Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

You may already be living your first minutes of 2012, you may be hours from it, so instead of trying to find the perfect time to say so, here it goes...

HAPPY NEW YEAR to YOU!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!!

Hoping you all have a very, very good time with your loved ones these days. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Google extends Mozilla sponsorship

Quick note to let you know that Mozilla is safe again after having extended its partnership with Google for another three years. As usual, Mozilla will default to Google search engine in exchange.

This is great news to all Firefox fans like me because it was worrying to see the Mozilla agreement with Google coming to an end just days ago, specially considering Google sponsorship represents up 85% of Mozilla's budget.

Long live Mozilla!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Winamp + KDE = Qmmp

These are times of Cloud music storage and players, when one can choose to store music on the cloud and listen to it anywhere from any device, or stream it from one of the available sites out there. Having said so, I guess there are still people like me, who also like to keep a local music collection and play it using more of a good old installed player. In fact, us Linux users are fortunate, because there is a plethora of audio players available in Linux these days. From the feature-full likes of Banshee and Amarok, to others that are maybe less powerful, but in turn lighter and faster, there is something for everyone.

Back when I used Windows as my only OS, I was a big Winamp fan, so I have always enjoyed using it in Linux. Nostalgia is a part of it, but also the fact that there are few others that work as fast. I usually go back and forth between the powerful media players and Winamp clones, but at the end of the day, I usually realize that I just need something that plays the music I like to listen to.

MEET QMMP

As far as Winamp clones go in Linux, there are a few alternatives, Audacious probably being the most popular one. However, Audacious is GTK based and I have experienced issues in the past when trying to make it work under KDE. QMMP is a much better option for KDE users, for it is QT based.


Click on image to enlarge.

Like others Winamp clones, Qmmp supports skins (unfortunately only the old .wsz ones, not .wal ones), which allow users to choose between a lot of beautiful options, as shown in these screenshots.


Click on image to enlarge.

All the usual classic Winamp features are also there, such as EQ, playlists, etc.


Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kubuntu to use LightDM

Sounds like Kubuntu might stop using KDM to start using LightDM as the default login screen, just like Ubuntu does, perhaps as soon as Kubuntu 12.04. This is an interesting twist that is making some noise, for it seems that KDE is not going in the same direction. Kubuntu would therefore deviate from what other KDE distros are doing, leading the way to uncertain territory.

If the switch is successful, and I personally think it has big potential, it could add to the list of things that make Kubuntu unique today, perhaps helping to raise its popularity. The Muon Software center, DEB packaging, the many PPAs available and all other benefits that Kubuntu inherits from its older brother, along with a unique LightDM login screen, could end up turning Kubuntu into the first choice for KDE users.

We will have to wait and see what happens and whether Kubuntu can push LightDM into the KDE realm, but I personally am very pleased with the direction Kubuntu is taking and how fast it is improving. Back three years ago, I considered Kubuntu a weak KDE distro when compared to the likes of PCLinuxOS, Fedora or Mandriva, but I consider it just as good today. If it continues to grow at this rate, it might become my favorite KDE distro, specially after PCLinuxOS developers decided to skip the upgrade to KDE 4.7.

For those interested in this subject, please read this ARTICLE by Dave Edmunson himself, the man behind the LightDM development for Kubuntu.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

KDE 4.7.4 available

The latest bug fix release in the KDE 4.7 series was made available a few days ago. Some distros like Arch and Chakra got it first, while Kubuntu users had to wait until today. In this case, 4.7.4 goes back to being mostly a bug fix and translation enhancement release, with the usual performance and stability enhancements that should be installed by all 4.7 users.


Click on image to enlarge

Unlike the previous two bug fix releases, which included significant changes/fixes to KDE PIM components (such as Kontact, Kmail, Nepomuk, etc.), KDE 4.7.4 brings less relevant updates, but we are still going to see some important bug fixes to the semantic desktop, as explained by Sebastian Trueg himself in this blog POST of his.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

...And I am back!

Still a bit numb from a 24 hour trip back home, but I wanted to shake things a bit and make some noise to let you all know I am alive and kicking! ;-)

I will need a couple days to settle down and get fully up to speed with the ever changing awesomeness of the Linux World, but it should be no biggie.

Thanks to all of you who support/follow my blog in any way, shape or form!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Holidays, here I gooooo...

Time for a good and deserved three weeks off!

No more posts until I am back.

Meanwhile... ENJOY!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Save the Internet!!

From Avaaz.org Save the Internet pledge:

"Right now, the US Congress is debating a law that would give them the power to censor the world's internet -- creating a blacklist that could target YouTube, WikiLeaks and even groups like Avaaz!

Under the new law, the US could force internet providers to block any website on suspicion of violating copyright or trademark legislation, or even failing to sufficiently police their users' activities. And, because so much of the internet's hosts and hardware are located in the US, their blacklist would clamp down on the free web for all of us.

The vote could be in days but we can help stop this -- champions in Congress want to preserve free speech and tell us that an international outcry would strengthen their hand. Let’s urgently raise our voices from every corner of the world and build an unprecedented global petition calling on US decision makers to reject the bill and stop internet censorship. Sign the petition and then forward as widely as possible - our message will be delivered directly to key members of the US Congress ahead of the crucial vote."

Please go ahead, VOTE and share this with people you know. Let's make a lot of noise!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Linux Mint 12 Mini Review

Once again Linux Mint developers released their release candidate for Lisa and, as is often the case, made it available with no expected date for the final release. Fine by me... Mint RCs are usually very good in quality, very mature and stable, so I rarely wait for the final version to get to grips with it.

Those who read my Linux Mint 11 REVIEW probably remember that I was not particularly surprised with it. It felt like a conservative step forward that didn't include that many surprises. In a sense, Katia was probably a safe bet to stay away from the brand new (and heavily unstable) Ubuntu's Unity interface and also to ensure the move to GNOME3 happened at the right moment. In that sense, Mint 11 was a great release and one of the best implementations of GNOME 2.32, with a very personal caracter and carefully designed aesthetics.

Linux Mint 12 is probably the opposite, for it represents the transition to GNOME3 and GNOME Shell, the developers first attempt to swim in these cold, unexplored waters.

How does it do, you ask? Let's take a look.

A COCKTAIL OF SORTS

In previous releases, it was easy to tell how Linux mint kept polishing their identity as one of the most characteristic GNOME 2.32 desktops out there. It was not simply an "Ubuntu improved" distro, but an alternative that included features of its own, such as its software center, its update tray agent, the very cool Mint menu, etc. Come this new release, Mint somehow maintains part of its essence, but it's undeniable that the move to GNOME3 and GNOME Shell has had significant impact.

To begin with, the Mint 12 desktop heavily relies on GNOME Shell extensions, and given the very young nature of this technology, it's easy to tell that Lisa's looks have gone through more than a few compromises. There is a extension for the lower horizontal panel and something similar for the Mint menu, but it's got little in common with its GNOME 2.32 older brother. It's short in features, not as customizable and let's face it, plain uglier.

The way extensions work is weird, because even with the lower panel and the "classic" menu available, the standard GNOME Shell interface is somewhat fully functional, so users get a mixture of the classic desktop paradigm and the new approach GNOME Shell is pushing forward. Aside from that feeling of having a desktop mismatch, there are many aesthetic inconsistencies, like the Faenza icon theme being used in some places and the old Mint-X being used in others, window decorations that feel a bit out of place, etc. Another element that does not help is that Mint's own applications, such as its very own Software center have not been migrated to GNOME3, so they feel like they are poorly integrated.

As I kept using Mint 12 I thought I would get a popup window saying "Under construction" sooner or later, because that's what it conveys. More over, one can tell that the big majority of the development efforts in Mint 12 have concentrated around the transition to the new environment and trying to tame it a bit, which means that Mint's own applications and features return with little or no change.

GIVE IT TIME

Of all the latest Mint releases, I feel Mint 12 is probably the worst. Don't get me wrong, it does everything that has made it popular, it is stable and the transition to GNOME3 has been somewhat successful, but it would be unrealistic to expect such a big jump to be 100% successful on the first go. Indeed, Mint needs time, perhaps a couple more releases to settle down in the new GNOME3 environment and start gaining an advantage just like they did in GNOME 2.32. It also needs to continue to polish itself, and to regain its own character, which has diluted in the midst of transitioning to GNOME Shell.

In my opinion, Mint developers have chosen the wrong path using extensions to try to mimic their old Desktop. I believe they should embrace GNOME Shell as is, improving minor things release after release, creating their own themes and becoming a reference in the GNOME Shell Universe, just like they did for GNOME 2.X. In fact, I think Mint 12 would have been better off concentrating on transferring its applications to GNOME 3, rather than adding tons of makeover to try to make GNOME Shell look like something it is not.

