Monday, January 26, 2009

The Leap - actually just stepping off the curve.

We've talked about what Linux is and that it has a desktop (just like the other guys). For you it is the same point-n-click except things might be in different places under different icons. Why? Because MS and Apple get very upset if Linux had the exact same desktop as their copy-righted products. Look at all the various ink pens and cars that all do the same things (write and move your body). It is the same for operating systems, applications and computer hardware.

So when you are looking to acquire a PC/Mac your main concerns are cost and available applications. To yours truly, Linux offers the most bang for the buck and a wide variety of free software. The caveat is, learning to accept the Linux world. But the greatest of all compromises is Open Source Software. For the most part, Open Source Software is free and of course cross-platform. There are versions of applications that run on Linux and well as Microsoft PC's and some for Macs too. So, don't be pressed to switch platforms unless you really want too.

As you all know I am a digital art dabbler and in my present economic condition I can't justify paying for Photoshop or Paint-Shop Pro for that matter, just to have so-called professional graphics programs. Does this stop me from developing my interest and talents in pixel pushing? NO!! Of course if you are working in a commercial capacity, the industry standard software would be an advantage for you, if they required it. But who is to say what software produced a digital file if the format is one you can use. I have accepted the fact that when and if I need those MS Windows based professional programs, I can if I must, get them. A strange thing happens though. If you use GIMP as GIMP, without constant comparison to Photoshop, it becomes your favorite when you are using it. Sometimes a new brush (or graphics program) brings a new perspective on honed skills. If you are a big Photoshop fan, why is your life and livelihood threatened by GIMP? It is just that some are so stiff on using MS Windows and Photoshop. Are you convinced that Linux and Open Source Software based graphics is a futile dream or a form of social protest? And by the way, I do hug digital trees!!

I went on a noontime excursion to the local library. Rummaging through the Microsoft software books looking for signs of Linux life, I found a couple of new books. Linux for Dummies (at last). This is a very good book but it is not for dummies. It's more for tech savvy but don't know Linux type folks. I think the "for dummies" people try to explain too much at once. Then Ubuntu, How to Do Everything. I'm still flicking through this book, looks interesting and is closer to the Linux for Dummies idea. It shows how to do desktop stuff with Ubuntu Linux.

I am tipping my hat to the library people for buying more Linux books. We need more stuff on open source applications too. I am still waiting for a book on GIMP to grace the shelves. A few books on digital graphics that are not about photography would be a plus. Digital art, digital painting, etc. There are as many books on Photoshop alone as there are on MS Office software. Then if you flick through those books they center on photos and photo manipulation. There are none that explore drawing and painting. I guess some people still don't think of a computer as being an artist tool. Thank goodness for inter-library loans, we'd be lost without it!

Well if I absolutely must use MS based software for graphics I guess I can, but my aim is to explore, use and produce graphics with Linux software. Why? Because I can and I am. So, with Linux there is no problem making the art, but marketing and selling will take further study. We will see what develops!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Linuxville and you, a desktop user

Welcome to Linuxville!!!
You are thinking about a Linuxville visit and so you jump on the net to view some screenshots (postcards) and read the travel reviews of critics. It is so confusing because the critics of Linux never match the perspective user's vantage point. Imagine being all day on a fishing boat after promoters rave about catching the big one and you bring home the guppy. Or you are a river wader type of fishing person and you hook something that taxes both you and your equipment. I know, I know, you want the skinny from an expert, that way you can have all your questions answered. Good luck with that!

Linux in review depends on who is looking at it. If you ask the plumber, you get pipes. If you ask the artist you get pictures. If you ask the lawyer you get a legal opinion and a bill. Linux today is described by many experts who happen to be technicians, system administrators, programmers, and are proficient at running servers and large networks. But you need to hear from someone who is just like you, a desktop user, even a home user.

