Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Lion has Lost the Magic

For a long time Apple has been known as a company that creates new and innovative products. Now if you have stopped by my blog before you will know that while I am not a fan of Apple hardware, I don't mind using the OSX operating system. That is why it makes me slightly sad that the up coming Apple OS 10.7 (Lion) is going to follow in the steps of the iPad and be less than innovative in the area of new features .

The first on the list of new features is the "Mac App Store":

While this is a good idea, it is far from being a new idea. Even if you ignore the fact that our mobile computers have had application stores for years, Linux was the first to create a centralized, graphical application for easily installing software on your computer with a single click. Beyond simple applications such as gnome-app-install, the Ubuntu Software Center was released over a year ago:

Ubuntu 10.10 also brings with it an integrated software store. So it appears those behind FOSS have beaten Jobs to this punch.

Most he rest of the "new features" listed for Lion only go down hill from here. Next is Apple's "Launchpad":

Not only are these essentially desktop icons, but Lauchpad may very well be an infringement of Canonical's intellectual property on the name. Also, what is the point of the dock if all the application launchers are splayed out all over your desktop? This next one is unfortunately not a joke. Listed on the page for OS 10.7 is "full screen applications". Forgot a feature like the software store that has been around for over a year - we have had full screen applications for over a decade.

Finally the feature sneak peak closes out with "Mac command central":

What this does is allow you to see all of your opened applications on the screen in front of you. This way you can switch between applications and see what is open. While this is a much more interesting addition than desktop icons and full screen applications, it is still something that FOS desktop environments such as Gnome and KDE have been doing for years.

Unless Lion is going to pack some other awesome features that just have yet to be announced it appears it could very well be a "meh" release that would really only be worth upgrading to if it was free (or if you are die hard Apple fan and like throwing money at Jobs).

~Jeff Hoogland

Thursday, October 21, 2010

HOWTO: Easily Install 2.6.35 (Maverick) Kernel on Ubuntu 10.04

Ubuntu 10.10 just released and it utilizes the 2.6.35 kernel, this is a good bit newer than the 2.6.32 kernel Ubuntu 10.04 uses. While there are a number of reasons to upgrade your kernel, the primary reason for doing so is typically for improved hardware support. Newer kernels contain more (and sometimes better) drivers than older kernels. This can cause older hardware that either didn't work (or required lots of hacking to work) to start "just working". Some of the highlights from the .33, .34, and .35 kernel releases include:
  • brtfs file system support
  • Improved FOSS graphics drivers (Intel, nVidia, and ATI)
  • Trim support (For SSDs)
  • Support for a number of new touch panels
  • Much, much more
As with all Ubuntu releases, 10.04 will "play it safe" and stick with the 2.6.32 kernel. When I searched around for how to install the 2.6.35 kernel on 10.04 I found lots of guides on compiling it from source, but nothing on easily installing it. If you just want a generic 2.6.35 kernel on your 10.04 system there is no reason to go through all that headache. Before you follow my next few steps please be warned that upgrading your kernel does have the off chance of breaking things! Also know though, that your older kernel will still be installed should 2.6.35 have some problem with your hardware setup. To easily install a generic 2.6.35 kernel on Ubuntu 10.04 run the following in a terminal while you have an internet connection:

All Architectures:
mkdir ~/KernelDebs
cd ~/KernelDebs
sudo dpkg -i

32 Bit:
sudo dpkg -i
sudo dpkg -i linux-image-2.6.35-22-generic_2.6.35-22.35_i386.deb

64 Bit:
sudo dpkg -i
sudo dpkg -i

It is just that easy! Reboot and select your new kernel (which should be the default option) from your grub menu. Enjoy.

~Jeff Hoogland

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

E17 Basics - An FAQ

I just recently did a post detailing why you should give the E17 desktop a try. If you made the plunge and are now using E17 on your unix based system you might be slightly at a loss on exactly how it all works. The following are some helpful tips and tricks for when you are first getting started with E17.

