Category Archives: Ubuntu Forums

The KDE 4.3 migration has begun …

I wasn’t the first person to say it, but I’ll agree with Mazza558I see a lot more KDE desktops in the screenshot threads for both Ubuntu and Arch forums these days. True, the Arch forums have always had a strong KDE presence, what with the fantastic effort that is KDEmod and/or the Chakra Project. I have never heard of an Arch user who hasn’t at least acknowledged that KDEmod is a stroke of genius.

But skimming through the screenshot threads suggests another trend, although I’m not part of it so I won’t make any predictions. If KDE is picking up speed, I say it’s high time … if this is just an illusion, I still say it’s high time — for KDE fans to make a concerted effort to show how much more beautiful KDE is — by default — than that ugly gobstopper called Gnome. 😛

And you can quote me on that. 😈


It’s official: I don’t do Windows

I know, it sounds a little lame, but I realize now that, over time, my practical and useful experience with Windows — in any flavor — is now either many years out of date, or so thin as to be transparent.

The issue came to light a day or two ago with a question about how to change a desktop setting in Vista, and I was looking in completely the wrong place for the answer. I got the “I thought you were a geek” look from a co-worker, who went on later to get the correct information from one of the in-house gamers. I was a tiny bit embarrassed, for having tried to be of help at all.

So I am building the habit of referring Windows questions to actual Windows users, rather than trying to be of some help myself.

I take the approach to any variation of Mac operating systems, so it’s not a new idea. I haven’t used a Mac machine on a regular basis in decades, and I certainly wouldn’t offer advice to anyone having problems with that OS.

And the same goes for Ubuntu, although it is a little “closer” in my mind than the others. After all, I can install a vanilla Gnome Ubuntu desktop on my Inspiron and suffer through the weak performance, if someone needs an answer. But really, it’s one of the reasons I stepped down as a moderator for the Ubuntu Forums, about a year ago. I just lack the immediate experience to be of help.

And the last time I used Windows to any degree beyond setting my router software or setting up a sparse dual-boot system was … almost four years ago, and the playing field has changed considerably since then.

For a while I still felt relatively comfortable answering questions about Windows machines, but no longer. I tell Windows users to ask Windows users how to solve problems. I really don’t think I can be of much help.

Unless they want to get away from it altogether. 😈

DSL revisited

I caught myself endorsing Slitaz over Damn Small Linux the other day, not realizing exactly how long it has been since I used DSL, and whether or not it has improved in the past year or so. Slitaz scooped me up quite easily after relying on DSL for many years — so easily in fact, that I never looked back.

But when I suggested it over DSL again, I figured I ought to take another look, to be fair. After all, I think the last time I used it was when it had just crossed to 4.0, and as we all know, point-oh releases are never quite right.

To be honest, I don’t see much on the surface of version 4.4.10 that appears to have changed.

Or I guess I should say, the changes that I first notice are mostly aesthetic. JWM is still the window manager with Fluxbox as an option, but with a different “look” here and there — new wallpaper, different desktop font, and so forth.

The application array seems similar to what I remember from a year ago. Probably one of the strong points for DSL is the choice of office software that comes in so small a bundle — things like the Siag suite; Word, PDF and postscript viewers; dictionaries and so forth.

And a round assortment of games and Internet appliances are there too, including chat programs and FTP clients. Sylpheed is on board, along with a short list of browser options — the old Dillo, Firefox 2.0, and some others.

And it’s nice to see some fundamental improvements in the way DSL manages itself. I don’t remember a MyDSL Browser before — something that makes picking out software a lot easier. I could swear I had seen something very similar running the show with Tiny Core though — perhaps it was borrowed from that project.

And once DSL is up and running, you have the option to install a lot more fun stuff. Most of the commonplace applications you would expect in something like Arch or even Ubuntu are ready to download and run.

So I certainly can’t fault DSL for being established, well-rounded and extensible. And it manages to find the hardware on my Inspiron without a fight. So why do I still, even after this second look, prefer Slitaz?

