Saturday, October 31, 2009

the maddness, the pain, the liberation

I just wasn't satisfied with upgrading Ubuntu 9.04 with 9.10. I did the online upgrade and like I said took 5 hours. I had disabled Gnome desktop which came standard on Ubuntu and installed the KDE desktop. So I got out the yellow tape and marked off the Linuxville guide desk. It looked more like a crime scene. I deleted unwanted files, then backed up all personal data on CDs. Man, I wish I had a DVD burner.

When the dust settled I installed Kubuntu 9.10 from the Live-CD. It only took 1 hour to download and another to install. Compared to 5 hours for the online upgrade, this was a dream. I am quite pleased with the results, KDE desktop is a bit more robust than Gnome, but I like it. What does robust mean? A little more configurable in some things with more noticeable results. I think KDE and Gnome compete like Microsoft and Mac, only on the Linux platform. You can't go wrong with either KDE or Gnome. The only complaint was the package installation manager for KDE (Kpackagekit), it is not straightforward and easy to use for finding software. Instead I use Synaptic, a way more wonderful and thoughtful package management app.

I am not a multi-tasker by nature but I did laugh at the Win7 commercial where the young lady had way too many programs open at the same time and it did not crash (knock on plastic!). It was never the crashing that bothered me, it was the confusion. All that stuff on the desktop reminded me of my dining room table, piled, layered with stuff in plain sight. Linux has had up to 16 desktop workspaces for years now. I had different reference materials open full page on different workspaces. There is a pager in my toolbar which shows each workspace and allows me to get to any one of them very quickly. With the compositing effects into play, you can rotate the workspaces on a cube or see them all arrayed flat or...........killing the clutter and not crashing as well. Icons all over the desktop are a dis-ease. I've learned to use my file manager to graphically show me where things are.

One of my main problems as an artist is what to do next. If you are doing this for a living, that is, working for a company, at least you have direction. If you are a free lancer it is best to draw what you know. The thing I discovered is that limitations work better than abundance. When everything, all the tools, all your talents, all the subjects are before you, it is hard to choose. I tell myself to limit my pallet. When I have a small group I get creative. What can I do with this? I can always add something or take away something. With limitations come considerations, I think about what I need and if I need to learn a new trick, a new skill.

I will admit a lot of my work is not pure digital, that is, I'm not putting in calculations to make the computer draw something mathematical. I'm not into digital photos either. But what I like is to make parts of drawings and combine them. Sometimes I draw on paper, scan it into the PC and start that way. So for me the computer is for helping along human generated art. A PC is a very, very fancy pen/pencil/brush.

Hardware, where is my hardware? I can work fine at home, at my desk, but as soon as I go out of the room a separation anxiety happens. A laptop would be a good fix but it's still a big conventional PC. A netbook is OK except it is not really meant for graphics work. I think I need a new device. Call it a sketchbook. It's a handy unit, light weight and has a few standout features.
1. 12"- 15" screen is plenty big, can be wide-screen or not. Pixel Qi (pronounced "chee") has new low power display technology that is cheaper, sort of pimped out ePaper.

2. No keyboard!! The on_screen virtual keyboard is perfect along with a remote wireless compact keyboard (if needed).

3. 6" x 9" pen pad built into the deck, where the keyboard was, OR.....
I would even take a pen pad panel and snap it over the keyboard/palmrest to turn a slightly juiced netbook into a sketch pad doodle machine.

Now I'm going to step in it. Web graphics and multi-media folks usually want a screen big enough and a PC with power enough to run professional Microsoft platform graphics applications. Please go buy a well endowed laptop and don't mess with my dream. This idea is for a sketchbook, a portable doodle machine. I want to emphasize pen input but not the touch screen approach, or the pen tablet display approach (both pricey technologies). Then I am running Linux graphics applications like Gimp, Inkscape and MyPaint. Why, because actual drawing on a PC is an afterthought with the pro-ware. I want to doodle on a PC meant for sketching. Yes, I am lowering the bar here, I've quite enough of messaging the egos of the well heeled and pro-graphic-technology junkies. Let the low end become the archetype for once. This leaves room for an upgraded model, but not today. What usually happens is a good starting point product is planned but by the time every kind of commercial artist weighs in, it becomes the Dell W700 with built-in Wacom tablet, color calibration tools and $3000 price tag, all I want is to sketch. Build a machine for my end of the market, I have art needs too.