Where is the main menu? I think a better question is where isn't the main menu. In E17 any open workspace on your desktop can be clicked upon to open the main menu. Right clicking on any open space will also jump right to your "favorites" application list.

How do I add an application to the favorites menu? This is quite easy, while the application you would like to add is loaded, right click on the window decoration at the top and mouse over Add Application and select To Favorites Menu.

What are gadgets and how do I add/change them? In E17 a "gadget" is anything you see on the desktop. Virtual desktop switcher, clock, system tray, ect. In order to add/remove gadgets go to Settings->Gadgets and you will find a helpful menu for adding/remove gadgets.

I love gadgets! How do I get more of them? What gadgets you have available to add is determined by what modules you have loaded. To load/unload modules go to Settings->Modules.

The default theme is alright but - where can I find others? and are fantastic sources for enlightenment additions such as themes.

I really want to try this theme, but it keeps telling me the file isn't valid. This means the theme was created before E17 changed how the default layout of themes are suppose to be. It is an easy fix however, when you downloaded the theme you should have gotten a file ending in .edj To convert this file to the new format, open a terminal and navigate to the directory the theme file resides in. Once you are there run the command edje_convert mytheme.edj and your theme file will be updated automatically to the new format (note replace "myfile.edj" with the name of your theme file).

I like most of this theme, but there are just a couple modules I don't like how it skins (or doesn't work with). Not a problem - you can have E17 change the theme on a single module. Go to Settings->Theme and then click on Advanced, you should then see this screen:

In the left hand column, select the module you would like to change the theme of. Then in the right column select the theme you would like to assign to it. Press Assign and then Apply and you are good to go.

What are shelves and how do I manage them? If you are coming from gnome, think of shelves as a more versatile version of a gnome panel. Shelves can house your gadgets if you do not like having them on your desktop.

To manage how many shelves you have go to Settings->Shelves. Once you have a shelf added you can right click on it and select "settings". From here you can manage it's size, what desktop it shows on, whether or not it auto-hides, what it looks like, and it's position on the screen. To assign (or remove) a gadget to a shelf, right click on the gadget and mouse over Move To and select either desktop or the shelf you would like that gadget to be moved to.

I covered all the different things I recall struggling to find when I first started using E17. If there are any other questions you have or something you would like to see added to the list please let me know. Also keep in mind I only list here a small portion of the edits you can make to your E17 desktop - explore the different menus to see what else you can tweak!

~Jeff Hoogland

Eight Reasons to give E17 a Try

If you are new to Linux you may never have tried any desktop environments beyond Gnome and KDE. If you have been in the Linux world for awhile odds are you are aware of the fact that several other desktop environments exists. During the three and a half years I have spent using Linux I have tried every different type of desktop under the sun and of them all Enlightenment's E17 is my personal favorite. The following are a few reasons why it may be worth breaking out of your Gnome/KDE comfort zone to give E17 a try:

1.) - Low Resource Consumption

The suggested minimum for running E17 on is 16megs of RAM and a 200mhz ARM processor for embedded devices. The recommend RAM is 64megs (and a stripped down version of E17 can be happy running on 8 megs of RAM). From personal experience E17 utilizes around 100megs of RAM on a fully loaded desktop install. Meaning if you have at least 128megs of system memory in your computer E17 will function fantastically. Because of this E17 makes for a great choice on older computers.

2.) - It is Fast

This is one of the reasons many use Linux in the first place, because it is quicker than some other operating system. With E17 your Linux desktop will be running faster than ever. E17's low system requirements leave more power for the rest of your applications to utilize.

3.) - Desktop Effects on All Systems

Don't ask me how it is done, but E17 provides elegant window effects and desktop transitions regardless of your hardware and driver setup. Intel, nVidia, or ATI chipset - closed source or open source driver, they will all give you a sleek looking desktop with E17. Through the itask-ng module E17 can also provide a dock launcher that has a sleek look without a need for a compositing window manager to be enabled.

4.) - It is Elegant

If configured properly E17 can be so much more than just a desktop environment. In fact many consider it to be a work of art. E17 is designed to be pretty and to this end it does a fantastic job.

