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High on the Alto 3880

February 13, 2012 13 comments

Those of you who know me know that I’m an old ThinkPad guy, in more ways than one. I myself am older than many of you reading this — well on my way to AARP membership status as I reach 55 this November — and the ThinkPads I use on a daily basis are themselves old, namely a T30 and an R40.

ThinkPads are painfully utilitarian, amazingly solid, and like the Model T Fords come in a wide variety of colors as long as you choose black. For these reasons, ThinkPads lend themselves to being the laptop of choice for many laptop users, mostly developers. To make them more attractive — for loss of a better word — many a ThinkPad is embellished with stickers on the cover, rivaling the best of the NASCAR field. Mine is no exception: My ThinkPad does its laps with EFF, SCALE 10X, Oregon State University Open Source Lab, Open Source for America, two Google Summer of Code, and No Starch Press stickers gracing the laptop cover.

So when ZaReason sent me an Alto 3880 to put through its paces, my first reaction was, “Wow. This is too nice to put stickers on.”

The Alto 3880’s cover is a very stylish silver and should be kept in its pristine form. A look around the laptop before opening it shows that ports are readily available on the sides — with monitor, ethernet and USB ports conveniently located on the left side instead of on the back. While many might find this a simple design, ThinkPad users would be thrilled to know that the oft-inconvenient ThinkPad reacharound to plug in USB cables or thumb drives is not necessary here. In giving it the once over before opening it, the Alto is light in one’s hands, but it still feels sturdy.

Opening the cover and pushing the on button reveals a screen with remarkable clarity contrasted on a black background and base. If you’re a regular ThinkPad user, the keyboard is different — flat keys at the same level — and takes getting used to. With heavy fingers like mine, the pounding I would normally offer the ThinkPad feels like I’m mercilessly pounding this keyboard and suggests some behavior modification. But ultimately the keyboard is tough enough to withstand it and after adjusting to the new keyboard — wider than the ThinkPad’s — it is easy to adapt to and to get accustomed to the additional real estate for your hands.

Performance wise, the Alto 3880 flies on the trio of distros I used on it, and without boring you with the minutiae, with one exception that turned out to be a software clash, the laptop performed without a hitch. With the 1366-by-768 resolution on a an remarkably clear 14-inch screen, the laptop would make a fine — no, make that an outstanding — replacement for my old ThinkPads.

I used three different distros on the Alto 3880, and each performed well, and each would make a fine choice for the person owning this laptop. The three contestants, for the sake of argument, are Linux Mint and Fedora — both which you can have preinstalled by ZaReason — and CrunchBang, which you can install on your own (until I convince ZaReason to make it a choice). However, as I understand it, if you request a different distro, ZaReason will install it. Or if you want no operating system, they’ll send it like that, too. Unlike other Linux hardware vendors, ZaReason offers a wide choice in this department.

But I digress. Here’s how the distros did:

Alto 3880 with Linux Mint: Originally, the laptop came to me with Linux Mint 12, which is the latest version of the distro with the GNOME 2.x-type desktop. The Alto 3880 did remarkably well with Linux Mint, which is growing on a lot of people (including me). Switching from MATE to GNOME to Cinnamon was a snap, and the performance was outstanding. In one instance on a busy morning where I forgot to plug in the laptop, I got just over four hours from the battery using multiple programs on Linux Mint.

Alto 3880 with Fedora 16: I’m waiting for the myth that Fedora is too “cutting edge” for the average user to go the way of the Studebaker and the hula hoop. It’s just that — a myth — and Fedora 16 runs circles around just about everything else on this machine. After installing Flash so one can — oh, I don’t know — participate in the wider Internet world, the distro and hardware handled everything I threw at it from a video and audio standpoint with aplomb.

Alto 3880 with CrunchBang Statler: The laptop has the horses, so to speak, to run the previous two desktop environments without breaking a sweat. So when faced with handling the Openbox window manager on CrunchBang, the distro soared. Also, the built-in camera worked flawlessly during a Google+ Hangout with the CrunchBang crew.

