Thursday, June 28, 2012

200 Followers... THANK YOU!

Just a quick note to express my gratitude to all of you following my blog in any way, shape or form. I am extremely thankful for all the support I get from you, all of the comments and feedback. Thank you!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Google Earth and Maps revealed

As we have come to expect from any Apple announcement, the recent presentation of iOS 6 features has made an awful lot of noise. One of the changes that I found interesting (and crazy, if you ask me) was that Google Maps was no longer going to be the default map service on Apple devices starting with iOS 6.

When I heard this news, I didn't think it was such a deal. I must admit I didn't understand the depth and complexity of Google Maps service and how far much it has developed in the few years it's been available. Luckily, Google released a video that shows a bit of history, how the service continues to evolve, how it can be of help in ways way more significant than getting directions and how we all can help improve it through Map Maker. It is a lengthy video, but I believe it is one of the most interesting ones I have seen in a long time, very much worth watching:



Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fedora 17 Review (KDE & GNOME)

A few weeks have passed since it was released and since then, I have been using Fedora 17 'Beefy Miracle', both in its KDE and GNOME disguise, almost exclusively. It is therefore time to share my impressions... Does it really fit a miraculous outfit? Read on and find out...

DOWNLOAD AND INSTALLATION

Fedora continues to honor the CD size limit with its ISO images, which is a choice I appreciate. Images of such size obviously take shorter to download, plus users have a number of alternatives to burn them into. On top of that, sticking to CD size forces distro builders to limit the amount of default software included, something I favor myself because I know what I want in my installation, don't necessarily need every piece of open source software under the sun.

After my Fedora 16 FIASCO, I didn't even allowed Fedora to run the guided installation for me. Instead, I manually chose a partition setup of my own. Problems with Anaconda defaulting to GPT disk labels was part of why I took that approach, but also the fact that I wanted Fedora 17 KDE and GNOME to sit on the same box, so the partition layout needed a bit of customization. Long story short, installing in this fashion went smooth and I found no issues. GRUB2 was successfully set up automatically after the installation, conveniently displaying both installations at boot. As a side note, I can confirm that the rumors I heard about the Anaconda UI getting a revamp for Fedora 17 turned out to be just that, rumors. Anaconda is as ugly as ever and it feels rusty and obsolete when compared to other installation wizards, specially Ubuntu's. It does get the job done, of course, but I feel there is vast room for improvement here.

FIRST LOGIN AND IMPRESSIONS

After the usual Fedora Plymouth splash screen, which remains unchanged after several releases, we get to the respective GDM and KDM login screens, both of which are fitted with Fedora 17 default wallpaper. GNOME seems to have the edge here, presenting a more modern looking login screen that incorporates animations, shows the list of users available in the system and feels more intuitive and easy to use overall.

The default desktops look alright. Fedora artists continue to deliver, in this case taking a less obvious interpretation of the distro code name than they had previously, which is welcome. "Beefy Miracle" is a funny nickname, but any obvious interpretation of it would go horribly wrong as a default desktop theme, so artists looked somewhere else and threw in some fireworks, as shown below in KDE and then GNOME flavors:


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Aside from those wallpapers, though, and the KDM and KDE splash themes, Fedora looks are pretty much stock in both DEs. Luckily for us users, there are tons of great things in this release to talk about, other than looks.

The first thing I found in both cases, maybe not that all surprising on release day, was a bit of a shaky vibe to them. Both felt a bit unstable, lagging and freezing temporarily several times. All problems went away after downloading system updates, though, and when the smoke cleared, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall stability, performance and the superb hardware recognition in Fedora 17. Everything in my computer was correctly configured automatically, no need for extra drivers or any manual configuration, and that includes Wireless, sound and webcam.

Fedora developers have indeed done a superb job at putting together this release. It is powerful, full of features and edgy software, plus it maintains the rate of improvement that started a couple releases ago. SELinux is less intrusive than ever and it can hardly be noticed in terms of performance, but it feels good to know it is there. Talking security, Fedora 17 incorporates a new Firewall setup, which allows for changes to be applied on the fly. Sweet, gotta love the extra security, specially when it is easy to work with.

All of these improvements and more are there in Fedora 17, which makes for a very robust and worth trying distro. In a sense, I think Fedora had to up their game, specially after witnessing the huge step forward Precise Pengolin has represented for Ubuntu. The way I see it, Beefy Miracle represents a similar step in the right direction, even if I still see room for polishing rough edges.

