Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy 2011!!

2010 was a complicated year, let's hope 2011 is way better.

Happy new year everyone!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Google Chrome OS: a new debate

In the last few years, there has been an ongoing debate inside the Linux community that has concentrated a lot of attention. It seemed that every year was The year of the Linux Desktop, every year hopes were high that Linux could take over the desktop OS World. Discussion was everywhere between those who believed massive adoption was possible and those who thought such hopes were pure utopia.

GOOGLE CHROME OS STEPS UP

I recently shared the LATEST INFORMATION about Google Chrome OS, a series of videos from Google themselves demoing the soon to be released cloud based operating system. I have to admit that I did not think much of it until I watched what it was capable of on that presentation. I now believe Google Chrome OS is best positioned to tilt the balance in the home desktop OS world. Here´s a few reasons why:

  • Google Chrome OS is a radically different approach to how we understand the basics of a desktop OS. For example, boot up and shut down times are closer to a TV or a DVD player than to a PC. Similarly, resuming wireless connection from suspend mode is almost instantaneous.
  • The realm of the desktop has been reduced to a browser, an element almost every computer user is fully familiar with. As a result, ease of use goes as far as it gets.
  • Security is maximum, as all data is automatically stored and backed up in the cloud.
  • As virtualization continues to develop, the concept presented by Citrix will expand beyond corporations and become available for anybody, thus allowing a cloud based OS to enjoy the same power and functionality of a traditional PC.
  • Even if Google Chrome OS has, by definition, a strong Internet connection dependency, more and more applications are providing an offline mode.
  • Google Chrome OS is based on Linux, opensource and very low cost. In addition, it naturally integrates with all Google solutions.

For these and other reasons, I see Google Chrome OS as a very attractive alternative for corporations first, and soon after, for the standard home user. In other words, I see the debate changing, no so much about whether Linux is ready to take over the desktop realm anymore, but about what Google Chrome OS represents and if it will benefit Linux as a whole.

RICHARD STALLMAN DOES IT AGAIN

Along those same lines, Richard Stallman recently stated his concerns about Google Chrome OS (more on this HERE). Stallman shared his thoughts about how the new approach to home computing Google is proposing represents a risk of losing control over one´s data. He said: "In the US, you even lose legal rights if you store your data in a company's machines instead of your own. The police need to present you with a search warrant to get your data from you; but if they are stored in a company's server, the police can get it without showing you anything. They may not even have to give the company a search warrant." Richard Stallman believes Google is pushing careless computing into users, encouraging them to lose control over their data.

On a different note, the fact that Chrome OS is built on top of Linux was welcome news for Stallman, but not so much that Google is discouraging the use of current Linux applications and local data storage.

FRIEND OR FOE?

Will Google Chrome OS help Linux? I certainly see great opportunities for Linux to benefit from a potential success of this new operating system, specially as it can draw attention from hardware manufacturers and encourage them to share drivers or even open their source. The fact that the Chrome browser is the epicenter of this project is also good news, for Chromium should also benefit from a growth in applications in the Chrome store. Looking forward, I can also see opportunities if Chrome/Chromium increases its market share, for it encourages the use of open source technologies (as opposed to Microsoft Internet Explorer or Apple Safari).

Having said so, will Google Chrome OS help Linux become more popular, more widely accepted? I am not sure, to be honest. Google intentionally removed any referrals to Linux early on, making sure all branding was exclusively linked to Chrome, never to whatever sits behind the curtain. As a result, Google Chrome OS users will probably never know they are using a Linux machine.

On a different note, I must admit Stallman´s got a point in that Chrome also feels like a "stupidifying" OS. It certainly simplifies things and removes much of the nonsense users still have to put up with, but does it go too far? Does it represent a real privacy threat?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I set up a poll at the top right of this page, so please go ahead and vote, let me know what you think about Google Chrome OS.

Thanks!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fuduntu 14.7 Review

A young and rapidly developing distro, Fuduntu is a fork of Fedora aiming to sit somewhere in between Ubuntu and Fedora. The current version is based off Fedora 14, but it adds quite a few interesting features that I believe should make the RedHat cousin more atractive to the average user.


Click on image to enlarge.

To learn more about the Fuduntu project, visit its website following this LINK.

SIMILAR BUT A BIT DIFFERENT

Fuduntu is still a young distro, which means that the Fedora influence is still too evident. In my case, that is sort of bad news. I recently wrote an ARTICLE when Fedora 14 was released. Unfortunately, it didn't even motivate me to put together a review. In my opinion, Fedora is slowly taking on a specialist distro vibe, probably because most of its recent new features may be meaningful for developers, but not so much for the average user.

The Fedora developers seem to have forgotten that a desktop OS should primarily concentrate on the end user experience. I say that because I see how so many of its elements are growing old, feeling obsolete and cumbersome when compared to what other distros are doing. For example, Ubuntu has vastly improved its installation wizard, boot times, software manager, energy management, social network integration, etc. Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, Pardus, Chakra Linux and other distros are also examples of projects investing in improving the user experience. In comparison, Fedora looks arcane, raw and definitely not as user friendly.

Fuduntu naturally inherits many of the Fedora qualities. The installation wizard, for example, is identical. The plymouth boot splash theme is custom, but very similar to Fedora's. The GDM theme (Unlike Fedora, Fuduntu is only available in GNOME flavor) is also reminiscent of Fedora's.


Click on image to enlarge.

Luckily, changes blossom out as soon as the desktop is loaded. Window decoration themes, fonts, controls, icons, the default application catalog... Even Nautilus shows its elementary clothes. I have to admit, Fuduntu is a definite improvement over Fedora 14.


Click on image to enlarge.

