10 days ago the Linux Loop blog had a post titled “Linux Eee PC Far Faster Than Windows Version”. I’m sure many Linux users nodded and had assumed as much. The author compared the times of three tasks: boot up, loading Firefox, and shutting down. That’s hardly a comprehensive set of tests. Some people commented to dismiss these metrics as “meaningless”. They aren’t meaningless but they certainly aren’t the whole story. Others pointed out that IE on Windows was faster than Firefox on Linux and that MS Works was faster than OpenOffice. Some then responded that Works isn’t the equivalent of OO and that MS Office would be a better comparison. It all got a little shrill with those who believe that Linux is faster than Windows and those who say it isn’t so talking past each other and resolving nothing.
I’m going to try and sift through the morass and say what I think the numbers really mean and what they don’t mean. Those with an agenda, either agenda, will, I’m sure, attack what I have to say. I think anyone who really tries to look at things objectively probably won’t. I’m just not sure that very many people are truly objective.
In the interest of fairness let me disclose where I am coming from: Yes, I tend to have a pro-Linux bias. I also have a bias against hype and B.S. When it comes to my professional life I’m an IT mercenary. If someone wants me to support Windows systems along with Linux or UNIX systems I will gladly take their money and do the work. I also won’t evangelize on behalf of Linux. Why not? In business everything comes down to a cost vs. benefits analysis and there are situations in the real world where a change of OS is far too costly to justify any perceived benefits. There are many situations where Windows or commercial, proprietary UNIX really and truly is the best fit. Back to those pesky metrics…
Sometimes you get bitten by the goofiest things in computing. I bought a nice new 320 GB Samsung SATA hard drive. I like Samsung drives. They’re quiet and reliable, and good performers. I like nice little skinny SATA cables.
So I crack open the box (Antec Sonata, minus the silly CPU exhaust tube that made the interior case temperature warmer and took up all kinds of room, but otherwise a splendid case) and in less time than it takes to say “Voila! That was so easy I should blog about it!” the new drive was ready to use.
But. It didn’t work.
Like most people who do tech work of some sort or another for a living I love my toys. I’d love to have the latest and greatest gee whiz system and if I won the lottery I probably always would. Today’s best full-featured distros all have native 64-bit versions. One of my favorites, Vector Linux was a little late to the table but I’m pleased to report that the current release, Vector Linux 5.9 Standard, has a 64-bit version in beta right now. Good news.
Of course not everyone can afford the latest and greatest. In the developing world in particular people make do and sometimes manage to do wondrous things with what folks here in the United States would call obsolete. Even if hardware is new it is sometimes designed to be what would normally be considered a low spec system either to be energy efficient (green computing) or low cost. The laptop designed for OLPC is a great example. So are green systems and low cost systems designed for use in first world, developed countries, including systems based on Nano-ITX and Pico-ITX technologies. ASUS Eee PC, designed for ease of use, small size, and low cost is another great example that’s generated a lot of buzz. I know for most of you I’m preaching to the choir but I actually was criticized in a comment to my recent review of AliXe 0.11b for suggesting keeping old computers running is somehow a good idea.
Yes, there are a bunch of lightweight Linux distributions that meet this need nicely. Vector Linux started out as such a distro a decade ago but evolved into a full featured distro. The Vector Linux developers have returned to their roots, though, and now have Vector Linux Light in alpha. VL Light is an ultra light version of VL built with a current kernel and current applications but designed to run smoothly in just 64MB of RAM. I have Vector Linux successfully running on an old Liberty small footprint box with just a Pentium 133MMX processor and 32MB of RAM. That’s normally Damn Small Linux territory but it’s nice to be able to run something a bit more modern and a bit more capable on the old beast.
Kudos to the developers at Vector Linux for scaling down as well as scaling up. There’s nothing more friendly to the environment or the budget than keeping an old system going rather than building or buying a new one. So long as a computer can do what you need it to do it’s not obsolete. I’ll be following up my AliXe review with reviews of other lightweight and small footprint Linux distributions, including Vector Linux Light when it’s released.
Over the past year or two I’ve been drifting away from Fedora, Ubuntu, and Mandriva towards distros derived from Slackware for desktop use. The reason is simple: these distributions tend to have the best performance I’ve found, particularly on older or limited hardware. Slackware itself lacks some graphical tools and user friendly features that more popular distros have but is outstanding in terms of stability and reliability. A number of Slackware derived distros retain those benefits while offering the ease of use many of us have come to expect. AliXe is such a distro, albeit one designed to be small and compact, making it particularly suitable for older hardware. True to it’s Canadian heritage, AliXe also offers full support for both French and English despite it’s small size.
AliXe is designed to be run as a live CD. Those burdened with slow connections will be pleased to see that the iso image is less than 340MB in size. An optional installer (not included in the iso) is available for a conventional hard drive installation. The AliXe website warns that this is for “experts only”, in part due to an utter lack of documentation. AliXe also offers the option to run entirely cached in RAM provided you have enough memory. AliXe is built with the Linux Live scripts so a frugal install, similar to Damn Small Linux, where the iso image is installed directly to the hard drive and is booted read-only, is also possible. You are then effectively running the Live CD with the speed of a conventional hard drive.
The AliXe code base is a heavily modified version of Slax 6rc6, which in turn is based on Slackware 12. Unlike Slax, which uses KDE for the desktop environment, AliXe uses the smaller, lighter, but still powerful Xfce. In order to remain small AliXe offers just one of each type of application it provides, including the desktop. I tested AliXe on my five year old Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204, which has a 1GHz Intel Celeron processor and 512MB of RAM.
Linux Planet has my 3-part series on simple backups for both single PCs and small networks, using portable USB storage devices. Learn how to nail down your device names in udev, attach your backup command to a menu icon, and schedule regular unattended backups.
Linux Backups For Real People, Part 1
Linux Backups For Real People, Part 2
Linux Backups For Real People, Part 3
A while back the good folks behind Freespire, the free version of Linspire, sent me a CD with version 2.0 for me to review. I was very happy to look at it as Linspire has been a leader in getting preloaded Linux systems into retail and online outlets, something I believe is critical for mainstream Linux adoption.
I knew going in that Freespire was “free as in free beer”, not an OS that would be considered free by The Free Software Foundation or most free software advocates. For those of us who are not free software purists Freespire does have one compelling feature: Linspire’s settlement with Microsoft allows them to offer Win32 codecs for playing DVDs, MP3s, etc… at no cost to the end user. For those of us who use our Linux systems for both home and business, who use laptops in front of consulting customers, who simply wish to comply with the law of the land here in the U.S., namely DMCA, whether we agree with it or not, Freespire offers a real option.
