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Playing catch-up

August 13, 2012 2 comments

Until the apology earlier about not keeping up with Todd Robinson and his somewhat busy August, I realized there were a few other things that caught the old radar here in the hotter-than-average afternoon in the San Lorenzo Valley among the redwoods. So without further adeiu, here we are with a couple of items that may or may not require their own item:

GNOMEbuntu? Well, that’s what some are calling it. On a GNOME mailing list, discussions are being held and options are being bandied about regarding a GNOME-based version of Ubuntu, which I assume would be a version like Xubuntu (which uses Xfce) or Kubuntu (which uses KDE), and the gist of the discussion is what to call it. This comes from discussions at UDS in Oakland back in May, and apparently for several reasons Gubuntu won’t fly (too phonetically close to Goobuntu, which is Google’s version of Ubuntu). While some over in the GNOME camp are perusing the respin books at Ubuntu, another possibility is GNObuntu, or insert your favorite here.

Speaking of GNOME . . .

GNOME OS? Brian Proffitt writes an insightful article about where GNOME is heading — a direction that arguably is taking it on a different tack. Brian quotes GNOME’s Allan Day saying that it’s not going to be a separate distro. But it’s something like that, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. The article brings GNOME’s zeitgeist to the fore, for those who are wondering what’s going on there; that is, when they’re not discussing their Ubuntu spin.

And speaking of GNOME again . . .

Ubuntu’s top desktop environment is . . .: Unity? Nope. KDE? No. Xfce? Unfortunately, no. It’s GNOME Classic — whatever that is (and I’m assuming that it’s GNOME 2.x) — which is used by a total of nearly 60 percent of Ubuntu users, according to an article on an Ubuntu Apocalypse fansite called Ubuntu Vibes. In what is either an enormous failed attempt at humor or complete incompetence in reading their own chart (or, as a third possibility, getting the data wrong in the chart and having their own self-fulfilling prophesy try unsuccessfully to match what they posted), they put up a chart of desktop environment use based on an opt-in program called Popcon. “In all total,” the article states, “2,381,625 machines are submitting installed packages details to Popcon,” and they came up with a chart that shows that most people are using GNOME Classic to the tune of close to six out of ten, although less than 30 percent have installed it in the past 30 days (because, maybe, they’re not installing Gutsy Gibbon?).

My guess is that whomever made this chart read the Popcon data wrong and made the chart accordingly with the faulty data. One might shrug, but to those who have seen this before, it appears that this Canonical/Ubuntu-based site can’t get its facts straight. It will be interesting to see whether someone with some level of responsibility at Canonical/Ubuntu — whether in corporate or on a community level — takes this person aside and say, “Um, this is more than likely wrong, so can you fix this?” But I’m not holding my breath.

Yeah, I said that. So? Rikki Endsley wrote a pretty good piece that, she says, was scooped by someone else, so she posted it on her own blog here. She does a great job, of course, and in the I say something that is not quite . . . what’s the word I’m looking for? . . . evangelical. That’s it: It’s not evangelical. But nonetheless it’s true. Here’s the entire paragraph lifted from the blog item:

“Let me say that you only get one chance to make a first impression,” says Larry Cafiero, a software developer and Fedora fan. “I’d stay away from distros either based on Unity or GNOME 3 because they’re going to be foreign to what the Windows user is used to. That pretty much leaves Linux Mint with their GNOME 2.x-like desktops.” Still, Cafiero thinks that anyone who isn’t willing to put in the small amount of effort required to learn a new system might as well stick with Windows.

Fedora fan? Yes. Though I don’t use Fedora as my primary distro — that honor now goes to CrunchBang Linux, a Debian derivative — I still appreciate highly Fedora’s contributions to FOSS and, having a history with that distro, I like most of the people who are involved in that particular community. I said this and mean it: Anyone who doesn’t want to put the effort into learning Linux or FOSS might as well stick with Windows. It’s the old “leading a horse to water” paradigm — we can tell people how great Linux and FOSS are, but they have to want to try it and use it. The learning curve is now so easily negotiable that anyone with with more than two IQ points to rub together can do it, so frankly I don’t have time for the ones who don’t want, or are too lazy, to use it. For those who have been slamming me because of this quote, that’s what I meant and I stand by it.