Small details do make a difference. Including Faenza Cuppertino as the default icon theme, the Flash plugin preinstalled, Thunderbird as the default mail client or the Cheese webcam application, to give just a few examples, certainly is welcome. Having said so, the Fedora footprint is everywhere and its weak spots easily show up. Font rendering, for example, is poor, and so are boot times and overall performance. Even with Jupiter installed, energy management doesn´t seem to be as optimized as is in Ubuntu 10.10, for example (I am getting 10%-20% less battery life on the same hardware).


Click on image to enlarge.

CONCLUSIONS

All in all, Fuduntu is an interesting effort to sweeten Fedora. I believe most of the changes already committed are right choices, steps in the right direction. Unfortunately, although the Fedora foundation is solid in many ways, it lacks in certain areas that are to be expected from a modern Linux desktop today. As a result, the changes/enhancements in Fuduntu still fall short somehow.

I think Fuduntu will be worth following up closely. It will progressively become more of an independent distro, incorporating many elements that should set it apart from Fedora or any other distro. For now, though, it is still too young and close to its foundation to have a "personality" of its own. My feeling is that users will experience Fuduntu as a respin of its parent distro, so whether they like it or not will really depend on how they feel about Fedora. I feel that way myself, so I would like to wait a bit longer before I complete an in-depth review.

INTERVIEW WITH FUDUNTU'S CREATOR

Andrew Wyatt (a.k.a Fewt) is the man behind Fuduntu. A RedHat certified engineer, Andrew has participated in several open source projects, including his work as part of the AuroraOS project TEAM. He also led the Jupiter project.

Andrew and I had kept in touch through our corresponding blogs. Not long ago, he asked me to take a look at Fuduntu and put together a review, the result of which you probably already read. However, since the very first moment we discussed about it, I thought it would be particularly interesting to also share his view and experience putting together a distro. How did he do it? How long did it take? Was it difficult? Why did he made certain choices and not others? If you are interested in learning more about Fuduntu in particular and Linux distros in general, check out this "behind the scenes" interview.

General Questions

- Fuduntu is a fork of Fedora, and it shows. Why Fedora?

Well, I am an RHCE and I have always been a RedHat fan. Even though I have moved from distribution to distribution over the years, RedHat 5 in the mid 90s was my first experience with Linux other than experimentation with some of the earlier floppy based Linux distributions, and I have always stuck with RedHat on servers outside of some past use of Ubuntu Server for small workgroup environments.

On the desktop side, I moved over to Ubuntu 4.10 from Gentoo when it was released, and for the most part stayed with Ubuntu until 9.10 when I decided that I needed to find something else that was more stable. After moving from 9.10 to Fedora 12, I found the distribution as a whole had matured considerably since Fedora Core 4 which had been my last exposure to Fedora. With my experience with RedHat basing Fuduntu on Fedora felt like a natural fit.

- What do you find appealing about this distro that you may not in others?

I like that Fedora is as close to the source as you can get (with the exception of Debian perhaps) in that there aren't a lot of changes to packages rolled into the distribution. I also like that RedHat puts a significant amount of their R&D dollars into the platform including kernel development. There is also the fact that it is much simpler to build and support an RPM package than it is to build and support a DEB package.

- Fuduntu includes an interesting selection of software that is not part of the Fedora default installation. Can you provide a bit of background on why you made the choices that you made?

Sure. When I started preparing to replace Fedora 13 with Fedora 14 on my laptop, I made a list of software on that machine. This list was pretty much the same list that I installed on each of the five Fedora computers that I use.

- Was that a selfish "I choose this because it is what I use", or were you actually thinking of other types of users?

Initially, I was thinking about myself. When I decided to play around with learning how to build a live CD, I just grabbed the list of packages that I used across all of my Fedora computers and ran with it. Once I realized that others were showing interest in Fuduntu, I altered those selections to align with what I would expect to be a common set for a larger audience sacrificing some of my personal selections in the process. I also created the defaults and direction survey which gave a list of choices allowing the users to decide through democratic process. I will be using the results of the survey in the future to improve the default selections.

- Jupiter is an interesting addition, and a piece of software you seem to be heavily involved with. Can you tell us more about it, what it does and where the project present and future look like?

When I decided to stop supporting Eee PC Utilities on Ubuntu in October of 2009, I had already committed to the Aurora team (then known as Eeebuntu) to build a next generation utility to manage kernel parameters, CPU states, and simple hardware devices for a wider variety of computers. Jupiter is that product. It is supported on virtually any computer that meets its package requirements under Aurora, Fuduntu, and Fedora. The project is considered stable, and is now in extended support where I am providing bug fixes for the software on those platforms. I do add additional features to Jupiter now and then, when it offers a significant improvement as I did with version 0.0.46 released this last week.

- Putting together a distro seems like an incredibly difficult and time consuming task. Why did you decide to embark on this project?

I decided to embark on this project as an experiment, simply to learn how to build a live CD since I have been breaking apart RedHat media for many years for automated delivery I actually didn't find it very difficult. I created the first version over the course of a few nights, and released it to the world in-case anyone else found it useful. Initially, I didn't expect that anyone would find a use for it, but it seems that they have so I have continued to mature Fuduntu which is now at release version 14.7.

- Did you consider joining other distro projects before starting your own?

I am already a member of another distribution project called Aurora OS. I am still active in the Aurora community, and don't see that changing any time soon since Jupiter is a core component of the distribution.

Initially, I was just going to create a Fedora respin for myself for use on my PCs at work, but before I released it to the world I read through the Fedora documentation and realized that I would not be able to call my remix a Fedora branded distribution since I included my Jupiter package which is not in the Fedora repository. This prompted the rebranding of the distribution into what is now known as Fuduntu.

