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Spanning the globe . . .

October 27, 2011 6 comments

. . . to bring you the constant variety of FOSS. A few morsels of FOSS news have flown by the proverbial radar this week, and you may already know these things already. But just to recap

Finishing out the alphabet: Ubuntu announced it planned to offer a five-year long-term support — up from the usual three-year LTS — with its next release, 12.04 or Precise Pangolin. Bad news or good news? Good news on the whole, unless you have to use Unity — five years with Unity seems to strike me as an act that violates the Geneva Convention. But if you’re using one of the other ‘buntus, like Xubuntu, Kubuntu or Lubuntu, you’re in luck. You can keep using Pangolin and let Ubuntu ride out the alphabet, since Canonical’s SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth will finally reach the end of the alphabet by Ubuntu 17.04 — 17.04 is the Z adjective/animal — five years after the release of Pangolin.

Hold onto those Palms: Well, if you thought Palm OS was out the window and that HP’s hardware was going the way of the Dodo and the Studebaker, think again. HP is actually going to keep its PC unit, according to ZDNet. Again good and bad news: Good news because I’m particularly fond of Palm OS and the Palm Pre 2 when I used it — and those who picked up the fire sale HP tablets have hardware that might get a new lease on life — but the bad news is that I now have to say something nice about Meg Whitman. Good call and thanks, Meg.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles . . . : The SCALE team is busy at work setting up 2012’s first event on the North American continent — SCALE 10X is being held Jan. 20-22 at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport — and their contest closes next week to design the SCALE 10X logo appearing on T-shirts, bags and other SCALE 10X swag. Details are here, and the prize is a trip to SCALE. Draw quickly.

Speaking of SCALE: Rikki Endsley wrote an exceptional piece on why kids matter in FOSS. She gives seven excellent reasons why we should be cultivating the future with a new generation of FOSS developers and advocates. Thanks, Rikki, for an exceptional dovetail into the SCALE Kids’ Conference, which will be held at SCALE 10X (dates and link above). Want to make a difference in FOSS future? Here’s your chance.

One more thing: I think I offer a pretty wide latitude when it comes to comments to this blog, if the FSF item is any indication. I do have a couple of rules that by which I ask folks to abide: a.) provide a name and an valid — valid — e-mail address (or a valid nameserver address), and b.) try not to be a douche. I know some people can’t help violating “b.” to save their lives, so I will sometimes waive that rule if they provide “a.” But if you violate both, you’re out of luck. That plain, that simple.

*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!

United for Unity alternatives

October 25, 2011 18 comments

I love Brussels sprouts, and I’m blessed with the ability to eat fields of them in one sitting. Some people hate them to the point of legislating against them.

Some people crave eggplant. I would rather eat dirt and will only eat eggplant at gunpoint, which of course makes for some interesting dinners at my household. But I digress . . . .

Having said this, allow me a Captain Obvious moment to say that folks have different tastes, likes and dislikes, which in the final analysis boils down to a subjective smorgasbord of opinion rather than any resemblance to objective fist-bearing, knuckle-bashing fact.

I loathe Unity with a heat of a nova, but some people absolutely love it to the ends of the earth. And that’s great, but it’s not for everyone. What about those Ubuntu users who don’t like Unity because it’s a brain-numbing, unintuitive desktop environment that’s has a my-way-or-highway range of tweakability (or do I overstate it?), or what about an Ubuntu user who can’t use it because they’re using older hardware?

What’s an Ubuntero to do?

Use another distro is always an option — I’m beating Fedora‘s Juan Rodriguez to the punch here (touche, Nushio!) — but if you’re truly a dyed-in-the-wool, adjective-before-animal-loving Linux user, you have Ubuntu options that don’t include Unity, and for this many of us are truly thankful.

