Saturday, June 28, 2008

Still in disguise

A friend of mine brought the why MS XP in a window question to me. He never gave me time to answer, so I had time to think about it. My purpose is to access the MS Internet Explorer only web sites that are the rage with government and charity groups. I could have used Wine or similar emulation software. Being a techie/user I do need to keep a finger on what other folks are using, gotta keep my skills up. But in these tough and tight times, let me paint a little picture so you can know what's behind my thinking. First are those people who insist that a Mac is better and easier than MS on a PC. Well, which is better, a Cadillac or a Lexus (where's my consumer's report)?? For the price of either I can buy two smaller, not bad looking, fully decked, fuel efficient Toyotas or other cars. Now, is it status, prestige or other ego driven values that say you must have the high price car. Now, I just can't see stiffing Mr. Gates to pay Mr. Jobs only to be locked into a different but similar deal. OK, in any case you've already invested in MS or Apple, and have to live with it, right? I bought an HP desktop. Included in the package was MS XP with MS Works productivity suite. This Works is incompatible with regular MS Office files and formats. I could not afford or justify buying MS Office for my occasional use. Many, many users I know would shrug shoulders and say, I will use this until I can afford to buy, borrow or steal (secretly) MS Office. The open source movement has provided a free office suite called It will produce documents that can be saved in MS Office compatible files and formats. If you only use it occasionally, like most home PC users, it is more than adequate for you to acquire and use. Your first reaction (typical), "It's not Microsoft, Microsoft is what everybody else is using." The truth is, the only thing that matters is the file format. As long as the software makes a .doc file, that is all that's necessary. Business users might have a tussle if you are prone to using macros and using Microsoft propriety programming, but you, the average home user have the liberty to have your needs met at no expense. There is a web site, which has a long list of softwares that are open source and free and run on MS PC's. Please don't give me that MS/Mac quality of software argument, you are biased by familiarity. Don't think that today's open source and free software developers aren't also former, present or future, MS/Apple employees. That side of the world is more than you know. And would you hire a guy/gal who made shoddy software before they came to you for work?
Well, many of these open source softwares run on Linux and MS Windows, a few on Mac. Linux offers a stable platform and virtual machines allow MS Windows to run on the same machine at the same time. Linux has a reputation of being complicated and user unfriendly. Reputations "never" keep up with the present reality if it has indeed changed. I would even say Linux is as easy if not easier to use than using a Mac. Mac is a closer cousin to Linux than most will admit, at least a better looking one some will say. We are so swayed by desktop placements, arrangements and all that stuff. Once we get used to one desktop, it's hard to change or consider another. So, if you are committed to living with your MS desktop and your budget is strained and yet need adequate software, look into to free and open source applications. Save your stimulus package money for a hardware upgrade or a new Lexus.

Friday, June 27, 2008

duh duh-duh...........duh

I bet you didn't recognize me.......... I sitting here, it's sunny, near 80 degrees, in a trenchcoat, fedora and sunglasses. Folks in Linuxville know somethings going on, but they just can't say what. The joke of the western movie is that all the store fronts have nothing but cactus and brush behind them. Science fiction and spy movies on the otherhand....... The most intriguing part of any spy movie is the unassuming store front, a secret door and a whole different world behind it. It's the best part of Maxwell Smart or James Bond or Men in Black. What am I talking about, well I've been tinkering with XP as a virtual machine in Virtualbox on Ubuntu. This is what it looks like........

I still LOL, Windows in a window!! Anyway, after you do a normal install within the virtual machine, you can if you choose go through the pain of SP3, anti-virus (AGV) and if you plan on playing DVD's, codecs. I couldn't find a codec for XP I didn't have to pay for, so I turned to open source. I installed VLC which has been ported to run on several platforms. It comes with the needed codecs. So now I can view commercial DVD's and do internet in my secret room. There is still work to do as I've got to find ways to share data with the host system other than burning CD's or a jump drive. Virtualbox OSE or open source edition I found has some limitations with file sharing. I think I need Samba or similar, I will check it out. It would seem a small thing for an operating system, even a virtual one to view and access the whole hard drive that it is on, but no. Even a virtual Microsoft assumes it is the only one on your drive. Yellow tape and fake construction crews are also spy movie stuff. I'll be dressed in cognito as needed and I'll let you in on it, need to know bases, of course.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Virtual virtuosity and other stuff