I never was a big fan of Mint myself, but after my experience with Lisa, I think I am going to step back for a couple releases and come back to it a year from now. The changes it has absorbed are pretty severe and time is required for them to settle down and mature.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A look at KDE 4.8 Dolphin 2.0

As some of you may know, one of the most exciting changes/features landing at KDE 4.8 is Dolphin 2.0. The KDE main file manager is already full of powerful features and has seen its performance heavily improved in recent releases, but sounds like the jump to version 2.0 will bring several impressive extras.

Peter Penz goes deep into details in his ARTICLE on the subject, so I very much encourage reading it in full for those interested. For a quick summary, though, here are some highlights:

  • Dolphin 2.0 will no longer use Qt's Interview Framework: "The new view-engine for Dolphin 2.0 is built on a (very) modified subset of Itemviews-NG. In the longterm (probably with Qt 5) it is planned to integrate Qt-Quick but this affects only a non-critical minor part of the view-engine and has not high priority at the moment."

    The benefits of this new approach include improved performance, unclipped filenames and more flexibility around item boundaries, which no longer have to be rectangular nor as big as they used to be.

  • Grouping enhanced: "Currently the "grouping" feature is only supported for the icons mode but will be available for all view-modes in Dolphin 2.0."

  • Animated Transitions: Probably the feature that adds less value, but the most visually evident and thus, the one that has created most noise. Here´s a preview which demonstrates this feature:



    Personally, I think it adds to the eyecandy side of things, those animations do look good, but I have no strong feelings one way or the other. It seems Peter made sure those animations wouldn´t end up becoming a bloat fest, so as long as Dolphin does not slow down, I am good.

  • Reduced complexity: "From a developers point of view the new engine simplifies the maintenance a lot and lowers the barrier for developers to contribute patches for Dolphin."

So there you have it, Dolphin 2.0 is definitely one more reason to look forward to KDE 4.8, which will go live some time in January 2012.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Fedora 16 fiasco

I was very much looking forward to testing Fedora 16, to finding out about its latest new features and enhancements, so I downloaded the ISO images for both GNOME 3.2 and KDE 4.7 and on I went to test. I was so confident that both would be so great that I decided to wipe out Mandriva from one of my machines to make room for Verne. Unfortunately, my experience was short lived and a bit of a disaster.

To test and install Verne, I decided to use my HP 2730p and 2740p tablets. Specifically, I wanted to install both on the latter, being a model that´s usually demanding and difficult in terms of hardware recognition. That would also allow me to compare how KDE and GNOME squeeze the latest from Fedora camp following an accurate approach. My plan was also to install the KDE flavor on the former, given that I like Fedora better than Mandriva myself. Unfortunately, I was not able to get anything working.

On the 2740p, both the GNOME and KDE Live desktops would load perfectly and smoothly (albeit without support for the on board Broadcom Wireless card, a disappointment, I have to admit), so on I went with the installation. I used all standard steps, nothing fancy, choosing to use the full internal drive in both cases. I got identical results: an apparently good and complete installation that wouldn´t boot. In fact, it rendered my hard drive useless, for I was getting your typical "non-system drive found..." error. Because it happened in both cases, I started to worry that my drive was indeed broken, but after a quick Kubuntu installation, everything was working fine, so the conclusion is that both Fedora flavors were failing on me miserably.

On the 2730p, the error was even more interesting. Both GNOME and KDE Live desktops would load, but with a very weird and persistent screen flicker that would not go away. First time I had seen anything like that happening on a machine that has proven its worth with Linux, successfully running Fedora 14 and 15 in the past. Thinking that the problem could be down to the Live Desktop and hoping it would go away after the installation took place, I decided to go on anyways, but in both cases the installer would crash when completing the post-installation steps... Argh!!!

Here's a video of the terrible screen flickering:



Now, here's the crash (apologies, the quality is not that great!):



So there you have it, no Fedora fun for me. This is particularly disappointing because I am using machines that ran previous versions of Fedora smoothly. There may be a remote chance that it is all down to the ISO files I downloaded being corrupt, but I doubt it (EDIT: Indeed, it has nothing to do with the quality of the ISOs). I will download them again and give it another go anyways (EDIT: I did and didn't work), but I don´t keep much hope that I will be able to enjoy Fedora 16 any time soon (EDIT: Sounds about right, unfortunately).

How was your experience? Did you encounter any installation problems?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fuduntu goes solo!

Quick note to both congratulate Fuduntu on its first year and to let you know that it has become independent from Fedora, as it recently forked from the Red Hat sponsored distribution (more on the official ANNOUNCEMENT). Fuduntu was already a very interesting distro, but it will be even more so now, when it will have the opportunity to fly solo.

Where will it take us in its second year? Let´s wait and see.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Linux Mint 12 promises interesting changes!

Just wanted to quickly share a recent Linux Mint Blog ENTRY which explains some of the most relevant changes and features that will make their debut sometime late november, come Linux Mint 12. That post is very interesting (screenshot included) and I can tell you some very interesting surprises are coming!.

Want a hint? Say "GNOME Shell"...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Next Ubuntu sounds good

No, I am not a fan of how "precise pangolin" rings, it´s just that I am hearing things about the next LTS Ubuntu release that I find interesting and promising.

On the one hand, I like the fact that Ubuntu 12.04 development will focus on stability and polish. The following are a couple excerpts from Mark Shuttleworth´s own POST on the upcoming Ubuntu release:

"so this cycle is an opportunity to put perfection front and center."

"While there are some remaining areas we’d like to tweak the user experience, they will probably be put on hold so we can focus on polish, performance and predictability."

At last the words I wanted to hear... I still don´t like Unity and don´t think I will even after they improve it, but I am glad they decided to stop, think and get it to at least work as it was meant to when they designed it. In addition, further improvements in different elements that made their debut in 11.10 are expected, such as better integration of LightDM. I think Canonical also decided to extend LTS release support to 5 years now, so things are aligning towards a very promising release.

Last but definitely not least, we have seen some previews of what could become Ubuntu´s very own new icon theme. I personally think they look amazing and if they end up finally becoming the default theme in 12.04, Ubuntu looks will take a huge step forward! (See the previews from Yellowicon own site HERE).

Friday, October 28, 2011

The mistery of Chakra Linux

As many of you probably noticed from recent articles of mine, I very much like what KDE is doing lately. As a result, it's sort of an obvious move for me to gravitate towards great KDE implementations. In that regard, Chakra is a very interesting one, not only because it is solely dedicated to KDE, but also because it is based on Arch Linux.

Unfortunately for me, I cannot even get Chakra to start working. I follow the instructions in their Wiki and think I am doing things right, but no joy. I am pretty certain it's all down to hardware support issues, but perhaps I am missing something, so I decided to post about it, describe what I am doing and see if someone can chime in and offer advice or a fix (plus I want to try a different approach, not the usual Forums/IRC).

Yesterday I went on and downloaded the latest release, Chakra 2011.10.26, from HERE. Since I have an assortment of machines, I usually am conservative and go for the 32bit release, chakra-2011.10.26-Edn-i686.iso in this case. Once downloaded, I successfully tested it under Virtualbox, being able to boot the ISO and navigate the Chakra desktop in my virtual machine. That told me the ISO was good, so it was time to create a LiveUSB. In order to do so, I go as follows:
  1. Enter a USB drive and format it as FAT32.
  2. Unmount it from a terminal:

    sudo umount /dev/sdb2

  3. Copy the ISO to the USB using dd:

    sudo dd if=chakra-2011.10.26-Edn-i686.iso of=/dev/sdb

  4. After a few minutes, the process finishes (apparently) successfully. I then test the newly created LiveUSB drive on my old trusty HP NX7400 and it works just fine, which in this case tells me the creation of the LiveUSB worked out well.
  5. Since I don't want to install Chakra on my 7400 because it is, well, old, I aim for the other more modern machines I use. When I plug the LiveUSB in and start up any of those machines, I get nothing but a frozen BIOS screen while the USB drive seems to keep reading and reading.

    The machines I use include: HP 5320m Elitebook, HP 6930p Elitebook, HP 2730p Elitebook and HP 2740p Elitebook (the former two are notebooks while the latter are tablets). All these four machines are very much Linux friendly and I have never experienced issues loading something as elementary as the boot manager.

Any ideas welcome!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cantarell, a new favorite font of mine

A couple days ago, I read that Sabayon had put together a very good GNOME 3.2 implementation (unfortunately, I read that from their own Sabayon 7 announcement, it actually isn't that good), which made me change my mind and give it a go before I had planned (before Fedora 16, that is).

I have to say I am impressed. GNOME 3.2 feels amazingly mature for such a young project, offering significant improvements in about every area. Having said so, several important features didn't work as expected (which I feel has more to do with Sabayon itself, to be honest), so I will not go into a detailed review until I have a chance to test Verne. I will talk about one thing that really caught my attention, though: Cantarell, the project's default font (Read more about it HERE)



In all honesty, I hadn't noticed this font much until testing GNOME 3.2, so I am not sure if it changed since the .0 release, or if font rendering has improved. Whatever it was, I am glad it happened, because Cantarell is a new favorite font of mine.



