for Best Short Film goes to the winner.

There are other developments, like the conflicts that the new OpenBSD Christian Edition causes, which may be addressed in a later blog.

Have a happy and prosperous new year.

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

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Eight Distros a Week: Debian 4.0

February 10, 2008 Leave a comment

[NOTE: For some reason, I went to bed last night thinking this had posted to WordPress. It hadn't So I'm a day behind. Nevertheless, this is the second in an eight-part series on distros I use. These observations are based on distros running on one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 PII, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary.]

Talking about this particular review with a trusted friend who far out-geeks me (but I’m working on it), he made the following comparison. “Isn’t reviewing Debian kind of like reviewing your mother?”

There’s something to be said for that. As one of the three “mothers” of all currently active distros — Slackware and Red Hat being the other two — Debian is the first distro that I encountered after liberating myself from proprietary operating systems. So like thousands, possibly millions, of other GNU/Linux users, Debian and I have “a history.”

Before I start, a caveat: I was enamored by Debian the first time I used it on a friend’s machine; so much so that the first thing I did when I got home that day was to burn all 15 disks to install it. It wasn’t until much later that I was advised to use the net install for better results. The moral of this story: Do a net install and save your blank CDs.

[Anyone need a set of Debian CDs?]

I run Debian on all my Macintosh PowerPC machines for two basic reasons. First, because it works flawlessly on the hardware, and secondly — and probably more importantly — while Debian developers seem to be on top of just about every possible personal-computing architecture on this planet, they also have the foresight to recognize that there is a whole armada of PowerPC-based Macs (especially G3s) that have been abandoned by Apple — thanks a lot, Steve — and the G3/G4 family (shoot, even earlier PowerPCs) are going to need a distro that allows them to extend their already lenghty longevity.

For Macs, Debian 4.0 could very well be the best GNU/Linux distro available. The performance on two iMacs and an iBook were both flawless and no discernable speed was sacrificed even with the somewhat bearable heaviness of the GNOME desktop environment (keep those cards and letters, GNOME-heads: I like GNOME, but I find it a bit bloated and sometimes unwieldy on older machines).

The Debian library of software is legendary, so there’s no need to go into that here. The Synaptic Package Manager has always been one of my favorite programs — I know there must be a 12-step program out there to resolve that — but the availablilty of software is one of the more intriguing parts of the Debian experience; a facet it shares with the family of distros related to Debian. The software update feature — blasted by a Wall Street Journal writer recently as his primary reason not to convert to GNU/Linux (good reason, jerk) — is timely to a fault. I have to confess that I don’t always update when I’m told, but I find later that I should probably heed the updating call when requested to do so.

Speaking of software, I have to admit I’m enamored by Iceweasel, Debian’s browser. Another feature on the drop down Applications menu that some may find trivial — but I find it extremely helpful — is the Debian list that breaks down the programs on the computer by Apps, Games, Help, and Xshells. Trivial, perhaps, but it’s a feature that both newbies and experienced users can find what they’re looking for quickly.

A knock on Debian — an unfair knock in my opinion — is that they don’t release updates like clockwork, like this major distro that schedules its year on April and October releases, for example. But bear in mind that this distro — Ubuntu and its tribe of derivatives (we’ll be talking about Xubuntu later this week) — is based on Debian. So those of you using any of the *buntus should consider the source.

Debian 4.0 lives up to its name, and its continuing legacy, as one of GNU/Linux’s premiere and forward-thinking distros.

Coming tomorrow: Fedora 7.0 / 8.0

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: Debian, GNOME

Random musings from No. 442317

February 20, 2007 Leave a comment

As I take my head out from under the hood — rhetorically speaking — of my G3 minitower (code-named Wowbagger — and those of you who are “Hitchhiker’s Guide” fans don’t have to ask), a quick scan of the usual Linux news sites, with cup of coffee in hand, accompanies the following “random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots,” as San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Scott Ostler likes to say:

Late to the party again: No sooner do I ask for an opinion regarding “GNOME or KDE” that LXer — probably the best Linux new source out there — relays an update from Linux.com on the latest in the desktop environment family feud food fight. For those of you (like me) who missed the original tete-a-tete, apparently Linus Torvalds asked Linux users to use KDE over GNOME because “This ‘users are idiots, and are confused by functionality’ mentality is a disease. If you think users are idiots, only idiots will use it. . . . Please, just tell people to use KDE.’

Not to put out this fire with gasoline, but who exactly are you calling an idiot, Linus?

Are these idiots acutal idiots with room-temperature-in-Celsius IQs? Or are these “idiots” simply people who are either not up to speed on Linux yet (raising hand here), or just people who would rather spend their time on simple computing pursuits rather than concentrating on the minutiae of micro-configuring their desktop?

I happen to use both GNOME and KDE desktop environments — GNOME on Wowbagger and KDE on a G3 PowerBook (code-named Arthur Dent; you’re seeing a trend here, right?) — and to this newbie-with-portfolio, both have their advantages and disadvantages. I like them both — let me repeat that: I like them both.

Of the two, though, I happen to think GNOME is easier to use, even though KDE seems to have a wider variety of things to tweak. This “tweakability” can be a blessing and a curse — the latter, of course, when you configure something you can’t configure back, which has happened to me with KDE. And while I may be the guilty party thanks to a lack of knowledge, I have to say that I’ve never backed myself into a corner configuring GNOME.

As I score it, the advantage goes to GNOME, but you won’t find me calling KDE users idiots. Quite the contrary: Open source and free software is about choices, and rather than degenerating into the Mac-vs.-PC arguments of decades past (What? You mean they’re still going on?), the diversity of desktop environments — and there are more than have been mentioned here — should be celebrated.

What would Jesus boot?: I saw this last month, but I wasn’t going to comment on it until now — Ubuntu Linux 6.06 Christian Edition joins a wide cast of secular Linux distros. Jim Lynch at ExtremeTech.com reviewed it here, and while he addresses the same first question I had — specifically, “why a faith-based distro?” — he also points out some of the features that non-Christians may find appealing.

Lynch writes, “After using it for a while, I realized that the Christian theme in this version of Ubuntu had less to do with appearances and more to do with providing a more wholesome environment with controls on content to keep out some of the adult material available on the Internet.”

So you can hold the jokes about this distro, and I offer a sincere mea culpa for asking, “If you uninstall it, does it reappear three days later?” Mea maxima culpa.

Speaking of distros based on beliefs, Buddhists out there might want to take a look at Zenwalk, the distro formerly known as Minislack.

Signing up: While looking for something else, I happened upon The Linux Counter, where a Linux user can sign up and get a number (like the one in the title of this blog) and register your hardware. “For what reason?” you may ask, and that would be a good question. While I don’t think there’s any real advantage or disadvantage to registering, it’s merely a curiosity and, in some small part, it helps researchers keep track of who’s using what distro on what kind of machine in the ethereal cyberworld.

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