THE GNOME SIDE

Even if KDE is getting lots of love by Fedora developers, GNOME is probably their baby, so we should expect a great (if not the best) implementation of both GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell. Fedora 17 does not disappoint, and with the help of all the latest improvements in GNOME 3.4, it excels at what it does. Long gone are the days where GNOME Shell was lacking flexibility or was hardly customizable. After just three releases since GNOME3 went live, the potential in the design architecture of GNOME Shell has not only brought tons of extensions and themes, but also made it easy for forks like Cinnamon to exist and evolve very quickly.


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The screenshot above is my default desktop, which hopefully shows how beautiful GNOME Shell can get with just a couple touches here and there. In this case, the Faenza Icon Theme gets along well with the Elementary shell theme, both accompanied by a nice wallpaper. If you hate those chaotic desktops with a million icons on them, GNOME Shell can help, I love how clean it looks, it truly helps to focus on the task at hand.


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Notifications are equally not intrusive, which comes particularly handy when one is working and something disruptive like a chat window appears. In GNOME Shell, that comes up as a very discrete notification, which in addition can be used to reply if so the user wants. Sweet.

With the help of extensions, which allow for pretty much any missed functionality to come back, and some of the latest GNOME 3.4 brilliant additions, Fedora 17 is simple yet powerful. I particularly love the Online Accounts feature, which provides perfect integration with my Google cloud stuff in one simple step. The system calendar in the panel shows my Google Calendar meetings and events, the Contacts application displays all of my Google Contacts correctly and most importantly, it works as it should both ways. If I create a meeting on Evolution, it will update correctly on my Google Calendar. Unfortunately, support for Google Tasks does not seem to be implemented yet.

There was a lot of talk about GNOME Shell making things difficult (by that I think people simply mean "different"), but that is truly not the case. Using the good old Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination will bring the shutdown dialog. Clicking on the hardware shutdown button or closing the lid will suspend the system, as one would expect, so all the bashing around having to hold the Alt key to shut down the system is pointless in my opinion.


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Key combinations come in handy, and once one gets the grasp of the shell, it is difficult to find something that can work faster or more efficiently. For instance, let's say a user wants to open system settings but doesn't know the actual application name. Likely to come from a Windows background, such user could think of using the term "Control Center" to find system settings... Well, all it takes is just one single keystroke on the meta key to open the Activities menu, type "control" and voila!, system settings shows up in the search results. Of course, if a user has no idea of what the name of the app is, s/he can browse them all or filter them by category, just like they would on a standard menu. Another great feature is that, thanks again to the great online accounts app, the shell search is capable of searching through contacts, even online docs stored in Google Drive.


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GNOME Shell is, in my opinion, a great desktop manager. What people most commonly complain about (i.e., lack of flexibility and features) simply represents the learning curve that is there in every single UI in existence, as well as maybe denial of what the project was set to achieve with the shell. I believe the biggest problem in the adoption of GNOME Shell came from users who were incorrectly assuming it was GNOME Classic with a face lift. GNOME Shell represents a new paradigm in desktop management, one that brilliantly overcomes many of the burdens users have found for decades, while at the same time presenting an interface that finds a good balance between the needs of a touch interface and the traditional mouse and keyboard. Once again, as with any other UI, it takes a bit of effort to learn its quirks, but once passed that point, it excels in many ways. It should be obvious, though, that it will never be able to do something it was purposedly designed not to. In other words, the lack of customization options and emphasis on eye-candy are not shortcomings, but rather features of a UI whose target is to make things simple and stay out of the way so that users can concentrate on being as productive as possible.

Fedora is indeed empowered by many of the great features in GNOME Shell, but it also suffers from some of its shortcomings. In my opinion, the biggest one is very inflexible and poor energy saving, which is critical on portable devices.


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Out of the area of influence of the DE, Fedora 17 GNOME has also some strengths and weaknesses. I find it particularly falls short in the GUI software management area, thanks to a rather poor software manager. Users coming from more sophisticated alternatives, such as the Ubuntu or Linux Mint's Software Center (actually, about anything one can think of is fancier than gpk-application), will feel like they traveled back in time. The natural tendency then is to rely on the wonderful yum package manager, but that obviously implies command line usage, immediately making Fedora GNOME an advanced user distro in this department. On the bright side, though, yum runs faster than ever now, I am impressed!

I briefly mentioned about improvements in SELinux and Firewall setup, both of which are welcome, but I guess I would expect their UIs to get a bit more love, at least be ported to GNOME3. The firewall one specifically, even with its own wizard for beginners, is quite un-intuitive. For instance, the confirmation that the firewall is running is a small text string at the bottom left corner of the window, which appears to have been designed for users to miss it.