In my order of preference, they’re:

Xubuntu: Ubuntu with the Xfce desktop environment is probably my favorite ‘buntu; it was my first Ubuntu distro several years ago, and you never forget your first distro. Or maybe you do. But anyway, I have always had an affinity for Xfce’s smaller footprint, especially since I am usually using hardware that is not — how can I put this tactfully? — the latest model. My sincere hope is that with GNOME fumbling away much of its user base with GNOME 3, Xfce can pick up users and developers. But of all the ‘buntus, Xubuntu is probably the best of the pack in performance. Of course, if you have hardware old enough (in computer years) to occasionally scream out, “Get off my lawn,” then Xubuntu is ideal if you have to use Ubuntu.

Kubuntu: I have an interesting story that I always tell when the issue of KDE and Kubuntu come up. Years ago, the principal at my daughter’s school was inspired so much by using Kubuntu that she wanted to convert the computers at the school to the distro. She didn’t succeed — a lot of inside baseball was at play there — but if a woman just introduced to FOSS and Linux is that inspired by a distro, then it’s speaks volumes on its behalf. I have a love/indifference relationship with KDE — on the odd-numbered Fedora relases, I use the KDE version and I’m generally happy with the 4.x version of KDE, even though I probably only scratch the proverbial surface on the desktop environment’s abilities (the even-numbered Fedoras? Now, Xfce, but previously it was GNOME until I was unable to use GNOME 3 due to hardware restrictions).

But wait, there’s more:

Lubuntu: OK, Lubunteros, don’t flame me. To be honest, I’ve never tried LXDE. I’ve seen it, it looks nice, everyone I talk to who uses it loves it, but the reason I have had neither the chance nor the inclination to use it is because the Xfce desktop environment seems to be my go-to DE when it comes to hardware with, um, limitations (yeah, that’s it, limitations). If anyone would like to give me a compelling reason to try it, I will.

One more thing: A few years ago, there used to be a fledgling distro on the runway called Fluxbuntu, which had the Fluxbox window manager atop Ubuntu. I used it briefly when I had a larger computer lab and loved it, and while it looks like they’re still going, they’re probably going to need a little help there, if you’re so inclined.

(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!

A Unity workaround

October 18, 2011 8 comments

When Ubuntu 11.10 was released recently, I spent a day trying to at least get a feel for the Unity desktop. It was a long day and, in the end, we are going to have to just agree that Unity and I are not made for each other.

Before I continue, allow me an aside. My philosophy about this whole desktop environment thing is simple. The desktop on my computer should resemble my desktop in real life. On my desk are a lot of things, some important and some not, and none of it is in any particular order. My desk is not limited to a certain number of items neatly tucked on one side; it has things all over it that are immediately accessible when I need them.

I think Unity leaves a lot to be desired, to put it diplomatically, and it probably feels the same way about me.

I’m at peace with that.

But the day with Unity was not a total loss, because I did find a workaround for it on Oneiric Ocelot.

It’s simple: Install Xubuntu 11.10

I’ll be the first to admit it: That’s snarky. But in the final analysis, Unity just doesn’t cut it for users with normally functioning brain capacities ranking above troglodyte. In the name of “simplicity,” it ironically adds a layer or two of complexity that arguably hampers ease of use, especially when you want to tweak it to your own personal settings — or at least to the settings you’d hope to make, but ultimately are unable to make thanks to the desktop’s limitations in the name of accommodating new users.

But never mind. Again, the workaround is Xubuntu 11.10. Or Kubuntu 11.10, if you’d prefer.

[Of course, others would say, “Well, you could always use Fedora 15 Xfce,” but I’m addressing those who want to use Ubuntu. Though, needless to say, using Fedora is always an option.]

Shortly after the Ubuntu-with-Unity day of pain, I installed Xubuntu 11.10 and found it worked wonders on this old MicroPC laptop. The familiar desktop was tweaked to mimic the programs and desktop icon set on my main laptop, which runs Fedora 16 Xfce beta at the moment — if you can’t have a terminal alias on your desktop, then you’re not living.

A couple of things about the install and use of Xubuntu 11.10 which may cross over to other *buntus and deserve special mention.

First, there’s a pretty wide availability of software in the Live CD version. I’m used to going back after a Live CD install and installing a ton of programs I usually use from the repositor. But in this particular install, there were several programs that I didn’t have to pick up after the Live CD install. Good call.

