Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 the year of techno surprizes

It always amazes me about the speed at which consumer products come and go. When I was born, 1951, radio was king and TV was new stuff. Now we can not only receive broadcast video, we can record and playback stuff on our TV's as well. All of this video technology is changing, we are talking digital broadcast, high-def and of course DVD formats. We have an assortment of equipment from single purpose units to various combo boxes like a TV with built-in DVD/VCR and multi-channel sound. I grew up fussing over audio components and now have to contend with video, computer and with gaming stuff too. Still, today you can't seem to have it all with one integrated system, as there are so many options and interest groups to focus on. This is in reality how we progress, on many fronts at the same time. Are there some things I like to see? Well, in the computer arena, change has been slow because you must have standards so that all the equipment and software can interact and work together. I always thought some good ideas needed to be revisited because the technology has improved. Back in the day quite a few computers had two floppy's. One was used for the operating system and one for data. Today we put it all on one humongous hard drive. When the drive or OS crashes or gets corrupted your data is always doomed to be lost. I thought it be safer to separate the operating system from the data. Since we now have cheap 2 to 8 gig flash drives, why not put the OS on a flash drive. It would be faster, swappable, upgradeable, etc and more than one OS could fit on it if you want. It could be a plug-in card or USB port which is due to be upgraded shortly. Just think, this could be done today and we wouldn't have to wait for a huge and costly solid-state drive to be developed. With some versions of Linux being available as a live-CD, this can be had today if you can boot from your flash drive. Not needing a huge hard drive for the computer itself means computers could be designed a little greener. Then designers can get to work on consumer network data storage units, which in reality should be transparent to any operating system. This network storage unit makes the idea of a "home server" kind of a redundant money making scheme.
Another thing I would like to see is an ethernet/router card (4 jacks) that fits in a PCI slot. Powered by the computer means one less power cord.
Being an old guy, I don't like too many changes but that touch pad on laptops I hope will not make a mouse obsolete, my fingers are not that nimble. I like my Wacom pad with wireless mouse.
Like with race cars, the extreme technology eventually filters down into the lives of the rest of us in some form. We have cell phones that take pictures but we are still leery of picture phones. It would stress out all of us if we had to always keep up appearances when ever we got a call. But with the computer I am surprised we don't have regular phone service with our Internet service standard. Especially if we have cable or DSL.
Well, there are lots of things to pick at in techno land and it remains as exciting as the days of crystal radios and morris code. If you have the bucks you can get there first but after the hype and dust settles is when you see what's the good stuff and what's a pet rock.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

can Ubuntu survive the desktop?

In the latest skirmish for the desktop at least on the Linux front, Ubuntu has the perceived lead. But there is trouble under the surface. Ubuntu which has the Gnome desktop has the continued backing of the Ubuntu designers while Kubuntu which has the KDE desktop is waning. Seems a little thing but KDE seems not able to keep up with the Ubuntu release schedule. KDE is pushing for version 4.0 to be ready for prime time but it is not soon enough for the next release of Ubuntu coming your way. It is not a good thing to have a large part of your user base cut off. I am so surprised at this situation, it begs for the obvious solution. The Ubuntu folks need to return to the Linux idea.
Return to the idea that any desktop or window manager can be used. The present trend toward integrating a particular desktop into Linux results in moving on to a different distribution by users who don't like the desktop. The desktop is not Linux, only the user interface. In the Ubuntu world it is so apparent that users like the whole Ubuntu scenario but want the desktop of their own choosing. If I were trying to insure the continued success of Ubuntu Linux I would pay attention to what users are demanding, GUI choice and a Linux that will run on anything. Personally I believe that both KDE and Gnome desktops are way too big and try to embrace everything all users want. So, what do I recommend? Make Linux better fit to use any desktop or window manager. You might have to sacrifice integration via libraries and devise a more transparent way for the desktop to access Linux. It is all so complicated because all the players are entrenched in their own development worlds. My final stroke has been to use Xfce desktop which is a little less than either KDE or Gnome but is more gratifying to deal with on a daily basis. Linux should not become like Apple or Microsoft, just a third choice of an homogenized product line. What makes Linux is its ability to be configured to the hardware and to the user. One size does not fit all. What direction will Linux makers and users go is so exciting and a work in progress. Computing is still pretty young as technologies go and it isn't the answer to all man's woes as some have hoped but you have to admit cool things are happening.

Monday, December 24, 2007

the personal PC in a multi-media role

In my last blog I took a poke at what was coming in the PC world. There are some psychological battles that have been at the front of all this change. The computer has been for some time a one user at a time kind of machine since the beginning. Even though gamers have managed two players on a machine still it is a one user at a time kind of thing. To put the computer as the center of your entertainment system puts it in a multi-user environment. This crosses the line of the idea of a personal computer as much of the software written for the computer is for one user at a time. If this computer is your only household computer, then the battle for usage time is on. Have computers really gotten so cheap that any household can afford more than one? This usually means that if a computer is to be the media center it must be a dedicated machine, unless you are not sharing with others. But what the heck, even poor me has more than one computer, so I could turn one into a glorified TV/radio/HiFi. Why would you do this anyway?
I think it is the thrill of doing it yourself with things you are familiar with and making all the parts work together. The idea of having one machine handle all of your media also calls into play the possibility of putting it all on a network and being able to access all your files on any computer in the house. And to top it all off, you would probably find that costs for computer parts are comparable to stand alone entertainment system components. You have to think a circuit board, enclosure and power supply vs a circuit board that plugs into a slot on the computer you already own. You might see a cost savings or better quality. Why explore this stuff? I myself like many people are on the cusp of buying a new TV anyway because of the analog to digital changeover coming in 2009. Looking at all the little boxes that set next to my old TV, the VCR, CD player and all the attachments and cords, I have a great desire to integrate it all into one easily changeable system. I am just talking about the basics here but if you have cable TV or satellite then you can guess at the possibilities in front of you. Many are so enthralled by the prospects of a home theater and buy the big screen and surround sound system but it doesn't exclude folks of modest means and smaller egos from enjoying the current technology. Yes, I still enjoy my 19 inch analog TV which still works and will have to buy a new one or buy a conversion box, but I am looking into a digital video tuner card to plug into a computer to see what the costs is like. My computer also has DVD/CD and other media connections that are handy and economical compared to stand alone components. There is one question to be concerned with. Will the computer be reliable enough and maintenance free compared to stand alone components? Should I buy or build a Microsoft, Apple or Linux system? This is up to your preference because each system has its strengths and shortcomings and also tries to lock you into their product lines. What are you willing to deal with when you need support? A great product with a slacker support system makes for a very unhappy customer no matter what the cost of your system. In any event a computer offers a chance to blend the technologies to your needs and a central point of access, less power cords, etc.
Yeah, this is not cutting edge stuff but still, style makers and trend setters can't have all the fun. Eventually an idea becomes practical for the rest of us. Do-it-yourselfers jump on it then before you know it out comes a better consumer product for the masses.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Crystal ball gazing, the view from here

From my rather dim vantage point I couldn't help wondering where all this technology is taking us. I of course am just skimming the surface of things to come. What got me thinking was a Ford car ad on television. It said stuff rather briefly about voice control for Bluetooth gadgets and Microsoft. Two of the most used gadgets in the world today is the TV remote and the cell phone. It had occurred to me that a possibility exists to wed the cell phone, which already has absorbed personal digital assistant (PDA) functions, with the TV universal remote, which controls the home entertainment system. Add to this a connection to the home/business computer and security and environmental systems and you have quite a bit of power at your finger tips. Today this collaboration can be had for a price but as the idea seeps down into the lives of everyday folks we can expect it to become common place. Several things keep us from diving headfirst into this. Controlled access, security, and privacy rights come to mind. Did I forget the obvious, who makes the money? Years ago, personal computers were just a dream, now we want to put our collections of VHS tapes and DVD discs on home servers to network to our PC powered entertainment systems. Soon we will have voice control because we already talk on the cell phone. What's is it to add some software to connect to our systems and issue commands. The iPhone even replaces the mouse with a touch screen and the Wii game control does mouse in 3d space. What's the difference between voice mail and email, probably spellcheck. Spellcheck can be automatic and translated into any language on the fly. There will be and perhaps is, Rosetta stone software for both speech and text. Lets see, Bluetooth and wireless ethernet, what is it we can not connect to? You have to look at what's disappearing and what's appearing. Phone booths, pay phones are rare because of cell phones and flash drives made floppy's obsolete. Laptops can now play games that one time could only be played on a high powered desktop. On various levels we blend the technologies but no one seems to embrace a grand picture at least not in the general publics' eye. Still we dream the dreams through movies that are prophetic and in company boardrooms. When I came on the scene the TV was new and now we will see the technology change from analog to digital. This will allow the technologies to merge closer. All will fight harder to define their digital rights. Rights to control, rights to access, rights to create, suspend, and delete. And of course, who makes the money. What happens to the medium of exchange will also be up for grabs. This is something that concerns us all. Who controls the controllers who control the controls and what is the worth of a human being?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Linux challange, comparing oranges with organges.

