Category Archives: Uncategorized

The road not taken

I am not an Ubuntu old-timer. I remember as far back as 5.10, but certainly there is a smaller circle of true Ubuntu veterans.

And I am definitely not a Linux old-timer. I am a mere babe in the woods, comparatively speaking, and I try my best to remind myself of that fact regularly. There is always someone who knows more than you.

It has been almost five years since I started out with Ubuntu though, and things have changed dramatically since then.

One thing that sticks out in my mind is a rather strong shift that occurred a few years ago, and personally I think it had a direct influence on where Ubuntu is today.

It was Mazza558‘s graph from a day or two ago that makes me think of this now. It shows a considerable upswing in Ubuntu’s popularity from its start in 2004, but it seems to have reached a plateau about three years later.

And the funny thing is, 2007 is about where I see that shift — when Ubuntu became more obsessed with looks and appearances, and stability and reliability took a back seat.

I’m not saying Ubuntu isn’t stable or reliable — if anything, it is both of those. But late 2006 is when Mark Shuttleworth made his epic “Pretty is a feature” blog entry. A year later, Compiz was enabled by default, and the push for glitz had taken center stage.

I’ll apologize if this sounds a bit too old-timey, but yes, I remember a time when there was no push for accelerated graphics by default, or animated splash screens or proprietary drivers automatically installed.

I remember when you incorporated things like Flash manually, and with a considerable measure of effort, and upgraded things like Firefox through persistence and the ten-finger interface.

Things weren’t necessarily better in those days, and I will admit that freely. And I have no proof that the push toward pretty somehow resulted in the plateau shown in the graph.

But I can’t help but wonder if the upward swing would have continued upward, if Ubuntu had focused on working perfectly every time, instead of working prettily most of the time.

This isn’t the first time I have lamented the direction Ubuntu took, and it probably won’t be the last. I am critical of Ubuntu mostly because I am fond of it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t even think about it.

The only advantage in this position is that Ubuntu can always move upward from here. When people become uninterested with yet another sparkly Compiz plugin, then perhaps the mob will push the project back towards stability and reliability.

It’s not an impossibility. Personally I would prefer that: I think you establish a reputation by being stable and predictable, and you can build onto that with flash and glitz … available on demand.

Because from that plateau there is also a chance to slip back down again, to lose ground with a reputation for being superficial, or useful only on some machines with certain hardware. That too is not an impossibility. :|

Absolute, Dream

My real-life projects are complete (in a sense) and that should give me a lot more time in the coming days. I have a lot of catching up to do.

One machine is still technically engaged though — the Mebius is halfway through its “stress test” of a brand-new 8Gb CF card. Nothing to report there, except an uptime of almost a week now.

So I’ve been left with only the X60s as a guinea pig, and I’ve been in the mood to try out some new flavors of Linux — some of the heavier ones. Or at least they’re heavy for me.

A couple of years ago, one of my first distro-hopping experiences was to tinker with DreamLinux, which (if I remember right) was one of the earliest distros to include Compiz and accelerated graphics by default.

At the time it was quite impressive, and to be honest, it still is. Here it is in its 3.5 rendition for CD.

 

There are a lot of pluses to be seen here, particularly if you’re fresh off Ubuntu and looking for something … bluer, or XFCE-based, or with Debian at its core instead of Ubuntu. :roll:

I joke, but the things I read about people installing immediately — like a bouncing, throbbing dock application, or the spinning Compiz cube — are here from the start, along with some nice touches.

For example, much in the same vein as many other contemporary distros that boot from live images, you can set this up to run from a persistent home, recast the ISO for your next reboot, or install straight from the live desktop.

But even better is the installation tool — one dialog with all the settings right in front of you, partitioning, passwords, file formats and Grub options all at once. Press one button, wait 10 minutes, and it’s done.

So if you’re into shiny desktops and you want to get one without too much work and you’re an XFCE fan and you like blue. … Give it a try. (I should mention that there’s a 4.0 beta that appears to be close to release.)

From another side of the camp, here’s Absolute Linux, which I think someone mentioned here as a decent “starter” Slackware-based desktop.

 

That’s version 13.1.42, for the record, installed in full because there is no live CD that I could find. Very clean, very neat, nicely arranged and with enough quirks and surprises to keep you intrigued for a while.

In a larger sense, this sort of validates my mental image of Slackware — clean, neat, well arranged — even if it has some eccentricities.

