Tuesday, March 31, 2009

the truth in cars and computers and savviness

Once you learn driving skills on the standard driver interface equipment you can drive almost any car, no sweat! Once you learn computer skills on the standard user interface equipment you can use almost any computer. The question remains though, are you savvy? If you are a regular driver and car owner, it is safe to assume you know more than how to turn it on. At least know how to check/add oil, fill wiper reservoir, and change a tire.

Usually on computers the management is more involved and requires savviness on the user's part. Savvy means to know, comprehend, to understand. It's a strange word, like having geekness or nerdiness and can range from minor casual involvement to an obsessional technical guru. Maybe there should be skill levels with appropriate colored mice. The yellow mouse beginner, then green mouse, red mouse mid level, brown and black mouse, the ninja mouser and the click-fu master, tweaker monks, code saints.

Getting back to Linux, many of the MS school of PC have said Linux requires skills beyond the standard training. This is an echo from older Linux masters who most likely were commandline skilled. Desktop Linux is not new but because it is just now reaching into the mainstream of desktop computer users, the emphasis on graphics/mouse skills is a new school of Linux PC. But to tell you the truth, there are not many computer users who are savvy. Seems mostly green mousers in the world, and a lot of folks never go beyond using what was on the PC at purchase.

Cars and computers.........MS and Mac are commercial products, Linux is a do it yourself kit car. With Linux you can have it built for you or build it yourself. You can get paid support service or get support off the net. This flexibility drives people crazy. With all the various levels of skilled people all talking about Linux, it is hard to grasp the narrowed scope of desktop use. Even I get overwhelmed talking to Linux enthusiast who are mainframe and server trained, they just go way beyond my experience. I don't bore and stroke engines, just hang the fuzzy dice, yet I too love Linux. Believe me I've had the same "in depth" experience with electrical engineers, they actually love the details. Me, though I understand some concepts, just flick the switch.

Linux as an OS provides endless fascination, but to most desktop users, the applications are the draw. Without applications, computers and doorstops are very similar. Linux has great applications that need to be exclaimed and explained to the user world.

I am hoping the top Linux distros gets a group of hardware vendors to push the ability to run Linux. Then offer a complete solution of hardware/software and support. The price can be reasonable and still provide the liberty and freedom of open source systems. I think the desktop PC in a big case should be left to the case modders and servers. We already have laptops both compact and convenient. What's missing is the desktop that doesn't take up much space. Not the bookshelf PC, but a full-size keyboard with the PC under it using laptop technology and also being able to use any display or two of your choice. Here's a picture..........

I would market this as a Linux Desktop PC and load it with varying options. So Red Hat/Suse/Ubuntu could offer their stuff on approved and proven hardware. The hardware vendors would market partly through the Linux OS companies who offer hardware/software/support in one package. Though you could still buy the hardware or the software separately, the ability to go to say, Ubuntu, and get a complete system would be sweet.

The problem has always been with the influence of competing software companies trying to capture the desktop market by forcing hardware vendors to design and sell equipment optimized to only run their products. There only two ways to go with this, either hardware vendors hold fast to multiple operating system transparency or offer product lines that support each operating system specifically.

Then we have to redefine "the shelf". When people go to buy a computer at a store, usually at a convenient place that has a name, what is on the shelf. Linux folks have to decide, the Apple model or the Best Buy model. In any case online sales can't beat being able to touch a working system on a display stand and a customer asking "Can I take this home?". Linux has been on the "build it and they will come" mode and needs to consider the "carrots on sticks" mode. Marketing is about show and tell, creating wants and needs. Most people who would buy computers (at a store) have no idea of who or what Linux is, at all. It's the savvy who care. The few, the chosen, the savvy.

If you hang around Linuxville long enough, your savviness quotient will rise. And if you find your self expressing inner geekness (where did that come from?) don't say I didn't warn you. Each OS shapes a user's computing personality. Alas, we are so impressionable.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

making yourself at home in Linuxville

Linux is more like a move-in ready fixer-upper with lots and lots of built-in amenities. The looks are quite clean and you can add/remove/improve just about everything or relocate them.