It’s hard to put my finger on it. DSL does a great job, but Slitaz feels cleaner, slimmer and faster. DSL still seems absorbed by unusual assortments of GTK1.2 software, mixed in with a few extra programs which don’t seem to mesh well, appearancewise.

I don’t hold any grudge against outdated software — after all, I regularly rely on text-based applications I dug out of the corners of the Internet — but I wonder why the 2.4 kernel is still preferred (answer here). I wonder why a newer version of Firefox isn’t in there by default … if Firefox is going to be in there at all. And I wonder why, after all these years, someone hasn’t managed to come up with a slick, cohesive look for DSL — rather than two or three vaguely connected themes (particularly in the GTK1.2 category) and a somewhat-matching wallpaper or two.

Okay, okay. I apologize. I know full well that those are superficial points. I should be more enthusiastic that DSL starts up and runs fine. I have met distributions that couldn’t accomplish that.

But I can’t help noticing all these little points and wondering what’s holding DSL back … particularly when I start up Slitaz again.

So that’s my impression. I will always like DSL, and I admire it for its loyalty to outdated machines. But so long as Slitaz can do much the same thing, in less space, with fresher software and a cleaner, faster look, I will continue to choose it over DSL.

And that’s what it’s all about: choice.

The wrong reasons to use Linux

Everybody has a list of reasons to use Linux; I have my own, more or less, spread out over the length and breadth of this blog. Still, aside from the misinformation spewed forth by Redmond, I believe there are “wrong” reasons to use Linux. Which is to say, I think there are things that attract people to trying Linux, but I would not use as a selling point. Up front though, I should say that whatever draws you to Linux is your business, and not my concern at all.

  1. Compiz. You might read that and feel like you just got hit in the face with a glass of cold water. After all, Compiz is way cool. It’s smooth, clever, innovative, years ahead of the competition and best of all, free-as-in-beer. What’s to dislike?

    I don’t dispute any of that. I also think it’s cool and smooth, and even cooler and smoother because you can get a vastly superior desktop experience on hardware so outdated, Vista’s requirements are suddenly a joke. I mean, I even tried to run it on an ancient GeForce2 card with only 16Mb of memory once, and got somewhere near an end result.

    No, my concern is simple — Compiz is flair. It’s shiny-glossy-pretty, but doesn’t necessarily make using a computer any more successful. And for as many people as I have seen scrap Linux because they couldn’t get Compiz working … well, again, I just think that’s the wrong reason to switch.

    I would much prefer people moved to Linux because they can pick up a window manager that allows them to rearrange and organize multiple desktops and wallpapers by theme, or even better, because they have a need for a desktop that’s lighter and faster than anything Microsoft or Apple sells now.

  2. Speed. I’m going to split hairs here, and make a few distinctions. It is, after all, a little ironic that I would call out Linux on speed while writing a post on a blog dedicated to eking out the last smidgin of speed from outdated hardware.

    And it’s true, yes, that Linux machines can run faster and speedier and more efficiently than most other operating systems. Unfortunately that requires a degree of experience to achieve, and the average first-run-in with Linux is more likely to be with heavier, bulkier distributions.

    And judging by the occasional thread on the Ubuntu Forums or the Arch Forums, the speed of the included software is sometimes suspect. Firefox in Linux is regularly lambasted for being a sludge, when an identical system with Windows XP is generally snappier. Who’s at fault? Beats me.

    But that’s where I’m coming from when I say speed isn’t a good enough reason to use Linux. Distros like Ubuntu or Fedora and so forth are great introductions, but come with weight problems that don’t reinforce speed as a selling point. Over time and with the right software selections, it’s always possible to carve a system down to a true speed demon. But that usually requires a measure of experience and curiosity, and I think most Linux newcomers might lack one or the other.

