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Dropping the grammar hammer

September 5, 2011 5 comments

OK, it’s crunch time. At the end of the week, you should be in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Linux Fest –if you’re going to a Linux show before the year’s out, make it this one. This is the last big show on the North American continent until SCALE in January. At OLF, Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

Many of you already know this, but for those of you who don’t, I don’t do tech for a living. I’d like to it for a living, and I’m working on that. This is why you’ll find me with my nose in a book, studying for the Red Hat Certified Engineer certification test I’ll take someday (and, if I ever scrape up enough money, Red Hat classes).

What pays the bills — what I’ve done since my first day on the job at The Miami Herald on President Carter’s inauguration day (yes, I’m that old, and get off my lawn) — is newspaper work. I currently work as a copy desk editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, but it’s a news career that has spanned three decades, three different media (print, TV and radio) and two continents.

I am a third-generation man of letters: My father was also a newsman and his father was a mailman.

I bring this up because at the Sentinel I am known as the Grammar Hammer; a moniker which I am honored to have and one that I constantly strive to live up to. I have a three-pound sledge at my desk. I wield it with the same conviction and passion that Thor might wield his hammer, only instead of vanquishing bad Nordic guys, I’m vanquishing bad grammar and spelling.

As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time reading; more than I spend writing, as a matter of fact (isn’t that always the case?). In much of the tech realm — most in forums and comment sections — the spelling and grammar aren’t always what they should be for people who, generally speaking, are smarter than the average person (and sometimes are smarter than the things they say. But I digress . . .). In the grand scheme of things, that’s OK — I’m not really that interested in picking nits, gramatically speaking, as much as I am concerned with content.

[Note to those who speak English as a second-, third- or fourth-language. This does not apply to you, and thanks for making the huge effort to communicate in tech’s lingua franca. My hat is off to you, and thank your lucky stars you don’t have to communicate with me in Spanish or Japanese, the only other two languages in which I can communicate. I dare not say I “speak” them.]

But there are a few things that drive me up the wall and across the ceiling when it comes to grammatical and spelling morsels I see in comments and forums (and even in tech stories and blogs, albeit rarely), like:

MAC, as in Macintosh: It’s not an acronym. Mac is short for Macintosh, the product from the new evil empire based in Cupertino called Apple. It’s big-M small-a small-c. Not to be confused with MAC, as in MAC address, which is the Media Access Control address, and the MAC there should be all upper case. The next person who writes MAC to refer to the Macintosh, I’m going to come through your screen with hammer blazing.

It’s Xfce, but LXDE: With all the desktop hubbub going on, these two up-and-coming environments sometimes get mislabled. I’ve seen it XFCE and Lxde, most recently in discussions on the Felton Linux Users Group, which is going great guns in the desktop debate on the mailing list. I’ve never understood why Xfce is 75 percent lower case, but it is. LXDE, according to its site, is all upper case. Speaking of all upper case . . .

GNOME, not Gnome: This is not a GNOME 3 issue, surprisingly. A general rule of thumb is that if it’s an acronym, it’s all upper case. GNOME originally stood for GNU Network Object Model Environment, though I understand that this was so long ago in a galaxy far, far away that some want to drop the caps. I can live with “Gnome,” but on a purely grammatical stanpoint, I’ll keep capitalizing it, thank you. Besides, GNOME folks, do you really want KDE to be the only major desktop environment to be all caps? Fuel, meet fire . . . .

There are more, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be the Linux curmudgeon that you all know and love; at least the Linux curmudgeon you all know. But you get the idea.

All of which is to say, when posting here or elsewhere, let’s be careful out there. Dot each i. Cross each t. Don’t dangle your participles.

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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Monday, Monday

August 9, 2010 2 comments

One of the more peculiar items I find when checking my blog stats is that I still get hits for a blog item I wrote in 2008 — 2008 — about Microsoft’s 10-K report that year and how it implies how good the open source paradigm might be compared to its own software and its own business model.

Bear in mind that one of the purposes of a 10-K report — somewhat like the medical disclaimers you hear on drug commercials that, after listening to it, would make any normal person avoid the drug at all costs — is to outline any potential pitfall in buying stock in the company you’re considering so you can’t sue them if, well, the stock goes south; way south.

Why the blog item keeps getting hits is beyond me, but for those who keep reading it, thanks.

