Monday, August 25, 2008

Having to Feed the Windows Monkey

I haven't done much "Windows bashing" here - a very popular sport among Linux users in general - because I tend not to 1) think it's a good idea to do so when my goals are about free software promotion and 2) care all that much. Since I began this project, the Windows partition on my original hard drive has become smaller and smaller, and I boot into it less and less. As others in my dual-boot situation probably know, however, this can become a problem - I'll explain what I mean through a short Ubuntu vs. Windows comparison.

If I were to take the Ubuntu Hardy Heron installation disk that I burned in April and put a fresh install on my computer, the necessary software updates required to bring my computer up to the state it's now in would number in the hundreds and take, oh, I don't know, 25 minutes at the most to process with a high speed Internet connection. I'd probably have to reboot once during this process, but that's only because the Ubuntu kernel has been replaced at least once since then, and you can't (or shouldn't) run a new kernel without booting into it. All told, though, I'd be done with this maintenance and ready to play Same Gnome within a half hour or so. This process is no fuss and you can usually do other things on the computer while it's all processing.

Well (and you know what's coming), when I booted into Windows XP last night to use iTunes (which I almost never use anymore, but I have an older iPod shuffle, for which Linux alternatives are limited), I was confronted with several competing programs that all wanted to automatically update at the same time (including iTunes). Windows Update, McAfee antivirus (which comes free with my ISP), Adobe Reader (which is its own story - why do we have to work so hard for a program that only occasionally opens PDFs?!) and Java were all jumping up and down saying "Update me first!" " No - me!". I felt hijacked! All I wanted to do was to see if Apple had a $0.99 song to download (and they didn't even have was I was looking for!). My computer seemed to be pushed to the limit and I finally gave up on browsing the web because it was requiring too many resources just to process the many updates. I had to reboot twice. Then I went ahead and set McAfee to scan Windows and went to bed. And this was after not booting into Windows for maybe 2 1/2 weeks!

With Ubuntu running so well (the cooling fan, which was blowing at full speed in Windows, almost never comes on during normal use), and doing all the work I need my computer to do, I wonder sometimes why I keep Windows at all. Maybe I'll start seriously looking into using Wine to run my necessary Windows programs and finally moving to a full Ubuntu box. Using Windows is just too much work for an OS that I don't even like that much anymore!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ubuntu: Old Hat?

I've only been using Ubuntu for six months, but I'm finding I'm getting a little restless as far as Linux goes. I just read two interesting Ubuntu-related articles, one about Ubuntu boredom (in the sense that solid and dependable are "boring") and the other from a jaded Linux system administrator who found in Ubuntu the home desktop Linux he's been looking for all his life. I'm understanding both perspectives now. For my new job I'm learning Linux (Debian GNU/Linux, more precisely) at the command line level (servers typically do not employ GUI desktops), and at home I keep wanting to explore new places. I think what I'm dealing with is the inevitable letdown that comes after any sort of mountaintop experience - when your new love or religious insight or whatever begins to just become part of your life. Not that it's "nothing special" - you just want to rekindle some of that emotional high that you had when you first found it. That's where I am with Ubuntu at the moment.

As I mentioned, I partitioned my Windows hard drive, originally for Kubuntu, and there I saw KDE 4.1, which captured my imagination for a few days, but again, I still land in the Gnome camp as far as desktop environments go, at least for the time being. Now I have an installation of Lenny, the soon-to-be-labeled-"stable" version of Debian, which I intended to be a minimal installation so I would really be forced to work in the command line, even at home, but I put KDE on it after some back and forth dithering. I'm simultaneously enjoying the utterly dependable nature of Ubuntu and its many applications and wanting something more, something different.

Maybe what I really need is to bring more people into this world, so I can vicariously re-experience that flood of excitement again. "Whoa! This is really fast!" and "Wow - this rivals Windows and Mac for quality alone!" and "This is all free?" and "Ah. . . I get it. That's what 'free' means!" Until then I need to learn to appreciate Linux for all it's stability and dependability, and be more patient about what innovations are around the corner.

Friday, August 8, 2008

My Linux Anniversary - 1 Year Later . . .