- What goals did you have in mind when you started and do you feel you have achieved them?

Initially my goal was just to learn how to build a live CD so in that regard Fuduntu has far exceeded my expectations. My most important goal is to deliver a Linux distribution that is optimized to maximize performance and improve battery life on portable computers, but Fuduntu is in no way limited to portable computers. It runs perfectly well on multiple desktops too.

Going forward as I draft the Fuduntu roadmap, and analyze the results of my defaults and direction survey, I will create additional goals which should hopefully meet the needs of those who choose to use Fuduntu.

- You recently included Nautilus elementary as the default file manager. Why?

I am a Nautilus Elementary fan, and it is something that Ubuntu had recently rejected. I thought that it would fit well in the Fuduntu desktop environment.

- In my experience, SELinux is a bit of a resource eater. I see you have removed its policies in your default ISO. What are your thoughts on SELinux and are you planning to improve it, remove it or leave it as is?

I really think SELinux technology is very capable of protecting servers, but I don't see it fitting very well on the desktop. I think that it would be incredibly difficult to enforce policies on /home which is where I would target if I were to be in the business of writing malware.

I don't see it becoming enabled by default in Fuduntu, but I am open to the possibility of providing hardened desktop configurations that do have it and other security enhancing configurations active.

Look & Feel

- Fuduntu includes a custom Plymouth theme and quite an ellaborate desktop customization, from window decoration to fonts and colors. Was it difficult to learn all the different technologies that provide a theming interface?

It wasn't terribly difficult, no. I started building themes for GTK and Metacity in the mid 2000s so I already had a lot of exposure in this area. The majority of the work in the Fuduntu theme blended ideas from other existing themes like my Zami GTK theme, and the Ordinary Colors Metacity theme.

I think the biggest challenges were making the overall desktop interface fluid and nice to look at without it being over the top, and to learn how to package it all up for Fuduntu which I learned by taking apart the similar Fedora packages. Ultimately, I think the mix that I used for the desktop fits the distribution well, and so far all of the feedback from users has been positive.

- How long did it take for you to put all the Look&Feel configuration together?

I put the majority of the interface together in a day, and refined and packaged it the next.

- It seems you too like the Faenza icon theme, as Faenza cuppertino is the default icon theme in Fedora. What is it about it that appeals to you?

I think the Faenza Cuppertino icon theme blends really well with the rest of the desktop and completes the look. It has a mature, yet somewhat flashy look to it which is what I wanted as a default for Fuduntu.

Feedback & community

- What is Fuduntu acceptance so far? What's the feedback like?

Well there have been a few dozen requests for me to change the name, but I expected that when I chose the name Fuduntu. The name is designed to prompt conversation, and be humorous. The fact that it has prompted conversation both good and bad is exactly what I wanted it to do.

Beyond the name, the feedback about the distribution itself has been great, and very constructive. There is a thread at Linsux.org where I initially announced Fuduntu, one at Eeeuser.com, and one on Ubuntuforums. One of the Ubuntu forums users volunteer to seed Fuduntu torrents which was wonderful and a great help to the project.

- Are you keeping track of ISO downloads? If so, how many downloads so far?

Outside of the download tracker at SourceForge which registers over 5,000 downloads of Fuduntu, I am not really keeping track. I couldn't tell you how many people downloaded from other sources including torrents. There is nothing in the operating system to really tell me how many users there are, but I have thought about adding this capability as an optional feature in the future.

- Are people interested in joining you to develop Fuduntu? If so, are you willing to work with others?

There hasn't been a lot of interest yet, but Fuduntu is still less than two months old, so the future can take it anywhere. I absolutely am open to anyone that is interested in helping, there is a forum and mailing list for developers which are open to all. If anyone has something they think could be improved in Fuduntu or Linux in general and they are interested in helping they are more than welcome to join Fuduntu.

Future Plans

- What's in store for Fuduntu moving forward?

I have a few things on my plate, I need to work out the compatibility issue with NVidia RPMs provided by RPM Fusion, and get started on the road map. I have some other smaller goals like writing release notes, and I also have some patches that I need to send up to the Fedora team.

- Are you planning to add your own applications to make Fuduntu even more of an independent distro (ala Linux Mint - Ubuntu)?

Yes, that is my plan. I have a short list of tools that I hope to start working on in the near future to improve the Fuduntu experience for its users. I am also looking at some of the things that Mint, Ubuntu, and others are doing and starting to research bringing some of those technologies over to Fuduntu.

I would really like to thank Andrew for his time and interesting insights on Fuduntu, as well as his contribution to Linux and its community.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

I would like to wish you all very happy TuXmas!



Man, it's cold here! ;-)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Windows 7 and the Linux desktop (PART 2)

A few days ago I published an ARTICLE about my experience with Windows 7, somewhat influenced by Fewt's own VIEW on the subject. Because the article was taking on some humongous proportions, and to hopefully organize it in a way that would make some sense, I decided to split it in two parts.

The first part was my take on the interesting concepts Fewt raised about Windows 7. The second part, the one you are reading now, will elaborate on why I choose the Linux desktop, Linux Mint 10 in this case, over the latest from Microsoft.

HURRY UP, BABY!

What can I say, I love speed and responsiveness, and that's one of the many areas where Linux definitely delivers. I had heard Windows 7 was nothing like Vista, that the resource eating days were over, and that this latest edition of the Microsoft OS was the fastest ever. That's all mostly true, but after getting used average Linux performance, Windows 7 is simply not fast enough.

Because I am dual booting Windows 7 and Linux Mint 10, it's a great opportunity to compare each and obtain somewhat meaningful results. I decided to time a few things, mostly concentrating on boot up and shut down times.