For example, it has two file managers available by default (ROX and PCManFM) and both have slightly modified interfaces. There is also the inclusion of XMMS and IceWM alongside a crop of KDE applications. OpenOffice.org is bumped up against NEdit.

But everyone has the software they like, and there is absolutely no rule that says you have to stick to one or the other application, just because of the first letter of its name is g or k. What’s here is what the Absolute Linux team wants.

So if you see some strange pairs in this one, or a few unusual applications rubbing shoulders, think of it as an opportunity to try something new, not the pollution of your desktop environment of choice. Change is good.

For the most part, both of these will require a rather strong machine to run, although I say that knowing that a high-end Pentium III with a decent graphics card would have no problem with either. That, to me, is a strong computer.

Of the pair, Absolute is probably going to tax your system less, even if it does pack as much into an ISO of the same size. Spin them up and see what you think. :)

Screenshots from 120Mhz

I have a few moments this morning, and I’ve been stacking up screenshots just for kicks. Here are a few from the slowest machine in the house — a 120Mhz Pentium Classic running Crux Linux on 80Mb at 800×600.

screen with the vertical split patch is what makes this fun; if you want to put that together look here, and if you want to get started swapping panes around, look here.

Here’s one from a couple days ago, when I was wasting time playing Crawl while watching my e-mail and the #archlinux channel.

It’s a good layout for wasting time, keeping the larger window in focus while adding a few smaller options within reach around the sides.

Here’s something I do sometimes, when I’m testing software or converting between PKGBUILDs and Pkgfiles.

ncdu is running there only because it shows the size of the directories in the ports tree; mc is what I really need to manage crashed compilations or shift quickly between other folders. At the bottom, where I can edit and compile and see if things worked.

I am ashamed to admit it, but when I write up posts for this site, I have a tendency to do one of two things.

dict is running at the bottom, along with charm at the left and elinks in the middle, so I can bounce between them both as I write. On the right is ticker, which is fun to have running.

I sometimes just do this though.

A simple four-way split this time, which is quick and easy to set up, and can pop applications in and out at a whim. Some programs rebel if they’re asked to appear in such small dimensions, but those are exceptions, not the rule.

One small bonus: the Crux server in the closet, running at an ungodly 133Mhz on a mere 32Mb, and keeping the whole house connected at the same time.

That’s mostly just for fun there though. Usually I use ssh to connect and manage that machine, so the actual physical screen shows nothing. That picture is taken across the network, using the fonts and screen dimensions of the slower machine.

That’s all for now. I should have a little more free time by the middle of the week, and maybe I can publish something substantial. :roll:

Bloat is in the eye of the beholder

I use that word a lot, so you’d think I would have a proper, precise definition at the ready, for times like this.

To be honest though, I don’t. I don’t think I can adequately define bloat, although I am completely confident I can show what it is. Here’s an example:

