Goodbye Gnome 2!

Fedora 15, which is almost out, will have Gnome 3.0 as its default desktop and since it’s such a radical departure from the Gnome 2.x series, I thought I’d have a post that reminds us of how it used to be and what Gnome evolved to become. So here’s a two screen desktop:

Gnome 2.32 - entire desktop
Gnome 2.32 - entire desktop

You probably need to click on the image so that it can be at a useful size.  Gnome 2.32 consisted of two panels, one at top and one at the bottom.  The one at the top housed menus that we’ll get to in a moment.  Next to that are launchers.  You could put launchers for all your most-used programs there.  Because of that, I almost never went to the menus to launch a program.  Over towards the right are panel applets.  I have some for mounting and for showing the load on my computer.  Then there’s the date/time where you can click on it and get a calendar.  This area also had icons for certain types of programs like instant messengers.  At the bottom you had the button to see the desktop, the list of open programs, the desktop switcher for the different virtual desktops, and the trash.   Also notice that the programs have minimize, maximize and close buttons.

 

Here are closeups of those menus I mentioned before:

 

Gnome 2.32 - application menu
Gnome 2.32 - application menu

 

 

Gnome 2.32 - places - for shortcuts to certain folders
Gnome 2.32 - places - for shortcuts to certain folders

 

Gnome 2.32 - system menu for preferences and configuration
Gnome 2.32 - system menu for preferences and configuration

Ubuntu to the Rescue: A Tale of Broadcom Wifi Drivers, Prerelease Software, and a new Acer Aspire One Netbook

note: I wrote this on 17 April, a full week before it is published on the blog

Acer Aspire One - out of the box
Acer Aspire One - out of the box

Nearly six years ago I bought my first laptop.  I’d never seen the point of laptops over desktops – the value per dollar just isn’t there.  But I was going to be traveling for work now and again and needed to be able to get in contact with the family while away.  I got an old Acer that was on sale at best buy because it was the last one left.  A year after buying that laptop, netbooks came out.  I got my wife one of the first Asus EEE PCs because she was going on a work trip didn’t want to haul my heavy laptop around.  So for the past few years we’ve traveled with both of those so I can use my laptop to watch my movies and she can use her netbook to watch hers.  But I’m getting tired of that heavy laptop and now netbooks aren’t saddled with crippled versions of Linux and inferior hardware.  So I got myself a new Acer Aspire One from Amazon.  I’d seen the same one at Costco for $50 more (because it has double the battery life) and I’d wanted to get it for a while now.  I’m going to be traveling to Chicago for a trip soon, and since my back has been giving me issues, I figured it was the time to go to a lighter laptop.

 

Acer Aspire One - KDM Login Screen for Fedora 15 (love the theme)
Acer Aspire One - KDM Login Screen for Fedora 15 (love the theme)

 

Specifically, I have the Acer Aspire One D255E.  It has an Intel Atom N455 (64-bit processor), 1 GB of DDR3 RAM, and 250 GB hard drive.  The keyboard is 93% the size of a regular keyboard, so it’s not too annoying to type on.  I still make more mistakes than on a regular keyboard, but it’s not too bad.  Still, I don’t like the feel of the keys.  They feel too 2D and don’t depress deeply enough – I think that’s part of what contributes to my typos.

 

Size Comparison Asus EEE PC vs Acer Aspire One vs Acer 15" laptop
Size Comparison Asus EEE PC vs Acer Aspire One vs Acer 15" laptop

 

The came with Windows 7 starter edition, which I immediately replaced.  As readers of the blog know, I’ve been really loving the KDE desktop so I couldn’t wait to use the KDE Netbook Plasma desktop on my netbook.  I burned a CD of the Fedora 15 Alpha LiveCD and used my external DVD drive to run it.  I didn’t see the wifi working.  Usually that’s a red flag, but since it was Alpha software, I figured it’d fix itself when I updated.  So I went ahead and installed it and updated all the packages.  Still no wifi.  Hmm.  So I did a Google search and found this page.  Turns out that the drivers are in the staging Kernel, but can be enabled with Linux 2.6.38.  I went on the Fedora developers mailing list with my issue and they said they would not enable those drivers because they’re in staging.  And that’s OK.  I really like Fedora and I respect their decision.  There are many drivers in staging, I’m sure, but the developers have a responsibility to the users to try and make Fedora as stable as possible.  But I needed working wireless.

 

Size Comparison Asus EEE PC vs Acer Aspire One vs Acer 15" laptop (thickness)
Size Comparison Asus EEE PC vs Acer Aspire One vs Acer 15" laptop (thickness)

 

There was another Linux distribution nearing release – Ubuntu.  (A great argument for the existence of more than one distro)  I grabbed the CD of Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal Beta 2.  I ran the liveCD on my netbook and wifi worked!  Woohoo!  I had been planning to do a blog post reviewing KDE’s Plasma netbook interface, but I guess now it’s going to be a review of Unity.  I like how Ubuntu is installing as it’s asking you questions so the install goes by pretty quickly.  Strangely, with the same user password Fedora says it’s very strong and Ubuntu says it’s “OK”.   First of all, the laptop loads up at least an order of magnitude faster with Ubuntu than it did with Fedora.  I hope this is something Fedora can fix once they get all the SystemD stuff working.  Once I sign in, it takes about the same amount of time for the desktop to load as with KDE.  So here’s what the initial desktop looks like:

Ubuntu 11.04 Default Unity Desktop
Ubuntu 11.04 Default Unity Desktop

Overall, not too bad.  I wonder if I’ll miss the two taskbars of Gnome 2.x – that was my favorite thing about Gnome and Xfce vs Windows and other Linux window managers/desktop environments.  The wifi menu is the same as any version of Ubuntu or Linux Mint.  The clock widget also appears to work in the same manner.  The “me” menu (has my username) also looks the same as before.  At this time I don’t know how to take a screenshot while I’m clicking on these top menus, the button seems disabled at that time.  So I can’t show what’s different about the sound menu.  It has the volume as expected, but also has controls to play/pause, next track, and previous track on the media player and sound preferences.  The one with the envelope has menus for “set up chat”, “set up email”, “set up broadcast account”, and Ubuntu One.  The biggest difference with the button used to log off, shut off, etc is that it now holds the system settings.  They have been unified in a “control panel” sort of way as many distros have been doing for a while now.  Sure, lots of people hate everything having to do with Windows, but this unification makes sense.

 

Ubuntu 11.04 Control Panel
Ubuntu 11.04 Control Panel

 

My first annoyance with Ubuntu’s theming appears now.  Look at that screenshot.  It looks like it’s just one screen because there’s no scrollbar.  In fact, there is one, but it doesn’t appear until I put my mouse there (see below).  It’s slicker in an Apple sort of way, but a LOT less intuitive on first look.

 

Ubuntu 11.04 New Style Scroll Bars
Ubuntu 11.04 New Style Scroll Bars

 

So what else is going on here.  The menu on the left appears to never go away.  (It doesn’t auto-hide)  The top button is the “home” folder.  This runs Nautilus 2.32.  Where are the menus?

 

Ubuntu 11.04 Nautilus No Menus
Ubuntu 11.04 Nautilus No Menus

 

You have to move your mouse to the top of the screen to reveal them, Apple-style.  I wonder how this affects the fact that the top is also the task manager.  (Or so it appears)  So I open up Firefox, the next icon.  Here’s what things look like:

 

Firefox 4 in Ubuntu 11.04 Unity
Firefox 4 in Ubuntu 11.04 Unity

 

So, clearly, the top is not meant to be the task manager.  I’m appreciative that it takes up the full screen, covering up the menu bar at the right, especially since this is a netbook.  Ah, I see.  When I move my mouse all the way to the left, the menu appears.