5.) - It is 100% Modular

Not using some of the features E17 has and don't want them taking up unnecessary resources? Not a problem! E17 allows you to easily load and unload each and every part (module) of the desktop through the configuration menu. This way, only the parts of the system you are using are loaded at start-up.

6.) - It is 100% Configurable

Should you want to, you can easily spend days tinkering with your E17 configuration. You can adjust anything and everything. Most notably appearance wise, E17 allows you to easily theme each individual module with a different theme (should you want to).

7.) - Core ELF are now Beta

For many years now, people have been saying that they will not use Enlightenment because it is "unstable". At the start of this month, October 3rd, the Enlightenment foundation finally released a "beta" version of their libraries. To quote the Enlightenment homepage:

"There may be some minor bugs, but most if not all are gone."

I have been using the beta packages for nearly three weeks now and I can attest that the above statement is true.

8.) - You Don't have to Compile It Anymore

Just like many pieces of open source applications these days, there are a couple different pre-compiled Linux distros that use E17 as their default Window manager. These include:
  • Elive - Full Desktop built on Debian Stable
  • Unite17 - Desktop Distro
  • MacPup - Minimal CD built on Puppy Linux
  • Bodhi - Minimalistic Ubuntu 10.04 based
Finally, in case you didn't check out any of the links I provided above, my current E17 desktop appears as such:

Pretty isn't it? If I persuaded you to give E17 a try, let me know what you think about it. Also, if you are looking to chat in real time about Enlightenment - drop by #e over on Freenode

~Jeff Hoogland

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eight Tech Signs the World really might be coming to an End

You have all heard the jokes that the end of the Mayan calender on December 21st 2012 might bring about "the end of the world" in some type of cataclysmic event. Regardless of whether or not this is necessarily true, there have been more than a few technology releases/announcements in the past couple years that many of us thought would never happen.

8. Starcraft 2 releases (and runs on Linux!). This is one many gamers have been waiting on for some time. After Starcraft Ghost turned into vaporware I think some of us where wondering if Blizzard was ever going to release anything other than WoW expansions ever again. Starcraft 2 is finally here and it was worth the wait, easily one of the best RTSes I have ever played.

7. Microsoft releases a decent desktop operating system. After their Vista fiasco that left many consumers running back to Windows XP, Microsoft took their time getting Windows 7 from beta to a release stage. The result is truly their best desktop operating system. Sure it is not as resource friendly as some alternative operating systems, but if you are coming from XP or Vista - Windows 7 truly does simplify your PC.

6. Broadcom releases open source drivers. The bane of Linux users for many years now has been Broadcom wireless chipsets. Sure, distros such as Ubuntu have made it easier in recent years to install the closed source driver - but a fully open source driver is by far a best case scenario. Once these drivers make it into the mainstream kernel releases, modern Linux distributions will support most all internal wifi chips OOTB.

5. Steam client comes to OSX. Easily the most popular digital distribution system for games on Windows, Steam has been released for OSX. In addition to this Valve company, the one behind Steam, is also re-releasing all of their source engine games (CSS, TF2, L4D, ect.) re-written to use OpenGL for Apple's platform. Something such as this could allow OSX to one day challenge Microsoft's dominance in the PC game market.

4. Microsoft extends Windows XP downgrade rights till 2020. This one might not signal the end of the world exactly, but I think it makes those of us who work on Windows wish the end would come a little sooner. Even though Windows 7 has done so many things correctly the business world is always afraid of change, meaning we will be dealing with this now decade old operating system for another ten years (at least).

3. Microsoft contributes 20,000 lines of code to the Linux kernel. In a move that shocked many Microsoft submitted code that allows Linux virtual machines to perform better when running on a Windows Server 2008 host system. Keep in mind that while 20,000 lines sounds like a lot, it is simply a drop in the bucket of the millions of lines of code that comprise the Linux kernel.

