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A Week in Limbo, Day 4: On second thought . . .

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The proverbial laundry list of things I want to do while I have this ZaReason Limbo 5440 is somewhat long, but alas, my time is limited. Originally I had planned to run a couple of other distros on the machine before returning it, but I’m currently hung up doing other things.

SCALE 10XFor example, I got hung up on the RAID-5 array, for starters. Not ever having more than one hard drive in one machine at one time left me with a significant amount of curiosity about how this works: Google, research, tweak. Neat stuff. Then there’s audio/video items since, now that I have four processors instead of the one I’m usually stuck with, I now can probably do a lot of really neat things.

More googling, more research, more tweaking. Check the clock. I have a little more time: Google, research, and tweak some more.

[Holiday shopping? Oh, right. I knew I was forgetting something.]

So rather than leave Fedora and go off to other distros, we’re going to stick around in the Red Hat neighborhood, running programs and reporting back for the next three days. We have audio coming up, and some interesting discoveries to report.

But for now, it’s time for holiday shopping (doesn’t everyone start on the 22nd?).

Tomorrow we’ll have A Week in Limbo, Day 5: Can you hear me now?

“A Week in Limbo Series” (for those of you keeping track)
A Week in Limbo, Day 0
A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood
A Week in Limbo, Day 2: Fedora 16
A Week in Limbo, Day 3: Fedora 16 KDE
A Week in Limbo, Day 4: On second thought . . .

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, which is the development side of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, United States.)

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Eliminate DRM!

A Week in Limbo, Day 3: Fedora 16 KDE

December 21, 2011 2 comments

There’s a trick to getting the best of both worlds on Fedora — and I would imagine this works with any other distro under the same circumstances — and this is how you do it. You download the latest release as the “Desktop” version (again, that’s GNOME, as we outlined yesterday) and then download the KDE desktop with all the trimmings.

SCALE 10XThen you choose your desktop from the switchdesktop from the command line and off you go. This way, you have all the GNOME and KDE bits needed to run each dessktop environment and, while it may be a bit tedious and may be time- and disk-consuming, it is quite handy when testing software to go back and forth between desktops to see how they perform.

Or maybe there’s a 12-step program for such behavior. Your guess is as good as mine.

In any case, using Fedora 16 KDE on the ZaReason Limbo 5440 reflects much of the experience of using Fedora 16 “Desktop” (GNOME) as outlined in yesterday’s blog item. Downloads are quick, response times even quicker. The Fedora 16 KDE spin comes with the KDE 4.7 version of the desktop — speaking as solely a post-KDE 4 user, I’ve always been impressed with the changes KDE makes under the hood. On the exterior things may not change much, but behind the curtain there are a lot of commendable things going on. Plus, the fact that KDE is not racing off to become a tablet desktop is a huge plus.

But I digress.

To make a long story short, the Limbo 5440 with Fedora 16 KDE is a remarkable pairing. I’m not that well-versed in the K Desktop Environment history, but my observation over the years has been that KDE has tried to be all things to all Linux users. As a result, there are a lot of KDE-based programs that come along with the desktop environment. That’s a good thing, and programs like Amarok and K3b are a testament to this.

Tomorrow we’ll have A Week in Limbo, Day 4: Off the reservation

“A Week in Limbo Series” (for those of you keeping track)
A Week in Limbo, Day 0
A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood
A Week in Limbo, Day 2: Fedora 16
A Week in Limbo, Day 3: Fedora 16 KDE

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, which is the development side of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, United States.)

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Eliminate DRM!

A Week in Limbo, Day 2: Fedora 16

December 20, 2011 1 comment

As the ZaReason Limbo 5440 runs folding@home in the background, allow me to continue with the series and talk about the operating system currently running it.

Before I start, though, it should be noted that one of the things — one of several things, actually — that sets ZaReason apart from its competition is that they offer a variety of distros on their hardware. Other Linux hardware providers will give you any distro you want, as long as it’s Ubuntu. ZaReason has your back on the distro front, though, offering the *buntu family as well as Debian, Fedora, and Linux Mint (not to mention “no operating system,” if that’s you’re pleasure).

