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Things that make you go “hmmm”

September 8, 2013 5 comments

This has been an extremely busy week for yours truly — school has started and the curriculum for the Python for Web Development class is being finalized (class starts on the 20th for students at Alternative Family Education in Santa Cruz, and the loaner laptops have all had new installs of CrunchBang because, well, I’m the teacher) — and nothing terribly exciting jumped out in the FOSS realm that needed my immediate attention.

This is not to say nothing happened, of course, but not one topic will dominate the pixels on the screen you’re reading. But a couple of things popped up on the radar, like . . . .

Intel to Canonical — Go to hell: Phoronix reported Saturday that “the mainline Intel Linux graphics driver has reverted the patch to support XMir — the X11 compatibility layer for the Mir Display Server in Ubuntu Linux.” Hmmm. That seems to be a very quick 180 by the chipmaking giant which interestingly, as it turns out, is heavily invested in Wayland. From a practical standpoint, it just looks like Canonical is going to have to do the work itself; Alan Pope said something to this effect when he tweeted, “It just means more work for us (Canonical) to keep integrating xmir patches into x with each release/update.” But the subtext, as far as I can see, is that Intel is saying this to Canonical: You want to go your own way? Fine. Do your own work, and good luck. Maybe Ubuntu’s walled garden isn’t looking so good after all.

Better not pout, I’m telling you why: Well, he knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. Yes, the previous sentences just scream out begging on bended knee for an NSA joke, but I’m not making it here (see, guys?). But I’m really talking about the jolly one in red — Santa Claus — who will not share a name with the Fedora 20 relase. The Fedora Project community has voted and F20 and the winner is Heisenbug, though I personally gave high ranking in range voting to Santa the Christmas Guy. Nevertheless, Fedora has released the schedule for F20: The alpha goes out in a little over a month on Sept. 17, beta on Oct. 22 with the final release scheduled for Nov. 26.

A must read: Bruce Schneider in The Guardian. Nothing else to say here, just read it.

One more thing: An interesting discussion is currently taking place in the LXer.com discussion forum regarding Katherine Noyes’ articles and how she quotes the same people repeatedly. I’m not going to add anything that I haven’t said already in this thread, but I think the original poster is right. I read Katherine’s items often, and I’m going to ask: Please, Katherine, mix it up a little bit and ask more people — different people — for their opinions.

Felton LUG meets in about an hour. See some of you there.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang 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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Choice is good

July 31, 2011 5 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!)

Spending a lazy Sunday at home for a change — thanks to a newspaper colleague who needed Tuesday off (thank you, Kalin) — it might come as a surprise that I found myself at a loss for a topic to write about. So started the usual drill: I always check LXer.com every morning when I wake up, but then went to a couple of other sites, checked my Google Alerts for Linux-related items, and nothing really jumped out at me.

[You might imagine, if you've read this blog regularly in the past, that "nothing really jumped out at me" usually translates to "nothing caused me to get so rabidly incensed that I had to ask someone for a spatula to scrape myself off the ceiling." But I digress.]

Then I went to DistroWatch.com because, frankly, I hadn’t been there in awhile. For those of you who are interested in all things FOSS, DistroWatch is an interesting place to not only keep up with which distros are peaking and ebbing in the great scoreboard of FOSS, but also to see who has released what when, and sometimes, why.

I decided to take a look at how many active distros — including those which also are Solaris- and BSD-based — there are as of today, July 31. It’s down a bit since I last looked, which has been literally several years ago.

We’re “down” to 324, and if memory serves, the last check I did had the active number in the 350s.

This always kick-starts the “how-many-distros-do-we-really-need” debate, which I have always considered a non-starter. I’ve crossed verbal swords in the past with others who say that a figure like 324 is insane, that there are too many distros available and that there should be much fewer distros so we don’t have to bend our brains having to choose.

I say 324 — or whatever the number is or becomes — is a perfect number, and that external forces should decide how many Linux/Solaris/BSD distros there are. These external forces, of course, are both driven by market and Darwinian factors. You make a good, solid distro, foster a good team and growing community around it, the project moves up the DistroWatch list and — ping! — profit. Conversely, you don’t make a good distro, and these forces — especially the Darwinian one — puts you where you belong.

