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Making do with the iguana

November 4, 2013 1 comment

Ken Starks, my good friend in the Lone Star State, was firmly plopped into a predicament recently when SolusOS sadly suspended operations. We’ll look at Ken’s solution in a minute, but I wanted to give the passing of SolusOS its due: I tried it, liked it, I thought Ikey Doherty was on the right track and, sadly, I find it incredibly unfortunate that there were not enough hands on deck to keep the distro going.

So Ikey suspended operations. Perhaps someone will pick up the ball and run with it, but that remains to be seen.

On several occasions, I’ve given this assessment of how distros thrive or die: In short, I’ve said that distros live and die by their quality and what they have to offer; the better ones keep going, and the not-go-good ones atrophy to varying degrees before becoming obsolete.

I was wrong, and I apologize now, when I said only bad distros go by the wayside. I’ve changed my tune accordingly.

Sometimes good distros get suspended in the limbo of closing up shop due to various reasons — life changes by the lead developers and/or higher-ups, a shrinking community that cannot maintain the distro because, well, there are only 24 hours in a day, or any other reasons that a distro stops moving forward.

SolusOS falls under this category, just as Wolvix did several years ago (shortly after I reviewed it here — hopefully that is a coincidence). Wolvix, a Slack-based distro, was developed by a single lead developer and had, for all intents and purposes, one of the best control panels I’ve ever seen in a distro — an excellent control panel I haven’t seen since.

Anyway, back to Ken’s predicament: I know that Reglue, the Austin outfit that keeps Ken out of trouble while he supplies underprivileged kids with Linux boxes in the area, was planning to use a verison of SolusOS for its hardware, along with the educational respin of Linux Mint 13/Cinnamon by Randy Noseworthy (no, he and I are not twins, as someone suggested recently, though we have never been seen in the same place at the same time) and also with the Zorin 6.4 educational spin.

Not anymore: Ken writes very eloquently, as usual, here and finds that the next candidate up for the kids in Austin with the Reglue hardware is OpenSUSE: Education-Life.

That’s a good call. OpenSUSE does not get the skylit, red-carpet adoration and accolades many think it deserves, but it consistently puts out a solid distro with a solid community. Also, since Ken is a keen observer on distro quality and ease of use (or lack thereof), it’s a great endorsement for OpenSUSE for Reglue to be at the top of the list.

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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That’s my name, don’t wear it out

December 30, 2011 6 comments

Katherine Noyes put together a brief piece for PC World today about Linux release names which, overall, she seems to consider “silly.” In the process, she omits a great bit of detail on the “what” and “why” aspect of distro communities and how they come up with these “silly” names.

Digitally speaking, from a purely anthropological standpoint it is far from silly, and actually it’s quite an interesting topic, though Noyes seems to race through it without giving much detail.

So let me help out here.

SCALE 10XDebian: Release names come from “Toy Story.” As humorous as it is simple, this naming convention is one of the best. An interesting corollary to this is the Debian-based CrunchBang naming convention mirrors the first letter of the current Debian release, but matches it with a character from “The Muppet Show.” So Debian “Squeeze” is translated in CrunchBang to “Statler. “Wheezy” begets “Waldorf.” Statler and Waldorf, of course, are the two old guys in the balcony in “The Muppet Show.”

Linux Mint: I particularly like the naming convention Clement Lefevbre has come up with for Linux Mint. It’s alphabetically a woman’s name ending in “a.” We’re at Julia now. I asked Clement once what he’d do when he got to “Zelda” (or whatever the “Z” name will be for Linux Mint when they get that far . . . and they will), and he said that it was simple: Start with a name beginning with “A” and end the name in “e.”

Ubuntu: We all know the drill here — SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth comes up with an adjective and an animal with the same first letter and hands it down to a waiting community. Which is in complete contrast to . . .