kmandla@cc99p01:~$ sudo aptitude install firefox
 Reading package lists... Done
 Building dependency tree
 Reading state information... Done
 Reading extended state information
 Initializing package states... Done
 Building tag database... Done
 The following NEW packages will be automatically installed:
   acl app-install-data apturl consolekit dbus dbus-x11 deborphan dialog
   docbook-xml esound-clients esound-common firefox-3.0 gamin gconf2
   gconf2-common gettext-base gksu gnome-app-install gnome-icon-theme
   gnome-keyring gnome-mime-data gnome-mount hal hal-info hicolor-icon-theme
   iso-codes launchpad-integration libart-2.0-2 libaudiofile0
   libavahi-client3 libavahi-common-data libavahi-common3 libavahi-glib1
   libbonobo2-0 libbonobo2-common libbonoboui2-0 libbonoboui2-common
   libcairo-perl libck-connector0 libcroco3 libdbus-glib-1-2 libenchant1c2a
   libesd-alsa0 libgail-common libgail18 libgamin0 libgconf2-4 libgksu2-0
   libglib-perl libgnome-keyring0 libgnome2-0 libgnome2-canvas-perl
   libgnome2-common libgnome2-perl libgnome2-vfs-perl libgnomecanvas2-0
   libgnomecanvas2-common libgnomeui-0 libgnomeui-common libgnomevfs2-0
   libgnomevfs2-common libgnomevfs2-extra libgsf-1-114 libgsf-1-common
   libgstreamer-plugins-base0.10-0 libgstreamer0.10-0 libgtk2-perl
   libgtkhtml2-0 libgtop2-7 libgtop2-common libhal-storage1
   libhunspell-1.1-0 libidl0 liblaunchpad-integration1 libnotify1
   libnspr4-0d libnss3-1d liborbit2 libpam-ck-connector libpam-gnome-keyring
   libpolkit-dbus2 libpolkit-gnome0 libpolkit-grant2 libpolkit2 librsvg2-2
   librsvg2-common libscrollkeeper0 libsexy2 libsmbclient libsmbios-bin
   libsmbios1 libsmbiosxml1 libvte-common libvte9 libwnck-common libwnck22
   libx86-1 libxres1 libxslt1.1 lsb-release notification-daemon pm-utils
   policykit policykit-gnome powermgmt-base python-apt python-dbus
   python-gconf python-gdbm python-gnupginterface python-gst0.10
   python-gtkhtml2 python-launchpad-integration python-pyorbit python-sexy
   python-software-properties python-vte python-xdg radeontool scrollkeeper
   sgml-base sgml-data shared-mime-info software-properties-gtk synaptic
   ubufox unattended-upgrades usbutils uswsusp vbetool xbase-clients
   xml-core xulrunner-1.9
 The following NEW packages will be installed:
   acl app-install-data apturl consolekit dbus dbus-x11 deborphan dialog
   docbook-xml esound-clients esound-common firefox firefox-3.0 gamin gconf2
   gconf2-common gettext-base gksu gnome-app-install gnome-icon-theme
   gnome-keyring gnome-mime-data gnome-mount hal hal-info hicolor-icon-theme
   iso-codes launchpad-integration libart-2.0-2 libaudiofile0
   libavahi-client3 libavahi-common-data libavahi-common3 libavahi-glib1
   libbonobo2-0 libbonobo2-common libbonoboui2-0 libbonoboui2-common
   libcairo-perl libck-connector0 libcroco3 libdbus-glib-1-2 libenchant1c2a
   libesd-alsa0 libgail-common libgail18 libgamin0 libgconf2-4 libgksu2-0
   libglib-perl libgnome-keyring0 libgnome2-0 libgnome2-canvas-perl
   libgnome2-common libgnome2-perl libgnome2-vfs-perl libgnomecanvas2-0
   libgnomecanvas2-common libgnomeui-0 libgnomeui-common libgnomevfs2-0
   libgnomevfs2-common libgnomevfs2-extra libgsf-1-114 libgsf-1-common
   libgstreamer-plugins-base0.10-0 libgstreamer0.10-0 libgtk2-perl
   libgtkhtml2-0 libgtop2-7 libgtop2-common libhal-storage1
   libhunspell-1.1-0 libidl0 liblaunchpad-integration1 libnotify1
   libnspr4-0d libnss3-1d liborbit2 libpam-ck-connector libpam-gnome-keyring
   libpolkit-dbus2 libpolkit-gnome0 libpolkit-grant2 libpolkit2 librsvg2-2
   librsvg2-common libscrollkeeper0 libsexy2 libsmbclient libsmbios-bin
   libsmbios1 libsmbiosxml1 libvte-common libvte9 libwnck-common libwnck22
   libx86-1 libxres1 libxslt1.1 lsb-release notification-daemon pm-utils
   policykit policykit-gnome powermgmt-base python-apt python-dbus
   python-gconf python-gdbm python-gnupginterface python-gst0.10
   python-gtkhtml2 python-launchpad-integration python-pyorbit python-sexy
   python-software-properties python-vte python-xdg radeontool scrollkeeper
   sgml-base sgml-data shared-mime-info software-properties-gtk synaptic
   ubufox unattended-upgrades usbutils uswsusp vbetool xbase-clients
   xml-core xulrunner-1.9
 0 packages upgraded, 134 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
 Need to get 38.2MB of archives. After unpacking 186MB will be used.
 Do you want to continue? [Y/n/?]

That’s not news, really. I borrow that from a post from almost two years ago, when I was speaking in a roundabout way about the same thing.

Are all those dependencies still required? I wouldn’t doubt it, but I’m not going to check on it either. If anything, I think I am safe in assuming that it’s worse now than it was two years ago.

That, to me, is bloat. You need one application — a web browser — and you get a huge list of suggested software, including libraries and applications that are, by some reports, completely unrelated to the task at hand.

It’s true, you can thin that list out considerably, simply by telling Ubuntu that you don’t want its recommendations, only its requirements.