The secret to mastering Linux is that skills are transferable. Come on, it's a computer.

Skills learned while using Macs or MS Windows are also used in using Linux. The way some talk is as if you are expected to fly a plane after years of driving cars. Typing text is still typing text, clicking icons and folders are all standard user interface interactions you know and love.

"But the names have been changed to inflict the innocent"

OK, wallpaper is called a background. You know some detest lingo but if you don't speak the dialect or know the "buzz words" it's hard to communicate well. This is true also in the Mac and MS worlds. Each computer world is a sub-culture.

You should have confidence that the operating system is able to do its' job which is:
1. to tell the computer parts how to process data and what data to process.
2. to manage computer resources and put them at your fingertips.
3. to respond to your input and give you output.

Under your fingertips are two interfaces, the console or command line or terminal and the GUI or graphical user interface or desktop. When you learn how to "work it", become comfortable with it, it is natural to want every system to be like that. Difference and change can be a frustration when you've become attuned, accustomed, trained and indoctrinated. I have kept my skill set open by using MS at work and Linux at home. Being flexible is insightful, my options have improved and my limitations have lessened.

Space, the final frontier. Ever wonder why we get hot over 500 gig hard drive options when the computer only comes with 1 gig of RAM, sometimes less. And they will tell us to run Vista on that. If you want Vista in any form to run well, get at least 2 gig of RAM. Linux will run in 512MB but again, if you want it to run well, get 1 or 2 gig of RAM. Then repeat the mantra: RAM is for running programs, Hard Drives are for storage. Buy RAM first, then choose a hard drive according to your use. Let me paint a picture.............

I have an 80 gig hard drive in my Xubuntu Linux PC. 21 gig is for DreamLinux on my test partition. I have two 1 gig swap partitions. My Xubuntu partition is about 54 gig. Of that 54 gigs, 24 gigs are unused. That leaves 30 gig of files. 19 gig is my home user folder and of that 19, 17 gig are videos I collected from YouTube. That means 2 gig are personal files. And that means the operating system and all the application software files reside in about 11 gig. So, if you aren't collecting large video files, you could get away with a smaller hard drive and save money. 100 to 250 gig is fine for most people. And Linux doesn't have to be defragged.

Big hard drives are for multi-media collections. I'd rather burn my videos to DVDs and CDs.
1 floppy disc holds 1.44MB (megabytes) = 720 typed pages or (1) 9"x6" .png image@ 1.3MB

128MB Jump Drive = 88 floppies

1 gig Jump Drive = 704 floppies

8 gig Jump Drive = 5632 floppies

80 gig Hard Drive = 56,320 floppies

This is just to give you a feel for what space on a hard drive is like. Huge hard drives are bought and wasted because big numbers seem powerful. Big hard drives do not make a computer more powerful unless you need it and use it. Most could get by with 150 gig max, but drives are cheep these days and size sells. Just consider the RAM first, then the hard drive.

So in Linuxville you can have the country estate and the amenities of the city at the same time.
Pretty cool huh!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to how to

Its' been a long precarious ride on the "other OS" transport, you finally get to Linuxville. You've seen the sights, sampled the food, enjoyed the local color and wondered how does anybody live here. To speak like a native is one thing, to become one is another. I was told by many older immigrants to this country, they listened to Frank Sinatra records because he pronounced every word so that you could understand them. I bet Mr. Sinatra never thought of his music as English tutorials.

There are a lot of great Linux books out there and you could consume them like cramming for exams, but brains require hands on to make it real. Lucky for you the live-CD Linux is freely available. Next is to play with it, curiosity only kills cats if the threat is real. Point-n-click, point-n-click, mouse around, open and close........Once you have relaxed a bit, now you can ask "now what?"