Suppose you wanted to run several OS's in Virtualbox but you are wary of having all those large .iso files hogging up disk space, though liking the live-CD concept you rather have access also to your main OS while running the guest OS. Virtualbox allows you to run the .iso from off the CD instead of from off the hard drive. If you copy all those .iso files onto a DVD you can satisfy all the above requirements. The live-CD normally boots to takeover the computer, but in Virtualbox it runs as if it were another application on your main system.You could put a whole bunch of these .iso files on a DVD. And yes, the guest OS has access to network and internet I/O through the host OS. Since MS windows doesn't come as a .iso file, I don't think it can be burned to a bootable CD or DVD, but don't quote me on that. Run Mac OSX on Linux? That I know nothing about.

The main things I suggest to all you folks who hang onto older computers (you have your reasons), is that technology advances at the expense of the older technology. "It still works" is no longer a valid reason to keep it. Not only do companies no longer support those things, but the user base moves on to new products also. This means the knowledge of those things wanes and disappears. So, if your hardware is 5 years old or more, consider newer stuff or at least serious upgrading. Todays software requires more efficient CPU's and ample memory. The rule of thumb is to buy as much as you can afford first off, the tendency is not to upgrade unless you are forced to. Even if you get a good middle of the road processor, get 1 or 2 gig of memory. Vista requires 2 gig for good performance, Linux will run well in 512mb but the more the better, especially if you plan to do desktop effects or virtual machine. With memory, more is better.
Another thing to realize is what comes with the computer, I'm talking about wired or wireless.
Desktop users usually get wired but a great, great number of folk only consider laptops. Wireless connections in Linux have been a source of debate, contention and failure on the part of wireless equipment makers. They just can't seem to embrace the idea of Linux support. So, if you are buying a laptop and perchance might have a Linux future, you might want to research Linux wireless support for said laptop. What have other Linux laptop users been successful with?

As for my last piece of advice, "it's the network". I know the economy is sluggish or tight, depending on your perspective, and the cost of aquiring assistance with your PC hardware and software is going up too. Or maybe you just can't find knowledgable "and" helpful folk in the same person. If you own one these new fangle things called a computer, it might be a good idea to consider joining a computer club or user group. I am considering this as I don't know it all and I could use the networking, suggestions, help, resources, etc, etc, etc. The cost of membership is not that stiff and the committment in time is flexible. This kind of networking is good for all sorts of info that's on your level of experience. Older folk seem to do this more than younger folk. In the group where we have the Linux classes, there was a lady who used machine code and paper tape and did business programming, a guy who just bought his first computer and in between guys like me. It all makes for interesting conversations and laughs and support. The connections can help your career and on your resume you are involved in the community and continuing education for yourself. Linuxville has curbside cafes, you can kick back with a cool drink, light snack, wave at passerbys, chit-chat, dream, and explore ideas........

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another day with Ubuntu

You know, users have to have a strange mixture of quickness and patience. Like you got to hit the keys to get at the systems boot settings or wait for stuff to download and install. The skillful can do it without a hint of frustration. It is an acquired skill. Been looking for work lately, which requires much the same skill. In my virtual Linuxville abode, I've also been playing with Virtualbox. This is a great program. It allows you to run one operating system as the guest of another. This means that I am running say XP as if it were an application inside of Ubuntu Linux. I could have used an emulator, but they are limited compared to running the full OS. So, this morning I installed XP as a guest virtual machine in Virtualbox which runs on Ubuntu Linux. I actually installed it 3 times because I could not get the mouse to work correctly. It took 3 times before I realized it was not a problem with XP or with Virtualbox or with Ubuntu Linux. The problem was with the Desktop Effects that I had enabled. I saw this in one of the forums while googling for answers. I turned off the desktop effects (no more wobbly windows) and it all worked fine. I just can't wobble and go virtual at the same time, no big deal. Why do this? I no longer have to dual boot which means using one OS or the other. Virtual machines means both OS's running at the same time. Of course this also means sharing resources, if you have less than 512MB of memory things might be a tad bit slow or not run at all. But, having most of what I need in Linux there are only a few things I want that only run in XP. As much as I do not care for MS Internet Explorer, many government agencies have concluded that MS IE is the standard. These government web sites only work correctly with MS IE. Sorry Firefox fans, your gov does not care for security or your access ability. What's the upside to this? Running XP as a virtual machine means that MS does not dominate my computer, to see it in a small window makes me laugh and I can delete the installation with one click, no harm done. You can even fool your friends by running XP full screen, they won't even know Linux is there.
The other thing here is I got a DVD-rom drive. It doesn't burn but it reads so that is a big upgrade to my system. Ubuntu provides many DVD tools but codecs for reading commercial DVD's are found elsewhere on the internet. I'll leave it too you to haggle over legal or illegal. A number of Linux distributions come as a bootable DVD iso. They contain everything, OS, applications, everything. I will get a burner in the distant future. Why not empty your filling hard drive of vulnerable photo collections and music files onto DVD's for safe keeping.
I guess I got to get back to work looking for work, see ya!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Herding Cats or Care and feeding of users