I finally got my old standby computer running and connected to my main brain. It's one of those home-brew, first love kind of machines. 850mhz, AMD Duron with 256mb of ram and a ATI Radeon 7200 video card, not an extreme machine by any means. It has Win98se and Wolvix Linux on the 20gig hard drive. You all know Win98se but the Wolvix is one of those smallish Linux distros with the Xfce desktop. Wolvix is Slackware based which is the oldest of the Linux distros and has a reputation of being a challenge even to seasoned Linux users. Wolvix is a mix of the old formats and new Linux strategies. It even has a program called Slapt-get like the Debian's Apt-get to handle program dependencies, a well known problem with the Slackware packaging system. What turned me on to Wolvix was the Xfce desktop. Though it is growing as it matures, Xfce is a light weight GUI compared to KDE and Gnome.
Now I don't want folks to get the idea that I hate KDE or Gnome, I just like and prefer Xfce. The point I am making, once again, is that Linux is a Linux is a Linux. My main brain has WinXP Pro and Xubuntu on it. Comparing Win98se to WinXP Pro is a night/day upgrade kind of thing. Comparing the two newer versions of Linux is almost like a mirror, but Xubuntu is Debian and Wolvix is Slackware. If you listen to some people you'd get the idea of extreme differences. But in reality the main struggle a user handles, besides the package format, is the GUI. The GUI is the look and feel thingy that most users squabble over. If you put your favorite GUI on any of the basic Linuxes, (rpm, debian, or tar.gz), a lot of the hassles of the other guys, seem to go away. The GUI makes the hidden part of Linux somewhat transparent. I say seem to and somewhat because some people are really picky.
Anyway, Xfce makes Xubuntu and Wolvix identical in look and feel. Now debian and tar.gz systems both have their advantages and short comings, also some things might not be available in one format or the other. So you have to examine what's there to see what is the right combo for your needs. And on top of that if you are inclined to tinker with code, you could convert a package to another format or compile the source code to run on your computer. This is all possible because underneath the GUI it is just Linux. In fact, you really don't need the GUI to run Linux at all. The GUI is there for our comfort and enjoyment. I only mentioned Xfce, KDE and Gnome, there are quite a few other window managers for Linux that are popular as well. I am going to end it here, I just want you to realize that the GUI is the look and feel part of the thing we call Linux.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The lay of the Linux Landscape

If I am not mistaken, it was Henry Ford who not only established the production line as a fixture in American industry but also set in the American mind what constitutes product development. The rather linear approach to design and development ultimately concluded with one product, done well, no choice.
The publics answer to this was to develop an after-market industry to provide options that met all the varied taste and desires. Applied to the hardware side of computers, we have a few standards that regulate what a PC is to provide because companies have the ability to introduce new stuff with the intention to capture more of the market. PC hardware is not the "Wild West" it once was. Software on the other hand is a little more fluid than hardware. Just when Apple and Microsoft, which are firmly rooted in the American way of doing things, have established what constitutes an Operating System, someone from the outside invents an Operating System by a different means. This is Linux. With Apple or Microsoft, they provide a product, like it or not, and the after-market provides the options. With Linux it seems the production people and the after-market people are the same people. What brought all this up was that I was browsing the Internet after asking a question. What was the best low resource Linux. I uncovered many, many opinions, probably the result of having too much choice. What stood out was that many people like choice but not the choices. People like that Linux can provide so many solutions yet aren't satisfied because it is not "exactly" what they want. With Apple or Microsoft you buy a product which in reality only gets you permission to use it, and then get after-market add-ons to make up for lacking variety or you acquire Linux. With Linux you yourself have the right to configure it to your hearts content, even to the point of rewriting the code. But there is a point at which choice becomes a headache. Take Ubuntu Linux as an example. Ubuntu is a very good Linux but doesn't quite allow you to seamlessly install any desktop or window manager you want. So folks have developed GUI specific Ubuntu's to provide solutions. There is Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu, and a couple more. Of course some people are not happy with this and demand a unified approach to Ubuntu while still having a choice of GUI's. You have to see that because Ubuntu is so popular folks want to have it yet they want it according to what they think is cool. Other Linux distributions suffer a little less from this malady because they are known to support only a particular GUI. This is a curious thing, if you offer a vast assortment of choices, people complain they can't find what they want. If you offer one thing they put up and shut up.

What my original question points out is that the majority of people interested in Linux want a simple solution like what Apple or Microsoft provides yet still have it tailored to their particular wants. So I would say to the Linux community that Linux needs to allow for a more seamless integration of user choices. Parts or modules that fit well and don't break the system when added or removed.

In Linux user choices have grown so they don't fit on a single CD any more. This is why on-line repositories are so important. Why force users to download a DVD's worth of software only to have it obsoleted by upgrades anyway? Red Hat are you listening? So what that you can't provide every choice on one CD. You can provide a basic working system on one CD and supply options on another or in a repository. I really admire the Linux distributions that are smallish like Wolvix and Puppy Linux. They prove that small can be better and still allow you to add all the bloat you want. Let's see, a basic working system to which you could seamlessly add or delete the stuff you want. That is the best you could get with any product. The smallish Linux distributions do other things that the big, full featured, all inclusive ones don't. Like run great on older and low resource hardware or fit on a jump drive. And it is so much easier to add things than delete them. There is a tendency for software makers to add more functionality and features to programs as they age. This results in your favorite zippy application becoming a resource hog eventually. I heard this was the case with Xfce desktop which is still, in my opinion, pretty lean compared to KDE. It is a tough job to design software to fit such a diverse group as Linux users.

I hope Linux doesn't loose its' "Lego" nature or the "kit" mentality needed by users. I hope Linux doesn't evolve into a product of limited scope and usefulness. I also hope the trend to always put a name on various new configurations (distributions) of Linux doesn't distract from the fact that it's still Linux. User opinion is fuel for the media. Users argue over which GUI is better or leaner. They vie over the package formats and the installation tools and of course drivers and codecs. The result of all this is 400+ different and named distributions of Linux. Is this dissatisfaction with or innovation in Linux? What you can say is that users are a huge part of the dialog that causes Linux to evolve. Even though the business model that produced Apple and Microsoft products is considered the way things are done the world over, it is refreshing to see that things done differently can also produce a viable solution to computing needs. Perhaps the real solution is somewhere between one size fits all and custom made.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sharing the pain of a new PC

It was an exciting day, my daughter's new laptop PC came today. I was all swelled up with anticipation and emailed her with the news. I asked her if I could unwrap it and play a little with it. Laptops are all contained unless you buy all the extra doodads. I read over all the papers and plugged it in. Soon after turning it on I woke up to the fact this is a MS Windows machine. It has Vista on it and boy was it slow booting up. Well, that was the first boot. It would have been sweet if it weren't for the registration and user agreement screens. I'll let my daughter get into those things, the updates and anti-virus stuff. Yes it has the new Office 2007 and a bunch of other useful software on it and I was well aware of how much it cost to do that. Monopoly produced sticker shock takes the fun out of everything. I really like getting more bang for my buck.
I guess I am a bit old school, I like my desktop over a laptop. The all in one units are a maintenance risk and are fragile. Laptops are a known flight risk, you have to tie them to the desk at work or school. What I do like about laptops is that they are greener than desktops and use less power. I don't know about being recyclable. What is the worst thing about laptops, that finger driven mouse pad. If you have a low level of manual dexterity, like myself, get a real mouse. And those two mouse pad buttons are often too sensitive, making unintended selections. Also the keyboard is a nightmare till you can find all the hidden functions. Let's see, floppies are gone and so are PS/2 ports, so you can't use that "old hardware" without adapters. Progress is getting away from this old boy, I may have to update someday, but not today.

What is in the future of PC's? Just think, a PC today could run Linux or Apple or Microsoft OS's on the same hardware and I think the only difference between them is the ROM for Apple's OS. Then add in solid state flash hard drives (coming soon). The desktop PC will slowly go away and the laptop will become the standard but they must get rid of that stupid mouse pad. Look for the PC to be the base station for your PDA, electronically linking you to all your data, email and phone. Hummm... wearable PC's and voice control are still in the future. We are slowly being assimilated.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Looking at Cad on Linux a little deeper.