Alto 3880 strengths

Regardless of what distro is running on it, the Alto 3880 is remarkably versatile and handles a wide range of work without complaint. In fact, the only problem I had was helping my daughter solve what turned out to be a common GIMP and Banshee problem where the programs, both running simultaneously, weren’t playing nice with each other — clearly not a reflection on the hardware. The screen is very clear and handles high resolutions flawlessly, which is a benefit for those who want to do things like watch videos or do intricate graphics work (Note: My daughter Mimi will be writing her own review of this laptop as well). Across the distro board, the audio and video performance was outstanding, with the onboard speakers sounding good enough to forgo plugging in speakers in some cases (though the speakers sounded good, too, when used to watch DVDs). the laptop itself is lightweight but solid, and the design is top-notch — this is a beautiful laptop.

Needs improvement?

There is a lot to like on this laptop, but the one thing that took getting used to is the keyboard. Again, this might be just something for the personal preference folder, but the keyboard at first tends to feel a little light to the touch. Also, the mouse button, which is a single bar at the same level as the touchpad operating on a centered fulcrum (click the left side for the left mouse button, right side for the right) is hard to adjust to when coming from hardware where the buttons are raised. To be fair, it would be difficult to imagine that a ThinkPad-like keyboard would work, design wise, on a laptop like this.

A final look

I don’t have a rating system — stars, penguins, horseshoes, whatever — in place, but if I did I would rank the Alto 3880 very high; for the sake of argument, let’s say 4.5 penguins out of a perfect 5 penguins. Its combination of sleek design and high performance make this laptop one that would easily draw me away from the ranks of the ThinkPad users. The retail price for this machine is $599, which many of you might think is a little high compared to what you could get at Best Buy. But when you consider that when buying from a Linux hardware vendor, you’re not only getting a quality machine with a great OS, your purchase supports FOSS, for starters, by not putting another “sale” in Redmond’s tally. With its wide range of capabilities and performance, the Alto 3880 is a laptop I would be proud to own and, if Uncle Sam is generous with a tax return, would be glad to purchase.

Specs

Screen: 14-inch HD, 1366-by-768 Glossy LED Backlit Display
Processor: Pentium B940, 2 GHz, 2 core, 2 thread
Memory: 4GB DDR-3
Graphics card: Intel Integrated HD Graphics
Hard Drive: 250GB 5,400 RPM (NOTE: Tested with 400GB HD)
Optical Drive: Combo CD/DVD burner
Audio: Speakers above the keyboard for quality sound output
Wireless: 802.11 B/G/N WiFi included and Bluetooth
Reader: 3-in-1 card reader — SD/MMC/MS supported
Camera: 1.3 Megapixel webcam included
Ports: HDMI and VGA monitor ports; Gigabit Ethernet port; ensington lock port; Headphone and microphone jacks; three USB 2.0 ports
Operating System: Your choice from a variety of Linux distros, or no operating system
Battery: Six-cell battery, up to 5 hours
Weight: 4.5 pounds
Price: $599

Coming tomorrow: This . . . is . . . STRATA! A look at the ZaReason Strata 6880.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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T-minus 96 hours and counting

January 16, 2012 6 comments

Those who know me well know that, among other things, I really don’t like ice hockey. Oh, I root for the San Jose Sharks in the National Hockey League because they’re the “home team” here, just over the hill in the Silicon Valley (Edit: One thing about hockey I do like is The Green Men at the Vancouver Canucks games — very funny performances outside the visitor’s penalty box). But to be honest, it’s a sport that makes me grind my teeth. The truth of the matter is that I don’t like it because I can’t play it.

SCALE 10XSkating on ice is hard enough. Canadians, Scandinavians and Russians: I know you all have a gene that allows you to turn pirouettes on the ice straight from the womb, and that’s great. But I can’t stay perpendicular for very long while on skates on frozen water. Add to this that I’d have to stay perpendicular on the ice and keep a rubber disk in front of me with a stick; difficulty squared. The clincher? Keeping perpendicular on the ice while keeping a rubber disk in front of me with a stick while people are trying to knock me down (which, of course, would anger me to bodily harm on the ice, and I understand that you can’t legally hit people with your stick, unfortunately).

