Saturday, June 25, 2011

More software freedom of choice!

When you work every day during the week as I am doing now, it is not as easy to find moments to collect thoughts that are worthy to share on a technical blog, and so that is why it has been a week or two between my writings and musings. But I have a break today, so I will take some time to collect a few thoughts about systems that I have been investigating and testing.

I have three of them to write about today; one that I tested last night, and two more that I tested today, one of which I am using right now; it's called Webconverger, or webc-8.0. I will mention more about it in a little while.

The first system I worked with to begin the weekend was Sabayon 6.0. I had Sabayon 5.5 previously installed, liked it a lot, had added quite a bit of software to it, and during a recent upgrade it ran out of space. I unsuccessfully tried to clear the cache of enough space to make it worthwhile to keep, but the disk stayed 100% full, so it was an excellent candidate for a replacement. Too bad: it had worked well, and it also only recently started offering rolling release upgrades as an alternative to fresh installations. But I needed a fresh installation, plus installing a new system always shows off the new features - and sometimes the limitations as well. That, at least initially, proved to be the case here. Sabayon is in the middle of making some infrastructure and packaging improvements. Chances are that in the long run these will work very well. In the meantime, though, I ran into problems. When I went to update the system, it told me that there were eight new packages available, but none of them would install for me, and I started getting error messages about something wrong with the package management system. I sent one of them along to Sabayon; hopefully it reaches them, they are aware of whatever issue it was that cropped up, get it fixed soon, and maybe even drop me a note to let me know about the change; I hope that happens!

Until then, Sabayon 6.0 is not quite ready for me to spend much, if any, time with it. So I went looking for others. I had downloaded a version of Fedora 15 Xfce Live, and still had the ISO image on one of my systems, so I checked to see if I had tested it yet. I had downloaded a Beta test version of the same thing back in May, but this was a June 17 download of the released version, so I tried it out. I was very happy with the result, possibly enough so to give the release a try installed; I only ran it live. One thing with Xfce I was able to do was mount my hard disk file systems. I found my main Debian Sid partition, mounted it, then ran Firefox Nightly out of my personal copy in my home directory and it ran well. That gave this Fedora release extra points; I could run software on it from other systems, and at least what I tried out actually worked. That's good.

The system had its usual fine appearance, and Xfce is a well kept secret from most people. I feel it is the most mature (1996 origins, same time frame as KDE) and well developed desktop available. KDE had real growing pains earlier in Version 4 and has finally pretty much recovered; GNOME 3 is currently going through similar pains; Xfce has had only short periods of instability in comparison to KDE and GNOME, has a bit of a more classic appearance and function, tends to be as flexible as KDE, though not quite as full featured, and definitely easier to master than the richness of KDE. It is also lighter and more flexible than GNOME, and though it shares the Gtk+ toolkit with GNOME, it is easily - at least in my opinion, the more wisely designed system. Both KDE and GNOME take leaps in new directions, but it's unclear whether or not they get the ideas for their directions from their user base, whereas it is pretty clear that Xfce develops out of dialog with its user and development base. So Fedora 15 Xfce definitely benefits from that. Fedora 15, also taking steps to provide more spins and to provide more stability, has appeared to have succeeded in both of these areas if my short spin with Xfce is any indication of the possibilities and capabilities of Fedora 15.

I mentioned Webconverger 8.0 to whet your appetite, and though this is not your every day kind of a system, it is great for using as a Kiosk type of system. You run this one without loading anything to disk. I ran it off CD, but I think it would be ultra cool to run it off a quiet USB or SSD technology. It would really be not only quiet then, but fast as well.

I added the cheat codes toram and copy2ram to the boot line, pressing tab as soon as the boot screen appeared, hoping that I could not only run this live, but quietly load it completely into RAM. I did this on not one, not two, but three laptop systems of different vintages: a large, 17" portable Gateway 2000 Series Model PA6A, a similar vintage 15" Lenovo 2000 Series Y410 laptop, and an older, traditional 14" Dell Latitude D620 laptop. All three work well, and once loaded, perform with similar skills and ability because the system speed becomes a minor player; the memory and network access rate become the driving components of performance. Fortunately, all three systems are similar enough in those areas to provide similar performance. The Gateway may still have had a slight edge, being the largest and fastest, but only by a very slight margin. The Dell was probably slowest; again, any difference, if there even was any, was minimal; all three platforms worked virtually the same.

If you are going to be doing all web browsing or you want to create either a home or a business kiosk, then this is a good distribution to evaluate; I like it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Software Freedom of Choice

NOTE: I first wrote these thoughts in response to "Lxer: The Century of the Linux Desktop", an RSS link to an article on LXer. I wrote my initial comments at Desktop Linux Reviews Forum.

When it comes to software, I believe in freedom and I believe in choice; the choice to run all free sofware, the choice to run a pragmatic mix of free and non-free software, and the choice to run commercial and proprietary software as well.