Fedora: There is a formula here that the Fedora Project adheres to before all hell breaks loose and fistfights break out in the Fedora community while they vote on the release name. The formula is simple: “$CURRENT_RELEASE_NAME is a (whatever it is — i.e., city, body of water, person, thing) and so is $NEXT_RELEASE_NAME.” Looking at Fedora 15 “Lovelock” to the current Fedora 16 “Verne,” it goes like this: James Lovelock was a futurologist, and so was Jules Verne. Now how they got from Verne to Fedora 17’s “Beefy Miracle” is a mystery for the ages.

OpenSUSE: OpenSUSE’s naming convention . . . does OpenSUSE even have a naming convention for releases?

Got a distro that has a naming convention worthy of mentioning? Let me know.

*Self-appointed benevolent dictator for life, for those of you keeping score at home.

(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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Five for Friday

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Whew. Wrapping up the week after a 24-hour power outage in the wake of 70 mph gusts here in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Wednesday and Thursday, we have the following tidbits:

Speaking at SCALE: The SCALE team has been busy putting together the Southern California Linux Expo — that’s SCALE 10X for those of you keeping score at home (and, as Giants play-by-play guy Duane Kuiper once added, “but why would you?”) — and they’ve finalized the speakers for the sessions in the three-day first-of-the-year Linux expo in North America. It’s a good lineup — yours truly had a talk accepted, and I know for sure that my neighbors over the hill Alison Chaiken and Akkana Peck are also in the lineup — and when the list has been finalized, we’ll announce it here as well. Of course, yours truly and darling daughter have planned another upSCALE talk which should not be missed at SCALE 10X. Registration is open — don’t wait: Click here to register. I’ll wait.

SSHHHHHHHH: Carla Schroder wrote an excellent piece on tips and tricks for OpenSSH. For the uninitiated, OpenSSH is a powerful tool that lets you run applications remotely and allows you share files without having to set up a file server. If this interests you –and even if it doesn’t — it’s worth a look.

And they all came out and said “try me”: The last few weeks have seen a tsunami of releases. November saw a flurry that included Fedora 16, the rolling release of OpenSUSE 12.1 (which, of course, begs the question: What happened to plain ol’ 12?), Linux Mint 12 Lisa and CrunchBang’s Statler. I’ve written about the latter and I’m more enamored each day with it, and I’ll get around to the others next week. Cross my heart and scout’s honor. Meanwhile, if you wanted to visit them and get a copy for your own personal test drive, no one would be happier than me.

You animal: Rikki Endsley wrote this outstanding piece on Network World entitled “Everything I Needed to Know about Linux I Learned from My Pets.” The first line: “My relationship with my motley crew of cats and dogs is similar to my relationship with Linux. In both cases, I’ve learned that patience pays off, and life is better with than without them.” Indeed.

Thinking globally, acting locally: Mother Nature is being reasonable just in time for Felton LUG to meet. As those of you locals know, we had to move the meeting to the first Saturday for November and December because of the CERT training (they are the emergency responders in crises, so we thank them and let them have our spot whenever they want) on our usual second Saturday of the month. For those of you who are still awake, Felton LUG will meet tomorrow, 2-6 p.m., at the solar-powered Felton Fire Station behind the Felton Community Center. No program this month — run what ya brung — and there could be an installfest kicking off January 2012.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

(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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Taking a look a Salix

September 13, 2011 6 comments

There seems to be a mad dash lately of bloggers tripping over themselves to write reviews of Bodhi Linux. Jeff Hoogland and his merry band of developers have come out recently with version 1.2.0 and I’ve put it through some paces. Overall, I like it, but rather than yet another Bodhi review getting lost in the shuffle, I thought I’d put that one off for another time.

I have a MicroPC TransPort T2200 laptop on which I change distros as often as I change socks. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it is pretty much a test bed for distros I try out.

Several days ago, I was thinking about how I had not really done a lot with Slackware-based distros other than OpenSUSE. I looked for the latest version of Wolvix, which I had written about a few years ago, but found it was discontinued. This is unfortunate, because while writing that blog item a few years ago, I got the sense when talking to lead developer and new-dad-at-the-time Kenneth Granerud that he was on to something.

So after doing a few laps on Distrowatch.com, I settled on Salix, a Slackware-based distro from Europe. According to its Web site, Salix is a linux distribution based on Slackware “that is simple, fast and easy to use.”