2. Enlightenment E17 libraries reach beta. After ten years and several rewrites later of being defined as "alpha" software, E17 has finally reached a beta stage. It is yet to be seen if we will see a 1.0 release any time soon, but for the time being a beta release is a step in the right direction. If you would like to easily check out the E17 beta, take a peek at Bodhi Linux.

Finally, drum roll please...

1. Duke Nukem Forever gets a release date (again). First announced on April 28, 1997 Duke Nukem Forever seemed to be eternally delayed. This makes for it's 5th (6th, 7th?) release date. This one appears to be a solid one though (so much in fact that there are "early access keys" being advertised on Steam). Hopefully this one will not disappoint when it finally releases after almost 14 years.

Where there any other advances in technology or releases in recent years you thought would never happen?

~Jeff Hoogland

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ubuntu - The Flagship Linux Desktop Distro

Like it or hate you have to admit:

Ubuntu has done wonders for the Linux desktop.

Through Canonical's works, community development, and the various spin offs such as Linux Mint, PinguyOS, Zorin, and many others there is no arguing that Ubuntu based systems are the most popular choice for the Linux desktop operating system. Ubuntu has almost become synonymous, or at the very least as popular, as Linux in general. If Google search trends mean anyhing just "Ubuntu" could very well surpass "Linux" itself within a few years (because we know Canonical like to keep the Linux hidden). The year after Ubuntu's first release the amount of searches of "Ubuntu" versus searches for "Linux" was 13 to 1:

This number quickly changed as Ubuntu gained in popularity. In 2006 this ratio was more than cut in half:

Ubuntu continued to gain steam from this point forward, in the next year this ratio was halved yet again:

Now, in 2010 the Ubuntu search ratio is extremely close to that of Linux itself, settling at a 1.24 to 1 for the last twelve months:

As someone who has used nearly every distro on the Distro-Watch top 100 list, I can say from personal experience that Ubuntu based systems have always been the easiest to configure. They are what I recommend to friends and family when they ask about Linux. Some people will tell you Ubuntu is harder to use than some other operating systems, but we know that is just plain FUD.

If you are a Linux user do you use something Ubuntu-based on your personal machine? If you have a friend interested in learning Linux, would you recommend Ubuntu or a different distro? Finally, why do you think Ubuntu is the most popular around?

~Jeff Hoogland

Microsoft Launches FUD VS

Some good old classic FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in three, two, one...

Now if I recall not to long ago a Microsoft representative was quoted saying "We love open source". Apparently they realize that many other people love open source as well, so many in fact that it is cutting into their bottom line - thus the offensive attack video you can see above.

It starts off with a quote saying "We originally installed Linux-based PCs running OpenOffice to save money in the short term". That sounds like a viable idea, replace the cost of the operating system and the office suite with free systems on 10+ (or sometimes even 100 or 1000+) and you could be looking at a good chunk of change. So far so good...

Then it goes into "We quickly found that the exorbitant cost $$$$ and limited availability of support left us worse off" Ah, yes. Its not like you can spent three minutes on Google and find many, multiple, different methods, of commercial support for OpenOffice. Maybe they have a point here. /sarcasm

"I need something I can rely on. If an open source, freeware solution breaks, who's gonna fix it?" First off, lets over look the fact that the "director of technology" for an entire school district doesn't know the difference between open source and freeware software... Who fixes issues in OpenOffice? Well there is the community and I also seem to recall some corporate giant having their name stamped on the software as it loads - they might have something to do with it.

"A hugely disproportionate 30% of our IT resources was required for a period of months to service open source... an estimated 25% of additional staff time was routinely required to install and maintain OpenSource-based systems"Now maybe it is just me, but Linux/OpenOffice has always installed fast for me than Windows/Microsoft office. If you are deploying operating systems across hundreds of different systems your install time should really be about the same (regardless of operating system), you setup one master image and then push it out across the network. My main question about their "IT resources" is this:

How many Microsoft certifications did they have compared to OpenOffice or Linux certifications?

"When I was using I was especially having trouble with MACROS not being supported enough. I was asking for help from the IT department, they evaluated my request and suggested I use Microsoft Excel" I think we just answered my above question.