The reality is that out of the 324 active distros listed on DistroWatch, there are probably between 35 and 50 that will be usable by the general public; that is, those whose computer abilities may end at pointing and clicking. And that’s OK, too. I’d just as soon put my mother in a flaming box of dynamite as I would have her use Phayoune Linux on her desktop. [Phayoune users note: Do not flame me -- I am only using your distro as an example in this case. I am sure it's a wonderful distro for those using it in Thailiand, but the point here is that not all distros are for everyone, and that Phayoune may not be for my mother since she's not Thai, for starters.]

[Oh, and Mom, I would never EVER put you in a flaming box of dynamite. No, really Mom. I swear.]

Or here’s another way of putting this in perspective: Don’t look at the list on DistroWatch and make a list of as many distros that come to mind. How many did you get? Ten? Thirty? More? Well, the more you can name, the more in tune you are with what’s going on, FOSS-wise. Don’t consider that a challenge, but just as an indicator of which distros are doing some heavy lifting in the FOSS realm and, in the grand scale of things, are getting things right. Bear in mind, too, that just because you can’t name a distro, it doesn’t mean that it’s not useful or important in its own way; especially if that particular distro is specialized or based on a particular language or culture (see Phayoune, for example).

But the number of distros — whatever it might be — is what it should be.

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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List of the top 10 Linux lists

June 9, 2011 8 comments

Linux for the GNU South — it’s coming up so attend if you can.

Lists: We all make ‘em and, judging by what appears on LXer.com, we all read ‘em. A great majority of them are worthwhile and informative; others, not so much.

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of “Top $NUMBER List of $VERY_COOL_PROGRAMS” on LXer.com and thought that perhaps a list of the best lists might be helpful to navigate these uncharted waters.

Doing this list David Letterman style, we’ll start at 10 and work our way down to the Number 1 Linux list over the last few months. Ready?

10. 8 of the Best Free Astronomy Apps — An excellent list for those into astronomy: What could be better than free star charting apps? Me, I’m all in on KStars. Thank Steven Epps for this — many of the lists you’ll find in the ether of the Internet come from him.

9. Fedora 15’s Five Best Features — This review by Steven Vaughan-Nichols should be renamed “Five Good Things about Fedora 15 and a Song of Despair” (with apologies to Pablo Neruda), since he starts out by bemoaning (rightfully) the shortcomings of GNOME 3, and then following up with a list of five good things about the release.

8. 31 Great Tutorials for Inkscape — You might as well call this the Baskin Robbins of Inkscape tutorials, and the Unixmen, who normally have some good tutorials on hand, give us a veritable ice cream store of knowledge on this great software.

7. 7 of the Best Free Linux GPS Tools — Another list from Steve Epps. A program can be found here to let you know where you’re going and where you’ve been.

6. Five Must Have GNOME Shell Extensions — If you’re running Fedora 15 with GNOME 3, this list will come in handy.

5. 5 things I like in Ubuntu 11.04 (Unity) and 10 things which I don’t — Dark Duck likes and dislikes several things about Natty Narwhal, and the interesting perspective here is that some of the likes and dislikes are the same.

4. 9 Good CD and DVD Burning Tools for Ubuntu/Linux — While these aren’t necessarily soley Ubuntu tools, it provides a good list.

3. Top 6 Quicklists for Ubuntu 11.04 Natty to Enhance Unity Launcher Functionality — … and if you said that all in one breath, you get a prize. Manuel Jose seems to be on top of all things Ubuntu, and he gets a prize for providing adequate alternatives for Unity users.

2. 7.5 Reasons to Look Forward to Fedora 15 — Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier adds a list of things that, at the time, were coming up in the now-released Fedora 15, and the half-point goes to . . . nope, no spoiler alert here.

Which brings us to the top Linux list of the past few months, brought to you by LXer.com:

1. 70 Open Source Replacements for Small Business Software — In a word: Damn.

Got an item I missed? Pass it on.

[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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Loyal opposition: What it means

June 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Linux for the GNU South — it’s coming up so attend if you can.

More than one person — several actually, none of whom will be named here, to protect the innocent — asked me recently, “Did you see Carla Schroder’s article in LXer.com on Ubuntu?”