“So,” you ask, “are we going to get to the point of this blog anytime soon, Larry?”

Yes.

While I don’t like hockey, currently my favorite article of clothing is my SCALE hockey jersey, which is now packed and ready for SCALE 10X. SCALE 10X is being held Friday to Sunday of this week, a mere four days from today, at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel.

A little history: At SCALE 9X last year, the powers that be at the show figured there should be some way to identify the staff on the floor of the show — something that would make them stand out. The result: SCALE hockey jerseys, with the name of the staff person across the back. If you were a speaker, a vendor, an exhibitor or anyone else at the show and you needed something, you needed to give a hip check to the person you saw running around with a hockey jersey.

Or you could find me: I’d be the one in the hockey jersey taking five steps and immediately falling down, but I digress.

I’m giving two presentations at SCALE 10X this year — “User Groups 2.1: Noob Morning in America” (a reprise of last years “User Group 2.0″ talk) at 10 a.m. Friday in the hotel’s beautiful Catalina D room, and “On Beyond Zenwalk” on Saturday at 3 in the hotel’s Los Angeles B room. I’m also your host for the CrunchBang GNU/Linux “Birds of a Feather” event on Saturday evening as well.

Just don’t ask me to shoot and score.

More on SCALE 10X coming this week in this blog. Watch this space.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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No predictions in 2012, except . . .

January 3, 2012 1 comment

Normally, I take the time at the end of the year to be a complete goof (and that differs from the rest of the year . . . how?) and write some predicitions for the following year, like I did for 2009 and for 2010. I didn’t make any predictions for 2011 at the end of 2010 — rather, I wrote what I thought I’d like to see in 2011, followed by a Moment of Zen. For 2012, I decided to forego this practice altogether, if for no other reason than I can’t seem to fit a “year of the Linux desktop” joke into the mix.

But there are a couple of things we might see in 2012, like . . .

SCALE 10XLinux Expo Numbers Will Be Up: Don’t let the early curveball fool you: The Southern California Linux Expo SCALE 10X, held in January this year (as in about three weeks from now) in Los Angeles, kicks off the roster of Linux/FOSS expos for 2012, which stands to be the “Year of the Linux Desktop Expo” (See? You knew I’d get the Linux desktop in there somewhere). I’d be willing to bet that it has been obscured on people’s radar because of recently concluded the holiday season, so mark your calendars — and get yourself over to the registration page to sign up if you haven’t done so already. Also, the $109/night deal for SCALE attendees at the Hilton still stands as well. Because a.) what better way would it be to kick off this year and b.) how could you resist a weekend in L.A. with nearly 2,000 of your best friends?

That’s followed by Linux Fest Northwest (I’ll be there), Texas Linux Fest, and a slew of others. Which reminds me . . . .

I’ll be at more shows. Yep, I think I’m going to be heading east of the Rockies this year and submitting papers and venturing off to other shows where I have not yet been. This would include many, if not all, of the Linux expos on the other side of the Continental Divide. That could be an announcement or a warning — you decide.

One more thing: I heard this from more than one person. It could be a rumor, speculation, wishful thinking, acid flashback or whatever form these kind of statements take. I have no proof, just a gut feeling that it’ll happen. I could be wrong, but if I’m not, it’ll change the face of FOSS a little. OK, maybe it will change the face of FOSS more than a little.

It is this: Dell buys Canonical sometime in 2012.

Remember where you read it first.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, in the cozy confines of his home office.)

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That’s my name, don’t wear it out

December 30, 2011 6 comments

Katherine Noyes put together a brief piece for PC World today about Linux release names which, overall, she seems to consider “silly.” In the process, she omits a great bit of detail on the “what” and “why” aspect of distro communities and how they come up with these “silly” names.

Digitally speaking, from a purely anthropological standpoint it is far from silly, and actually it’s quite an interesting topic, though Noyes seems to race through it without giving much detail.

So let me help out here.