I have 6 of them, so I know, cats are all the same but different. The cat nature is colored by the individual cat personality. This presents a problem at critical times like when it's time to go to the vet. Cattle are like dumb sheep compared to cats. Computer users are much like cats because though we are all doing the same things we are staunch individualist when it comes to our world in front of the computer. I have required the use of a Rosetta Stone to talk with some users, their colorful way of describing things is another language entirely. I have often been confronted by user arrogance and or frustration because they can't explain it or think the words are stupid and refuse to use them. Try that in another country. And we are talking about another country here, though in the Microsoft PC and Mac worlds we say much the same things, the Linux world can be a different dialect. How easily we can assume because computer words are part of our common language, we think we know it already. In the Microsoft PC and Mac worlds, many things are hidden from the user. If you don't see them you are hardly going to talk about them. In Linuxville there are no hidden rooms, though with the advent of the modern GUI, you can closed the door, somewhat. My point is that things are a little different in Linuxville, a user is required to communicate on a higher level. Knowing what to say, how to say it and what it all means is just part of being in the community of Linux users. This is from where support for your Linux system comes. Believe me, you'll never get your "clicky thingy" fixed if you don't call it a mouse. If you are new to Linux, keep your ears open to how things are said on web sites, forums and techie friends who are trying to help you. In any country, speaking the language opens a whole new world. Learning the local dialect gets you past the front desk, the first cab, the best wine list and winks and smiles from guys like me who wonder where you're coming from. First lesson you learn from herding cats, meows are not a language (neither is barking for dog lovers). Animals tend to communicate with gestures, postures, but with us expressive hand/face movements only emphasize, they don't explain. So, my encouragement to you new to Linuxville is to learn to talk techie, put on the geek words, nerdalize yourself and soon your be talking like a native. Oh yeah, in Linuxville "the finger" is for the mouse button.......

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Settling into Linuxville

You know it's really cool to try all the whiz bang and flash of all the latest gadgets but there comes a day when you must settle down and get some work done. I've said before being a distro hopper is not the greatest thing to be. By the time you've tried everything on one end, stuff on the other has changed. When I started blogging compositing was the rage and you had to add special sauce to get the effects. Today much of that flash has been integrated into the desktop GUI, that's progress. Now I don't have to work so hard to get the earth shattering effects that filled YouTube with geekness.
And I get to choose the level of effects so that my work flow is not hampered and in fact is enhanced. So to sum it all up I now dual boot Ubuntu 7.10 with Ubuntu 8.04 and will soon have XP as a virtual machine on Ubuntu 8.04. I think Ubuntu is very solid, the tweaks and upgrades have done their job well. I had problems previously with Xubuntu and Kubuntu 8.04. I think it was the download quality or a faulty burned disc. All is great today. Linux is too broad for distro loyalty to supersede the freedom of choice. But, once you settle in, two things become apparent. Once installed and you learn what you have, upgrade fever goes away. Things that are the rage today become integrated features tomorrow. The other thing is that the GUI is not the focus, the apps are. The apps are the same from distro to distro. You don't have to install the KDE desktop in order to use apps based on KDE libraries, if you are using the Gnome desktop. The proper libraries are installed when you install the program. The same is true for Gmone based apps. This is why Linux is so cool, all the parts can work together.