SCALE 10XSo it comes as no surprise that when ZaReason sent me the Limbo 5440 to put through its paces, they knew of my reputation as a Fedora guy. Since this reputation precedes me (for better or worse), I was given the latest Fedora 16 “Desktop” — for those of you scoring at home, “Desktop” in Fedora parlance means GNOME 3, the default desktop for Fedora (why they just don’t call it “Fedora 16 GNOME” is one of those mysteries, like how gravity works or like the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey”). Fedora 16, code name Verne, is the latest and greatest of Fedora’s semi-annual releases. Native to Fedora releases since Fedora 15 is the somewhat controversial GNOME 3 desktop environment which, of course, is currently running on this machine.

Now, those of you outside my family who regularly read this blog know that I’ve had some — how can I put this tactfully? — problems with GNOME 3, most notably not being able to run it on my hardware. GNOME’s fallback mode made for an inadequate “consolation prize” too, so I switched to Xfce with Fedora 16 on a laptop I regularly use. So this is the first chance I’ve had to actually put GNOME 3 to the test.

If you’ll pass the salt, I’ll just eat some crow here before I continue. Now that I’ve used it, I was wrong about GNOME 3 being a spawn of the Prince of Darkness. With the GNOME Shell Extensions under the GNOME 3.2 desktop, the desktop environment hums along and works a lot like the GNOME 2.x that I missed dearly in the last Fedora release. In fact, for those of you who, like me, did not like what GNOME 3 had to offer, this setup — with the extensions — brings together the best of both worlds: The improvements (yes, there are many) of GNOME 3 with the functionality that we’re used to in GNOME 2.6. The desktop’s tweakability, which many felt was lacking in the later GNOME,

Note to developers: Four desktops. How hard is it to make that a default, as it’s been in days past?

This is not to say I’m going back to GNOME — on the laptop, I’m going to keep Xfce because I have to — but GNOME 3 with the GNOME Shell Extensions is much better than the pitchfork- and torch-bearing naysayers lead on, and I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a pretty remarkable desktop environment. Also, in comparison to the default desktop environment on Ubuntu — I dare not speak its name, lest I fly into a homicidal rage — GNOME 3 is head and shoulders above it and, by comparison, is heavenly.

Meanwhile, back at the hardware, putting Fedora 16 — installations, updates, etc. — through its paces on the ZaReason hardware went without a hitch. GIMP flies on the hardware, as does much of the LibreOffice suite — two things I used specifically today because my SCALE presentation needed tweaking. One comment that I hope will echo throughout this series with the use of other distros on this machine (you knew that was coming) is that the Limbo 5440 will handle all that’s thrown at it with agility, ease and grace. I can’t say that for some of the other hardware I’ve owned, and at the risk of being redundant, it’s a breath of fresh air to have a machine that does what I ask without breaking a sweat.

Coming tomorrow: A Week in Limbo, Day 3: Shifting gears

“A Week in Limbo Series” (for those of you keeping track)
A Week in Limbo, Day 0
A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood
A Week in Limbo, Day 2: Fedora 16

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, which is the development side of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, United States.)

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Eliminate DRM!

A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood

December 19, 2011 1 comment

Memory fails me at the moment (age is cruel) and I’m too much on a roll in the throes of testing to Google it, but it was either Peter Parker’s uncle — or Voltaire — who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The ZaReason Limbo 5440 give a user great power, and with it comes a certain degree of responsibility. Speaking of which, one of the responsible things you can do is take control of your computing — I know I’m preaching to the choir here, so to speak, but in the off chance a new Linux user is reading, that’s what it’s all about.

In that regard, one of the things that ZaReason does, to its credit, when sending out new machines is to point out in packaged documentation where to get help — a useful page for anyone, from the new Windows refugee to the experienced Linux user. “We build these systems so they just work,” it says, (and I would add, with great understatement), and it urges folks who encounter a problem to a.) try to figure it out — “The more you play with your system, the more you know about it,” tweaking it until it’s yours, and then b.) figure out how you want to solve any problems that arise — message board, online support, e-mail, phone, etc. It’s also has a list of places where you can find help in these ways.

But I digress.

SCALE 10XNow, a confession: I haven’t had new hardware since I plunked down $2,500 a couple of decades ago as one of the first purchasers of the Apple IIc — excuse me, the Apple //c — and a daisy-wheel printer. While the laughter dies down, let me confess too that all of my Linux boxes and laptops have been hand-me-downs and castaways, computers brought back to life (and even passed on by me to others) thanks to the modern miracle of Linux, GNU/Linux, *BSD and other stars in the FOSS constellation.