But, but, shouldn't they know all the nuts and bolts and inner workings of Linux thus are qualified and able to tell me what I need to know?? Yes, but no!! These folks know a lot in some areas, not enough in others. Never ask an engineer for an explanation in a nutshell, you will get the details, all the details. At first you want to know what does it look like, what can it do, how is this better than what I already have? What's the cost? What's the point? Then later you can ask about details. It is a common experience that the well versed have little patience for new users and curious inquirers. Why? Because many of these vocal experts have used Linux for years without the desktop GUI (graphical user interface). Linux works without the GUI and in some cases works better, like on servers. They will say "type this", when all you want and need is "click this".

Is there an answer to this dilemma? Yes. The pool of Linux users are really a group of symbiont communities (ooh! Jedi talk) with overlapping experiences. But what is needed is Linux from the point of view of a desktop user. The desktop Linux user is in reality a new group, most of whom have little interest in the inner workings. OK, car drivers should know how to change a tire, how to check the oil and how to adjust the driver compartment for a comfortable fit. Knowing the mechanics is optional, but not necessary. It is the same with Linux. Also, there are kinds of users with different needs. If we are talking about changing from Microsoft to Linux, it is different for a home user than for a business owner or system administrator. Home users don't have to worry about changing and maintaining large numbers of computers. So, choose your critics/reviewers wisely.

As your Linuxville guide I want you to see the views of a typical desktop user. Linux on the desktop is like a car. It maybe boring or very exciting. The desktop is about look and feel and the drive. You may want to rock the chassis, screech the tires, or just drive to work and back. Some want a normal routine experience, some want to tinker, customize, accessorize and say "lookie here".

As a Linux desktop user, my experience has drawn me to these main conclusions:

1. Linux is not a clone of Microsoft Windows or a free version of MS Windows.

2. Linux is not a substitute or replacement for MS Windows, implying that it will run your entire investment of MS based software without a hitch.

3. Linux can be used instead of MS Windows to do the same kinds of computing tasks using software written for Linux.

4. Linux can accommodate software written for other platforms, not flawlessly but it can be done.

5. Linux has its own games.

6. It is the file format that matters more than the program that created it. If the file format is liberated from one company's market controlling whims, it is more advantageous for everyone. Ask any computer networking person about networking protocol standardization and ethernet communication. And why MS Word versions (there are a lot of them!) have different formats to where a conversion program is needed is beyond me.

7. The GUI was invented on a Unix system and passed on to Apple then to MS. The icons and windows and even the tools that perform tasks in applications are all industry standards of the total computer community. This is so skills are transferable and you will know what to expect no matter which computer you use, Linux, MS or Mac, whether you type a command or click the mouse.

8. As a desktop user you have the liberty to be a poster-child or fanboy/girl for the computer system of your preference or be a free range chicken with transferable skills to use any computer under your fingers.

9. As a Linux desktop user you can be a surface skimmer (GUI user only) or deep diving codehead with equal comfort.

10. It is jesting to say that with MS you will be assimilated and with Linux you will be accommodated, but there are rings of truth here.

Well, you have reached the city limits, drive on or turn around and stay for a while. I hope your visit was/is pleasant. Don't forget the souvenirs, we have live-CD's, postcards (screenshots), my blog travel guide and, ooh! is that a bobble-head penguin on your dash? Man, you're my hero!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Linux is what Linux is

I had a friend who worked for DEC equipment years ago. DEC was a mainframe computer manufacturer. My friend was often given a list of specifications and a stack of photos from a sales manager. He was asked to make a literal pile of parts look like the photos and work like the specs. I never heard how successful he was, just that he kept his job. The customers never seen the mess of parts or the tremendous skill and effort required to put them all together. They just saw the finished product and asked where is the boot button.