As I have said using Linux as a engineering desktop can be a bit of a frustration. There a number of well developed programs for circuit design and pc board design but for drawing wiring diagrams and regular 2d drafting there is not much to speak of. Yes, there is Qcad, a free 2D drafting program that runs natively on Linux. But so far everybody who has written about it only says that it is easy to use. I would like to hear from someone who is actually using it. You know, a step by step, play by play description of using it. That would be very sweet. I did run into another possibility and that is to run a MS Windows based Cad program in Linux with Wine. Now it is not a perfect solution as there are little gotchas when using Wine. The first problem is committing to using the program in the first place. This means paying for it. Deciding which Cad program is not so easy. There are very few free Cad programs on any platform. Free is often reserved for time limited trials and crippled demos. It is even hard to find copies of old software on the Internet. These companies realize that Cad software is used to make money and they watch very closely how the programs are distributed so they can make money also. So, what is the problem? For architectural and mechanical design work, which covers the most Cad use, a full featured 2d/3d cad package can handle all the work. For electrical design a 2d package can usually handle the work. It is such a waste to pay for the full featured package and only use a small portion of it. Most Cad software companies have addressed this situation by offering a "lite" version, but it still cost something. The second problem is knowing if the program will run under Wine without headaches. On the Wine web site there is a list of programs known to run under Wine, it is not extensive. This does not mean it will not run, just that it is not documented. So, let's see, you have to pay for a Cad program but if you don't need the big full featured Cad you can buy the lite version. Then you must know if it will run under Wine if you are using Linux. I will add to this if you install the program and you can not use your peripherals to your ideal of comfort, you might have to make adjustments or forget it. I used one program and my wireless mouse did not respond correctly, so I had to bring out the PS/2 mouse. Sometimes under Wine, some parts of a program do not function smoothly or at all. It depends on the program. Especially when using a productivity type program, look and feel is very important. Now on my Linux desktop I am trying out Qcad, which is a free Linux based cad and PowerCad which is also called FelixCad and is a MS windows platform product. PowerCad is free for a limited time and so far I do not know of its limitations. I think the time limited versions of software are cool to tryout and learn from but the cost of ownership is often too high. For putting around this is good but if you plan to make money using the software you must decide to spend some. Hobbiest, students and other single users can't always justify the cost and the free versions often suffer from lack of the money incentive to be supported and developed. Maybe and perhaps in the future some in the engineering world will embrace the Linux platform and begin to push for tools on it. With myself pursuing my second career, I don't know if I can spend much energy doing Cad work, but I will continue to play with my choices just to have something to rant and rave about. Stay tuned..........

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Cad on the technical desktop

In my latest round of what do you get in Linux I had to let life in the real world leak in a little. I have been for many years an Electrical draftsman and the software of choice in the profession is AutoCad. Now Autocad is only on the Microsoft Windows platform and because it is the industry standard, both Microsoft and Autodesk who makes AutoCad have a monopoly on the technical desktop. This is really apparent when you realize that most electrical cad work is 2D, wiring diagrams and schematics, and have basically have no need for things like parametric dimensioning and 3D capability. So in reality AutoCad is an extreme overkill. I think Autocad is used because of the file formats, DXF and DWG are handled so well. You could get into some 3D work involved with the physical layout and packaging of electrical parts, but for the most part, 2D is the ticket. There are some new Cad programs devised to better handle some electrical drawing tasks for a cheaper cost, but AutoCad pretty much retains a lock on the industry.
What of these other Cad programs? They handle DXF and DWG files with varying degrees of success. When you transfer drawings from one program to another, you can corrupt and or change data, which is not a good thing. So why isn't there a Linux version of AutoCad? There are two reasons. First Linux does not enjoy wide spread use in the tech industry. Then it seems that people who use Linux expect low cost or free software. Of course if a Linux version were the industry standard, you could get people to pay for it. With Linux there is always the question as to whether or not you can get a return on your investment of money, time and energy, which comes first the demand or the development? There is another reason that troubles me. It seems that people who use Linux applications do not develop or support industry user groups beyond the general purpose forums. This is a somewhat fuzzy view because people in the mechanical and architectural disciplines do share lots of information compared to the electrical which is mostly not mentioned.
The question comes up, can you really do Cad in Linux? Yes, by running a MS windows Cad application in a emulator like Wine or in a virtual machine under VirtualBox or VM. And there are a couple of Cad programs that run natively in Linux, namely Qcad and VariCad. Qcad is free and VariCad is not. There is also LinuxCad but I am not hearing good things about that one. Again, what troubles me about Qcad in particular is that everyone talks about it being easy to use but no one who uses it shares enough information about it to get a practical idea about how to use it. There are no Qcad users groups and the makers have left the users to figure it out. VariCad may suffer the same fate but I don't know. To be able to trade notes, symbol blocks, scripts and tips is what makes for an active support community. Right now I question as to if the software is even being used. There are a good number of Linux tools for printed circuit boards and electronic circuit design but simple drafting tools seems to have escaped the platform. The future of Cad on Linux seems iffy.

Now I will say a word to Linux users that may sting a little. Linux is "just" the operating system and means nothing without the applications which run on it. We users need to really around, support and promote the applications that make Linux a worthwhile platform. Perhaps the developers should consider putting among their application web pages, some promotional type pages and market their wares on other web sites. Then develop the user forms into user groups to share stuff that make use of the applications more useful. Linux could be the next great technical platform.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What it seems like, the view from my chair.

I am having some interesting email conversations with a resource person at a local public library. I was browsing through the shelves in the computer section and I could not believe the number of books written about Microsoft products. Talk about redundancy and a glut of information. I believe this is because MS stuff is viewed as the standard that everyone has, both business and home users. It is as if MS products have totally dominated the computing scene and with the libraries help the perception is complete. There is a large array of books on XP and MS Office and before Vista was even warming the shelves, in anticipation there appeared a glut of Vista books and new MS Office books. Well, I really do have it out against Microsoft, but only because they are so big. This library has a few books on Apple products, not as popular and some books on Linux, what's that. So, what is my beef? Every time Microsoft comes out with a new product there is a requirement on the users part to spend more cash on hardware, software, books, and training. The library seems to back this up like an enabling parent. Yet, there are other viable computing solutions in the world besides MS.

I always thought libraries were about the free flow of information and educating the public about history, possibilities of the future and what's going on today. The thought stuck in the back of my head is that some computer companies have the desire and intent to return computing to its roots. This is that we users would access dumb terminals hooked up to large mainframe computers. Of course we have to pay for access and have no control over what is stored on the mainframe. Rights and access would be limited, content controlled and the book "1984" would become a reality, common experience. Heck, we have cable TV and Internet broadband service now, how far a jump would it be to have to pay for computer service also? Desire and intent, who is in control of the direction of technology takes us.

Some how I don't think of Apple as the company to be the juggernaut to hold Microsoft in check, after all they have carved out a niche for themselves. In the computing world there has always been a faction of those outside of the making money business. Who knows, they might even develop into a Jobs or a Gates, spearheading a company. Anyway, they just became a part of the movement because they like to code and solve computer problems. They wanted to do it themselves, not waiting for some company to do it or even because they thought their solution was better than what companies offered. Some are so caught up in who thought it first, who has right to develop the idea and who profits from it. Jobs and Gates started out with the liberty to process an idea and wound up fighting to keep you from doing the same. But what if you didn't process your idea with the intent to make money or you shared your idea freely with others who had the same drive, the same desire as you. Would that idea be processed without the aid of a so-called company or commercial entity? I really marvel at the way Linux and open source software came about. I also remember that personal computing began with the sharing of free software between persons. I am so glad that spirit has not been killed off by the greed to make money off of everything. There is room in the world for free stuff.

We have in our recent history embraced the backyard mechanic, the do it yourself handyman and everyone and his momma has a cellphone and can "text", yet computer savvy folks are still gurus, geeks, nerds and techies. A lesser species who violate patents, product warranties, end user agreements and pirates without effort. And when they take their own handiwork and share them with the public, they become criminals subversive to the way things are done in business and a threat to the bottom line. And when you yourself use that approved code that you have paid for from a certified company, are you really getting anything better than what has been labeled as renegade code? How would you know, after all you don't have the ability to examine both products under the microscope. And you don't really care about the motives of the company supplying the code or the consequences of having it. You just want it to work. It is too bad a big and influential company like Microsoft wouldn't/couldn't put out a unbiased comparison report of computing solutions like what Progressive Insurance advertises they do. Honest assessments of ones competition is not the way business is done.
Well, I can not vouch for Progressive, but historically Microsoft is unlikely to give a fair review.

So having said all of the above, is it worth being bothered with open source software or this thing called Linux? I guess you will have to educate yourself and decide. The value of anything becomes apparent by using it. This is true in the computing world and in much of life.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jobs, Gates and Torvalds, Icons of computing history

You know when it comes to the history of the popular and personal computer, images of two people comes into my head, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. These two are life long soul mates of sorts in the short but colorful history of the personal computer. They inflict on each other wounds of friendly fire in commercials for the public to side up to their respective company's products. The actors who portray them resemble them so closely that even in caricature we are deluded to believe the rivary between them is real. In them and in their rivary we compare their companies and their products as if they themselves embody the reason to choose between them. They carry on and via for the public's attention and dollars to the exclusion of anything else going on in the computer world. To most people, at least to my knowledge, Apple and Microsoft are the two left standing after all the rest have come and gone. With Microsoft being the defacto standard and Apple being the official alternative platform, you would think commercial success would indicate the user has gotten the best and brightest a user could ask for. Fortunately computing history has more stories than just about Jobs and Gates. Let's see, before computers became personal, there was this thing called Unix which ran on university and government mainframe computers. Being inaccessible to most and expensive to all, it was not destined to be put on something so insignificant as a personal computer. Yet there was this bit of code called Minix and the desire of a guy, his name Linus Torvalds. He wanted to write an free operating system that would run on this personal computer. I won't get into who came first the chicken or the egg, but the development and use of Linux grew up along side of Microsoft Windows and Apple Macs, yet in the background. From the get go, Microsoft and Apple were business ventures, but Linux was the backroom project, the passion of folks who just like to code. The rest is history, only you have to insist that the ones telling it include the whole story, not just the popular parts. It seems romance and legions have not been forth coming in including Linux. Even Jobs and Gates have refused to include Torvalds publicly (in commercials). After all, Jobs and Gates were friends first then rivals. Who the heck is Torvalds anyway? And who ever heard of the Dynamic Trio? In the final analysis, if you look at the circumstances from which Linux came to life, it is a pretty miraculous story with events that are as intriguing as the Jobs and Gates story. But the real thing is the results that are seen and experienced on the desktop, what the user sees. If you are not totally blinded by the Jobs and Gates story, you might enjoy the inclusion of the Torvalds story. And you might even enjoy the fruits of his initial labor. It seems that Jobs and Gates are admired for their business savvy which have driven the production of the products we see on the desktop today. We don't seem to acknowledge Torvalds who has driven Linux to the same desktop result by a different set of rules. This story is far from over, stay tuned.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

