Finally grabbing a minute from my duties (in no particular order) as Dad, chauffeur, daily newspaper copy editor, raffle-ticket seller, Green Party official, honey-do husband and Open Source Reporter editor/publisher/webmaster, allow me a few random thoughts, cheap shots and bon mots (to quote the San Francisco Chronicle’s Scott Ostler):
Lost in the shuffle: While panic reigned for the last couple of weeks regarding Daylight Saving Time being moved up a couple of weeks and while the Y2K-like distress accompanied the advent of yet another meaningless time change (which, incidently, should be abolished), did it occur to anyone to . . . ahem . . . just go into your preferences, find the time/date item and just set the clock ahead an hour? Sheesh.
C’est Ubuntu: This just in from across the Atlantic — the French government has decided to forego Windows and have the government work with an open source operating system, specifically the GNU/Linux distro known by all (and loved by many) as Ubuntu. Starting in June, 1,154 desks of the legislators and their parliamentary assitants in the National Assembly will feature GNU/Linux-based computers. Allez, France! “More on the story,” as we say at OSR, from C|Net can be found here. But wait, there’s more . . .
Who’s carrying the ball for Open Source in England? It ain’t Labour, surprisingly. The Conservatives have run with this issue, as shadow chancellor George Osborne has been saying to all that will listen that a Conservative government will insist all software is open source would cut the the UK’s IT costs by 5 percent. Hello, Tony? More on the story, again, from Britian’s IT Contractor here.
Gentoo hubbub: The GNU/Linux distro known as Gentoo has fallen on hard times. Or has it? DistroWatch, an above-average source of news in the GNU/Linux world, touched off a bit of a back-and-forth firestorm on the site’s weekly report. What more interesting than DW publisher Ladislav Bodnar’s story about Gentoo is the firefight in the reader comments that are linked at the bottom of the report’s page. In his story, Bodnar writes that “[F]urthermore, one has to wonder: with the amount of time some of them spend flaming other people on the various mailing lists and planet blogs, do they actually have any time for coding?” So how do some of the pro-Gentoo people respond? With flamethrowers blazing, of course. A legitimate question, Ladislav, and a good story that, flaming aside, has resulted in a good discussion on your great site. Stick to your guns.
What will it be, Steve?: Those of you who know me — those three of you outside my family now reading this — know that I’m a completely committed Mac guy. Despite the fact I have taken the free software and open source software path, I still think that Apple still makes the best built hardware, period. I say this because having been faithful to the hardware for the last 15 years, I’m siding with DefectiveByDesign.org in asking everyone to sign a petition going to Steve Jobs to “set the ethical example” by eliminating digital rights management (DRM) from iTunes. You can click on the gif at the left to sign the petition (go ahead, but don’t forget to come back). The petition responds to an open letter Jobs wrote on DRM last month. C’mon Steve: Other than axing the Newton (yes, finally I’ve forgiven you for that), your record has been flawless, and those of us who are eternally grateful to you for saving Apple hope you will continue to do the right thing. Keep it up by keeping your word on April 1.
Who left the dog out? Yep, I did. My apologies to the well known, and fairly loved, GNU/Linux distro known as Puppy — a dog that didn’t make it into my GNU/Linux zoo tome a few blogs ago. It should have, and I really did plan to put it there, but I forgot. Here, have a Milk Bone, Puppy folks, and thanks for sparing me the embarrassment of notifying me personally in very civil e-mails — rather than frying me, Gentoo-supporter style, on my own blog.
I realize that this may be old hat — a fedora of any color — to long-time GNU/Linux users, so please indulge me on this discourse into the animal kingdom.
One of the joys of having my daughter look over my shoulder while dealing with the GNU/Linux learning curve — despite learning a very colorful and spicy vocabulary (okay, that’s a joke: She gets enough of that when I bring her to the newspaper) — is that she’s enamored by the wide variety of characters that symbolize GNU/Linux (and GNU/Solaris) operating systems, to say nothing of those other-worldly (netherworldly?), but unbearably cute, BSD mascots.
Granted, I’ve weighed in on my animal of use — the beast of burden on my Macs — in earlier blog postings, but as Mirano points out, there sure are a lot of animals out there (“. . . and why no chickens?” since she’s partial to chickens). But this observation, courtesy of a 9-year-old who puts together her own Web site with a classmate, started me thinking: Dang, the ethereal world of free software/open source software is full of animals — and we’re only talking about the mascots here.
