Saturday, July 23, 2011

Living in Fedora

Well, just after my last post, I received a new desktop computer at work and decided, rather than staying in my safety zone and installing Ubuntu, that I would go ahead and put Fedora 15 on my work machine. Having been using it on a couple of laptops, the basics of yum/rpm and GNOME 3 were all pretty familiar. My biggest fear about moving to Fedora, or any other non-Debian-based distro, was feeling like I was in a foreign country without knowing the language, and without any friends. Most of the Linux users I know use Ubuntu or some flavor of Debian, and I am, frankly, quite attached to the Ubuntu support community (by which I mean the forums and IRC channel).

A cursory look through the Fedora Forum and hanging out in the #fedora IRC channel showed me that each of those is far less active (and far less n00b-friendly) than their Ubuntu equivalents. I'm not writing them off - I'm just saying that the communities are very different. Fortunately, I plan to continue with volunteer Ubuntu support, though now I'll need to have an Ubuntu instance running in VirtualBox.

So far though, using Fedora has been a breeze, and it's funny how little I'm missing Ubuntu's environment. I thought changing my primary distro would feel like some sort of breakup, but since it's free software, I know I could always return to Ubuntu if I wanted to. As it stands at the moment, though, the little usability things I don't like about Fedora (or GNOME 3, specifically) are better than the many things I do not like about Unity.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Inching towards Fedora...

Since I installed Ubuntu on my main computer in February 2008, I have pretty much been an Ubuntu devotee. If your goals are to get most any computer working out of the box without a lot of tracking down of proprietary drivers and the like, Ubuntu is probably your best choice. I have spent a great deal of time over the last few years advocating for the use of Free and Open Source alternatives to proprietary software, particularly to library staff, as libraries are my professional milieu. When a Windows user I know is wanting a change from all the strife that comes with running Windows (and needing an upgrade), I always, without hesitation, recommend Ubuntu as their solution. I have also been very active on the Ubuntu Forums and the #ubuntu IRC channel on FreeNode (username yeats on both), assisting new users with problems I know the answers to.

However, as a Linux user myself, I've been feeling the need for a change. I still primarily use Ubuntu on my home and work desktops, but on my work laptop and Dell mini, I have been experimenting with Fedora (first Fedora 14, and now on Fedora 15).  In the Linux world, Ubuntu is undoubtedly the most popular desktop distribution, but it's always followed closely by Fedora (often vying with Linux Mint for second place).  Both Ubuntu and Fedora use GNOME primarily, and they are both quite polished (nice fonts, consistent display, well-designed backgrounds, etc.).  Up until this spring, the desktop environments were very similar overall.  The recent moves to the "next generation" desktop environments (Ubuntu to Unity, Fedora to GNOME3), has made the choice more about which environment you want to work in.  Without getting into a full comparison of the two (which has been done to death all over the web - enjoy Bruce Byfield's evaluation here) or into the "Canonical vs. GNOME" drama, I will say that 1) I was not happy about the "taking my toys and going home" attitudes I saw from Canonical, which is a slight on the entire Ubuntu project, unfortunately and 2) I stopped using Unity, preferring "Ubuntu Classic" (calling up some nostalgia for me) after a couple of weeks for usability.  Using GNOME3 has been a pleasure so far.

I'm sure I'll report more as I begin to transition from Ubuntu to Fedora on my primary desktops.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Posting from GoogleCL

I am testing the ability to post content to my blog from the command line\!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Proprietary Software Traps - Adobe Flash

I've been working on a project for work involving the re-use of older (6-8 years old) PCs and laptops using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, with the goal of distributing them to some of our tech-impoverished Georgia libraries (nothing's firm yet - still in the exploratory phase). These were state library staff members' computers from maybe 2 generations ago and if they are not re-used, they'll be surplused or discarded. As I was installing and configuring Ubuntu, it occurred to me that since we would be redistributing whatever software we install, we are constrained about what we can include when they are sent out. Ubuntu, as-is, is all free software and all included packages can be redistributed freely. However, installing Adobe Flash, Sun (or Oracle) Java, or many proprietary A/V codecs or device drivers, makes it illegal to redistribute.

Once the libraries have the stations, of course, installing proprietary software on a per-station basis is no problem. But since our plan is to distribute these dozen or so computers to libraries with very little tech expertise on staff, we want these stations to be as "plug and play" as they can possibly be. Fortunately, these are Dells and HPs and the open source device drivers are covered. Proprietary Java *usually* isn't necessary for normal web browsing, and it's unlikely that these library staff are going to want these stations to be DVD-capable - it's hard enough to limit library patrons' time on computers without this complication.

The real problem is Adobe Flash, which is what much of the 2.0 web is built on. Even if libraries restrict the use of online video (many do for both content and technical reasons), Flash is necessary to view and use *many* websites, and seems like most corporate web developers assume that Flash is a given. Unfortunately, in the Linux world, it's not a given and it's not because Linux is not capable of running it - it's because it's proprietary software.