KDE, Gnome, Xfce or what desktop you like

After re-installing my XP and Xubuntu Linux systems I couldn't help wondering what the next step in desktop design would look like. All eyes once again have turned to Apple. Actually Apple can not really make a claim to fame for having the most original desktop, the new Leopard OS desktop has features that have been introduced in Linux years ago. But Apple can say they have perfected and extended an idea that Linux folks should have developed further. I'm talking about a desktop icon docking system. If you are familiar with Linux at all, you might recall Window Maker had a docking system. Anyway Apple has taken the string of icons, in reality application launchers , and integrated the file system with them. Sort of like drawers that pop out of the icon revealing the contents of the folders behind them. It is very sweet once you learn to work it. Sounds like Window Maker? For one thing, Apples' Leopard Desktop is polished to perfection and is the one to emulate. Is there any hope for Linux? Well, as we speak or write, there is a load of icon docks for Linux. Some have sought to copy Apple's look and feel and some not. Please, don't get into the rip-off and copy-cat argument, borrowing ideas is a big part of the computing industry. If we felt that about ink pens we would still be using quills.
As usual, Linux folk aline themselves with a desktop environment. Kool Dock, Ksmooth Dock, Kira Dock, KX Docker, Tuxbar, and a couple of others are all compatible with KDE. Avant Window Navigator and Enlightenment's Engage will work with any window manager. XFCE has a built-in icon bar. Each of these icon docks have an assortment of features and requirements. Some require the support of special video drivers to do what is called compositing. This makes for transparency and animation and such. I myself am a little shy on the special effects. It's a resource thing. Of course I am amazed that Enlightenment has a history of doing special effects without special drivers. The Engage dock comes in two packages. One integrated into the Enlightenment desktop and one stand alone program. The stand alone program is sort of hard to find. They are not pushing it out there. Then there is Avant Window Navigator (AWN). It is absolutely beautiful, like Apples' dock system. AWN is still kind of new, buggy for some and is being sought after by many. I hope they develop it more and put it out there for us to enjoy. From what I understand, AWN does require special sauce to work. Then lastly there is the icon bar in XFCE. This is what I am using now. It is not a real looker or is it tweakable to the degree that the other icon bars are. I tried the transparency and shadowing effects and was not impressed. Xfce is a low resource user, but I hear that more development is on the way. Oh, by the way, MS Windows users are not really left out, there are a few Apple like icon bars for Windows. RKLauncher which I have used is pretty cool. The single click icons are such a relief over the double click ones. I don't exactly know just how much you can do to a desktop, because the object is to get at your files and stuff. It all has to be very usable. But as software developers try new tricks and revisit rough old ideas, we users get new desktops to rave about.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Picking at the scabs of old wounds XP vs Linux

Nothing but nothing test your techie mantle like repairing or re-installing an operating system. I want to say to all those who have never done it, you are under the illusion of a plug-n-play dream. I mentioned before that my MS Windows XP installation failed. I thought it was my playing with Grub, a Linux boot loader. Actually it was some corrupted XP system files. There was no change with Grub config files, MS Windows XP just would not boot. So first I tried to use the thoughtfully prepared recovery disk set I made (13 CDs) and then the HP recovery tools included with my PC. Neither worked at all. I discovered that if you have stuff like extra drives, printers and such, disconnect them. Recognizing your equipment is something recovery tools don't do well. In my case, there was no recovery, I had to re-install everything. Now comes the fun and you learn why some operating systems are better that others. At one time, when MS Windows was still attached to DOS, you could boot into DOS mode and do disk repair and maintenance. You could load the tools onto a floppy and fix stuff. Now you can not, period. I relied on Linux tools to partition and format my disk. The MS recovery tools could not read my disk arrangement until my extra drive was removed. Since I was re-installing everything anyway I made the XP partition smaller and the Linux partition bigger. I kept the HP loaded XP Home install archieve partition even though it was useless in my recovery efforts. I wish they just could have given me an XP Home CD instead. Microsoft dosen't want you to own anything you might put on more than one computer, I guess. It was a good thing I had an official XP Pro CD. The XP install went fine and then came the service packs and upgrades. As expected MS XP owns the computer and there is little to accomodate another operating system on the same computer. (Why would I do that anyway?) Well, when I made the partitions, I made a couple formatted for Linux. MS Windows can't even see them without help. I installed Xubuntu Linux, simply and straightforward, downloaded the upgrade files and the programs I liked. Xubuntu Linux installs GRUB but didn't ask me where or if I wanted it. MS XP does have multiboot ability from its NT heirtage but could not find the Linux boot files. You must go through hell to figure out how to find and edit the XP boot.ini file. But Grub is very handy, easy to edit and if you don't put it in the master boot record, XP won't overwrite it, ever. Long story short, it all works. So, comparing MS XP and Xubuntu Linux, I'd say their installs were nearly equal, but Microsoft needs to include the disk prep tools in a place where you can easily use them. Also it is so disheartening to agree to so many end user agreements while installing MS Windows. Linux does not have that except for Java and some multimedia plug-ins. Sorry there is no cost savings, I already owned the MS XP CD. Most people get their Microsoft OS pre-installed so it seems free. But if you build and load from scratch, Linux can be had for free and used freely. I had fun doing all this stuff and now have a great running machine. One more thing, if you ever have to open the computer case to disconnect a drive, vaccum it out. I now know where dust bunnies come from.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

New kid among old friends on the web browser scene

Well, I still have yet to fix MS XP, I working on it. In the mean time I fell into an interesting entanglement. I've been using Firefox as my browser of choice for some time because I value my freedom from Microsoft Internet Explorer. It's more than a security question to me. Before that I entertained myself with Netscape which I thought came to an end after competing with Internet Explorer. I thought all development had stopped on Netscape and that Firefox under the hand of Mozilla took over. I was looking at a web site which said it was compatible with Internet Explorer and Netscape version 8. What, Netscape didn't die? It just so happened Netscape version 9 has also been compiled for Linux. I had to have it. I found out that it is a twin to Firefox, there is no apparent functional difference between the two except for the obvious brand name which shows that Netscape is in cahoots with AOL. Now that's a twist. I don't know all the background details but it leaves me to wonder why there should be two web browsers so alike under development. Kind of redundant, ya think? Now in this new kid on the block called Flock. Yeah, it's sort of like Firefox and Netscape only it is a little more in your face. Its claim to fame is that it has a social focus. There are direct links to blogs and Youtube and other interactive social web sites. Being a little better and a little different than Firefox, you'd think it would be better received by the user community. Time will tell I guess. I like Flock because it offers a little more access, but it's not a giant leap forward by any one's standard. So why would you need or want more than one web browser on your computer? My thought is that there is always one pesky web site that just won't read right in my browser of choice. I need another point of view. Alas, there are still some web site builders who think MS Internet Explorer is the standard. Not so folks!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What's up in my world of Linux?

Let's see, I am a cat person, I play with Linuxes named after dogs and then I use a window manager whose symbol is a mouse. Can't seem to get my loyalities straight. Somehow in the mix of things I've lost the use of my MS XP install. I think it is a GRUB problem but I'm not sure. When you mess around too much with a boot loader, strange things can happen. So, while I investigate a solution I'm not missing XP a bit. Linux provides all the comforts of home, except for a couple of gov web sites that rely on MS Internet Explorer to work right. In school we learned, first rule of good web design is that you must believe not every one uses Microsoft Internet Explorer. You must consider a wider audience. Linux has a number of very good web browsers, Firefox is my choice. I am told it has fewer security holes. I am not a big fan of integration. When you integrate too much into one system it is easier to break and more complicated to fix. Then, when something does break the whole system is crippled or non-functioning. Remember those TV/VHS combo units. Components cost a little more but when you need service you don't bring the whole setup in, just the part that's broke. Hey, maybe it's XP that's broke and I need to re-install it, again!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Narrowing down the choice in Linux

You know I really wish there was a directory that listed all the available Linux software in one place and reviews so that it would be a little easier to explore what's out there. You could find it in Synaptic (the package installer) after you install it but not so much before you install Linux. Anyway I switched from Kubuntu Linux to Xubuntu Linux last week. Kubuntu has the KDE desktop which is a large complete desktop environment. I doesn't lack for much in the way of installed software and is configurable for a variety of looks. I liked it but thought that it perhaps was too much, too big, like MS Windows. The Gnome desktop environment which comes with Ubuntu is also complete and has a large footprint like KDE. It is a little less configurable than KDE. Xubuntu has the Xfce desktop. It, in comparison to KDE and Gnome is leaner and is less of a resource hog. It is faster, snappier and even less configurable than Gnome. It probably could stand some theme work, but it is OK. I like Xfce because it is a solid design whose elements don't get in the way (less integration). I was a little disappointed with Xubuntu because it was skimpy with the installed applications. They could have taken a page from the Wolvix playbook, small but adequate. I did take the liberty to add the applications I like. Xubuntu is like Ubuntu only it is like driving with a standard shift. It is lacking fully automatic CD mounting and unmounting for one. And another thing is that if you have to edit a file as root you can't just right click it and choose edit as root. You have to use the command line to evoke the editor in root mode. Once you get the work flow down I think it is pretty efficient. Xubuntu does give you a sense of stability. People in software circles talk of polish, look and feel, other subjective things. Xfce is OK for someone who is not overly critical with comparative looks and more into overall resource use. So, for the record, KDE and Gnome both have some amenities that make computing easier. In Xfce you learn to do things a little different, not much. One thing is for certain, Xfce is still growing and developing. It is very impressive that you can do so much with less.