 

Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Dock over Firefox
Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Dock over Firefox

 

And that serves as your task manager.  Any programs you have open on there have a little white dot next to them.  So I can click on the home button and it takes me to home.  I click on Firefox and it goes back to Firefox.  So it seems like that Apple dock that everyone’s always trying to recreate in Linux anyway.  If you want to launch another Firefox window, you right-click and that gives you the option.  Hmm, so I wonder what it looks like if I open up a program not on the dock.  I click on the Ubuntu icon in the top left.  This is another screen I’m not able to take a screenshot of.  It’s pretty similar to what you’ve seen from Gnome Shell.  It has a search menu for typing the program if you know the name and the categories: Media Apps, Internet Apps, More Apps, and Find Files.  I click on more apps.  This shows not only apps I have installed, but apps I might want to install.  It’s too bad I can’t capture this in a screenshot.  Overall, it seems that if you don’t know the name of the program you want, this is possible the most tedious way to search for one.  I open up Mines.  It gets added to the dock, pretty low.  I’d say below some icons it doesn’t need to be below.  I’ll get to that in a sec.  So I close out of everything.  The next three icons after Firefox are Libre Office’s equivalents to Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.  Below that is the Software Center followed by Ubuntu One.  Then after that came Mines.  I think programs you have open belong above the Software Center and Ubuntu One.  Those are icons you’ll probably access once a week if that often.

 

I decide to launch the Software Center.  It has 3 recommendations for me.  Also, it has an inconsistent scroll bar.  That’s not good if you don’t want to confuse people.

 

Ubuntu 11.04 Software Center with Inconsistent Scroll Bar
Ubuntu 11.04 Software Center with Inconsistent Scroll Bar

 

The recommendations are gThumb, Gwnview, and GIMP.  Not sure why, but OK.  I’d heard that Angry Birds was coming to Ubuntu, but a search in the “For Purchase” section doesn’t reveal it for sale.  Beneath the Ubuntu One icon is the workspace switcher.  Ubuntu Unity has gone the way of KDE in representing it as a square.  So instead of control-alt left and right arrows to swtich, you use all the arrow keys.  Under that is a magnifying glass with a plus.  That’s a redundant link to the same thing as the Ubuntu icon at the top.  Below that is a Files and Folders button.  I like that it shows my most recent files at the top as maybe I’m more likely to want those if I’ve been working on them recently.  Below that is trash.

 

Well, I know off the bat that my wife would definitely hate this.  But she hates change.  Right now I think I could work with it.  I’ll have to report back after some heavy use – probably after my trip.  Let me setup some of the accounts and see how that works.  But before that, I install Cheese to see if my webcam works with Ubuntu 11.04.  Yup!  It works!

 

Running Cheese on Ubuntu 11.04 to test Acer Aspire One's Built-in Webcam
Running Cheese on Ubuntu 11.04 to test Acer Aspire One's Built-in Webcam

 

OK, first chat.  Ubuntu uses Empathy.  Gwibber is used for social media.  The mail icon glows blue if you have notifications you haven’t read yet.  Nothing huge there that won’t be revealed without more use.  I think it’s important to remind people that this interface has essentially come together in 6 months.  Back when Shuttleworth said this would be the new GUI for both netbooks an regular desktops, it was so buggy that people doubted it could be done.  Let me say that Canonical and the Community have done their jobs and this is a GREAT foundation upon which to build a great new interface.  It needs some tweaks, as I mentioned above, but it’s not bad at all.

 

Bottom line:  As of right now, if you have an Acer Aspire One D255E, the distro for you is Ubuntu 11.04.  Unity is not as bad as everyone’s been complaining about.  (I may change my mind on that last sentence with more use)  For the most part, I think the hate comes from the fact that it’s Mac-like and the Linux community is loving to hate Apple right now.  Again, I don’t care as long as it works well.  I’d like to see a further iteration make the installed programs more organized, for example how do I easily find games?  (Again I wish I could have shown a screenshot of how horrible that looked)  It makes me think that perhaps Gnome Shell isn’t all that bad either, but I won’t be trying that out until Fedora 15 is released.  Even then, I don’t see it pulling me away from KDE, but it’ll be nice to see what the other guys are doing.

 

Addendum:  As I was putting the finishing touches on this review (getting the images in the right spot and so on), I got the following email:

 

hallo

read your on fedora list
I don’t know if it helps (for Fedora 15) but rpmfusion might help to get your wlan running; i got the same wlan-card running under f14

in this pagehttp://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/development/x86_64/os/repoview/K.group.html
there is a kmod-wl* listed. (I know it has no f15 in it’s name …)
so a
su -c ‘yum localinstall –nogpgcheck http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-rawhide.noarch.rpm http://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-rawhide.noarch.rpm’
and a subsequent
yum install kmod-wl and a reboot should get your wlan running
— RW

 

Unfortunately, it was too late because I’m not going to install Fedora yet again in such a small interval.  I have stuff to do.  However, I do tend to use my laptops as testbeds when I get bored.  The last one had a few flavors of Ubuntu, Crunchbang, and Fedora.  But I included his advice for anyone who might be Googling for help with Fedora and that netbook.  Let me say, however, that this is a STRONG argument for Fedora to have something like the restricted drivers menu.  Sure, I know they want to have a freedom-only desktop.  But I see nothing wrong with looking for certain hardware and telling people they may get better performance in the non-free repos.  They aren’t doing anyone any favors by making them thing their computer doesn’t work with Fedora.  And they’re losing potential users.

KDE: Strength in Abstraction

I have not yet tried out Gnome Shell or Ubuntu Unity, but the biggest complaint most people level against them is that our desktops are being tablet-ified.  Sure, there need to be new, innovative interfaces for tablets and phones, but that’s no reason to abandon the desktop.  Sure, perhaps the average Joe (or Jane) will be using tablets more and more, but some of us have real work to get done.  We need to do photo editing, programming, video editing, 3D modeling, and other tasks that require something more than a glorified smart phone.  This is where KDE excels.

For years people have been berating KDE for abstracting everything.  What was the point?  Why have Phonon and Solid and all these other abstractions over Hal and gStreamer?  Why have the desktop be a part of Plasma?  Well, now the strengths of these choices have become clearer.  Specifically, when it comes to Plasma, this swapping out of parts allows for different interfaces with the absolute minimum of code duplication.  You can switch from a regular KDE desktop to a netbook interface and the KDE components needed for that are swapped with the regular desktop.  Both get to use the same underlying technology and we aren’t stuck with an interface that doesn’t work for regular destkop work.  And now I saw this new interface being developed for tablets.  On top of that, more and more KDE programs are being abstracted so that they present different interfaces based on the device they think they’re on.  Marble is a great example.  It is a KDE Google Earth clone and has a corresponding interface.  But if it thinks it’s in a smartphone or tablet, it changes its interface to work more like an in-car GPS navigation unit.  That’s brilliant!

And that’s why I prefer KDE for my desktops.

Customizing the Look of the OS

I forgot what post online got me thinking about this stuff, but I really don’t customize my computers’ desktop environments much.  Generally, I tend to change the background image and leave it at that.  I took a look over my desktop image gallery here on the blog to confirm my suspicions.

Starting at the bottom with Windows, you can see that until 2009 I was just going with the default look.  I tended not to add launchers to my panel because, with Windows XP, it ended up really limiting the space for listen the open programs.  I also didn’t have too many launchers on the desktop.  I tend to always have programs maximised if I’m in front of the computer, so the only programs shortcuts I’d leave on the desktop are programs I’d be likely to launch upon starting up the computer.  In fact, whenever I pay attention, I tell the installer not to put icons on the desktop.

Around 2009 I read about a themer for XP that I thought about trying because the default panel was starting to feel a bit Playskool.  It was OK, if a bit incomplete.  It caused some dialogs not to display properly, but I didn’t care too much, at least it wasn’t full of primary colours anymore.

And, with Windows 7, I haven’t done any customization either, other than removing some of the pinned icons that I didn’t care for (like Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer).

Windows 7 22 Oct 2010
Windows 7 22 Oct 2010

When it comes to Linux, there’s a lot more room for customization, but, for the most part, I didn’t do much.  With my Gnome desktops, the default install provides two panels, so I tend to fill up the top panel with tons of launchers.  Although I have tons of programs installed on my Linux computers because programs are free and storage is cheap, I tend to use the same programs daily.  So I added those programs’ launchers to the top panel.  Also, because I have more space and because, on Linux, they aren’t riddled with adware/spyware, I tend to have weather notifications and other things on my panel.