Having said all that one of the first things you see when you boot a Freespire CD is their End User License Agreement (EULA), a mass of legalese reminiscent of the Windows EULA. I tried to read through it and it seems to me (and I may well be wrong about this) that if I use my system for both home and business then Freespire is NOT free for me as I can’t fall under both the “family license” or the “business license”. I can’t freely copy or redistribute the OS as a business user. I’m limited to “solely up to the number of Seats you have.” The EULA also says that I, as a business user:
“You may not (and shall not allow any member of Your Business or any other third party to): (i) copy, reproduce, distribute, relicense, sublicense, rent, lease or otherwise make available the Software or any portion or element thereof except as and to the extent expressly authorized herein by Licensor; (ii) translate, adapt, enhance, create derivative works of or otherwise modify the Software or any portion or element thereof; (iii) decompile, disassemble or reverse engineer (except as and to the extent permitted by applicable local law), or extract ideas, algorithms, procedures, workflows or hierarchies from, the Software or any portion or element thereof;…”
eWeek ran an article yesterday titled Linux Losing Market Share to Windows Server. The article quoted IDC sales figures. There is a real problem counting this way. Quoting from the article:
IDC analyst Al Gillen pointed out that the number of servers shipped does not perfectly equal the number of operating systems in the market. This is particularly the case with Linux where a substantial portion of the overall market opportunity comes from deployments aboard recycled servers, PCs and workstations deployed as servers, and Linux deployed as a guest operating system.
“This does not contradict any trending taking place on server hardware,” Gillen said.
He added: “But we do need to remember that the Linux software ecosystem does not track exactly the same as does x86 hardware shipments.”
I should note that eWeek often functions as a cheerleading section for Microsoft. Take, for example, the links to other articles with such catchy titles as:
- Windows Server Woos Linux Customers
- Is open source dying?
- Windows Server 2008 features address the Linux challenge.
It is not surprising that Mr. Gillen’s statement and that the article as a whole tries to minimize the fact that sales figures are not an accurate way to measure Linux market penetration. What is surprising is that the article mentioned this at all.
After trying out a number of Linux photo-management applications, I have settled on Digikam. It has some great tools for managing vast photo archives, wonderful RAW support, and an array of good photo-editing-and-fixing features. Two introductory articles are on Linux Planet:
Digital Photo Management In Linux, Part 1
Digital Photo Management In Linux, Part 2
Not mentioned in the articles are Digikam’s Plugins, which extend its usefulness considerably. Such as Noise Reduction, Refocus for rescuing blurry pictures, BlowUp for good-quality enlargements, white balance adjustment, and many more.
Over on LXer.com you might find some useful information on photography fundamentals, such as lens types and quality, and understanding how to use aperture to make your photos say what you want them to:
Adventures in Digital Photography With Linux, part 4: Fundamentals
I’ve just been informed by e-mail that not only are some defenders of Puppy Linux flaming me on the new DistroWatch Weekly comments but one actually issued a death threat against me for being “negative” about his or her favorite distribution in a recent post here on O’ReillyNet. It’s one thing for a distribution to be well liked and inspire loyalty. It is something very different indeed to threaten the life of someone who disagrees. The point of my post which so outraged this person was that I couldn’t review Puppy Linux because the distro won’t run on my laptops.
If you’re curious about the threat see post #90 on DistroWatch Weekly’s comments. I have not responded there and I will not. I also won’t back down or be intimidated and I stand behind my previous post.
This is a public appeal to Barry Kauler and the Puppy Linux user community to speak up against anyone who would resort to threats of violence to defend their distro. Indeed, I’d like to see some of that community speak up against the personal attacks on me in general. Do you believe there should be “hell to pay” (quoting post #90 again) if
someone has a bad experience with Puppy Linux and reports on it?
Since her posts here on O’ReillyNet, Carla Schroder has tried in vain to get some sort of response from Linux Journal after offensive ads were run and articles were published. The same is true for Linux Journal’s sister magazine, Tux Magazine. Carla has gone ahead and chronicled the whole sordid mess in an article for LXer.com.
“I have to wonder- where on Earth did Ms. Fairchild get the idea that alienating her customers is a good business practice? So what if she finds sexist, demeaning humor funny? It doesn’t belong in Linux Journal. I paid my subscription money in good faith for many years, trusting to receive good Linux articles. If I want to read about blowjobs or read about how helpless and stupid women are, I don’t expect to find it in Linux Journal. There are abundant sources for that elsewhere.”
As far as I am concerned the whole article is a must read.
O’Reilly is running an interesting series of articles written by a number of different women in tech, about how they got to where they are and their adventures along the way. It’s a good read with a lot of different experiences and viewpoints.
The first public Pseudo (alpha) release of Vector Linux 5.9 is now available. Normally a release like this wouldn’t be worth blogging about. It’s early development code. If you’re used to Ubuntu then think Tribe 1. It’s at that level. OK, it seems to be usable at this point but it’s not something I’d recommend for a system that has to do real work.
The point? There’s a 64-bit version. There has never been a 64-bit version of Vector Linux before. To me this is one more essential step towards Vector Linux being taken seriously as a major distribution.
In the past year we’ve seen Vector Linux offer commercial support for the first time, we’ve seen it offered preloaded on systems for the first time, we’ve seen huge steps forward on internationalization and localization, and now it seems likely that Vector Linux 6.0 will be available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. After trying a bunch of other smaller distros, some based on Slackware, some not, and being disappointed by most of them I’m excited about the prospect of 64-bit Vector.
Lately I’ve been looking to pick up a new contract or even possibly move back into a long term corporate position. My resume (CV for those outside the United States) is, I think, fairly impressive. I am a competent systems administrator and security geek with over 27 years of experience in the industry. I’ve had lots of calls from recruiters: some quite good, some not so good, and some, well…
In the past couple of weeks I’ve had several calls like this. I’m pretty close to word for word on the most recent:
Recruiter: Can I speak to Martin please?
Me: This is Caitlyn Martin. How can I help you?
Recruiter: No, I need Mister Caitlyn Martin.
Me (annoyed): There is no Mr. Martin. What is this about?
Recruiter: (sputters and trips over his tongue, then goes on to say it’s about a job)
In the comments to the article I wrote about running the 64-bit version of Ubuntu Feisty Fawn on a Gateway MX7626, I added that my friend who owns the laptop had “upgraded” to Gutsy Gibbon Tribe 4 to try and fix a problem with intermittent sound under Feisty. The initial upgrade did work and her sound functioned properly. I talked to her again last night and she is giving up on running Ubuntu alpha software and is going back to Feisty.
Back in my January review of Vector Linux 5.8 Standard, the version with the Xfce desktop, I touted Vector Linux as the fastest distro with a reasonable feature set and selection of software that I had used at the time. It took a while but I finally found a distribution that’s at least Vector’s equal: Wolvix 1.1.0.
I’ve tested Wolvix on two laptops: a not quite two year old Gateway MX2676 (AMD Athlon 4000+ mobile processor, 1GB RAM) and a nearly five year old Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204 (1 GHz Celeron processor, 512MB RAM). The Gateway’s processor is 64-bit but Wolvix, at least so far, is only available for 32-bit x86 architecture. Performance was impressive on both machines but Wolvix truly shined on the older Toshiba.
Much like Ubuntu, Wolvix is provided as a single iso image of a Live CD with a graphical installer. Wolvix also offers the option to run entirely cached in RAM provided you have enough memory. Wolvix also offers a frugal install where the iso image is installed directly to the hard drive and is booted read-only. You are then effectively running the Live CD with the speed of a conventional hard drive. With four different ways it can be run Wolvix is a very flexible animal indeed, a distro which can be easily tailored to a number of specialized uses and yet is still brilliant as an ordinary distro installed to your hard drive.