I have read so many people who want Linux to be like MS Windows in every way. One look and feel, one way of doing things, even one brand name or one company to blame for screwups. This is too much like asking a horse to be a goose. For Linux to become static in would not be Linux any more. Linux was not conceived as a single product and will never be a single product. The kernel considered to be the real "Linux" in Linux was started by one person Linus Torvalds, put on the net to be developed and extended. Many coders who already knew something about writing software for Unix added utilities and functions for Linux. Then applications were either written from scratch or ported to Linux from other Unix based platforms.

So, in reality the Linux project became a kit of Linux parts all under the umbrella name Linux. This kit contains many duplicated functions, you might say extra parts, redundant parts, because one group of developers used this library set and another a different one or one group worked this out one way and another a different way. Now comes along persons or groups who like my DEC friend wants to build a Linux system. They select from all the parts, put then together, test them and name the built system. We call this built system a distribution. Today there are 400+ Linux distributions, each unique for its features or flavor or function. It is amazing the creativity that goes into building a Linux system let alone into the parts themselves.

Should 400+ distributions cause those new to Linux to have a reason to complain and be confused? I say no. The Linux community recommends certain distributions as good starting points, popular choices and solid stable and well supported. It should be noted that you can't regard Linux the same as the off the shelf commercial software you are used to using. If you want what you have now only different and free, Linux is not what you want. If you want to keep and run all your other platform software, you might be out of luck. If you are determined to compare every inch of Linux against Microsoft because there must be a clear winner and a loser, why waste your time. Linux can replace Microsoft or work along side of it, if you can use it, use it. If you don't use it that is your choice.

So I state the facts, Linux is a kit of parts. Combinations of collections of these parts are put into tested systems called distributions. These distros are documented so that you can choose among them and not build from scratch unless you want to. Distributions like Ubuntu and Fedora are easy for new users to understand and use. Once you have some experience you might move on to Mepis or another. I will also say that Linux is Linux and you will find the same applications for any Linux OS for desktop use.

If you have the curiosity or necessity or adventurous spirit, come to a virtual Linuxville tour via Live-CD. You can see if Linux works on your hardware, if you like the tools and applications and decide if installation is in your future. Linux is what Linux is.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

pushing the Titanic with a paddle

It is a simple equation, change one computer user to use open source at a time.

A single user doing personal computing usually has no problem seeing the light of change. A small business might also realize the benefits of open source applications. Schools, larger businesses and governments are reluctant to change because the cost of change is not just measured in money spent. It is not only the cost of new software, training or workflows. It is changing the minds of people all entrenched, networked and efficient at doing things as they stand. Everybody agrees that to outfit a larger concern with open source software you have to reset the mentalities of all the execs, management, support techs and work staff. This is changing the tools by which business is done. Retooling takes time and costs money.

Because of entrenchment, we have given in to teaching the next generation to follow suit, to continue doing business with the same tools, the same methods and projecting the same outcomes. Today we see that many have over stepped and over reached to the ruin of business itself. So, to make adjustments we are asking a new generation to strive to use the same tools and methods in new and creative ways.

We have outlawed the use of lead in consumer products, but the promise of the possibility of turning lead into gold still gives us reason to teach lead use to each new generation. This is true with coal and oil and all the chemicals, processes and products derived from them. To just abandon them, stop using them, is too big a change. It is unthinkable not to use them and to find alternatives puts everything we have now in jeopardy.
The American way is at stake and the way we live and do business, what we value....................

Meanwhile in the background, in diverse corners of the globe the much envied and coveted ways and means of doing business and education by which we have promoted and leveraged indirect authority and influence, is slipping as great quantities of peoples are realizing open source ways. Solar power, wind power and open source software can be had and used without war and without threats of war, without treaty violations, without patient infringement.

Oh, and by the way, some folks have invented the almost neutral backyard nuclear power generating station (still being tested and proven) so nations wanting a big political leverage/physical disaster waiting to happen doomsday device should reconsider. I don't endorse nukes, but who am I, right?

