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Being Precise on Unity

May 24, 2012 8 comments

Those who have the great fortune, or have made the great sacrifice, of befriending me on Facebook and/or Google+ have already been alerted to this, um, development.

So let the word go forth that I am using Precise Pangolin — Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, for those of you keeping score at home (though I don’t know why you would) — complete with Unity until Saturday. The reason I am giving it a few days, rather than just one as I did in an earlier blog post extends from a conversation I had with Scott Dowdle on #ubuntu-montana, where he made the poignant observation that it would take more than one day for me to make a fair assessment.

Good point, Scott (and this point, it should be noted, comes from a Fedora guy, for all intents and purposes. Hope that doesn’t blow your cover, Scott!). After a considerable amount of pixels spilled on the miraculous game-changing improvements to Unity and Head-Up (something?) Display that a flock of bloggers and some in the tech press are parroting after being spoon-fed from Canonisoft’s PR department, I am giving it another look to see if I had missed something somewhere along the line.

To be frank — and Frank doesn’t mind — after about eight hours of use yesterday, I’m not seeing anything I didn’t see last time I took Unity for a spin, except for one thing: The welcome relief afterward to get back to another laptop running CrunchBang was beyond description.

Earth-shattering, game-changing improvements — they’re here somewhere, right? I don’t see any, at least not yet. In fact, what I do see is what I saw when I used it originally: the one-size-fits-all desktop environment which arguably doesn’t fit quite right on any of them, coupled with a lack of improved utility that I didn’t already have using other desktop environments or FOSS programs. To say nothing of a desktop environment that insults my intelligence by bending over backwards to do things for me that I have been doing easily on my own since — oh, I don’t know — birth.

What am I missing, Ubunteros?

See you again Saturday.

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 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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Eliminate DRM!

Categories: Fedora, Ubuntu, Unity Tags: , , , ,

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!

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