Thursday, June 30, 2005

Testing PCLinuxOS Preview 9

I was VERY HAPPY with the testing of PCLinuxOS this evening, and I was also VERY HAPPY with the manner in which the wget utility worked earlier today.

We had quite a few thunderstorms in the area. First, I stopped and started wget a few times because I was not happy with the throughput of the mirror site I had selected. I stopped, started again, and was getting a throughput indicative of being connected to a system with a shared modem instead of a broadband connection. Whether the site was just really busy or if it really had a low speed network peripheral, I cannot be sure, but I sure wasn't going to wait. I tried a second mirror. Ten times the throughput, but still only a fourth of what I've been getting lately.

Finally, I selected a third mirror and found the throughput I was looking for, only to have a major thunderstorm directly bearing down on my area. Rather than risk losing a network card and possibly more, I decided to shut my entire system down along with the cable modem and all of my other hardware. I hadn't been off the system for more than five minutes when we lost power to our home for perhaps a half hour.

I waited a while before starting things back up and my patience was rewarded.

I did not get to burn my CD ISO image of PCLinuxOS until evening, then I experimented with the Live CD, then installed it to disk. By the time I read my Email and finished installing the software, it had gotten late.

I'm tired, but I have a nice new system installed on my hard disk, and I was able to keep working while I installed it.

PCLinuxOS (PCL) Preview 9 is a Live CD remake of Mandriva LE 2005 with newer packages, including a brand new KDE 3.4.1 desktop, the latest changes to the Firefox and Thunderbird Web and Mail clients from Mozilla, and many other current versions of software. The Linux kernel is a 2.6.1 kernel that comes from the latest Mandriva cooker. Several other applications have mdk labels, some of them also seem to have indications that they have been either modified or customized specifically for PCL. In any case, I like this software.

Once I had it installed on the hard drive, I used the synaptic package manager to install GNU Emacs, XEmacs, NEdit, and the XFCE desktop with several plugins. All is working very well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hoping to test PCLinuxOS Preview 9

I started downloading PCLinuxOS Preview 9 earlier today, but got sidetracked with a major electrical storm in the area. I played it safe and cut power to my system, my network card, and my Cable modem. Things are back just fine (thanks to shutting down before the lightning bolts hit, but I'm now going to see if I can resume the download - I was using wget to download the software - I will be trying out wget -c to continue the download, then I will see if k3b can still make a clean burn. If all goes well, I may yet get a chance to test out the latest PCLinuxOS preview release.

Yahoo! Mail still leads in my book

Several years ago now I read an article about various Web based Email clients. At that time, I believe one of the reviews gave Netscape's Webmail the top rating. Their reason? More storage than the other offerings! Humph!

By the time the article was published, Yahoo! Mail doubled the amount of storage that they provide free. Since that time, Google has gotten into the Web-based Email fray and everyone is now considerably enlargening the default Web mail storage, typically at least 100 MB, many have 250 MB, soime have 1 GB, and of course, Goggle keeps in front, and by most counts, offers somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.3 GB of disk space with their service, with the comment that it is likely to continue to go up. (I'm guessing that few, if any of us, have hit that target, but if we start saving music and graphcal content embedded within Email messages, anything is possible.

Meanwhile, Yahoo is planning to beta test a system that will allow storage of on line Photo-Email.

For plain, ordinary every day use, I still like and use Yahoo! Mail. A few competitors, Google and My Way, in particular, rival Yahoo in speed, but frankly, I've been using Yahoo since at least 1997 and it still has consistently solid features and performance. The main thing, and the thing that keeps me with Yahoo is simply that it gets the job done every day.

Sometimes I keep Email on the Yahoo Mail Web server, other times I download my mail from their server and keep it on my local system. Both approaches work fine.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Experimenting, results went well

I did some experimentation with DSL (also known as DamnSmall Linux) over the weekend. First of all, I played around with a Live CD of DSL that I had created and briefly used a few months ago, perhaps several months ago. It ran very well, but I was hoping for some newer applications. So I tried an experiment.

First, I installed DSL to disk instead of running from Live CD. That went well. Since DSL is so small in size anyway, it only took minutes to install to disk, including reformatting the existing disk partition.