STAGELINUX MINT 10WINDOWS 7
Bios to Login screen23 secs28 secs
Login screen to desktop12 secs19 secs
Shutdown6 secs24 secs

Linux Mint 10 is 30% to 40% faster than Windows 7 on average, and while differences are not that exaggerated on day-to-day desktop activities, they are still significant. I am not saying applications open that much slower on Windows 7, it's the experience as a whole that is slower. Antivirus updates, system and other security updates, random automatic antivirus scans, way too many applications loading on startup...

The number of things that have an impact on speed and responsiveness is indeed important, but so is the how. I already talked about the exaggerated size the average Windows application has taken on. It only makes sense that applications that are so heavy require updates that are proportionally heavy, and that is the case indeed. As a result, downloading and applying updates in Linux takes less time, adds less user disruption and, as we will discuss later, hardly ever requires a reboot.

Long story short, I just can't be bothered to put up with that many obstacles. In Linux Mint and the Linux desktop in general things work fast. Me likes.

"USE THE SHELL, LUKE!"

The Linux command line interface is an incredibly powerful ally. Automating day-to-day activities such as distro updates, package installation/uninstallation, resource monitoring... You name it, the CLI unleashes the true power of your computer.

NOTE: The Windows 7 command line does provide some 180 commands that certainly add to the GUI functionality, but comparing it with bash isn´t even funny.

MORE IS MORE

The Linux desktop has many features that I´ve found help increase my productivity. Here are some examples:

1.- Multiple desktops: Those who have used a dual screen setup in Windows have only scratched the surface of what working with multiple desktops feels like. I personally find that I can work on several things at once more productively, isolating each task on a different desktop and limiting the amount of open windows on that particular desktop to two or three at most. This allows me to always know what I am doing, as opposed to having an endless list of open windows that I can´t make sense of.

2.- Compiz FX: Believe it or not, Compiz effects do help as well. Anything from the widget layer, where I can add widgets that provide me with interesting information, to the enhanced desktop zoom, the desktop wall, etc. The idea is that, if used correctly, these effects are way more than just eye candy, they actually add their two cents towards overall productivity.

3.- Keyboard & Mouse: Linux is all about flexibility, and keyboard shortcuts are no exception. A LOT can be achieved with the default keyboard shortcuts, but way more as soon as one starts adding custom combinations.

Mouse gestures add a lot of value as well. One of the things I miss the most when I am working on a Windows box, for example, is the ability to highlight text on any app and then paste it elsewhere by clicking on the middle button.

4.- Applications: Many tools are at hand to enhance productivity and make things easy and fast, but even more importantly, the community is constantly introducing ideas to take that productivity up a notch. Here are some examples:

- Synapse takes the Gnome Do concept even further, allowing quick search of pretty much anything on the computer straight from the keyboard.
- Pidgin, empathy, Gwibber, Choqok, Kopete and several other applications provide a single interface for all your IM and social networking needs, avoiding unnecessary installations and desktop cluttering.
- Several distros propose top native integration for social applications and media (Ubuntu), while others provide powerful system tools, like the Linux Mint menu, which integrates anything from installation to dictionary search, web search, etc. in one place.

...And what´s even better, most things I listed above are available out of the box!

UPDATE ME, WILL YA?

Another amazing thing about the Linux desktop is how it handles software installation. In my opinion, the concept of software repositories is light years ahead of what Windows users get these days. As a matter of fact, Apple has incorporated this idea and rumor says Microsoft is thinking of doing the same.

Software management in Linux is fast, simple, safe and convenient. Some distros, like Ubuntu, Linux Mint and now Pardus are doing some amazing work on their software managers, providing information, screenshots and sometimes even user ratings for each package.

Another great thing about repositories is that they not only provide critical OS updates, but also for the desktop manager and applications. Certain distros, like PCLinuxOS and Fedora are particularly proactive in updating their application catalogs, allowing users to enjoy the latest and greatest just days after it is released.

REBOOT ME NOT

Unlike Windows 7, which requires rebooting to apply updates way too often, Linux hardly ever needs a recycle. Applying Kernel updates is the one task that must undergo a full reboot to take effect, but it doesn´t happen that often.

FAR BEYOND THE SUN

Another great thing about the Linux desktop is that it can easily take on many more roles, some of which are only meant for "grown ups". In other words, setting up a MySQL, SSH, Application, Web or even a small eMail server with Linux is usually surprisingly easy. Users can indeed turn their PCs into pseudo-servers, which by the way, work reliably. This is another area where Linux performs well ahead of Windows.

YOU'LL NEVER BE ALONE

There is something about Linux that means more than just software. There is a huge community of enthusiastic individuals willing to join efforts to create something truly amazing. The best thing? Everyone is invited to join and collaborate and there are thousands of ways to do so. The whole concept feels a bit strange when proprietary software is all you know, but once you get past the initial fears and start to enjoy help and support from others, it's easy and gratifying to become part of such an incredible community.

I'M FREE, TO DO WHAT I WANT, ANY OLD TIME

When all is said and done, of all the features in the Linux desktop, being free and in control is the one I appreciate the most. Customization is as deep as it gets and one can truly understand what is going on. Users may still choose to ignore technicalities and stick to defaults if they so desire, but if they want to make their OS truly theirs, all doors are open.

DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW

After such a long and boring article, I must go back to the concept I started with: Ultimately, both Windows 7 and the Linux desktop are great options for any kind of user, so it´s more a matter of finding which best fits one´s needs.