Another thing I did was switch email clients. I am using Thunderbird. I have used Kmail/Kontact, Evolution and a couple of other email programs. Thunderbird does the same things and also lets you insert pictures into the body of the email. That is very handy because pictures as attachments are often not sent in a format that can be read by the reciever. Thunderbird has a number of plug-ins and add-ons to round it out. Pretty good stuff.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Old school Linux made new again - Wolvix

I have to tell that one of the myths of Linux being hard to use has been busted and I am glad. Using a Slackware based distro has never been so easy. Slackware which has a reputation of being the original hacker's toy has been upgraded. I downloaded a program and proceeded to install it via the command line. I immediately entered into "dependency hell". That's when one program needs others to operate and you have to find out what they are and download and install each one. I had forgotten about Slapt-get and its gui front end called Gslapt, installed with Wolvix Linux. I opened Gslapt, added the repository name where I found the program and then the name of the program, fired it up. Gslapt downloaded and installed the program plus the six or so dependency programs it needed to run with one click of the button. It was a myth busting moment. I still can't get over an easy to use Slackware. Slackware as easy as any other distro, Debian or RPM. Oh yeah, there are some who prefer old school but you really have to cheer for modern conveniences.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Arno's Art presents more Linux propaganda!!

Well, what are you waiting for a golden invitation? You want a coupon? You want me to come over and force you to look at it? Nah, even when things are had for free, you can't force people to get into it. But a little enticement here and there doesn't hurt. My oldest daughter needs a laptop and ask me to check out the HP's since I have an account. She also needs some MS windows stuff for business purposes. It is sad but I must give her what she wants. I think the investment in hardware and software is too big for my budget. I myself don't have a need for MS products being a home user. I am not under the illusion that MS stuff is the defacto standard. As long as I can read/write MS document standard file types I can get around having to purchase MS products. Alright, what do I have against MS stuff? Cost issues, ownership/license issues, security issues, and then there is the stuff most users don't care about, big corporation market manipulation and domination, political clout, and the spreading of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) about anything not MS. What about Apple? Come on, they are exclusive and high priced. If you want them, you can get them.
I bought an HP desktop, a Pavilion a1030e to be exact. Has a 80gig HD, 512 ram, 64-bit CPU, a CD burner and loaded with XP, MS Works (not Office compatible), the usual MS minimal tools. I could do all of my computing task in a limited way. But needed a serious upgrade if I wanted to get some real work done. Good thing for MS Windows compatible open source software that I could download and install for free. I have enhanced and upgraded my computer for little or no cost and not increased MS coffers. And I have not bought any other professional grade software simply because it was the "standard". I have known many who just had to have Photoshop, MS Office, and others. Imagine buying Photoshop just to have it so you perhaps could work on some family photos or doodle a little. No wonder there are so many pirated copies out there.
What do you get with Linux that makes it so attractive? You have to sit a while, the list is extensive, but I'll just tell you a little. With my small but powerful Wolvix installation (about 460MB), I got the complete Open suite, 2 email programs, calender, several graphics programs including the Gimp (like Photoshop) and Blender 3D, multimedia stuff, games, utilities, tools, etc, etc, etc. I didn't need to buy anything extra. All the file formats that MS Windows stuff can dish out Linux programs can read/write with the exception of propriety ones. So, for average and personal computing needs you can have it all without straining the wallet or spending all sorts of time downloading freeware. But can you run and play MS Windows stuff in Linux? I guess, but why? You can do it with a program called Wine or Crossover office and you could install MS Windows as a virtual machine in VMware or VirtualBox. But, then Linux is very adequate to replace MS Windows completely. Now you can argue with me about polish and quality and familiarity and what not, but you have to admit, it's pretty darn good for free. If you feel guilty about using free stuff, you can always donate cash to support it. All would be appreciated, I'm sure.
That's all for now folks, I have given you a piece of my mind.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More howl from a Wolvix Linux user

How did I get in this blogging business anyway? Being a guy who rarely spoke out about anything, over the years a lot of stuff was left unsaid. Blogging is a way to tell it. Computers are a daily part of my life now and I have seen things come and go in the computer world. It is amazing what other people (computer users) are totally blind to, unaware of, or will kill you over if you change what they are using. Some are even claiming supremacy in spite of having to pay for stuff and not having complete control over what they bought. Lets see, I have to purchase one copy of the OS for each machine I own because it is illegal to do otherwise. I have to pay big bucks for major "professional grade" software that I only use some of the time. These are what the stores are selling and everybody is buying it. There are hundreds of reasons why people don't know about Linux and open source software. Then when they find out, they don't want to break old habits or stop using what they are use to. I am not talking to you people. If you are curious, fed up, want a change, want a choice, want to escape, ta da, ta da, ta da.........and still get your computing done, now we can talk.

In my try this and that world I am looking for the best all around Linux that runs on my assortment of equipment. That was impossibly hard 10 years ago, today we have liveCDs.
Linux can be tried out without messing up your precious MS Windows install. Yes, I still have XP but it doesn't get much air time. If Linux only had Incredimail and what's the name of that other's been so long. I am using Kubuntu by day, it's big full bodied but it still doesn't have a few utilities I found in Wolvix. After five I switch over to Wolvix, the howl of the wolf is very intoxicating. Don't let the gray clothes fool you, it can be tweaked. If you like the shadowy, smoky stillness then Xfce is the desktop for you. But if you like color with flexibility go with Fluxbox. In a lot of distros having more than one window manager creates confusion. In Wolvix it is nice to see some synergy. I have a hard time deciding if Xfce or Fluxbox is better. In any case KDE and Gnome are not missed at all. Less is really more here. I get pizazz just short of eyecandy and stability I can count on. Does Wolvix come up short in anything? Well, being Slackware based does put you at a variety disadvantage when it comes to applications but who needs 4 or 5 versions of programs that do the same things. But you can learn to compile programs from source and have practically any program you want. Besides I am not a programmer, nor a avid gamer, just a user who does "stuff" on the computer. And I don't as yet have a laptop with wireless, so I don't see special needs or exotic hardware. Wolvix is great for me, you, what are you looking for? Would I recommend Wolvix to a new user? I think a newbie to Linux could do well with Wolvix if they didn't dig to deep into its secrets. Wouldn't want them to learn something now would we? Lets see, plug-n-play, gui's, menus, oops there's a command line. It kills me, MS Windows users try to pretend their computers have a big off/on switch that they flick and it does everything. It is not true folks. If you don't like MS Windows you also don't have to buy an Mac. Linux is very good, 10 years of testing by yours truly has proven it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Linux is a Linux like a car is a car

