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Linux users, start your engines

September 26, 2011 4 comments

Unless you’re a motorhead to a varying degree — and an older one at that — you probably don’t know who John Cooper is. His contributions in racing circles — putting the engine behind the driver in his Cooper Formula 1 cars in the late 1950s — would normally cement his place in automotive history, but he didn’t stop there.

The thing for which Cooper is more widely known is modifying the British Motor Corporation’s Mini in the 1960s, adding his name to make it the Mini Cooper while adding a higher degree of performance that won the little car that could a warehouse full of rally trophies and Sports Car Club of America club racing victories.

Around the same time as the development of the first Mini Coopers, across the pond in America Carroll Shelby took the Ford Mustang and with a vision of making it faster and better, he gave us the Shelby Mustang along with the whole Shelby Cobra series (not to mention, later, the Dodge Viper). Shelby’s association with Ford started a trend in the U.S. of taking a mass produced car and making it into a high performance machine.

So go ahead and ask: “Larry the Free Software Guy, what the heck does this have to do with Linux and FOSS?”

It’s simple. Linux and FOSS has their own versions of John Cooper and Carroll Shelby making high performance versions of mass produced distros, building on the foundation of one of the “big three” Linux distros to make fire-breathing, pixel-burning distros; distros that are the digital equivalent of vehicles that are more than just for taking the kids to soccer practice or zipping over to the grocery store.

Not everyone can drive a Cobra or a Testarossa, nor does everyone want to. But knowing that the option is there, and that there are people out there providing those options, is one of Linux/FOSS’s strengths.

We see this in distros like Kororaa, where Chris Smart and his team once based their distro on Gentoo and switched “manufacturers” to use Fedora in producing a solid, quick distro that works well right out of the box.

Jeff Hoogland and his band of developers at Bodhi Linux marry the lightweight Enlightenment desktop environment to Ubuntu. A combination of the lightweight desktop and the users’ choice of what to include in their own digital vehicle makes this perhaps the best combination of getting the best performance out of one’s machine.

Pixel-burning performance is one of the hallmarks at Crunchbang. Philip Newborough, a web developer and GNU/Linux enthusiast living and working in Lincoln, England, takes John Cooper’s legacy to heart — in a digital sense — while he and his team provide a Openbox-based window manager with Debian rumbling under the hood.

We even see this high performance riff on the enterprise Linux side, where in a digital “garage” Derek Carter, Clint Savage and others are gearing up GoOSe Linux. This project deserves special mention because not only is the performance measured on the instruments, but also on the community building process in an enterprise realm.

Examples are abundant, and forgive me if I don’t get to all of them. There are others who deserve mention: Salix OS provides a distro worthy of flamed fenders and racing stripes. Kenneth Granerud had a high performance distro in Wolvix which, due to some personal upheavals, became dormant, but in talking with him recently we might see it come back sometime soon.

So when someone complains about the fact that there are 320-something distros out there, bear in mind many of them are not for everyone.

So buckle up, and let’s be careful out there.

[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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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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Coming up in 2009

December 29, 2008 11 comments

A lot has been written so far about what to expect next year — some valid, some not.

But has that ever stopped me from joining the year-end pile-on? Perish the thought.

So here are 10 things to expect in 2009.

Or not.

Remember, objects may be closer than they appear, and your mileage may vary.

10. 2009 will be the year of Linux. But so will 2010, as well as 2011 and 2012. In fact, by 2013, the last pair of eyes on the planet will finally glaze over when a Linux writer proclaims the following year to be the year of Linux, and the more thoughtful pundits will just know that it’s now understood that the next year will be our year, for whatever reason, and they’ll write about something a tad more significant.

9. Fedora 11 will outshine Fedora 10. As hard as it may be to believe — and after a month I still can’t find a flaw with Fedora 10 — Fedora 11 will be an encore performance of what can best be described as a rock-solid distro, even for machines that go back a few years (in my case, a Dell 5000 Inspiron laptop and a Dell Optiplex desktop). Sadly, people will continue to be under the mistaken impression that Fedora is too “cutting edge” for anyone other than the most experienced superuser who might be too lazy to negotiate the Gentoo labyrinth (yes, that’s a gauntlet thrown at the feet of my Fedora colleagues to work next year on dispelling that stupid myth . . . ).

8. The UFC pits Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman against each other in a feature bout. What happens though is not one of those ridiculous near-death experiences for some poor troglodyte who normally gets suckered into the ring, but an epiphany for the entire FOSS community: Stallman and Torvalds meet at mid-ring and circle each other warily. Stallman opens the bout by saying maybe he was a little hasty in demanding GNU be stuck on the front of Linux, but Torvalds comes back with openly welcoming the option of joining the two names. Barriers between open source and free software dissolve. GNOME and KDE advocates embrace in a worldwide “kumbaya.” Planets align. Then I wake up.