I did. In fact, all ego aside (and we’ll wait a few minutes until we’ve had a chance to move that large thing aside), I may have had a hand in this through my contribution to a LXer.com forum item where I said:

“If you’ll permit me a tangent, is Ubuntu “ashamed” to call itself Linux? If you go to their Web page, on the main page you won’t find the word “Linux” anywhere. I finally found it on an “About Ubuntu” page in the second or third paragraph. If you go to the openSUSE main page, Linux is there; same with Fedora and Debian (though Debian goes the GNU/Linux route).

Just wondering aloud . . . .”

Later, if you’re reading along with us on this forum, Carla Schroder (a.k.a., tuxchick) says:

“Ubuntu has many good points, not the least of which are kick-starting serious effort in making a really good desktop Linux, making inroads into the commercial computer market, genuinely welcoming new contributors, and inspiring hosts of respins and derivatives. Think back to the pre-Ubuntu days– Debian releases were stretching out ever longer (over three years!), Mandriva is perennially in crisis, Red Hat is uninterested in the consumer market….hmmm, methinks I spy an article in this subject.” (emphasis added)

So I’ll take a bow for contributing to the inspiration behind Carla writing this article, which is outstanding. Its outstanding nature outshines the fact that there are a couple of minuscule glitches in the article itself — one is that while Red Hat may not care about the desktop market, it established Fedora Core and the Fedora Project at the same time it “went enterprise” (not terribly clear in the article), and Fedora started roughly a year before Ubuntu came along. Also, for all the great things it rightfully says about Ubuntu — let me repeat that, for all the great things it rightfully says about Ubuntu — it still doesn’t address the community’s lack of technical contributions back to the greater FOSS community, for starters.

But let’s not go there now.

Let’s talk instead about how being respectfully critical or showing calm and reasoned dissent contributes to the greater good of all — for those being criticized as well as for those making the observations. Let’s talk about taking what’s being said at face value rather than looking into a subtext that more than likely doesn’t exist.

Bear in mind: When done for the greater good, dissent is not disloyalty.

I’m an Ubuntu user; though it’s not my primary distro of choice, I still use it on a variety of machines. My daughter is an Ubuntu user, and it is her distro of choice, as outlined in our UpSCALE talk (Mimi and I are at the 27:23) at the Southern California Linux Expo this year.

As noted here and elsewhere, I have had differences of opinion regarding how Ubuntu does things, and I have been critical of the credit Ubuntu wrongfully gets for technical contributions made by others. Until this changes, I will continue to be critical of Ubuntu, just as I am critical of Fedora — which is my distro of choice, though I am no longer officially a part of that community — and openSUSE and any other distro or community when criticism is warranted.

My purpose in bringing up shortcomings is to have those in a position to do so correct them — and if I can, I will correct them myself — rather than to berate those doing what I think is misguided or just wrong.

Also, it should be noted that I have also been known to heap praise on those communities that deserve it, bearing in mind that a distro that gets praise one day for doing something good for FOSS may get criticism on another for doing something not-so-good.

The fact of the matter is I don’t expect Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, Debian or any other distro or FOSS program, to be perfect. I do, however, demand distros and communities to live up to the higher standards that we as FOSS users and advocates have set — the most basic of which is that everyone contributes and everyone benefits — and I don’t find this an unreasonable position.

So next time you find someone being critical, ask yourself whether the criticism is valid and if there is a solution to this criticism, other than an ad hominem response (yes, I’m looking at you, Mark Shuttleworth).

Oh, and critics: It’s good to have a solution to go along with your critique. Admittedly, I should do this better, and promise to do so going forward.

[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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Take a breath, then respond

May 6, 2011 4 comments

[Note: I wrote this in the LXer.com forum in response to Jeff Hoogland's blog posting on #fedora that was linked to LXer.com. I did spell out "asshat" below, where I did not do that in the forum posting. Jeff's blog item is here, and I would invite everyone to read it first before reading my response below. Or not. It's up to you. Also, I fixed the link to the Eric Raymond/Rick Moen tome that's worth a read as well.]

