Monday, May 30, 2011

Bodhi Linux Service Pack 1 Ready to Go

As you may know the Bodhi Linux team and I recently released the first update release for our 1.0.0 version. One of the things Bodhi does differently from other distributions is that we make offline application installation easy. With this in mind each of our Bodhi updates will be accompanied a few days later by a "Service Pack". The service pack is a single file that handles seamlessly updating an offline Bodhi Linux computer.





For those looking to download and install the Bodhi Service Pack One, you can obtain the .bod file from here.

~Jeff Hoogland

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bodhi Linux 1.1.0 Released

Two months after our 1.0.0 release the Bodhi team and I are proud to announce the availability of Bodhi Linux 1.1.0. This is the first of our quarterly scheduled update releases to keep the software on the Bodhi live CD current. The live CD includes a number of package updates including:
  • Linux Kernel 2.6.39
  • Enlightenment SVN Build from 05/23/11
  • Intel 2.15 Drivers
  • Midori 0.3.6
The Bodhi repository also saw a number of recent package updates including:
  • Firefox 4.0.1
  • Chromium Browser 11
  • nVidia Driver 270.41
When booting the new live CD you will notice the art has undergone some changes as well. Our boot splash and LXDM window both feature the following background image:


Those that have used Bodhi in the past know that we offer a choice of themes at first login. You will find five new default themes in this release:


In terms of functionality, this update brings changes to two profiles. The first is the Tablet/Netbook profile. The main changes you will notice in this profile is an updated ELFE launcher and the removal of the bottom bar:


A slightly larger change is that the Ecomorph (Compiz) profile has been replaced with a "Compositing" profile. This profile uses E's built in compositing manager to render effects. E's compositing manager works with both hardware and software acceleration. This means it can provide sleek effects even on older hardware. For those that still prefer Ecomorph, you can always set it up yourself.

Current Bodhi users can upgrade to the latest release by running their updates. Those looking to install new systems with 1.1.0 can find the 32bit, 380mb direct download here or our high speed torrent download here. If you have any questions or comments feel free to drop a message below or sign up over at our forums.

Cheers,
~Jeff Hoogland

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Open is a Loose Term in the Mobile Market

Recent news in the world of Android is that Google is blocking their movie renting service from being used on rooted devices. Thats right - if you are using a rooted Android device that means you must be doing so because you are doing illegal things and intend on stealing films. While I don't agree with this in the slightest, it is fully within Google's rights to block such access.

In fact, when you bought your locked down Android device (that odds are came with plenty of ad-sponsored extra applications installed) you told Google (and the hardware company) that all the crap they are selling you is A-OK. You need to remember that the easiest way to let vendors know you think what they are doing is wrong is by not buying their products (and maybe writing a letter or two). Until this year Nokia was pro-Linux operating systems on mobiles and I showed my support by buying two of their N900 devices. Now that they are turning to Windows Mobile they won't be getting a penny more of my hard earned money.

Honestly, all of the Google/Android fans out there that think Google backs FOSS for anyone other than themselves is just naive. The holding of the Honeycomb (Android 3.0) source code so outside developers cannot get devices on the market at the same time (or even before) Google's slow moving partners is just further proof of this. Remember folks Microsoft also claims to love open source as well, but actions speak far louder than words.


I guess in the end "open" is a loose term when it comes to the mobile market. Yes, Android is more open than a good deal of other mobile operating system alternatives - but it is far from the freedom we see in desktop computing. Our mobiles won't be truly "open" until hardware manufactures stop riddling FOS operating systems with closed source hardware and software components.

~Jeff Hoogland

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bodhi Linux Desktop of the Week Contest

Many computer users enjoy customizing their desktop to perfection. Personally I have spent hours playing with different icon sets, GTK themes, Enlightenment themes and E17 gadgets. Something most people like to do almost as much as tweaking their desktop is sharing those sexy screen shots with the world!

Enlightenment is so customizable we like to encourage this tweaking and sharing among Bodhi users. Seeing what other people have done with their desktop often gives new users ideas for their own. With this in mind, we have started running the Bodhi Linux "Desktop of the Week" contest. Each week in the news section of the Bodhi forums there is a thread started to let users vote on their favorite of five different desktops (new voting starts on Tuesdays).

Entries for the contest can be posted in the Bodhi forums, on our facebook wall or emailed to me directly (JeffHoogland at Linux dot com).

The winning desktops are posted in a gallery on the Bodhi website and in an album on the facebook page. We have been running the contest for the past three weeks now and the following are the first three winners:

Week 1


Week 2


Week 3


~Jeff Hoogland

N900 Application Round Up

In the past I've done two different application round ups for the Nokia N900 handset which runs the Maemo operating system. Today I would like to add to my lists of applications I find useful for a device I use for many hours each day.