Wolvix 1.1.0 is a user friendly distro based on Slackware. The code base appears to be a heavily updated Slackware 11 rather than the current Slackware 12. Previous versions were actually remasters of Slax, a small live CD built from Slackware with the Linux Live scripts, but with version 1.1.0 Wolvix has struck out on it’s own path and is no longer built from Slax. The improvements since version 1.0.5 are dramatic. While it’s still not perfect by any means the new version of Wolvix is relatively user friendly and easy to use.
Articles about Linux and mainstream Linux news tends to be dominated by the big Linux distributions, those with large corporate backing and/or large development teams. I’m primarily talking about Red Hat Enterprise Linux and it’s free clone CentOS, Novell/SuSe, and Ubuntu on enterprise servers and Ubuntu, Fedora, Linspire, and Mandriva on the desktop. Throw in two venerable and widely respected distributions, Debian and Slackware, and you’ve got about 90% of the industry chatter covered, maybe more.
These distributions also have something else in common: with the exception of Linspire/Freespire, which I haven’t tried, they have all frustrated me on one level or another. I’ve found recent Fedora, SuSe, Mandriva, and Ubuntu releases all to have more bugs than I would expect, often very annoying and obvious ones. All of the above mentioned distors except Slackware are unimpressive in terms of performance. Most tend to be bloated and full of all sorts of cruft that I don’t need that gets installed by default. The notable exceptions are Ubuntu and Mandriva One which both come on a single CD and install a stripped down, clean OS which you can then build on. However, in the case of both Ubuntu and Mandriva One they seem to get a whole lot less useful stuff on that single CD than some other distributions seem to manage.
In the past year a number of medium sized and small distros have leaped past the big players among Linux distributions, offering single CDs with lots of apps, excellent hardware support, speedy performance, and relatively few bugs. Some are also far more user friendly than distros like Ubuntu and Mandriva, often touted as the best place for a newcomer to Linux to start. When I say medium or small I’m referring to both the developer community and user community around each distro. In some cases the developer community is just one or two people.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been able to borrow a friend’s laptop: a Gateway Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been able to borrow a friend’s laptop: a Gateway MX7626, model W730-K8X (Athlon Mobile 4000+ processor, ATI X600 graphics, 1024 RAM). She has the 64-bit version of Ubuntu Feisty Fawn installed. I’ve installed and worked with 64-bit Linux on servers over the past couple of years, mainly running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, but this is my first chance to play with 64-bit Linux extensively on a laptop.
First, the machine is wonderfully fast at everything I’ve tried to do with it. 64-bit Ubuntu does have some minor quirks. The most noticeable one is that sometimes sound works and sometimes it doesn’t. If I don’t hear anything when GNOME starts then I won’t have sound until I reboot. She obviously has ALSA configured correctly since there is sound more often than not. I also noticed that some graphical apps don’t have .desktop files in /usr/share/applications and consequently don’t show up in the menu. When it comes to anything truly important, though, 64-bit Feisty does seem to work very well.
It appears that Vector Linux is moving to a faster release schedule. Vector Linux SOHO 5.8 is only a few months old but the first release candidate of Vector Linux SOHO 5.8.6 has been announced:
VectorLinux is pleased to announce the availability of the rc-1 release of 5.8.6 for the VectorLinux SOHO product. This RC release includes the following improvements: upgrade to Xorg-7.2 from the previous 6.9 series which adds many gui improvements and 3D enhancements: rebuilt many core packages so they install properly in new Xorg-7.2 file structure: rebuilt the core font subsystem to take advantage of the new Xorg release: Updated many packages such as pidgin (including spellcheck) and Xscreensaver…, general bug fixing and driver updates. Beryl is an installable option for those wishing the ultimate 3D desktop experience. There are many other enhancements to numerous to mention.
I think this is the first time they’ve had a release of the KDE-based SOHO without a Standard or Deluxe release. This appears to be part of a general change in direction for Vector that’s been happening for the last year. They seem to have moved well away from being a specialty distro for older hardware to being a full featured, general purpose distro. The recent move to begin selling commercial support echoes that transition as does their recent appeal for volunteer testers and developers for a future 64-bit version. I see this shift as entirely positive provided the lightweight Standard version continues to be developed and supported.
In recent comments to my review of Vector Linux 5.8 SOHO keyfitter wrote:
There is a reason why they are using Win 98 in 2007. I think it’s called, being cheap!.
I wonder if these people realize they can buy a brand new computer for $139. Granted the hardware is a bit dated by today’s standards but it’s probably light years ahead of what they are running Windows ‘98 on. Of course these computers come preloaded with Linux: Vector Linux 5.8 Standard to be precise. That’s fine. Without having to worry about installation or hardware compatibility someone who buys this system gets a nice, ready to go, user friendly Linux system with a warranty. The return policy is listed as “no matter what” short of physical abuse. What they don’t get are Windows virii and malware. They do, of course, have to learn a new OS.
Why not offer the same system with Windows? It would nearly double the price. People forget that they pay an average of around $100 for the privilege of having Windows on their new computer. Of course Windows Vista wouldn’t run on a 1.5GHZ system with only 256MB of RAM, would it? Vector Linux 5.8 Standard will run quite nicely, though. A memory upgrade wouldn’t hurt particularly if you’re interested in a lot of multimedia applications (an extra $39 for 512MB) but it isn’t strictly necessary.
Back in February I wrote about using xli to add a desktop background of your choice to a minimalist window manager. I chose to write about xli for two reasons. First, several window manager developers choose to use xli by default. For example, if you look at a .jwmrc file, the configuration file used by JWM, a lightweight window manager I am rather fond of, you will see that xli is used in the <Startup Command> section. The second and perhaps more important reason I chose to write about xli is because it’s what I knew and used for years. One thing about Linux and UNIX: there are always different ways to do things. It turns out that many distros include something a bit newer and perhaps better than xli.
Esetroot can also be used to change the contents of the root window in X. The root window is your desktop background. The advantage of Esetroot over xli is that it supports transparency in applications. This is a low resource piece of eye candy that I particularly like in terminal emulators like mrxvt, aterm, and xfce Terminal. I like seeing my background, albeit shaded, perhaps in a color of my choice, in the background of my terminal window. pypanel, a small panel or toolbar application for minimalist window managers written in Python, also supports transparency nicely.
On July 22nd a new set of kernel packages was released for Vector Linux, my chosen primary and current favorite distribution. This was the second build of the 2.6.21 kernel with Con Kolivas’ CK2 patchset, replacing a test build released on July 8. In the past the only reason I’ve recommended upgrading a kernel is to close security vulnerabilities or to add support for new hardware. Recently, though, there is another very good reason: noticeably improved performance, particularly if you are currently using kernel 2.6.19 or earlier.