Gnome Desktop 22 oct 2010
Gnome Desktop 22 oct 2010

There was a time when I was really into KDE (which I’ll get to in a moment) and so I looked for a widget system on Gnome.  I found gDesklets, although they were never quite as supported and varied as SuperKaramba on KDE.  My first attempt produced chaos on the desktop:

I had RSS feeds, daily Bible verses, the weather, and flickr photos.  After realizing that I pretty much never look at the desktop, I trimmed it a bit.

But, as you can see a few images above, I don’t have any of that on my current desktop.  I just haven’t found any that provide any important info or justify taking up compute cycles.  A quick mention of Xfce where I just added a few launchers and mostly kept things the same.

KDE was my Linux desktop environment of choice for a number of years.  Because it’s so easily customisable, I did the most customising here.  Even then, you’ll see, it wasn’t all that much.  The earliest screenshot I’ve preserved has a modified icon theme (easy as a few clicks in the settings menu) and some SuperKaramba widgets.

There are TONS of widgets (or were) for SuperKaramba on kde-look.org.  ( http://kde-look.org/ )  But it seemed, to me, that 90% of them were weather and system monitor widgets with different themes. As you can see, I picked the ones that I liked and just stuck with those during my entire KDE tenure.  I found the system monitor to be mostly pointless – although, at the time, I was using Linux on a very resource limited computer, so seeing the RAM usage was very important at times.  I didn’t get into system monitors again until I discovered Conky with CrunchBang (more on that later).  I never added too many launchers because KDE, having one panel, had the same problem as Windows.  It was somewhat lessened by having multiple desktops.  (There’s no reason why I couldn’t have had at least four panels….I just never customised it, and that’s the whole point)  About six months after the first KDE screenshot, I had made a few modifications:

I made the taskbar transparent (something that took until Windows 7 for MS to enable) and shrunk it a bit to be more like Xfce.  I don’t know why I cared, but basically this was the essence of cool at the time.  All the kitted out KDE desktops I saw had this reduced taskbar.  I also switched to the default KDE icons.  I did like that my home folder was a house.  And, when I temporarily went back to KDE in 2006, I pretty much left it the same.

KDE 4 has the extra benefit, that the plasmoids tend to actually do something rather than just be passive information presenters.  They can be microblogging clients, periodic tables and tons of other useful things.  Here’s what I’ve setup.  I haven’t customized it too much since I don’t currently use KDE on a daily basis.

KDE 22 oct 2010
KDE 22 oct 2010

For a time I switched over to using Fluxbox.  As I mentioned before, I was on a very low powered box for my first Linux desktop, so using Gnome or KDE made my other programs crawl.  This tendency carried over when I first moved to my eMachine box.  At first my only frill was the gKrellm system monitor.

Later I thought it would be cool (and probably l33t) to run everything from the commandline.

I also, made sure to use eterm so I could have a transparent terminal and a neat background (not pictured in any of my screenshots) And that was the pinnacle of what I did.  Eventually, I put Crunchbang Linux on my laptop and used Conky.  That system manager was actually useful because I configured it to tell me about the wifi networks I was connected to and whether I had an IP address.  That made it very convenient when I was using wifi networks while traveling.  I never took a screenshot while I had Crunchbang customised, but if you take this image from the installation:

and this Lubuntu screenshot from my current laptop installation.  The only thing I’d change is to install and customize Conky.

Lubuntu 22 oct 2010
Lubuntu 22 oct 2010

So, before I go any deeper, I thought I’d give some examples of how others *do* customise their desktops.

First some Windows desktops:

Now Some Linux Desktops:

So, it’s quite possible to take things to the extreme.  A lot of those look cool – to me anyway.  So what keeps me from doing something like that?  One part of it is the fact that I’m ADD when it comes to desktop configuration.  I like to change things up all the time (which used to piss off my dad back when I was a kid and there was one computer for the family) so I tend to favor things that aren’t too complex to set up.  So, I enabled the desktop background switcher in Windows and I’ve used similar things on Linux before.  I also like reversibility.  I’ve been burned before by customization programs that were nigh impossible to revert back to the defaults.  This, coupled with point one helps to discourage customization – especially on Windows when you’re often depending upon a third party programmer.  Finally, because customization programs tend to be very powerful, they also tend to be a little complicated if you want to achieve something awesome.  So it sometimes seems a bit daunting and a bit of a waste of time when I have so many other things calling for my attention.

Review: openSolaris 2008.11

At work they were asking us to get familiar with openSolaris for a potential future project.  I’d played with it a few years ago, so I decided to check out the latest version I had.  On of my LXF discs had openSolaris 2008.11 and I figured that while I was checking it out I’d review it as well.  I expected it to be spartan like FreeBSD, but it appears that Sun has learned a lot from the Linux community.  It booted up to this grub screen:

grub on openSolaris 2008.11
grub on openSolaris 2008.11

And, surprisingly, it booted into a liveCD.

openSolaris 2008.11 liveCD
openSolaris 2008.11 liveCD

Like Mandriva it asked me some keyboard and language questions up front:

openSolaris 2008.11 keyboard and language questions
openSolaris 2008.11 keyboard and language questions

And then I found myself in Gnome.

openSolaris 2008.11 Gnome 2.24
openSolaris 2008.11 Gnome 2.24

I had to do a double-take at first because the icon theme seems more KDE-like than Gnome-like.  Overall, I found the theme to be very reminiscent of Fedora.  Very blue and bubbly.  That weird-looking icon in the top right is a network status applet.  I then opened up a terminal.

openSolaris 2008.11 Terminal
openSolaris 2008.11 Terminal

First of all, what’s up with jack?  Is it an inside joke?  Is it a Sun tradition?  Just curious.  What I DO like is the OSX-like colorization of the minimize, maximize and close buttons.  I’ve previously praised KDE 4 for separating them to make it less likely that you’d click on the wrong one.  But having different colors also helps with that.  And, even better than OSX, the icon remains showing along with the color so that someone who’s never used it before still knows what it means.

openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Partitioner
openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Partitioner

I moved on to installation.  The partitioner gets 7/10 in my eyes.  You can’t change the partitions so that /usr or /boot gets its own partition.  But it’s not too hard to figure out what the right thing to do is.  So it’s not awesome and it’s not horrible.

openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Time Zone
openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Time Zone

Next up was time zone selection.  Dividing things up into regions helps to speed things up although some Linux distros have moved on to allowing you to click on a map and set the timezone.

openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Installation
openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Installation

After setting the locale and user info (including setting root password and creating the first user), installation started.

openSolaris 2008.11 booting up
openSolaris 2008.11 booting up

Again, surprisingly for a BSD non-Linux Unix variant, openSolaris had a nice graphical boot like Ubuntu.  (editor’s note:  As was brought up in the comments, Solaris is not BSD)

openSolaris 2008.11 grub
openSolaris 2008.11 grub

And I found myself at an attractive GDM boot screen.

openSolaris 2008.11 Gnome post install
openSolaris 2008.11 Gnome post install

In addition to informing me that I was connected to the network, this also showed me that Solaris has a much longer interface name than eth0.

openSolaris 2008.11 Getting Started
openSolaris 2008.11 Getting Started

I really, really like the addition of a “Start Here” info box to openSolaris.  Some Linux distros do this, but many don’t.  I think it should definitely always be there to give people an idea of how do to the basics.  They shouldn’t have to go hunting around the net for ideas or even have to post to a forum.  It should all be there in the beginning.  Good job Sun!  So, what is installed by default on openSolaris 2008.11?  A few accessory items.  Strangely no GIMP, but then again, Solaris is meant for business computers.  Internet has Evolution, Firefox, Thunderbird, and Pidgin.  But the REAL shocks is in the Office category.  No Open Office.org.  Sun is responsible for OO.o and it’s nowhere to be found.  (by default)  Rounding things off is Rhythmbox and Totem.

openSolaris 2008.11 weird directories
openSolaris 2008.11 weird directories

Apparently Solaris has some weird non-POSIX thing going on with its directory structure.  Although I checked under / and there was a home directory, nothing was in it.  Instead my home directory was in /export/home and there was this weird rpool thing going on.  I’ll have to look into that some more.  Minus points for deviating from UNIX (at least the BSDs I’ve seen) and from Linux and (as far as I know) POSIX.

openSolaris 2008.11 package manager
openSolaris 2008.11 package manager

openSolaris has a really neat package manager that appears to take the best of Synaptic and some other package managers that I’ve seen out there and mix it all together.  You get some really nice things that I’d like to see in Fedora such as what files it installs, what dependencies it has, and legal information.  I dig around in there a bit.  OpenOffice.org is available (as it should be!).  Blender is not available.  I’m not sure where you’d go to get non-standard packages.