As you can see from the screenshots, Cantarell is stylish and beautiful, but most importantly, crisp and easy to read. With the help of the Faenza icon theme, it shines and helps make the GNOME desktop even prettier.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Kubuntu 11.10 'Oneiric Ocelot' Review

Just a few days ago the latest from the X-buntu family went live, including Ubuntu Studio, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, and of course, Kubuntu. I was looking forward to playing around with it, specially since I had liked the previous release quite a bit. Kubuntu has indeed come quite far since I first tested it, back in 2008, from a KDE distro most people ditched as "not recommended" for Ubuntu users who wanted to take a look at KDE (me included), to a very decent contestant in a very tight fight for the K crown.

Kubuntu 11.10 incorporates many interesting features and new applications that make it extremely interesting. Here are some highlights:

- KDE 4.7.1 (4.7.2 available on the update repositories): The much anticipated Kontact 4.7 features, the exciting new OpenGL-ES and improved rendering effects, the enhancements in network manager, as well as fixes to Nepomuk, Dolphin, Amarok and many others, the latest from KDE is certainly exciting and worth checking.

- Muon package manager: Finally an up to date replacement to KPackageKit!

- Kernel 3.0 series

I guess it would be legitimate to claim most of those features/enhancements/fixes are not Kubuntu's but upstream, but the integration the Kubuntu developers put in place is critical, the factor that can make them fly or crash. Therefore, I will not try to limit this review to Kubuntu exclusive features, but look at the whole picture and see how it goes. Let's jump into it.

INSTALLATION AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Kubuntu sticks to good old LiveCDs ISO images, which means download times are short and convenient, which is welcome. Being so popular, it is standard for applications like UnetBootin, so creating a LiveUSB on a spare 1GB thumb drive takes just a few seconds.

After booting from the LiveUSB, we are given two options: Try or Install Kubuntu. Unless you know exactly what you are doing, I ALWAYS recommend trying first. It will give you a very good idea of where you stand in terms of hardware support and save lots of headaches in the long run.

The installation process in Kubuntu 11.10 is almost identical to that of 11.04, with one minor feature addition that allows for the installation of third party software (this time apparently including Wireless drivers) while the installation takes place. The lack of change is nothing but good news in this case, because the (K)ubuntu installation wizard is mature, solid, quick and pretty... about as good as it gets, really.

Booting for the first time is not that exciting, though, for no changes are apparent in this latest release. GRUB2, Plymouth, KDM and its splash screen all look exactly as they did in 11.04. One has to wait until reaching the desktop to see KDE 4.7.1 in action, as well as other new Oneric features. The overall feel is that Kubuntu 11.10 is somewhat more responsive than its predecessor, though.

DIVING DEEPER

The first welcome thing is that Kubuntu 11.10 managed to detect and correctly configure all the hardware onboard of my HP Probook 5320m, including its infamous Broadcom wireless card, webcam, etc. I am guessing Kernel 3.0 is to blame here, but having said so, Kubuntu 11.10 still incorporates its advanced features to help identify and solve hardware recognition issues, probably the best among KDE distros.

With wireless working right out of the box, it was time to get system updates (the 1st most important step to complete after installing a Linux distro). As expected, for I was installing one day after release date, there was nothing waiting for me. However, I was eager to get my hands on KDE 4.7.2, a recommended upgrade because it includes important Kontact and Nepomuk fixes, but also noticeable improvements on effects rendering (see my post on this HERE). In fact, for those interested, let me quickly go over the few steps I took to get my Kubuntu installation up to speed:

1.- Run a quick system update. You may do so using Muon or CLI:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

2.- Enable all repositories (main, universe, restricted, multiverse). Simply open Muon, Settings Menu > Configure Software Sources and tick all options once you authenticate as administrator. From the Other Software tab, click Canonical Partners as well.

3.- Change your Download Server. Depending on where you live, you may find it useful to choose a different server than the one set by default. It's a bit of trial an error, but if download times are reasonable, I would say there is no need to change anything. In case you have to, though, you can do so from the "Download from" picklist under Settings Menu > Configure Software. You can select "Other..." and find which server works out faster from your location.

4.- Add the Update repositories PPA. Simply run the following command from a terminal:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:kubuntu-ppa/ppa.

5.- Install codecs. You can do so by installing the restricted extra PPA. Just click HERE and complete the steps required.

6.- Update sources. You can easily do so from Muon or from CLI:

sudo apt-get update

7.- Upgrade to KDE 4.7.2. From a terminal, run:

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

This may take a while!

After getting everything up to speed and very little tweaking, here's what my Oneiric Ocelot desktop looks like:


Click on image to enlarge

Hot stuff, huh? ;-)

ABOUT KDE 4.7.2

KDE continues to improve release after release. With the updated Oxygen icon set, it looks even better than before, so anybody can set up a beautiful desktop filled with gorgeous smooth effects after literally just a few clicks. Surprisingly, 4.7.2 also feels lighter, faster and more solid (even if 4.6.5 was already great), and the enhanced desktop effects truly make a difference. In fact, I think this is the first time I feel Kwin effects perform as smoothly as Compiz, which is quite something considering KDE users get the whole package natively inside Kwin, certainly a big plus.


Click on image to enlarge

Now, like I said, those effects are quite something, but there are lots of interesting things coming with this latest release. One of the most impressive ones is Kontact and the whole KDE PIM suite, which get significant updates.


Click on image to enlarge

To begin with, I loved the account creation wizard, which set up my Gmail account easily and quickly. Setting up the calendar and contacts was a bit harder than it would be on, say, Thunderbird, but Kontact provides better integration within the KDE environment, plus it provides other interesting features, such as the impressive Akreggator.


Click on image to enlarge

All in all, I am very impressed with Kontact as a whole, it is a mammoth application that covers a lot of ground, yet it does not feel particularly heavy. I have experienced a bit of a lack in stability here and there, but given I am testing so short after Kubuntu 11.10 was released, I cannot really complain.


Click on image to enlarge

Dolphin also got some changes, most noticeably, the removal of its top menu. I have no opinion on this change, don't really mind, specially because the menu can be brought back if the user so wants. Other than that, it continues to look amazingly good, but it is also fast and light, even more than Nautilus on GNOME 2.32, according to my testing. With the enhancements in Nepomuk (which will get even better come the next dot release, according to Sebastian Trueg), searching truly works great and allows for pretty complex queries from the GUI. In fact, Nepomuk and Strigi work better than ever in 4.7.2, with fast indexing and reasonable consumption of resources.


Click on image to enlarge

On the media department, Amarok 2.4.3 is on duty. I personally tend to gravitate to Clementine myself, but it's hard to deny Amarok's strengths... plus it's become much more responsive and feels lighter now. Dragon is the default video player, perhaps one of the weakest application choices. VLC took over pretty quickly as I began installing applications.


Click on image to enlarge

Internet browsing duties are managed by Rekonq, which is now two releases old. It is therefore a very young project, but very promising looking at how much improvement there was in just 6 months. Rekonq works great, is tightly intergrated, very fast and easy to use. On the down side of things, it's not as stable as the "big names" in the browsing business and lacks important features (automatic spell-checking for a start, but also cloud synchronization a la Chrome-ium/Firefox). In fact, I tend to think these projects are a bit of a waste of time myself, specially considering Mozilla Firefox is fully open source and, thanks to the OxygenGTK project, looks very much native in KDE. Why reinvent the wheel when there is already something available that is THAT good?


Click on image to enlarge

MUON SOFTWARE MANAGER

The brand new software manager suite in Kubuntu 11.10 well deserves a section of its own. Muon is an interesting departure from KPackageKit, and one that I personally very much welcome. As was the case with Rekonq, one could expect Muon to be slow, unstable or short in features, but it does a great job at providing a good looking and performing software manager to Kubuntu users.


Click on image to enlarge

Muon does many things incredibly well, such as:

- Performance. Start times are short, search results are very fast and even application information comes back very quickly. In that sense Muon does much better than old brother's Ubuntu Software Center.

- Information. Not only does Muon provide ratings on applications, it also includes add-on suggestions should the application support them.

- Keep Track. One can easily follow up the installation activity thanks to its interesting History feature.


Click on image to enlarge

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised with Muon. I expected an immature application, but I guess the decision from its main developer to skip Kubuntu 11.04 was nothing but right. I hope Muon continues to be actively developed and improved, for if that is to happen, Kubuntu users will have a software manager that will lead the bunch in the KDE World for a long, long time.

THAT GOOD? REALLY?