Back in January I wrote a review of Vector Linux 5.8 Standard. The fact that as I write this, over five months later, that review is still in the O’Reillynet Blogs Hot 25 says a lot about just how much interest there is in this up and coming Canadian distribution, a user friendly derivative of Slackware. Back when I wrote that review I talked about the three different flavors of Vector Linux. Standard, with a default Xfce desktop, can be compared to Xubuntu in some ways while SOHO, it’s big brother with a default KDE desktop, is more directly comparable to Kubuntu. The implication is that the same code base is used in both. That was true for all versions prior to 5.8. This time, however, there was a really long gap, as in almost five full months, between the two releases and a lot of bugfixes and upgrades were put in. The new SOHO even sports a newer kernel under the hood: 188.8.131.52. Vector Linux SOHO resembles a next release rather than a different build of the same release. It probably should have been numbered 5.9 rather than 5.8 and it does deserve a separate review.
Generally I’d want to do a review of a distro with a KDE desktop on a fairly powerful machine. As I’ve written before KDE tends to be quite sluggish on my aging laptop, a four and a half year old Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204 (1 GHz Celeron processor, 512MB RAM). Heck, even GNOME is a bit slower than I’d like, hence my recent interest in Xfce as an alternate desktop environment. This has been true of Mandriva 2007, SuSe 10.2, Fedora Core 6, and Ubunutu/Kubuntu right up through Feisty. I have always assumed this is because KDE does consume more memory than GNOME or Xfce and because it always needs the dcop-server running in the background. Guess what? I was wrong. Vector Linux 5.8 SOHO proves that KDE can be built for speed. There is no sluggishness at all on the old Toshiba. If it’s fast on this old notebook it’ll positively scream on an up-to-date system.
There is a very interesting back-and-forth going on between Linux creator Linus Torvalds writing on the Linux kernel mailing list and Jonathan Schwartz, President and CEO of Sun Microsystems writing in his blog. Despite the different fora the two actually seem to be talking to each other as well as their respective audiences.
A year and a half ago Mr. Schwartz posted to his blog about possibly releasing Solaris under dual Open Source licenses, CDDL and GPL v3. Never mind that GPL v3 doesn’t exist yet and certainly wasn’t finalized a year and a half ago. This was one of Sun’s many pronouncements about their support for Open Source that seemed to have very little substance behind it.
Fast forward to yesterday and Linus’ post to the kernel mailing list in a discussion about the possibility of dual licensing the kernel under GPL v2 and v3. While Linus acknowledges positive contributions made by Sun he is very skeptical about their motives and about what, if anything, interesting they may release under any form of the GPL. While I share his skepticism I applaud his decision to be civil towards Sun and to say that he hopes he’s wrong. Read the whole post — it’s very interesting and informative.
Today Jonathan Schwartz responded. I must say he did nothing to allay my skepticism but… at least a discussion is taking place and a Sun commitment to Open Source and the GPL has been reiterated.
A complete set of GNOME 2.18 packages have been added to the Vector Linux Extra repository. This means that users of Vector Linux 5.8 Standard or SOHO can add GNOME easily in addition to Xfce or KDE. From the command line a simple
slapt-get --install gnomemeta
will add or upgrade roughly 100 packages on your system. Oh, and no, it doesn’t break KDE or Xfce. For those who are a bit command line phobic you can also find the gnomemeta package in gslapt, the graphical package management tool. Previously GNOME was only offfered with the Deluxe (paid for) versions of Vector Linux.
Fair warning: if you don’t have any GNOME bits on your system already doing this install can consume over 900MB in hard disk space. Installing GNOME online is definitely not recommended for those who still have only dial-up internet access.
I’m still not a huge fan of GNOME but I do think choice is good and making it easy to choose from a variety of Linux desktops is a very good thing for Vector Linux.
The third release of Xubuntu, the variant of Ubuntu with the lightweight Xfce desktop, appeared last month. Feisty Fawn (version 7.04) uses the final gold code of Xfce 4.4.0 rather than the release candidates in Edgy Eft (version 6.10) and Dapper Drake (version 6.06). I had very positive experiences with both Edgy and Dapper so I had very high expectations for Xubuntu Feisty Fawn. In some ways the new release does take a step forward but in some truly important areas it took a couple of steps backwards and has been something of a disappointment.
Once again my test bed for Xubuntu has been my four and a half year old Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204 laptop which has a 1 GHz Celeron processor and 512MB of RAM. With this relatively slow processor KDE is sluggish. Xfce is also noticeably faster than a recent release of Gnome when doing significant work. Two Xfce based distributions, Xubuntu and Vector Linux, perform very well on this laptop. I really like Xfce 4.4.x. It strikes the right balance between brisk performance and features. I feel that Xubuntu is a good candidate for newer, more powerful systems as well. Having said that I’m not at all sure that upgrading from Edgy Eft to Feisty Fawn is a terribly good idea while Edgy is still well supported.
Printing in Linux gets better all the time, especially when you find the right drivers.
Ten Tec is an American manufacturer of all sorts of radio equipment based in Tennessee. They make a neat little black box which attaches to any PC via a serial port. The box, called the RX-320D, is a shortwave (general coverage) receiver that works very well indeed with performance rivaling more expensive desktop receivers. If you read Ten Tec’s advertising you’d think you need Windows based software to use this radio. Think again.
Hector Peraza has written Linux software which offers the same functionality as the Windows software provided by Ten Tec when you buy an RX-320D. The current version of his rx320 software is version 0.6.2, with source code available on his Sourceforge web page. I’ve used my RX-320D with Mr. Peraza’s code for quite a while now and I’ve been extremely satisfied. I also maintain the rx320 package in the Vector Linux Extra repository. I’ve also built Ubuntu packages which work well under Edgy Eft and should work under Feisty Fawn as well. For some reason my serial port stopped working under Feisty and I need to take the time to do some troubleshooting to find out why.
Not that it’s anything new, I’m just grumpy that this sort of crap is so widespread and so tolerated:
Blog death threats spark debate
“Prominent blogger Kathy Sierra has called on the blogosphere to combat the culture of abuse online.”
“It follows a series of death threats which have forced her to cancel a public appearance and suspend her blog.”
Gee, a tiny bit of the rampant bullshit that’s directed at women online finally makes the news. Maybe now all those idiots who tell us it’s not a problem and we shouldn’t let it bother us with get a clue? Nah, probably not. Idiot reform is a hopeless cause. But dealing with this sort of junk on online forums and blogs isn’t rocket science- it’s called “admins, grow a spine and hit the delete key.”
Last month Eric S. Raymond made a public announcement on the Fedora developer’s list that he was giving up on Fedora Core and that from now on Ubuntu is his distribution of choice. Actually it was more of a rant than an announcement. ESR’s scatter shot attack on Fedora was wrong in more ways than I care to comment about here. Chromatic did a nice job of attacking the rant on several key points. He also pointed out quite correctly that ESR’s accomplishments as an Open Source activist didn’t make his changing distributions newsworthy.
The reason I’m not simply ignoring ESR is that he did point out a real problem with Fedora Core, one which I also noted in my review of Fedora Core 5 last year. When upgrading a system with yum or pup I ended up with upgrades that couldn’t be run because of dependency issues. ESR ran into a more serious example of the same problem: an automated upgrade breaking significant parts of his system due to similar dependency issues. While the Fedora team at Red Hat has generally been good about fixing such issues within a few days it’s really disappointing that they are still happening and, in fact, becoming more serious with time.