So because of the Ubuntu project for libraries, a Flash-free environment was already on my mind when the Flash security vulnerability was announced (and not just because of Apple's hypocrisy on the Flash/iPad issue), and I have begun exploring how I might wean myself off my Flash dependency (mainly for YouTube and Pandora, both which I use heavily). I spent the first part of the weekend trying to live with Gnash with disappointing results. Like many open source alternatives to established proprietary software, Gnash needs a lot of extra work just to get basic functionality (for me anyway), and as committed as I am to free/open source software, I don't want to spend all my time configuring something that probably won't work all that well anyway. I also signed up for YouTube's HTML5 beta testing program, but it doesn't work with Firefox, just Chromium (open source Chrome) and even then, the videos aren't playing. What to do?

Hopefully, the combination of Steve Jobs' criticism and the new security flaw will move web development away from Flash and into more open web standards. Until then, I'll just live in the discomfort of either holding my nose and just using Flash or sticking to my principles and doing without web content I truly enjoy. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Software Ecology and Taking Responsibility for It

I co-presented a conference session a few months ago about the use of open source software in libraries, and was in a conversation with one of my co-workers in the days leading up to it. This colleague, who I worked well with otherwise, said "You know all that stuff you're going to talk about? Well, it all pretty much sucks." He then began to list off the feature sets of the "proprietary version" of this or that program and how the "open source versions" were lacking because they do not contain certain features that he expects. While it's hard to hear this sort of criticism, I also can't really argue with it. I don't use open source software because of the feature sets of its individual programs. I use open source software because I have a commitment to software freedom and believe that software works better when there is a community of collaboration.

I use free and open source software for the same sorts of reasons people commit to buying organic produce or cooking their own food or recycling plastic or driving a hybrid car. There exists a "software ecology" that suffers when huge corporations are the only players. It's the difference between purchasing pre-made, jarred spaghetti sauce, and making your own ragu by letting it simmer for hours. The jarred sauce may taste fine. It is certainly predictable and stable. Decades of marketing has led the American consumer to believe that less work is better, so many people think it is foolish to "slave over a hot stove" and make your own food when there are so many convenience options available (not to mention that this availability has resulted in a complete lack of interest and skill in cooking for oneself - but that's a post for another non-software related blog).

I understand that many people are too busy to cook, much less to worry about the origins of the software programs they use, and I'd wager that most end users have never heard of a shell script and have never seen source code. So why care, then? Why would one sacrifice the practical features they use in a proprietary program for an "open source version" that does less (or does it in a way that encumbers one's workflow)? Why would someone ignore the release of Windows 7 (or Vista, fixed) just to get to the Karmic Koala and potentially fight with device drivers that "just work" on Windows or Mac?

Some will always scoff at people who go to a lot of trouble to conserve or protect the environment in the small ways they can. Well, I'm a software tree hugger, striving to protect the intellectual property commons as best I can, and enjoying the products of the community: organic, home grown, open and free.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mini Dell Ubuntu!

I recently had the pleasure of leading a "lunch & learn" session at my job in which I got to talk about the value of Ubuntu, both for personal/office use and for public libraries, and one of my colleagues brought in her brand new Dell Mini Inspiron 9. I'm finding that I need a laptop nearby for many aspects of my job, and using her lightweight, ultraportable Ubuntu box got me convinced that I wanted one myself. After a few weeks of investigation, another colleague sent me a link to a deal on a Dell Vostro A90 with Ubuntu preinstalled. I haven't had the opportunity to buy a computer since becoming a Linux convert, and the idea of an OEM-installed Ubuntu laptop was too much to pass up. It came installed with a Dell-specific version of Ubuntu Hardy Heron. Restless as I always am, I immediately began investigating ways to hack the out-of-the-box version into something I could love. I downloaded the Ubuntu Netbook Remix version of Jaunty Jackalope and wrote it to a USB drive to try it out live and I was SO impressed with it, except that the sound was not working. In my search for solutions to this, I came across an excellent help site called Ubuntu on the Dell Mini 9, which has many tutorials and guides about running different versions of Ubuntu - what works, what doesn't, how to configure things, etc.

I finally decided to put Intrepid Ibex on and then install Ubuntu Netbook Remix from the special repositories. Here's a screenshot:

I'm very pleased, though the keyboard is going to take some getting used to.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

KDE 4.2 Lures Me Back to Kubuntu 8.10 . . .

Well, I sounded pretty certain in my last post that I was done with KDE 4.1 and Kubuntu 8.10. I was told by a commenter to that post that KDE 4.2 looked pretty promising. I spent this past weekend working with VirtualBox (which itself has matured into a great program - more later) and I got curious about what the Jaunty Jackalope Kubuntu had to offer. I downloaded the Alpha 4 release of Jaunty, and as with my first reaction to KDE 4.1, I was a little slackjawed at the aesthetics of 4.2:

So, deciding that KDE is my environment of choice, and that I'm going to have to grow with it or be left behind, I decided to re-upgrade to Intrepid on my laptop so I could upgrade to KDE 4.2. So far I am very pleased, but I haven't dug in yet. I've decided to keep my desktop on Hardy for the foreseeable future. Like my last post said, my Linux needs very quickly moved from hobby to professional use, so stability (and familiarity) are somewhat necessary. I'll report back on what I find . . .