The problem is who makes the bucks? Who controls the revenue stream from the sale and use of the tools of education and business? I know this is the fact. Schools contact me all the time wanting me to attend because having been guided through their coursework at great cost to me means I've become qualified to obtain employment to be able to pay them back. If I have the right stuff, I could download the same material, learn the same knowledge and be equally able to do the work. Seems being qualified to work is a matter of paying some sort of dues to an approved institution. Then if you don't live here and got the education and skills, you can come here and work, not many questions asked. That element called the "right stuff" is rampant among people struggling to improve themselves and their nations. They won't forever endure the deals from Microsoft. MS was so worried about the One-Laptop-Per-Child program because the laptops was not using their software. MS should have been about putting solar arrays in those remote and diverse places so that kids could power those laptops and have lights, communications and pumps for drinking water, etc. Allegiance to a brand-name may grant limited opportunities but most often leaves you subject to the will of your benefactor. Believe me, mutual benefits mean you take a little less and give something in return. Now you must fight for rights, control and destiny's future. It's the give me a fish or a fishing pole/net scenario.

Don't mean to point fingers and name names, just to state principle from a point of view. Business should ask if a person has word processing skills, then what software. Using Open Office should not disqualify one from working a job using MS Word. If the job requires advanced or MS Word specific skills then say no or provide training and be done with it. Businesses have gotten out of the habit of making experts and prefer to buy an expert, trained and experienced already. To follow the just do the work trend, we've eliminated training for specific skills, research and development, engineering, and now manufacturing. We've become corporate HQ's pushing virtual paperwork for warranty, insurance, maintenance agreements, and law offices to protect patients and copy-right violations. Oh gee, no wonder average folks can't find work? You need a 4 year degree minimum to do anything. The infrastructure and substructure of business is swallowed and overshadowed by the superstructure.

The pyramid is built for the top stone only and is the monument of a single self. We ignore the fact that it is a death chamber and grave stone, while an engineering marvel, contributes nothing to the livelihood of the neighborhood except slavery in the past and tourist dollars today. Ever wonder why it is ideal to have a hermetically sealed stainless steel casket to bury a lifeless decaying corpse that will never, ever be used again? I don't need no stinking pyramid, got my own millennium time capsule! I will preserve my memory, I will defy even the dust I am destined to return to. It's my dust, darn it, my molecules, they must not be mingled, blended or dispersed!!??.............

We have been misdirected in many things, sometimes too much. In spite of all our experience we still can't admit a wrongness about our ways. I don't think anybody in the Open Source community wants to totally dismantle and decimate all we know. But what we would like to see is new ways to see and deal with problems that pledge our world. And what we are realizing is that fighting for the rights to have and use old tools and knowledge is a time and resource and people waster. We would like to see education improve life around the world and not used as a political weapon or means to enslave with ignorance and misinformation. Open source is a way, like solar panels and wind generators, to embrace and use what we already have.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

making open source known and loved

He who writes the history has the strength of his point of view. I am thinking about who discovered America......., first? Does first claim really give people power, authority and influence? I do know that if you repeat a thing enough in the public's ear, it tends to stick, the same as when things appear in print. So you make a claim and repeat it until everyone believes it. The trouble is that it may not be the whole truth and maybe falsehood entirely. So, Columbus was here first from a certain point of view. The people he met here did not write history so they had no valid claim to the people Columbus reported to. He who writes the ads has the strength of his point of view. History/advertising/history, there is no difference.

We buy sneakers with the brand-name because they are endorsed by well known champions. We buy because we like to emulate and imitate and psyche ourselves into believing we are improved by having bought. What about track stars wearing the best engineered sneakers in the world being beaten consistently by unknowns wearing shoes made from recycled tire treads? Not a problem, the brand-name sneaker company will go all out to put their shoes on those faster feet. The name-brand sneaker maker's reputation remains intact and the advertising rings true. The real truth is, it's not the shoes!