ESR blames rpm, which he believes to be buggy, and yum, which he believes to be overly complex. He is totally wrong on both counts. rpm is a stable, mature, and excellent package management system used by more Linux distributions than any other. yum is no more complex or difficult to use than Debian’s apt and has very similar functionality. Nope, the problem isn’t in the code. That’s the disturbing part of the story, the real piece of news, that everyone seems to be ignoring.
In my last article I cited the Vector Linux developers as an excellent example of the way Open Source developers respond to the user community. All of us who benefit from Linux and/or the myriad of Open Source applications out there are part of that community.
In January I reviewed Vector Linux 5.8. While the review was mainly positive I did complain about what I saw as some faults in the distribution. The response from the developers of Vector Linux was almost immediate, both in the Vector Linux forum and in the comments under my reviews, and was incredibly positive. In the weeks since then a surprising number of changes and improvements have already been made, particularly in the area of internationalization and localization. A suggestion I made in the VL forum regarding compiling and building packages to insure that localization files (translations into various languages) are included was taken to heart by the developers. The result is that when an updated Xfce package was built after version 4.4.0 was released it included the additional language support. So… if you’re native language is Danish or Hebrew or any other language for which translations exist in Xfce you’ll find, for example, suitable menus for your desktop.
While this may sound like an exceptional example of accepting and acting on feedback from a user of a particular piece of Open Source software it is really, in my experience, something that happens all the time in the Free and Open Source Software community. This is why the pace of development of Windows or most commercial UNIX flavors seems glacial to Linux users and professionals. We’re used to a level of responsiveness from developers that most proprietary software vendors simply cannot match.
Some years ago Linux creator Linus Torvalds famously compared changing operating systems to “performing brain surgery on yourself”. I’ve quoted him often because so many people seem to have unrealistic expectations when they pick up a Linux DVD or CD-ROM. I’ve recently received a couple of e-mails in response to my articles here on O’Reillynet that illustrate Linus’ point beautifully and demonstrate part of the problem Linux has faced in gaining greater acceptance on the desktop. OK, one of the e-mails was addressed to Cathy, whoever that is, but since it came to my inbox I’ll assume it was meant for me. Here are some excerpts:
Will everyone for shitsake quit re-inventing Linux, and put your energies into making it work better? Having five hundred half-baked distributions, and a half-dozen good solid ones, to choose from is INSANE and STUPID and VEXING oh dear, I’m shouting. But you get my drift. :)
–Carla Schroder, author of Linux Cookbook
Carla’s rant in response to my review of Vector Linux is well taken if misplaced. Vector Linux has been around since the late ’90s. Her point, though, is very valid. There are literally hundreds of distributions out there if not more. Ryan Lortie made the same point, albeit less clearly, in his article in response to the Free Software Foundation’s Bad Vista Campaign which Chromatic lampooned.
Once upon a time there was a small, lightweight distribution based on Slackware. It wasn’t all that different from any of a number of small, lightweight distros designed to work on older hardware though it seemed to be well thought out. That was Vector Linux 1.8 six years ago. Since then VL has grown into a full featured distribution available in several different configurations. The latest release, Vector Linux 5.8, appeared on December 18th and it is clearly the most mature yet, in many ways equaling or even surpassing more popular distributions like Ubuntu, Fedora, and Mandriva. If the developers manage to smooth out the few remaining rough edges they may find themselves with a distro that is as popular as any of those.
Vector Linux comes in four flavors: Standard, Deluxe, SOHO, and Live. SOHO, with KDE as the default desktop and all the most popular applications, is the full featured version. Standard is the descendant of the original Vector Linux and is designed to be fast and lightweight. It is based on the Xfce4 desktop and provides superior speed and performance especially on older hardware. Both are freely downloadable. Deluxe, available for purchase, is Standard plus a second CD with additional applications as well as Gnome and Enlightenment DR17, the latter packaged from a recent CVS build. Live, as the name implies, is a live CD version of Standard. So far only new Standard and Deluxe versions have been released.
Much like Xubuntu Edgy which I reviewed three weeks ago, Vector is built around the Xfce4 desktop and mostly uses applications that don’t have KDE or Gnome dependencies. The Standard version of Vector Linux is polished enough to be used almost anywhere, not just on older hardware, provided you get through some potential installation and configuration issues.
Last May I wrote about reviving a pair of ancient laptops using Damn Small Linux. I called them “atticware” (a term I can’t take credit for inventing, BTW) because the attic is where computers that old often end up. My point is that there are current Linux distributions that can allow even decade old hardware to run a current if lightweight OS and software. The uses for this should be obvious: non-profits, the proverbial starving students, anyone of limited means, developing countries, and so on. Various programs to recycle old system and get them into deserving hands have sprung up like weeds though I suspect few if any bother to load Linux on such systems.
Anyway, I wrote a follow up piece in July linking to step-by-step installation instructions. I’ve received lots of responses since then. The interesting quirks I reported in the Damn Small Linux (DSL) frugal installation were fixed in version 3.1 along with lots of other improvements.. As a result I’ve updated the web page to reflect changes with the new version. I know the DSL developers had read and commented favorably on the page. DSL developers famously respond to their user community and this is just one example of that. This is one of the many advantages of running something under current development.
Another response I received informed me that Memory Ten sells 64MB and 128MB memory upgrades for the Mitsubishi Amity CN, which raises the possibility of running a somewhat heavier distribution or at least using more and varied MyDSL extensions on the machine. You still won’t be able to run a full sized Linux distro without upgrading the hard drive as well. It’s more memory than Mitsubishi ever intended for those machines but heck.. I’m told it works just fine. Thanks to Todd Bergey for the information.
While I stand by my glowing review of Xubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft), I have yet to find any release of any Linux distribution which was free of bugs or quirky behavior. The latest releases of the Ubuntu family of distributions are no different.
One of the nice things about Xfce4 is that it is very easy to customize and reconfigure any way you like. However, if you go into Settings -> User Interface Preferences to change around your desktop theme be careful about then also changing your icon theme. Some work, some don’t. Changing the theme to either default or Grounation crashes Xfce. It won’t start again, either. The fix is to restore your .config directory from backup. If you don’t have a backup you can copy it from another user directory or even /root and then
sudo chmod -R : .config
If you copy from another user Xfce will start normally but your menu will not work since it still points to another user’s .config. Simply delete the menu from the panel and add it again to restore the menu. You will, of course, have the settings that the other user chose, not your own. Still, copying the whole .config is easier than figuring out which file really is broken, at least for me, and then hand probably editing xml. I probably will poke around further, though.
I haven’t been able to reproduce this bug in Vector Linux 5.8 either, but that distro uses Xfce 4.3.99 rc2 while Xubuntu still uses rc1.
Oh, and yes, I’ve been a responsible user and reported this bug (see bug #77445).
Edgy Eft (version 6.10), the second release of Xubuntu, a variant of Ubuntu Linux built around the Xfce4 desktop and designed to be lightweight, was released in October. I’ve been using it since then and I’ve been impressed. The bugs and rough edges seen in the first release, Dapper Drake (6.06) are gone and the end result is a solid, reliable distribution that’s a pleasure to use. The introduction to the Xubuntu Desktop Guide says, in part:
You may want to think of Xfce as the BMW MINI of Linux Desktops. Combining it with Ubuntu gives you the full power and ease of use that Ubuntu is known for, while providing a snappy desktop even for those using older hardware
Xubuntu generally uses GTK+ 2 apps that don’t have KDE and Gnome dependencies and, in general, performance is definitely improved compared to the heavier desktop environments. In my opinion Xubuntu is not just for older equipment that needs a more lightweight distribution. It’s polished enough for use anywhere.