There are the standards
GNU and Tux, the former for GNU’s Not Unix, and the latter being the ubiquitous, happy penguin Tux, symbolize GNU/Linux, although in the public mindset, these two animals should be thought of together rather than separately. But there has been an effort, especially around those in the free software movement, to rightfully link the two together, so we have GNU and Tux becoming superheroes battling the multinational corporate software hegemony, as shown below.
As you know, nearly all the wide varieties of GNU/Linux distros have some variation on the theme, but mostly they have Tux as their mascot, without the GNU (pronounced “guh-new”) gnu (pronounced “new”). While we find that unfortunate and hope that developers will rightfully put the two together in their own mindset, and that of the public, we all have our favorites. I can’t get all of them into this blog, but if you comment on which ones I missed, I could give them a fair shake in a later posting.
Who let the dogs out?
Not all GNU/Linux distro mascots graze on the African plains or waddle and eat herring: Speaking of standard-bearers, one of the Linux-for-Macintosh pioneers was Yellow Dog Linux, which has long since expanded not only all the latest Mac hardware, but they’ve blazed a trail into the realm of operating systems for Sony’s PS3 — that’s a good dog, Potter! Despite the fact that I have several distros lined up and waiting to audition to be my GNU/Linux flavor of choice, I currently have Yellow Dog 3.0 on the Old World Macs that I use on a daily basis. Speaking of real dogs, Norway’s http://wolvix.org/”>Wolfix keeps the canine motif going, with their symbol being a little more direct: a wolf’s footprint.
All jokes about Novell executives being legless reptiles for entering into an agreement with the evil empire of Redmond notwithstanding, SuSE has been represented by the noble reptilian iguana for years. It comes in a couple of flavors, Novell and their Enterprise Linux and the German-based OpenSUSE.
Having grown up in Miami, I know a lot about Dolphins, even the ones that swim in the ocean. So it comes as no surprise that GNU/Linux mascots aren’t limited to land animals. In fact two distros distros — Zenwalk and OpenTLE — take to the seas with their mascots. Zenwalk is a French distro that asks the eternal question: Have you ever tried Zen computing? (although we would have asked, “What is the sound of one app clapping?”), and OpenTLE is a Thai distro for Thai users (and if you visit their sites, make sure you have your Thai fonts, because despite clicking on their British flag link, apparently they’re not ready for English-language visitors yet).
Back on the savannah . . .
With its mascot coming from the African grasslands, Nexenta, an American distro, brings an interesting twist to the GNU family: GNU/Solaris running on a Sun kernel. According to its Web site, “NexentaOS is a complete GNU-based open source operating system built on top of the OpenSolaris kernel and runtime . . . . NexentaOS is completely open source and free of any charge. It contains Apache, MySQL, Perl/Python/PHP, Firefox, Evolution, software update manager, Synaptic package manager, Gaim Instant Messenger, abiword, administration & development utilities, editors, graphics, GNOME, interpreters, libraries and many others. All of this is running on the state-of-the-art SunOS kernel.” Naturally they get such a long listing here thanks to the length of the giraffe’s neck.
The devil made me do it
Continuing on the mascots-from-hot-places theme, FreeBSD is (as they say on their Web site) “an advanced operating system . . . derived from BSD, the version of UNIX developed at the University of California, Berkeley” (which begs the question: Why didn’t developers adopt the bear, since UCB are the Golden Bears?). BSD distros tend to be devil-themed (like PC-BSD, although you have to go seaside for the OpenBSD’s blowfish), which may or may not lend itself to the suggestion that the devil is in the details, or that they’re hell to work with (and I’m on the side that says they’re not, so keep those cards and letters).
Lower life forms
Being lower on the food chain does not reflect the quality of http://www.dragonflybsd.org/”>DragonFly BSD, an operating system and environment originally based on FreeBSD. Going even further down on the food chain — down to plants — a stylized tree represents gNewSense, one of our favorite distros due to its commitment to free software, and Slax has its four-leaf clover (that I’ve overlooked before, but not now) as a symbol.
Once again, I know I’m missing some of your favorite distros and their mascots — and if so, please comment below and I’ll make sure I get it mentioned in another posting.
A news item today at PC World heralds some groundbreaking news in the way of GNU/Linux being preinstalled on Dell desktop and laptop computers. So when I wrote in the Open Source Reporter FAQ that (and I’m paraphrasing here) your Grandma wouldn’t be using Debian, perhaps I had spoken a wee bit too hastily.
This is not to say that the distro on the Dell machines will be Debian, unfortunately, but the PC World article does mention that “other Linux distributions were also suggested by users, and that Dell will look into possible certifications with other Linux brands across its product lines.” All of which means that users may not be locked into Novell SUSE, but that remains to be seen.