I purposedly left the "free as in beer" aspect of Linux out of the picture. Don´t get me wrong, it is quite an important thing, but the Linux desktop has grown mature enough to stand out on its own merits, not just because it has no cost. Building on that concept, it was not long ago when the Linux desktop was not even a valid option as a desktop OS... Today it stands a comparison with the Industry standard! The speed and quality of its growth are unquestionable, and yes, there are many areas of improvement, but after looking at what the latest releases have achieved, there is no stopping it!

Long live the Linux desktop!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Windows 7 and the Linux desktop (PART 1)

I recently read an interesting ARTICLE by Fewt, sharing his experience with Windows 7 in these past seven months. The article praised Windows 7 in general, raising several interesting points, as well as a specially interesting conclusion I fully agree with. I didn't agree with everything he shared, though, but the article got me thinking how my point of view could be so different. As a matter of fact, my experience with Windows 7 was not that positive, so I thought I'd put together an article to share my take on the subject.

Passionate freak that I am, I got so into it that I went on and on, quickly realizing I should split my article into two parts. I used part 1 to share my thoughts on Fewt's article. Part 2 will go over the reasons why I choose Linux as my main desktop OS.

Note that this article is by no means an attempt to troll, bash or demean Fewt's opinion, which I very much respect. It's just me sharing mine.

WINDOWS 7 & LINUX MINT 10 DUAL BOOT

About two months ago I purchased an HP 5320M laptop, a sleek, light and good looking piece of hardware, I have to say. Not surprisingly, it came with Windows 7 pre-installed and, for the first time in years, I decided to keep it so I could potentially play commercial games. I then installed Linux Mint 10 on a different partition. This setup allowed me to experience both Windows 7 and Linux Mint 10 back to back, under the exact same hardware, providing me with a great opportunity to truly check where the Linux desktop stands when compared with the latest and greatest from Microsoft.

DEFINING CRITERIA

If there was one thing that was clear to me before and after reading Fewt's article is that both Linux and Windows 7 make for a great desktop OS. The key element to decide which one has the edge is really determined by the criteria used in comparing them. In other words, as far as I am concerned, it's not so much about which one is best, but about which one best fits the user needs.

Fewt defined his criteria throughout his article: Lack of crashes, consistency over time, richer application catalog and security are some of the areas in which he considers Windows 7 shines. In the following sections I will go over those concepts and discuss them from my perspective.

NO CRASHES

I haven't had a single crash on neither Linux Mint 10 nor Windows 7 since I started using my HP 5320M. Windows 7 is indeed a solid OS, but so was Windows XP (I have not experienced Vista, though). The superior Linux stability that once made a big difference when compared to older versions of Windows is no longer evident.

In my opinion, as they stand today, both Windows 7 and the Linux desktop are very stable environments, so much so that I don't consider the lack of crashes a deciding factor to choose one over the other.

CONSISTENCY OVER TIME

It is no myth, Windows does indeed slow down over time, certainly many orders of magnitude more than Linux does. To which degree, though, does depend on the kind of use it gets. There are a few factors that play an important role in degrading a Windows machine performance over time:

Disk Fragmentation: Unless Windows 7 users have a Solid State Drive installed on their machines, they will experience varying degrees of disk fragmentation. This file system "weakness", if you will, is more or less evident depending on the kind of data manipulation that goes on in the machine.

Intensive allocation, reallocation and deallocation of data will eventually accentuate disk fragmentation problems, degrading the machine performance over time. Similarly, the less free space available on the drive, the more struggle fragmentation will cause. Creating, copying, moving and deleting files are common activities for the average home user, the result of such mundane actions as keeping large collections of personal pictures and videos, a gigantic music collection, a good share of downloaded movies and/or frantic installation of games and applications. Yes, it doesn't take much to cause disk fragmentation.

Although user activities certainly play a significant part in disk fragmentation, it would not be fair to blame it all on them. One other element that certainly doesn't help is the blatant lack of optimization of resources that plagues the Windows ecosystem. How game and application system requirements got to where they are at right now is a mystery to me, but it's plain ridiculous.

WindowsSizeLinux Size
Photoshop CS51GB+GIMP 2.6.1012.6 MB
Maya 20114GBBlender 2.49.234 MB
ProTools15GBArdour 2.8.1129.2 MB
MS Office 20103 GBOpenOffice 3.x400 MB

The table above compares a few popular Windows applications and their Linux/opensource counterparts, clearly depicting the abysmal difference between them in terms of disk space requirements. Games are no different, often worse: The blockbusters Starcraft II and World of Warcraft: Cataclysm require an incredible 12 and 25GB of disk space respectively!

The truth is the average Windows user sits in an environment where optimization of resources is anything but a priority. At the end of the day, that makes issues such as disk fragmentation or excessive data allocation more of a risk.

Regardless of the cause, disk fragmentation problems are very much a reality in Windows 7, and Microsoft themselves are the best proof. The efforts that they still put into improving their workaround speak for themselves. Indeed, the disk defragmentation tool received several improvements for Windows 7, including automation, scheduling, as well as the ability to defragment more than one volume at a time.

NOTE: Although useless unless the user keeps the machine on long enough for the scheduler to trigger the defragmentation process, automatic defragmentation is a step forward. Those interested in learning more about Windows 7 improvements can check this Microsoft ARTICLE.

Windows Registry gaining weight: The infamous Windows registry certainly suffers when intensive installation/uninstallation tasks take place. Unlike Linux desktop users, who get a wide set of applications as part of their default installation, Windows users often have to install a significant number of applications to become productive. Software from printers, webcams, cameras, your casual iTunes and the like, media players, an office suite, proper Internet browser(s), torrent client(s), social networks client(s) and a good share of games are just a few things most Windows 7 users will end up installing on their machines. If maintained over long periods of time, that installation frenzy would add more and more registry keys to the database, making it grow heavier and more difficult to manage, eventually resulting in slower performance.

