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More miscellaneous ramblings

April 26, 2008 Leave a comment

[Has it really been almost a month since I last posted? Probably. But with the Lindependence 2008 project hopping, maybe that’s not so surprising. My apologies for the long hiatus to those outside my family who read this blog.]

The Heron has landed: Ubuntu let fly with its semiannual release — Hardy Heron, which really goes by the name Ubuntu 8.04 (and Kubuntu 8.04 and Xubuntu 8.04, for those of you keeping score at home) — and it certainly has a lot to offer. Having a chance to tinker with the beta in preparation for the Cabrillo College installfest yesterday, I seem to join a legion of those who use Ubuntu who are deeply impressed with this release. In fact, some are so impressed — like the writer of this eWeek article who seems to think that the *buntus are ready for prime time. Let’s hope he’s right.

[Also, hats off to the Xubuntu developers who completely kicked bug butt in getting 8.04 out the door. How do I know this? For some reason, I’m on the developer’s mailing list and the bug reports — and their solutions — were fast and furious over the last few weeks. Way to go, Cody and others on the Xubuntu team.]

MySQL, YourSQL, OurSQL: The MySQL conference in Santa Clara two weeks ago was yet another learning experience wrapped in a swagfest. If I keep going to these, I may never go naked again, with a total of 12 T-shirts (one a small YouTube shirt for Mirano, of course) garnered during the course of the show. I worked the dbEntrance booth with Tod Landis and Shane Duan, two ex-Borland guys who have written a browser for MySQL that’s definitely worth a try. Not to toot my own horn or anything, I did get dbEntrance up and running on a Hardy Heron beta with Shane’s help and they work like they were made for each other.

[dbEntrance was fortunate enough to be across from the Red Hat booth, which had a monitor looping a video called “Truth Happens” which was absolutely great. Watch it here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.]

Follow the money: Scott Ruecker wrote an editorial on LXer.com rightfully questioning the validity of a report from The Standish Group International that says the “disruptive technology” of open source has cost the IT industry $60 billion over the last five years.  So Scott asks $60 billion question: How did it cost the IT industry $60 billion dollars? Where did the money go and to whom?

[Scott does acknowledge that those are more than one question and apologizes for it in the editorial, though I don’t feel an apology is necessary; at least not from Scott.]

More on Lindependence 2008 upcoming, which is starting to come together better than I had expected. Watch this space.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero 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: Xubuntu 6.10 Edgy Eft

February 15, 2008 1 comment

[This is the seventh 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.]

You might ask, “Hey, Lar — why are you so far behind? Edgy Eft? You’re already two . . . .”

And I would interrupt and say, “Tsk, tsk, tsk. You know, when Ubuntu made that fatal error of dropping PowerPC support a while ago, 6.10 is the latest I can go on the iBook.” This has been my experience — my foray into the update for 7.04 on the iBook led to a mildly traumatic episode where I thought I had killed the machine, so it was back to the nervous newt (which, if you look it up, is what an “edgy eft” is, after all).

[I understand this is not the case, and I am told that 7.04 and 7.10 both run on PowerPC G3 architecture. If anyone can point out how, I’m all ears.]

A little more history (and thank you for bearing with me): After my first exposure to GNU/Linux with Debian GNU/Linux, Xubuntu was my first other-than-Debian experience and, essentially, it made me what I am today: A happy distro wanderer (and, to some who are somewhat “distro dogmatic,” I am a shameless distro polygamist — and actually I’m at peace with that). Finding the Xfce desktop environment a little perplexing at the time, not to mention a challenge to overcome, the Xubuntu experience was enhanced by the fact that the GTK+ programs were an education to yours truly as a newbie.

As has been a theme in this series, the fact that you can have a desktop environment that does not take up a lot of resources is like having a 426 cubic-inch Hemi planted into a Mini Cooper — the power-to-weight ratio makes the vehicle fly. Xubuntu on the PowerPC G3 in the iBook G3 is no exception to this theme.

There is a debate within the Xubuntu community about whether to include GNOME programs into later editions of the distro. Despite the fact that both sides present good arguments for and against, I think that Xubuntu should stay true to its roots and not weigh itself down.

Of all my portables (and there have only been three), the connectivity of Xubuntu deserves special mention. Despite the fact that Apple’s Airport wireless card has yet to be connectable with any distro — and my guess is that it may never be (thanks, Steve) — the wired connection, whether in my house or in the computer or networking labs in Cabrillo College, has never failed; neither has the iBook had to be reconfigured. I know this ranks way up there in the miracle department, but it’s true (and maybe I’m just lucky). This is not a complaint, but rather I’m sort of awed by this phenomenon that I can’t explain — and, sadly, I can’t repeat this “miracle” with my Intel-based hardware.