Widgets -
There are three non-default widgets I enjoy using on my N900 very much. They are:
  • Connect Now
  • Conversations Inbox
  • Recaller
The connect now widget allows you to define an internet connection (either 3g or wireless) that you connect/disconnect from simply by tapping on the widget. I've found this is useful for quickly disconnecting from the net when I am not using it to save some battery life. Conversations inbox shows the contents of the last text message you received and allows you to quickly open said message and respond to it. Recaller gives you a red diamond on your desktop that when tapped begins recording your current call (try not to get into too much trouble with this one).

Applications -
I'd like to add two more applications I use constantly on my N900.
  • pyRadio
  • Countdown Timer
The first is the evolution of an application I have previously reviewed that was called pyPianobar. pyRadio no longer uses pianobar as a back end for streaming and as such I find it works a small bit better. It still has a hiccup every now and then, but I often stream music for hours at a time from Pandora with pyRadio.


Countdown timer is just a simple count down timer that is fairly customizable. It will count down up to sixty minutes and is accurate to within one second. There are four different (configurable) time options for quick use or you can manually adjust the settings via the up and down buttons.


Camera Lens Launcher -
By default when you open the camera shutter on your N900 it launches the camera application. This is great for most people I am sure, but I use several applications with my device that involve the camera. The camera lens launcher gives you a list of options to choose from when opening the shutter. Personally I have the following applications to pick from when I open the cover on my N900.
  • Camera
  • Flash Light
  • mBarcode
The camera is just the boring camera application. Flash light when launched allows you to trigger just the LED bulb on the back of the device to turn on. You can then turn it off via the status area or simply by closing the cover. mBarcode is a nifty application that reads bar codes (not much surprise there). After scanning a bar code it will even offer to go online to amazon and look up pricing (or do a google search).

Community SSU -
With Nokia kicking FOSS to the curb not long ago, many where left wondering if there would be any support for the N900 left. The SSU shows us that yes, indeed there is! SSU stands for "seamless software update" and the community repository continues to provide updates to N900 users. In addition to patching a good deal of bugs the SSU also adds new features such as portrait support in many of the default applications. Please note the Community SSU is still considered beta software, but if you like to test things you can install it by following the instructions found here.

Any other applications or things you use on your N900 every day you would like to share? If so please drop a comment below letting me know what they are!

~Jeff Hoogland

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thoughts on Wine Technology

If you have used a Unix operating system on a desktop computer for any extended period of time then odds are you have heard of Wine technology. In case you haven’t, Wine is an acronym that stands for “Wine Is Not an Emulator”. In actuality Wine is a “windows compatibility layer”. To put it in laymen’s terms it allows you to natively run Windows binaries in a Unix environment.

Wine is software I both love and hate. I love the fact that Wine exists. I hate the fact that it is necessary for Wine to exist. Lord knows there are a good number of (typically closed source) applications that only produce binaries for Windows. Some of these (such as games and office software) still lack true open source alternatives (Before anyone else says it: Yes LibreOffice is good but, as much as it pains me to say it, colleges teach Microsoft Office. It is difficult - if not impossible - to complete a class about using Microsoft Office, using LibreOffice). I dream of the day when enough developers pull their heads out of their asses and start developing software fully cross-platform.

That all being said, the Wine project is doing is truly remarkable job of accomplishing an immensely difficult task. They are reverse engineering all of the core binaries for an entire operating system. The Wine developers are doing their best to hit a moving target. The windows operating system is still evolving (albeit slower than Linux) and the Wine developers must be constantly coding to keep up with things.

Does Wine run all Windows applications perfectly? Hardly. It does a heck of a good job though! The number of “gold” and “platinum” rated applications continues to increase with each release. Are there bugs or regressions sometimes? Sure. But using a commercial product such as Crossover (which Bodhi Linux is now an official reseller for) catches most all regressions that occur between releases. The Crossover developers are also some of the lead contributers to the Wine project, meaning purchasing their software is a way to give back to the Wine project. If you want to easily keep track of Wine news Wine Reviews is a great resource for doing so.

Since I have taken all the Microsoft Office classes I’ll ever be required to sit through, I no longer use Wine for office software. I do however still use Wine for playing Starcraft 2 and several other Windows games.

What are your thoughts on the Wine project? Is it something you use? Does it work well for your needs?

~Jeff Hoogland

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sometimes I just want my Computer to Work!