A brave man: My friend Steven Rosenberg, who writes a tech column for the Los Angeles Daily News, wades into uncharted territory in his column today, where he outlines dual-booting a Lenovo with Fedora and . . . wait for it . . . Windows 7. As always, Steven’s blogs are always informative and instructional, and the reasoning behind his using the Xfce spin of Fedora is something that hadn’t occurred to me before. Steven says in the blog that he “prefer(s) the Xfce tools over those in GNOME. I like the Thunar file manager, the way you can ‘minimize’ a window but keep it visible on the desktop, I like the look (and speed; these helper apps are super-quick) and functionality of the Xfce terminal and Mousepad text editor. The Xfce configuration apps all work great, and there are plenty of them.” Nice work, as always, Steven. Keep us posted on this dual-boot adventure.

Survey says: Ken Starks over at the Blog of HeliOS has a fairly interesting survey to be taken, if you have several minutes. Tell Ken how you use GNU/Linux or Linux and help him out.

Now, who wants more coffee?

[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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A little healthy kompetition

June 8, 2010 8 comments

As previously mentioned in this blog — and as I tell anyone who’ll listen to me — I go back and forth between the two top desktop environments with Fedora on my Fujitsu laptop — the even numbers, as it turns out, have been GNOME and the odd (with nothing to read into this, honest) have been KDE. Since we’re now at Fedora 13, it’s KDE time.

For those Xfce, LXDE, Fluxbox and IceWM fans out there, I do have machines in the Jungle Room — the lab at Redwood Digital Research in Felton, Calif., named after the same room at Graceland — running those desktops. While I’m a huge fan of Xfce on the machines that run it, I normally don’t stray too far from GNOME and KDE.

Moving right along, though, in those instances where I use KDE on the laptop, I’ve always been impressed with the number of programs that KDE includes when downloading the KDE version of Fedora. This time around, it occurred to me that maybe I should give some of them a chance — rather than just downloading the programs I’m used to (OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Thunderbird, etc.) during the post-install phase — I should give the K its due.

But I downloaded the programs anyway. I wanted to do a comparison to see how the KDE software stacked up against the software I normally use across a variety of machines running other desktops. Bear in mind, too, that since I use KDE only six months at a time, I am clearly not an expert on it, and if I’ve missed something, by all means I’m open to correction.

Before I start, I want to sing the praises for most of the programs I’ve run that are KDE-native, and single out a quartet of KDE-native programs — specifically K3b, Dolphin, KPackageKit and KColorChooser. The first three have always been very cooperative, have been easy to use and have worked well; the fourth came in handy recently in tweaking a Web site.

Conversely, there are KDE-native programs I don’t understand. The top candidate here is Kget — what the hell is that big bouncing disk doing in the center of my desktop? — and it begs the question: Why have it when you can use KPackageKit?

So, without further adeiu and with a little fanfare, allow me to wave the green flag on a comparison and contrasting of programs supplied by KDE against those that aren’t.

KWord/KPresenter vs. OpenOffice.org Writer/OpenOffice.org Impress: KDE gets an A for effort on this one. Though not as slick as the OO.o Writer, KWord does open other files and offers the option of exporting a document to a Portable Document Format file (a clear advantage that both have over any Redmond product) and it performs admirably when used. The downside of KWord is that you can only save a document in one format — albeit the most important one (.odt) — whereas with OO.o Writer you can save it in various formats, even if need be in WordStar (which is a Solaris holdover, I know, but still). OO.o Writer also has a huge library of templates for use.

KPresenter, however, stands shoulder to shoulder and goes the distance with OO.o Impress on usability and functionality, to the point where in the past I’ve actually given talks using my Impress file running, unbeknown to me until later, on KPresenter. Like KWord, the slickness factor is lacking in KPresenter, but all the trappings for making a great presentation are there.

Advantage: OO.o Writer clearly over KWord, but KPresenter and OO.o Impress tie.

Konversation vs. XChat: While I get a handle on Irssi, I should say that I’ve always been a XChat user. Go ahead and mock me with the training wheels jokes, but it has served my purposes well over the past several years, to the point where I never used Konversation when running the KDE desktop. Konversation v1.2.3, however, may eclipse XChat for my IRC purposes. Its ease of configuring is a huge plus, as is its putting action messages on the screen you’re in as opposed to in the server screen only (i.e., when you mark yourself away in XChat, for example, it appears only on the server window; in Konversation, it appears on the window you’re in — minor, I know, but enough to sway the simpletons like yours truly).

Advantage: Konversation (but we all know that Irssi is what the cool kids use).

KMail vs. Thunderbird: I have used Thunderbird since it’s inception. I like Thunderbird. No, let me rephrase that: I love Thunderbird. So analyzing this one may not be fair, but using KMail to get my fedoraproject.org mail on the laptop has been a pleasant surprise. One feature that takes getting used to, but is logically sound and advantageous once you get the hang of it, is that KMail will nest responses to e-mails, tree-like, under the previous topic’s message. To me, it was disconcerting at first, but once I got used to it, it becomes a huge time-saver in following e-mail threads. Being able to see the details of an e-mail by running the cursor over it is also a plus.