Last week I had an interview for a new consulting gig with three technical management type people. It turned into a 90 minute technical discussion on a variety of Linux and UNIX issues. That’s fine. I usually do well in that kind of interview. At one point the discussion turned to Open Source applications in the enterprise. One of the comments by one of my interviewers was that Open Source apps are usually “hero applications”, meaning that one system administrator knows about them and when that admin leaves nobody knows anything about them and support just isn’t there.
Is he right? Only to a point. Yes, I’ve seen many places where a given systems administrator is the sole source of knowledge on a given subject. That situation isn’t limited to Open Source software. Often the systems administrator is, at least in part, at fault. Either they aren’t good at sharing information and cross training or else they simply have no desire to do so. Some consciously try to build their own little fiefdom and make themselves indispensable to the organization.
It’s almost always management’s fault, again at least in part. Some technical managers do little to encourage or insist on cross training, particularly if it makes a valuable systems administrator unhappy. In other cases upper management has cut IT in general and systems administration in particular to the bone or even deep into the bone, to the point where the remaining staff simply hasn’t the time to properly maintain and patch the servers they have, let alone roll out new systems, write documentation, and to get training for themselves and train others.
Having said all that there is also a problem of the perception many managers who are accustomed to dealing with strictly commercial, proprietary software have when it comes to Open Source. The “hero applications” comment is a perfect example of how such managers misunderstand the community support model. Most even modestly popular Open Source projects have excellent support. It just may not be in the form of a corporate help desk owned by the company who produces the software.
Last month a new update of SIAG Office, version 3.6.1 was released. It’s a minor update, mainly bugfixes. Still, it was an update I was very glad to see since it had been nearly a year since the previous release.
Why is this release important? In addition to fixing a few bugs and unbundling antiword it showed that SIAG is still being maintained and developed. OK, so you’re probably asking why SIAG is important at all. It’s feature poor when compared to OpenOffice or even AbiWord and Gnumeric.
Where SIAG scores over it’s more capable competition is in size and speed. The SIAG spreadsheet is included in a number of lightweight Linux distributions including Damn Small Linux. Granted the support for Microsoft Excel spreadsheets is limited but for stand alone use it has a very decent feature set that includes the functions that are most used in popular spreadsheet software. The suite’s word processor, PW, short for Pathetic Writer, is anything but pathetic. It’s certainly has a nice interface and is at least as capable as other lightweight word processors like Ted and FLWriter. I haven’t used Egon Animator so I really can’t comment on that piece.
Lightweight apps aren’t just for the sort of Atticware (old systems) I’ve written about from time to time. Keeping things small is also critical for embedded devices. It’s important for systems using compact flash cards and other RAM devices in lieu of hard drives where it’s highly desirable to cache the OS and as much of the applications as possible in traditional RAM to reduce read-write I/O and extend the lifespan of the storage device. One company I consulted for wanted truly silent point of sale systems with no moving parts. They wanted the OS, lightweight apps including a word processor and spreadsheet, and store data all on a single CF card. At the time in 2005 the spec called for 512MB cards. SIAG Office is perfect for their application. Something huge like OpenOffice simply wouldn’t do.
SIAG Office clearly has a place. It’s fits a growing and increasingly important niche in the Linux world. Seeing it continue to improve is important. By unbundling antiword version 3.6.1 offers those deploying SIAG Office the possibility of an even smaller footprint. Thanks to Ulric Eriksson and anyone else involved in the development of SIAG Office for your ongoing work. It is appreciated.
As hard drive capacities outstripped CDs and DVDs, hard-drive based backups became necessary. (I know y’all tape backup fans are still out there. You may have your cumbersome, slow, unwieldy, mechanically clunky tape backups with their even slower, more cumbersome restores. Kthxbye). For my clients I am very diligent and make sure they are well-protected. But for me- well, you know how it goes.
Udev, the new dynamic device manager system for Linux, is solid under the hood but lacking a bit in user amenities. If you’re rassling with udev to get your scanner working for non-privileged users, or need to nail down USB device names such as wireless network cards and storage devices, check out this fine two-part series I wrote my own self.
Manage Linux Hardware with udev
Manage Linux Hardware with udev (Part 2)
Yo bloggers- you can delete the spam comments to your blogs. Just go to the same place you create your blog and visit the ‘Comments’ section. You have mighty delete powers over your own blog comments. Please don’t give spammers free hosting.
Join me as I talk to Pandora’s CTO Tom Conrad about his OpenSource initiative and the Music Genome Project.
Pandora is primarily based on open source software - from the PostgresSQL database running in Debian Linux to the web client developed in OpenLaszlo. Check out “Inside Pandora: Web Radio That Listens to You for a technical look inside the box and how they provide personal enjoyment to 2.5 million registered listeners with Pandora’s unique music-matching analysis.
Technorati Tags: Pandora, music,
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad now has his very own blog. That’s fine. The content is entirely what you might expect with one notable exception. Several Israeli bloggers, including Yael K.’s Step By Step, which I read regularly, report that if you access the Ahmadenijad blog from an Israeli IP address the site sends you a little gift, a cyberattack in the form of a virus or trojan (reports vary) designed to exploit an Internet Explorer vulnerability.
To quote Yael:
Does Iran now use the Internet to harass Israeli citizens? To take advantage of the increasing Iranian-Israeli dialog online?
In a word: yep. The attack is smart enough to mostly ignore IP addresses from anywhere other than Israel, though it has been reported to have been triggered from Spain as well.
My one little piece of advice for friends and readers in Israel: Ehad Linux, an Israeli Linux distribution based on Mandriva 2006, is really quite easy to install and use. (Yes, I plan to write a review.) Those of us who run Linux have been blissfully immune to all the security nonsense which routinely plagues Windows users. Indeed, security has been one of the issues which has helped propel Linux adoption in corporate and government data centers in recent years.
No, installing Linux is not a security panacea. You still need to patch regularly and become educated about keeping your system secure. It is, however, a very good start.
I recently attend a Philadelphia Area Linux Users Group (PLUG) meeting presented by Toby DiPasquale titled “Google Internals”
Slides here: Google Internals talk for PLUG by Toby DiPasquale.
Why is this of interest on a Linux blog? As many of you may already know, Google uses a version of Red Hat to power their servers, running on old kernels (it is speculated that they run on 2.0 or 2.2 kernels).
This Google Internals talk takes you through the basics of how Google uses their approximately 450,000 servers to run everything from Google search to GMail worldwide. The slides are based on information gathered from reliable Google sources, including talks given by Google staff, and gives you a very basic framework for understanding what is “under the hood” over at Google.
I’ve been a big fan of Firefox since practically the beginning, back when it was called Phoenix or Firebird. I like the way Firefox does things. It’s feature rich and the UI is well thought out. Sadly, lately, for me Firefox has become unusable.