I am as you know the artist type and I have heard how hard it is to use the GIMP, mainly by folks who insist on Photoshop. I open GIMP and gasp, "what is this?" You could explore with point and click but I recommend TUTORIALS, especially video tutorials. To follow along watching and listening to someone using GIMP leads you right into it yourself without a lot of figuring on your part. Knowing how to do one thing gives you boldness to do other things.

I cooked my first pot of rice as a boy. I read the package that said 4 pats of butter. I did not know what a pat was, put in 4 sticks of butter. Mom rescued me, corrected me, instructed me. We froze the messed I made and used it over time. I had to start over but this time everything was clear. Today I can fend for myself if I need to just fine.

I watched a GIMP tutorial yesterday, the person was showing how to use the brushes to put a grunge textured design on a snowboard. I immediately saw how to use the tools and thought what else I could do with this. By the time a book comes out, I already know how to do it, on the reference shelf it goes.

Then there are user groups, forums and blogs about many Linux applications. All resources for you so that you don't feel alone or neglected in your Linux quest. Linux takes a little work but you don't have to know it all to begin. Yeah, Linux takes a little work, no more than learning anything else you don't already know. Some things you'll get right away, some over time.

We are symbiont beings here in Linuxville, (Jedi talk!) a community. It is especially appreciated among Ubuntu users who share in the sentiments of the Ubuntu meaning. Then Linux has always been a community effort.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Linuxville handbook - tweaking the user

I am poking fun at us, but how many of us have full intent to impose our standard upon the products we buy, especially if we don't like the looks of it and we buy it anyway?!!

Being a satisfied Ubuntu guy, more specifically a Xubuntu guy, I have heard many complain about Ubuntu Linux's brown themes. I think the humanity focus on the range of skin tones have inspired these themes. But if you are predisposed to not favor bio-bag colors you could, as most Linux distros allow you, change them. Xubuntu is more grey or gray than brown, but there are themes that move beyond that also. Me, I kind of like grey (gray too!).

When a commercial product is offered, a limited range of choices means less work for the company and the ease of no-brainer, habitual, pattern forming, I'm use to this, familiarity for you. Linux lets you tweak things until they are comfortable for you, then you can develop all the habits you want. Choice first, habitual later.

I laugh, it's like going to a gallery to buy a picture. You spend all day looking, then deciding, then someone says "do you want to frame that picture?" Oh no, frames, so many frames. It is a good thing I can download pictures I like and use them as desktop backgrounds. This makes the frame/theme thing a minor issue.

Desktop icons and refrigerator magnets have a lot in common. We were duped to believe desktop icons would organize our mess by shear handiness. A few, yes. A dozen or more and a search tool is required. I have my file manager icon on a toolbar and my files in folders, so easy to click-n-pick. I have program launchers also on a toolbar and I also have the dropdown menu selector. I can get to everything without obscuring the beautiful desktop background with icons. It is all about moving things around and neat habits and easy work flow for yourself.

I should say something about eye candy. Eye candy is cool but marginally useful. Some folks just want shadows behind windows, sort of a pseudo 3d look. But some really like swirling cubes with videos playing on each side, windows that wobble when moved and mimicking other OS desktops' toolbars, themes and colors. Is it because of envy or I got that too and "BET YOU CAN'T DO THIS", bragging rights, I don't know your motives or inspiration. The fact you can do it is enough for some and some must exploit it to the max, "IT'S SHOW-N-TELL TIME BABY, TUX RULES!!". Pick your level of visual excitement.

Hey, it's your computer, your data, nobody is going to manage it for you but you!!! My car is cool enough, I even wash it sometimes. The interior is.......well, I am not proud of having to excuse the mess. A little housekeeping and I won't hear "gee, your car rides nice". Yeah, and I'm really sorry about the mess. Fixing hardware is fun, tweaking users is difficult at times.