As is the case in any release, Kubuntu 11.10 was not free of issues, and I have seen a few crashes here and there, most of which were "one-offs". One issue that I cannot get around of is related to the main menu "edit applications" feature, which allows for customization of application shortcuts, descriptions and icons system wide. I have noticed that, whenever I change an application icon, not only does the change not work, but it will make the application entry disappear from the "edit applications" menu, forcing me to reset to system menu. This is annoying because I love to tweak things and change some of my favorite apps icons, but it can hardly be considered a major thing. Besides, the first month is usually busy bug-fixing time on all releases, so I am sure things will get further polished as we go along.

Kubuntu also suffers from the huge notoriety of its older brother, and the fact that it inherits bits and pieces from a project that is VERY GTK oriented. As such, I was disappointed not to find qt-recordmydesktop, which forces users to have to put up with the GTK interface of this good screencast application. Moreover, and even if Oxygen-GTK is supposed to work for GTK applications, all of them look like crap on Kubuntu 11.10. Anything from GIMP to LibreOffice looks like something was broken.

Still, Oneiric Ocelot it is the most solid Kubuntu release I have used to date. It excels in hardware management, successfully setting up all devices on board, as well as dealing with historically "sensible" features, such as suspend and hibernate modes. I have used it non-stop since I got it, going into sleep mode and then waking the machine up numerous times, and not only did it work perfectly, but Wireless connection always resumed flawlessly (and fast!). Installing my HP 2600n printer was a breeze, literally plugged it in and got confirmation of successful configuration after 20 seconds.



In fact, I dual boot on my HP5320m with Windows7, and in so many ways Kubuntu simply blows it out of the water. In boot times it is around 40% faster, but also faster overall in day to day desktop activities. Similarly, hardware support is simply more convenient (even with the Windows 7 license on board being HP tweaked, it took several minutes to download an install my printer drivers), unless talking about a specific device which is not supported by the Kernel. The only bit Kubuntu (and Linux in general) still misses is better power management, a category in which Windows simply rocks thanks to its optimized proprietary drivers.

GO GET IT!

So there you have it, an awesome Kubuntu release that I recommend to all kinds of users.

Download, install and have fun!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Big SELinux improvements to land on Fedora 16

Fedora is a distribution that I am slowly appreciating more and more as I keep using it. Sure, it´s not as polished for home users as other alternatives out there, but it is a great product nonetheless, and once one gets confortable using it, it is a solid and reliable partner. Having said so, I still believe there are significant areas of improvement, such as the already mentioned lack of polish for home users, but also other things, such as performance levels that are not up there with its competition. I am excited to see this performance piece addressed prior to the Fedora 16 release, including promising enhancements in systemd, the complete removal of HAL, but probably most importantly, some much needed improvements in SELinux.

Testing on those improvements has thrown impressive results with significant cuts on boot times as well as applications start up times (for those that rely or interact with SELinux, that is). Dan Walsh has put together an ARTICLE on this, which I recommend reading in full in case you want to get better understanding of what this changes are and what their impact may be. If you are only interested in a high level summary including those impressive figures, though, here it is:

POLICY SIZE

Fedora 15 machine SELinux Policy size (compare the allow and dontaudit values):

$ seinfo
Statistics for policy file: /etc/selinux/targeted/policy/policy.24
Policy Version & Type: v.24 (binary, mls)
Allow: 282444
Dontaudit: 184516


Fedora 16 machine SELinux Policy size:

$ seinfo
Statistics for policy file: /etc/selinux/targeted/policy/policy.26
Policy Version & Type: v.26 (binary, mls)
Allow: 88242
Dontaudit: 11302


BOOT TIMES

Boot times showed similar improvements. Before the change was implemented:

Jul 28 06:39:29 tlondon systemd[1]: Startup finished in 3s 336ms 755us (kernel) + 11s 625ms 240us (initrd) + 28s 189ms 914us (userspace) = 43s 151ms 909us.

Now with the change in place:

Jul 29 06:00:41 tlondon systemd[1]: Startup finished in 1s 844ms 542us (kernel) + 4s 999ms 977us (initrd) + 29s 239ms 766us (userspace) = 36s 84ms 285us.

6.5 seconds faster!.

KERNEL MEMORY

Finally, another interesting piece is a much reduced use of resources. Below you can see the Kernel memory consumption in a Red Hat 6 machine (without these improvements):

RHEL 6

# du -s /etc/selinux/targeted/policy/policy.24
6004 /etc/selinux/targeted/policy/policy.24

Now, Fedora 16 with the changes implemented.

# du -s /etc/selinux/targeted/policy/policy.26
2156 /etc/selinux/targeted/policy/policy.26

CAN´T WAIT!

If these results remain consistent when the final version is released, and if they sit on top of the improvements brought by systemd changes and HAL removal, I think we are in for the fastest Fedora experience ever!

Bring it on already!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Make KDE feel like home for the Firefox

Yes, pretty much anybody using KDE probably agrees that Firefox sticks out inside the K desktop like a drop of milk on black coffee. It is a superb browser and the quick development pace Mozilla has adopted is only making it better in a much faster fashion, but looks are also very important, aren't they?

How about making Firefox look like a native KDE app? Check out the screenshot below!


Click on image to enlarge.

Alright, if you want to achieve the same results, it is actually quite simple. The screenshot above shows Firefox 7 using Oxygen KDE 3.5.1, which you can download from HERE. Once the .xpi file is downloaded, drag and drop it to Firefox Add-ons manager screen and it will get installed. A restart of the application is then required for the new theme to become active.

Thanks to KDE BLOG for sharing this!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

GNOME 3.2 Released, tons of new features!

Just a very quick entry to let you all know that GNOME 3.2 is already available. It incorporates lots of new and awesome features that I will be testing when Fedora 16 final is out (don´t want to spoil the fun by forcing an installation on top of a distro release that may not be fully ready for this latest release). While we wait for Verne, though, it is a good idea to see what will be available for all GNOME 3.2 users.

The GNOME team have done a great job summarizing those features and enhancements, so please visit their Release Notes PAGE.

I already liked GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell under Fedora 15 (although I admit it took a little bit of effort to adjust to it), but with these great features I see GNOME as a truly great product (assuming they work as expected, of course). I do feel it has more than enough to satisfy any kind of user... Unless they are into heavy eye candy customization, that is.

The truth about Linux Power Management "issues"

Anybody who's even remotely interested in Linux probably heard about a "power regression bug" in the Linux Kernel that was making lots of noise lately. The whole thing started from several posts at Phoronix, which not only stated the problem, but also accused the Linux Kernet team of completely ignoring it and doing nothing to fix it.

Power management is anything but a simple subject, so a big majority of us users hardly know enough to challenge claims about a power management bug. To make matters worse, many Linux users dual boot with Windows, which usually does a better job at energy saving (thanks to optimized proprietary drivers). For most of those users who could notice how their Linux installation ate their laptop battery faster than Windows, it didn't take much to give this rumor solid credibility. Therefore, the fact that Linux Kernel developers were apparently doing nothing about it simply felt all the more annoying, which only helped spread the rumor like fire on a windy day.

Well, guess what? That's all it is, a rumor. FEWT, the main developer behind the wonderful FUDUNTU distro and the slick Jupiter power management application has put together a very informative ARTICLE on this, clarifying some of the misconceptions spread by the whole power bug fiasco originator, Michael Larabel.

I very much recommend reading FEWT's article to understand this matter a bit better, and most importantly, to avoid spreading this poisoning rumor any further.

Thanks FEWT for putting the time to clarify this one!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quick update about Windows 8 and Linux

An ARTICLE by Sam Dean sheds some light on this subject, which raised concerns from Linux users who could be at risk of not being able to run their favorite OS on Windows 8 certified hardware. Sam shares portions of a response to those lockout claims from Microsoft´s Tony Mangefeste. As can be read from the excerpt below, it sounds like Microsoft has no interest in limiting what end users are able to do with their machines:

"At the end of the day, the customer is in control of their PC. Microsoft’s philosophy is to provide customers with the best experience first, and allow them to make decisions themselves... For the enthusiast who wants to run older operating systems, the option is there to allow you to make that decision."

This is by no means guarantee that installing Linux on those machines will be smooth sailing, because while Microsoft may not enforce those policies, they may recommend them, or hardware manufacturers may decide to follow that route on their own. I can think of reasons why that would be the case, such as potentially simpler support scope if they stick to Microsoft´s recommendations and limit other options.

Anyways, I guess we will have to wait and see, but Microsoft´s position is at least not as threatening as it first sounded like. Not a bad start.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bring on the comments police!

Alright, I am tired of the huge amount of spam comments the blog is getting, so I decided to review comments before they are actually published. I know this will delay the whole process and will make the experience less satisfactory for those who truly want to share their opinions and interact with others, but I think it is the only way to truly limit the amount of spam posts I am getting.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is Windows 8 a Linux killer?

ITWorld has published an interesting ARTICLE about Windows 8 OEM specs that sounds quite worrying for us Linuxers. It's a little bit complex and involves legal issues, so I very much recommend reading it, but it comes down to this: Windows 8 certified computers will make it very hard for Linux users to install their favorite OS, and dual booting sounds impossible at this stage with the information we have.