For my personal use at home, I overwhelmingly run free software with preference toward completely free, when possible, but pragmatic, when it comes to doing the things that I want to do, run the applications that I want to run, and save time and money in the process. I do actually have a version of Windows 7 that my part time employer acquired for me, but now we have a new Webserver that is based on Word Press, and the Email function sends mail directly to me, rather than requiring me to login to Front Page to extract the messages, save them and edit them using proprietary programs. Now I can do the complete job from most any system. Not sure that I'd try it on my netbook, but that might actually be an interesting experiment for when I am "on the go" or out of town.

Favorites? In the foreseeable future, it is quite likely that my favorite will be Linux-based unless something even better comes along. Right now, I like Debian-based derivatives the most, but when Debian lags, I try others as well. Sabayon, PCLinuxOS, openSUSE with Tumbleweed rolling release repositories, and Mageia test (Cooker) versions have provided me with early prototypes of new applications to test out. Debian Sid has been somewhat more stable than them, and Debian Testing has been completely stable. Debian Stable has been rock stable, and it works if all I want is to get on a system, read Email and browse the Web. SimplyMEPIS is the finest ready-to-go Debian-based system if that kind of stability is what you look for, so I always keep it around. The MEPIS derivative antiX is a great alternative to run with either Stable, Testing, or Sid (Unstable), and it provides plenty of tools to use to tinker with it. I keep both Live CDs and multiple installed versions of antiX and one of its recent "children", Swift Linux, installed, they work great.

Before closing this dialog, though, I want to not only defend the right to free software, I want to defend the right to proprietary commercial software as well. There is definitely a place for Windows, and there is definitely a place for Mac OS X too. Windows is great for those who don't want to tinker, will pay for a system, but want it simple. You can get something similar in SimplyMEPIS, PCLinuxOS, or Mint, but some people can't be bothered even to learn their subtle distinctions and quirks, and for them, Windows is the right choice. For others, the Mac definitely has an elegance and a richness to it. To me, it is expensive, and it limits choice, but the choice or alternative that it offers, and to quite a few, who are willing to pay the premium price, it is a very good alternative. It's not for me, but I won't argue or contest with those who like it. Based on what I've seen, though it's not my choice, just like the iPad, iPhone, iMac, anything with the "i" prepending the name, the brand suggests something, and it delivers what it suggests, and that's value - at least to those looking for it.

For me, starting with any of several Debian-derived systems as my starting point, I can make something that can deliver 100% of what I need for every day home use, and I can do it for the cost of the system itself, the media, and the network connection, and my time, that's it. That is a pretty good "value proposition" for me, especially since I can get several of them up and running in under fifteen minutes, perhaps a half hour investment, considering download and media creation times, and I can multi-task during those times, so it's well worth my while, and even at $50 an hour, (if I use a round figure to value my time), I can spend an hour or two before I face the expenses that I would face with any commercial sofware system, so it's well worth it to me, and I also happen to enjoy it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Brian Masinick Blog: Peppermint Ice Two - first impressions

Brian Masinick Blog: Peppermint Ice Two - first impressions: "I am now using the newly installed Peppermint OS Two (2), which uses a 2.6.38 Linux kernel, the LXDE (desktop environment) and the Chromium ..."

Peppermint Ice Two - first impressions

I am now using the newly installed Peppermint OS Two (2), which uses a 2.6.38 Linux kernel, the LXDE (desktop environment) and the Chromium 11 Web browser. This is a lightweight hybrid desktop, intended for a significant amount of online computing and social networking, but not a "Cloud-only" experience; it has many traditional type of applications, but it tends to use lighter applications than commonly seen on most "full featured" desktop systems.

This software has just passed a year of service, so Version 2 comes out just slightly after a year of experience, and it is maturing nicely. I would consider this a very stable and useful, fairly flexible, moderately light system, and it's good enough to install and retain this second (major) release.

Not only is this a hybrid in terms of combining traditional and "Cloud-based" services, it is also a hybrid in terms of including some of the best features from Peppermint OS One and Peppermint Ice. Mozilla Prism is gone in this one, so the browser used is the one found in Ice, but the theme is somewhere in between One and Ice, fairly conservative, a dark background with just enough color to make it interesting, but nothing that shouts at you; it is middle of the road, and pretty decent. It may not draw huge accolades, but it shouldn't be blasted either. Fans of Peppermint are likely to like it.

Functionally, the release is maturing and filling an undercrowded niche that fits somewhere in between a traditional desktop and a completely network-based Cloud computing solution. This one makes overtures to network-based computing, but does not exclusively rely upon it, so this is a good bridge release between the current status quo and the emerging future of network computing as it evolves.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Peppermint Two - Is Two Better than One in this case?

Peppermint OS came onto the scene just over a year ago, and it brought out new waves of enthusiasm. It was not quite a complete "Cloud-based" operating system, but it wasn't your completely traditional desktop operating system either. The original design fell somewhere in between the traditional general purpose desktop system and the completely network based mobile system. It's lighter than a traditional system in terms of startup speed and the heft of the overall system, but it's not quite the all or nothing - all in the Cloud approach found in Jolicloud's Joli OS or the imminent release of Google Chrome OS on the Acer and Samsung Chromebooks, which will be coming out this next week - as we reach the "ides" of June - the midway point of the month.

