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Veni. Vidi. Odio Unitate

May 28, 2012 6 comments

My apologies for not writing this sooner. I know some of you were waiting with bated breath on Saturday for me to finish my run with Unity, and I had planned to wrap it up on Saturday. But I didn’t. I gave the new desktop environment from Canonical, featured only on Ubuntu so far, an extra day just to see if ultimately there was anything — anything — I am missing.

If you can read Latin, the blog’s title says it all. If you can’t, I’ll get back to that in a minute.

But first things first, I have a hard and fast rule — well two, actually — about using Free/Open Source Software. It’s simple: Find what you like and/or what works best for you and use it; it may not be what I use or it may not be something we agree on, and that’s fine. The second rule is a no-brainer: Contribute back to the distro/FOSS program that you use, whether its with bug reports, coding, documentation or financially; and make sure your digital contributions go upstream where they belong. As you’ve heard me say before, some entities — cough Red Hat and Novell cough and their surrounding communities — do this better than others — cough Canonical cough — though admittedly the latter is getting better at it.

Which brings us to the Latin: After vanquishing one of a plethora of lands he overran while he was doing his thing, Julius Caesar said “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” This, of course translates to, “I came. I saw. I conquered,” a 47 B.C. corollary to Dr. Peter Venkman’s “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” in the 1980s movie “Ghostbusters.”

I’ll take it a step beyond: Veni. Vidi. Odio Unitate.

I came. I saw. I hate Unity.

As far as I am concerned and for my own computing purposes, there is truly nothing in Unity to like, and there is nothing here that is new. Let’s put aside the one-size-fits-all-but-not-really-any interface for a moment. It’s bad enough that desktop/laptop Ubuntu users are forced into a rigid interface better suited for a netbook or a tablet, but how is something like Head Up Display an innovation? I could have missed the memo, but how is typing out the program name easier than clicking on an icon? And what does HUD do that something like Konqueror — or even the command line — doesn’t do?

In fact, arguably Unity and HUD are a license to fall into bad habits, which is a hallmark for ease-of-use shortcuts built in to recent Linux user interfaces in order to draw users from other operating systems who, as the indescribably flawed reasoning goes, are drooling Neanderthals because they’re Windows users or lazy hipsters because they use Macs.

So the workaround here is simple. If you absolutely, positively have to use Ubuntu for some compelling reason — your family is being held hostage by a radical offshoot of the Ubuntu Apocalypse, for example — there is a workaround. It’s called Xubuntu. Other workarounds include Kubuntu and Lubuntu as well. For that matter, you could even go to a Ubuntu-based distro like Linux Mint, which gives you the GNOME-as-it-should-be experience in a solid distro.

Of course, if Unity works for you, then use it.

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!

Put me on a highway and show me a sign

November 3, 2011 24 comments

Bruce Byfield and I don’t always agree. When we don’t, it’s usually a “number-of-angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin” issue; one of minutiae rather than of substance, and sometimes we argue past each other when there’s a misunderstanding on the part of one of us, usually me.

But when we do agree, he’s far better at articulating what I would say. Today, Bruce wrote an exceptional blog item entitled “A Disturbing Dialog About Ubuntu and Unity,” where he points out a moment of clarity in what seems to be the direction of Ubuntu which is outlined in Bug #882274, filed by Tal Liron under the title “Community engagement is broken.”

It’s a bug that apparently won’t be fixed. But don’t take my word for it, go ahead and first read Bruce’s blog item (a repost of the same link above), or read the bug report itself (again, another repost). I’ll wait.

My favorite quote in the whole thing, and there are many, comes from Ubuntu SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth: “I fully accept that Unity may not be for you. Then don’t use it. On Ubuntu you can choose Unity, KDE, GNOME, XFCE, and many others.”

And there you are, folks — certainly a unique concept of “community” in three words: My way or highway. Go ahead and use one of the other ‘buntus if you so desire, since we’re not changing the flagship for anyone or anything.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog item, Shuttleworth is right about this: If Unity works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, then don’t. There are many other choices out there, and I’d be willing to bet people are choosing “highway” instead of Shuttleworth’s “my way.”

Fortunately, the FOSS highway provides a lot of adequate alternatives: Linux Mint, this lane, exit only. Fedora, next exit. Debian ahead. OpenSUSE, exit 5 miles. You can even get off the main highway and take some of the backroads to some of the less-traveled distros, if you like.

So put me on a highway and show me a sign . . . .

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

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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Eliminate DRM!

Mark is right, and Mark is wrong

November 1, 2011 24 comments

Yesterday was one of those days. Though I’m not terribly proud of it, I wrote three different blogs items during the course of the day — staying up past midnight this morning to finish the third — and posted none of them. In fact, I took the unprecedented step in just dumping them into the abyss of /dev/null, rather than putting them aside to pick them up later.