SCALE 10XDebian: Release names come from “Toy Story.” As humorous as it is simple, this naming convention is one of the best. An interesting corollary to this is the Debian-based CrunchBang naming convention mirrors the first letter of the current Debian release, but matches it with a character from “The Muppet Show.” So Debian “Squeeze” is translated in CrunchBang to “Statler. “Wheezy” begets “Waldorf.” Statler and Waldorf, of course, are the two old guys in the balcony in “The Muppet Show.”

Linux Mint: I particularly like the naming convention Clement Lefevbre has come up with for Linux Mint. It’s alphabetically a woman’s name ending in “a.” We’re at Julia now. I asked Clement once what he’d do when he got to “Zelda” (or whatever the “Z” name will be for Linux Mint when they get that far . . . and they will), and he said that it was simple: Start with a name beginning with “A” and end the name in “e.”

Ubuntu: We all know the drill here — SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth comes up with an adjective and an animal with the same first letter and hands it down to a waiting community. Which is in complete contrast to . . .

Fedora: There is a formula here that the Fedora Project adheres to before all hell breaks loose and fistfights break out in the Fedora community while they vote on the release name. The formula is simple: “$CURRENT_RELEASE_NAME is a (whatever it is — i.e., city, body of water, person, thing) and so is $NEXT_RELEASE_NAME.” Looking at Fedora 15 “Lovelock” to the current Fedora 16 “Verne,” it goes like this: James Lovelock was a futurologist, and so was Jules Verne. Now how they got from Verne to Fedora 17’s “Beefy Miracle” is a mystery for the ages.

OpenSUSE: OpenSUSE’s naming convention . . . does OpenSUSE even have a naming convention for releases?

Got a distro that has a naming convention worthy of mentioning? Let me know.

*Self-appointed benevolent dictator for life, for those of you keeping score at home.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office.)

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Meanwhile, back at El Ranchito . . . .

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Whew. Now that that’s over . . . the second “that” being what’s nebulously called “the holiday” and all its trimmings, we can now get back to serious discussions on FOSS.

Or not.

SCALE 10XBut first things first: SCALE 10X. The Southern California Linux Expo SCALE 10X will be held less than a month from now — on Jan. 20-22 — at the beautiful Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel. In its 10th year, this first-of-the-year show in North America is shaping up to be one for the ages, and since it’s a month earlier this year — taking advantage of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend — I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s being obscured on people’s radar because of the holiday season and, heck, SCALE is not for another couple of months anyway, right? Well, not this year. Again, it’s January 20-22 — mark your calendars — and get yourself over to the registration page to sign up. Also, the $109/night deal for SCALE attendees at the Hilton still stands as well.

Now, how could you resist a weekend in L.A. with nearly 2,000 of your best friends?

Meanwhile, if you — for whatever misguided reason — have your domain registered on GoDaddy, today is the day to move it from the SOPA-supporting, arguably sexist domain registrant to another one that is more along the lines of your policies (unless, of course, you support SOPA and juvenile ads. Which of course begs the question: What are you doing reading this blog?). Here’s a story about it from ReadWriteWeb outlining that Namecheap will donate a dollar for every transfer to the Elecronic Frontier Foundation. Go to it, folks.

Also, the rumors are true: I’m now using CrunchBang GNU/Linux as my primary distro and I’m getting more involved with that community as well. While I might be saying, “So long, and thanks for all the fish” to Fedora, my experience with the Fedora Project has been overall both pleasant and an education, and I like to think that all the connections and friendships made during that time weather this transition. I bring that up because people are saying “goodbye” when they really don’t have to — I’ll be around in a FOSS sense and, regardless of what distro you might use, bear in mind we’re still essentially working for the same goal, albeit taking different paths.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office.)

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Five for Friday

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Whew. Wrapping up the week after a 24-hour power outage in the wake of 70 mph gusts here in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Wednesday and Thursday, we have the following tidbits:

Speaking at SCALE: The SCALE team has been busy putting together the Southern California Linux Expo — that’s SCALE 10X for those of you keeping score at home (and, as Giants play-by-play guy Duane Kuiper once added, “but why would you?”) — and they’ve finalized the speakers for the sessions in the three-day first-of-the-year Linux expo in North America. It’s a good lineup — yours truly had a talk accepted, and I know for sure that my neighbors over the hill Alison Chaiken and Akkana Peck are also in the lineup — and when the list has been finalized, we’ll announce it here as well. Of course, yours truly and darling daughter have planned another upSCALE talk which should not be missed at SCALE 10X. Registration is open — don’t wait: Click here to register. I’ll wait.