You heard me say it before, a Linux is a Linux is a Linux, which is true if you blur the details. People being humans, always want to know what is the best Linux, the most popular Linux. These are impossible questions to answer, because it depends on what you are looking for. The reason there are so many Linux choices is because folks have put together different versions to meet so many different desires. Language sets, tool sets and application sets, all in various combos. It is all very much like buying a car. Some folks want small, efficient or sporty and some want a fully loaded SUV or crossover. Some will kill for a Lexus or a Hummer, a status thing, and some refuse to buy American. But in the final end, a car is still a car. Now you have to give it to Linux folks who have tried to formulate a Linux distro to meet specific needs/desires. This means that you, if you find a distro that meets your criteria, don't have to make a generic Linux match your particular needs. Its been done already. That is an ideal situation. I worked at a private school for a short spell. I had to configure a couple of MS Windows XP laptops for Korean students. It was not so easy to figure out how to do it. In Linux there's a Korean language distribution already figured out. I haven't tried it so I don't how that would work. But it is out there. Like with any car, the one everybody wants is the one where the advertising puts you in the driver's seat. You can see yourself, looking good behind the wheel. Some Linuxes enjoy the popular press spotlight and get a lot of attention. These are what most people see first. Name recognition is a big thing among us human beings. Red Hat, Linspire, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Fedora and Suse all come to mind. There are more that are in the forefront. Being a long time Linux user, of course I have my favorites and my observations about the popular choices. First these so called popular Distributions are formulated to meet the needs of a large and diverse user group. They try to include something for everyone. Which is why some Linuxes are so large. It is getting so you must have the kind of internet connection you use to download movies just to download a distribution. A DVD's worth of stuff you might never use, but you have it all. If you only have a fast DSL like me, 1 hour for 700MB, it could take all day to download 1 DVD or several CD's of stuff. I really like the repository system of some distros. That way I don't have to have CD's laying around not being used and not being updated. I can download updated software as I need it. I am not naming names, but when you go to download your copy of Linux, you will find some popular distros not so convenient. Better to order the CD's or DVD's online. The latest trend by far is the liveCD/DVD. To be able to have a complete Linux on 1 CD is of great value. It also means it is very accessible to a great number of people. In my years of Linux use I have found that I do not use regularly all the software put in most distributions. This means I could use a smaller distro with no side effects. The smaller distros are not so popular, they don't include everything, less choice, less, less, less. Is it easier to get rid of what you don't need or want or is it easier to add what you want? You have to ask this question. I really like the smallish distros because they provide for my everyday computer needs and the ability to add the stuff I want. I have on my computer Kubuntu Linux which is good for me and I choose it because I liked the philosophy behind it as well as its look and feel and software selection. But I tried Puppy Linux which showed me that all that I wanted and used in Linux could be put onto a jump drive. Hummm..........SUV or sports car? But actually I settled for something a little larger that a sports car. Wolvix which is adequate for my needs, yet can grow, be tweaked and made personal. Yeah, it's not popular, up front, flashy, or edgy, but it does not miss when it comes to stability, longevity or support. Wolvix can have the wizbang that attracts a lot of Linux users today, but it is nice and comforting to know my system can operate without it. I am not struggling anymore with MS envy. Linux has caught up and passed MS a long time ago in my book. So now to add to my sayings, a Linux is a Linux is a Linux, smallish is better I think.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Yeah! Linux still gets a bum rap!

Well, it's still Sunday and I have been sitting here considering and fussing with some Linux stuff. I'm looking at this Wolvix distro, which I did install to my spare 8gig hard drive by the way. Puppy exist on the liveCD. What pushed me over the cliff was that Wolvix makes it easy for me to get into Slackware. Now Slackware is the oldest most venerated Linux distro there is and as such is probably the source of many of the myths about Linux being hard to digest. Slackware has a reputation of being a true Linux (a hackers toy), real men get Slack. Slackware is known for not being able to resolve dependencies for installed programs. Which meant if you installed a program that requires other programs/libraries to work, you had to install those programs yourself, after you found out what they were. Then as I recalled my first encounter, you would assign partition sizes to each folder in the root file system. This diving up the disk was confusing. There are others things that people complained about that became the myths that keep people from pursuing Linux. I tell ya, Linux's got a bum rap!
Not only have these problems been solved in other distros years ago, believe it or not, even the old Slackware has been brought up to date. So, I am saying GO Slackware, welcome to my world. It is a shame that other distros are enjoying the popularity because of glitz and glamor. I'd say Slackware deserves a second look by guys like me who been around the block a few times and by you young folks who missed out on history still making progress. Slackware based distros are up to the edge. Wolvix is very cool and if you want unique check out Goblinx, it is slammin. Now we'll go back to our regularly scheduled program.

from Puppy to wild dogs, Linux is still Linux

It's Sunday and I am off to church, but before I go I have to comment. There are far too many Linux versions to explore, so little time. Many of the versions are of no special use for me. Many Linux versions don't get much press because they are not "popular" or is it they are not "popular" because they don't get much press? The Debian based distros are reigning right now and the .rpm distros are coming in next. Even Puppy has generated a following. One of the earliest distros is called Slackware, it is the "grand daddy" of Linuxes. When I first encountered it I was a newbie. It was difficult to understand all the details required to get it running. I should check it out again to see how it has improved. And to see how much my own understanding has grown. In the mean time I am checking out a Slackware based distro called Wolvix. From Puppy to the wild dogs, I go. Wolvix is not a huge distro but neither is it a small one. As I see it you could possibly put it on a larger jump drive. But still it is a liveCD with provisions to save configs and personal files on a hard drive or jump drive. It has all the stuff you could want in a portable Linux and still be small both in size and resource use. This means it will run on older machines and run like crazy on new machines. Slackware is a kit builders dream, if you like to control every aspect of what goes into your system. Wolvix is a nice combination of Linux stuff and still allows you to build on if you must. Wolvix can be "remastered" which means that modules can be added then a new liveCD.iso created. Also it can be installed to hard drive and use standard Slackware application packages. I don't know what to do now, I have Kubuntu and these other equally able Linuxes. Let's say it together, a Linux is a Linux is a Linux. Which one is best is highly subjective. Wolvix uses Xfce and Fluxbox window managers which I appreciated through using Puppy Linux. Wolvix, because it is Slackware, is traditional Linux. You log in as root, create user accounts and the file system is standard Linux. It is comical how I can like every Linux I try. I really like Linux. Makes it hard to recommend one version over another, especially to new users. Folks have gone out of their way to make Linux accessible. Believe me, if you had to download and install MS Windows (any flavor), you would not be so forth coming either. This is why the liveCD is so great. Imagine you get to try Linux on your machine without changing a single thing on it. Just insert, reboot and be amazed. Then ask your local nerd, geek, techie or knowledgeable friend for help (provided they have experience with Linux). As for Wolvix, it makes Slackware very friendly, even a newbie can use it. I may have to stop reviewing distros as I need to live with my choices a while so that I can dig into them. You can't learn if you just skim the surface and run off to something else. From the bark of the dog to the howl of the wolf, and it's all Linux.

Friday, October 05, 2007

DSL and Puppy Linux, tiny Titans

I think I am over my fascination with Puppy Linux, but it did open my eyes to new possibilities. I found that as wonderful as it is to have a big full Linux distribution, very often it is just a lot of stuff you don't use very often. The small footprint Linuxes go a long way to meeting the needs of everyday use and are portable to boot. Puppy Linux has a couple of strikes against it in my book. First, you start up as a root user. This means you have access to all your system files and so does everyone else. Not a problem if you are the only one who uses your computer, but still not the safest setup. Then I can't seem to get it to run in VirtualBox. I could just run it from the installed partition, but I don't want to have to reboot every time I want to use it. Or I could just run it off the CD which also requires rebooting. Puppy also does not seem to shutdown cleanly. After using Puppy, I reboot into Kubuntu and the screen says it must do some sort of disk check because the Puppy did not shutdown cleanly or unmount the drive correctly. My computer does a time consuming disk check. So I am re-thinking my relationship to Puppy and will find a situation that works well. In any case, Puppy is a fine rescue disk with cool tools. I mentioned DSL a couple of times. Damn Small Linux is another of those tiny Linuxes. It like Puppy will fit on a jump drive or can be burned on a CD, even on one of those business card CDs. But what I liked about DSL was that I got it to work in VirtualBox. It is not as snappy as running off the CD or the hard drive but it works. DSL has a variety of tools, utilities and applications. I am using the DSL-N version which is larger than the original DSL. It has some larger applications. DSL follows some Unix conventions. You can boot as root and add users just like in normal Linuxes. This is good for security. I'm not sure but I think DSL was the first Linux I ever tried. I found it in a book a long time ago. I could be mistaken. Seems to me there was a DSL of German vintage years ago. I will have to check into that someday. Anyway, there is a battle of wits going on between the Puppy crowd and the DSL crowd. Besides all the name calling and jabs, there is the feeling that there is a Linux configuration out there that fits every type of user. So if you want to set up a computer to access the internet, email, type a letter, play a CD and not much else, it can be done for very little or no cost on hardware you know wouldn't run MS Windows (any flavor), yet be up to date. If your grandma can maneuver a mouse, it's a point and click world. Go green and recycle/resurrect that old spare PC into an appliance somebody can use.

