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Lies, damned lies and statistics

November 25, 2011 36 comments

After awakening from a Thanksgiving-induced food coma — actually, it wasn’t that bad — most of the daily articles about Linux posted this morning by our friends in Mountain View known as Google revolved around the fact that Ubuntu is dropping like a lead zeppelin in the Distrowatch standings, while Linux Mint is surging.

Ireland 1, Isle of Man 0.

There is no surprise here, at least on Linux Mint’s part. Plus, I think it’s interesting to see how that Unity thing is working out for Ubuntu, and as I’ve said before, I’d venture to say “not very well” (which is why, as a frequent Xubuntu user, I fight the urge to be smug).

All that has been written recently about this issue would normally be interesting except for a couple of unmentioned, and glaring, caveats missing from the stories by those who are ringing Ubuntu’s death knell.

First, Distrowatch numbers are based on page visits, not downloads. Show me the downloads, and then let’s talk. Web page hits don’t tell me if people are actually downloading a particular distro and using it, or if they’re just looking at the pages for whatever reason they might. Page visits might translate into distro downloads, but they also might be visits to forums, wikis, etc., as well. So I’m not convinced this is a valid measurement.

Second, even if you were to use Distrowatch’s page-view metric as your yardstick, you’d still have to take into account that a distro’s recent new version release — Linux Mint and Fedora, while always both close to the top at Distrowatch, qualify here — gets an extra bounce in views by virtue of the fact that, well, these distros have released a new version. An increase in visits from curious folks doesn’t necessarily mean more downloads and subsequently more distro use.

In talking to others and in taking a look at the FOSS landscape lately, my sense is that the numbers for Linux Mint reflect a rising interest that is translating into new users and new community members, whether they’re refugees from Ubuntu, they’re coming over from other distros or just brand new “walk-ins” using Linux for the first time. After all, Linux Mint has done a huge service to FOSS by developing the Mint GNOME Shell Extensions (MGSE) and MATE, and for that reason perhaps people are joining the ranks of the Minted. Couple that with the recent edict of Unity uber alles handed down by Ubuntu SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth, and you have the recipe for a rise in Linux Mint at the expense of Ubuntu.

But I’d rather have more accurate data to back this up.

Show me the downloads.

*SABDFL — Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, a moniker picked up from a recent blog item by Steven Rosenberg. Thanks, Steven.

(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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  • As Linus was saying . . . .

    August 3, 2011 4 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!)

    Until recently, I had several of my lab machines using GNOME — until my hardware and I were relegated to second-class status by being only able to use the GNOME 3 Fallback Mode while the rest of the world went on its merry way using GNOME 3. But in the grand scheme of things, that’s OK: Regular readers of this blog also know that in the recent past I have taken both GNOME 3 and Unity to task for bailing on already experienced users in an effort to dumb down the desktop for those who are new to Linux.

    Of course, the woe I documented in past blogs about it is nothing compared to the choice words Linus Torvalds has for GNOME 3.

    As widely reported by ZDNet and others, Linus had some — how can we put this tactfully? — issues with GNOME 3, which he outlined in a Google+ message.

    Also, as Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols points out in the ZDNet article linked above, the request by Linus to fork GNOME 2.x “started in a public Google+ posting by Dave Jones, a Red Hat engineer and one of the maintainers of Fedora Linux, where Jones announced some minor Linux kernel news for a Fedora update. As the discussion continued, Torvalds joined in and remarked, ‘Could you also fork gnome, and support a gnome-2 environment? I want my sane interfaces back. I have yet to meet anybody who likes the unholy mess that is gnome-3.’ “

    Well, now . . .

    As just about everyone in FOSS knows, Linus is not one to mince words. Not only this, there’s a Wikiquote page that backs up this assertion.

    But it’s not like Linus T. becomes Mr. T when in disagreement. Since he is particularly charming and well spoken in person, I would think those words coming from him verbally would not have the same edge as they do when you read them on the screen. Opinionated as he is, it doesn’t appear that Linus is a jerk about taking a stand on an issue, which cannot be said for everyone in the FOSS realm.

    I like to think that the GNOME 3 situation is one that’s akin to what happened with KDE 4: The latter had a rough start before levelling out to a pretty decent KDE 4.7. For GNOME’s sake, I just hope this is a repeat of KDE’s experience. Though it appears that GNOME 3 has done something significantly radical in this new desktop, I think the curve for “correction” — for lack of a better term — could be more steep.

    But as I’ve mentioned in past blogs, GNOME 3 — and to a great extent, Unity — and their attempts to dumb down the desktop were a mistake from the start. Whether that gets fixed or not remains to be seen.

    Now to get those “Linus T. speaks for me!” T-shirts and buttons produced and 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.

    [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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