Another thing about the *buntus I like is the Ubuntu Software Center. Yeah, it’s kind of slick, but it works quite well. In accessing a wide range of repositories, it has everything one would need.

Xubuntu 10.11 Oneiric Ocelot is an exceptional release and is one that deserves a shot if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Ubuntu user but cannot bear to use Unity. Try it out.

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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Spending the day with an Ocelot

August 14, 2011 3 comments

Yes, I know LinuxCon is next, and that’s in mid-August, but I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing and with Linus being there and all. But if you’re going to the next show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting, so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!)

First things first: No one in their right mind would review an alpha version of a distro, just as no one in their right mind would take the advice in a review of an alpha version. I can’t remember who said it recently — for some reason, Jeff Hoogland of Bodhi Linux comes immediately to mind (and if it wasn’t you, Jeff, I apologize) — but reviewing an alpha version is like telling someone how a cake tastes after just trying the batter. So let me make it perfectly clear this is not a review — I repeat, “This is not a review!” I mention this because to the first person that says, “Larry the Free Software Guy reviewed Oneiric and he said . . . ” I’d like to remind you, ahem, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW.

Got it?

After reading a few articles about the Alpha 3 version of Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot and finding that it was available (though it’s a little hard to find — perhaps by design — on the Ubuntu site), I thought I’d give Oneiric Alpha 3 a try since I had a day to spare — actually a unusually slow day at work — and not much else to do with it. Such is my life on a Saturday.

The caveats: I didn’t install Oneiric but ran the distro on the ThinkPad T30 from a USB stick. Also, sucking it up and taking a deep breath, I promised myself I would resist rolling my eyes this time and took a proactive approach to the Unity desktop environment, brushing up a little on Unity before going back in there to avoid repeating my disastrous introduction to it.

I still think that Unity leaves way too much to be desired, however the Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot Alpha 3 remarkably behaved like a version of a distro well beyond the alpha stage. Programs come up quickly — bear in mind again that I’m running this from a USB stick — and there were no noticeable hiccups normally associated with early pre-release versions.

However, I did encounter a crashing program for which I was prompted to file a bug report through Launchpad, which I attempted to do. Unfortunately, when signing in to Launchpad, I was told that I was “stale” — no truer words were spoken, perhaps. After “freshening up” my account, though, I wasn’t able to reproduce the glitch, so I wasn’t able to file a bug report.

But on the whole, if this alpha version is any indication of what Ubunteros have to look forward to in October, this should be a good release.

Things I liked about Oneiric (bearing in mind it’s an alpha) :

  • Despite running from a USB stick, programs respond quickly with a “right out of the box” feel, almost as if the distro is installed on the hard drive.
  • LibreOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird native to Ubuntu 11.10 (though I am told that LibreOffice may not make the Live CD. Rethink that one, guys and gals)
  • Things I didn’t like about Oneiric (and, remember, it’s still in the alpha stage) :

  • Unity (yes, I know you can opt for Kubuntu/Xubuntu/Lubuntu, which I would do if I were an Ubuntu user; probably using Xubuntu)
  • This is probably more of the fact that I’m using old hardware, but the splash screen as the laptop boots looks like a bad acid trip (not that I know what this would be like first hand — no really!)
  • Unity. Oh, did I say that already? Sorry.
  • A pet peeve: I don’t want to use Empathy for IRC, and I know that space on the Live CD is scarce (and I know I can just get it after installing the distro), but you could stand to put something like Xchat or Irssi on for the hardcore IRC types. Just sayin’ . . .

    As the auto ads say, “Your mileage may vary,” and you may have a completely different experience with Oneiric. However, with Alpha 3 being a solid release, with the upcoming tweaks in the next months finalizing it when it’s unleashed on the public in October, there’s a good chance that Ubuntu 11.10 will be a strong, solid release.