There’s a new sheriff in town . . . :” Speaking of CrunchBang, I’ve been involved in that growing and friendly community for about a year now. Since I’m such a forum denizen over that time, they’ve given me a badge and I’m now one of the forum moderators. I’m honored and humbled at being asked, and I know with great power comes great responsibility (I seem to remember that popping up on Debian installs). I’m working my hardest to be Captain America and not Barney Fife (though out of the proverbial starting gate, I seem to be the latter).

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 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!

Veni. Vidi. Odio Unitate

May 28, 2012 6 comments

My apologies for not writing this sooner. I know some of you were waiting with bated breath on Saturday for me to finish my run with Unity, and I had planned to wrap it up on Saturday. But I didn’t. I gave the new desktop environment from Canonical, featured only on Ubuntu so far, an extra day just to see if ultimately there was anything — anything — I am missing.

If you can read Latin, the blog’s title says it all. If you can’t, I’ll get back to that in a minute.

But first things first, I have a hard and fast rule — well two, actually — about using Free/Open Source Software. It’s simple: Find what you like and/or what works best for you and use it; it may not be what I use or it may not be something we agree on, and that’s fine. The second rule is a no-brainer: Contribute back to the distro/FOSS program that you use, whether its with bug reports, coding, documentation or financially; and make sure your digital contributions go upstream where they belong. As you’ve heard me say before, some entities — cough Red Hat and Novell cough and their surrounding communities — do this better than others — cough Canonical cough — though admittedly the latter is getting better at it.

Which brings us to the Latin: After vanquishing one of a plethora of lands he overran while he was doing his thing, Julius Caesar said “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” This, of course translates to, “I came. I saw. I conquered,” a 47 B.C. corollary to Dr. Peter Venkman’s “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” in the 1980s movie “Ghostbusters.”

I’ll take it a step beyond: Veni. Vidi. Odio Unitate.

I came. I saw. I hate Unity.

As far as I am concerned and for my own computing purposes, there is truly nothing in Unity to like, and there is nothing here that is new. Let’s put aside the one-size-fits-all-but-not-really-any interface for a moment. It’s bad enough that desktop/laptop Ubuntu users are forced into a rigid interface better suited for a netbook or a tablet, but how is something like Head Up Display an innovation? I could have missed the memo, but how is typing out the program name easier than clicking on an icon? And what does HUD do that something like Konqueror — or even the command line — doesn’t do?

In fact, arguably Unity and HUD are a license to fall into bad habits, which is a hallmark for ease-of-use shortcuts built in to recent Linux user interfaces in order to draw users from other operating systems who, as the indescribably flawed reasoning goes, are drooling Neanderthals because they’re Windows users or lazy hipsters because they use Macs.

So the workaround here is simple. If you absolutely, positively have to use Ubuntu for some compelling reason — your family is being held hostage by a radical offshoot of the Ubuntu Apocalypse, for example — there is a workaround. It’s called Xubuntu. Other workarounds include Kubuntu and Lubuntu as well. For that matter, you could even go to a Ubuntu-based distro like Linux Mint, which gives you the GNOME-as-it-should-be experience in a solid distro.

Of course, if Unity works for you, then use it.

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 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!

Not a normal week

February 7, 2012 1 comment

Last week up to today, which is still Tuesday in most parts of the world, had not been the most normal of weeks. First, I was busier than I have been in the past with a lot of different things, both digital and non. This is not a complaint — certainly in the face of having two ZaReason laptops to review, and putting new, fast hardware through its paces when you’re at your busiest is something that is a plus.

I’ll get to the reviews — yeah, I swore them off after the last one I did for ZaReason, but these will be the last . . . honest — a little later this week. There will be two by both me and my daughter Mimi, for a grand total of four. Watch this space.