Also, I’ve never had a computer with more than one processor, let alone more than one internal hard drive. Having three drives is daunting, but the situation is enviable. What’s also enviable is a computer that boots in less than 30 seconds. So this is what up-to-date computing is like: The i5 Intel processors (processors, plural) hum along without a hitch, and the ZaReason Limbo 5440 becomes Nirvana for the user.

Kid, meet candy store.

The multiple drives piqued my interest and I went a little deeper as I went under the hood. I wanted to learn more about how three drives can be juggled or used in harmony. I did some homework and asked ZaReason CTO Earl Malmrose and he explained further: The drives are currently installed as a RAID-5 array which, for those of you who are not up on it (and that included me until about an hour ago), you could remove any one of the drives without losing a byte of data. The RAID-5 array is a high-end feature that separates the ZaReason Limbo 5440 from the competition. “Forgive me for showing off,” Malmrose concluded.

You are clearly forgiven, Earl.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how Fedora 16 Desktop version — that’s GNOME 3 for those of you keeping score at home (though, truth be told, why they can’t just call it Fedora 16 GNOME is a mystery) — runs on this machine. Spoiler alert: Now that I’ve had a chance to use something other than GNOME’s “fallback mode,” I might just say a nice thing or two about GNOME. Might.

“A Week in Limbo Series” (for those of you keeping track)
A Week in Limbo, Day 0
A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, which is the development side of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, United States.)

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Eliminate DRM!

A Week in Limbo: Day 0

December 18, 2011 9 comments

When ZaReason CEO Cathy Malmrose asked me recently who I thought would make good reviewers of the Berkeley-based company’s hardware, I gave her a list of names of those I thought would give the hardware a good going-over. Selfishly, one of the names listed was mine, offered mostly in the finger-crossed hope that I’d be chosen to test the hardware and write about it here.

A few weeks after our conversation — specifically, on Friday — our friendly neighborhood UPS guy delivered a ZaReason Limbo 5440 desktop unit for me to put through its paces.

SCALE 10XI’m grateful that they chose me, and the ZaReason folks know me too well: On the Limbo 5440 they had installed Fedora 16 (awww, thanks guys!)– ZaReason provides their products with a choice of distros, with the latest version of Fedora, Debian, Linux Mint or Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Mythbuntu/Edubuntu/Ubuntu Studio available, along with a “no operating system” option — so they know what I wanted off the bat.

This particular mid tower, a low-cost box starting at $499 which is built for expansion, was delivered with a plethora of upgrades: a Dual Core Intel i5-2500M (at a screaming 3.3GHz), 8 GB of RAM (DDR 3-1600) and three — count ‘em, three — 500 GB drives turning a cool 7,200 RPM each. This particular model, with the additions, goes for $945.

So here’s the deal: With this box in my possession for a week, I will use it until Christmas Day (as an aside, my daughter Mimi — the Ubuntu user in the family — will also use it and give her impressions as well) and write an item every day entitled, wait for it, “A Week in Limbo,” Days 0 through 6, with the epilogue at the end serving as the wrap-up review of the hardware.

I’ve added a few programs that I would normally use during the course of my usual digital — LibreOffice, GIMP and XChat, for starters (more to follow, obviously) — and during the course of the week I’m also going to use other distros on the Limbo to see how it works.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some of the nuts-and-bolts features of the desktop, as well as some impressions of the Limbo 5440. Watch this space.

(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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Eliminate DRM!

Getting out the vote

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Yes, I know LinuxCon has come and gone, and I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing, the gala party, and with Linus being there and all. The buzz is still going, and that’s good. But if you’re going to a Linux show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

With the upcoming deadline for the Linux Journal Readers’ Choice 2011 Awards upon us — it closes this Saturday — other bloggers have been been taking to beating the drum and holding the phone for their favorites.