Overall, it appears that openSolaris is suitable for someone who’s doing the basics on a UNIX or UNIX-like system.  You’ve got Firefox, Pidgin, OpenOffice.org.  But there is the weird file structure and the small repository.  So I feel that it’s perhaps worth checking out, but I can’t really recommend it above Linux or even BSD.  I’d say, if you need it for work (and a lot of businesses use Solaris), definitely get openSolaris so you can get familiar with the platform.  Otherwise, stick to Linux or BSD and you’ll have a lot more support for a wider array of programs and standard POSIX directories.

We Don’t Really Want Innovation

Innovation is one of those things we pretend to want and then complain when it happens.  It’s like women who say they want sensitive men who understand their feelings and then always fall for the bad boy.  In the technology world, everyone always views copying with disdain.  “Where’s the innovation?” they decry.  Case in point, everyone is always yelling at Microsoft for stealing copying Apple’s GUI interface with Windows 95.  (Everyone seems to forget Apple stealing borrowing from Xerox)  When they try to get innovative with Vista or Windows 7 everyone complains they can’t find anything because it was moved around.  Linux is not immune to these complaints.  On the one hand, everyone mocks Linux for co-opting technologies from other operating systems.  “Oh, you have a dock – why do you always have to copy the Mac?” or the ever-present “If Linux really wants to take the lead, they’ll have to stop copying Windows and Mac and start innovating on their own.”  But then, when Linux improves upon something from the leading OS all you hear is, “Why is everything so different?  Until Linux is easy for a Windows user to just jump over to without relearning things, they’ll never succeed.”

When the KDE team decided to innovate with plasma, all they got were heaps and heaps of criticism thrown at them.  I think their original idea where instead of having a desktop, having folder plasmoids to show different folders was amazing.  I can almost see Apple doing this and then everyone thinking it’s Jobs’ gift to mankind.  It was brilliant.  Right now I save stuff to the Desktop folder when I want to be able to quickly access it without having to do around through my folders.  But if I set up one of my desktops to be my web comic desktop, I could have a folder plasmoid set to my web comic folder and, therefore, have easy access to my web comic assets.  Or I could set my download folder to be a plasmoid and just save everything from the web there while having easy access to the contents.

Now it appears that Gnome 3.0 is going to suffer the same fate when it tries to innovate.  I have not yet upgraded to Fedora 12, so I have no experience with Gnome Shell, but people were complaining about the new interface before it was even available to be installed.  “Oh, Gnome is changing and I’ll never be able to use it!”  Never mind that they may be changing and fixing paradigms that we’ve been using since the 80s and may no longer be relevant.  In fact, once people have started using it, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying it’s actually pretty darned useful in practice.  Will it be perfect when it first comes out?  Of course not.  Use cases will emerge that the developers could never have anticipated.  But they should be allowed to innovate.

I can see how it is very frustrating for a developers out there.  The public clamors for innovation, but when you give it to them, they balk at the differences from what they’re used to.  I think this is why the word innovation is beginning to lose its meaning from overuse in marketing materials.  We claim to want one thing, but want another.  It’d be easier if we just said what we wanted, but I don’t think most people realize they don’t want innovation until they are faced with it and want to crawl back to the familiar.  I’m hoping the Gnome developers can have the resolve to see their innovation through.  They should do their best and people should give it a shot.  If there truly aren’t any benefits and if it truly sucks – we can go back to the old style.  Otherwise maybe we’ll be the next thing Microsoft and Apple copy.

There was one email on the Fedora list serve that gave me hope that perhaps the developers will be supported in the end:

—-
On 11/20/2009 03:19 PM, Brian Millett wrote:
> I have been using compiz for quite a while.  Love the eye candy, but it
> also helped me navigate quicker between desktops and windows.  Loved it.
>
> I’ve been using the gnome-shell.  At first it was “So where are my
> preferences?  Where is my <insert menu item here>?”, but as I started to
> understand how to use it, I’ve wondered how I can live without it.
>
> It is great.
>
> Good job guys and gals!
>
I do have to agree, gnome-shell is what I waited for. Or very close to,
it’s like the perfect desktop. But unfortunately for now, the keybinding
is not very configurable, and with my particular keyboard, it doesn’t do
well.

Mildred

Avant Window Navigator

For a long while there I didn’t want to check out the Avant Window Navigator (AWN) because I was shunning Compiz.  But now that I’m back on the Compiz (and since Metacity should have compositing “soon” anyway) I decided to give a shot when it was featured in Linux Format Magazine Issue 112.  I found the AWN packages in Fedora although for AWN only AWN-extras comes up.  You need to search avant-window-manager to get the main package.  It doesn’t matter since AWN-extras brings in AWN in the dependencies.  Here’s how my desktop looks before that:

Pretty plain looking and I currently have the default Fedora background.  The article reccomended switching to the Glossy Gnome theme, but I’m pretty happy with Nodoka.  So here’s what it looks like with AWN in my fourth desktop:

And here it is a little closer up:

The left section is launchers, the middle section is what I happen to have open in the current Window and the third section is filled with applets. The effects are really neat and impossible to show in a screenshot.  The icons can bounce when you pass over them, magnify like OS X, turn in circles, or have a spotlight.  The bar shrinks and grows depending upon how many icons it needs to display.

In this second screenshot, you can see what it looks like with my brother chatting with me via Pidgin.  The icon for his window is represented by his buddy icon.

So how do I feel about AWN?  On the one hand, it certainly looks neat.  Sure, it’s aping OS X as opposed to coming up with something completely original, but it’s still fun to use.  At least for a little while after you install it you’ll probably find yourself mousing over all the icons to make them bounce over and over again.  But there are a few little things that need work.  For example, it’s still has some glitches.  I can’t have a workspace switcher applet because the simple workplace switcher it acts strangely and the shiny switcher is way too big.  The AWN window is a bit slow to update (probably due to my graphics card being JUST good enough).  Also, when someone IMs me, it DOES put their icon in the AWN if you’re in another workspace, but it doesn’t keep “flashing” it to get your attention like it would with the normal Gnome taskbar.  I’m going to keep it on my desktop for a few days and if I decide to remove it, I’ll mention it briefly here in the blog.  Otherwise you can assume that all my concerns were ameliorated and I love it.

Fedora 9 Review (also Gnome in Fedora 9 Part 2)

So I waited until about halfway through Fedora 9’s initial life-cycle to install it.  I listed the reasons for that here.  Once KDE 4.1 was finally out and most of the complaints had stopped, I took the plunge.  I am actually very happy with Fedora 9.  I think most of the reviews you may have read criticizing Fedora 9 focused on the initial version.  That was, according to the mailing list, very buggy.  But, for those who run Fedora on their day-to-day systems, simply waiting a few months is enough to get most of the bugs ironed out.  First I’ll focus on what I have thought of Gnome since I’ve been using it since the install.  Due to Fedora’s servers getting cracked, I just got KDE 4.1, so I’ll just be giving my preliminary impressions there.  I’ve been wondering if KDE 4 would bring me back into the KDE came from the Gnome side.  We’ll see.  I intend to boot into KDE 4 for the next week or so to see how I like it.

First, let me mention some of my pet peeves which are no longer a problem.  Compiz no longer comes on every time I log into Gnome.  You may remember my struggles in getting it to stay off instead of turning it off every time I logged into Gnome.  That’s what caused me to use Xfce exclusively for a few months.  I also like that GDM now actually remembers your previously selected Window Manager.  Before the option “Last Window Manager I logged Into” didn’t work.  You could select to use your new one as your default, but that always seemed so “permanent” to me.  So I really like that it now just defaults you to whatever you used last time.  The new GDM that Fedora is using is nice, and very clean.  I don’t like that it has to show the names of the users – that’s bad security practices.  It also stinks that it’s so new there aren’t any themes for it.  I had about 10 or so themes that I would cycle through for the older GDM.  Before moving on, I want to mention that I haven’t had any problems with PulseAudio.