Who writes history/ads, who believes them? So far in the cyber-world, the commercial names have the advantage because they write the history/ads. Any business with a product who does not market is unknown, period. It does not matter if you have truly the best product ever made, if you don't advertise it, no one will know to buy.

Linux and Open Source Software need to develop a marketing plan according to the open source way of doing business. One example I listen to everyday is Public radio/TV. It delivers in an open format news and shows not found on network radio/TV with little to no commercial advertising support, being funded by individual listeners and foundation donations. This requires two things, the ability to ask users for funding and support in a more obvious way and a certain accountability so that folks know where bucks are going. It's all about how this program is explained into the public's ear, what they see in the media. Then repeat it, until we all believe it, accept it, do it. We sort of have done some of this already but public radio/TV is well known and Linux and Open Source Software is not, so we have a lot of work to do.

Linux and Open Source Software are free, yet people have a hard time believing that. They are right for thinking that, everything cost something. While it is free, support is requested. This can be donations of money, word of mouth promoting, bug reporting, project development or however people can be involved in the user support community.

The commercial concerns in cyber-world want Linux and Open Source Software to endorse the traditional business models and structures, play by their rules, they call it a level playing field. Linux and Open Source Software does not fit those models, those structures and transends field play. We are a parallel universe sharing the same space and allowing people to travel inter-dimensionally back and forth as needed. We should stick with the open source way, we have come this far, and have worked wonders.

Monday, January 05, 2009

and try not to confuse the user this time

Part of my job as a Linuxville official is to show by my true life adventures that the fear of Linux is unfounded. The trick is in how you approach it, but you have to know that the Linux developers have come more than half way to meet you. It is called a graphical user interface or GUI. Thus begins the tale:

My car became toast as I drove it home, rattling and clanking. Not being the backyard mechanic I had it towed to the repair place. In it's place I got a loaner. I have a mid sized car. The last time of major repair I got a small car loaner, this time a SUV. I jumped in the front seat, put on the seat-belt and froze. This is different. The steering wheel is in plain sight, the pedals in familiar places, I just have to find the other stuff. Window controls, heat, radio, gear shifter, all a bit different. The posture, the view out the window and the sound of the engine and feel of the road. It was a car changing moment!

My point is every car sold has the standard layout and equipment. You can put the same driver in any vehicle. That layout is the user interface. Designers go crazy making sure the greatest swath of drivers can be accommodated, thin, tall, short and large. It is the same with computer hardware and in fact computer operating systems. Why, because all kinds of users have to use it. Many folks are lined up on the Microsoft side or the Apple side thinking their brand-name of choice invented the GUI. One company is even trying to patent all or parts of the GUI to prevent others from using GUI's without paying fees. The truth is that the GUI was invented on the Unix platform. And as with all things that enable the public to use it, the GUI became the standard way of computing on all platforms.

On the hardware side you have the keyboard, mouse, and video display. On the software side you have a text screen and GUI. In Linux you really don't need the GUI to operate it, but the GUI is the most comfortable way to use it. And when you log into Linux the GUI that is presented is no different than that on Macs or MS Windows because this is what users expect. I still can't get over people seeing Linux for the first time saying "hey, that's just like Windows, I thought Linux was like DOS!". The elements of the GUI's we have today may be different in style and varied in function but are all similar for all platforms. If they were too different from platform to platform there would be some who would like it but most would not. Businesses especially want a consistent GUI to keep training and support cost down. And how could anything be popular if wide variations were on the market. Well, what about Linux?

Linux has 30+ different GUI's. The three most popular ones Gnome, KDE and Xfce. The others are available if you want them, but most Linux distributions start with these three. Don't forget Mac and Microsoft are company products, they have to decide what they are going to sell you. Linux is open for anybody to design GUI's for it, this is what has happened. Businesses have got behind the most popular Linux GUI's so support is there for business use. If you are not a business, you can find a dream GUI and fly with it.

