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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!

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!

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