WHAT IS THE RISK?

Tough to say at this stage, but it certainly sounds like an actual threat. In real terms, though, if we look at how slowly Windows 7 is growing when compared to Windows XP in terms of market share, it would take a long, long time before we run out of hardware options. Many large corporations are still on XP, ready to squeeze it to the last drop before they have to put big money on the table to transition to Windows 7. When they do, though, it is highly unlikely they will be willing to quickly invest into moving to Windows 8, specially considering the radical changes brought to the picture by its new Metro interface. Long story short, I believe corporations won't see any reason to move to Windows 8 in the next few years, which will force hardware manufacturers to continue to support more conventional (and incidentally Linux friendly) computers.

Another interesting fact is that Linux is second to none when it comes to mobile devices. Android is groing faster than its competition, clearly leading as the OS most manufactures build mobile devices for. Considering the recent changes in GNOME and KDE (Plasma active), as well as Ubuntu's Unity, it wouldn't be crazy to think the preferred hardware target for Linux users in a few years could be Android compatible tablets. Who knows when things move and change so fast!?

Last but not least, Linux users still have an interesting option available: If Linux does one thing very well is getting the most out of old hardware. Therefore, if it comes to that, Linux users should still be able to use their favorite distro on their current hardware and stick to it for years before they need to think of an alternative.

ONLY TIME WILL TELL...

Windows 8 is still very much in the works and things around it may still change, so we will have to wait and see how things eventually unfold. The great thing is that it doesn't seem like we will run out of options any time soon, even if Microsoft wants the Penguin extinguished.

NOTE: Thanks to Andrew at WebUpd8 for his article on this topic!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Support Nepomuk

Just a very quick entry to echo a message from Nepomuk's lead developer, Sebastian Trüg.  He is in a difficult situation due to the recent financial problems Mandriva has experienced and is asking for help so he can continue to make Nepomuk a reality.



The following is an excerpt from his own Blog ARTICLE:

"In the last months I have not been paid. It has been, and still is, an uncertain situation with an uncertain future in which I was still hoping that Mandriva would recover from their financial problems. But slowly hope and savings are running low.

Since I see a golden future for the semantic desktop in general and Nepomuk in particular I would prefer to continue working on it instead of choosing some other unrelated job. There was great progress in Nepomuk in the last months, the community grows, and the system design is nearly matured. My departing from the project would essentially stop the development since I am still the only one working full-time on Nepomuk and having a deep knowledge of every part of the system.

Thus, if you think the semantic desktop is worth the effort, if you are interested in feature like semantic desktop search, sharing of relations between people, projects, events, files, emails, if you want the Semantic Save come to life, if you want Plasma Active to distance itself from the rest through powerful features exposed in Contour, if you want to browse files independent of physical folders, if you want to save snippets of web pages, pdfs, images, and others, annotate and tag them, if you want the system to adopt to contextual changes and previous usage patterns, if you want to organize your work the way your brain works then please support my work on Nepomuk."

So yeah, if you love Nepomuk and want to see it mature further, please help Sebastian.  If you are not interested in this project or cannot offer financial help, please speak up and pass on the message.  The more people aware of this, the better!

Thanks!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Get in the Fedora Ring

Ever since I tested and witnessed the significant improvements in Fedora 15 (both GNOME and KDE), I have been looking forward to yet another improvement come Fedora 16. This time around, it is even more exciting, for Fedora 16 will sport GNOME 3.2, a release that promises lots of interesting new features and enhancements, as well as KDE 4.7.2 (I think... and hope!), which also incorporates lots of exciting stuff.



Now, wouldn't this be the perfect opportunity to compare the latest from both desktop managers under the same hardware and distro? I personally think it would be interesting to see how each compares now that GNOME has had a few months to settle down and KDE has matured even further. I guess it could be argued that GNOME is still too young for this to be a totally fair comparison, but given how its developers decided to limit its set of features and complexity, it should be fine.

So, what do you think? Interested in this comparison? I'd like to see if this is equally interesting to you, but also which areas/concepts the comparison should concentrate on (i.e., ease of use, performance, Look&Feel, etc.).

Please comment below!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The art of stealing

I accidentally stumbled across this blog POST by some Mohamed Malik about PCLinuxOS 2010.1. I was reading through, interested in checking out what others found great about this fantastic distro... After a while, I started to find it creepy that our findings and conclusions were almost identical. I was so surprised that I went back to my review... And there it was, almost the exact same thing, therefore stolen word by word!

For anyone interested, here's my original REVIEW

I love Linux, love sharing my experience with it and hope that other people may benefit from reading my articles. Having said so, my reviews and comparisons take time and effort, and while I obviously don't register my material and am happy if someone else uses or refers to it, I hope they credit the source (just like I do myself).

Either way you look at it, I think it's pathetic that someone would copy and paste my review, then tweak it to make it look like original material.

PATHETIC!!!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Look at Plasma Active

I just wanted to share a nice video Aaron Seigo recently shared on his BLOG on Plasma Active.  The project entered Beta status around ten days ago and is already looking interesting.

The quality of the video is not great, but Aaron's explanation makes it easy to understand and see how this interesting initiative is coming together.  You may want to read his full blog ARTICLE for further details.

Enjoy!



Saturday, September 10, 2011

Significant improvements coming to Kwin

Anyone who's used KDE for the past couple years has surely witnessed the vast improvements in performance it has experienced lately. These improvements were particularly evident once KDE 4.6 went live, so much so that, for the first time ever, I can't tell the difference in performance between my trusty Ubuntu 10.10 GNOME 2.32 desktop and my PCLinuxOS KDE 4.6.5 desktop.

Well, if you were happy about that, you'll be pleased to hear that things are about to get better very soon. Martin Gräßlin has shared some very good news on the matter in a recent blog ENTRY of his. The content of that article is somewhat technical, but I think anyone can follow and understand what the gains will be.

Long story short, Martin wanted to understand why Kwin couldn't reach 60 frames per second rendering and do so consistently, so he started an investigation, going through the code to try to spot a bug. Luckily for all of us KDE users, he did find a bug and fixed it, and anticipates considerable rendering improvements coming to KDE as soon as 4.7.2 goes live. Even more importantly, further and more significant improvements will be part of KDE 4.8, so I think we will see Kwin effects perform faster and smoother than ever very soon!! (even if 60 frames/sec. is still out of reach)

BIG Thank you, Martin!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

King of KDistros

Well, done at last!  After some time gathering opinions from readers and quite some more time testing each one of the contenders, I have finished my comparison of the best of the best in KDE distros.

...Want to know the winner??  Read on!!!

THE CONTENDERS

The final list of contenders was not directly extracted from the poll I put together. I decided to include some other distros at some readers request, as well as leaving one behind. The infamous leftover was Chakra, which I didn't manage to install (used both 2011.4 and 2011.9 images and followed all suggestions in the project's own Wiki with identical results: None) and the additions were Mandriva and Fedora. The final list of contenders goes as follows:

  • OpenSUSE 11.4 (12.1 Milestone 5 was still too un stable)
  • Mandriva 2011
  • Fedora 15 (16 Alpha was still too unstable)
  • PCLinuxOS 2011
  • Kubuntu 11.04
  • Pardus 2011.1

CRITERIA & SCORING

Alright, so we have the contenders, the next thing we need to define is the criteria by which they will be judged. Here's the list I will use:

  • It just works
  • User Friend... or foe?
  • Performance
  • Software Management & Applications
  • Hardware Friendliness
  • Aesthetic Uniqueness
  • Media support

Now, all distros will be judged against each of those categories and be given a score based on how they do. Scores will go as follows:

ScoreDescription
5Excellent
4Good
3Average
2Poor
1Terrible

As a technical note, all distros were tested on the same piece of hardware, an HP 2740p Tablet PC (except for Pardus, which was tested on an HP 2730p). I chose to do it that way because I wanted a fair and consistent testing environment, but also because I know it is a great, high performing computer which sports some hardware devices that are not always easy to configure. As such, it would pose a challenge to the different distros hardware support capabilities, clearly showing where each stands in this area. I am aware that this approach would also narrow down the testing conclusions to a very specific scenario, so please keep in mind that scores and overall results described in this article may not apply everywhere.

Alright, we're good to go now... Let's dive right in!

IT JUST WORKS

Whenever I test a Linux distro (or any piece of software for that matter), the first thing that comes to mind is whether it does what it should do. If it doesn't, or if it does in such a cumbersome way that it is effectively not viable for standard users to actually use, then I simply discard such distro. As a result, it made sense to start this comparison here.

Because this is the first item in the comparison, let me explain a bit how I will approach each of these items. Basically, since there is a big number of distros that I have to compare against quite a few criterias, in the interest of time and space, I will only go into detail when something is remarkably good or terribly wrong. Distros that do a good enough job won't get too much attention, so their actual score will be the best indication on how they did.