The first was a reminder about how developers should remember to send patches upstream. Some distros are good about this — Fedora, tip your hat — and some aren’t. The “aren’ts” know who they are, and those who don’t send patches upstream in a timely manner need to get on it. Now.

The second was a comparison of Unity, and to an extent GNOME 3, to the Edsel; comparing those desktop environment releases to how Ford had built up an enormous curiosity around this new “E-car” in 1957 — a car of the future — they were developing amid a shroud of secrecy before revealing to the world, well, the Edsel — which nearly everyone hated once they saw what Ford’s idea for the “future” was.

I wish I could remember the third one. It didn’t get far and it was just kind of ramblin’ — that’s R-A-M-B-L-I-N-apostrophe.

So thank you, Ubuntu SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth, for your usual pithy observations — right, wrong and ad hominem — made yesterday at the Ubuntu Developers Summit, which will allow me an opportunity to write about something today.

I had planned to give Mark a pass yesterday. Anything I say about Ubuntu or Unity is going to be taken with the grain of salt that a.) the common perception, albeit completely untrue, is that I am incapable of saying anything nice about Ubuntu, and b) another common perception, admittedly somewhat true, is that I hate Unity with the heat of a nova. Until I use something smaller than a laptop — and let’s say for the sake of argument that would be never — I’m not going to need an interface that’s suited for a mobile device on any piece of hardware I use.

There was Mark yesterday in Orlando, doling out some observations in an article by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (complete with “Ubuntu Linux” in the headline, remarkably). In it, The Mark points out that Canonical/Ubuntu will be expanding to smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, and that’s where Mark gets it right. Oh, it speaks volumes about why Unity is as it is, and it sounds like a plan that has spread-too-thin written all over it, but far be it from me to be the proverbial wet blanket — go for it, Mark.

However . . .

Mark gets it wrong when he promotes Unity as the one-size-fits-all UI solution across the hardware spectrum. It would be laughable except there are legions of Ubunteros ready to drone on about how this is gospel going forward when simple common sense would dictate otherwise, to say nothing of developers being drawn from a more balanced approach to large-hardware and small-hardware development rather than what seems to be the current course in putting all the proverbial eggs in the small-hardware basket.

But let’s go to the subtext here, shall we? There’s a grave philosophical misconception gaining traction over the last couple of years that goes something like this: People are using smart phones and tablets more, so let’s forsake the desktop and laptop and embrace smaller hardware. I think this they call this the “Post-PC era,” or some other remarkable cliche. The fact of the matter is that the advent of smaller hardware ushers in a “PC-plus era,” where you use your personal computer AND something smaller and portable in tandem with it.

Know why? Simple. Try using Blender on your smartphone or tablet. How’s that working out for you? It’s not?

My point exactly: While you can get away with some tasks on your smaller hardware, you’re still going to need to do things on something larger. So to shift focus from proven hardware form factors, albeit the larger and less portable ones, in order to develop for the flavor-of-the-month smaller hardware is textbook myopia.

Also, in an ad hominem statement typical of Mark Shuttleworth in defending Unity, he says that some of the more experienced users are “too cool” to use Unity. I think the quote goes something like this: “There is going to be a crowd that is just too cool to use something that looks really slick and there is nothing we can do for them.”

No, that’s not it, Mark. The reason some people don’t like Unity is not because it looks slick (which is completely debatable). It’s because it doesn’t work for them. By the way, actually there is something you can do for those you mistakenly think are “too cool” for Unity when all they really want is something that works: Make Unity work and make it tweakable.

Once you reach that point, would you mind coming back and letting the cool Linux power users know? Thanks.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a blog item that’s a keeper.

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

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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Eliminate DRM!

Spanning the globe . . .

October 27, 2011 6 comments

. . . to bring you the constant variety of FOSS. A few morsels of FOSS news have flown by the proverbial radar this week, and you may already know these things already. But just to recap

Finishing out the alphabet: Ubuntu announced it planned to offer a five-year long-term support — up from the usual three-year LTS — with its next release, 12.04 or Precise Pangolin. Bad news or good news? Good news on the whole, unless you have to use Unity — five years with Unity seems to strike me as an act that violates the Geneva Convention. But if you’re using one of the other ‘buntus, like Xubuntu, Kubuntu or Lubuntu, you’re in luck. You can keep using Pangolin and let Ubuntu ride out the alphabet, since Canonical’s SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth will finally reach the end of the alphabet by Ubuntu 17.04 — 17.04 is the Z adjective/animal — five years after the release of Pangolin.