I’m currently running Firefox 184.108.40.206 on three Linux distributions: Vector Linux 5.1, Fedora Core 5, and Xubuntu Dapper 6.06. On all three the browser crashes frequently on all sorts of web sites seemingly at random. I’ve had it happen on a diverse variety of sites, generally fairly complex ones, ranging from eBay to the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Ahranot. There is one website, one I use all the time, that will always cause Firefox to crash: Yahoo! Mail. Any attempt to read mail on the Yahoo! website generates a crash. Yes, the Mozilla Quality Feedback Agent pops up and yes, I dutifully send in my report. I’ve talked to friends who run Firefox on Windows and it’s stable on that platform, even on Yahoo! Mail. On Linux, however, it is totally unstable to the point of unusable. This wasn’t true of the 1.0.x releases but has been the case, and has seemingly gotten worse, with each 1.5.x release.
The net result is that I find myself using either Opera or Konqueror. They work just fine. Other browsers based on Mozilla’s gecko engine do not. Flock crashes the same way Firefox does while Epiphany and Seamonkey just hang. It’s frequent enough and annoying enough that I’ve all but abandoned all of these browsers.
So… what is going on? Is Mozilla working on this? Do they still care about us relatively few Linux folk or is a stable Windows platform good enough for them?
On 30 May 2006 TurboLinux announced the release of version 11, also called Fuji. While TurboLinux remains very popular in Asia, particularly Japan, this announcement generated little attention or enthusiasm in the United States or Europe. The fact that TurboLinux Fuji 11 Desktop is doing something revolutionary almost went unnoticed.
What has TurboLinux done? They’ve partnered with Cyberlink to offer a fully legal, licensed, DMCA compliant DVD player for Linux. OK, I can hear the open source
zealots advocates groaning and gnashing their teeth from here. Yes, we’re talking closed source and proprietary. This is still revolutionary and still very important.
First, like it or not, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is the law of the land in the United States. There are a handful of other countries with similar laws. You can consider it unjust and stupid all you like but so far it has been thoroughly resistant to court challenges. You can break the law all you like and call it “civil disobedience” but you still leave yourself open to legal action if caught. I sure as heck am not going to walk into a client’s office proudly displaying illegal software on my desktop. Thanks, but no thanks.
The lack of legal multimedia software comparable to what is available for Windows users has been a major stumbling block to getting preloaded Linux systems on store shelves and taken seriously by consumers. Say all you will about the virtues of Open Source but the average Joe or Jane user isn’t interested and really doesn’t want to take the time to be educated. They want their computer to just work. Save them money, speed up their systems, make them more reliable, make them more secure… it’s all great but if the system doesn’t do what they want they won’t buy it. The average Joe or Jane user also can’t load their own OS: not Linux, not Windows, not anything.
Back in May I wrote an article titled Atticware: Reviving Ancient Little Laptops, which talked about using a current, very small, very lightweight Linux distribution to make a couple of old Mitsubishi Amity CN subnotebook computers useful again. The Amity CN is a 133MHz Pentium system with all of 48MB of RAM and a puny 1.2GB hard drive.
While the article received no comments I have been receiving e-mails now and again from people who actually did read it and who wanted to know exactly how I managed it. I went ahead and wrote it all out as step-by-step instructions. The good news is that very little of what I’ve written is Amity-specific. I think it should mostly all work on any laptop that can’t boot from CD-ROM or USB which has at least a Pentium processor of some sort or another and at least 32MB of RAM.The net result is that I’ve created a brand new webpage detailing how to install Damn Small Linux onto the Amity CN. This may lead to an entire website dedicated to making current Linux distributions work well on older hardware.
I’d love to hear from people who actually try and use my instructions. Did they work for you? Could they be better? If you succeeded, what system were you using? I’d be happy to post revised versions for different hardware giving appropriate credit where credit is due.
I’d be particularly interested if someone gets good results with the older models in the Toshiba Libretto series. The Libretto is so small that even old models still have a geek cool factor when running Linux. I expect what I’ve written will work fine on the Libretto 50CT, 60CT, 70CT, and 100CT. Newer versions can probably run a more capable distribution. I’m afraid the Libretto 20CTA and 30CT are just too old to be really useful any longer. Anyone care to test my theories about the Libretti?
On 1 June Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) was released. New versions of Kubuntu (Ubuntu with a KDE desktop) and Edubuntu (a version for young people) were also unveiled. Perhaps the most interesting release was the newest member of the Ubuntu family, Xubuntu, a derivative distro based on the forthcoming XFCE 4.4 desktop. In this review I am going to focus heavily on the desktop since that is really the only thing that sets Xubuntu apart from Ubuntu.
In the article where I renewed my complaints about Gnome I touted XFCE 4.4 as an up and coming challenger to both KDE and Gnome on the desktop. The 4.4 version includes a new file manager, Thunar, added panel functionality to rival what KDE and Gnome users are accustomed to, new applets, and greater configurability. The release of Xubuntu is actually built on a beta of the new XFCE, version 220.127.116.11. While I was originally a bit concerned about this it turns out that Xubuntu has relatively few bugs and a very polished look and feel.
One of the claims made on the Xubuntu web page is:
It’s lighter, and more efficient than Ubuntu with GNOME or KDE, since it uses the Xfce Desktop environment, which makes it ideal for old or low-end machines, as well as thin-client networks.
I decided to put this to the test, installing Xubunu onto a Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204, a laptop with a 1 GHz Celeron processor and 512MB of RAM. This was one of the systems I used to evaluate and review Fedora Core 5. At the time I found FC5 to be substantially faster on this somewhat dated laptop that Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger). Over a roughly two month period I used this laptop running Fedora with an XFCE 18.104.22.168 desktop and my usual favorite applications so my comparison of Xubuntu 6.06 to Fedora 5 is apples-to-apples.
Since I reviewed Fedora Core 5 back in April I’ve become increasingly frustrated with one aspect of what is otherwise a very well done distribution: package management and keeping my system secure and up to date. I’ve run into repeated instances of yum deciding I needed a lot of new packages and promptly failing over just one. pup, which is really just a pretty but somewhat crippled front end to yum, also fails in the same way. What I’ve discovered is that pup and yum aren’t broken at all. The code is doing precisely what it was designed to do.
Let’s look at today’s failure as an example. I had been on vacation and my system was probably 10 days behind on updates. yum decided I needed to upgrade some 166 packages and add 2 more for dependencies. Fine, go do it. No chance. Here is the error message:
Error: Missing Dependency: libecal-1.2.so.3 is needed by package gnome-panel
That seems clear enough but it really isn’t. gnome-panel wasn’t being upgraded. Rather the package that contained libecal-1.2.so.3 was and doing the upgrade would break gnome-panel. Typing in:
yum whatprovides libecal-1.2.so.3
reveals that it is part of the evolution-data-server package. A new version of that package was rolled out without checking to see if any other package had a dependency on the old version. That is just plain sloppy package and repository management on the part of the Fedora Project people at Red Hat. If this happened just once it would be forgivable but this sort of failure has happened repeatedly over the past two months. To their credit the Fedora Project has, in each case, rolled out a new package for whatever they’ve broken in a day or two. Still, it shouldn’t happen in the first place.