PCLinuxOS is rock solid, everything works as expected.

Anyways, if there is one distro in this comparison that I can highlight as an example of smooth use and out-of-the-box functionality, that would be PCLinuxOS. It pretty much required nothing from my side to get things working, providing a satisfying experience right off the bat. At the other end of the spectrum we have OpenSUSE and Pardus. The former was often a nightmare to configure and use, both in hardware and software terms (more on this in my REVIEW) while the latter did not even boot due to problems with the onboard Intel HD graphics card. On different hardware, though, Pardus works OK, but to be fair to the rest of the contenders which did manage to get things rolling on the 2740p, I have to give it the lowest score in this category.

KDE DistroScore
OpenSUSE 11.42
Mandriva 20114
Fedora 153
PCLinuxOS 20115
Kubuntu 11.044
Pardus 2011.11

USER FRIEND... OR FOE?

Even acknowledging the big late improvements in this area, KDE itself is not an example of an extremely intuitive and user friendly environment. Therefore, it is quite critical to find which distros smooth out the path for the end user. Along the same lines, none of what was discussed in the previous category makes any sense if users can't understand it. Therefore, I personally see this category and the previous one as the most important ones, and consider they go hand by hand.

So, how did I measure ease of use? It certainly is subjective to a certain extent, but I was specifically looking for wizards, popup messages and any kind of information that helps the user get things done. If the OS required the user input to configure something (like software repositories), was there any message providing the required information or was the user left on his/her own to find out? Similarly, I was considering each distro community size, documentation availability and average forum/IRC channels response times.


Pardus provides an extremely clean and user friendly installation wizard.

Looking at it from that angle, Pardus is slightly ahead of the bunch. The installation process is probably the most informative and best documented. Once on the desktop, users get introduced to their desktops by Kaptan, a wonderful wizard that allows for some basic tweaks that can prove time and frustration saving. It is a bit of shame that Kaptan only shows up on the first boot and is not easy to find thereafter, though. On a different note, software management in Pardus is by far the most user friendly of all distros compared here, as we will see in that specific category later. Mandriva gets second place, even if its installation is not as user friendly as Kubuntu's, but it does a much better job at informing the user on screen. The Mandriva Control Center is also a great tool that makes system management easier to deal with, specially for users coming from Windows. PCLinuxOS benefits from its Mandriva inheritance here, even if on-screen messages are nowhere as informative, as well as the fact that most configuration work is taken care of from square one. Kubuntu goes next, not because it is particularly intuitive, but mostly because of its top quality installation wizard and the huge community of people behind it, which results in a plethora of resources available on the web. OpenSUSE's Yast and great community support leave Fedora on last position in this category.

Note that no distro got Excellent scoring and there were no terrible scores either. That's because all distros are a bit weak on this area and in all cases there is big room for improvement. In addition, each distro has strong and weak spots, so at the end of the day I am concentrating on which ones provide a smoother experience for the Linux novice.

KDE DistroScore
OpenSUSE 11.42
Mandriva 20114
Fedora 152
PCLinuxOS 20113
Kubuntu 11.043
Pardus 2011.14

PERFORMANCE

For this similarly important category, I will base my scoring on my experience over (approximately) a week of continued use of each distro. In other words, I didn't use any fancy benchmarking software or anything like that, just my experience over quite a big number of hours and working on very similar tasks.


PCLinuxOS felt faster and most responsive than its competition.

Yes, KDE 4.6.x already did bring significant performance and responsiveness improvements, so I must say all distros provided more than reasonable performance. Having said so, PCLinuxOS proved to be the most optimised and best tuned of the group, performing great both on my 2740p (whose solid state drive could have had a lot to do with it) but also on less powerful computers. OpenSUSE and Mandriva would follow with similar response times and overall performance feel to them. Pardus did OK, as did Kubuntu, but the latter did provide a bit of an inconsistent experience (menus freeze at times for no apparent reason). Fedora got to the checkered flag last once again, but not by a significant distance.

KDE DistroScore
OpenSUSE 11.44
Mandriva 20114
Fedora 153
PCLinuxOS 20115
Kubuntu 11.043
Pardus 2011.13

SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT & APPLICATIONS

This category involves a number of concepts, ranging from the application provided to manage application installation to the number of applications available, as well as the ability of the distro to keep its applications up to date at a decent rate.

In my opinion, Pardus and PCLinuxOS cross the finish line together, each leading for different reasons. Pardus stands out due to the quality of its software manager application, which is the best there currently is in KDE land, if you ask me. It does OK in terms of keeping up with external application releases, but its relatively low popularity usually means third party software will not be installable until it's packaged on the distro repositories, or until the user compiles from code (if the option is available).


PCLinuxOS provides lots of applications that almost always are completely up to date.

PCLinuxOS' strength, on the other hand, comes from the awesome job its developers do at packaging software and keeping it current. The sheer amount of apps available from its repositories is overwhelming, as is the fact that updates come as quickly as system stability allows. Because of that, it hardly suffers from third party software developers not packaging for it specifically. Having said so, while Synaptic is a good software manager, it is quickly getting obsolete, plus it looks out of place inside KDE.

Fedora, Kubuntu and OpenSUSE provided similar experience, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, one could offer a better software manager while suffering from lower third party software availability or a slower rate at maintaining software current. Mandriva suffers from all three problems, not offering that many applications on its repositories, not managing to keep them that much in synch (Firefox and Thunderbird are still on version 5 as I type these lines), and not getting that much attention from third party software makers when they package for Linux.

KDE DistroScore
OpenSUSE 11.44
Mandriva 20113
Fedora 154
PCLinuxOS 20115
Kubuntu 11.044
Pardus 2011.15

HARDWARE FRIENDLINESS

Some of you may consider this category the most important of all, and I would have to agree to a certain extent. After all, nothing really matters if the computer won't boot because no drivers are available to support the hardware in use. The only reason I didn't position it first is because all distros in this comparison (except for Pardus, perhaps) did a fairly good job in terms of hardware support. As a result, I expect most users to be able to get a reasonably good experience with any of them.

Note that I am not taking into account (just like I think most users won't) legal constraints here. I understand and many times share the open source view, but at the end of the day, users want an OS that allows them to get the most out of their computer. Because of that, I will score higher the distro that best manages hardware, regardless of whether it does so using open source or proprietary drivers. The way I see it, even if a certain distro does not include proprietary drivers out of the box, it should still provide an easy way for the user to install them if in need to do so (it's all about choice, right?).


PCLinuxOS managed to detect and correctly configure all devices in my HP 2740p.

PCLinuxOS leads this one by a significant distance, providing a satisfying experience for the end user and being able to recognize and correctly configure about any piece of hardware under the sun. Kubuntu comes second, if not for a particularly thorough catalog of drivers (proprietary ones are almost always left out), but because it does a great job at identifying what is missing and providing an easy way for the end user to overcome the problem. Mandriva follows closely, even if it failed to configure the onboard Broadcom wireless card (again, seems the final version didn't fix this problem). It did a great job with the rest of the hardware on board, though, plus it supports 3G mobile modems, something that still makes a difference (at least until NetworkManager0.9 shows up alongside KDE 4.7). Fedora was about the same as Mandriva, minus the 3G support. OpenSUSE was a bit of a nightmare and only after hours of tweaking provided partial support (the onboard mic never worked, quite a limitation when using applications like Skype). Pardus was by far the worst of the bunch, not even allowing me to boot on the 2740p. I had to test it on my 2730p, but even if that computer is usually Linux friendly, the wireless card wouldn't work.

KDE DistroScore
OpenSUSE 11.42
Mandriva 20114
Fedora 153
PCLinuxOS 20115
Kubuntu 11.044
Pardus 2011.11

AESTHETIC UNIQUENESS

Alright, these are all obviously sharing the same KDE desktop, so how to decide which one looks best, specially when that is such a subjective thing? Well, I thought about it and decided to leave my own taste aside and talk about which distro has made a stronger effort to develop a unique character, a branding of sorts, if you will.

High scores in this category simply show which distros look more "customized", as opposed to others which may sport more of a pure KDE desktop Look&Feel. Therefore, scores here don't necessarily mean better or worse.


Mandriva's unique Look&Feel.

With the above in mind, Mandriva hits the top podium stand with its recent 2011 release. An almost entirely original icon theme, the rosa dash launcher, a completely revamped (and awesome looking) KDM theme, window decorations and controls, all make Mandriva stand out and look... only "KDEish". Pardus also adds many original touches, bit of a shame that the strong branding displayed during the installation is not properly translated to the desktop. On a similar level, OpenSUSE looks quite original, incorporating eyecandy of its own here and there. PCLinuxOS does include many of its own elements as well, from a custom GRUB screen to a PCLinuxOS splash screen, a couple KDM themes, custom plasma theme, etc. Unfortunately, and this is where subjective kicks in, I find them ugly myself. Fedora brings a very distinctive and beautiful KDM theme and wallpaper on an otherwise "stock" KDE setup, while Ubuntu sports an almost totally pure KDE desktop.