I'm setting with my doodle machine in my lap, bag lunch, thermo of joe and the urge to push pixels. Imagine, a roving artist, small canvas, paint box, easel, folding chair and time to paint dreams. Reality, I've taken mom-n-law to doctor appointment, sitting in waiting room, doodle machine in hand, 20 minutes to myself. My brag is this: you don't need a pedigree to push pixels and you don't need to have what the pros use either (unless your job/career demands it). Honing your chops can be done near free if you are willing to open up to Open Source. And if you are to venture into Linuxville, be prepared to have your eyes opened.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Linux is sustainable computing.

I have been hinting at Win7's being an improvement over XP and Vista. That is an observation not an endorsement. I know many are hooked into the Microsoft thing. That is fine with me but I do recommend Open Source Software especially to the droves of you who are tight of wallet or purse. Those of you who are concerned over legal end user agreements and activation procedures, copyrights and actually owning the software you acquired will also benefit from Open Source Software. As for the rest of you, buy a Mac (really BSD/Unix/whatever, (whisper, whisper)) or like me, go Linux all the way.

Here in the Linuxville guide chateau, I waited for a particular Linux upgrade. Ubuntu 9.10 became official yesterday and despite the droves of netizens all after it, I weighed in. First downloading Ubuntu (Gnome desktop), then Kubuntu (KDE desktop). Finally I did the online upgrade from Ubuntu 9.04 to Ubuntu 9.10, it took far too long (5 hours). If I had a DVD burner, I could have backed up all my files and did a fresh install (always better and a lot less time). I think because I have a mixed system, KDE on Ubuntu, I don't know if there are any performance benefits. Maybe down the road I will consider the fresh install to see. In any case you need a plan to do the job or you will lose personal data and program configs and settings.

After watching Microsoft trying to appeal to my child side in their Win7 commercials, I am totally convinced you have to be a pretty smart kid to use their stuff. Very few of us are smarter than a 5th grader (TV show). Then another Microsoft bashing from Mac's arrogant, snobbish, bad boy, wise guy, the rebel, anti-establishment, etc. The better at business or better at personal creativity and freedom thing is old (we still fall for it!).

So what is Linux compared to Mic and Mac? Linux never hid it's Unix roots. Linux is what happens when software engineers design something for themselves. They have invited average personal computer users into their world by developing a graphical user interface that has familiar elements and bells and whistles. Linux can be simple or complex, small or large, can be configured to run on a wristwatch or a mainframe. Linux is sustainable computing. Linux is intelligent, yet you can do kid stuff, business stuff, creative stuff, any stuff. Of all the Linux distributions I have tried I like the Ubuntu family. It is user friendly in both the software and the community concerning the desktop. Community means you can talk to other users and the designers also. Linux is also a workhorse on the server side, the backbone of the world's communication network. The configuration designed to run on your PC is the superb genius of countless software designers. Traditionally it is called a distribution or distro, I call it a Linux solution.

I only have one out cry, "Stella! Stella!, err a, how is Linux free? How can they do this for free? They don't. Many software designers work for firms, get paid to develop Linux. Money is made selling CD/DVD's and on support services and custom designing systems. So, you can buy the disc, the services or download Linux for free. It is similar for Open Source Software, and if you want you can donate funds to support it, you can.

At first it was kind of awkward to leave the Mic and Mac show behind, now I love it and don't lack anything. So, once again I leave it up to you to choose. Under the current definitions of sustainability, Linux is sustainable computing!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Your computer, it really gets personal

It really is a personal computer. You get this interface and it becomes yours. Like the Twilight Zone, you control the horizontal, the vertical and you learn what to expect when you do this and when you do that. Hey, don't do that or know!