7. Zenwalk increases the pace of its development. It becomes Zenrun, and in finding that they can add and release improvements to an already above-average distro at an even faster pace, they rename it Zenfly in 2010.

6. Lindependence comes to Redmond, Wash. The hall is rented, the fliers posted, and the riot police stand at the ready, but they remain wary since they don’t want to repeat the WTO fiasco in Seattle a decade ago. Nevertheless, yours truly — in a tribute to another overweight bald guy in the digital industry — opens the event with an insane onstage monkey dance that also brings him to within inches of a heart attack while Ken Starks unsuccessfully diverts the press’ attention. The Digital Tipping Point’s Christian Einfeldt, however, gets it all on video. Meanwhile, Debian, Fedora, Mandriva, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu reps — along with others who choose to join Lindependence in 2009 — hand out live CDs and demonstrate their distros. Yes, that’s Red Hat’s “Truth Happens” video (click here for Quick Time fans) looping in the background all the while.

5. Mandriva gets in touch with its feminine side. This distro renames itself Womandriva and becomes a more reasonable, nurturing distro, finally dropping the adolescent Mandrake zeitgeist from its early days. The distro’s leadership also realizes what a huge mistake it was to let Adam Williamson go and rectifies that situation, adding a huge bonus to his salary.

4. The Madagascar Penguins join Tux as the Linux mascots. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and the Private make Tux one of their own in their commando unit. Incidentally — this is true (you can look it up) — on the Madagascar DVD, the penguins provide their own commentary on their scenes. When Private is struggling to operate a computer while taking over the ship, Skipper comments, “What are you doing up there, playing Tetris? You told me you knew Linux, Private!” Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.

3. Windows 7 will be worse than Vista, as hard as that may be to believe. This development will result in yet another $30 million Microsoft ad campaign diverting attention from this latest offering. Realizing they picked the wrong Seinfeld character in their first campaign, the ad agency casts Jason Alexander with Bill Gates, making Gates look like the “cool one” in comparison.

2. Everyone joins the Ubuntu family. In an effort not to confuse brand new GNU/Linux users with the daunting tasks of trying to wrap their minds around 350 different distributions, distros give themselves new names: Fedbuntu, Debuntu, openBUNTU, Sabayuntu, Damn Small Buntu, CentBuntu, Dreambuntu, Slackbuntu, Pupbuntu, Mepbuntu, gNewBuntu, among others. Solbuntis and OpenSolbuntis also join the ranks.

1. Linux Foundation’s “I’m Linux” video contest’s winning entry grabs an Oscar. After Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ad campaign, and Microsoft following with a painfully original “I’m a PC” theme, the Linux Foundation garners thousands of entries in its “I’m Linux” video contest. The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences nominates the winner, which ends up awing those judging and the statuette for Best Short Film goes to the winner.

There are other developments, like the conflicts that the new OpenBSD Christian Edition causes, which may be addressed in a later blog.

Have a happy and prosperous new year.

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

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Eight Distros a Week: Epilogue

February 16, 2008 1 comment

Eight distros. Seven days. One tired blogger.

In seven words, that pretty much wraps up the “Eight Distros a Week” series, named after (of course) the Beatles song “Eight Days a Week.”

I have used more than eight distros — AntiX, Debian, Fedora, Fluxbuntu, gNewSense, Linux Mint, Wolvix and Xubuntu — but these eight are the ones that I use most, talk about most and would recommend to those looking for a distro.

I do sometimes — and have in the past — used others. These include:

Yellow Dog Linux: While Yellow Dog seems to be putting its proverbial eggs in the PlayStation 3 basket, the distro does have a history as being the distro for Macs. Yellow Dog 3 “Sirius” is a better-than-average distro for Old World Macs using BootX on a separate partition, and its Red Hat roots make is very adequate for those Macs that predate the turn of the 21st century. However — you knew that was coming — Terra Soft Solutions, the parent company for Yellow Dog, is not exactly the most user-friendly company, unless you plop down $70 for an “Enhanced User Account” for YDL.net. By the way, if you’re tired of digging around for the download page for Yellow Dog, it’s here. You’re welcome.

Red Hat: I use Red Hat at school (Go Cabrillo College Seahawks!). Red Hat works behind the scenes for a variety of companies with which I have daily contact. As a distro, Red Hat is ubiquitous and there’s really nothing I can add to the volumes written by one of the oldest distros. It’s huge, it works, it’s corporate — what more can you say?

Mandriva: I can’t figure out Mandriva. At a recent installfest at Cabrillo College in Aptos, Calif., an 11-year-old installed Mandriva on his Dell boxes. In the process, I put it on a Dell box that was doing nothing but sitting there, and I thought the distro worked well. But I installed it once on a laptop and, for some reason, when I went to change the distro, the BIOS had changed to where I couldn’t boot from the CD. Easily fixed, of course, but the thing is I didn’t change the BIOS. My wife and daughter didn’t, and neither did the cat. Mysterious, I know, and more than likely it had nothing to do with the use of Mandriva, but until I can explain some of the strange things that happen when I try Mandriva, I’m avoiding it.