There are some other new benefits in Gnome.  I’m not sure if this is from the Gnome Virtual File System, but now anything you have mounted in /media gets put on the desktop.  They already would put your usb drives on the desktop, but now they also put nfs shares if you have them mounted in media.  Also, with the USB “logo” they make it easier to tell which of your drives are internal and which are USB-attached.  That’s pretty convenient.  I would still like for the media to have better user-friendly names like how you can name the volumes in Windows.  There does not appear to be an easy way to do this in Linux.  So I’m left wondering which drive has my pictures, 160 GB Media or 122.9 GB Media?

The other major update is with Fedora using PackageKit.  The great thing about using PackageKit is that all of the Gnome distros are moving to using it so now the Linux user only has to learn one way of installing packages.  They don’t need to learn a new package manager for each distro they use.  PackageKit also tends to have much better descriptions of the updates and packages deing installed than any previous version of Fedora’s package managers.  When you first get notified that there are updates to install, it gives you the chance to review the changes.  Otherwise you can just install all the updates.

Some of the other changes, though cosmetic, were welcome.  They were, I think, Fedora’s new theme (as opposed to the new Gnome theme).  First off, there’s the change to the scrollbars.  I know it’s just aethetic, but I love how instead of a square crashing into another square, now it’s a rounded edge finding its home where it fits neatly like a puzzle.  I just like it, perhaps it’s some Fruedian thing.  Who knows?  Also, I really like the Window Decoraction they’ve chosen for the maximise, close and shrink buttons.  I think a plus sign makes perfect sense for themaximise button.  After all, you’re making the window bigger. It certainly makes more sense than the symbol Windows uses for maximising a window.  And now we get to the exciting part, I will use KDE 4 on Fedora 9 for the first time.  So I will be, in a sense, live blogging about my experience in KDE 4 as implemented by Fedora 9.  As you may recall, I was pretty impressed with openSuse’s port of KDE 4.0 and 4.0 wasn’t supposed to be as good as 4.1.  So I’m going to log out of Gnome and I’ll see you on the other side!

Ok, here’s the initial screen on first boot.

So you can see they’ve fixed the problem everyone was having with a lack of desktop icons.  That icon view can be moved around.  I got a little preview at Kopete’s message notification when it popped up in the top middle of the screen where I was looking around.

Overall, KDE 4 appears to have a Mac OSX type of theme and it’s pretty good.  Just as I said with openSuse 11, I like how the maximise and close Window icons are separated so I have less of a chance of accidentally closing the WIndow.  One bad thing, right off the bat, is that Konqueror cannot properly do the Visual Editing in WordPress, so I had to switch to Firefox 3.  The neat thing about Dolphin, and KDE 4 in general, is that there are a lot of neat effects even if Desktop Effects is turned off.  As you hover over files in Dolphin, the preview window fades into the preview rather than just switching abruptly.  KDE 4 is definitely going to give Mac OSX a run for its money in the effects department.  Especially as it continues to mature into 4.2, 4.3, etc

An interesting technology they’ve been touting for KDE 4 is nepomuk which intends to bring the innovations of the semantic web over to the desktop.  Therefore it supports tagging and commenting files.  This would facilitate better search because the search program wouldn’t have to depend on reading the file or the file’s title to find it.  It would do it based on what you’ve tagged the file.  I can see this having some great new implications.

Annoyingly, I haven’t been able to figure out how to make it so that only the applications in your current desktop show up in the panel.

I know there’s a way to fix this, but I couldn’t find it within five minutes and gave up.  The Widget selection seems to be about the same as in openSuse 11.0.  I crashed plasma when I tried to use the Twitter widget, b

ut I think that’s because I didn’t have KWallet enabled.  Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be a dashboard

button like in openSuse.  Perhaps that was changed between KDE 4.0 and 4.1?  Ah…it’s now a widget you add.  Here’s my widget-crazy desktop with KDEtwitter, simple calculator, binary clock, fuzzy clock, RSS reader, and show dashboard.  In practical use I’ll probably get rid of the binary and fuzzy clocks.  I’m always in need of a calculator, so I’ll probably keep that one on the desktop.  Same with KDEtwitter.

Ok, so a while back, I blogged about one last look at KDE 3.  So now I’m going to revisit some of the applications I talked about there to see how they’ve changed for KDE 4.  First up is Amarok.  I know we’re still waiting for Amarok 2 since it follows a different schedule than KDE 4, but let’s see if it’s changed for KDE 4 nonetheless.  It looks pretty much the same as before.  So I guess we have to wait for Amarok 2.0 for dramatic changes.  Kopete has has some cosmetic changes, but it more or less operates the same.  I trawled through the options to make sure.  Overall, it’s not too bad and it’s pretty informative.  I like it.

I think Fedora has done a pretty good job with KDE 4.  It works pretty well – as good as it works on openSuse.  I still have some work to do to get used to using KDE 4, but overall it’s not too bad.  I’m still not a fan of Kontact, but I’ll give it another shot and see if I can get use to it.  I’m going back to Gnome for a little bit since I have all of my ToDo items in Evolution and I want to keep KDE to QT programs to see if I can get by with only KDE applications.  Overall KDE seems to crash a lot less than KDE 3, widget crash notwithstanding.  It feels a lot more polished and mature and it looks a lot better than KDE 3.  The new menu isn’t that bad at all once you get used to it.  Perhaps, given some time, I can come to love KDE again.  Later this week I’ll probably be giving it another shot.  I leave you with two little things I like in KDE 4.  The first is a panel widget and the second is a menu item.

Review: openSuse 11.0 (and KDE 4)

I’ve never used Suse or openSuse.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a “loyal” Fedora user since Fedora Core 1 and I have Ubuntu on my laptop since it had awesome laptop support.  I even got some Suse CDs as a prize for the Letter of the Month from Linux Format magazine.  However, I never even tried it at that time as I was mad at Novell for the Microsoft pact.  I think it lends a lot of credibility to Microsoft’s BS argument that Linux violates its patents.

But it’s been a few years and nothing horrible has happened because of the Microsoft pact and it came as a liveDVD in the latest Linux Format Magazine.  I was trying to wait until KDE 4.1 came out for Fedora so that could be my first experience with KDE 4, but that’s been delayed nearly a month now (while they, rightly, fix some bugs) so I decided to go ahead with the Suse review.

Suse is the second oldest distro that’s still around.  It started off as being based off of Slackware and later on was somewhat based on Red Hat, borrowing rpm and some other technologies.  Since then it’s gone off on its own and is now considered one of the big boys.  A few years after Red Hat shelved its personal distro and converted over to the community-sponsored Fedora, Suse decided to do the same thing with openSuse.  Just like Fedora, they’ve had some uneven releases.  However, openSuse 11 is supposed to be their comeback release.  Historically, Suse has been one of the biggest supporters of KDE as the default desktop although that has fallen off a little seince they’ve been trying to compete with Red Hat in the business world.

It’s important to note, however, that Novell’s Suse team has put a LOT of work into their KDE desktop.  This liveDVD is running KDE 4.0, yet they didn’t seem to have any problems getting icons on the desktop.  Lots of people were complaining about being unable to do so in Fedora and other distros using KDE 4.  Apparently, they just didn’t take the time that Suse did to engineer a really good KDE 4 release.  (Frankly, I’m surprised that Siego didn’t point to openSuse 11.0 as an example of a well-implemented KDE 4.0 release!)  They’ve also solved the problem of the ugly black panel that was too large.  So, plus points go to Novell’s openSuse/Suse KDE team.  They deserve an applause for doing this so well!

Novell has the KDE program menu that has annoyed so many people.  One of the things I’ve always loved about KDE was the fact that it had a favorite (or most run) programs section on the start menu.  Sure, there are some that believe that if you’re going to run programs that often you should have them as launchers on your taskbar.  But that can make taskbars look a bit cluttered.  Also, I think the most used program portion of Window’s Start Menu is one of the things they got very right with Windows XP.  (I’m not sure if MS innovated that or copied it from somewhere)  This menu is a good menu and doesn’t deserve all the hatred it’s received on the net.  It just needs a couple of tweaks to make it perfect.  The first problem with it is that if your mouse wanders down to the Favorites, Applications, etc portion of the menu, it switches you to that section.  I think a click should be required there to keep people from accidentally switching.   That was the biggest complaint most people had and it can be fixed so easily.  No need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  One other thing that was a bit unclear to me was how to go back on the applications hierarchy.  The skinny arrow on the left is not noticeable enough – at least not the first time it catches you off guard.