Advantage: Thunderbird, because we have a history, but KMail gets high marks and more than likely I’ll continue to use it after Fedora 13.

Konqueror vs. Firefox: I really want to say something nice, and find something I genuinely like, about Konqueror. Really and truly, and cross my heart, with all my being I truly hope someday to find something to like. But other than it’s an adequate file manager and document viewer, it really stops there and I can’t say much more for it. Meanwhile with all the other browsers out there — coupled with the fact that KDE comes with Dolphin (a file manager) and Okular (a document viewer and an outstanding program that, unfortunately, I had nothing to compare it with) — Konqueror seems to be just a niche browser compared to others.

Advantage: Firefox, by default.

Meanwhile, you can still go get Fedora 13 here. And don’t be afraid to go try the KDE spin, if you’re thinking about it.

[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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The Three Faces of Fedora 11: Epilogue

June 19, 2009 6 comments

During the course of the week, I had been asked the following question in various forms (the “forms” being a mangling of the desktop’s initials): “What about LXDE? Are you going to discuss the ‘fourth face’ of the Three Faces of Fedora 11?”

Well, the answer is: Not right away. Though very appealing and a desktop that has piqued my curiosity, LXDE was not part of the Fedora 11 constellation this time around (key words here: “this time around”) — neither was it an offering on the regular distro nor was it a “spin” (the spin list is here). However, I have the instructions on how to get going with LXDE, and I promise to take it for a test spin in the next couple of weeks.

Watch this space.

As for the “three faces” blog series, it’s always a joy to do blogs like this because a.) I get to play with software I normally wouldn’t fiddle with, and b.) I get to find out a lot of stuff that I didn’t know in the first place (look up “lifelong learning” in the dictionary and you’ll see my picture).

For those of you who are curious, and even if you aren’t, I think I’m going to break ranks with my GNOME roots and primarily use KDE on Fedora 11.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: Fedora, GNOME, KDE, Xfce Tags: , , , , ,

The Three Faces of Fedora 11, Part 3: Xfce

June 18, 2009 10 comments

I have to confess that in writing this blog item about Xfce on Fedora 11, I’ve had divine inspiration. I mean, really divine inspiration, as in as high on the divinity food chain as you can get.

Jesus wants everyone to use Xfce. He said so here on my Facebook page two days ago:

openjesus

So who am I to argue with the Son of God?

And you might think this is the last word on this — He would, of course — but bear in mind you’re dealing with Larry the Free Software Guy, who always tries to get in the last word.

So while Jesus and other diety are paying attention to Texas or Iran or something else, I’ll try to get this in: Fedora 11 using Xfce 4.6 — say it with me here — is probably designed for older machines and/or machines that may not have as much memory as newer ones. But I’ll go one further: F11 with Xfce absolutely flies on machines that are not so old, like this one, even after adding a whole plethora of software and running multiple programs at the same time (like, say, OpenOffice, Gimp, Firefox, Bluefish and Tux Paint all open in one desktop, all performing as if none of the others were open).

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog — those two or three of you outside my family — know that I’ve always been a big fan of Xfce. Herding old hardware like I do, it’s normally what works when 256MB is as high as you can go and you want ol’ Bessie to actually be able to do something. So imagine putting this lightweight desktop on something more substantial, hardware wise, and it’s like putting a 426 Hemi in a golf cart.

Of all the things native to Xfce that are of special note, two stand out: Ristretto, which is a lightening-quick image viewer, and Mousepad, which is like Leafpad but can actually print (I’d certainly like that afternoon back where I tried to print something from Leafpad, but that’s another story). It accompanies the usual array of solid, steady Xfce programs like the Thunar file manager and the ubiquitous calendar Orage.

Think of the Xfce desktop as I do: Like a racing car, it has only what is necessary to make it go, and in this case, go fast; no extras and no frills. If you want the bells and whistles and “optional features” like a luggage rack and the chrome trim, you may want to use another desktop. But Fedora 11 using Xfce certainly takes the checkered flag.

Tomorrow we’ll take a brief look at the “fourth face” of the Three Faces of Fedora 11 — LXDE — and have a wrap-up.

[Whew. Got that in before the Son of God had a chance to render me completely mute and speechle

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: Fedora, Xfce Tags: , ,

The Three Faces of Fedora – Prologue

June 13, 2009 6 comments

Although the title above takes a page from film history, Joanne Woodward won’t be appearing in this blog.