  3. Gaming. A year or so ago, I coached a World of Warcraft player through an Ubuntu-plus-Wine installation, which was a particularly hairy experience. In the end it worked, but not to the satisfaction of the player. Frame rates were lower than a native Windows system, the game felt laggy, and effects didn’t show like they “should have.” As you might imagine, within a week or so, Ubuntu was gone and Windows was back on, and to the best of my knowledge, it will probably never be back.

    I think it’s important not to hold out Linux as a solution to Windows gamers who want to get away from Microsoft. But notice that I said solution there. As an option I think it’s fine. But holding out Ubuntu or another distribution as a platform for Wine as a solution to running Windows Game X … is a mistake in my opinion. Invariably the experience falls short of what people want, and if they are gamers already, they’re unlikely to be willing to suffer any performance hit whatsoever, just to assuage their conscience on some other tertiary issue, like licensing.

    On the other hand, I heartily endorse Linux as a gaming platform for Linux games — that should go without saying. If you can get someone hooked on Neverwinter Nights or Tremulous or Warzone 2100, that’s a fantastic reason to keep a Linux machine in the house. But trying to shoehorn Linux into a machine and expect a hardcore Windows gamer to be happy … well, I’ll just say I’ve never seen it happen.

  4. Duress. This is probably the worst possible reason I can think of — using Linux because you’re forced to. Even common-sense psychology dictates that forcing someone to use a tool they don’t know or didn’t elect to use is doomed to breed dissatisfaction. Spoon-feeding Linux to an unwilling user is, in my experience, a guaranteed turnoff.

    That might sound a bit hypocritical since one of the things I do in my spare time is polish an IceWM knockoff of Windows 2000, but the two ideas are not necessarily mutually exclusive. If ease-in-transition is an issue, it makes sense to create a desktop as similar as possible to what someone already knows. Transition is already a foregone conclusion.

    On the other hand, forcing someone to use Linux — or any operating system, really — is stripping out one of the core principles that Linux stands for: freedom. And in this case, freedom to choose includes the freedom to choose Windows or Mac OS or whatever. I would never allow someone to suffer through using Linux if what they really want is something else. It’s just not good business.

    (This is where I tip my hat and acknowlege that in a workplace, the rules are changed. If your job requires you use Linux or another operating system, it’s a different story. But it’s also no longer an issue of free choice, so I suppose I can dodge the bullet that way. 🙄 )

And that’s where I’ll stop. It’s a delicate situation, trying to convince someone to use a different operating system. Linux and its brethren have a huge list of advantages, but pushing the wrong one on the wrong person is going to backfire catastrophically. Evangelize, by all means, but don’t make the wrong sale. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

Probability approaches 1

I had to laugh when I first saw monsterstack‘s signature on the Ubuntu forums.

As an Ubuntu Forums discussion grows longer, the probability of someone mentioning Arch Linux approaches 1.

Arch LinuxIt’s funny because it’s true: Inevitably, regardless of the topic or issue, be it technical, ethical or otherwise, eventually someone has to raise their hand and offer Arch Linux as a pat response. It would almost be funny to just enter the words “Arch Linux” in response to any thread in the Community Cafe, except that would be something akin to spamming, and the staff would not find it as amusing as everyone else probably would.

It’s funny because it’s true, but it’s true because in one manner of speaking, Ubuntu and Arch are diametrically opposed. Each one offers what the other lacks, and for that reason it’s common to see a problem or an issue circumvented by offering the other as a solution.

I kind of touched on this last year, but did a rotten job, in retrospect, of explaining the phenomenon. Arch Linux draws people away from Ubuntu when they realize Ubuntu is overstuffed and suffers a weight problem.

That alone is a turnoff for some people — the fact that, even in its slimmest configurations, there is a loss of speed and performance that is measurable when held up to something like Arch.

This is not news to anyone who has used Linux in its current incarnations; I’ve been chanting that mantra for years now, and I heartily endorse Arch as an option to anyone who wants to see some measure of perfomance. I can say with 99 percent assurance that, whether or not you use Pentium III-era machines, picking up Arch will offer a huge payout in performance.