There is a hidden war in the user interface world that probably began with the typewriter. We came into computers via the typewriter keyboard and wheither we touch-type or hunt-n-peck (like me), the keyboard ruled until the mouse. Someone reduced it all to a few mouse buttons with the help of display graphics, of course. Now we tussle between mouse or keyboard ability. If you learned keyboard skills, you are in one camp. I am willing to bet all hunt-n-peck folks are avid mouse mashers. Keyboards are the domain of the skilled, the trained with the dexterity of a dancer, the nimbleness of finger and mind to remember what symbol and what key invokes what magic, with swift precision. Truly an art and has been an Olympic event in many schools and offices. To see it all reduced to a cursor, a picture and a mouse button is extreme madness. It is sacrilege to some and salvation to others. We even have that weird finger pad on laptops.
Well, I don't mean to take sides but........

I am a card carrying member.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Linuxville handbook - how to be a native.

My wife affectionately describes me as a computer "hacker". I cringe because common folk misguided by the media think a hacker is a malicious deviant. But behind the keyboard, a hacker has ALWAYS been a connoisseur of code, a computer programming enthusiast, a computer science whiz. The term "cracker" has ALWAYS denoted the bad guys (breaking and entering). Even today the means to use commercial software illegally are called "cracks" while tweaking software code to improve it is called "hacks". I challenge all writers of media to get it right. Hacking is good, cracking is bad. Who ever heard of a safe hacker?

I neither hack or crack, I am a humble desktop user who occasionally tweaks.

The real name for my favorite operating system is GNU/LINUX. GNU is the operating system part and Linux is the "kernel" part. GNU/Linux is the complete body of work, the kernel, utilities, tools, programs, applications, etc, etc, etc. So from the top, there is only one GNU/Linux.

Distributions are combinations of the above GNU/Linux parts, packaged together to make up a working system (so you don't have to do it your self, but you can!). Sort of like cars and tennis shoes, the different distributions denote different configurations of the same thing. Linux for a server might be different from Linux for a desktop workstation, but still made of GNU/Linux parts. Distributions can emphasize a culture or language, a GUI (graphical user interface), a set of tools, a range of uses, a type of computer architecture, a kind of computer (server, desktop, DPA, wristwatch). Popular desktop Linux has names like Fedora, Ubuntu, Suse, Mandriva, and .........!

Applications are what enables you to do stuff. If business requires you to use the Microsoft stuff, then you are stuck, otherwise you are free to use anything you wish, if............

IF you can do the same work/play with Linux applications. And if the final file formats are compatible for sharing files with the programs on MS and Mac systems (if you have to share with them!). This usually means .txt, .doc, .pdf and various multimedia and graphic file formats. Other than these, most users do not share files. While Linux can read and write most formats, the emphasis is on open formats not controlled by one software vendor. Then most Linux applications are Open Source, which has to do with being able to freely use and alter the code to your needs. Thus a lot of this software has been compiled to run also on MS and Mac computers. I have Open Office, GIMP, Inkscape and TuxPaint on my Xubuntu and my XP machines. They work the same, though I strongly prefer the Xubuntu machine.

Command line stigma hampers would be Linux users at the mere mention of the word. In Linux the command line is not completely covered by the user interface, the fact that it is so available is a threat. It is there if you need it and is no worst to use than using a word processor, but it does require some knowing what it does for you. YOU MIGHT NOT EVER, NEVER NEED TO USE IT! There were times when I had to use the command line even in MS XP because the XP desktop gave me no way to deal with a problem. This is why I prefer to use the term "TERMINAL" instead of command line. The terminal is the text only interface, the GUI is the graphical user interface, the same but different. "Oh, how dare they put stuff in there, I can't figure out". I am willing to bet you haven't figured out your TV remote yet either!

What would Linuxville native life be without a mascot? Tux the penguin has been the most recognized symbol to date. There have been reports of mysterious appearances in user group photos and faint images burnt into disgarded CRT monitors. I don't think there are many Tux costume fanciers but the Stiffe toy company probably had a run on penguins at times. Crop circles and the Tux shaped deep sea out cropping, and will I ever cover that little chrome XP/Vista sticker with a Tux badge? It is funny though, as little as Linux spends on a marketing strategy, that Tux is so strong an image.