[Okay kids, Joanne Woodward was an actress in the mid-20th Century who was married to Paul Newman, another actor around the same time who retired from acting to race cars and make great salad dressing and cookies. One of her most famous roles was playing the schizophrenic woman in “The Three Faces of Eve,” hence the source of the title of this blog series.]

[No, I’m not saying I think Fedora is schizophrenic. I’m just playing off the film title. Sheesh.]

With a few of boxes to spare at the offices of Redwood Digital Research in beautiful downtown Felton, Calif. — no, you can’t have them — I thought I’d run a small experiment: Take Fedora 11 and run it on separate machines with three different desktop environments. You know the lineup — GNOME, KDE and Xfce, which comes as a Fedora spin.

Then, of course, write about the results and observations here.

Starting Monday: The Three Faces of Fedora: GNOME on F11. Watch this space.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Hey, your distro sucks!

March 26, 2009 17 comments

I’m sitting in a room at HeliOS Solutions West/Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with computers running primarly Fedora. However, there are also boxes (going clockwise from where I’m sitting) running OpenSUSE, AntiX Mepis (it’s old), Debian, Xubuntu and Ubuntu.

“So?” You’re asking yourself, and that’s a valid question. This first-paragraph revelation will make more sense at the end.

Having said this, there are few things I like more than working a booth — usually dbEntrance or Fedora — at various shows, whether it’s a large one like LinuxWorld or the Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE), or even talking up Free/Open Source Software in the minuscule venue of a LUG meeting.

Discussing in good faith the likeness and difference between distros, between desktop environments, and between FOSS programs is something that is part of the process; the process that helps uplifts all of us — those using different distros, different desktop environments and different FOSS programs — in this thing called the Free/Open Source Software community.

Helping in good faith people who ask — whether it’s something in Fedora that doesn’t work for a user or something in another distro that is not working — is a common and unavoidable occurrence at all show levels, and it’s good to be able to get someone’s problem solved, assuming you show him/her what’s wrong. It’s the teach-a-man-to-fish-and-feed-him-for-life concept in action.

In good faith: Those are the three key words here.

I bring up those three simple words because invariably at Linux shows like LinuxWorld and SCaLE you have some who don’t follow the “in good faith” part of this equation. You know who they are (and you know who you are): These are the folks who will come to any given booth and essentially tell you what’s wrong with your distro/software/hardware, without offering a shred of evidence, an inkling of cause, or the remote possibilty of a solution to their, um, “revealing discovery.”

They’ll continue by asking why your distro/software/hardware can’t solve world hunger, put astronauts on Mars and cure cancer, among other impossibilities.

In short, their schtick is simple: Your distro/software/hardware sucks and you’re pretty lucky I’m here to tell you why.

A word to those who persist in this behavior: Stop.

It may come as a shock to you that you — and you alone — are the only one impressed with your knowledge and self-importance. In reality, everyone else thinks you’re a world-class, Olympic-caliber annoyance. Rather than helping, you’re getting in the way of those who are trying to assist others who may not be as experienced, and certainly aren’t as arrogant, as you.

So either help us with your degree of knowledge without rubbing anyone else’s nose in it, or just step the hell aside.

Folks tried to spar with me at SCaLE last month, but I blew them off — different strokes for different folks. This issue, however, actually came to a head when Red Hat’s Karsten Wade and I were getting dinner to take on the road on Sunday evening and I was confronted by one of the dogmatards whom I had spoken to earlier in the day. Not being in the mood for hearing an additional litany of what was wrong with Fedora, I just nodded and shrugged while being “schooled” about what was lacking in the distro. But Karsten took a more proactive approach, which was described by Karsten’s response to an item in the previous blog post.

Now the reason I brought up Felton: I’m primarily a Fedora user and prefer Fedora over the rest of those mentioned in the first paragraph. However I use the other distros mentioned above. I’m also game to try others; the history of this blog bears me out — google “eight distros a week” and see what you get. Some of the machines here run GNOME, some KDE, some Xfce, and one on Fluxbox. I’m not an expert at any of them, nor am I married to any of them.

Naturally, I’m open to sharing what I do know with anyone who asks. With nearly three years under my belt on the GNU/Linux side of all things digital, I realize that I’m a relative “newb” at this. Surprisingly I’m at peace with that, despite the fact I continue to learn.

So while I’m always interested to hear the error of my ways, whatever they may be, I’m really not interested in matching wits for the sake of matching wits. You want to prove you know more than I do? If that’s the biggest challenge of your day, then let me make this easy for you: You win.

Like most others, I have more important things to do.

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

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