No truer words were spoken. After a relatively quick download and installation, Salix flies on the MicroPC laptop.

I opted for the Fluxbox version of the distro — it also comes in Xfce, LXDE and KDE flavors — and the lightweight window manager version does not disappoint. While it might be objectionable to free software purists (and I’m a little flexible on this issue, though I’d prefer the decision of installing it be given to the user), the presence of Flash on the distro out of the box is a plus for those who want to get online and straight over to YouTube. With the Gslapt Package Manager, you can dig around for programs you’d like to add.

It’s refreshing when you don’t have to pop the hood right away. Right out of the box, so to speak, the distro ran flawlessly. Connectivity is a snap, and there have been no glitches with the wireless since using Salix. I added Conky because I enjoy having a rundown of what’s going on beneath the keyboard that sits on my desktop, and I also added Irssi, because that’s what the “cool kids” use to talk on IRC. Why these two programs aren’t already included on distros — I’ve only encountered Irssi being native on Debian — is a mystery.

As a matter of personal preference, I changed the cursor. I have seen this before on Fluxbox-based distros: It comes with the cursor that has a large black arrow and I prefer the smaller white one. With this exception, there was nothing I needed to tweak right away.

Again, I can’t get over the speed of this distro. Salix flies on this laptop, even with multiple programs running simultaneously. I cannot say that for every distro that has graced this laptop. Salix is clearly one of the better distros I’ve come across.

I am not completely up to speed on Fluxbox and its nuances, but I’m getting there. In the hubbub that is known as the current desktop environment soap opera, I’m starting to like window managers more, and you may find that more distro test drives will include them.

The symbol for Salix is the bonsai. Like a bonsai, Salix is small, light and the product of infinite care.

If you have the time and the inclination, give it a try.

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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Don’t be an idiot

August 31, 2011 10 comments

Yes, I know LinuxCon has come and gone, and I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing, the gala party, and with Linus being there and all. The buzz is still going, and that’s good. But if you’re going to a Linux show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation is not one to mince words. In an article on the Network World website by Julie Bort, Zemlin says that while there is no longer a moral imperative to contribute to open source software — something I will take issue with later — he says the following: On the issue contributing back, “[It's] not the right thing to do because of some moral issue or because we say you should do it. It’s because you are an idiot if you don’t. You’re an idiot because the whole reason you’re using open source is to collectively share in development and collectively maintain the software. Let me tell you, maintaining your own version of Linux ain’t cheap, and it ain’t easy.”

Veiled or unveiled, this has been interpreted — as outlined later in the article — as a swipe at Canonical/Ubnutu and their much-documented lack of technical contributions back to the Linux kernel and FOSS. Incidentally, Zemlin also makes the point that he’s not calling out Canonical with this quote: “Just to be clear, Canonical staff, engineers, management are not idiots. They get open source well and as they grow, I think it will be in their business interests to give back,” Zemlin said.

We’re not going to go there today, either, except to say this: Canonical/Ubuntu has done an outstanding job in marketing Ubuntu, and there has never been an argument that they have done most for getting Linux in people’s hands.

While I agree with Zemlin on non-contributors being idiots, the issue I have with him is this quote on the “moral issue” of contributing back. He seems to think is no longer important, and in another quote he says: “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care if anyone contributes back.” He may be talking about businesses here, but it’s unclear. For the sake of argument, let’s say he’s not talking about businesses — just in case — and that he doesn’t care if anyone contributes back.

That’s going to be a bit of a problem. On an ethical and moral plane, there is always an obligation to give back something for getting something.

At the risk of being branded a communist, Karl Marx comes into play here: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

Everyone who uses Linux and FOSS gets from each “according to their need,” and conversely everyone who uses Linux and FOSS should contribute back “according to their ability.” While the Linux kernel is the domain of programmers, and they seem to be covered in this regard, there are thousands of other ways to help out in the distros and/or FOSS programs that you use. Distros and FOSS projects can always use help; some of you are already contributing to your chosen distro or software.

If so, thanks.

If not, then why not?