Not to be outdone, of course, there are a few candidates on the LJ ballot that deserve special mention. If I were campaigning for them, I’d definitely cast votes for items in the following categories (note, however, the list of categories and software on the ballot is long, and they’re not all here):

Best Linux Distribution: No question, hands down. Fedora. Judging which is the best distro is akin to picking the best ice cream flavor — each of us has our own favorites, and hopefully you’ll vote for yours. Mine comes in blue, is based on Red Hat, has the best desktop background release after release (the Design Team at Fedora is the best in the FOSS realm, period), it’s always rock solid, and even if I can’t use the default GNOME 3 desktop, Fedora runs great under KDE or Xfce. Fedora is reaching a point now where the myth that it’s “only for experience users” is falling by the wayside, and if a lack of confidence in your skills has kept you from using Fedora, you should give it a try.

Best Desktop Environment: Oh, look! A minefield! Let’s skip through it! You all know how I feel about GNOME 3; the aspect that I can’t use it due to older equipment moreso than anything else (if I could vote for GNOME 2.32, that would be great). KDE? I like KDE though — truth in advertising — I’m a post-KDE 4.x user and not familiar with the way things used to be (and not familiar with why there’s such a hubbub about it). I don’t know why Openbox and Fluxbox, both windows managers, are in this category, and why isn’t there a separate WM category? How did I vote? I’m cast a vote this year for Xfce, because I’m using it on Fedora 15 and will be using it again on Fedora 16, and while it’s reputation is a lightweight environment, I’m finding there’s a significant degree of tweakability to it. Also, if you really like WMs, I’d vote for OpenBox.

Best Web Browser: Konqueror. Just kidding. While there are some advantages to Konqueror that do not involve Web browsing, for getting on the information superhighway I usually go with Firefox, though on the Windows box at the newspaper I use Chrome. It’s a toss up between those two.

Best E-mail Client: Another minefield and another tough call. What I use most is Thunderbird, because everybody knows the ‘Bird is the word, and it’s always worked well for me. What has always worked well for me in the past, too, and something I’ve always thought was one of KDE’s stars is Kmail, which deserves a vote if you’re so inclined. Claws is something I’m looking to try and haven’t yet, so maybe if it wows me, it can be a leading candidate for 2012.

Best IRC client: Simple — it’s irssi. It’s what the cool kids use, once they graduate past Xchat. Konversation gets high marks, too, and readily available on KDE. But I voted for irssi.

Best Office Suite: OK, here’s where we get to make history. Vote for LibreOffice — it’s OpenOffice as it should be. It would be outrageously cool if LibreOffice took home the prize in this category, for starters because it deserves it, and it would be a good nose-thumbing to Oracle as well.

Best Graphic Design Tool: All of them. I’m serious. If there’s ever been a category where each of the candidates deserves to win, it’s this one. GIMP finally gets a single window, I’m told, thank $DIETY, but I ended up voting for . . . Inkscape. I’m not the artist in the family; that title goes to my daughter Mimi, but having drawn a little, I do like Inkscape a lot.

Best Audio Tool: Audacity. If Carla Schroder uses it and writes a book about it, then I’m there.

Best Kid Friendly Application: Another easy one — Tux Paint. I should be ashamed to admit this, but I’m not: Ever since Mimi was younger and we used Tux Paint together when she was learning her way around a computer, I have always loved this program and I still fiddle with it from time to time when I’m not doing anything else. Also, I count Tux Paint as one of the main influences in cultivating the artistic talent Mimi has shown.

Best Game: As bad as I am at it, I still think Super Tux gets the nod here, as it’s a very creative game. Truth be told, I’ve never played any of the games on the list, except for Tux Racer, and I know my good friend Ken Starks over at the HeliOS Project is a fan of World of Goo.

Best Database: Our first heart-versus-head conundrum. If MySQL were the best, I may not vote for it on principle, but fortunately other databases have knocked MySQL from its perch at the top. I’ve only used two other databases and have liked them both: PostgreSQL and MariaDB. I really want to see MariaDB do well, but PostgreSQL is clearly the best of the bunch.

Best Programming Language: Again, the ice cream comparison comes into play and in my limited programming experience, I vote for what I know best. That would be Python.

Best scripting language: bash — accept no substitutes (OK, ksh if you need to).

Best IDE: Emacs in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing (and sadly, that’s not me) is simply an amazing tool. But I’m voting for vim. I can get more done using it, and I’m never backed into a corner, as I am sometimes with Emacs. Sorry, RMS.

Best Package Management Application: If it sounds like it tastes good, you have to go with it: yum. Honorable mention goes to Synaptic.