I've used XFCE, Gnome, KDE, Fluxbox, Openbox, Enlightenment and several other Linux desktops. If you are immediately struck with any of them you are bound to learn all the secrets, shortcuts and workarounds to make navigating your personal computer desktop efficient for yourself. I have gone from not tweaking much with one desktop to tweaking everything to get it right on another. I am still hard pressed to recommend one of them, depends on what you are willing to deal with and what looks good to you.

Today I am exploring the world of Ubuntu Linux with KDE eyes. KDE has improved over the years and although I was never a through thick-n-thin fan, I waited for what its become today, pretty impressive. KDE is not a skinny resource sipping desktop, it's robust, a lot of the bells and whistles have been consolidated and trimmed. This is due to all the progress made in desktop effects and a settling down among folks determined to out do MS and Apple (my opinion). Good job KDE folks, good job!

Your Linuxville guide is always in the love/hate mode when it comes to Linux distros. There is stuff in this distro and stuff in that, it is maddening. Sort of like going to buy a car, you want a Chevy Impala, they ask "you want the vanilla version, the sporty version or the luxury version?" The difference? Seat covers, wheel covers and your public image.

There are several distros that flaunt themselves as artist oriented distros. This usually means they come standard with audio,video, graphical software in some mix.

Ubuntu Studio is DVD sized and is multi-media focused.

ArtistX is also Ubuntu based and is multi-media focused and is DVD size.

OpenArtist is DVD size, has some multi-media stuff but is visual art focused. OpenArtist has all kinds of special configuration scripts to make certain apps work better for drawing and then work with each other.

Puppy Artist Workshop is a version of Puppy Linux. This is a CD size distro. It doesn't try to have it all, just what is useful for most of us pixel pushers. Puppy is a special design of its own. It is not based on Ubuntu, Red Hat or Slackware.

The weird thing is that most folks don't even know you can even do anything in Linux, let alone art of any kind. There is a long list of applications both commercial and open source. The open source stuff is free quality software, you just have to use it and get to know it. Gimp and Inkscape have most if not all of the tools and techniques found in Photoshop and Illustrator. The interfaces are different, some work flows are different and some file formats. Like I said there is a long list and I don't think this one has them all. The kicker is most open source software has MS Windows versions and well as the Linux versions.

So, you can change your OS if you want or not. My attitude is this if you got school kids and they need to write reports and papers, use free software. If you need to train for a job and must have MS Office, buy it. I recommend Open Office Write, AbiWord, IBM Symphony, or KDE's KWord, all are great word processors, free and will produce .doc format documents. I think I like KWord the best. But don't blame me if you get reverse sticker shock. If you want to compensate the writers and developers for their free and open source software offerings, most will take donations to continue their efforts. It's sort of like public radio, commercial free and community supported.

And me, my reasons for using open source software, they come with Linux so I use them. I have a kind a liberty where I don't worry about the price or if I can afford to buy commercial software, because I have all what I need in open source. There is a silent chant in the working world that says "everybody's using Microsoft stuff, so I need to do likewise to be compatible." For 99.5% of the computer users, compatible means "makes standard Microsoft document formats." If other programs can do that you are off the hook. That is how I verify wither or not I need to buy a MS based product. It was the same regarding MS Windows as an operating system. This new Windows 7 will be a game changer though, it is looking better than both XP and Vista, time will tell. But for me another big reason for using open source software is near-zero end user agreements or authorizations and no activations, the software I acquired can be installed on all my machines. I can pass them around to friends and they can do the same without threat of legal reprisals.

Ok, there is one problem that users have, it's sort of like stigma. We hate to use stuff that others around us aren't using. No one likes being the odd ball. It's also kind of ironic how we want to be unique but not different. The TV commercials exploit this, notice that while MS and Mac vie, Linux and open source is not mentioned at all. Also you don't see this stuff on the store shelves, so it is not on your radar. Having been thoroughly informed and entertained in the media and assured by seeing MS and Mac stuff on the shelves, it is a no-brainer choice. Now after you spent your money, committed your time and energy, I come along and say Linux can do what the other guys can do and do it for free. All you can say is "but".

Relax, you have entered the "Linux Zone", it is different here, yet you still get the job done.