Knoppix: I’ve had this Knoppix CD that I’ve been carrying around for nearly two years, but it wasn’t until recently that I used it for an emergency. If there were a Nobel Prize for distros, Klaus Knopper should top the short list — not only was the disk helpful in solving my problem, I kept it on the machine for a significant amount of time while I waded through what it had to offer. It’s great, but I don’t use it too often.

Ubuntu: While I’m happy with Xubuntu, whenever I try Ubuntu on an Intel box or laptop, I keep thinking, “You know, this screams out ‘Debian’ to me,” and I generally lose interest. Another thing that usually keeps me at an arm’s length from Ubuntu is the split-screen syndrome — the Live CD always gives me a bonus in the screen department with two screens, and I know how to fix it (and do), but I have to say I’m just not a bandwagoner, although I recognize and appreciate Ubuntu’s contributions to FOSS.

One of the universal digital truths is that the difference between most distros is painfully minuscule, and that the object with having a plethora of options — some 350 active distros, according to Distrowatch‘s count — is the beauty behind the freedom of choice you have regarding what runs your computer.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Eight Distros a Week: Wolvix GNU/Linux 1.1 Hunter

February 15, 2008 3 comments

[This is the last in an eight-part series on distros I use. These observations are based on distros running on one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 Pentium II, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary. NOTE: This is an edited version of an earlier blog item on the same topic.]

All you ’80s denizens get the blog’s title, no doubt, but unless you spent that decade glued to MTV, the reference may be lost. But with a wink and a nod to those who still admit to being Duran Duran fans (of which I have to say I am not, nor have I ever been), I’ve been feeling a little wolflike lately, hungry or otherwise, thanks to a recent distro foray.

Being the happy distro wanderer that I am, I had a chance to put Wolvix 1.1.0 GNU/Linux, the Hunter version, on a Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, and it easily enters into the group of distros that I think highly of, in general, and distros that I plan to use day to day, in particular.

Based on Slackware, Wolvix Hunter comes with a pretty wide array of “standard software” that provide the user with an assortment that, in some distros, you have to go get. For my purposes, getting gFTP and Bluefish — two programs I use a lot — without having to use a software updater to get them is a definite plus. Additionally, the number of items that come with Wolvix on the live CD download is probably the best, well-rounded selection of software I’ve encountered on a live CD.

But the most impressive item on this distro — other than it’s faster than I had expected on this Pentium III — is the Wolvix Control Panel. Chock full of every imaginable item you might need for maintenance and upkeep, the panel efficiently puts everything in one place.

Another plus is the Conky system monitor. Having encountered this first on the Fluxbox desktop on AntiX 6.5 Spartacus, I often wonder why this program isn’t more well-known or widely used. Geeky, perhaps, but still something that provides some vital — or at least interesting — information about what’s going on under the hood.

Overall, Wolvix gets high marks and is definitely worth a try.

Coming tomorrow: Epilogue

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: Wolvix

Smell like I sound

January 26, 2008 Leave a comment

All you ’80s denizens get the blog’s title, no doubt, but unless you spent that decade glued to MTV, the reference may be lost. But with a wink and a nod to those who still admit to being Duran Duran fans (of which I have to say I am not, nor have I ever been), I’ve been feeling a little wolflike lately, hungry or otherwise, thanks to my latest distro foray.

Being the happy distro wanderer that I am, I had a chance to put Wolvix 1.1.0 GNU/Linux, the Hunter version, on a Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, and it easily enters into the group of distros that I think highly of, in general, and distros that I plan to use day to day, in particular.

Based on Slackware, Wolvix Hunter comes with a pretty wide array of “standard software” that provide the user with an assortment that, in some distros, you have to go get. For my purposes, getting gFTP and Bluefish — two programs I use a lot — without having to use a software updater to get them is a definite plus. Additionally, the number of items that come with Wolvix on the live CD download is probably the best, well-rounded selection of software I’ve encountered on a live CD.

But the most impressive item on this distro — other than it’s faster than I had expected on this Pentium III — is the Wolvix Control Panel. Chock full of every imaginable item you might need for maintenance and upkeep, the panel efficiently puts everything in one place.

Another plus is the Conky system monitor. Having encountered this first on the Fluxbox desktop on AntiX 6.5 Spartacus, I often wonder why this program isn’t more well-known or widely used. Geeky, perhaps, but still something that provides some vital — or at least interesting — information about what’s going on under the hood.

If you’re looking for a distro, you should give Wolvix a test run.

[For those of you keeping score at home, Wolvix joins (in alphabetical order), AntiX, Debian, Fedora, Fluxbuntu, gNewSense, Linux Mint, and Xubuntu in the list of distros I use regularly.]


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