Many people read and left comments on the recent post I wrote about my poor experience using the Fedora IRC channel. Lots of people left comments agreeing with what I had said, many also left comments to the opposite effect.

I was told I let me ego get in the way (highly possible, it is fairly large).

I was told I shouldn't make such comments about other projects since I am the lead developer of Bodhi Linux.

I was reminded by several, that yes I was wrong to want to use a root file manager to access my data.

I was told I shouldn't post "hyper-sensitive rants" about things I disagree with.

It was suggested that using a root file manager to browse a dieing hard drive equated to cutting a stick of butter with a chainsaw.

And of course I was reminded that the people offering the jeers in the #Fedora channel are volunteers offering their services free of charge.

All valid points in some sense I am sure. At any rate I’d like to thank everyone that takes the time to read my (some times emotionally charged and written on little sleep) posts. I’d also like to say you are not required to read them. I don’t plan to stop writing about technology topics I feel need to be addressed any time soon (no matter whose feathers I may ruffle in the process). It is nothing personal. This is simply a personal blog - not an official form of anything by any means.

I would also like to extend an extra thank you to the few Fedora community members that commented to apologize for the harshness of the IRC channel.

At the end of the day folks remember - computers are just a tool. A tool we sometimes simply want to “just work”. Until the Linux community as a whole wakes up and realizes this as a whole (I know more than a few already have) we will continue to remain simply a no-name operating system in the desktop market. But again, this is just my opinion on things. If anyone is crazy enough to take my words as truth - that is their fault.

~Jeff Hoogland

Thursday, May 5, 2011

#fedora - You are always wrong

EDIT: Please note that obviously the people in #fedora are not representative of the fedora community as a whole. This is just me blowing off steam late at night after hardware failure and a poor experience.

Fair warning - I am about to go off on a rant here.

I discovered this evening much to my dismay that the year and a half old western digital hard drive in my main laptop is dieing. All three of the Linux installs on the system failed in various ways (typically a sign of a hardware issue) so I grabbed the closest live CD and popped it in. Now, it's been awhile since I've burned a live CD so the top disc in my spindle was an old Fedora 13 disc. After the system booted up, I connected to my wireless internet and was on my way.

There was a few gigs of data on the drive I didn't have backed up, so I opened nautilus and navigated to my files.

Ahh right - the permissions of the hard drive made it so I could not read certain folders I needed access to. Not a problem, I'll just launch the file manager as root. I opened a terminal, typed in su followed by nautilus and was greet by a crash message.

Ahh right - nautilus doesn't like to be opened as super user if I recall correctly. It had been awhile since I had used a non-sudo distro, so I hopped into #fedora on freenode to ask how I could go about launching the file manager as super user.


Dear lord was that a mistake.


Less than a minute in the #fedora channel was enough to remind me why Fedora 13 was the last Fedora revision I had burned. I've found that whenever I am foolish enough to ask a question in #fedora, instead of getting help with what I have asked, I am bombarded with questions on why I am trying to do what I am doing. Even after informing them that I would just like to accomplish what I have asked, I was informed I was wrong and that I should do something completely different (and that would take far longer than I wanted with a dieing hard disc).

I would just like to take a moment to say to all the self proclaimed Linux help nazis out there:

You are not God's gift to your Linux help channel.


When a person asks a question, if you are not going to help - then don't. When someone seems to be asking an odd question - odds are you don't know everything about their story. If their question is truly odd, perhaps just throw a mention of warning after helping them accomplish their task.

Needless to say I left #fedora after a few mind numbing moments and simply installed pcmanfm (which launched as super user just fine).

Whew. I apologize if you are a decent person who really tries to help (instead of criticize) in #fedora on freenode. It just seems more often than not in the four years I've been using Linux as my primary operating system I have always met with resistance in that channel.

My data is all recovered from the drive now and I am happily headed back to apt-get land. If I ever give yum a try again it will definitely be with Fuduntu or Fusion and not with normal Fedora ever.

~Jeff Hoogland

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Open Source Applications for Math Teachers

In addition to all the technology ramblings I post here every month, I am also a student. This is my final semester in an undergraduate mathematics program with a secondary in education. I believe free open source software (FOSS) is the way of the future and should be used in schools as much as possible. In addition to being free of charge, having code be open promotes learning (as future computer students can see how the internals of a program work).

Part of my final semester was student teaching at a local high school. Technology is very much a part of the classroom in 2011 and I used a number of open source tools to aide in my teaching. The following is a collection of some of the best open source tools around that you can use to enrich your mathematics class.