Summing up

So there you have it, there are clearly identified areas that may cause performance degradation in Windows 7, and they are not that different from standard day-to-day activities. At the end of the day, lack of performance degradation over time is one of the last things I would have highlighted about Windows 7.

NOT THE MOST REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Let me put it this way: Fewt is anything but the average Windows 7 user and his experience is, in my opinion, not one to draw conclusions from. If he's not experiencing performance degradation over time it is not because NTFS fragmentation problems disappeared, nor because the Windows registry magically became a light and optimized database. Most of it comes from an expert following best practices, and in doing so, putting a thick make up layer over some of Windows 7 weak spots.

The fact of the matter is a Linux user can afford a lot more abuse on his machine and still keep reasonable performance over time (I still keep my first Ubuntu 8.10 installation, which went through all kinds of tests as I was learning, and it runs great!!). Disk fragmentation problems exist, but they are nowhere near as severe as they are in Windows. Moreover, because resource optimization is taken seriously, it plays a key part in maintaining a healthy and lean system as time goes by.

RICHER APPLICATION CATALOG

Agreed, no use hiding it, Windows has a wider, richer application catalog. However, the advantage is only significant if commercial software is part of the equation, which would make cost implications something to consider. If the comparison is limited to free software, then I would say the difference is not as significant. Yes, some applications are only available for Windows, but the opposite is true as well.

All in all, I guess this one depends on the user's needs. If there is a dependency on applications from the Windows ecosystem, such as having to use MS Office to be fully compatible with other people using it, then Windows 7 would be the natural choice. There may be $$$ implications, though.

SECURITY

Undoubtedly, Windows 7 is a step forward in terms of security, specially when compared to XP and older versions of Windows. Having said so, even with its shiny User Account Control (UAC) feature, it still is very much vulnerable to viruses. A STUDY conducted last year at Sophos laboratories demonstrated that Windows 7 was vulnerable to 8 out of 10 viruses from a random sample.

Now, let's stop here for a moment, because we are talking about Windows 7 security: Is it legitimate to say Windows 7 is secure when it is vulnerable to so many viruses? Is it fair to talk about Windows 7 security taking for granted an Antivirus must be installed and correctly configured? I don't think so.

Anyways, let's assume antivirus software is on and correctly configured. Fewt still shares the key concept towards making Windows 7 safe:

"Since I apply common sense browsing habits and I don’t pirate software, I don’t really have any security concerns."

Totally agreed, but then again, any Linux desktop user could make a similar statement.

It is important to go back to the concept of average Windows 7 user, for once again, Fewt is not a representative example. The relevant question here is whether that average Windows 7 user should have any security concerns. Let's consider this: two random unexperienced users are not following safe practices, one using Windows 7, the other one a Linux desktop. Is it realistic to say they face the same threats, both in terms of number and criticality?

In summary, security is another area where Windows 7 does not shine. It gets better with the use of external antimalware applications, but then again, that only goes to show its shortcomings.

SUCH A BIG STEP FORWARD?

After the huge Vista fiasco, Windows 7 appeared as a long awaited alternative for many, a desktop OS which went back to reasonable levels of performance, resource consumption and stability.

I have never used Vista, so the frustration many users experienced with it is unknown to me. I stuck with good ol' Windows XP SP3, but maybe as a result of that, I wasn't so surprised with Windows 7. Don't get me wrong, it is prettier, fancier, does include some notable improvements in terms of security and energy management, and it works fine over all, but come on, it's been 8 years since XP was released... 8 years! Is it really that big an improvement or is it just that expectations on Microsoft are so low that people get surprised when they get a product working reasonably well?

To put this matter into perspective, it should be noted that Ubuntu was born in 2004, maintaining an incredible rate of improvement throughout these last 6 years. To think that all of that has been achieved with a tiny fraction of the resources, money and hardware support that went into creating Windows 7 is really something, and should help avoid getting too complacent with the latest Windows incarnation.

Long story short, Windows 7 is a fine desktop OS, but to me personally, it is a "meh" product. Yes, it's got some interesting features and works OK overall, but it is not the improvement over Windows XP I was expecting after so many years. The fact that "Windows 7 doesn't crash" is something worth mentioning today, almost 30 years after the first Windows release, is hilarious to say the least, and speaks volumes about the average quality expectation for Microsoft products.

Anyways, as I am sure you know by now, I choose Linux Mint 10 and the Linux desktop in general over Windows 7, and it certainly is not just because I expected better from the latter. I will be sharing my reasons in the second part of this article.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Synapse and a bit about Gnome Dictionary

Most computer users should be familiar with Run Application menu entries. Windows includes a menu entry to execute commands from and so do most Linux desktop managers.Such concept of allowing users to type simple commands straight from the GUI was developed further by several applications, GnomeDo being one of the most popular. It not only allowed for command execution, but also searched the PC for contents from many different categories.

Unfortunately, GnomeDo development halted around a year ago, making this neat application quickly look and feel a bit obsolete. Luckily for all us, though, there's Synapse, which I learnt about from a recent OMGUBUNTU article (Thanks!!).

WHAT IS SYNAPSE?

According to its creator, Synapse is essentially a search tool, which goes through many sources of information to present contents right at the user's fingertips. I know, it does sound vague, but a few examples really help in understanding how Synapse works.

First off, let's see how Synapse can be started, or "activated" (the term used by the application):

1.- Access Main Menu > Applications > Accessories > Synapse.

2.- Click on the icon that will appear on your notification area and then click on "Activate" from the dropdown menu that will show up.