    [Want to comment? Please do, but you’re going to have to give me a name — it can be an IRC nick — and a legitimate e-mail address. If not, it won’t appear. That plain, that simple. “Anonymous,” “anon” or any variations thereof get held immediately — if I can’t reach you to confirm, then it doesn’t run. Same with any suspect comment that can’t be confirmed. So let’s be above board here.]

    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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  • More miscellaneous ramblings

    April 26, 2008 Leave a comment

    [Has it really been almost a month since I last posted? Probably. But with the Lindependence 2008 project hopping, maybe that’s not so surprising. My apologies for the long hiatus to those outside my family who read this blog.]

    The Heron has landed: Ubuntu let fly with its semiannual release — Hardy Heron, which really goes by the name Ubuntu 8.04 (and Kubuntu 8.04 and Xubuntu 8.04, for those of you keeping score at home) — and it certainly has a lot to offer. Having a chance to tinker with the beta in preparation for the Cabrillo College installfest yesterday, I seem to join a legion of those who use Ubuntu who are deeply impressed with this release. In fact, some are so impressed — like the writer of this eWeek article who seems to think that the *buntus are ready for prime time. Let’s hope he’s right.

    [Also, hats off to the Xubuntu developers who completely kicked bug butt in getting 8.04 out the door. How do I know this? For some reason, I’m on the developer’s mailing list and the bug reports — and their solutions — were fast and furious over the last few weeks. Way to go, Cody and others on the Xubuntu team.]

    MySQL, YourSQL, OurSQL: The MySQL conference in Santa Clara two weeks ago was yet another learning experience wrapped in a swagfest. If I keep going to these, I may never go naked again, with a total of 12 T-shirts (one a small YouTube shirt for Mirano, of course) garnered during the course of the show. I worked the dbEntrance booth with Tod Landis and Shane Duan, two ex-Borland guys who have written a browser for MySQL that’s definitely worth a try. Not to toot my own horn or anything, I did get dbEntrance up and running on a Hardy Heron beta with Shane’s help and they work like they were made for each other.

    [dbEntrance was fortunate enough to be across from the Red Hat booth, which had a monitor looping a video called “Truth Happens” which was absolutely great. Watch it here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.]

    Follow the money: Scott Ruecker wrote an editorial on LXer.com rightfully questioning the validity of a report from The Standish Group International that says the “disruptive technology” of open source has cost the IT industry $60 billion over the last five years.  So Scott asks $60 billion question: How did it cost the IT industry $60 billion dollars? Where did the money go and to whom?

    [Scott does acknowledge that those are more than one question and apologizes for it in the editorial, though I don’t feel an apology is necessary; at least not from Scott.]

    More on Lindependence 2008 upcoming, which is starting to come together better than I had expected. Watch this space.

    [FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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    Flipping a coin

    July 31, 2007 Leave a comment

    Although they are rare, there are days when two significantly major stories vie for my attention and I have to try to determine which to talk about. In this case, both demand immediate attention, at which time the question becomes, “Which do I talk about first?”

    So I have this quarter, I flip it, and it comes up . . .

    Crackers do a number on California’s e-voting machine: Here’s the story from TGDaily.com: In summary, a study commissioned by the California Secretary of State has found that several electronic voting machines have serious security vulnerabilities.

    The study pitted two cracker teams, better known as “red teams” against voting machines manufactured by Diebold, Hart and Sequoia. The hackers found several security problems and were able to change firmware, access the election database and even open up the machines without detection.

    The teams were from UC Davis (Go Aggies!) and UC Santa Barbara (Go Gauchos!). “The red teams demonstrated that the security mechanisms provided for all systems analyzed were inadequate to ensure accuracy and integrity of the election results,” said Robert Abbott, one of the red team leaders.

    And why? Here’s one reason: Abbott’s team was able to access election data directly by exploiting vulnerabilities in the Diebold machine’s Windows operating system – an operating system that all three e-voting machines use. They were also able to bypass locks and other physical security with “ordinary objects”.

    Matt Bishop of UC Davis complains that his teams didn’t have enough time to fully document all the security vulnerabilities because they study started in mid-June and ended July 20. Bowen had said that the deadline could not be extended because the counties need at least six months to examine the findings. Bishop added that Abbott’s team was close to finding several other problems, but simply ran out of time.