"We were accustomed to fielding calls from users in a bind due to difficulties with on a daily basis" Did you train your people (or IT staff) in using OpenOffice before you made the switch? Doesn't sound like it to me.

"With there was total uncertainty about the formatting of documents and also about their inconsistency when shared outside our production group" Last I checked it was OpenOffice, not Microsoft Office that strictly adhered to the open document format. As far as sharing documents with others goes - as of Office 07 SP2 it can now open and edit open document format by default and is a free download.

"Employees using weren't always capable of correctly making sense of documents arriving from outside the company and doing so with adequate security guarantees" Formatting issues do occur from time to time going between the totally uncertain Microsoft format and open document format. These issues have been decreasing with time though and I can say to this date I have never had a document get mangled enough that I couldn't correctly make sense of it. Now that I think of it, you know what else has issues? Office 03 trying to open anything ending in .XXXx

" 3.1 failed to deliver on its promise of better Microsoft Office interoperability. Severely mangling our Microsoft Office and Microsoft Excel test data files" Obviously other people have had different experiences than I have. That being said, I have never heard of OpenOffice (or any of its developers) promise perfect "interoperability" with Microsoft Office. Did OpenOffice 3.1 have better Microsoft Office support than OpenOffice 3.0? Yes, it did.

"I've had students who turned in files that they've converted from OpenOffice with formatting problems that affect their grade" I'm in my senior year of college right now, I've been using OpenOffice for all four years - I'm an A student. If you are truly worried about formatting issues, click that little "export to pdf" button when you finish typing your paper.

"When I open a spreadsheet it can take ten times times longer in (calc) than in Microsoft Excel" Was it an ods (open document) file? If not, then I apologize that the engineers have yet to fully reverse engineer the closed Microsoft format.

"Our employees where frustrated because and our over all IT environment prevented them from being more productive. New employees lacked applications' use skills. That significantly increased the employees adaptation period and adversely affected their operational efficiency" I think I covered these points already, but in case you missed it: Get your people (and more importantly your IT staff) trained in whatever software they will be using. Would you expect an automobile mechanic to be able to work on a 747?

"Our users' familiarity with the Microsoft Office interface and the uniformity of the different application tools have minimized calls to the help desk" Office 07 looks nothing like Office 03 and I still know people that refuse to change over to the new system. Now I know Office 07 and 03 are fairly uniform within themselves, but then so is

"By using Microsoft Office 2007 we have reduced the internal support costs significantly because our staff is familiar with this system. This increases acceptance and job satisfaction" You know why they are familiar with that system? Because they where trained to use that system. For the third time - regardless of the software you choose to use, your employees needs to be trained in its use! People get upset when you put something in front of them that they don't know how to use.

"The company paid to much for using open-code of software" And yet none of these quotes talk about the actual monetary amounts they spent! Just that it was "too much".

"efficiency of operations was decreasing" Get - your - people - TRAINED.

"I don't necessarily agree that open source is a free product" You are entitled to whatever backwards opinions you would like. "There are always costs related to: support, standardization, and compatibility" This is true, but wouldn't it be better to have a free product that you then have to pay for support for? As opposed to a product you pay for and then have to still pay for support for?

"When we returned to Microsoft Office after our experience with OpenOffice you could practically hear a collective sigh of relief across the entire district" I bet their people where trained in using Microsoft Office, but never had one class for OpenOffice.

Were did all these quotes come from? None other than twelve Microsoft cases studies (You can find a full list/links to these on ArsTechnica). When watching the video you will also notice clever advertising tricks such as a brown colored background whenever they are speaking about OpenOffice and a pleasant blue colored background whenever Microsoft Office is mentioned. This video is nothing other than pure FUD, plain and simple. If Microsoft really does love open source they have a strange way of showing it.