But it must also be said that there is a flow to match the ebb. Occasionally — and I admit it’s rare to see — there’s a note on the Arch Linux forums saying something like “I prefer the way Ubuntu handles this.” It’s an odd sight and everyone takes a screenshot to prove it happened, but trust me, it does.

So that performance I mentioned earlier might come at the cost of something else — probably “ease in setup,” if I can say it that way — and that’s usually what sparks those rare forum threads that suggest Ubuntu as an option.

The probability doesn’t really approach 1 though. Or if it does, it’s over a much, much longer time. :mrgreen:

P.S.: The threads suggesting Crux as an option to either of those two … well, I might be the only person driving that campaign. 😀

P.P.S.: monsterstack has a blog here, which is fun to peruse. I particularly enjoy the “troll of the week” feature. … 😉

A little cheese, for your whine

Ubuntu LinuxMaybe lovinglinux has the right idea; that instead of smacking my head against the LCD repeatedly every time a new version of Firefox comes out, I should be lampooning the people who start thread after thread complaining that it’s not available for their particular distro, release or sub-sub-version.

I know everyone wants the latest and greatest software for their machine. And I know that nobody wants to do the work involved in packaging and disseminating Firefox X.X. But is the repeated whine, the incessant murmur, the inescapable sense of entitlement really doing anything to expedite the process?

I won’t complain about the complaining (metacomplain?) too much, since it’s something I described better, and in stronger terms, about a year ago. But I stand by all those comments — including the ones that painted some people as petulant or impudent — because a year later things are still the same.

One major release in a common application, and suddenly there is a weak-sauce revolution underway because there hasn’t been an update in the hours since it was announced. And the complaining, and the whining, and the threats to move to another distro … it’s all old news.

All of this, to me, goes back to the point I made last year — that Linux users are in a better position to upgrade things manually, on their own, and not rely at all on someone else’s benevolence to keep them up-to-date. Perhaps some people feel they lack the skills to do that, but they certainly don’t lack the tools. And really, considering you can download a precompiled Linux binary, uncompress and use it, the “I can’t” excuse doesn’t really hold water. You’ll get no sympathy from me.

But I don’t expect this weak little counter-complaint off in some corner of the Netiverse to change anything. As soon as KillerApp version is announced, somebody, somewhere will start the whine again. …

The cloud is a lie

I’m not afraid to say it, mostly because I know I’m not alone in the matter. It may be appealing to some people to think they can store or access or perhaps even “process” with the Internet as the host, but it’s nothing I’ll ever rely on.

Privacy is my main concern. I know for a fact, from firsthand experience, that most of the “hosting services” — especially GMail, to pick on that example — regularly screen and/or access the information, and use it for their own purposes. That alone is enough to dispel any illusion I may have, personally, about privacy or respect for information. I acknowledged that in the terms of service when I opened the account though, so I don’t complain. I am just aware of the fact, and work around it when necessary.

But of equal concern to me is the idea that there is a longer string of hardware requirements for using “the cloud,” when compared to keeping my software and data locally. One hiccup in the chain between my computer and the Internet host, and the entire idea falls flat. I lived through the era of dumb terminals and trust me, nobody really liked it. I shudder at the idea of going back.

I suppose, as a Linux advocate, I should acknowledge the obvious fact that the gooey love-fest over cloud computing is really just an overture toward putting corporations in a better position to manhandle licensing and usage restrictions. It’s much easier, for example, for Microsoft to control who uses their software, if it’s not being managed at the individual level. But the point is tertiary at best for me, so I worry very little about that fact.

The sad truth is that the Internet loves its glossy, shiny new ideas, and the more hype I hear and see about any particular catchphrase, then less likely I am to embrace it. The push toward the cloud is just the latest in a long list of things I will probably avoid, until my personal concerns are met.