So, what's hot on my desktop? I am still raving over Elisa Media Center. No, it is not like MythTV. MythTV takes advantage of a TV tuner card and internet streaming and is one big setup. Elisa is focused on what you have stored on your computer. Elisa will play the locally stored picture files, video files, and audio files playlist style and then also does some internet streaming. While Elisa can signal out to a connected TV, it does pretty good on your monitor as well. And besides most use their computer one user at a time, the MythTV setup is overkill for that. MythTV is meant for the home theater or living room. And since most folk don't spend hours on end in front of their computer, Elisa is perfect for those short YouTube videos. I got a good collection of 2 min to 1 hour flash movies.
You are looking at the Blue Man Group on Elisa, normally it's full screen, but just hit "F" and it shrinks, escape to exit. They must have done an upgrade because the quality of video is better. That other window with the see-thru background is the terminal or command line interface. To get the screenshot I used "Take Screenshot" and to shrink it for the blog I used the "GIMP". You can have all sorts of fun if you don't whine about it's not like Macs or MS Windows.
Nobody buys a Chevy and says it's not like a Ford or Toyota. You just got to open your eyes and see what's there, if you don't like it, don't use it, peroid. There's much more adventure ahead, see ya when we get there.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Do you Ubuntu?

I know, I know, there are so many distros out there in Linuxville, why do you Ubuntu. First and foremost, there is the popular interest. People are having a lot of positive experiences with Ubuntu, this means a lot of feedback which stirs up development efforts. Then, the Ubuntu community is putting forth learning materials and documentation. Some distros though great, just don't reach out to that extent. I already mentioned about the well stocked repositories of pre-compiled software, ready to install and with new efforts for drivers and utilities from those propriety hardware vendors, it seems Ubuntu is continually improving at a good clip. It would seem any of the Ubuntu flavors would be a good pick but Ubuntu in particular is well suited for newbie folk and for this distro hopper. I have used Xubuntu and Kubuntu and I liked them with fanboy zeal, but I have to say Ubuntu itself has progressed quite well. At one time it was RED HAT Linux that was the popular learning Linux, now it's Ubuntu. Then you must see there is a whole new crop of interested users that are not maintaining servers or writing software for a living. These desktop users actually want and like using the GUI, so with Linux this is a new school. Now that Linux has made itself ready for the desktop, people are slowly coming to know about it. Here is a shot of my desktop to whet your appetite......
Hey, don't get too excited, this desktop is tame compared to what I've seen. Anyway I went to this Linux learning thing put on by the Lorain County Computer Users Group or LCCUG for short. This group is mainly a MS group, but interest in Linux and open source has created a spark. This is a good thing because in northeast Ohio, the Akron Linux Users Group is the only one not showing signs of giving up. There was a hint of exploring maybe a Ubuntu Linux Users Group in the future. Today we looked at installing Ubuntu on a laptop and pushed around some terminology. The training material is found on the Ubuntu web site. It is based on Ubuntu 7.10. If you are in my neck of the woods on Monday night, come and see. The LCCUG has a web site, with details. To get you hooked up to Ubuntu go to
Then as a newbie or nubi or nooby, check out and download the mag, real cool.

In the real world and in northeast Ohio, things suck on many fronts. The visionary folks want to create an atmosphere where innovation and technology can flourish. Fighting for thinly stretched resources as it is, everybody thinks they can't do anything. Linux and open source allows us to freely use what we have available to us to compute and develop technical stuffs to keep on going. So we have tools we don't have to pay a lot for and it is up to us to talk about how we can use them. Don't wait for Bill or Steve to rescue us, it ain't going to happen. To bring the Silicon Valley type thing to northeast Ohio, all the technology workers need to talk to each other. The free flow of ideas and exchange of possibilities is regular faire in Linuxville. Even a little town like Bedford, Ohio has an internet cafe. If you want something in Lorain, start with talk........exit the soapbox.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

mean while, back at the ranch.....