But whatever Dell should choose to put on their GNU/Linux boxes, the underlying fact remains that when a corporate giant like Dell — and who hasn’t used a Dell, either at work or at home (and possibly both)? — provides the option away from prepackaging solely the Redmond-based digital sludge masquerading as an operating system they’ve previously offered, you know Dell isn’t doing it out of the goodness of their corporate hearts.
The demand is there, and Dell knows it. For all the nasty things I have said about Dell in the past, most (if not all) of it deserved, I now have to hand it to Dell: Maybe they get it after all.
Arguably, and with all the fanfare the news warrants, if nothing else this signals that GNU/Linux has officially arrived as a mainstream operating system.
Further, given a choice between a bloated operating system like the Microsoft’s new “Vis-duh” and a more streamlined GNU/Linux operating system that frees up the computer workings for more important things, which would you use (especially on a lower-end machine)?
This is not to say that I’m embracing Dell. On the contrary: I know their products well, having used them in the many office environments in which I have worked over the past couple of decades. In my current job, I use a Dell as a copy editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. So let me be frank (and children, you can leave the room now): Dell has always lived up to its reputation as manufacturing hardware that absolutely and unequivocally blows. The fact that Windows-on-Dell can easily be described as hell squared is not lost on many people.
Having said this both here and over the last 15 or so years, however, no one is more ready than I am to give Dell another shot in using a Dell box or laptop equipped with GNU/Linux; crossing my fingers all the while that their hardware dependability may have increased as well.
If anything, improved Dell hardware coupled with Linux could just break me from the habit of spitting on the ground every time anyone mentions the computer maker’s name.
You’ll have to forgive me for being AWOL for the last several days, but apparently the open source gods have dealt me an interesting hand that I’ve been playing to the best of my ability.
While spending most of my time trying to get the hang of Yellow Dog Linux on my G3 Wallstreet (while hoping I can figure out how to go all Linux, rather than booting from BootX), my home machine — the G3 minitower with a G4 processor (thanks, Sonnet!) — seemed to take a vacation when I tried to burn a CD (the drill here is to boot into OS 9 to use the SCSI CD burner, which the machine did not like).
To compound the situation, for some mysterious reason, I couldn’t re-install OS X. This definitely was the exclamation point on the message I was getting from the open source gods: You talked the talk, bub, now walk the walk.
So I went through a few distros to find which one would boot.
Debian: I always have a problem with rebooting Debian after I install it. I don’t know why, but it never works for me, which is unfortunate because I really want to use it.
Gentoo: A very interesting process in installing it, but like Debian, I get a combination of nada, zilch and zero when I reboot.
[Again, this could be PEBKAC raising its ugly head once more . . . ]
So it’s back to Yellow Dog Linux for the G3, because the installer is friendly and I can get it to boot after I install it.
I’m not particularly married to the Yellow Dog, so if anyone has any suggestions for this G3/G4, I’m wide open to them. Further, this sort of speeds up my entrance into the Linux world: I had hoped to leisurely negotiate the Linux learning curve on the Wallstreet and get a handle on it, or at least to the point where I don’t have to reinstall the system if I want to change the monitor settings. The plan was to become a Linux stud, and then jump into converting the desktops at home.
So the “argh” heard ’round the world is really an “ah.”
Incidentally, I’d like to do an informal poll: Which of you readers like better as a desktop, GNOME or KDE?
As you know from reading this blog, I have picked quite possibly the most difficult machine(s) on which to install Linux, upholding generations of Cafiero family tradition by refusing to seek — let alone travel — the path of least resistance.
And it took a walk in the redwoods and a chance encounter with a man and his Golden Retriever to enlighten me to the what I was doing wrong; or rather, what I had yet to do right.
While walking through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton (that’s in Santa Cruz County, Calif.), a man and his dog walked toward me on the trail. I have a particular fondness for Goldens — perhaps the best behaved dogs on the planet — and while giving this one a pat or two and talking to his owner about him, it dawned on me that I hadn’t tried Yellow Dog Linux.
So when I returned home, I found my Yellow Dog 3.0 Sirius disks and, lo and behold, the installation and reboot went without a hitch. While not completely Linux — I have to start with the OS 9 dance until BootX comes along — it gets me into this new open source world.
That means my penguin is a real dog. To many that may be an insult, but not for those at Terra Soft in Loveland, Colo., who would take it as a high compliment.
One thing, though: Can anyone tell me how to empty the trash on KDE?