I hope the above helps, better than a grass skirt. Sorry I can't offer official Linuxville passports, Tux lapel pins or a secret decoder ring, scratch-n-sniff trading cards. But as was told to me years ago, Linux kind of grows on ya!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Finally a little respect, but long way to go

Usually when I go to the main library in my town I have to browse the computer books to see what's new. I have to say browse because Linux books were scattered throughout the Microsoft forest. Well, I couldn't believe my eyes, someone put all the Linux books on one shelf. I was elated, this is a Linux impact statement (at least to me) that says Linux is worthy and recognized, sort of. You can find them without whining.

There is still a long way to go with books in the Linux world. Most books deal with the operating system, usually from a system administrator's view point. But there needs to be more books on the applications that people use. Our library has a couple of books on Open Office but none on GIMP. While I enjoy that I can get articles and downloads about Linux applications off the net, there is great comfort in having a printed book. Books still say there is authoritative and enthusiastic interest.

So, maybe your local computer enthusiast group can pool their resources together in a fund, buy Linux and Linux application books and donate them to the library. That way over time all can share. One book at a time goes a long way. This is your official homework project!!

But since Linux info has grounded itself in the digital format for these many years, you also have to wonder why technology to access this knowledge has not been front page. Digital reading devices should be as popular as iPods. Maybe there will be a drive to cut down on paper printing. Newspapers are struggling as it is. My idea is a simple one. A digital device about the size of a magazine with a USB port. There would be kiosks into which you can plug-in your jump drive and for a small fee download your choice of newspapers and magazines. Then you plug it into your reader and read away. Subscription services could email your copies to your account. And so what if the only thing you can do with the device is read. If I had wanted a full fledged computer we already have netbooks and laptop computers and such. Keeping it simple also keeps the cost down. Some genius wants to put interactive content, sound, color, a real multimedia and pricey machine, all I want is a digital newspaper I can read.

Envision this, when I turn on my cell phone it makes a sound, displays a boot screen and then allows me to call or receive calls. Suppose a similar device or the phone itself could have a USB jack/port and you could download your subscription PDF file magazine or newspaper, then go to any LCD display plug it in and read away.

Another thing is that digital content producers want digital content in file formats they control. Look, just put it all in a PDF document format we already know and love, be done with it. For instance there is a Ubuntu magazine called "Full Circle" in .pdf format. It is a wonderful and colorful magazine. The local computer group here has a newsletter in .pdf, it is very informative and interesting. I wouldn't mind paying or donating small change for .pdf publications, even newspapers can do this.

The point, quit designing I can do everything but not so well products. It is good enough to do a few things well.

Oh yeah, speaking of books, "How to do Everything: Ubuntu" by Jeffrey T. Orloff (McGrall Hill 2008) is the most understandable Linux book I've come across so far. It has history, dispels the mysteries, has some nut and bolt talk, some mouse workouts and is user friendly. It gives you enough info so that you can comfortably "work it"and a solid base to inquire further (if you must know). What, no live-CD in the back? No John, I'm not that kind of book! This is a great read me first book.

Well the Linuxville desk is due a Spring clean-up and spruce-up, better get at it, later!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Linuxville technical showcase

It's a voluminous room with swirling lights and digital sounds. There were displays of the first mainframe all the way to todays typical desktop PCs. And the big survey question, what's on your desk??

Hey, what happened to that laptop? That's SHOCKING!! It's as though somebody ripped off the LCD display and........., I just wanted you to see what I was talking about.

Oooooooh, it looks nice doesn't it? You know it does!! I gotta get me one of these!!