Here is an update........
I looked it up on a public library site. The first Linux I saw was called LST, Linux 2.0 and the book was Power Linux by Stefan Probst in the year 1997. So I have been struck with Linux for 10 years. We will have to see what was happening in computing 10 years ago to fully appreciate what is going on today. I must say that Linux has really grown up from an operating system of hackers to one that anyone can use. Don't let so called computer knowledgeable people dissuade you, this is your second opinion, MS Windows products are not all that easy to use either, just more familiar. Linux on the desktop is as good as Linux on the server and as good as any Microsoft product on the market. You have ridden the black horse all your life, now you can ride the white one with brown spots.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Things get very interesting in Linux country

I been looking at Puppy Linux. And have come to the conclusion that it is a great tool/toy. As a tool it can be a rescue disc to give you access to all your drives including MS Windows partitions. It has utilities and can be reconstructed, reformulated with the software you want and made into a designer liveCD. If you wanted just some portable office apps, you can do that also. And as a toy you can play with Linux to your hearts content to see what Linux is all about. I myself have loaded and unloaded the various window managers and am having fun trying out different Linux stuff. Some are even using Puppy Linux as their main distro. When I think about what I mainly use my computer for, I don't need a lot. Just internet access, my email, office and picture tools and I am happy. Puppy can do that with ease. It is like a sweet little foreign sports car. Small, snappy and it gets me there with a rush of excitement........... What about that big pimped out SUV of a Linux I also use? Kubuntu has its' limitations of course and its designers have tried to put into it all best choices to satisfy a large swath of users. Like I said before trying to make a flexible product fit a large and picky a group as users are is no small feat. With all its bigness, Kubuntu is very manageable. I can do all my computing with confidence and without pirating software I can't afford to buy. If you can get past the illusion of needing MS products, I highly recommend open source software. A lot of business types have little choice, but home users can actually have a different and cheaper choice. Some would compare MS stuff and Linux stuff only to complain about subjective things, looks, quality, polish, etc. But in reality they don't want to change from what they are used to. I have felt no discomfort in switching to Linux. It is growing and changing, getting better with each new version. I have been using Linux for a several years. It is sooooooo much easier to use Linux today than it was even a few years ago. Many people say they want Linux to be like the MS Windows they know and love, but what is the point in that? Besides, the Linux folk tried to do just that very thing and Microsoft jumped all over them with their legal army. The point is that there is more than the MS way to operate a computer. Programmers the world over have known this from the beginning, now you know it also. I know that I can not convince everyone and that being "free" does not change a lot of minds. But if you venture to try Linux out and have a good experience with Linux, you will be changed. Now, is Linux that different from MS Windows? From a users perspective, no. Windows, mouse clicks, it is all the same. You might not recognize the arrangement of some things but then you are not tied to the MS way of doing things either. So give Linux a try, if you are so inclined. I hope you have a good experience.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Here's some screenshots of my Puppy Linux desktop.
This is one of the default desktops, uses a window manager called Joe's Window Manager or JWM for short. Kind of Win95ish. You have icons plus the popup menus.

This is the default XFCE desktop, very sort of Mac like. Quite, clean, the popup menus are such that desktop icons are redundant.

This is where I am at today. XFCE desktop is very clean. I am looking into dressing it up with themes and such. I upgraded Puppy Linux from 2.17.1 to 3.00 which just came out yesterday. While not as flashy as some desktops, Xfce is easy to deal with and has a solid feel. Puppy is amazingly functional for its small size. Version 3.00 is supposed to be Slackware compatible. Slackware is the granddaddy of Linuxes. The really neat thing about Puppy is that you can use it as a universal rescue disk. You can have access to all your drives and media. Other Linuxes are a little restrictive on that aspect. While some distros go out of their way to be MS Windows like, or overly user friendly (we call it dummimg down), Puppy Linux has a good mix so that you are not robbed of learning something about Linux. It seems the computer industry will never shake the idea of dumb terminals hooked up to some really big computer. Some companies would like nothing better than to rent you a terminal and computer time. Like so many people today use subscription TV. Linux is about owning your equipment and the software you put on it while giving you access to the world. And with the Puppy Linux disc or jump drive, you can take it with you.

Monday, October 01, 2007

From Linux delight to a Linux eppiphany

I was digging into another Linux distro when I noticed I had downloaded and burned one I haven't tried yet. So, I popped the CD in and fired it up. It was Puppy Linux 2.17.1. I laughed, I cried, I was truly amazed. This Puppy is only 92.8MB and competes with the big boys. Here I was trying to squeeze Mandriva (700MB) onto my 8Gig spare hard drive, which shrunk up really fast by the way. So, I blew off DreamLinux, (sorry folks) and installed Puppy. I didn't have to since Puppy runs completely in ram and allows you to save settings and other docs to file on your hard drive or flash drive or multisession CD/DVD. The question came up, how many people can you fit into a VW?
You could really put the whole system on a flash drive or burn it onto one of those tiny business card CD's. What's the story with Puppy? Usually a Linux distro is based upon another distro and "reformulated" into a new distro, you know, .deb, .rpm or .tar.gz. But Puppy is a Linux written from scratch, by Barry Kauler, to be very lean.
I know I have always complained about software bloat, in spite of all the stuff you get with it, but this is the extreme opposite. It has its own file format .pup and yes there are popular Linux programs, some reformulated to be smaller, that are available. It is great to play with as I have tried several window managers and uninstalled them with no ill effects. You probably could use Gnome or KDE but that defeats the purpose of lean and mean. You could as some have use it for your main Linux. It is that good!! Yeah, it's all a matter of taste, choice, etc. I am truly impressed with the practical usefulness put into such a small package. It is portable and you can use it to do real work. I heard about it on a Ubuntu fourm of all things. Being one who likes to explore, I am very interested in Puppy Linux and will keep it around for a while. On one of the main Puppy web sites there are user's screenshots, pretty attractive, quite creative. If you buy into the small Linux concept, you will be assimulated, you will be playing with Puppy all the time. Puppy has Metisse!, it's not even main stream yet. Puppy has Open Office2. After all, Linux is a Linux is a Linux, but it's so small!! No, It is not the smallest, but I am hearing such good stuff about Puppy Linux I just had to try it. I will have to show you some pictures when I finish tweaking/playing with my Puppy.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Linux explorations, Linux delight

Linux is a Linux is a Linux. If you look long enough at the 300+ Linux distributions, you begin to realize that there is only one Linux. But that one Linux can be configured to run on anything from a flip phone to a large server farm. Thus are the many configurations of Linux, called distributions, each with a particular focus. What will work on your hardware will take a little looking into. Some distros have compatibility list that document what hardware is known to work with that OS. You can always go to the forums to see what trials, problems and luck other users have encountered.
In my latest trials I have tried to get Mandriva 2007 Spring to run. The liveCD worked great, the install to disk was smooth, but the reboot after the software update proved to be too much for my machine. I have a HP Pavilion a1030e, AMD 32000 Athlon, 64-bit, Nvidia Geforce Fx5200 video card, 512MB memory and a 8 gig partition. So, I really don't have exotic hardware by any means.
It is distressing when things don't go smoothly. My Kubuntu lives!! But I in my Linux curiosity state must explore, some more. I downloaded something called "DreamLinux". Its from Brazil and of course they made an English version. It is a mix of Debian and Morphix with Xfce for the window manager. Its focus is multimedia because it has a lot of programs all set up for multimedia and even the web browsers are setup already with codecs and plugins. Dreamlinux has the icon dock bar from the Enlightenment window manager folks. It is called Engage and dresses up the desktop quite nice. The menus are simpler than in Gnome and KDE. There is less confusion when you click around. But like most desktop distros, the default look is a struggle to look at. A little wallpaper and ah!!, sweetness!! Dreamlinux has the setup for Beryl with Aiglx and requires Nvidia drivers and such. I still don't trust the stability of that setup so I will bypass that for now. Perhaps they will consider Metisse instead for a bang that doesn't require special stuff behind it. Hey, maybe I will construct my own "distro". I want to see a combination of my favorite Linux stuff I haven't seen yet, all on a CD so I don't have to look all over the internet. And that is why there are 300+ distros. Duh, duh duh, the adventure continues..........

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another day another Linux

Linux is all about choice, so I thought. Actually it is more about variety of the same thing. There are at least 300+ Linux versions out there today. Do you have to choose out of that mess? Linuxes are distinguished by the type of packaging system they use. There are only three that I know of, .rpm (red hat package manager), .deb (Debian), and .tar.gz or .tgz (tape archive something or other). Linux seems to have started with these 3 file types and then branched out by language types and then special purpose Linuxes. So, there is Red Hat with .rpm, Debian with .deb and then Slackware with .tar.gz. There are versions that branched off these main ones and became popular distros in their own right. Remember I said before that Linux is a kit of sorts. A kernel plus utilities and applications that make up a distribution. So you can have a tiny Linux like Damn Small Linux or Puppy Linux or a big Linux like Red Hat, Mandriva, Ubuntu. It all depends what you put with the kernel. Once again the live CD distros are the easiest to experiment with. You just pop in the CD and reboot your computer. Some live CDs will allow you to save your system settings and personal files on a MS Windows folder. Some are so small they will fit on a jump drive. I used to be into model cars as a kid. Putting together a car kit was the most fun. Imagine putting together a working Linux distribution. It is quite a hobby. Some people really like doing this kind of thing. The reason I chose Kubuntu Linux was because it is being maintained by a group rather than one or two persons. The bug fixing and updates are available faster and the fan base tends to be larger. It doesn't mean Linuxes maintained by one or two persons are low quality, but they are often tight on time and budget to get things done.
Do I have my picks? Yes, of course. Kubuntu is my present favorite and main distro. Right now I favor the Debian distros, I've had good luck with them and I am beginning to understand how Debian things work. I also like SimplyMepis. Also Debian based, it is very much like Kubuntu with KDE desktop but still has a different flavor. I am beginning to think that after you settle on a Linux version, you will discover a Linux is a Linux is a Linux. A kernel, a number of utilities, some tools, and some applications. It's all in how it is packaged together. If you were to include all of the various functions, languages and formats in one .iso file you would need a few DVDs to hold it all. You would never not ever use or need that much Linux to meet your particular computing needs. So, it is very good that some industrious persons have packaged together different combinations of Linux stuff to meet different requirements. And as is and has been the Linux culture, the various versions or "distros" of Linux are available for download on the internet. So, go ahead and ask the big question, what would programmers do if they did not work for a company (like Microsoft)? Linux is the answer, they would do Linux. Linux is the result of lots and lots of programmers who really wanted to see a free operating system work.