Despite the fact that my loyalty to my hardware borders on obsessively legendary (or just plain obsessive in legendary proportions), those of you who know me know that I’m a Mac guy. I’ve been a Mac guy since I started working on them at NBC in Burbank in the early ’90s (okay, confessional: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned — I was on the script staff of the Saturday morning sitcom “Saved By the Bell” as the assistant script supervisor). Prior to that, I had built my own PC despite owning an Apple //c (that two-see in English) and leaned toward the Intel side until ’92.
Over the years since my conversion in 1992, I’ve never strayed, facing the east toward Cupertino in homage (except for that one time that I cursed Steve Jobs for killing the Newton, because every Palm Pilot out there ever since could have been, and should have been, a Newton. But I digress . . . ). I was there when Apple circled the wagons in the mid-’90s, and I rode the crest of a victorious wave with the developments of the late ’90s. Apple’s hardware was never in doubt — it was always far superior than anything anyone else put out.
So my collection of hardware — with the exception of a G4 eMac that has been commandeered by my wife — has been of the beige and black variety: PowerBooks (1400, Wallstreet, a 160 somewhere in the house), a PowerMac 9500 with a Sonnet G3 upgrade and, the machine that I now use, a PowerMac G3 minitower, with G4 Sonnet upgrade and 544MB (2×256 plus a 32) RAM. Yes, they’re all old by computer standards, but they all work pretty damn well, and I challenge anyone to prove the same for a Wintel box or laptop of the same age.
That makes me an Old World guy in a New World world.
I bring this up because it seems that the Linux cards are stacked against Old World Macs, which is a pity because Macs tend to live forever. With Apple systematically abandoning its legacy hardware — another pity: Could you imagine General Motors forsaking the 1957 Chevrolet? — it’s not news, or a secret, that Linux developers would benefit from making Linux more available to those people with old Macs (I can’t speak for old PCs, but it’s probably the same situation, or not).
This is not to say it isn’t. I know it is. My PEBCAK exploits in trying to get Linux on my Wallstreet — not to mention the masochistic exercise of trying to put NuBus Linux on the PowerBook 1400c — are the stuff legends are made of. Between the utility of BootX and the zen of miBoot (which seems to hold the answer to the question: What is the sound of one disk clapping?), there has to be a better way of getting Linux on older Macs.
Most of the pages are finished and ready to be uploaded, and most of the editing is behind me. So having never missed a deadline in my life (not on my own, anyway), OpenSource Reporter goes “on the air” — or the on-line equivalent — right on time for its Feb. 1, 2007 schedule date tomorrow.
So as I systematically and periodically upload pages today (Wednesday, Jan. 31), tonight and early tomorrow morning, I should let you know a little bit about this publication.
For those of you who read this blog on a regular basis (those of you outside my family, that is), you know that OSR is a publication — both electronic- and paper-based — dedicated to promoting the tenets mentioned above in the description of this blog (for a more detailed version of why I’m doing this, go to my first blog installment), and generally to bring free software/open source software to people that deserve fresh alternatives in their daily computing experiences — alternatives that don’t require the imprimatur of the software mandarins in Redmond or Cupertino.
At this point, it’s only fitting to recognize the people who are instrumental in getting this project off the ground.
First, raise a glass to toast my OSR colleague Tod Landis, whose vast technical knowledge is OSR’s “yin” to the “yang” of my journalistic experience. I may put the words on the page, but Tod’s expertise, knowledge and insight are really the spark plug that powers the engine of this publication.
Then, if we can face toward San Jose, Calif., we bow thankfully to Cameron Spitzer, who keeps progressives, lefties and even Luddites on the net, and is arguably the Silicon Valley’s uber-geek without peer. Cameron planted the seeds of OSR through discussions about free software/open source software with me and, as the Green Internet Society’s guru, he hosts OSR on GIS’s server.
Gratitude also goes to my wife Kyoko for the world class, Olympic-caliber depth of patience she has shown to my new-found evangelical zeal, and to my daughter Mirano who, at 9, watches intently over Dad’s shoulder, asks the eternal “why . . ?” and shows a propensity for grasping software (starting with Earthlink’s Trellix to make her own web page) that far outshines her Dad.
Organizations which have paved the way for OSR (not a complete list, obviously) include The Free Software Foundation, Creative Commons and the Electronic Frontier Foundation — all groups which you should go out and join and/or contribute to right now. A tip of the hat also goes to the Silicon Valley Linux Users Group, which fields an inordinate number of questions from this Linux newbie from “across the hill.”
Now, if I only had a bottle of champagne to break over . . . um . . . this PowerMac 9500 that’s sitting next to the coffee table waiting for its Linux install, perhaps that would make it official.