3.- The easiest and most practical method to activate Synapse, though, is by using the suggested key combination Ctrl+Space.

Activation is instantaneous and all you have to (and can) do is start typing whatever it is you are looking for. For example, entering the first few letters from the word "Brasero" makes Synapse, as expected, find the popular Gnome CD burning application.


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One of the things that first stands out is how quickly Synapse reacts to any search. It will find any match for applications, Actions, Images, Documents, Audio, Video, etc., even if the term entered does not match a complete word, but separate letters. For example, typing "chro" will indeed return Chromium Browser, but so will "cmu".


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In my experience, it takes just a few seconds to get comfortable with Synapse, and after that, it is a complete blast. Ever felt like browsing menus trying to find an application was slow and tedious, specially when you don't remember which category that application falls into? Well, this is it, ladies and gentlemen, a lightning fast solution that will even save you reaching out for the mouse!


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As can be seen from these screenshots, the Faenza icon theme contributes to making Synapse look amazing!

GNOME DICTIONARY OFFLINE SETUP

One other neat Synapse feature is that it will try to use the Gnome dictionary to find the definition of a word that does not match any of the contents available in the machine. Using this feature made me realize I had not set up the GNOME dictionary on my machine.


Click on image to enlarge

I did some research and found out how to configure Gnome dictionary to run locally on my machine, as opposed to reaching out to Internet sites. The local setup is great because it avoids any connection dependencies. It also makes the dictionary search much faster, and we love fast, don't we?

If you too want to set up your Gnome Dictionary locally, follow these simple steps:

1.- Install the necessary packages from Synaptic (search for and install dictd, dict-gcide, dict-wn, dict-moby-thesaurus packages). Alternatively, if you want to do it from the command line, run the following command:

sudo apt-get -y install dictd dict-gcide dict-wn dict-moby-thesaurus

2.- Configure Gnome Dictionary to run locally by opening the application from Main Menu > Applications > Office > Dictionary, then open the Edit Menu > Preferences.

3.- Create a new source as shown below (you may choose a different Description name) and set it up as the default source.


Click on image to enlarge

Voila! Gnome dictionary should now be fully functional and search on your machine only.

CustUbuntu UPDATE

I found this dictionary offline configuration deal interesting, so I modified my CustUbuntu.sh installation/uninstallation script (full article with instructions HERE) to include these few packages on the installation section.


Click on image to enlarge

If you want to download the latest CustUbuntu version, just follow this LINK.


INSTALL SYNAPSE

Installing Synapse in Ubuntu is real simple. First off, add Synapse's own PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:synapse-core/ppa

Now update sources and install synapse:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install synapse

Done!

SYNAPSE ROCKS!

Yes, Synapse does rock indeed. It does loads more than what I showed here and it is one of those "straight-to-the-point" applications that does what it's got to do and does it quick. If you are comfortable typing, I am sure you will instantly fall in love with it. If you are not that much of a keyboard fan, I would still recommend it. Before you know it, you will notice how it adds to your overall productivity!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Google Chrome OS is finally here!

The much anticipated Google Chrome OS is already very much alive and kicking. There are loads of news and articles about its release, the few devices that will sell with Google Chrome OS preinstalled and those in the in the making, as well the Chrome Web Store.

I wanted to put together an article on the subject, but after watching the following video, I realized it already summarizes the whole thing better than I could have. If you are interested in this Linux based OS, please check out this informative video from Google themselves, which covers Google Chrome browser, Chrome Web Store and Google Chrome OS in depth.



The video above is a very long and thorough, so if you are not interested in all three subjects, you can access each individually below.

Google Chrome OS



Google Chrome Browser



Google Chrome Web Store



Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fixing Dropbox startup issues in Ubuntu

I am a big Dropbox fan, no use hiding it. I use several machines on a daily basis, including Windows XP and 7, as well as a plethora of Linux distros. Dropbox is a solid thread that links them all, helping me make sense of the whole thing while keeping all my data safe and centralised. Dropbox has truly influenced the way I work these days, making my life easier in many ways.

Changing files from my Dropbox folders is something that happens many times a day, so it is critical for me to keep its daemon running at all times while I work. Because of that, I find it annoying when randomly, for no apparent reason, it does not properly start in Ubuntu/Linux Mint. Basically, Dropbox remains in a "Connecting..." status forever, forcing me to manually stop and start the service.

I decided to put together a short and simple script that fixes this problem, checking Dropbox status after a number of seconds and then restarting the service automatically if necessary. I have configured the script to sleep for 30 seconds before running a status check, but you may change that figure to suit your machine/network setup.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

In case you don't know, Dropbox for Linux provides a simple command line interface. Dropbox status may be checked upon at any time using the following command:

dropbox status

From what I have gathered, there are four possible states, namely:
  • Idle: Dropbox is running fine, in standby status until any potential synchronization is required.
  • Downloading file list: Dropbox just connected to the server and is gathering information.
  • Connecting...: Dropbox is trying to connect to the server. This is usually the status it is at when the problem appears. Instead of going into Idle status, Dropbox remains in Connecting status.
  • Dropbox isn't running!: Pretty self explanatory.

My script loads on startup, just like the Dropbox daemon does. As I mentioned already, the script will allow 30 seconds before checking Dropbox status. If the check returns status Idle or Downloading file list, the script will do nothing and let Dropbox do its thing. Any other status will display some GUI messages, then restart Dropbox.

I added a couple screenshots below to show how the script works.



After 30 seconds, the script checked and found that Dropbox was not running. It then displayed a simple message informing the user that the Dropbox daemon would be restarted. Once the user clicks OK, the restart takes place and a confirmation message appears.



WANNA USE IT?