Truth in advertising disclaimer: Many of you already know that I have been an active participant in the Fedora Project for several years; for those of you who don’t, that secret is now out (and, man, do I feel relieved admitting it!). I have also been a regular in many IRC channels, both Fedora and non-Fedora related, though I am not a regular in #fedora — in fact, I avoid #fedora for the same reasons Jeff outlines in his self-proclaimed “rant.”

That said, Jeff accurately points out a situation that has been a sticking point, and one that is being addressed and corrected, in the Fedora Project around the types of caustic responses that sometimes come up in #fedora. Also, while I don’t frequent the channel and usually find answers to my questions elsewhere — a good practice (and more on this later) — I can say that it’s something that has caused some of us in the Fedora Project some concern.

However — and you knew that was coming — just as an observation on my part, it appears Jeff shot from the hip on this one rather than giving it some thought before writing.

Believe me, I am not casting the first stone against this “sin” — I speak from experience here: lots of experience in which I have fired off unretractable words that a walk in the redwoods or shooting a few hoops would have tempered into something more reasonable and justifiable.

So, Jeff, with apologies, I think your blog goes over the top in the following ways:

a.) #fedora has not cornered the market in asshats by any stretch of the imagination, despite our mutual experience in this particular channel. The cantakerous tards who have an inflated self-worth exist in most IRC channels in every distro across the board — maybe not in Bodhi, if their leader has any say in it (I sincerely hope) — but I think it’s more the nature of things like how IRC operates as well as a wake-up call for the need for change, positive change, in this regard.

b.) It’s a little myopic to judge the performance of a distro by the people “representing” it (and, arguably, any bad experience in any distro-related IRC channel does not accurately reflect the community as a whole, but rather reflects personality flaws in those responding to questions, regardless of whether they’re chanops or not). If that were the case, I would never, ever, EVER use PCLinuxOS, since I have had the same experience seeking information from them that we have had with Fedora (and I do have a box in the lab with PCLOS).

c.) An aside: When I first started using Linux, I was told to read this tome by Eric S. Raymond and Rick Moen: “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way” which lives here:

http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

(You may have to copy/paste the link above — there is no space before the ~ though each posting insists on inserting one)

Why this isn’t a README in all distros is a mystery, but it should be. I am not suggesting that Jeff asked the wrong question here, but often times questions are not asked in the most efficient or direct way. But as Jeff points out in his blog, we don’t know the circumstances that the user is facing in finding out an answer, but it does help immensely to ask the right question. Immensely.

d.) Another aside: I can’t imagine Jared Smith of Fedora or Jono Bacon of Ubuntu firing off a rant like this. As a project leader for what I think is an up-and-coming distro, I hope you understand, Jeff, that as a project leader, you’re in the bigs now and what you say and do reflect on your project for better or worse.

For those of you who have gotten this far, thanks for staying awake. I’ll now put on my Nomex and feel free to flame away.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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Coffee, Newspaper, Linux and FOSS News

July 13, 2010 1 comment

As the sun makes its way over the Santa Cruz Mountains on a Tuesday morning — don’t forget the Farmers Market and the Organic Software table in Felton, folks! — the daily ritual of dragging myself into a new day begins.

Coffee. A look at the news around the world. Then the important stuff: LXer.com for the news of all things Linux/FOSS.

[Incidentally, our friends at Google need to look at something, and I'll bring it to their attention later. Maybe I'll drop a line to WordPress, too. It seems that no matter how I tag my blog, the only way I can get the Alerts to pick up Larry the Free Software Guy for the benefit of those searching for "Linux" is to put "Linux" in the title. Selfish, I know, but maybe you should get used to seeing Linux in the title of upcoming blogs.]

Meanwhile, back at the blog: Here are a few things that caught my eye this morning:

Antiquated? Phoronix publishes an article entitles “How an Old Pentium 4 System Runs with Ubuntu 10.04, 10.10″ and their description of “old” is, “This antiquated system has an Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB IDE hard drive, and an ATI Radeon 9200PRO AGP graphics card.” Antiquated? Are you kidding me? That’s about as antiquated as a 2006 BMW. C’mon, Phoronix — either do better editing or give us something really antiquated, like a Pentium with Roman numerals.