SSHHHHHHHH: Carla Schroder wrote an excellent piece on tips and tricks for OpenSSH. For the uninitiated, OpenSSH is a powerful tool that lets you run applications remotely and allows you share files without having to set up a file server. If this interests you –and even if it doesn’t — it’s worth a look.

And they all came out and said “try me”: The last few weeks have seen a tsunami of releases. November saw a flurry that included Fedora 16, the rolling release of OpenSUSE 12.1 (which, of course, begs the question: What happened to plain ol’ 12?), Linux Mint 12 Lisa and CrunchBang’s Statler. I’ve written about the latter and I’m more enamored each day with it, and I’ll get around to the others next week. Cross my heart and scout’s honor. Meanwhile, if you wanted to visit them and get a copy for your own personal test drive, no one would be happier than me.

You animal: Rikki Endsley wrote this outstanding piece on Network World entitled “Everything I Needed to Know about Linux I Learned from My Pets.” The first line: “My relationship with my motley crew of cats and dogs is similar to my relationship with Linux. In both cases, I’ve learned that patience pays off, and life is better with than without them.” Indeed.

Thinking globally, acting locally: Mother Nature is being reasonable just in time for Felton LUG to meet. As those of you locals know, we had to move the meeting to the first Saturday for November and December because of the CERT training (they are the emergency responders in crises, so we thank them and let them have our spot whenever they want) on our usual second Saturday of the month. For those of you who are still awake, Felton LUG will meet tomorrow, 2-6 p.m., at the solar-powered Felton Fire Station behind the Felton Community Center. No program this month — run what ya brung — and there could be an installfest kicking off January 2012.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

(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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Make it so, SCALE

November 29, 2011 2 comments

A little history: Mimi Cafiero (yes, that’s my girl) and Malakai Wade, two teenage girls who are helping to organize SCALE 10X’s young people’s conference, staunchly proclaimed that, “We are not kids.” So the title of SCALE 10X Kids Conference was in peril from the start.

Yet in discussion on the mailing list on the name that shortly followed, Jenn Waterman had the perfect solution in a one-line e-mail:

“I would like to suggest ‘SCaLE: The Next Generation’ :)”

So after a little more discussion, the organizers for the event made it so. The SCALE Kids Conference became SCALE: The Next Generation.

Yesterday, the Southern California Linux Expo officially announced their conference for the next generation of free and open source (FOSS) community enthusiasts. SCALE: The Next Generation will be held Saturday, January 21, 2012, at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel.

In their announcement, they invite the youth of the FOSS community to share their enthusiasm and excitement about FOSS projects with the other young people.

Talk submissions are reviewed by a committee of youths, parents, and volunteers planning the conference and evaluated solely on their merits. SCALE requests that submission dates be strictly honored in order to provide the committee enough time to choose the best set of proposals.

Presenters will have the opportunity to give a 20- or 45-minute presentation, and the desired time slot be mentioned in the submission.

The goal of both SCALE and SCALE: The Next Generation is to educate and encourage excitement about FOSS. Because of this, all presentations should be submitted in a free and open format, such as OpenDocument Presentation (ODP) or PDF formats.

Additionally the conference will also provide space where the next generation FOSS enthusiasts can see FOSS program and hardware projects in action. SCALE encourages those youths interested in showcasing a project that they themselves are involved in or simply excited about, to submit a one paragraph description about the project and what attendees can hope to see.

Submissions for both presentations and demonstrations should be emailed to gareth@socallinuxexpo.org

Important dates to keep in mind: Invitation for Participation Opens on Nov. 29 (yesterday); Invitation for Participation Closes on Dec. 19; and SCALE: The Next Generation takes place on Jan. 21, 2012.

Come on, kids . . . er, I mean, next-generationers — get those talks in and be a part of this historic conference.

(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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