Fortunately, Fedora 17 GNOME shortcomings are few and, perhaps with the exception of power management, shouldn't be too hard to work around. In any case, they should be compensated by the fact that users will be using a very robust and secure distro with a great implementation of GNOME3.4. Software is very up to date and, with the help of RPM fusion, also very safe, for almost anything users will ever need can be downloaded from the repos. Last but not least, Fedora 17 brings its users GIMP 2.8 by default!


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THE KDE SIDE

I had not reviewed GNOME 3.4 yet, and that's why I went into detail (somewhat) above. However, I have already DISCUSSED KDE SC 4.8, including its shortcomings, so I will concentrate on what is unique to the Fedora 17 implementation here.

The first thing I realized is that Fedora 17 may as well be the purest KDE experience there is out there. Unlike Kubuntu 12.04, which failed to deliver its promise to include Telepathy and Calligra by default, Fedora managed to do it, even sticking to Konqueror as the default web browser.


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The whole KDE PIM and Semantic Desktop suite of apps are also included, as do many of the most popular names in the KDE application catalog, including Marble. Now, this "pure KDE spirit" is not necessarily good or better than a different approach, but I guess it can be considered a feature for those seeking a desktop clear of any significant GNOME influence.

Unlike its GNOME cousin, the KDE implementation of Fedora 17 does a much better job at GUI software management thanks to Apper. Software updates are correctly and timely notified and clicking on them works as expected (heard that, Muon?), which is something many distros don't get quite right.



Clicking on the notification icon will bring, as should be expected, the list of updates, which can then be easily applied.


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Installing applications is also very convenient and intuitive, looking good at the same time. In case you didn't notice, yes, that's Java 1.7.0 that is available in the Fedora repos. One strange behavior is that the icon set in Apper categories does not seem to pick Oxygen icons, using the default GNOME counterparts used by default in Fedora GNOME, which obviously doesn't help it look better.


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Users get notified when applications have been installed and can run them straight from the installation dialog.


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THE BEST KDE IMPLEMENTATION... NOT!

Software management has indeed improved in Fedora 17 KDE, but the biggest improvement, at least apparently, revolved around KDE PIM and the Semantic desktop. Fedora 17 was the first KDE distro I had ever used which managed to run (almost) all of those components successfully without eating my machine CPU in the process. For the first time ever, thanks to the google-akonadi libraries, I was able to get all of my Google contacts, meetings, tasks and mail working in Akonadi and for the first time, it was all apparently working without a struggle. Unfortunately, it was not to last.


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The screenshot above shows how it was all working without putting any significant stress on my machine. However, after shutting down my machine and booting the day after, it all went back to the usual horror story. I was getting 15%-20% CPU usage from Akonadi alone, which considering my machine is a quad-core Intel i5, is A LOT. Aside from gmail IMAP and SMTP, all other components stopped working and no longer synched, they were just apparently trying to synch forever.

Unfortunately, that was not all, because I kept getting crashes on virtuoso-t every 2-3 minutes. A few more minutes passed and I just decided to shut all of it down, Nepomuk, Akonadi, etc. Fedora 17 looked like the ultimate KDE implementation, but after a short while it was just showing the same problems I have seen in any other distro to date. In fact, Fedora seems to have more issues than others, because those crashes from the virtuoso process are not common.

On a different set of things, Fedora 17 KDE also benefits from this release new features, including GIMP 2.8 straight from the official repositories.


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Similarly, the improvements to the system firewall are also there, so both KDE and GNOME flavors are equally secure.


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STEADY IMPROVEMENT

Fedora 17 is yet another solid step forward. As should be expected, though, Beefy Miracle is fully aligned with the distro's mission, offering plenty of features and current software, as well as other interesting bonuses like GIMP 2.8 with the by now infamous single window interface. Ease of use and stability are not within the top priorities of Fedora, so users will still find some rough edges and may suffer the consequences of living in the fast lane, so starters might benefit from sticking to other alternatives. Any other user, from those not afraid of the occasional tweak to full blown experts, will surely enjoy what Fedora has to offer. Finally, the choice of GNOME Shell or KDE is down to personal preference, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed by some elements in the implementation of the latter.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Linux and Android meet again

After many very busy days where I couldn't find a minute to post anything, things start to get back to normal. Unfortunately, I have had no option but to delay some reviews I was working on, but I hope I can share them in the next few days, Ubuntu 12.04 and Fedora 17 among them.



Today I wanted to share some interesting news about Android and Linux, good news in fact. Most people claim Android uses the Linux Kernel, which is not incorrect, but not that many know that the Linux Kernel had dropped Android support since two years ago. Fortunately, Linux Kernel 3.3 embraces Android back and is the first release to include its drivers after that long gap.

Being a big fan and user of both Android and Linux, I am happy to see them reunite. Hopefully the issues that set them on different paths are now solved and their unity truly translates into more strength.