Best Content Management System: I’ve used Mambo and Joomla! in the past, and those happen to be my CMS roots. However, having used Drupal over the last few months, I have to say that I’ve made the switch. Drupal gets my vote this year.

Best Linux Laptop Vendor/Best Linux Desktop Workstation Vendor/Best Linux Server Vendor: I’m lumping these three categories together because the vote is the same in each category — ZaReason. The Berkeley, Calif., outfit makes outstanding, dependable hardware that’s Linux based (or if you’d prefer, no operating system) and the service is top notch. You’ll have to write in ZaReason in the Best Linux Desktop Workstation Vendor category, but you can mark the ballot in the other two.

Best Linux Book: A real page-turner, especially if you’re into audio — “The Book of Audacity,” by Carla Schroder. Buy it now.

Again, there’s a plethora of other categories that I haven’t touched on. Polls are open until Saturday. Vote early.

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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Hello, Columbus

August 29, 2011 2 comments

Yes, I know LinuxCon has come and gone, and I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing, the gala party, and with Linus being there and all. The buzz is still going, and that’s good. But if you’re going to a Linux show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting, so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!) Oh, look! It’s a blog item having to do with OLF below.

With the Utah Open Source Conference off the table this fall — rumor has it is coming back as a spring event starting in 2012 — one of the last chances to get in a Linux conference in 2011 is to head to Columbus, Ohio, next weekend for the Ohio Linux Fest.

Ohio Linux Fest runs from Sept. 9-11 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in downtown Columbus. For the ninth time in as many years, OLF opens its doors again for Open Software professionals, enthusiasts, and everyone interested in learning more about Free and Open Source Software.

That, I hope, includes you.

OLF has three outstanding keynoters this year: Bradley Kuhn, a free software advocate with portfolio, is director of the Software Freedom Conservancy. Cathy Malmrose is a cofounder and CEO of ZaReason, an optimized-for-Linux computer company. Cathy also is a founder of Partimus, an organization which supports computers in education by setting up and maintaining Linux-based computer labs in San Francisco Bay Area schools. Last, and certainly not least, is Jon “maddog” Hall, who of course needs little introduction, but for the record he is the executive director of Linux International, an association of computer users who wish to support and promote the Linux operating system (which accompanies a resume of digital accomplishments too extensive to go into here).

Friday features sessions, an all-day Medical track focusing on the use of Linux and open source software in the health care field, and an all-day Ubucon presented by the Ubuntu project. The day closes with maddog’s keynote.

Saturday opens with Cathy’s keynote followed by a full slate of talks on four different tracks and company demonstrations on the Open Source Solutions Stage. A talk by Bradley will focus on the issues of freedom with software as a service (SaaS). And maddog wraps up Saturday’s talks with a look forward 20 years to free software in the year 2031 before music by Dual Core ends the day.

On Sunday, sharpen your No. 2 pencils: The Linux Professional Institute will host exams, and the Diversity in Open Source workshop takes place on Sunday as well.

Were I to go to this event, naturally I’d catch all the keynotes — especially Cathy Malmrose’s — and this would be my so-called Linux expo “dance card” for the weekend:

On Friday, Three must-see talks would be Mark Terranova’s presentation on “So What Kind of Cult is Linux, Anyway?” — and wondering aloud whether Mark’s going to dress up in the penguin suit — and follow it up with Edward Cherlin’s “Linux for All” before going to Ruth Suehle’s “Off Your Linux Machine and Into Your Doctor’s Office.”

After some stiff coffee Saturday morning, I’d make a point to go to Mel Chua’s “Level-up with Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: turn your life into a data-driven video game with FOSS” (and anyone who can say that in one breath wins), followed Karlie Robinson’s “The Business of Linux – How Individuals Can Get in the Game,” and later in the afternoon I’d catch Paul Frields’ “Graduating to GUI: PyGObject for Beginners.”

On Sunday, I would take the LPI exam — I should have taken it at SCALE but I was so swamped with double duty in the Fedora booth and in the SCALE front office (I’m co-chair of publicity) that I didn’t have time to put pencil to paper. Next year, count on it.

If you live within driving distance of Columbus — and my definition of driving distance means if you can drive there in a day — you should attend this event. Of course, you can fly there as well if you live further, but get there to be at what has become Linux’s must-attend fall event.

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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