Next, I ran the software from disk. It ran well, almost as well (but not quite) as it runs from RAMdisk and faster than it runs directly from the slower CD.

I created a few user accounts. That feature worked well. I went into the passwd and group files to make sure that my new accounts had the same group and system accessibility as the default dsl account.

With that all successfully set up, then I went out and changed the apt/sources.lst file to point at the testing sources (etch) instead of the oldstable sources (Woody). That doesn't work by itself on this system because there is only one repository activated, the oldstable (Woody) binaries. Insstead, you also have to change the preferences file to specify testing instead of oldstable. Once I did that, I was able to do a dist-upgrade from Woody to Testing, and it worked great.

Just prior to installing Woody, I added a few of my favorite applications to DSL. When I did the dist-upgrade (using the easy graphical tool, synaptic), I not only got an upgrade to the applications and libraries used by the original DSL system, I also got my newly installed packages upgraded to the testing versions, which was ALSO what I wanted to do.

DSL does a nice job of providing both Debian packages and custom packages, both of which work well.

If you have a somewhat aging system, give DSL a try. It is easy on resources and fast on a four year old system.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Have any of you ever used ICHTHUS?

I am a big fan of Debian-based desktop systems. I've been using them for about four years now, and I've been using GNU/Linux software about ten years (since 1995). About seven years ago, I began to migrate to using GNU/Linux software more actively in my home. The first leap happened once I was able to get a high speed network card and a high speed link into my home. From there, I was able to use desktop Linux for something more than a glorified terminal server. Before that, I would login to my desktop Linux system, then use a modem program to dial up my UNIX workstation in the office. Often, I would upload or download files, and then work on them on my Linux system. But once I was able to actually use my Linux system when I was directly connected to a network, I used it much more actively.

The first time I used Linux when it was directly connected to a high speed network was in 1999. At that time, I installed Caldera OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4 on my laptop system. I dual booted it with Windows 98 SE at the time because I was also taking online graduate school classes at the University of Phoenix Online, and the courses used Windows based software, primarily Outlook Express and Internet Explorer, but we also had assignments that were written in Word, spreadsheets in Excel, presentations in Power Point, databases in Access, and so on. At that time there were a few Open Source office suites that could read stuff from Microsoft Office, but they were not anywhere near as functional as they are today. Given the limited time I had to work full time, study, and write papers, I dual booted.

Once that work was complete, I went on my full quest to run alternative Open Source Software or other free software as often as possible.

Mandrake was one of the early desktop environments that I used once I purchased a newer system in 2001. My first test system was a Compaq Presario 5000 series desktop system. I figured that Compaq systems would work well with Linux because they were one of the leading systems at the time. Well, they worked with SOME distributions, but not with others. Worse, Compaq had their own proprietary backup scheme set up. Once I started to mess with disk partitions, their entire backup scheme was messed up. I found out that while Compaq desktop systems work with Linux software to a certain extent, there are easier ways.

I found that Dell Dimension 4100 desktop systems make a pretty good platform for testing software. Both Linux and BSD based systems tend to install and configure well on the 4100 line, at least my system.

Once I replaced the Compaq with the Dell, I started to carve up and partition my disk so that I could test and run many different systems. At one time, I think I maxed out with either twelve or thirteen systems. I had Windows 2000 Professional, ten different Linux test systems, and a version of QNX 6.1 residing in a directory on the Windows 2000 partition. It was a lot of fun testing out and running the different systems.

After a while, I removed Windows 2000 and used that primary partition to test out some BSD systems. After that, I decided to reduce the number of partitions somewhat, enlarge the size of the partitions that remained, set up a couple of partitions to hold data for things like Email, documents I wanted to save, and a specific partition for saving software kits, CD ISO images, and things of that nature.

Over the years, the size of the distributions have grown considerably. To jam twelve or more distributions on a single 40 GB disk is no longer practical, and in a few cases, not even possible. I'm now using two primary partitions and one extended partition, which in turn, contains eight logical partitions. One of the logical partitions is a swap partition, so I have seven other locical partitions usable for something. Six of them contain distinct Linux distributions, the remaining partition contains Email and Web browser data. One of the primary partitions now contains Windows XP Professional, and the other primary partition contains software kits and information that I want to save. Whenever I install or test a new system, I add the second primary partition and the last logical partition to my mount points so that I have access to my extra software, my Email, and my browser content.