On May 15th Mark Golden wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled Out The Window where he posed the question: “Can the ordinary user ditch Windows for Linux?” His conclusion, in most cases, is a resounding no. Sadly Mr. Golden’s methodology in trying out Linux for his article bears little resemblance to what an ordinary user trying out Linux would likely do. Indeed, his approach almost guaranteed his results.
Mr. Golden purchased a copy of Linux for Dummies, an excellent book which, as Mr. Golden correctly points out, included a DVD with six outdated versions of Linux distributions. Mr. Golden actually claims these are different “operating systems built around Linux technology” which is incorrect. Linux is Linux. The presentation and tools of different distributions may vary but the same underlying code is in all of them and the same software will work on all. Further, Mr. Golden correctly points out that he could have freely downloaded a current version of five of the included distributions but chose not to do so. Linux development proceeds at a much faster pace than Windows development. If Mr. Golden had worked with current versions some of the issues he ran into might have been avoided, particularly hardware detection of graphics and sound cards.
Mr. Golden asserts that “…getting some of the systems to work required more time and effort than I was willing to exert.” This is perfectly reasonable and is an attitude that would be shared by ordinary users. However the ordinary user would likely pick one distribution that was recommended to them rather than divide their time between six. I suspect had Mr. Golden chosen one popular distribution and stuck with it he could have had everything working. He himself conceded that solutions exist for virtually every problem he encountered.
The other flaw with Mr. Golden’s methodology was picking up a book and pretty much going it alone. When he did ask for help he called software manufacturers. That’s perhaps the correct way to do things in the Windows world and it might also make sense for a newcomer to Linux in a very rural part of Montana or Wyoming. For most of us who live in small, medium, and large cities there are a plethora of Linux Users Groups, or LUGs, that encourage and assist newcomers. Many have “install parties” where an ordinary user could have brought a laptop like the one Mr. Golden used and received knowledgeable assistance that would have gotten everything working in short order.
This is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read, the tale of how a well-meaning do-gooder corrupted an 86-year old great-grandmother. She went from innocent Web surfing to hacking the entire Senior Assisted Living Center to becoming an enthusiastic, unrepentant music pirate.
“I turned a 86 year old Marlboro-smoking, Chrysler Sebring Convertable-driving, Pinochole-playing, Maroon-Five listening Great Grandmother into a music pirate. An enthusiastic one at that. I should be ashamed of myself. I’m not, but at least I have morals enough to know I should.”
86 Year Old Great-Grandmother Hoists The Jolly Roger
Last December I blogged about the uproar Linux creator Linus Torvalds had caused by posting on the gnome.org Usability list his extreme dislike for the direction the Gnome developers had taken with the UI. For those of you who may have missed his original post the high point follows:This “users are idiots, and are confused by functionality” mentality of Gnome is a disease. If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will use it. I don’t use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long since reached the point where it simply doesn’t do what I need it to do.Please, just tell people to use KDE.
As the thread went on Linus became even more colorful in his criticism, calling the Gnome developers “interface Nazis” and citing examples of how Gnome’s UI makes it take longer to do things. At the time I agreed with the eminent Mr. Torvalds wholeheartedly.
Why rehash this now? A number of people have written to me about the wonders of Gnome 2.14. One reader of my review of Fedora Core 5 here on O’Reillynet went so far as to suggest that the performance improvements I was seeing were because of the wonderful new Gnome code. They aren’t. Carla Schroder, the author of the absolutely wonderful Linux Cookbook, was one of two people to praise the alacarte menu editor. Carla is usually right on about all things Linux so I tried it. Sadly, on my systems running Fedora it seems very broken. I really wanted to like the new Gnome. Honestly, I did. Gnome generally consumes less resources and memory than KDE and that, combined with excellent internationalization and localization, made it worth another long look. Sadly, I came away feeling every bit as frustrated with Gnome as I had been with previous versions.
The good news is that in Fedora Core 5 the performance improvements do result is a snappier, crisper KDE. On a modern system with significant resources I will repeat Linus’ sage advice: Just use KDE. For those of us dealing with embedded systems, nano-ITX technology, or older systems with limited resources, KDE may not be an option. The good news is that other alternatives just keep improving. Some are reaching the point where they are worth looking at even on a well equipped high end system. The idea that the “desktop wars” are strictly a Gnome vs. KDE battle may be a bit passé.
One of the nice things about Linux is that you can take an old laptop and make it new again, at least as far as the software is concerned. I took a pair of Mitsubishi Amity CN subnotebooks, very small 133MHz Pentium machines with 48MB of RAM, and installed Damn Small Linux (a/k/a DSL) on them. They now run modern lightweight apps and a version of an operating system that is being actively maintained and developed.
There are at least half a dozen mini-distros I could have used. My favorite, Austrumi, sports a 2.6.14 kernel and a really well thought out desktop but lacks wireless support, something I want on a laptop. DSL still runs a 2.4.26 kernel but it does have very decent wireless support and a fair selection of applications, both as part of the core 50MB distribution and as extensions, packages easily added onto the core system. I could have gone with the brand new DSL-N and had a 2.6.x kernel but none of the extensions have been updated to work on it yet. DSL extensions offered in .uci format (Universal Compressed ISOs) allow me to add apps, libraries, and development tools while still conserving what little RAM I have.
Probably the best thing about DSL is their frugal install, basically a Knoppix poorman’s install where the 50MB iso image is run much the way a live CD would run but with the speed of a hard drive. It also loads as much as it can into a RAM disk and surprisingly that works out really well even with only 48MB of memory to work with. Frugal is more than just poorman’s: It boots directly from grub or lilo with whatever options you need for your hardware, and, perhaps more importantly, allows for persistant /opt and /home directories, allowing you to drop in a new version of the OS easily while preserving data and add-on software. It’s also nice from a security standpoint since the OS lives in a read-only filesystem and executes from RAM.
The net result is that my ancient little laptops are actually pretty fast at most things and actually very useful again.
Learn how to build an Asterisk@Home test lab.This series is also a good howto for setting up a small production Asterisk iPBX on the cheap. This three-part series is aimed at both telephony and Linux noobs. If you understand computer networking basics, this is just the Asterisk howto you need to get up and running. Not only for a test lab, but also a small production system. The series covers installation, what hardware to use, how to set up local extensions and automatic call routing, how to connect to the outside world, and how to replace the Asterisk@Home logo with your own custom logo.
VoIPowering your Office with Asterisk - Building a Test Lab, Part 1
VoIPowering your Office with Asterisk-Building a Test Lab, Part 2
VoIPowering your Office with Asterisk-Building a Test Lab, Part 3
I enjoy x-windows as much as the next person, but I’ve found that text-based applications are the best way to work with information that is essentially text-based. Most direct communication, including E-Mail, Instant Messaging(IM) and Internet Relay Chat(IRC), fall into this category. I will touch upon these three communication methods in this article, and provide the text-based solution that I use.
But first, I will introduce screen.
From the introduction on the site:
“Screen is a full-screen window manager that multiplexes a physical terminal between several processes, typically interactive shells … Programs continue to run when their window is currently not visible and even when the whole screen session is detached from the users terminal.”