Curious thing, I installed Kubuntu 8.04 with KDE 3.5.9 and enjoyed the liberty of a free range chicken, but since installing the KDE 4.0 desktop along side, I can't access my whole hard drive, only the booted partitions. Then the KDE 8.04 remixed version came with some nifty Plasma widgets, what I have now has very few. I went on the internet,, and folks are obsessed with meters and gauges, very scarce are ones that do things with user files. It would be nice if folks produced some really useful widgets instead of remakes of what others have done already. So, I think I have gone as far as I am going to go with Kubuntu 8.04 and put it on the back burner status. My warning to all is don't be a distro hopper like me, although the live-cd makes it easy, once you settle on a distro, updates usually keep up the newness. It is so tempting to jump on the new feature bandwagon and try out things before they are nailed down solid.

Taking a step back, I installed Ubuntu 7.10 on my main box. What got me was the time it took to update afterwards. Folks have really put out the bug fixes, tweaks and enhancements. It is so so so hard to say which I like best, KDE or Gnome desktop, it's the reason I used Xfce for a while. It was tough for some time because desktop effects were complicated add-ons. Now they are integrated into Gnome, you just have to activate them and woooo, wobbly windows!! Gnome is simpler in many ways and probably more approachable to new users, but I've learned that it's all in the way it's explained. I am willing to bet that people who switched from MS pc's to Macs because they were told Macs are better and easy would find Ubuntu with Gnome even easier and no slouch in quality. What's more it's free!!!!! I can't get over people wanting to stiff Bill and pay Steve. Anyway, I have Ubuntu 7.10 because our local computer user's group is having some Linux learning classes using it and I am going to pick up tips and tricks and share experiences. There has been a steady demise of Linux groups in northeast Ohio. The old guard, mostly server folk and coders are thinning out, the new users, mostly curious mouse manglers, don't seem to care about getting together. Need to consider new kinds of bait to attract new users, forums are cool to a point but, to have face to face with local enthusiast is a real community experience.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dorothy and the Electro-luminenscent-spiked heeled shoes.

Dorothy is standing with three misfits who defy the odds and come out heroes. She had little clue as to the power of her red sparkley shoes whose obvious undocumented attributes are revealed in time. So when you are in say Linuxville, wearing the said shoes of note or dubious reputation and realizing all actions are dependent upon following exact instructions, please listen. Learn to speak the language and respect the rules. After a whirlwind ride on Kubuntu 8.04 with KDE 4.0 Remixed you get the idea, finally. It is a very exciting and workable concept but it is still short of all the bells and whistles that help you get real work done. As long as you didn't need superuser permissions or you stayed within the point and click realm you are good to go. KDE 3.5.9 is just great and I'm going to explore what Superkaramba is about while I wait for them to perfect KDE 4.0 with Plasma and plasmoids and all that. What would be cool is to switch between the 3.5.9 desktop, the Plasma desktop and say Kuartet or something like it. Innovation is alive and well in Linux........

News flash******
I am startled and amazed, I was playing around with my KDE 3.5.9 desktop and decided to install SuperKaramba and surprise, KDE 4.0 desktop was installed as an alternative choice. I can't retrace my mouse clicks or I'd tell you about it. But what a discovery!! That remixed Kubuntu had me in a bind, so many tools were left out. Now I can see if this thing is worth the effort. See you all down the road, I'm off to play........

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Linux and the Strawman's brain

Well, I am all the way into the KDE 4.0 experience and it is a rad different from 3.5. It's called PLASMA and has a Mac like dashboard that sports "widgets" and can even use Mac widgets that are html based. The stock widgets (plasmoids) so far are pretty cool but few in number. Here's what I think is needed:
1) a video player widget to play video files much like the slideshow picture player.
2) a good snazzy calculator
3) widget for the missing manual for the OS and the KDE user guide or a tip of the day.
4) the fix for the comic strip viewer (I can't get Delbert!?!)
5) an PDA widget to do all the PDA stuff, including sync with actual PDA (actual/virtual)
6) a am/pm digital clock, 24 hour time is bogus for the uninitiated and the stressed.
7) an audio file player (of course)
8) Plasmoid front-ends for existing programs, esp multimedia apps
9) a Trash-bin, recycling hot spot, de-resolution receptacle, black-hole or bit-shredder.
This is my short list, I wish I were able to devise some of these myself, it might be fun.