I just want you to know about Linux, that it is not way different as some say. That Mazda car had a rotary engine, the actual user part of the car was just like any other. Think of Linux like that. I drove the small car, the mid-size car and now the SUV. I've used MS Windows, Linux and Macs with only minor hesitation and very little learning curves, because the GUI's were similar.

Now if they can only do something about multiple TV remotes!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

tech life - the sequel

Of course there is a sequel! Because I heard an anguished sigh when I said Linux and games in the same sentence. OK, you are a serious gamer, this also means you are probably technically savvy and could dual-boot if you wanted to. Or you already have a dedicated gaming machine, Xbox, Wii or PSP. So you should conclude that the Linux crowd really has little interest in duplicating the whole gaming world's roster in order to justify itself as a MS Windows or Mac rival. Such expectations and assumption are totally wrong. You have to look at this whole Linux gaming thing as an adventure in another place. Linuxville as I call it has a flavor all it's own. I don't play games but I fiddled with Neverball and Neverputt and that Frozen Bubble is addicting. I have to learn the Billard-GL, a 3d pool game because I like pool. But the Doom type games are not my type. Cards and puzzles and mazes and such, there is no end. But because the favorite games of some are not here, we have no games. So, if I were a real gaming fan I would rather have a dedicated game box and not burden the Linux world with my insatiable demands, "Halo".

Among the many PC users are the types who just play the programs and the types who want to do stuff. I think Linuxville is an uncluttered landscape, a place where you can escape the commercial, the pre-packaged and venture into a world of your own making. The opportunity to do-it-yourself is lost when we are continually told there is no time to create just consume. Linuxville is where you can find many avenues of development still open without an end users (consumer's) agreement. How terrible it would have been if back yard mechanics could only turn the piles of parts they've bought into the same cars that roll off the assembly line (wrench by number anyone?). Might as well get a job on the line. Innovation came from the backyards, drag strips, race tracks and car shows, not the assembly line. Folks have different solutions, different approaches and sometimes a new solution comes from folks unpolluted by years of learning.

So, lets look at things in a more proper light. MS Windows and Mac OS are company products. Linux is a kit of parts that when put together accomplish the same things as the company products. Over the years people have improved the Linux parts making Linux as a whole improved. Technically, Linux is a frame or kernel on which all the other various Linux parts can be hung. While the various parts can be swapped in and out, the kernel is the same. The same kernel in every solution holds all the parts together. So, you can customize the Linux parts, bolt them on the kernel, have a different Linux solution. But fear not, you don't have to put Linux together from scratch yourself (yet you can). Pre-assembled parts called "distributions" or "distros" are available to everyone. They are combinations of parts that work well together and are the handi-work of folks who have done the testing for you. Distros target different tasks, tastes, purposes and users. The Linuxville community from the user to the developer/programmer do a lot of talking, tweaking, and fixing to improve all the parts and make Linux better as a whole. Problems and short-comings are being noted and repaired even as we speak if it is known, not left to PC tech support to compensate for as needed. The PC tech guy would be like the Maytag repairman on a Linux network. Once setup Linux runs forever.............

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my granddaughter has a Nintendo DS. She poked at it with a little stylus. I've seen the elder of the church I attend do the same thing with his PDA. Man, I laughed, talk about priming the young for a product. I don't know all what can be done on this Nintendo DS, I did see a virtual keyboard while looking over her shoulder. So here is games, music, possibly texting on a pint-sized junior PDA to be. My dad had big hands, said he was clumsy at small parts, I can't imagine working the tiny (to me) PDA work-station. Just watching her peck away on her DS, intently staring at the tiny screens, immersed into that small world. She lost the little stick once and was helpless until she found it again. (oh, that was the best darn stick!) PDA's aren't there for me yet, I still don't have a cellphone. When PDA's replace my garage door opener, universal remote collection and my clapper light switch, it will be a must have. The clapper? That's to turn off my computer.