In the past, Peppermint OS has been a good system. From the appearance, I enjoyed the original Peppermint OS One the most, but on a practical level, I used both OS One and OS Ice. I just downloaded the latest version. Since Firefox has focused on Sync and is capable of handling application instances, the earlier Prism research project upon which Peppermint was based has been de-emphasized, so Peppermint Two uses a Google Chromium browser to achieve a Site Specific Behavior in a "Single Site Browser" - which is what Kendall Weaver, founder of Peppermint OS, calls the SSB. Both Mozilla's Prism Project and Google's Chrome and Chromium Web browser projects support the idea of a Single Site Browser. But Prism is more of a prototype, a concept generator; Chrome and Chromium are developing products with a number of incremental releases behind them. The latest version of Peppermint OS Two uses Google Chromium as its core Web browser. Kendall has included a number of SSBs in his distribution, and you can easily create your own by creating a Web instance of a specific page.

If you don't know how to do that and you are interested in finding out, write to me or check out the Peppermint OS site at

Friday, June 03, 2011

Mageia first out the door in June!

The distribution forked after last September's large layoff of Mandriva developers has now reached its first release. Mageia was formed probably less than two months after that shift in Mandriva strategy. I am pretty sure that by November the group had already met, named itself, and put up some public information.

It was from there until about February that Mageia had some of its most difficult struggles - getting the correct infrastructure into place, and attempting to cast a schedule. They were behind a few times until they got the first build actually up and working. From then on, they cast a new project schedule and they kept it very well until release.

I feel that this release feels a lot like Mandriva, because in a lot of ways it IS a lot like Mandriva. The core tools come directly from Mandriva and they are written and maintained by former Mandriva developers. No reasons NOT to use them, since 1. They were maintained by some of these very engineers and 2. If it is licensed under the GPL (GNU General Public License), it had better be freely available, and it is.

I am not sure if Mandriva can recover from twelve years of financial distress, numerous ups and downs in the financial stability and reputation of the company. Mageia, on the other hand, while not ground shattering, implements the functionality previously released in Mandriva, and it is about as stable as I can ever remember it being, so this is a good release; it's just not anything unique, new, or innovative - YET. Give them time; without management interference, they are already doing better than they were under corporate control. Expect some good things and expect them to stay free. You heard it here, and I read it on their site.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Can Chromebook succeed?

Google frequently tests out new ideas, and quite a few of their ideas have long Beta test cycles. Common wisdom is that these products either aren't ready for market or Google is trying to get others to test them. There is definitely some truth in both of those statements, but these comments need to be explored in more detail.

As a case in point, I believe it was approximately 2006 when Google acquired the assets for Android, an operating system with a Linux kernel and a Java application stack, designed to be used with Smart phones. Google had an idea to run with this to make their products and services available to gadget users everywhere. Google modified both the Linux kernel and the Java application stack to create their version of Android, and got quite a few people in both areas all up in arms.

In the case of the Linux kernel, I am pretty sure that several of their changes have, in fact, worked their way back into the Linux kernel. They are too useful and important for that not to have happened. But Oracle had a number of concerns about the way that the Java code (and the name and license that go with it) are being used, and they filed a legal suit. Today, I saw a note that suggests that the case may go on for years unless both Google and Oracle change the way in which they are approaching the suit. At the present time, that delay would seem to favor Google, but Sun did have success in a previous legal suit against Microsoft, and Microsoft simply created C# instead. Could Google have a similar strategy, especially if this drags on? Perhaps by the time anything happens, Google will change the plumbing anyway.

But what about the Chromebook? Could Google have a similar strategy - a long term strategy, to assess the market for Cloud-based netbook (and other form factors) operating system? Could it be that the Cr-48 really WAS just a PROTOTYPE and a pilot project? Could it be that the Acer and Samsung models, which are only planned to be sold over the Internet, are merely test market vehicles to gain additional real world experience, and to further validate the ideas and marketing before creating an all-out, energetic marketing plan?

Some have speculated exactly what I just mentioned. It took from 2006 until 2009 before Google, Verizon Wireless, and Motorola came out with the Droid in a big marketing splash. It took another year for more Android products to come out. The Android is still developing itself in the tablet form factor, but is well established in the smart phone form factor. Could it be that this next year will be a trial period to see what works with the Cloud-based ChromeOS Chromebook?

I have reason to believe that this is the case. I believe that the younger generation, who carry around all kinds of devices, could be sold on a completely network-based system. They use them now in their smart phones and tablets.

Google has shown that they do not need to be the first ones out there in the market with a particular idea to do it right. Jolicloud and Joli OS have certainly beaten Google ChromeOS out, but the Joli OS is not an integrated hardware and software product; the Chromebook on ChromeOS is. The iPhone on iOS is too.

Do you think that Google is on the right track to experiment here? Do you think that Oracle is troubled, perhaps because they have been trying, on and off, for the past decade to create a network computer? Could Oracle and Google strike a deal at some point and finally make a network computer a reality?

What are your thoughts on any of these topics and questions? I would be interested in seeing another dialog on this one.