    So . . . this speaks volumes about the elections of 2000 and 2004, if anyone is willing to listen. And nothing is really riding on the proper functioning of the voting technology except for democratic principles that are the cornerstone of the republic, if not the fate of the republic itself.

    And what came up “tails,” you ask?

    The Disconnect That Could Fail Thousands: I’ve never met helios, a long time GNU/Linux advocate named Ken (and unlike Sting or Cher, he has a last name, but I don’t know what it is) whose Blog of Helios is one of the most — if not the most — prolific and informative blog on all matters Penguin. In this recent blog item, helios confronts GNU/Linux’s sacred-cow-du-jour — Ubuntu — and asks why they can’t fix a disk mounting problem that appears (at least to yours truly, a newbie with portfolio) to be easily repaired. Instead of getting a “Hmmm, maybe you’re right . . . ” apparently some in the *buntu Nation have set their sights on him and are branding him an “enemy of the people.” Wrong, folks — helios should be commended for having the cojones to say, “Um, sorry, but it appears to me that the emperor’s wearing no clothes,” and it’s the duty of those who support the emperor to clothe him, rather than just “see” the finery the other yes-men and yes-women see.

    This problem that helios brings up with Kubuntu doesn’t seem to be a glaring one. But in comparison, helios outlines a request to fix something he made to Clement Lefevbre of Linux Mint that was fixed relatively quickly. With Ubuntu’s resources — vast by most distros’ standards — why can’t this be addressed and fixed (especially when Ubuntu is now the “face” of GNU/Linux that most of the people see when trying it for the first time)?

    Go helios and, as he likes to say, All-righty Then.

    [FSF Associate Member]

    (Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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    Eliminate DRM!

    Day of the Distro, Part Deux

    March 28, 2007 Leave a comment

    Me? Leave things alone? NoooOOOoooo. Not me. I sat at home fiddling with Xubuntu 6.06 on the iMac and wondered aloud, only to the cat, “Gee, you know maybe I didn’t give those other distros a fair shake.” So I went through the drill again, starting around 6 this morning, of adding and removing distros and seeing how they fared.

    Again, here are the players: indigo iMac, 256MB RAM (not 128 as I previously mentioned — what was I thinking?), 7GB hard drive, and the 6.10 version of Kubuntu; Gentoo 2006; Slackintosh 11; and Fedora Core 4; some coffee) and the new cat watching this time from the floor while I talked to the computer.

    Basically, the test was installing, browsing and tweaking parts of the desktop and, in one case (see below), networking to an eMac.

    Kubuntu kalling: I know how kool and krisp KDE is as a desktop. It is. Honest. And I’m not taking anything away from it when I say it’s really not for me. Maybe I’m just not kognizant of how great a product KDE puts out — but I would venture to say that I am. It works really well. I wish I could put my finger on what it is about KDE that leaves me kold. But I can’t, except to say that it’s not for me.

    [Note to Linus T.: If you really prefer KDE over Gnome, that’s your right, and I will defend it to the death, both yours or mine. However, while I wasn’t the one to come up with a kernel that set the industry on fire — for which all of us are truly thankful — I don’t consider myself an idiot because I prefer Gnome. ‘Nuff said.]

    Sorry, Slack and Gentoo: Missed again. Someday, when I’m a lot more proficient at GNU/Linux and know can fathom installs with only the command line, I’ll be back.

    Putting on a Fedora: Fedora Core 4 was a pleasant surprise once I got it up and running. Not only that, it actually networked with the eMac that my wife has commandeered right away, without my having to prompt it (okay, so it asked me first, but I hadn’t thought of putting it through those paces, to be honest). The only failing seemed to be browsing — pages and e-mail took forever to load. But it looked great and, with some work, I bet it would make a very good PowerPC option for GNU/Linux users.

    Meanwhile, over the course of several hours the cat got bored — imagine that — and I went back to Xubuntu.

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

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