Whether or not the remainder is sufficiently lean is for you to decide. For me, it’s not — not when there is a 9.8Mb precompiled static-linked version available straight from getfirefox.com, needing almost nothing additional to get started.

That might be what is at the core of the issue though: Bloat is almost purely subjective. What looks horrific and stomach-churning to me is quite acceptable to someone else on the planet, and probably more than just one.

So much in the same vein of default desktops, bloat is what you decide it is. If more than 186Mb of disk drive space is an acceptable sacrifice just to look at videos of snails racing, then you may proceed at your leisure. No one will stop you.

On the other hand, I will rely on my 364Kb prerelease version of elinks 0.12 to surf the web, because from where I sit, they do the same thing. Of course, I don’t get to watch snails race. :roll:

To say software bloat is bad and that you should avoid bloated desktops or inefficient operating systems is simply one person’s opinion. You’re free to agree or disagree, and run your system as you like.

You determine your own level of involvement. Enervate your system with as much or as little software as you like, because it’s yours and no one gets to tell you how to use your computer.

We all freed ourselves of that bloat when we stopped using Windows and Macs. :mrgreen:

P.S.: Don’t think for a second that this “bloat is subjective” nonsense is going to keep me from harassing you about bloat. :evil:

A few notes for Arch Linux

Time is short today and I have been wanting to make note of a few links specific to Arch Linux. If you’re already an Arch user then there are probably no big secrets here.

On the other hand, I occasionally have to look for these links again when I install a new system, and that means they’re probably best kept here, where I can find them quicker.

Probably 95 percent of the Arch screenshots you see include a nifty logo and rundown on the guts of a system. For example …

That one is Archey, which is in AUR here. Archey has a few small options available to it, but otherwise, what you see above is what it does. I should convert it to Crux. Nah. :roll:

The page in the wiki on additional repositories mentions the Arch Games repo, of which only one of the sites works for me.

I use this one as a backup, and thus far it seems to work for me.

[arch-games]
Server = http://pseudoform.org/arch-games/games/i686

Of course, you should always be skeptical of software installed from unofficial sources, etc., etc.

Another good site to remember is the Arch Rollback Machine, which can save you from a dead system in case an update creeps through that scrambles your installation.

The rollback system is discussed in full on the forums, here. There’s a lot that’s involved in rolling back your system though, so beyond that link I can’t get into too much detail.

It’s rare (for me) that an update breaks something, and Arch definitely not the only distro, in my experience, to install a broken package. But knowing how to get out of a tight spot is important for any computer user — regardless of OS.

And I’ll mention it last because of my own bias — there is a site that focuses solely on Arch Linux blogs, and it is updated fairly regularly.

archlinux.me is worth looking at once and revisiting again, if you’re the least bit interested or concerned with the distro.

No guarantees of course, as to quality or frequency of updates. Like I have mentioned in the past, I consider blogging to be at the bottom of a long list of worthless pastimes, but it has its followers. :roll:

That’s it for now. Real-life commitments are calling me. … :|

A palindromic milestone

August seems to be the month for milestones — and anniversaries — so here’s another one.

It’s been about a year and a half since the 1,000,000th visitor, and I wasn’t expecting to cross this mark for another few weeks. But here’s the marker, with the added bonus of being a palindrome. Because just No. 2,000,000 would be ordinary and boring. :mrgreen:

Thanks again for visiting, and cheers if you find the site useful. ;)

–K.Mandla

Happy fourth birthday

Four years seems like a long time. The first World War lasted four years. Four years is an American presidency. Four years is a cycle of Olympic sports, and World Cup championships. Most higher education systems are a four-year term: A person can leave secondary school and pass through tertiary education in that time. Four years is eight Ubuntu releases. There are lots of other things.

Add this blog to that list now. I am ashamed to admit that for four years now, I’ve jotted daily and sometimes more-than-daily notes about Linux, et al., to this site.

For better or for worse that means over 1,600 posts (I think this one is number 1,614), 8,500 comments and very nearly 2,000,000 page views (which unfortunately includes the spammers).

It’s been an interesting run — and don’t worry, it’s not finished yet. I don’t have a very high opinion of blogging, but I’ll admit that I’m not likely to quit soon. From the start this site was — and still is today — is a tool to remind me of things I did and how things worked, and I started it because it was the most obvious method at the time. If you also glean some benefit from it, then we are both lucky.

In any case, cheers and thanks for stopping by.
K.Mandla

P.S.: Obligatory link to the otherwise-hidden “first post”.