With Ubuntu and its family of distros making great strides in the FOSS realm, it is clear that Xubuntu will continue to grow and flourish as part of this tribe. As far as the iBook goes, it has everything it needs , and everything I need, in Xubuntu 6.10 Edgy Eft.

Coming tomorrow: Wolvix 1.1 Hunter (Note: Yes, I know I went out of alphabetical order — I can’t keep track of letters after R. Sorry.)

[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: Debian, Xfce, Xubuntu

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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Flipping a coin

July 31, 2007 Leave a comment

Although they are rare, there are days when two significantly major stories vie for my attention and I have to try to determine which to talk about. In this case, both demand immediate attention, at which time the question becomes, “Which do I talk about first?”

So I have this quarter, I flip it, and it comes up . . .

Crackers do a number on California’s e-voting machine: Here’s the story from TGDaily.com: In summary, a study commissioned by the California Secretary of State has found that several electronic voting machines have serious security vulnerabilities.

The study pitted two cracker teams, better known as “red teams” against voting machines manufactured by Diebold, Hart and Sequoia. The hackers found several security problems and were able to change firmware, access the election database and even open up the machines without detection.

The teams were from UC Davis (Go Aggies!) and UC Santa Barbara (Go Gauchos!). “The red teams demonstrated that the security mechanisms provided for all systems analyzed were inadequate to ensure accuracy and integrity of the election results,” said Robert Abbott, one of the red team leaders.

And why? Here’s one reason: Abbott’s team was able to access election data directly by exploiting vulnerabilities in the Diebold machine’s Windows operating system – an operating system that all three e-voting machines use. They were also able to bypass locks and other physical security with “ordinary objects”.

Matt Bishop of UC Davis complains that his teams didn’t have enough time to fully document all the security vulnerabilities because they study started in mid-June and ended July 20. Bowen had said that the deadline could not be extended because the counties need at least six months to examine the findings. Bishop added that Abbott’s team was close to finding several other problems, but simply ran out of time.

So . . . this speaks volumes about the elections of 2000 and 2004, if anyone is willing to listen. And nothing is really riding on the proper functioning of the voting technology except for democratic principles that are the cornerstone of the republic, if not the fate of the republic itself.

And what came up “tails,” you ask?

The Disconnect That Could Fail Thousands: I’ve never met helios, a long time GNU/Linux advocate named Ken (and unlike Sting or Cher, he has a last name, but I don’t know what it is) whose Blog of Helios is one of the most — if not the most — prolific and informative blog on all matters Penguin. In this recent blog item, helios confronts GNU/Linux’s sacred-cow-du-jour — Ubuntu — and asks why they can’t fix a disk mounting problem that appears (at least to yours truly, a newbie with portfolio) to be easily repaired. Instead of getting a “Hmmm, maybe you’re right . . . ” apparently some in the *buntu Nation have set their sights on him and are branding him an “enemy of the people.” Wrong, folks — helios should be commended for having the cojones to say, “Um, sorry, but it appears to me that the emperor’s wearing no clothes,” and it’s the duty of those who support the emperor to clothe him, rather than just “see” the finery the other yes-men and yes-women see.

This problem that helios brings up with Kubuntu doesn’t seem to be a glaring one. But in comparison, helios outlines a request to fix something he made to Clement Lefevbre of Linux Mint that was fixed relatively quickly. With Ubuntu’s resources — vast by most distros’ standards — why can’t this be addressed and fixed (especially when Ubuntu is now the “face” of GNU/Linux that most of the people see when trying it for the first time)?

Go helios and, as he likes to say, All-righty Then.

[FSF Associate Member]

(Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right . . . (stuck in the middle with GNU)

July 21, 2007 Leave a comment

The groundswell of FUD lately arguably can be a cause for concern in GNU/Linux circles. Interestingly, one of the tell-tale signs whether that Web-based story you’re reading has all the hallmarks of propaganda, at the least, and more than likely is outright FUD, at the worst, is whether the site is sponsored by your friendly neighborhood Redmond death star.

So while clowns like Kevin Carmony keeps blogging about how he’s “improving” Linux with the help of Microsoft (waiting for the laughter to die down), more FUD makes its way to the ethereal Internet thanks to a new joker by the name of Alexander Wolfe.