Well, it has been a year since I took the plunge and installed Debian on my parents' old desktop, and my what a year it has been! One year ago I was a reference librarian at a busy suburban library who found a book about Linux and decided to try out Knoppix for the first time. I had just been turned down for a job with the state library agency and wanted to bone up on my "technology skills," whatever I meant by that. Since the state library's system runs on Linux, I thought learning that environment would make me more marketable. So for a few weeks there I would drag my parents' desktop out of a closet and hook it up, then when I was finished I'd disassemble everything and put it back in the closet (since it took up too much space in our small apartment). Since the network card never worked, I never really did get a feel of what actually using Linux for my day-to-day computing needs would be like. Then, because of several goings on in my personal and professional life, I put my Linux toys away for a few months (and gave away my parents' comptuer) until I needed to use the Linux-based Cinelerra for a video project and I installed Ubuntu on a second hard drive on my main computer.

Having Ubuntu on my main computer truly changed the way I thought about my computing needs and choices, and I spent weeks just downloading free (and I do mean free) software and trying different things out. I was truly astonished at what tools I now had at my disposal, and when I began researching how this all came about (through books and online videos, mainly) I discovered that this was something I truly wanted to get involved with, both personally and professionally. I've always been "computer savvy," meaning that I know my way around computer hardware and software and learn those concepts fairly easily, but I wanted to develop specific skills that would allow me to get a job in technology-oriented librarianship.

Then another job came open with the state library as system administrator, and I was dissatisfied enough in my reference librarian position to give this a try. I was not exactly qualified for the position, but I hoped my newfound determination to get this sort of job, along with my nascent devotion to free and open source software, would win me some points as a candidate. They were looking for either a techie with library knowledge or a librarian with a technical background or interest (neither combination is all that common), and they chose me, the librarian with tech skills (well, more interest than skills, but I'm working on it). So I'm now the system administrator (in training) for one of the most forward-thinking library agencies in the country, running the open source, GPL-ed Evergreen ILS, for which my predecessor led the development team (now Equinox Software, Inc.).

So now I've gone from being a non-Linux user to a Linux end user/advocate to a professional position where I need to know the inner workings of Linux cold. I'd say it's been a pretty good year, wouldn't you? :-)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

More on KDE 4.1

Okay, I've only used KDE 4.1 for a couple of days and I have a little more to report. The first thing to say that this is my favorite KDE "straight out of the box" that I've encountered so far in my limited experience. Aesthetically, this couldn't be better - I think it's much sleeker than Gnome (we'll see what Gnome 3.0 brings) and rivals the design of Mac OS X (sorry - prejudice aside, Vista's not in the running here!). The eye candy is abundant, but not overdone. The last thing to say about the "look" factor is that in all my years as a computer end-user, I have never just wanted to sit there and admire the desktop, especially without changing the default wallpaper. I can't help it - I'm posting another screenshot:

So let's consider it a settled point that KDE 4.1 is very pretty.

There are, though, some issues I've encountered. I've always found KDE to be a bit buggy, and this one seems to be no exception:
  • The "startup" music clip is truncated (I hear dramatic piano that begins, then suddenly stops). Strangely, the "shutdown" clip works fine.
  • As a Firefox - Thunderbird user, I always have problems setting them as my default browser/mail client - this has been true in all my KDE experience.
  • I tried to configure Kopete as my Google chat client, but it failed, saying that I didn't have a certain plugin installed (which I do see on my package list as installed).
  • I'll mention here that my KDE 4.1 is installed onto my existing Kubuntu KDE 3.5 installation, which may be a factor in these issues.
And just a couple of usability complaints:
  • Well, (and this was lambasted in KDE 4.0 from what I've read) the desktop is no longer a "desktop" in the sense that you can just, say, download a file and put it there (which is something I do all the time). It is now a palate to place "widgets," some of which are actually useful, but are mostly nonessential eye candy as far as I can tell.
  • Things are not as "configurable" as they were before. I can't, for instance, change my clock to display in a "12 hour" mode - not a huge deal, just a preference. Some of the things that are configurable are things I'm not that interested in changing, like the length of my task panel at the bottom of the screen.
All in all, though, this is an impressive program, and I will keep it going alongside my "normal" Ubuntu Hardy installation.