Widgets…it’s one of the biggest, most talked about innovations of KDE 4.  There is a lot of innovation going on in KDE 4 and if they can get past the KDE 4.0 stigma, I think they may end up surpassing Gnome with this release.  With Superkaramba, KDE has always done widgets so much better than Gnome.  Gnome’s desklets always seemed a bit kludgey and tacked on at the end.  Superkaramba always felt like it was part of KDE; even before it was added as an official part of KDE 3.5.   Now, with Plasma, the KDE team hopes to take them to the level of Apple’s OSX widgets.  In fact, OSX widget compatibility is either in KDE 4.1 or coming in KDE 4.2.

Wow!  If you’ve only seen the same old screenshots of a calculator, a click and a notepad, you haven’t seen the true power of the widgets.  First of all, they have quite a few new ones now.  You can see that I have a comic viewer, an RSS feed, and a Twitter feed.  All of these came from the default “add widgets” dialog.  I’m surprised, especially given the popularity of Twitter, that no one has showcased these widgets yet.  I’m thouroughly impressed that we’ve moved beyond simple system monitors and weather widgets (although I’m sure those are coming soon enough!)  They’re very easy and intuitive to position and configure.  And, one of the problems I always had with widgets on any desktop was that if I had all my programs open, they were less helpful to me.  Well, by clicking on the little button by the gecko or the top right corner, the plasma dashboard view is activated. This minimizes your programs and brings the widgets to the forefront.  A simple click on the desktop brings your programs back!  Couldn’t be easier.  They’re also very pleasing to the eye with their drop shadows.  They move smoothly and appear with a little fade-in.  Very nice.

As far as programs go, they have a pretty standard set.  OpenOffice.org provides the office suite.  Again, like with Mandriva, this is a little bit out of place since they could use KOffice.  However, I know that OpenOffice.org has much better compatibility with the suite from Redmond.  Interestingly, GIMP and Krita don’t seem to be included – but then again, it’s a liveDVD.  I’m sure it’s in the repositories.

In fact, let’s check out Yast, their control center.  It appears to control any setting you might want to change.  Plus points for them for making it all nice and organized.  In fact, they seem to be on par with Mandriva here in terms of everyting you could possibly want in one place.  Minus a very small point for it not looking as pretty as Mandriva or even as pretty as the rest of openSuse 11.0.  From here we can install programs.  Let’s see how well that appears to work.

I have to say that it is indeed ugly to look at.   I couldn’t really get a good feel for it as it didn’t have repositories defined.  I’ve really become much more of a fan of PackageKit’s interface.  (Which I’ll talk about in my Fedora review)  More and more Gnome-based distros are moving to PackageKit and I think there’s even a KDE version of Packagekit.  It works very well for package management and you can’t argue against the value of a consistent interface across distros.

Some last little things I noticed.  Take a look at what came up when I clicked on “My Computer”:

I really, really like this page that it loads up.  It is very useful for locating places on your computer AND for getting information.  To get the same info in Windows you’d have to open up “My Computer” AND right-click on “My Computer” and click on properties.  Here you have some quick links to “Common Folders” and also you can see that it recognized my NTFS hard drives.  You also have all the key information you need in order to get help from someone:  kernel version, distro, KDE version, graphics card driver, graphics card info, CPU info, and the total and free RAM.  Just one look gives you everything you need to know.  And I want to finish up with just a quick look at some of the neat finishing touches that Novell has done with openSuse.

Look at that – there’s a little gecko – the Suse mascot on the title bar.  This little dude appears on any title bar that has focus.  It’s just little touches like this that make the distro seem more professional.  I wish more distros would do things like this.  And look at this:

Now, this is probably a KDE setting, as opposed to Suse, but good on Novell for leaving it in.  There are many things I like about this setup.  First of all, the expansion button is not next to the exit button.  The number of times I’ve been frustrated by accidentally closing a window when I meant to resize it is just too numerous to count.  Also, the up arrow makes more sense to me than Microsoft’s icon.  It’s just that we’ve been around with the Microsoft implementation for 20 years.

So, what’s my final verdict?  I think Novell has done a really, really good job with openSuse 11.0.  Unlike Fedora, they did a very good job with the unfinished KDE 4.0 and turned it into something usable.  Lots of visual finishing touches make the distro just feel professional and not hacked together.  There are a few rough edges here and there.  I also didn’t test out flash, MP3 playback, or DVD playback.  I presume these can all be downloaded from some third party repository in some country where they don’t implement silly things like software patents.

Except for the still touchy subject of the Microsoft deal, I’d recommend Novell to someone who was new to Linux but ready to learn.  It doesn’t have the same hand-hold style of Ubuntu, so that’s still my top choice.  Right now it’s really almost a tie between recommending Mandriva and openSuse as the next best thing after Ubuntu.  Fedora is often broken due to being bleeding edge and I wouldn’t recommend it to someone brand new to Linux.  Of course, there still is the patent deal and they either did it to make themselves more palatable to companies than Red Hat (thus having bad motives) or they had to satisfy investors (which they legally must do in the USA).  So I guess that would break the tie and give it to Mandriva.  But Novell has made a top notch distro and if they can get over the negative press from the Microsoft deal (and there are websites like boycottNovell to prevent that), then I think openSuse may end up on more magazine covers and start to steal some of the thunder away from Ubuntu.

Empathize!

Well, the latest craze to hit the Linux bloggers is talking about EmpathyEveryone is talking about it.  It’s apparently going to be in the next version of Gnome and Ubuntu is considering replacing Pidgin with Empathy for the next release.  First of all, depending on how much work is done on Empathy between now and then, I think this may be a bad idea.  Ubuntu is the distro we give our Linux n00b friends to play with.  Pidgin can do (more or less) everything Trillian can do (and definitely everything AIM can do – except voice/vid).  Do we want them thinking that Linux is crap because they are using the feature incomplete Empathy?

But this isn’t even the most interesting thing about this for me.  The most interesting thing is that Empathy uses libpurple for the backend for some of its IM capabilities.  On first glance this seems like the perfect *nix-y thing to do.  You don’t want developers wasting their time writing functionality that already exists.  Instead they should make the core functionality a library that all the other programs can use.  This gives rise to all kinds of awesome programs – think of all Gnome programs using one program to provide spell checking so that they don’t each have to implement it and their own dictionary, etc.  However, on second glance you start to wonder if it’s a good thing in this context.  The spelling library being used by all the programs is fine because they don’t all compete with each other.

Now we have Empathy as a possible replacement for Pidgin and it uses Pidgin’s libraries!  That seems like a bit of a slap in the face to me.  It’s like, “Thanks for your libraries and now I will use them to dominate you and wipe you out.”  After all, I keep hearing people calling for distros to only ship one program per function.  One word processor and ONE IM program.  So if they start shipping Empathy as the default, I think that for a growing category of new Linux users, that means they won’t be using Pidgin.  After all, why stray from what the distro has provided for you?

So, first of all, how does this make the Pidgin developers feel?  It’s like a fork, but even worse because it’s a totally different code base that can’t be morphed back into Pidgin.  And what if Empathy gets more and more popular until no one is using Pidgin?  Then the developers stop working on libpurple.  But Empathy depends on libpurple and they’ve just shot themselves in the foot.  Well, at least until they get someone who understands enough about how libpurple was working to continue working on the code (the magic of the GPL).  But, more likely, they’ll just use libpurple as a stop-gap and then work on a new library – wasting the developer time they wanted to save by using libpurple in the first place.

This reminds me of a similar battle in the Linux world – Oracle’s Unbreakable Linux vs Red Hat Enterprise Linux.  Oracle is using Red Hat’s source code to make their own Linux.  They are competing against, and hope to dominate Red Hat.  But what happens if they crush Red Hat?  They’ve killed their source of source code.