Hold onto those Palms: Well, if you thought Palm OS was out the window and that HP’s hardware was going the way of the Dodo and the Studebaker, think again. HP is actually going to keep its PC unit, according to ZDNet. Again good and bad news: Good news because I’m particularly fond of Palm OS and the Palm Pre 2 when I used it — and those who picked up the fire sale HP tablets have hardware that might get a new lease on life — but the bad news is that I now have to say something nice about Meg Whitman. Good call and thanks, Meg.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles . . . : The SCALE team is busy at work setting up 2012’s first event on the North American continent — SCALE 10X is being held Jan. 20-22 at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport — and their contest closes next week to design the SCALE 10X logo appearing on T-shirts, bags and other SCALE 10X swag. Details are here, and the prize is a trip to SCALE. Draw quickly.

Speaking of SCALE: Rikki Endsley wrote an exceptional piece on why kids matter in FOSS. She gives seven excellent reasons why we should be cultivating the future with a new generation of FOSS developers and advocates. Thanks, Rikki, for an exceptional dovetail into the SCALE Kids’ Conference, which will be held at SCALE 10X (dates and link above). Want to make a difference in FOSS future? Here’s your chance.

One more thing: I think I offer a pretty wide latitude when it comes to comments to this blog, if the FSF item is any indication. I do have a couple of rules that by which I ask folks to abide: a.) provide a name and an valid — valid — e-mail address (or a valid nameserver address), and b.) try not to be a douche. I know some people can’t help violating “b.” to save their lives, so I will sometimes waive that rule if they provide “a.” But if you violate both, you’re out of luck. That plain, that simple.

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

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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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!

Notes from The Jungle Room

July 25, 2011 4 comments


OSCON 2011
Next up: OSCON. Get there if you can — it’s starting today — and give them my regards because I can’t make it this year :-(

The new apartment has what is considered by my family a sort of study, but it’s quickly becoming the computer lab that I lost when I gave up my commercial space. That lab, of course, was dubbed “The Jungle Room,” after the man cave at Graceland. The study has been dubbed the same.

[Yes, if he had done nothing else, Elvis would have earned my respect and admiration for inventing the man cave decades before the concept existed on cable TV. Uhthankyouverymuch]

Before I continue, allow me a mea cupla: In my last item, I wrote about Openbox and referred to a “desktop” in the same paragraph. Technically, Openbox is a window manager, not a desktop environment, as I was so dutifully reminded by an astute commenter. True. However, when using the term “desktop,” I was actually referring to what one sees on their screen as opposed to a specific desktop environment — my bad for being unclear.

Nevertheless, as the last moving boxes are being punted out the door (Oh, I will take them down to the recycling bin shortly), I wanted to drop off in today’s blog a couple of items worth mentioning in FOSS news over the last few days, like . . . .

Mac hardware to get that shiny Chrome look? The VAR Guy drops an interesting hint in a column late yesterday outlining the proposition that Google’s Chrome OS has been compiled for the MacBook Air, thanks to a blogger/hacker named Hexxeh. “It’s a unique utopia, and one that won’t likely exist anytime soon,” he writes. “But the alleged smoothness in which the MacBook Air runs Chrome OS is worth watching.” Indeed, and the VAR Guy promises a review of Chrome OS in the near future. Watch that space.

Matt Hartley gives us the business: On a couple of rare occasions I’ve crossed proverbial swords with Matt Hartley, but for the most part his articles are informative and newsworthy. Special mention goes to yesterday’s Datamation item about choosing the right distro for your business. In the wrap-up, Matt writes that, “Everyone is going to have different needs. A company’s decision may range from weighing what type of support is needed down to selecting a community-based option over a highly specialized Linux distribution. With every example presented above, the common theme is that Linux offers plenty of choices.” Amen to that.

At ease, soldier: You find developers of Linux in the most interesting places; like, oh I don’t know, the U.S. Department of Defense, for example. The DOD brings us Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) Linux, which is a live CD focusing on privacy and security. It boots from a CD and executes from RAM, providing a browser, a file manager and some interesing tools. From the screenshots at Unixmen, it looks surprising like . . . Windows. Now if that’s not great camouflage, I don’t know what is. I haven’t tried it yet — I might soon — but if it runs off a CD and has all the tools I can use, it might replace the Ultimate Boot CD and Knoppix CD that I usually carry and often lose.

Last, but not least . . .

An extra chair at the dinner table: Until recently, Lubuntu was an independent project based on Ubuntu — Ubuntu with the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment, or LXDE for short. Starting with Ubuntu 11.10 in November, however, Lubuntu will join the Ubuntu family as an official variant, according to this article on the Liliputing site. Welcome to the family, Lubuntu.

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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