Those marketing people are so mesmerized by the portable laptop mystique, they can't see what a great idea this is. I want to replace my big standard desktop PC with a sleek low powered all-in-one, under the keyboard technology that already exist, a laptop without the display mounted on it. I can use any LCD display I already have, standard or wide format. This setup should be the new PC for when portability is not an issue. This would lower the cost of the PC for many folk who own displays already. What about portability? Well those who need it can get a netbook like that Asus EEE or similar, you can take it with you.

What could top this new desktop PC is a similar desktop unit without the keyboard sort of like a blade server without the rack. Wow, a desktop blade server stack or cluster stack, hummmmm.

My last bit of mental exercise is what shall we call it. Macs are Macs, MS powered computers are PCs, maybe Linux powered computers should be called LICs or Linux Intelligent Computers or LPCs, Linux Powered Computer. Gotta have a moniker.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

BYOM or techno bubbles bursting in air!

Car shows, they come, they go. So far I've never went to one because I hate to see all the latest stuff they managed to put between 4 wheels. Then I realize this dream car is one of a kind, not for sale, not coming to a dealer near you! Forget the car, what about the technology? Well when the technology finally comes, it in no way resembles what I saw in the show.

The all-in-one computer, like those TV/VCR/DVD combo units. I can see it on my desk now, sleek and poised. The computer built into the monitor because we are all duped into racing after the design pace set by Apple's iMac. I relax, kickback, want to put the keyboard in my lap, sit back in a creative pose, oh wait, I need to pop in a CD. I disrupt my posture for a moment to reach across to the display to put in the CD. It is so unnatural, I guess this is why laptops are so popular, it's all attached to the keyboard. But then I am stuck, I have this great laptop (not the latest) and the display is not a wide screen, not big enough for squinty eyes and I can't cop my creative pose, hang on to it and type too (new laptop needed?).

The answer to my dilemma is to rip the display off the laptop. With this all-in-one computer in my lap minus the display tethered by a cable, I can reach my CD slot in ease while striking my creative pose and mount the display on the wall, pole, stand or base. And use any display I happen to have (BYOM, bring your own monitor!!). But laptops are supposed to be portable! Hey, just because I want a desktop doesn't mean I must have a big energy sucking computer in a dust-bunny palace. Actually, netbooks are more portable and laptops are..........less portable!

You computer folks make convertible laptops where the display will rotate, fold backward into a tablet. Why can't you make the display an attachable option? I will buy the base unit as a desktop and use a separate display of my choice. I think you computer makers are trying to sell displays with the computer as the option. I think it's child's play to put the display and hinge assembly on say a port extender block and secure it to the laptop back with two thumb screws.

Personally, the laptop is too big and not nomadic enough to be truly portable for most people and why today, netbooks are hot. This is my expert advice, rip the display off the laptop, call it the new desktop, leave the PC case for gamers and servers. This gives us three distinct classes of computers, the netbook, the low power desktop and the mod case PC. There are too many crossovers in the market.

OK, the hottest thing in PCs is to boot from a USB drive. I can boot MS XP, Vista, MS W7 on my hard drive or from that 4-32 gig thumb drive with the Linux of my choice or vice versa (my preference!). This is like a throwback to Commodore 64 days, the program cartridge plugged into the side of the computer. But with these USB thumb drives being 4 to32 gigs in size, the operating system and installed applications can be put on one drive. I know there are security issues with thumb drives in business machines. So put encrypted locks/keys on the bootable ports and maybe a physical lock so that only IT can remove it or change it. Anyway the PC itself can be fairly generic but when the jump drive is plugged in, it becomes a MS windows machine or a Linux machine at will.

Hey IT folks, if your OS and apps are on the jump drive and something gets corrupted, you only have to swap a new loaded jump drive and that PC is up and running. You still have to scan/clean the files on the server but half the work is done. You can even keep loaded jump drives handy to copy onto the hard drive if that is your way of working. Think of this as digital inoculating injectors, pretty cool.

Sometimes it's not about new stuff, but using what we have already in a different light. Yeah, in Linuxville we are use to that!.