So, where do things go from here?  There are three possible scenarios that I can see.  1)  Empathy and Pidgin get into an arms race.  This benefits the users from the competition as more and more features get added.  Of course, it can also hurt the users if new features are added so hastily that they introduce tons of bugs and security holes.  2)  The Pidgin project folds into the Empathy project.  Kind of like an unforking, in a way.  Pidgin, which has always been the default IM client for Gnome, basically becomes an official Gnome project by way of becoming Empathy.  3)  The Pidgin team gives up UI coding.  They decide to remain their own project, but only work on libpurple.  There are already other programs that use libpurple like Adium and some other duck-themed one for Macintosh.  So they’re already used to people using their backend and creating other programs.  (They’re just usually on Macs and don’t compete directly with Pidgin)  I think I’d prefer either outcome 2 or 3 as it’d probably result in the least ill-will in the community and the most benefit for users.

Gnome in Fedora 9 Part 1

First of all, I guess we got all jealous of Ubuntu because we have a startup sound now. There goes signing in with the speakers on late at night or early in the morning. Second, I apparently no longer have any functionality in Gnome. There are no panels, I can’t right-click the background. I can rotate a cube, but that’s about it. Oh, and I can move my mouse around. Time to figure out what went wrong.

Apparently it’s some kind of metacity bullcrap because Gnome with Openbox gets me panels. Also, I’m getting two error boxes that are completely whited out. I’m pretty sure if I could read the error that I’d be able to figure out what was going wrong. Or at least have more information to ask others. I think it’s possible something that’s supposed to load into the panels is causing problems. Now things have locked up. I’m thinking it could possibly be a fight between updatesd and packagekit, but I’m not sure. I think this may be so because when I tried to do something in yum, it said another app was using yum. The IRC was, as usual, not much help. I have something like a 5% success rate there. I rebooted just in case that might clear up the problem with yum. I think I’ll first start with Gnome/Openbox and see if it freezes up again. chmodding 775 my .gnome2 directories improved things somewhat in that now I get some, but now all of my panels. There may be other files with the wrong permissions somehow. Eventually I just do a chmod 775 .* after noticing there were other files with seemingly wrong permissions. I had a promising start when GDM now finally showed my login picture. It hadn’t showed it until now and I hadn’t realized. But still no luck with Gnome.

When I looked in my .xsession-errors file I saw some sabayon errors. Specifically “No profile for user ‘username’ found. Perhaps that’s the true source of the problem? I looked online and sabayon has something to do with profiles for Gnome. So I typed in sabayon and it asked for my root password. Then I created a profile and associated it with my user account. Let’s see if it works now!!!

Nope, looks like that was a different, unrelated problem. So on the advice of someone from the mailing list I installed and ran gconf-cleaner. Then rebooted. Would this be it? No, this did not solve the problem either. I guess I’ll come back to this once I figure it out.

Trawling through .xsession-errors I see that mugshot is part of the problem. It’s a bit annoying and I can always come back to it later. So I decide to yum remove it. This also removes bigboard, online-desktop and online-desktop-gmail *-google-calendar, *-google-docs and *-google-reader. The online desktop never did work correctly for me, so good riddance.

yum install xorg-x11-fonts* on a whim from something online. Afterall, it’s either a font or a color that’s wrong. If this doesn’t work, it’s possible that my xorg.conf file might be causing the problem by referring to a font server that’s been deprecated. That’s the next thing I try…. Ok, I try getting rid of my xorg.conf to see if this fixes things – it appears this was an error with other Fedora users. So hopefully it finally works and I’ll have a solution to my problem.  HOLY COW!  That’s all I needed to do all along!  I feel like pulling out my hair!

Well, at least it’s fixed!!!  Now to get dual-screen, etc working again.

Gnome 3.0 Announced!

This will be a few days old by the time this blog post appears on the site, but Gnome 3.0 is set to come out by 2010!  This is huge news!  Ever since Gnome started getting into the 2.2x series, people have constantly been asking about when Gnome 3.0 would be coming out.  Since the Gnome project has decided that Gnoem 3.0 would be an appropriate time to break API and ABI compatibility, they have been saving that until it was needed.  However, ever since KDE 4 was announced a few years ago, people have increased their calls for a Gnome 3.0.  After all, they don’t want to seem so ridiculously behind when compared to KDE.  Computer geeks like you and I know that doesn’t matter, but the lay person might think Gnome was outdated.  Now that KDE 4.0 is finally out and with KDE 4.1 due at the end of this month, it seems that the momentum has finally built up for Gnome 3.0.

The source for my info is this Phoronix article.  They’re usually a pretty reliable source, but we also have the blog of a prominent Gnome developer.

One of the most exciting things is that Gnome 3.0 will also see the debut of GTK+ 3.0.  GTK 2.0 was a HUGE improvement over 1.0.  If you’ve ever seen a program that’s still compiled with GTK 1.0, you’ll agree that it’s universally considered to be ugly.  It’s like the difference between the way Windows 3.1 program windows looked and the way that Windows 95 and later looked.  One is blocky and old then the other is nice and slick.  Plus, this may give them the chance to fix up some of the things that people hate about GTK programming.  I’m pretty psyched!  After all, most of the major Linux distros us Gnome as their main desktop.

Getting Totem’s MythTV plugin to work

One of the new features of Gnome 2.22 is the fact that Totem now has a plugin to access your MythTV programs. I installed the plugin and found myself wondering what to do next. I checked on Google for totem mythtv and didn’t find anything until today when Google finally got around to indexing a forum post about it on the Ubuntu Forums. I followed the directions about editing Gconf and had success!

Basically it all boiled down to one very simple thing – you had to give the plugin the address of the computer that has the MythTV backend. Unfortunately, whoever created the plugin decided not to use the “configure” button and makes you go into GConf to edit it. I think perhaps this means that the plugin wasn’t really ready for primetime, but they threw it out there for people to check out. I think I will probably submit a bug against this. I have submitted a bug, so hopefully it will be fixed in future versions of the plugin. For now, just go into gconf-editor and then go to apps->totem->plugins and under the mythtv one add the IP addres of your myth box and then go into totem and hit, once the plugin is activated, switch to it with the playlist dropdown menu. Then hit refresh. You’ll get something that looks like this:

Totem MythTV Plugin

Before this plugin I used to go into mythweb and launch the links from there into VLC.  I find that the quality is comparable to watching it on VLC.  Even on my wireless connection the video plays more or less flawlessly and I’m able to watch it just like watching it on the TV connected to my Mythbox.  Good job Totem programmers!

Absolute First Impression of Ubuntu 8.04

Last weekend, it had been a few days since the latest Ubuntu hit the net and I hadn’t heard of any major upgrade SNAFUs so I decided to upgrade. I wanted to record my absolute first impressions without doing much, just to see how I felt.  The upgrade went by without anything bad happening.  My wireless connection still works and nothing major seems to have gone wrong.  I went through each of the things I’d heard hyped about in Ubuntu and checked to see how they had changed.

Here’s the desktop I had before the upgrade.  It was in the selection of desktops that came standard with Ubuntu.

I was curious whether it would automatically change to the new background when I updated.  It did NOT change automatically, so I went ahead and changed it myself.

I really like the look of this desktop.  It’s almost the perfect background.  It’s not as spartan as the previous Ubuntu default of shades of brown.  Yet it’s not too flashy or busy.  It seems to strike the right balance and I could see some non-Linux people asking me where I got that cool background from.  I really like it even more as I look at it.

Another interesting thing that changed is that the Warcraft III CD now has the same icon on the desktop as it would have in a Windows desktop.  I think it’s neat – especially as that’s what the creators of the CD would want.  However, in terms of the Human Interface Guide (HIG), I’m not sure it’s good because people may be looking for the CD icon and may not want to hunt for a new icon each time.  After all, while I do have some clutter on the desktop, I’ve seen people with so many icons on the desktop you can’t even see the background.