KDE DistroScore
OpenSUSE 11.43
Mandriva 20115
Fedora 153
PCLinuxOS 20113
Kubuntu 11.041
Pardus 2011.14

MEDIA SUPPORT

We all know computers have become full blown media centers, capable of playing music, movies, manage and display photo collections, organise and read eBooks... you name it. Most of that functionality is offered by KDE itself, so instead of focusing on things all distros cover, I will concentrate on their readiness to play different media formats, as well as their choices in terms of media players, etc.


PCLinuxOS can play about anything you can think of.

If one is looking for a KDE distro capable of playing about any media format in existence, that must be PCLinuxOS. It's choice of applications is also great, including VLC, digiKam, Gwenview, Clementine and more. It also includes all kinds of plugins for browsers, such as Flash, Quicktime, Java, etc. Pardus comes loaded as well, and then the rest are pretty much on the same level, requiring the infamous "Things to do after installing XX" to get all media formats and plugins in place.

KDE DistroScore
OpenSUSE 11.42
Mandriva 20112
Fedora 152
PCLinuxOS 20115
Kubuntu 11.042
Pardus 2011.14

OVERALL SCORES AND CONCLUSION

Ok, you still with me? If you are, thanks and congrats, this is a looooong article!

Summing up, PCLinuxOS shines in many categories and deserves the King of KDistros crown. I have already covered many of its strengths, but let me add its rolling release nature as yet another benefit. Users can install and pretty much forget about obsolescence of applications, downloading ISO images, testing, configuring their desktop after installation, etc.

PositionKDE DistroScore
1stPCLinuxOS 201131
2ndMandriva 201126
3rdPardus 2011.122
4thKubuntu 11.0421
5thFedora 1520
6thOpenSUSE 11.419

Mandriva's bold move with their latest release deserves recognition as well. I think they have got it all right this time, and if luck is with them, they can become the next Ubuntu now that Unity is in the way and KDE is looking so strong. Pardus, Kubuntu and Fedora follow and are closedly matched, while OpenSUSE's poor behavior in a number of categories relegate it to last position.

I guess it's easy to figure it out, but I will be explicit about it: These are six of the top KDE distros out there, so they are all good quality products. Minor details can go a long way when comparing back to back, though, and that's where the results in this comparison come from. The most important thing is that KDE users can confidently smile looking forward, because their favorite desktop management is a truly impressive piece of work, providing a great user experience under many different distro combinations... and looks like it's only going to get better!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Introducing The amazing GPS (Gimp Paint Studio)

It would be hard to find a Linux user who´s never heard of GIMP, the incredibly powerful GNU Image Manipulation Program. Unfortunately, GPS (Gimp Paint Studio) may not be known to that many people, but it certainly deserves to be, and users deserve to know about it.

WHAT IS GPS?

From the GPS site:

"GPS is a collection of brushes and accompanying tool presets. Tool presets are a simply saved tool options, highly useful feature of the GIMP.

The goal of GPS is to provide an adequate working environment for graphic designers and artists to begin to paint and feel comfortable with GIMP from their first use. Later the user will change these settings based on his own workflow preferences and understanding of GIMP."


...Alright, clear as mud? There really is nothing like seeing it in action, so here is a great video displaying what GPS 1.5 is capable of:



Quite impressive stuff, I must say.

I want to use the opportunity to congratulate fellow Spaniard Ramon Miranda for the amazing work he´s put on GPS.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ubuntu, see you in October 2012

Most of you probably know that Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot has reached Beta status today. After intentionally skipping any reference to Natty Narwhal (I didn't want to sound negative or overly skeptical), I was curious to see if the dreamy cat brings major improvements. Unfortunately, it does not sound like that's the case.

I can't say I have thoroughly tested Ubuntu 11.10, but I have quickly checked through the main new features and I must say it does not cut it for me. It feels slow, looks ugly, is needlessly cumbersome at times and plain irrational when it comes to some of its design decisions.  Sadly, some interesting features like the introduction of Light DM and Thunderbird fall short when compared to a difficult to explain rush to hide pretty basic controls and a more than obvious desire to copy Apple.  In fact, it seems like Ubuntu became "Linux for Human Beings ...that love Apple products!".

Unity keeps being the main reason for me to stay away from Ubuntu, with global menus coming close second.  Unlike GNOME Shell, which (like it or hate it and even acknowledging its flaws) does feel like an entire and well-thought paradigm shift, Unity still feels like a glorified menu... that crashes way too often.  I know, it does things that classic GNOME menu could not do, but I have not seen anything that justifies the switch.

On a different note, yes, this is simply a Beta, but I remember when I tested Ubuntu 10.10 Beta, it was like previewing the final release version, 95% solid.  This feels like pre-Alpha software at times.

Anyways, enough with the complaining, just wanted to say that I have seen enough of Unity to know that I don't want to see any more until I have to.  In other words, I will stick to my trusty Maverick Meerkat until it runs out of support in October 2012, hoping that Unity is mature enough by then.  If not, I am fairly confident that GNOME Shell and most certainly KDE will be perfect alternatives.

No Ubuntu reviews for a while, it seems!

Congratulations to Google Blogger Team!

Just wanted to quickly both congratulate and thank the Google team behind Blogger for the interface update the have put together. It looks awesome, light, intuitive, feels faster and provides more information than before. Big thank you!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Improve font rendering in Fedora 15 KDE

Font rendering is a touchy subject for some, something completely irrelevant for others. It happens to be an important thing for me, for I find poor font rendering distracting, sometimes even demotivating.

When I tested Fedora in the past, I usually found font rendering different, poor when compared to Ubuntu's. That's obviously subjective, but I find Ubuntu font rendering smooth and good looking, while Fedora's is certainly not as smooth. In fact, this issue with font rendering was not limited to Fedora, for many other KDE distros apparently had the same problem.

In this particular case, I was testing Fedora 15 KDE for my King of KDistros article. I happen to love "Lovelock", so it kinda bugged me that font rendering was not up to par with the great overall quality of this last official Fedora release. As a result, I decided to do some research on the matter to make Lovelock look even better.

IMPROVING FONTS IN FEDORA

I quickly found that there are loads of resources available on the topic, often going into huge levels of detail. While I was finding those reads interesting, I didn't want to put that much time and effort into something like that, so I found a somewhat simple solution that provided a good enough result. Having said so, those interested may find the following two blog entries from Andreas Haerter particularly interesting:

How to change Fedora's font rendering to get an Ubuntu-like result

Ubuntu fonts installation for Fedora 15 Lovelock (and above)

Now, like I just said, I didn't go that far. Here are the steps I followed:

1.- In Fedora, install RPM Fusion (FREE and NON FREE) repositories (find more on this on RPM Fusion's own SITE).

2.- Install the freetype-freeworld font package.

NOTE: This package is not free (as in speech), so legal regulations may apply in your country.

su -c 'yum install freetype-freeworld'

3.- Install Droid Sans Fonts.(if you want to achieve the results shown in the screenshots below)

su -c 'yum install google-droid-sans-fonts'

4.- Create a backup for your fonts config file.

cp .fonts.conf .fonts.bak

5.- Edit your fonts config file:

kwrite .fonts.conf

6.- Change the hinting from hintmedium (as used in Fedora) to hintslight (as used in Ubuntu).

7.- Logout and then log back in.

NOW, HERE'S THE PROOF

That should do it, here are a couple screenshots showing the difference after applying the changes I just explained. First off, in a web browsing environment:



Now, in a desktop environment:



LIKE IT? USE IT!

So there you have it, a quick and easy way to make your fonts look a bit better in Fedora. As you can imagine, the same or similar steps would apply in other KDE distros with similar issues, only the freetype-freeworld package name may differ.

Have fun!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tux!

YES! Linux turns 20 years old today... now, ain't it awesome where the little Linus Tux has taken us!

Monday, August 22, 2011

King of KDistros - UPDATE

Hey, quick update on this one:

I am struggling a bit to get all distros together. On the one hand, I wanted to test Milestone 4 from OpenSUSE´s upcoming 12.1, but it´s been delayed. On the other hand, Mandriva 2011 will be out in a few days, so I want to wait until the final production release is out. Finally, I downloaded the recently released Chakra 2011.04-r2, but I can´t install it (I managed to build the LiveUSB following the website instructions and even got the greeting load menu, but it won´t get past there!). Fortunately, I have Kubuntu 11.04 and PCLinuxOS 2011.6 successfully installed and already tested, with Pardus 2011.1 currently in the works.