Then some of the things users like myself might like:
1) mouse-centric users would like kicker icons for obvious keyboard shortcuts. Like Ctrl-F12 for the Dashboard or Ctrl-F8 to show all work spaces. OR that upper right corner hot spot should evoke the dashboard in the widget locked state.
2) give that Kicker bar the ability to appear/disappear (use Tux/Win-key), some transparency would be nice.

The new KDE 4.0 is a mix of old school and new. It is a platform for new things to happen. You could try a number of arrangements and still maintain a basic and familiar jump off point. Compared to KDE 3.5, KDE 4.0 is less flexible and configurable but more focused and functional.
KDE 4.0 and beyond is shaping up well and looks good to this desk jockey.

Now to enhance your Oz experience, the official Linuxville guide gives you words to implant into your deepest conversations:

1) Commercializing and branding doesn't prove an OS is better or more secure or the standard.
2) Linux is actually easier to use and understand than Macs/OS X.
3) Linux has lots of games, just not MS games.
4) Gui's only skin deep, yeah, yeah, yeah!!!!!OS ugly is to the bone.

OK, click your red mouse button three times and chant "There's no place like Gnome"............

Tinkering with the Tin man's heart

You know one of the things that always gets to me is that the folks who design things for the rest of us to use tend to make design concessions on things that matter. I had a '74' Gremlin hatchback and the headlight burnt out. The headlight assembly had screws with five different heads. Should I replace the headlight or the car or trace all over the city to find five different screw drivers? Having been a Linux user for a while, I recognize radical departures when I see it and this new KDE 4.0+ is a change. Ubuntu has this thing about normal user and superuser privileges. In traditional Unix or Linux, you would make two accounts, one for the root or superuser and then a normal user account. The idea was always with security in mind. The root account was for doing administrative tasks on your system, the normal user was for doing regular work. When you are the only user on a computer, do you really need these two accounts? There are schools of thought of course. So, distro developers have devised a way to be a normal user yet invoke superuser privileges. The "sudo" command is always talked about with a touch of distain by Linux oldies, inspite of the handiness of it. What am I fussing about? Well, in Xubuntu 7.10 you could just open a terminal, type sudo, then the program name, and presto, you were into superuser mode while using your selected application. There was ample warnings that you could change or damage your system, but you only needed it for the brief moment anyway. In my case, I just want to make sure I have rights to access the Virtualbox files. In Kubuntu 8.04 with KDE 4.0 there seems to be no friendly way to get to user accounts, add or change permissions and continue on. If you are going to change how the interface handles admin chores, you have to remind the application writers that their applications must adjust for those changes also. If admin chores are a thing of the past (old school), then new apps shouldn't use old school means for installation and maintenance. OR, you must establish a root user account at the Linux install. Then, when you do something that requires root user priviliges, ask the user for the password for that kind of access. Also, in KDE 4.0+, when is a file not a file? When it is on the desktop. Move a file from the file manager to the desktop or download a file to the desktop. Those files do not have drag and drop ability. On the desktop, they are different than simple files, more like the widgets on the desktop. So, in my workflow I need superuser access to change settings, priviliges, move files to secure locations, etc and I need to change my habits so that I can freely move about Linuxville. I think they want to eliminate putting file icons or folder icons on the desktop. Oh yeah, did I mention, where's the trash can? Old habits die hard!! The old dog has just encountered an electric fence, the Tin man needs an upgrade. Again I want to thank all you forum people, your tips and tricks make using any Linux distro very accessible. But things that should be common knowledge among users need to be documented, nailed down. Once you explain it and a user does it a few times, it all becomes so clear and easy. The Tin man, he takes a lickin and keeps on tickin.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

behind the curtain in Oz

When and if you ever get to see the wizard behind the curtain in Oz you might be disappointed with the man, but you got to admire his toys!! What I did was install the latest Kubuntu 8.04 but not with KDE 3.5. They have what's called a "Remixed version" with KDE 4.0+. It was kind of scary as I was expecting all sorts of flash and thunder of eye candy that would melt my eye balls and turn my Mac and MS friends Martian green, with their tongues hanging and panting, "Somebody slap me!!"or is it "Somebody stop me!!" Instead I was greeted with coolness, suave, and polish. This approach says that a spinning cube (or tornado) is not needed to bring you to OZ.......and I got here without incident.