Geogebra
Task: Interactive Geometry Software
Platforms: Linux, OSX, Windows

I believe Geogebra is easily one of the best pieces of educational mathematics software around. It is easily comparable to Geometer's Sketchpad and performs many of the same functions. One of the largest advantages of Geogebra is that because it is written fully in java it can be run 100% in the webrowser, requiring no installation.


KAlgebra
Task:
Function Plotting
Platforms: Linux

KAlgebra is a calculator that has both symbolic and analysis features that lets you plot 2D and 3D functions. In the 2D function plotting tagent lines along a function are also easy to display simply by moving the mouse.


wxMaxima
Task: Computer Algebra System
Platforms:
Linux, OSX, Windows

wxMaxima is a Computer Algebra System (CAS) that is a GUI front end to Maxima. It has a wide range of features which I've described in more detail in my post here.


XCAS
Task:
Computer Algebra System
Platforms: Linux, OSX, Windows

XCAS describes it's as the "swiss knife of mathematics" - which isn't too far from the truth. It has all the features you would expect from a CAS and then some! One of the most notable features though is that it comes with a "maple syntax" option - so those coming from the closed source Maple will feel right at home using XCAS.

Qalculate!
Task: Multi-Functional Calculator
Platforms: Linux

Qalculate is easily one of the best scientific calculators around. It stores every calculation you make so you can easily go back and find numbers you have crunched in the past. Qalculate also includes a wide range of scientific constants to easily perform calculations with. This is an application no science or mathematics major should be without.


LibreOffice Math
Task: Mathematics Document Creation
Platforms:
Linux, OSX, Windows

In addition to providing a full office suite (Word processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation, and data base) LibreOffice also provides a fantastic mathematics writer. Excellent for creating worksheets and exams that look professional, LibreOffice Math is easy to learn and a great tool to have.


Xournal
Task:
Digital Notebook
Platforms: Linux, Windows

Xournal + a cheap tablet computer + a projector = a fairly cost effective interactive white board. The main benefit to putting lecture notes down in a digital form is easily saving them for later. As a teacher writing notes on a tablet computer is beneficial due to the fact that you can face the class as you write instead of having your back turned.


Do you have an open source mathematics application you like to use that I did not list here? If so drop a comment below letting me know what it is so I can check it out!

~Jeff Hoogland

Monday, May 2, 2011

Five Debian Based Alternatives to Ubuntu 11.04

I made a post last month outlining some of my thoughts on the Unity desktop Ubuntu rolled out with it's latest 11.04 release. If you are one of the many that has mixed feelings about the Unity desktop then odds are you may be looking for alternatives to the latest Ubuntu release. The following is a round up of alternatives that won't leave you feeling completely lost as they still use the apt-get package manager.

Edubuntu - Classic Gnome
In addition to the Educational software that is included in this distribution by default, Edubuntu sticks with using the classic Gnome 2.x desktop. Similar to how Ubuntu has an optional 2.x classic desktop at the login screen, Edubuntu has an optional Unity 2D/3D at the login. If you are looking for an 11.04 base that is close to Ubuntu, but still uses the Gnome 2.x desktop by default then look no further! Edubuntu is an official Ubuntu derivative that offers a stable 11.04 based release.


Kubuntu - KDE
If you are like me then odds are you where scared away from KDE some time ago when the first 4.x iteration was released. The desktop has had some time to mature in the last couple years though and Kubuntu features the latest 4.6 variation that is fairly polished. If you are searching for a new desktop for everyday use - KDE is worth taking a look at again. Kubuntu is an official Ubuntu derivative that offers a stable 11.04 based release.


Bodhi Linux - Enlightenment
If you are looking for something different, the Enlightenment desktop may be just the ticket you are looking for. In addition to being fast and flexible the Enlightenment desktop is also elegant. Beyond the E desktop the Bodhi repository keeps a collection of current software so there is no need for users to reinstall their desktop every six months. Bodhi Linux is built on an Ubuntu base with a two year release cycle. Bodhi Linux is not an official Ubuntu derivative.


Lubuntu - LXDE
LXDE is a simple desktop that focuses on being light weight and functional. While it leaves some to be desired in the eye candy department LXDE is just as light weight as Enlightenment. While Lubuntu aims to receive an official endorsement for Ubuntu, it is not an official derivative. Lubuntu latest release is based on 11.04.


Debian - Core
Perhaps you like getting your hands dirty and are ready to graduate from your Ubuntu training wheels, if so taking a peek at Debian might be worth a try. In case you are not aware, Debian is where Ubuntu takes it's roots from. Debian is known for it's stability and it comes in the form of a LiveCD.

~Jeff Hoogland