I am aiming towards an early september completion for this article (hopefully!), sorry for the wait!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mandriva 2011 Review

In my recent King of KDistros poll, several readers wanted me to include Mandriva in the comparison, claiming it had become a KDE exclusive distro and that it was doing a great job with its latest release, Mandriva 2011. Having tested Mandriva 2010 not so long ago and feeling disappointed by its apparent lack of progress, I decided to leave Mandriva out of the poll. I felt PCLinuxOS already somewhat represented the heart of Mandriva, but I have to admit I was not aware of the latest changes and progress at Mandriva camp.

Intrigued by those recommendations, I decided to download Mandriva 2011 RC2, the last of the release candidates, which with the exception of a few bug fixes, should not differ much from the latest official release. I must admit Mandriva 2011 pleasantly surprised me, showcasing a lot of refreshing ideas and quite an impressive amount of customization that is not usually found in KDE releases.

INSTALLATION AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Having installed PCLinuxOS recently, I was quite familiar with the Mandriva installation process, which PCLinuxOS uses as well. Unlike more visually appealing ones (Pardus, Chakra), Mandriva installation goes straight to the point and gets the installation done and dealt with simply and quickly. A big plus for many, I am sure, but I think a bit more eye candy would help.

Booting the system begins with a legacy GRUB boot menu, which leads the way to a (not so silent) boot process that incorporates a simple yet interesting splash screen. The real interesting stuff starts with the KDM theme, though.

Although incorporating more similarities to Windows than I would like to admit, the Mandriva 2011 KDM theme looks awesome, with beautiful big user avatars and some cool animations. Simply beautiful, and a much needed fresh take on something that was getting old already at KDE camp. Unfortunately, I am having issues with my Virtualbox setup, so I cannot show screenshots of the KDM theme nor the splash screen that shows up before the desktop loads in KDE implementations. In Mandriva 2011 this cool little animation incorporates the distro's own ROSA icon theme, a neat appetizer before we reach the desktop.

THE DESKTOP


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Once again, I find the similarities with Windows a bit too obvious myself, but it's hard to deny Mandriva 2011 sports a beautiful desktop. At a glance, it is easy to tell that those are some new icons, and some cool icons they are. However, there is more to this desktop than just a few new icons.


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Just clicking on the main menu button brings the awesome ROSA menu, an interesting take on the by now popular dash that both GNOME SHELL and Unity are using. In fact, the functionality is quite similar, with three tabs at the bottom. The first of those tabs, which is the default one, is your typical "Places"/"Recently used" kind of deal. The second one is the usual "Applications", while the last one is meant to show a "timeframe". Apparently a registry of activity through time, I personally have not seen it in action due to the short time my testing required.


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The default wallpaper is nice, but is unfortunately the only one Mandriva provides. All other wallpapers available are default KDE ones. Luckily, customization continues in other areas, including a custom set of controls and window decorations, as well as a custom ROSA Plasma theme. Plasma widgets look great and so does the Logout/Shutdown dialog.


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Mandriva have made a bold move with this release, bringing a much needed fresh take to the KDE desktop. I believe this is a great thing in many respects: On the one hand, Mandriva starts its own path as a KDE exclusive distro and does it with style, making a difference and setting the bar high in terms of quality and Look&Feel. On the other hand, it's good to see KDE out of the same old Oxygen suit, which hopefully will encourage other distros to create their own icon themes, window decorations, KDM themes, etc.

It's important to note, though, that many of the new elements that Mandriva 2011 brings forward, such as the ROSA icon theme, still feel a bit like a work in progress. Not all system and application icons get their ROSA "representative", which sometimes ends up looking rather poor. Similarly, the window decoration could use some polishing, and a more original and unique control theme would also be welcome. I hope this new Mandriva beginning will close those gaps in feature releases, though.

Aside from the new pieces of functionality and eye candy, Mandriva does offer quite a special set of features accessible through its Mandriva Control Center. While this is by no means news, I think it's relevant for those who have never given Mandriva (and derivatives) a chance in the past.


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I will not cover the Control Center in depth here, but I can guarantee all kinds of users will appreciate it. Those coming from a Windows background will feel right at home, while the rest will find a powerful yet intuitive management tool that can do anything but baking a pizza. To give just two examples, as displayed in the screenshots just above and below, it provides a powerful partition manager and a parental control suite.


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Nothing is perfect, though, and I have always thought it was a bit confusing when both the Mandriva and the KDE Control Center were there, specially after using distros which rely in the KDE Control Center to manage everything. It doesn't take long to figure out which does what, but depending on your experience it may feel a bit quirky.

SOFTWARE & APPLICATIONS

Mandriva claims to be a very user friendly distro, perfect for Linux starters. I personally would agree with that claim for the most part, but there are some things that are downright quirky. A good example is how it manages software, which requires the activation of repositories to get started. Now, I am not sure if that is something to do with this being a release candidate version, but if the final release is the same, most users with no Linux background will get lost right there. I believe all essential repositories should be enabled by default, with a dialog offering the optional enabling of auxiliary repositories (i.e., Non-Free).


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Having said so, the Mandriva Software management tool, which is part of its overall Control Center, still works great and is easy to use (it could use an aesthetic revamp, though... The whole Control Center could).


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Mandriva includes an interesting software selection, including Firefox 5, Thunderbird 3.11 (weird, as TB5 is available in the repos), LibreOffice 3.4, Shotwell 1.10 (nice, hopefully more stable than the shaky DigiKam), Kopete, Gwenview, Clementine, SMPlayer and others.


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While I have no major issues with the default software selection, I find it weird that several popular applications (such as Dropbox or Skype) were not available for download, not even with all repos enabled. Coming from a PCLinuxOS experience, I was hoping these neat apps would be available for Mandriva as well.

In terms of media capabilities, Mandriva 2011 is ready to play about anything you throw at it. Clementine deals with music libraries with ease, and SMPlayer managed to play a wide array of video formats (AVI, MP4, MKV, etc.) How about browser plugins, you may ask? Well, Flash is installed and correctly configured, but there was nothing at hand to play quicktime material.


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HARDWARE MANAGEMENT

Once again, using PCLinuxOS led me to wrong assumptions on this one. In my recent experience with it, all the hardware in my HP 2740p was detected and correctly configured out of the box. I somehow assumed a similar result would apply with Mandriva 2011, but it was not the case. The first issue started with the on board Broadcom BCM4312 wireless card, which was detected successfully, but not correctly configured. The default wireless driver included was not able to make it work, so I was forced to look for a solution in forums and the like.


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Luckily, Mandriva provides some great documentation and help through its Wiki, and finding how to set up the B43 driver on Mandriva 2011 was fairly simple once I found where to look. For those interested, here are the steps I had to go through:

1.- From a terminal, run the following command to download the appropiate driver:

wget http://downloads.openwrt.org/sources/broadcom-wl-4.178.10.4.tar.bz2

2.- Extract the contents just downloaded:

tar xf broadcom-wl-4.178.10.4.tar.bz2

3.- As root, run the following command (bear in mind the path depends on where files where extracted on step 2.)

b43-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware/ broadcom-wl-4.178.10.4/linux/wl_apsta.o

4.- Activate it

modprobe b43

Voila!... That did it for me, and I must say that once the driver was configured, I am getting the fastest wireless connection times I have seen (Windows or Linux). Wireless is literally connected BEFORE the desktop shows up.


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As you can see, setting up wireless was not THAT difficult, but that is precisely what bugs me about it. If the system detects my card successfully and is aware of it not working, and if the solution to my problem was clearly identified and documented, why not providing a simpler solution, or at least some meaningful help? Given how advanced and user friendly the approach of Ubuntu/Kubuntu is on this matter, I think Mandriva has a lot of work to do before they can say they are the user friendly distro they claim to be.


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The next problem I found was with the on board webcam, which was again detected, but not configured... Meh, I didn't even bother to search how to set it up. After all, I was just testing, but I was again disappointed to see no simple way to get it installed and correctly configured.

On a different note, not entirely related to hardware management, I wanted to share something strange I found during my testing. After testing for a while I realized how hot my tablet was, and the fact that its fan was constantly working, sometimes at full power. I ran a quick check and found a worrying misuse of resources.


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Unfortunately, such behavior was not a one off, for it is consistently happening every time I boot (even with Nepomuk disabled and no other application running).

FINAL THOUGHTS

Mandriva 2011 is quite an interesting turn in this popular distro recent history. After a few rough years that slowed down development progress, Mandriva seems to be alive and kicking hard again. I like its new ideas, features and unique character, the fact that they decided to commit to a single desktop environment and the potential I see looking forward. However, I think those ideas still need a bit of time to mature and settle down. Similarly, there are some things that need polishing or fixing, but considering I was testing a release candidate version, that's not to be taken too seriously.

In short, I recommend Mandriva 2011 once it goes live to all kinds of users. If you used it in the past and found reasons to move to a different distro, think about giving it another spin. For those who have never used Mandriva, well, this is a great time to start.