Ground-floor opportunity, unlimited potential: The VAR Guy writes about the health care track at OSCON next week in Portland. “The health care sector is set for a technology-driven transformation as the federal government pushes adoption of electronic health records and pursues national health information exchange. Hardly surprising, the Open Source Convention (OSCON) has a health care track that will focus on open EHR/EMR software and the government’s standards-based Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) among other topics. What’s in it for VARs? Here are some clues.” And the clues follow. But as those who know me know how I can drone on about this, I think health care software is a huge opportunity for FOSS developers, not to mention making open source inroads in an industry that needs to be in the public domain in the first place, and it’s nice to hear it from someone else.

Oh, and it’s not dead yet: While this wasn’t in the news today, I’ve finally gotten over the eye-rolling aspect of, yet again, SCO not fully grasping basic legal tenets in losing yet another case and now plan to appeal Judge Ted Stevens’ ruling upholding a jury verdict made after oral hearings that Novell had retained the copyright to Unix when it sold its Unix business to SCO. According to this brief item on H online, it’s not over yet and the partners at Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP have taken Stick A to beat Dead Horse B.

Felton Farmers Market, 2-6:30 p.m., St. John’s Church parking lot, about 3/4 mile south of the traffic light on Highway 9 (all the directions you need in Felton). And don’t forget — Major League Baseball All-Star Game is tonight. Go National League.

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

June 14, 2010 3 comments

Monday mornings are not as toxic to me as to others, to hear them tell it. In fact, I have a healthy indifference to Mondays; on a work-week landscape where my first day of the work week at the newspaper is a Thursday, Mondays essentially are my “Fridays.” All of which is to say, that’s not so bad.

Still, coffee would be nice, and while sipping a Kona blend, we can review some of the recent past’s events and articles, like . . .

It’s dead, Jim . . . finally: Novell came up the winner in the SCO case, according to Groklaw, and it looks like this is the end of the line for a one-time tech company turned litigation machine. Judge Ted Stewart ruled that Novell’s claim for declaratory judgment is granted; SCO’s claims for specific performance and breach of the implied covenant of good fair and fair dealings are denied. Denied. Did I mention it was denied? Also SCO’s motion for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial: denied. Deeee-nyed! So that’s game, set, match. Also, on a personal note, as a MoFo — as in a Morrison & Foerster alum, having worked for the firm in Tokyo — I have to say I’m proud of their work in this case.

Well, duh! Chapter One: Dell, which offers Ubuntu (if you want to wait for it — more on this in a minute), gives those thinking about ordering an Ubuntu machine some reasons for making the switch. While those ordering Ubuntu Dells wait — ask me about ordering one for a client and getting a shipment date in about a month, versus a few days for an identical Windows machine — they can take a look at Number 6 on this list: Ubuntu is safer than Microsoft Windows. You think? Sheesh.

Well, duh! Part Deux: What’s the weak link in the national security in relation to cyber war? Easy question, according to a recent ars technica article: Microsoft Windows. Richard A. Clarke’s new book, “Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It,” is still making quite a splash. A quote from the article: “While it may appear to give America some sort of advantage,” Cyber War warns, “in fact cyber war places this country at greater jeopardy than it does any other nation.” The enormous dependence of our financial and energy networks on the ‘Net open us up to potentially devastating online attacks. “It is the public, the civilian population of the United States and the publicly owned corporations that run our key national systems, that are likely to suffer in a cyber war.” Yep, that sounds like Microsoft Windows all right.

What’s that? The sky is falling? It figures that the likes of PC World would take a story involving a relatively obscure IRC server, give said IRC server undue credit for popularity, exaggerate the seriousness of the situation and exaggerate how long it went unnoticed all in one article. But that’s what happened when — HORRORS! — an announcement was made on the Unreal IRCd forum that the Linux version of the popular IRC server Unreal IRCd was contaminated with malware in November 2009, without anyone noticing it. Of course, what the article conveniently fails to mention is that unlike the infections automatically started by the mere presence of Windows, this one had to be downloaded, installed, and configured. That point was glossed over. Another glaring omission: How many in the wild security breaches have there been due to this? I’m not linking to the article — PC World is not getting hits from me — but you can go to LXer and see the article, with responses, if you wish.

I need a refill.

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