OK, here I am in OZ and the stupid yellow street leads in all directions, the short in statue folk are very helpful but only hint at where you might be headed and what will happen to you. Linux is a reality TV show and you need a good GPS, a even better set of ears and a Rosetta stone. Adventure awaits you and Indiana Jones (sounds better than Kansas Jones) type experiences are normal in this neck of the woods ( some call it the cutting-edge, some deforestation). If you have the luxury of owning a pencil, it might be a good idea to write down and document your travels because the bread crumbs found in the forums are not very life sustaining no matter the delight at finding them, thanks folks. Let's see, doctors need med records, lawyers need legal docs, builders need blueprints, and you need a business plan to start a business, but we Linux users have survived and flourished with "the missing manual". "Fahrenheit 19", a classic movie, is a terrible metaphor for storing and retrieving information. If you can not find people of the exact experience you are left to experiment on your own. Are you caught between "Not me man, I'm not going first" and "Yeah, I been there, done that!" in your Linux use? I say all this to point out the importance of the Linux how-to. Linux is not an ego-fest for knowledge experts (a very closed sourced attitude), collaborate, co-ordinate and give us the play by play. Don't tell us to RTFM when there isn't one (yes, Mepis has one).

Where am I?..........
I am here in my laboratory and I have installed widgets on my desktop, yeah, you can do that in KDE 4, but how do you put them on the "Dashboard" so that you can get at them with a key or mouse click and not have them welded to every desktop??? I want to know! OR, where is the how-to?? You are supposed to be able to use OS X widgets also. How do you install them hmmmmm??? I hear music in the background, darts whizzing through the air and a huge boulder with human residue on it coming toward me. Oh, I'm not in Kansas anymore, I'm clicking my sneakers but no lights (unlike the neighbor's kids) and the pages I need in the phone book were torn out by the previous caller. In the phone booth I rip open my shirt, damn, forgot my tux super suit. I dropped my car keys down the grate. Falling to my knees, the yellow dust stains my pants and I cry out, "Stella, Stella". Who's Stella?.......and who decided a 24 hour clock is better that AM, PM???

I could snap out of this with a reboot to another Linux version, but I like this place. Kubuntu 8.04, the remixed version with KDE 4.* is very cool and has potential and polish. What is needed is some documentation to make it "ready for the desktop" (LOL). "If you explain it, they will come", oh, that's concerning baseball. You need a recipie for others to make the cake that you enjoyed making from scratch. The dab of mustard in the batter is better than on the top of the finished cake, don't you think?? So, we got the content (Linux of choice) and the gui (face of Tux), and the finicky, picky, choosey user (me!). Life is sweet in Linuxville!!!!!!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

There is only one Linux!!!

When I say there is only one Linux you can imagine the groans and gasps of disagreement coming from every direction. In the software universe it is true there is only one Linux. This one Linux consist of volumes of source code that is compiled and configured to run on different platforms, then lumped together to form the various distributions. Don't blame me for the habit of naming every Linux formulation. But in a way it is like conquering a mountain and putting a flag on it. But you have to thank so many folk who have managed to do this feat, so you don't have to do it yourself. And it still doesn't take away your freedom and right to do this if you want to. The thing to realize is that a distro is the beginning, if you want to change it, you can.

I admit I am a distro hopper and I am trying to find the sweetspot in Linux. You all heard me say there is no one distribution that does it all or has it all. So I am looking for the broadest approach. So far the Debian distro's are winning in my book with special kudos to Ubuntu. Ubuntu's repositories seem to have the widest assortment of applications pre-compiled for easy installation. Besides having a full repository, you want not to have to install Flash and Java apps into Firefox or what ever browser you are using. This is becoming better even as we speak, Linux developers are no longer waiting for Adobe to do the job for Linux. It is a shame for proprietary standards to be in common use and controlled by the ignorance, arrogance and whim of the closed source owners. As long as this is the case there will never be open computing.