This past week had some pretty interesting developments, like

Robyn Bergeron, trivia question: So here’s the question that will come up in various conversations way in the future — “Who was the first female lead of a major Linux distribution?” That, of course, would be Robyn Bergeron, who was given the nod to replace Jared Smith as the Fedora Project Leader. Not only does Fedora make history, but the project puts itself in incredibly capable hands with the new leader. Congratulations, Robyn.

Rumors of Kubuntu’s death . . . : OK, here’s the story. Listen closely: Canonical dropped funding for Kubuntu a few days ago, but that does not mean, as some bloggers have wrongfully stated, that the distro is dead. On the contrary; apparently it’s going to be treated in the same way as Xubuntu, Lubuntu and the other official ‘buntus. I understand that Kubuntu developers are going to meet and discuss this at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Oakland in May. If you’re a Kubuntu user or have thought about contributing back to the project, now would be a good time to do so.

Coming tomorrow
: LibreOffice 3.5 gets its official release tomorrow, Feb. 8. The latest release candidate is already available from the Document Foundation — go get it, either today while it’s still hot from the oven, or tomorrow when it’s ready.

(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!

A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood

December 19, 2011 1 comment

Memory fails me at the moment (age is cruel) and I’m too much on a roll in the throes of testing to Google it, but it was either Peter Parker’s uncle — or Voltaire — who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The ZaReason Limbo 5440 give a user great power, and with it comes a certain degree of responsibility. Speaking of which, one of the responsible things you can do is take control of your computing — I know I’m preaching to the choir here, so to speak, but in the off chance a new Linux user is reading, that’s what it’s all about.

In that regard, one of the things that ZaReason does, to its credit, when sending out new machines is to point out in packaged documentation where to get help — a useful page for anyone, from the new Windows refugee to the experienced Linux user. “We build these systems so they just work,” it says, (and I would add, with great understatement), and it urges folks who encounter a problem to a.) try to figure it out — “The more you play with your system, the more you know about it,” tweaking it until it’s yours, and then b.) figure out how you want to solve any problems that arise — message board, online support, e-mail, phone, etc. It’s also has a list of places where you can find help in these ways.

But I digress.

SCALE 10XNow, a confession: I haven’t had new hardware since I plunked down $2,500 a couple of decades ago as one of the first purchasers of the Apple IIc — excuse me, the Apple //c — and a daisy-wheel printer. While the laughter dies down, let me confess too that all of my Linux boxes and laptops have been hand-me-downs and castaways, computers brought back to life (and even passed on by me to others) thanks to the modern miracle of Linux, GNU/Linux, *BSD and other stars in the FOSS constellation.

Also, I’ve never had a computer with more than one processor, let alone more than one internal hard drive. Having three drives is daunting, but the situation is enviable. What’s also enviable is a computer that boots in less than 30 seconds. So this is what up-to-date computing is like: The i5 Intel processors (processors, plural) hum along without a hitch, and the ZaReason Limbo 5440 becomes Nirvana for the user.

Kid, meet candy store.

The multiple drives piqued my interest and I went a little deeper as I went under the hood. I wanted to learn more about how three drives can be juggled or used in harmony. I did some homework and asked ZaReason CTO Earl Malmrose and he explained further: The drives are currently installed as a RAID-5 array which, for those of you who are not up on it (and that included me until about an hour ago), you could remove any one of the drives without losing a byte of data. The RAID-5 array is a high-end feature that separates the ZaReason Limbo 5440 from the competition. “Forgive me for showing off,” Malmrose concluded.

You are clearly forgiven, Earl.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how Fedora 16 Desktop version — that’s GNOME 3 for those of you keeping score at home (though, truth be told, why they can’t just call it Fedora 16 GNOME is a mystery) — runs on this machine. Spoiler alert: Now that I’ve had a chance to use something other than GNOME’s “fallback mode,” I might just say a nice thing or two about GNOME. Might.

“A Week in Limbo Series” (for those of you keeping track)
A Week in Limbo, Day 0
A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, which is the development side of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, United States.)