Can’t program? Neither can I, which is why I don’t contribute in that area — I want distros and FOSS programs to actually work.

Can you put words together to make sense, complete with subject-verb agreement? Help out with documentation.

Artistically inclined? Help out with graphics and design.

Are you a “people person”? Distros like Fedora, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu have ambassador-type communities that promote their distros, and other FOSS programs may have the same kind of programs as well.

Most distros — like Fedora, OpenSUSE, Ubuntu and others — would welcome your help and have things you can do. Same with FOSS programs like LibreOffice. You know what you use, and you can reach them through their Web sites.

The fact is there is a lot to be done and, chances are, you’re the one who can help out.

You’d be an idiot not to.

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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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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The ’69 Dart of Software

January 13, 2011 1 comment

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now by clicking on the winking penguin.

I got to my office and it was too cold to work. So I left the frozen tundra of Redwood Digital Research for the cozy confines of The White Raven.

From the comfort of a large coffee and a view of traffic passing New Leaf Market — a solar-powered organic grocery story which has its servers running Red Hat, no thanks to me, but still — I thought about a couple of stories I’d read this past week.

The first was a blog post by an Emery Fletcher which paints Ubuntu as the be-all and end-all of Linux implementation. While I am eternally grateful for Ubuntu’s efforts in promoting Linux in the general public (even if it is to the point of putting itself first and FOSS second, but I digress) and while the blog presents an interesting point about Linux implementation, it’s hard to determine whether this blog item suffers from anything more than mere myopia.

Current versions of Debian, OpenSUSE and Fedora are all as user-friendly as the current version of Ubuntu, but that does not enter into the equation in this blog. That’s unfortunate, too, because what both Fedora and OpenSUSE — with its new Studio spin — have done consistently with each upgrade have been remarkable. Mr. Fletcher may be lacking some perspective — think about where Ubuntu would be without the contributions to kernel development (warning: that link is a PDF file, courtesy of the Linux Foundation) and desktop development without the three distros mentioned at the beginning of the previous sentence — a harrowingly depressing thought, indeed.

The second article — the one from which this blog title derives its name — comes from a comment I made on a discussion in LXer.com regarding this blog item comparing Photoshop and GIMP.

First things first: There are some unqualified truths in life. The sun will always rise in the east and set in the west. The moon controls the tides. The San Francisco Giants will win the World Series only once every half-century.

Above all of the aforementioned is this one: GIMP is not Photoshop.

I’ve used GIMP in a professional setting — namely the newspaper for which I work. Once a long time ago, the paper did not have enough Photoshop licenses to go around for all the editors, so I downloaded GIMP (not requiring a license) and used it to process photos that ended up on the newspaper’s printed page. However — and you knew that was coming — I am fairly well-versed in GIMP and had little problem adapting to its interface; had another editor who is more Photoshop oriented had to do the same thing, s/he may have had a problem or two.

GIMP is an adequate photo manipulation program, but without the army of developers behind it — as Adobe has — it will pale in comparison with Photoshop. Always. So it’s foolish to think that professionals wouldn’t use Photoshop. In other words, if you’re a professional driver qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, you’re not going to strap yourself into a ’69 Dodge Dart to get the job accomplished — you’re going to use the appropriate tool(s) for the job. Conversely, most people don’t need a turbocharged single-seat racing car to go to work and back, and to run daily errands.

Will there be a time when GIMP can rival Photoshop? Not without a huge influx of developers to match what Adobe does. Believe me, every night before I drift off to sleep, I pray to the Almighty that developers will magically appear on GIMP’s doorstep (and the rhetorical doorstep of other FOSS programs) and that Job One will be making a single window interface for GIMP. Please, Lord . . .

Also, calling GIMP a ’69 Dart is not an insult. I had one, and it was the best car I’ve ever owned, VWs included (and those who know me know my loyalties for automotive products from Wolfsburg run deep). The Dart was the most boring and utilitarian car I’ve ever owned, too, but it was still the most dependable and reliable.

Well, now that I’m a bit warmed up, I’ll head back to Redwood Digital.

[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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