In addition to testing many hard disk based systems, over the past two years I have developed an interest in testing Live CD systems. I especially like the ones that I can boot as Live CDs, then later install, if I wish, to disk. I also like the really small versions that I can load completely into RAMdisk. These small, RAMdisk versions actually run faster than any other system software I know of because the entire system, applications and all, run from memory rather than from disk.

ICHTHUS is one of the recent Debian Live CDs that I've had a chance to test out. ICHTHUS is a Greek Word for Fish, and is commonly used as a "Fishers of Men" symbol by Christians. I discovered that ICHTHUS has a few Bible study programs and links to various Christian resources prominently installed on the system. It also has a desktop background that contains a quote of scripture. I have found ICHTHUS to be a useful distribution, particularly when I am studying scripture myself. It also happens to be a really solid Debian-based system that has been constructed from components of the Knoppix project. Well done, I like it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tried out Kanotix 2005-03

The other day I downloaded Kanotix 2005-03. Previously I had downloaded 2005-02 and liked it enough to install it on my hard drive. Though I could (and did) update it once or twice using the Debian binary archives that were provided, I decided to try out Kanotix as a Live CD, then install it to disk over the previous version.

This latest edition really isn't much different than the previous version, but it does provide you with the latest KDE changes in KDE 3.4.1, and it also provides a few other application updates that have changed since the previous release.

Kanotix has pretty good hardware detection, a fairly easy hard disk installation program, and up to date software. If you like an easy to use desktop system, it is worth a look. If you are partial to KDE on the desktop, even more reason to use Kanotix.

My one suggestion for the Kanotix developers is this: since you already have a pretty easy to use hard disk installation program, why not go just one step further and associate a Live CD desktop icon with the installation script action? That would make this a first rate way to easily load a Live CD, test to see if it works on your hardware, then quickly and easily install the software to disk. So close, why not make it even easier for the real beginner, instead of making them have to search the Web site to find out the way to install the software? Granted, it's not hard as it stands, but usability factors suggest that filling in just a few more details could turn this into one of the top desktop distributions. As it is, I give it pretty good marks, but I do think that both SimplyMEPIS (which has the desktop installation icon) and Ubuntu, which is less fancy, but also has easy installation tools), tend to steal the visibility. The reasons? An active user community and some really easy hard disk installation tools.

Nice job, nevertheless. Good software. It works quite well, and I like it.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Not very active blogging

I have not been active in blogging activity, either here or on any other blog, unless you count activity in various forums "blogging". Even then, I have not been as active as I once was. I have managed to install a few desktop software systems over the past few months and wring some good usage out of them. I successfully migrated from my own custom version of Libranet 2.8.1 to the latest release, Libranet 3.0, whereupon I installed all of the latest packages over the supported versions provided by the release. Libranet is a complete system based on the solid foundations of Debian GNU/Linux software. Though I really like several other desktop systems for simplicity and preconfigured setup, especially SimplyMEPIS, at the end of the day, I still end up running Libranet more than anything else.

Over the years, I've enjoyed long stints running Caldera Open Linux eDesktop 2.4, then several releases of Mandrake (and I still run Mandriva from time to time), then Lycoris, which I used as my default desktop environment for almost two years, then Libranet. Lycoris was probably the best designed of all, from a user interface perspective, so I am looking forward to seeing what Joe Cheek's influence will be on the next desktop release of Mandriva, now that Lycoris and Mandriva have merged and joined forces.

I was very saddened to hear the news that Jon Danzig, founder of Libra Systems, LTD., makers of Libranet, had been having health problems. Shortly after Libranet 3.0 was released, he passed away. He will be greatly missed by many. I have many personal memories of Jon, including receiving a personal note from Jon when I purchased Libranet 2.7, after giving it a glowing software review.

SimplyMEPIS looks really good these days. I think that it is one of the distributions to keep an eye on. Ubuntu is the other distribution that I'd watch, as well as the newly energized Mandriva.