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Eliminate DRM!

A Week in Limbo: Day 0

December 18, 2011 9 comments

When ZaReason CEO Cathy Malmrose asked me recently who I thought would make good reviewers of the Berkeley-based company’s hardware, I gave her a list of names of those I thought would give the hardware a good going-over. Selfishly, one of the names listed was mine, offered mostly in the finger-crossed hope that I’d be chosen to test the hardware and write about it here.

A few weeks after our conversation — specifically, on Friday — our friendly neighborhood UPS guy delivered a ZaReason Limbo 5440 desktop unit for me to put through its paces.

SCALE 10XI’m grateful that they chose me, and the ZaReason folks know me too well: On the Limbo 5440 they had installed Fedora 16 (awww, thanks guys!)– ZaReason provides their products with a choice of distros, with the latest version of Fedora, Debian, Linux Mint or Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Mythbuntu/Edubuntu/Ubuntu Studio available, along with a “no operating system” option — so they know what I wanted off the bat.

This particular mid tower, a low-cost box starting at $499 which is built for expansion, was delivered with a plethora of upgrades: a Dual Core Intel i5-2500M (at a screaming 3.3GHz), 8 GB of RAM (DDR 3-1600) and three — count ‘em, three — 500 GB drives turning a cool 7,200 RPM each. This particular model, with the additions, goes for $945.

So here’s the deal: With this box in my possession for a week, I will use it until Christmas Day (as an aside, my daughter Mimi — the Ubuntu user in the family — will also use it and give her impressions as well) and write an item every day entitled, wait for it, “A Week in Limbo,” Days 0 through 6, with the epilogue at the end serving as the wrap-up review of the hardware.

I’ve added a few programs that I would normally use during the course of my usual digital — LibreOffice, GIMP and XChat, for starters (more to follow, obviously) — and during the course of the week I’m also going to use other distros on the Limbo to see how it works.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some of the nuts-and-bolts features of the desktop, as well as some impressions of the Limbo 5440. Watch this space.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office.)

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Put me on a highway and show me a sign

November 3, 2011 24 comments

Bruce Byfield and I don’t always agree. When we don’t, it’s usually a “number-of-angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin” issue; one of minutiae rather than of substance, and sometimes we argue past each other when there’s a misunderstanding on the part of one of us, usually me.

But when we do agree, he’s far better at articulating what I would say. Today, Bruce wrote an exceptional blog item entitled “A Disturbing Dialog About Ubuntu and Unity,” where he points out a moment of clarity in what seems to be the direction of Ubuntu which is outlined in Bug #882274, filed by Tal Liron under the title “Community engagement is broken.”

It’s a bug that apparently won’t be fixed. But don’t take my word for it, go ahead and first read Bruce’s blog item (a repost of the same link above), or read the bug report itself (again, another repost). I’ll wait.

My favorite quote in the whole thing, and there are many, comes from Ubuntu SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth: “I fully accept that Unity may not be for you. Then don’t use it. On Ubuntu you can choose Unity, KDE, GNOME, XFCE, and many others.”

And there you are, folks — certainly a unique concept of “community” in three words: My way or highway. Go ahead and use one of the other ‘buntus if you so desire, since we’re not changing the flagship for anyone or anything.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog item, Shuttleworth is right about this: If Unity works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, then don’t. There are many other choices out there, and I’d be willing to bet people are choosing “highway” instead of Shuttleworth’s “my way.”

Fortunately, the FOSS highway provides a lot of adequate alternatives: Linux Mint, this lane, exit only. Fedora, next exit. Debian ahead. OpenSUSE, exit 5 miles. You can even get off the main highway and take some of the backroads to some of the less-traveled distros, if you like.

So put me on a highway and show me a sign . . . .

*SABDFL — Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, a moniker picked up from Steven Rosenberg’s recent blog item. Thanks, Steven.