Trying old new stuff in Linux.

It's getting late, I should be going to bed, but I started a couple of things here I can't seem to put down. As I was saying earlier about Metisse being so interesting I was marveling at the fact that it does it's magic without the aid of special Nvidia and Ati drivers or the Xgl graphic extensions. It is a wonder of modern programming. I got the feeling I have been there before. Back in my early Linux days there was a window manager called Enlightenment and it was pretty fancy for it's time. Many of the graphic tricks like transparency was accomplished in Enlightenment probably before Win98 was born. So, I checked it out and sure enough I found it is still being worked on. I found it listed in the Ubuntu repositories. I down loaded it, installed it and it is still a wonderful thing. Intimidating at first, yes, it has several menus of tweakable settings. But it also has a built in document that explains what the functions are. Like any interface you have to grow into it. It is not like Gnome or KDE, both seem very MS Windowish in comparison. In "E" as it is called, you have control over everything. Many users just don't care how it looks as long as it works. I have been around the block a couple of times. The stock appearance of both Gnome and KDE are OK but not great. "E" is a tweaker's paradise and various users have posted themes on the net. So you don't really have to go crazy with settings, just download a theme and go. I would post some pictures but I have not played enough with this yet. "E" has a number of things I have raved about in previous post, a graphic pager, virtual desktop, hhmmm... I wonder if background video could be playing while I working in the foreground? I also wonder why "E" isn't more popular among Linux users. Gee we are a picky lot. But it is very easy to slide into a Gnome or KDE groove because they are pre-installed in most Linuxes. Kind of like MS Windows on PC's ain't it?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Here we go again, more Linux madness.

I'm between jobs so I got a little time on my hands. While I am waiting for the Fedora 7 DVD 64-bit to magically appear on my door step, I downloaded another distro. Mandriva 2007 Spring KDE 64-bit iso. and guess what? It all fits on one CD. I couldn't wait to load it, install it and though I didn't like the colors, it was very good. Until, after I did the first system software upgrade. I rebooted the computer and got a black screen with a working cursor on it. I couldn't input commands or anything. Being still by lack of geekness, a newbie, I really have no clue what went haywire. I am a bit disappointed because Mandriva like Fedora 7 is a bit cutting edge in terms of new stuff that will eventually show up in all Linuxes. Mandriva has virtual machine services installed, so I hear. I was going to check that out. Mandriva also has this desktop paging system called Metisse. It is 3d or pseudo 3d as some say, it blows away Vista's Aero. It supposedly doesn't even need the special video drivers for nvida and ati cards. Metisse is not in the Ununbu program repositories. No one has compiled it for .deb yet, as far as I know. It has all kinds of snazzy features for the desktop. I was going to check all this out when, my screen went dark. I don't know if I have the heart to dig deeper into this problem, I am not the first to have it by internet accounts. Meanwhile, in another partition of the same machine my Kubuntu is working just fine.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Now, why you want to do that? (virtual machines)

The other day I was talking to a friend about computers. I was telling him about using a virtual machine to run one operating system inside of another. I thought I was explaining it pretty well, then he hit me with the Why? question. Man I hate when that happens. My friend is a typical computer user, he only sees what he bought, a machine loaded with MS Windows. I don't know if its XP or Vista but that doesn't matter. He is totally unaware of the wider computing world out there. That there are other choices besides MS Windows has never come up in his mind. He uses at home what he uses at work and there is no need for anything else to exist. He has never installed an operating system and admits to not being computer savvy. He is a typical user.

So, just why would you run one operating system inside of another? Isn't MS Windows sufficient?
He is asking this of a guy who has been using Linux for a few years now. Of course the Linux is free answer is weak because you usually buy a PC with MS Windows already on it, seems free too. But in my experience you have to invest quite a bit of extra funds to acquire an array of applications to do every thing you want to do. Those Windows bundle package deals are mighty skimpy. Linux comes with lots of applications to do lots of stuff all for free. Still there's some major programs people cry out for that you can only find written for one operating system and not the other, like Photoshop and Incredimail. Besides this most computer users, like my friend, being creatures of ingrained habits, prefer to use MS stuff because they are used to it. So, the answer to this twisted why question is that I don't have to dual-boot anymore. Dual-booting is when you choose which operating system to start up when you turn on your computer. You can only have access to one operating system at a time with dual-booting. With virtual machines you can run as many operating systems as you have resources for. They will run as would any program on the computer. I could start Linux, (my habit) open a virtual machine running XP, start and use Photoshop and Incredimail. It seems to be the best of both worlds.
I know this is a bit extreme for the typical computer user, but being exposed to the wider computer world has open new possibilities.
Now to answer the question, isn't MS Windows sufficient? I myself have been using computers as a user since the DOS days. I have lived through the history of using MS Windows in various versions. Sure you could find programs to do everything you want to do in MS Windows. But, a history of blue screens, crashes and costly upgrades has not made me a very good friend of Microsoft products. This is besides the cumbersome licensing agreements and how they can check your computer to see if you pass the legality test. The endless security patches also help make me wonder about the quality and safety of putting Microsoft stuff on my machine. Since I have discovered and have been using Linux, I have little concern about the problems of using MS Windows. There are only a few applications for MS Windows I really use. I could get rid of MS Windows all together. Even though XP has been the best MS Windows yet, I prefer Linux. What about Vista? I will not pay for Vista. If I buy a new PC with Vista on it (seems free) I will take it but most likely I will build my next PC myself and install Linux on it. Maybe I will run XP in a virtual machine. Yes, it is wonderful to have choices.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Almost an answer to using large .iso files

I my last post I complained and weeped about having a large .iso file and no DVD burner. Today I almost found an answer. It is called a virtual machine. A What? Let's say you are running Linux on your machine everyday and you want to use a program that's only found in MS Windows. You could install and setup an emulator which forms a so-called compatibility layer, allowing you to run some MS Windows applications.. "OR", you could run MS Windows inside of a file setup as a virtual machine that resides in the Linux file system. That means that MS Windows would run as if it were a Linux application. I believe you also would have Windows settings, internet connectivity, etc. Are there any advantages to this madness? Yes, the most obvious one is that you don't have to dual boot into one or the other operating systems. You could use both at the same time!! There are possibilities here. The second is that you don't need to burn a CD or DVD at all.
So, how does this virtual wonder work? It is hard to explain but, computers are all about managing memory and keeping one operation from crossing over into another. A virtual machine allocates some disk space and some memory space separating it from the main operating system's usage so that a second operating system could function in that space. Then through the magic of the GUI, you can interact with it as if it were the main operating system. It will turn a .iso file into a virtual disk so you can boot from it as if you were starting a program.
One virtual system is called VMware which has been around for ages. I think it is a little complicated for me but it has a lot of bells and whistles. Then there is VirtualBox. VirtualBox comes in MS Windows flavor and Linux flavors. I loaded it on both my XP and my Kubuntu installs.
It was quick and fairly painless. So, now I don't have to burn or boot from a CD.
Are there any problems, I mean since I did mention I almost had an answer? Well, yes. If you live in a 32-bit world as most do then there is no problem. If you , are running a 32-bit or a 64-bit main (or host) operating system then you can not install a 64-bit OS as a (guest) virtual machine. There is no support (yet) for 64-bit OS to run as a guest. To be a little more precise, it depends on what CPU you are using. You have to read the fine print in the docs.

So, to answer my main question, is it possible to take a .iso file copied to a hard drive and boot it as if it were a CD/DVD? Yes and No. Sure I can run a Fedora 7 32-bit .iso but I want the 64-bit one that was made for my system. I will just have to byte the bullet and buy a DVD burner.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I've got the upgrade blues, again.

"Well, I've got the upgrade blues, again."
Thanks to the wonderful Fedora 7 people, I've got to consider the cost and pay the boss. Do I really need a DVD burner? We live in a world where it is possible to save all our precious and expanding personal data, pictures and the like on optical media. We can even copy movies, which is why most people even bother with DVDs. But personal data, I can hardly fill one CD as it is. 700MB is a lot of space actually. Being from the floppy generation, I am still impressed with that. Now a DVD can hold about 4.7 Gigs (single layer) and about 8.5 Gigs (double layer) if you have that technology. I was looking at Tom's Hardware web site. You can get a DVD burner for $30-$100+, and you get what you pay for. I my self don't recommend the cheapest you can find, speed and quality does matter.
Anyway Fedora 7 folks, you have barely crossed the boarder by offering an .iso image of just 833MBs, why not just put it on 2 CDs? Hey, it's a liveCD dummy! It just wouldn't work spread across 2 CDs.
So, what can you do with a new DVD burner that you could not do with your CD burner? Besides copying movies and music. You could backup or Ghost your whole system onto a DVD. I guess the potential to do big things is there. And speaking of downloading movies, what is your download speed. I am always surprised by the number of computer owners/users who don't have cable or DSL. Using a modem is akin to using floppies in my book. What is so weird about this DVD thing is that you don't have to justify the cost because it can be reasonable. You just have to figure out what to do with the technology now that you have it. Is buying a DVD burner one of those life changing things? Hey, we do still live in interesting times.