Another thing that EVERYONE has been talking about on the Net is the new Gnome 2.22 calendar applet.  Here’s how it looked in Ubuntu 7.10:

Nothing special, just a little calendar.  Much better than Windows where you need to pretend to be changing the date to see the calendar.  Here’s the new Ubuntu 8.04 (Gnome 2.22) applet:

You can see that I was up really early making the screenshot.  I was woken up by a rude person who decided to share his car stereo with everyone at 0300.  So the neat thing with the calendar is this little screen that shows where in the world it is sunlit.  Also, you can add in time zones that you want to keep track of.  So if you have a friend, family member, lover, etc in another time zone, you can see at a glance whether or not they’d appreciate a call from you.

Another thing everyone kept talking about was Firefox.  Ubuntu 8.04 comes with Firefox 3 beta 5.  Firefox 3 is a huge change over from 2 in that they are moving from bookmark files to a bookmark relational database – complete with tagging.  They were also supposed to be changing the them to match better in Gnome.

I didn’t see any difference.  I don’t know if this is because they’re waiting for the final release version to add that in or if Ubuntu had mucked with the theme.

Now, they did have a new startup page which was pretty good at providing a decent amount of information.  Fedora used to have something like this before abandoning it for a very sparse startup page that doesn’t give much info.  As you can see, the themes on Firefox look the same, but look at the differences in the bookmark editor – basically, you can see the tags folder.  First 7.10:

Now 8.04:

Another big change in Gnome 2.22, and thus for Ubuntu 8.04, was with Totem.  Specifically it gained some new plugins.  Here’s 7.10:

For 8.04 there are two new plugins – YouTube and MythTv.  I was able to get the Youtube plugin to work extremely easily, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the MythTv plugin show anything.

Above you can see the results of the Youtube search for Mario Kart Wii.  The video played flawlessly.  Unfortunately, GIMP’s screenshot wouldn’t capture the video playing in Totem so all I have is a black screen in this screenshot, but it actually works.

Finally, there was a little surprise for me in the form of tracker.  It was intalled by default when I upgraded and quickly went to work indexing my files.  It seemed to do this a LOT faster than Beagle.  I wonder if that was removed automatically or if I was left with two competing search programs.  One good potential feature of tracker is the ability to add tags to files to help it find those files in the future.  Good job taking some advice from the semantic web.  I don’t know how useful it will be unless you can apply tags in Nautilus, but it might be pretty awesome.  All these changes make me anxious to see how well it is implemented in Feodra 9 in a couple of weeks.  Here are some shots of tracker:

Overall, this upgrade left a very good impression of Ubuntu 8.04.  It seems they really tried hard to make sure that everything worked, a good thing since this is a Long Term Support (LTS) release.  My upgrade went off without a hitch and I can recommend it to anyone who wants a good, easy to use Linux distro.

One last, good look at KDE 3 Part 1

As you can see, by trawling through this, I have gone back and forth between KDE and Gnome a lot. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I initially loved KDE over Gnome. It looked more like Windows, it had more neat options, and great programs. Not only is Amarok the best media player out there (although Rhythmbox is not far behind), but the KDE programs feel so much more tightly integrated than Gnome. That’s one part where they’ve always had a huge lead over Gnome, although Gnome has been catching up recently. Still, I hope that KDE continues to evolve its KParts and KIOSlaves infrastructures. (Or whatever they evolve into in KDE4) KDE programs also just seemed to fit together visually so much better, I don’t know why because Gnome has the HIG.

But I left KDE for Gnome for a few reasons. First of all, as Gnome has been getting leaner and leaner on system resources, the KDE 3 series remained bloated as a blue whale sloshing around in my RAM as though it was just a kiddie pool and not the ocean. Also, I have had KDE programs crash on me orders of magnitude more often than Gnome programs. Finally, KDE has always been treated as a second-class citizen within Red Hat. That’s why Mandrake was original started! It was originally just a KDE version of Red Hat before branching off and losing RPM compatibility.

But now I want to look at KDE again because a few things have come together to change some of the reasons why I left KDE. First of all, with KDE 4 by basing the desktop on QT4 plus other refinements it’s supposed to be light as a feather on RAM. Sure, it still won’t equate to Fluxbox, but I have a modern system, I just don’t want it to swallow up my RAM like that Kobiyashi at the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest. Also, ever since Fedora 7, The Fedora Project has had the KDE Special Interest Group to make sure that KDE is treated well within Fedora. It finally has integration with the updatesd program, responsible for notifying me when there are updates to download. It was really a pain to see that in Gnome and not in KDE. I also wanted to look at KDE 3 now to document what it looked like and how it worked for me so that I can compare this to my experience with KDE 4.

So, I logged into KDE from a fresh startup in Mario. It loaded up a little bit slower than Gnome, but not by too much. And, it’s not fair to look at that because KDE saves the state of your desktop when you logout so I have it automatically loading SuperKaramba, Kopete, KGPG, Kerry Beagle, KGet, and Tomboy. Recently I’ve switched to accessing my Gmail via IMAP vs POP3. This allows me to login via KDE or Gnome and have access to the same emails in my inbox. So, since I always have Evolution and Rhythmbox open in Gnome, I opened up Kmail and Amarok.

So here’s what my main desktop looked like:

Main KDE Desktop

Before I continue, let me say that the developers of Konqueror have some work to do. Apparently they don’t support AJAX very well because I am not able to use any of the advanced features of my blog nor does Gmail work with full functionality. So who cares if it passes the Acid2 test if it doesn’t work on the sites that I need it to.

Amarok is my favorite media player for all of the work it does with your metadata. Whereas other media players stop at using the music’s metadata to sort the music or, if it’s more advanced, to create auto-playlists, Amarok does SO much more! For example, here’s the data it shows on each song as it plays:

Amarok Artist info

The info on how many times you’ve played the song and the last time you’ve played it is nothing special, but beneath lies the power of Amarok. You can add labels to each of your songs and then use that to create dynamic play lists. Amarok then consults last.fm to figure out which artists are similar to the one you’re listening to. So you can use this to acquire music by other artists that may be similar to the one you’re listening to. Then, it also lists all the music in your current music library that are by similar artists. And it also shows the rating each song has. After all, you may have songs by similar artists which you don’t like. This is a good point to mention that I really like Amarok’s rating system. Unlike others which are on a 5 star scale, Amarok is a 0-100 scale so it gives a lot more room to tell how much you like the song. Also, their auto-rating system works better than any other I’ve ever used. Anyway, under that is a list of your favorite songs by the same artist. So if you can easily jump to any of those songs by double-clicking. Then it shows each of your albums by the same artist and if you click those you can see the songs on those albums. Tell me you’ve seen another media application that makes such a good use of the metadata it has on your music! But it doesn’t stop there.

Amarok Lyrics Tab

If the song you’re listening to is reasonably popular, clicking on the lyrics tab will bring up the lyrics to the song. You can learn them or just use it to sing along to one you don’t know as well. And there’s one more bit of nice integration thanks to the use of KParts, Amarok can integrate Konqueror into it and you can see the Wikipedia page for the artist you’re listening to.

Amarok Artist Wiki

And sometimes I start up a media player and I’m not sure where to go; what I want to listen to. Here Amarok is also helpful.

Amarok Opening Tab

What I like here is that it lists your newest five albums.  For Rhythmbox I had to create a dynamic playlist to hold my newest albums.  It also lists your favorite albums.  So if you want to quickly jump to listen to some music you know you’ll love, you can just double click on those and get the songs.  Or you can drag the album over to the right into the playlist.

I’d also like to look at Kopete for this look at KDE 3 because I think it’s very, very good.  It has a very different aesthetic than Pidgin, so it’s hard to say objectively which one is best.  However, Kopete *does* have many, many more configuration options.  Check out how many plugins it has:

Kopete Plugins, Options and Main Window

My favorite is the Now Listening plugin.  Pidgin has a similar one, but it doesn’t seem to actually ever work.  The other really great thing about Kopete is how you can customize it to suit your style.  Unlike Pidgin which is mostly an AIM clone, Kopete lets you pick everything from your Smiley Style to Chat Window style.

Kopete Visual Configuration - SmiliesKopete Visual Configuration - Emulation Style

And here’s how I have my chat window:

Kopete Chat Window

So far KDE hasn’t been too unstable.  I’m glad I finally fixed the problem where Compiz kept starting in KDE as it was having a huge detrimental affect.  So far I could potentially go back to KDE.  More in a future post.