~Jeff Hoogland

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ubuntu 10.04 E17 LiveDVD

The Enlightenment foundation libraries (EFL) recently reached beta status after having been marked as alpha software for a decade. If you are unfamiliar with what EFL are, they can be summed up in a single quote from their front page:

"Enlightenment is not just a window manager for Linux/X11 and others, but also a whole suite of libraries to help you create beautiful user interfaces"

Enlightenment is easily my favorite Linux desktop environment and I feel it has not gotten the attention it deserves from distro developers largely due to it's long time alpha status. In fact the only Linux distributions with recent releases utilizing the Enlightenment desktop are the Slackware based Austrumi and PCLinuxOS.

Ubuntu Linux is my distro of choice for desktop usage and as such I felt it was wrong that there are no recent releases of it that come pre-configured with an Enlightenment desktop. Sure, there is MoonOS - but this is based on the no longer supported Ubuntu 9.04 - and then there is OpenGEU, which is based on the even older Ubuntu 8.10. There is also always the compiling from source option, but this is timely and something not most beginners want to attempt.

Now for the point of this post, I would like to announce the release of a pet project I have been working on for the last week:

This is an Ubuntu 10.04 based LiveDVD that is configured to have a usable Enlightenment desktop. I started off with an Ubuntu minimal CD, compiled and installed a stable build of E17 from SVN, configured the desktop to look beautiful, and then setup a default application set that should be able to accomplish the tasks of most every user.

You will notice that I use many Gnome/GTK tool sets in place of some of the default E17 ones, this is because I feel they do a better job of accomplishing their given task. I did this because while E17 is wonderfully pretty, I want the desktop to be as usable as possible. PCManFM is the default file manager, Shutter is included to take screen-shots, and parcellite is included as a light-weight clipboard manager. This release also includes non-free software such as Adobe Flash, Sun Java, multi-media codecs, and Skype (if there is an interest I will compile a version of the DVD excluding all non-free components).

The DVD is a 1.4 gb download that is currently being shared via a torrent download. You can find the 005 32bit release here. If you can spare the bandwidth please seed the torrent after downloading it.

And finally, a screen shot of what the desktop looks like:

I am not done working on this disc, so changes will be made over time. I am open to suggestions for improving the over all look/feel/functionality of the live disc - so if you give it a spin please leave some feed back! Also while this is a Live DVD, it is installable. So if you like it - feel free to make it your everyday desktop operating system :)

Looking for something more minimalistic? Check out Bodhi Linux!

~Jeff Hoogland

Saturday, October 2, 2010

HOWTO: Install Firefox 4 on Ubuntu or any Linux Distro

Firefox 4 is almost ready for prime time! It offers lots of new features and is currently in beta. As such not all distributions have installer packages for it (and those that do don't always update them right away). Another problem with these builds (on Ubuntu and several other distros at least) is that they brand their beta Firefox package not as "Firefox", but as whatever code name the project has. This causes some websites, such as Facebook, to detect it as an unknown browser and thus disable some functionality (not to mention it will also confuse non-tech people that sit down in front of your computer).

Now I know there are always the nightly builds, but these are extremely bleeding edge and I personally don't care to have to run a system upgrade every single day. The following is an easy way to install the latest stable beta version of Firefox on any Linux distribution.

First -
Odds are your Linux distribution has a Firefox package (albeit and older version), install this package so your system will automatically install all of Firefox's dependencies through your package manager.

For example on a Ubuntu based distribution you would run the following in terminal:

sudo apt-get install firefox

Second -
Download the latest beta package of Firefox from here.

Finally -
Open a terminal and run the following commands in order (note these instructions assume you download the Firefox archive in step 2 to your ~/Downloads folder):

cd ~/Downloads
tar xjf firefox-*.tar.bz2
cd firefox
sudo mv /usr/bin/firefox /usr/bin/firefox-old
sudo ln -s ~/Downloads/firefox/firefox /usr/bin/firefox

You are all set! The Firefox icon in your menu will now launch the beta version of Firefox you just downloaded. There are two important things to note when installing Firefox via this method. First - Your older version of Firefox is install installed, if you want to use it for some reason just run firefox-old in terminal. Second, the version of Firefox we installed will not be updated through your system's package manager - it will however handle it's own updates just fine.

~Jeff Hoogland