If you have experienced the same strange random Dropbox behavior yourself, you may find this script interesting and want to use it. If so, it is real simple, just follow these easy steps:

1.- Download the script from HERE.
2.- Save it as CheckDropbox.sh and then grant it execution privileges.
3.- Finally, configure it to run on startup. Go to Main menu > System > Preferences > Startup Applications and create a new entry pointing to the script.
4.- Exit your current session and login again, or simply reboot for the script to take effect.

I hope this little script helps you too in getting rid of that little Dropbox connection annoyance.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

KDE SC 4.5.4 released

The December KDE SC updates were released yesterday. For those interested in learning what was fixed/improved, take a quick look at the CHANGE LOG.


Click on image to enlarge

In short, this is just another update for the KDE SC 4.5 series, bringing mostly enhanced and more complete translations, as well as bug fixes. It is recommended for all KDE SC 4.5 series users, so download it and enjoy it!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Install Firefox 4.0 Beta on Ubuntu

Mozilla is gearing up towards releasing its much anticipated Firefox 4.0 not long from now. I wanted to get a feel of what users will be experiencing when it finally goes live, so I downloaded the latest Beta and I have to admit, this is Firefox on steroids!


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NEW FEATURES

Firefox 4.0 promises to raise the bar in many areas, ranging from security to speed and responsiveness. The Mozilla official FEATURE LOG covers the many new features and enhancements in depth. Here's my high level summary of some I find particularly interesting:

Tab Grouping

Firefox 4.0 allows users to create tab groups. This feature should make browsing the web somewhat simpler, specially when there are too many tabs open to make any sense of which is what. In all honesty, this is probably the feature I find less appealing, but that's just my personal take on the matter. If I had too many tabs open, I would simply open another instance of the browser, but I reckon I never go beyond six or seven.


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Synch up

One feature that I have come to love in Chromium is synchronization. It is not uncommon for me to work on more than 5 computers (or partitions), so keeping my browsers in synch in terms of bookmarks, history and overall settings has been a blessing for me. I was very much missing this feature in Firefox, so it is a very exciting addition!


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Fasten your seatbelts!

Another very important improvement relates to speed and overall responsiveness. Indeed, Firefox 4.0 loads quicker (still not as quick as Chromium, but getting very close) and also provides a much faster browsing experience, thanks partially to its brand new J├ĄgerMonkey JavaScript engine.

The image below shows a few charts that clearly convey the rate at which Firefox speed is growing through Beta development. If this rate is maintained all the way through the final release version, Firefox 4.0 may as well be up there with Chrome/Chromium in terms of speed!


Click on image to enlarge

After testing the current Beta (v8), I have to say that the improvement in terms of speed and responsiveness over Firefox 3.6.12 is instantly noticeable. The browsing experience speed wise is very, very close to that of Chromium.

WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE?

With these many new features and enhancements, Firefox 4.0 will close the gap to the most "modern" browsers. Not just that, it will also incorporate new concepts, such as tab grouping, that may again become a reference for other browsers. Its heavily simplified interface gives it a more up to date Look&Feel as well, which should appeal to Google Chrome/Chromium fans.

People often claim Google Chrome/Chromium is the best way to go when it comes to browsing the web in Linux. In the last few months, specially with the recent release of Chromium 9 series, I have come close to agree with that. However, I still believe Firefox has a strong edge over Chrome/Chromium under Linux, mostly because of its much more solid OS integration. Here are some things I love about Firefox / hate about Chromium:

  • I love how Firefox does not force me to save files when I click on a link. Instead, it allows for automatic opening using the preferred applications I have set up, as well as saving the file if that's what I want to do. Preferred applications are sometimes a mess in Chromium, like when I am trying to browse a recently downloaded file in PCLinuxOS and it opens Konqueror instead of Dolphin.
  • Web sites which use Java applets are usually a problem in Chromium. For instance, I often download YouTube videos from KEEPVID.COM. I have no choice but to do it from Firefox, because Chromium never successfully loads the Java applet that provides the download links.
  • Links to .wav or .mp3 files can cause issues in Chromium as well, as it tries to load an internal player that must not be correctly configured to trigger the Linux audio server. Essentially, the player shows up but it does not play a thing.
  • Problems also appear in Chromium when a site is trying to display contents that should trigger an internal interpreter (say evince to load a PDF file or OpenOffice to load a PPS), which is often the case in Banking web apps. Long story short, Chromium fails and a "plugin is missing" error message usually shows up. This problem is particularly annoying if the website does not provide a download link to the file itself.
  • Chrome/Chromium theming and plugins have improved considerably, but they are still far off the quantity and quality levels available in Firefox.

For these and other reasons, I have never been able to leave Firefox completely. Chrome/Chromium is indeed very fast, but still lacks the solid integration and smooth functionality of the Mozilla browser.

INSTALLATION

If you also want to enjoy the latest Firefox in Ubuntu (works in Linux Mint as well), follow these simple steps:

1.- Open a terminal and type

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-mozilla-daily/ppa

2.- Update sources

sudo apt-get update

3.- Install Firefox 4.0 Beta

sudo apt-get install firefox-4.0

You can see Firefox 4.0 in the gorgeous Linux Mint Menu below.


Click on image to enlarge

FINAL THOUGHTS

For some time now I have kept Chromium and Firefox on most of my installations. Chromium was faster and provided the synch feature I love so much. In turn, it was less robust and did not provide a fully functional integration within Linux. I can and have lived with two browsers installed, but the ideal scenario would be to keep just one that can cope with everything I need.

I hope that Firefox 4.0 continues to improve at the same rate it has all through Beta testing. If the case, I think it will be a no brainer for me to keep it as my only Internet browser!