Back to my distro hopping, I have done things I swore I wouldn't do. But I see some things have changed, so I took the liberty. Even though I don't have an official "old machine", I have used Xfce desktop, quite snappy and somewhat good looks. I have to admit KDE though large in comparison to Xfce is still nimble enough for me not to complain about speed. And because I am so changeable, I like KDE's ability to change with me. I have tried KDE 3.5 and while still not liking the complexity, found a descent arrangement. Then as I reported that I after being a Xubuntu fanboy for a while switched to Mepis. I really like Mepis but Mepis doesn't have the easy install of applications that I was looking for. Again, the extensive repository of pre-compiled programs is a big draw. Why compile yourself when you can point and click?? So, I revisited the Ubuntu forest and installed Kubuntu 8.04 over my Xubuntu 7.10. I was so pleasantly surprised, the install went very well, no problems like in my previous encounter with 8.04 (Xubuntu and Ubuntu).
The first thing to notice is that the latest KDE has been cleaned of clutter and confusion, even given a little polish. This KDE version 4 is kind of likable. It has elements I have liked in other OS's and Linux desktops. They didn't try to include everything so you might have to add some stuff, but it is a solid base, change or no. KDE is like Macs in some ways and like MS in some ways but these are ways that users are accustomed to seeing and as always if you need to change it, you can. The difference between Mepis and Kubuntu, not much but the pre-compiled software repositories of Ubuntu gives it an edge. Ubuntu, being a more international distro does have the media codec issue to contend with, but additions are easy to get at.

So if you are exploring Linux or are a distro hopper like me, consider these things:
1) There is only one Linux over all, but distro's have been made to narrow down your choice.
2) A full repository of pre-compiled easy to install software is what you want.
3) Make your /home directory a separate partition. If you are a change fanatic like myself you won't have to do constant backups. You can use the same /home partition with any Linux install.
4) A little Linux goes a long way. Upgrade fever is replaced with continual improvement.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Back home in Linuxville

My present tech job is ending and I relish the experience. Even the chance to pick at a few Macs allows me to fatten my resume. But I am still left with some after thoughts. If you have made the commitment to Macs or Microsoft in cash investments I'm sure you are in no mood to change. If you are taking a new direction you might want to add Linux into your figuring things out. Apple has done a good job at convincing people that Macs are easier to use than MS or Linux and you pay the price for the tour guide to stay on the path prescribed. If you stray off the path even a little bit, Macs are no different than Linux or MS other than a more polished interface. Staying with the applications your user experience is indeed something to boast about. If you need to be more powerful than the average computer user you have to deal with a more complex Mac. It is similar to Linux in that respect except that Linux is more understandable than the BSD Unix that Macs are based on (from this user's view). But since most Mac users never venture too deeply into the Mac, it is regarded as a point and click appliance. The truth is that Linux can be that way also. You can point and click Linux and you can script and program also. My great discovery is that what Macs have can be had in Linux for free. The advantage of Macs are some presumed polish and a single company behind it (if that is a real advantage). Linux is really the sum of parts compiled to run on various platforms and configured for targeted purposes and customized for the types of users. While out of the box setups have gotten better, the real treasure of Linux is that it can and most often is customized by the users. Then to top it all off, the Apple people are turning to the Intel PC platform. If you are a Mac user you will slowly see your present Mac hardware get old and obsolete. No upgrade path means you will have to buy new stuff if you want to continue to use the Mac OS. You have to note that Mr. Jobs in order to retain the tight market he has will continue to lock the hardware in some way so that other OS's won't run on the same, now common hardware that OS X runs on. In a perfect world you would buy the hardware you want and also the OS you want and go for it. This is not happening. It is too bad that Linux doesn't have a great marketing machine behind it. In another thought I am glad it doesn't. It is kind of hard to summarize Linux in a defined package. The Linux parts can be compiled and assembled in a vast assortment of combinations. So while distributions may be a company's or a person's choices, along with the naming convention, there are gangs of users who agree with those choices and rave about their superior distro. Marketing people and the tech mags are all waiting for the Linux market to shake out and one distro to take the lead. This is not in the nature of the Linux culture because Linux is not a single trademarked product. As long as folks consider Linux by the same measure as Macs and MS, they will miss the point of Linux. Linux is free, about freedom and about choice. Having made these choices, one is amazed at how it still works together. Then the nature of Linux extends into the community that develops it, supports it and uses it. Linux can be a great break glass emergency tool kit or a full time server or desktop OS, your choice. But, be at peace if your brand name loyalty prevents you from wondering or wandering. The sights, the sounds, the smells and the invitation to Linuxville is waiting here for you, if you choose.