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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Mark is right, and Mark is wrong

November 1, 2011 24 comments

Yesterday was one of those days. Though I’m not terribly proud of it, I wrote three different blogs items during the course of the day — staying up past midnight this morning to finish the third — and posted none of them. In fact, I took the unprecedented step in just dumping them into the abyss of /dev/null, rather than putting them aside to pick them up later.

The first was a reminder about how developers should remember to send patches upstream. Some distros are good about this — Fedora, tip your hat — and some aren’t. The “aren’ts” know who they are, and those who don’t send patches upstream in a timely manner need to get on it. Now.

The second was a comparison of Unity, and to an extent GNOME 3, to the Edsel; comparing those desktop environment releases to how Ford had built up an enormous curiosity around this new “E-car” in 1957 — a car of the future — they were developing amid a shroud of secrecy before revealing to the world, well, the Edsel — which nearly everyone hated once they saw what Ford’s idea for the “future” was.

I wish I could remember the third one. It didn’t get far and it was just kind of ramblin’ — that’s R-A-M-B-L-I-N-apostrophe.

So thank you, Ubuntu SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth, for your usual pithy observations — right, wrong and ad hominem — made yesterday at the Ubuntu Developers Summit, which will allow me an opportunity to write about something today.

I had planned to give Mark a pass yesterday. Anything I say about Ubuntu or Unity is going to be taken with the grain of salt that a.) the common perception, albeit completely untrue, is that I am incapable of saying anything nice about Ubuntu, and b) another common perception, admittedly somewhat true, is that I hate Unity with the heat of a nova. Until I use something smaller than a laptop — and let’s say for the sake of argument that would be never — I’m not going to need an interface that’s suited for a mobile device on any piece of hardware I use.

There was Mark yesterday in Orlando, doling out some observations in an article by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (complete with “Ubuntu Linux” in the headline, remarkably). In it, The Mark points out that Canonical/Ubuntu will be expanding to smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, and that’s where Mark gets it right. Oh, it speaks volumes about why Unity is as it is, and it sounds like a plan that has spread-too-thin written all over it, but far be it from me to be the proverbial wet blanket — go for it, Mark.

However . . .

Mark gets it wrong when he promotes Unity as the one-size-fits-all UI solution across the hardware spectrum. It would be laughable except there are legions of Ubunteros ready to drone on about how this is gospel going forward when simple common sense would dictate otherwise, to say nothing of developers being drawn from a more balanced approach to large-hardware and small-hardware development rather than what seems to be the current course in putting all the proverbial eggs in the small-hardware basket.

But let’s go to the subtext here, shall we? There’s a grave philosophical misconception gaining traction over the last couple of years that goes something like this: People are using smart phones and tablets more, so let’s forsake the desktop and laptop and embrace smaller hardware. I think this they call this the “Post-PC era,” or some other remarkable cliche. The fact of the matter is that the advent of smaller hardware ushers in a “PC-plus era,” where you use your personal computer AND something smaller and portable in tandem with it.

Know why? Simple. Try using Blender on your smartphone or tablet. How’s that working out for you? It’s not?

My point exactly: While you can get away with some tasks on your smaller hardware, you’re still going to need to do things on something larger. So to shift focus from proven hardware form factors, albeit the larger and less portable ones, in order to develop for the flavor-of-the-month smaller hardware is textbook myopia.

Also, in an ad hominem statement typical of Mark Shuttleworth in defending Unity, he says that some of the more experienced users are “too cool” to use Unity. I think the quote goes something like this: “There is going to be a crowd that is just too cool to use something that looks really slick and there is nothing we can do for them.”

No, that’s not it, Mark. The reason some people don’t like Unity is not because it looks slick (which is completely debatable). It’s because it doesn’t work for them. By the way, actually there is something you can do for those you mistakenly think are “too cool” for Unity when all they really want is something that works: Make Unity work and make it tweakable.

Once you reach that point, would you mind coming back and letting the cool Linux power users know? Thanks.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a blog item that’s a keeper.

*SABDFL — Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, a moniker picked up from Steven Rosenberg’s recent blog item. Thanks, Steven.

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!

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