Wolfe, whose “Wolfe’s Den” appears as the “Chips, Vista and Advanced Technology” blog on the Information Week Web site (did you notice the word Vista in there?), wrote in the latest installment on his blog that — horrors! — there are too many Linux distros to choose from.

He makes the self-serving pithy observation that, since there are so many distros, that “Linux is a forking mess.” As if we should only have one or two choices in computing, rather than the 300 choices of GNU/Linux distros (and those are the active ones) offer.

That’s because freedom — whether in computing or in the rest of everyday life — is about choice, and it’s unfortunate that Wolfe doesn’t get it. But then, most corporate lackeys beholden to the party line of their corporate masters don’t; or if they do, they wallow in hypocrisy while ignoring the truth.

Wolfe also operates under the false assumption that all GNU/Linux distros are all competing against one another for the attention of the average user. Wrong again, Alex: Needless to say the distros that are business oriented — your Red Hats and Novells — are going head to head to slice up the corporate IT pie. But distros like Puppy and Slackintosh competing for IT departments’ attention? Sorry, chump, even the greenest of GNU/Linux newbies realizes that this isn’t true. Pity you don’t — or refuse to — get it, Alex.

Also, the argument of distro-as-religion (Wolfe quotes an outdated story on Distrowatch.com) gets beaten to a pulp. That may have been the case at one time, but Alex seems to have missed the trend toward “distro polygamy” that permeates the current GNU/Linux zeitgeist. To wit: This blog is being written on a iMac running Xubuntu 7.04; next to it is a PowerMac G3 running Yellow Dog 3.0; across the room are two Dell Optiplex GXa machines — one running Linux Mint 3.0 Xfce and the other awaiting its install of Mepis AntiX (thank you, anticapitalista). So some may be beholden to one distro; many of us aren’t.

When you read something about how too many distros is a bad thing, especially when it’s written by a Vista columnist, you can be sure that propaganda is at the forefront. Please read it accordingly.

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

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Civil war? What civil war?

July 3, 2007 Leave a comment

Leave it to Lindows — I’m sorry, “Linspire” — chief FUD officer Kevin Carmony to try to make Benedict Arnold into a freedom fighter. In his June 27th bleatings — I mean, “writing” — about the possibility of GNU/Linux splitting into two separate camps, he says that this is “nothing new for Linux.” True. And also, he outlines the difference between advocates of KDE and Gnome, Debian and RPM (and I’m assuming here he’s talking about the installers) and Distro A and Distro B.

However, that’s where reality stops and fantasy steps in.

Carmony says: “These divisions are quite material, and dilute significant energy and efforts across competing standards. However, we accept this as the price we pay for freedom of choice.”

That’s Kevin’s world. Meanwhile in GNU/Linux circles on the planet Earth, not much can be further from the truth. Where are these so-called “competing standards” — Debian installer vs. RPM? You use one, or the other, and either (or both) work for you. Or not.

As for desktop environments, I don’t use KDE because I actually prefer Xfce as a desktop enviroment. Having tried it, I understand how cool KDE is (and it is). It doesn’t stop me from recognizing the contributions KDE makes to distros that offer it, and I certainly don’t belittle the efforts that KDE folks put into their environment. But it’s just not me; so far, I’m a Xfce guy.

This is not a “division” — this is just a variety of people using the distro of their choice. And in nearly all cases, a great majority of distro users like their distro but don’t wish any other distro ill, save for maybe the ones who pay protection money to the racketeers in Redmond.

I can’t be in the minority in seeing a distro I don’t use as a potential one to try, rather than one to bash. But even if you did favor one distro family — Debian or Red Hat or whatever — over another, the variety of distros out there makes the landscape more familial rather than adversarial.

To bludgeon and obliterate another distro because it’s not the one you use — that’s so Microsoft. So much so, Kevin, that it’s been my observation over the past year or so that this is not the prevailing mindset in the GNU/Linux field — unless you sell out your distro to the nearest digital centurion for 30 pieces of silver.

Speaking of Microsoft, Carmony also tries to take “high morale ground” (note to Kevin: Get a better writer and editor for your stuff — it’s “high moral ground”) in preaching that GNU/Linux developers ought to respect the IP of others, but he makes no mention about how Redmond has little, if any, respect for IP until they can unleash their legal dobermans.

So, vaya con Dios, Lindows — I won’t be using you, and I won’t be considering you a true GNU/Linux distro any longer. And you can bet I’ll keep laughing with everyone else when your misguided mantra of achieving a better Linux through Microsoft comes up.

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

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