Thursday, September 12, 2013

The beauty of GNOME Shell

Since its inception not long ago, the new GNOME 3.x series has confused some and frustrated others, but more often than not, it has also managed to conquer those few who actually got past the initial quirks and gave it a fair chance. Similarly, its desktop environment, simply dubbed Shell, left a lot to be desired in the early days, mostly because the customization options had been thrown out the window in favor of a to-the-point approach which meant to remove distractions. Unfortunately, such approach was certainly too closed to survive in the Linux realm.

After a few releases, the Shell has seen a lot of improvements, polish and tons of customization options, sometimes through tools like Tweak Tool, or through a plethora of cool extensions. Long story short, customizing the Shell is now simple and the results can be amazing. Most importantly, the results will be what you want them to be, which is really what is all about, right?

In this very short video, I used the built-in screencast feature to record my way through some simple navigation.



Now, here's the desktop. I love how clean and non-intrusive it is. The calendar and the rest of the menus are elegant and very responsive.


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The search feature is very powerful and, unlike that of Ubuntu, very responsive, being as it is limited to local contents. Once again, search results are presented in a clean and beautiful way which is consistent with the rest of the experience.


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The lock screen is nice, modern looking. For those complaining that it was designed exclusively for touch devices, well, that's simply not true. Just hit the ENTER key from here to get to the login screen.


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Nautilus may have been stripped of some advanced features, but for the vast majority of users, it more than does the job. Its simplicity also enhances its looks.


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So there you have it, GNOME Shell continues to work and look better, definitely a great Linux DE which can look pretty!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Android Jelly Bean King at last

At long last, Android Jelly Bean (meaning Android 4.1 and up) has become the most used Android version out there. Android 4 and up together make up for more than 61% of all Android devices connecting to the Google Play Store.



As I write these lines, Android 4.3 is all but confirmed, probably to go live as soon as the new Nexus 7 is released. The long awaited Android 5.0 "Key Lime Pie" version of Android is expected by late this year, and one of the features it is rumored to sport is wider support for less powerful devices. If that turns out to be true, along with the amazing new approach based on Google Services that was introduced in Google I/O a few months ago, the different Google Edition models and the many new devices that will be introduced (all carrying Android 4.2 or 4.3) in the second half of the year, I think it´s quite probable that Android fragmentation will not even be worth discussing by the end of 2013.

In fact, ironically, as Google continues to progress in fixing this problem, it is becoming more of an issue in iOS. Are we just months away from seeing one of Apple´s biggest arguments against Android become a shot in their own foot?

Please visit the Android Developer Dashboard for full statistics.

Friday, May 31, 2013

iMore, the daydreaming site for Apple fanatics

I am an Android user and fan, there´s no denying it. I love Google services, use them heavily and have also been a Linux user for years. Android is the best middle ground between the two, and the work Google and the Android developer community have done since its release is simply outstanding.

Although they are not my cup of tea, I have also used Apple devices, such as an iPod touch 4 and currently an iPad mini. Apple as a company and their devices as a whole represent most of the stuff I dislike about software and hardware in general: Heavily overpriced, dumbed-down, snobbish products developed within a tightly closed and controlled environment. Having said so, I am not one of those who fails to recognize what is good about them, and I must admit there is a lot of that. They are well built and usually do the job they were designed to do reliably. If one adds up insane amounts of dollars spent in brilliant marketing campaigns on top of that, then it´s no surprise Apple does so well as a company. Today, that is.

iMore.com is a site put together by Apple fanbois for Apple fanbois, but they are also expected to be serious and objective, which is what any respectable information media aims to be. This site is a good source of information regarding what Apple will do next, they usually nail it and don´t publish rubbish rumors you often see in other places. On the other hand, they are not that good when it comes to dealing with critics or not so positive news. They will often write opinion articles to demean Android success, Google success or anything that looks like their beloved company or set of products are not "winning".

WHERE I AM COMING FROM

To give a bit of context, I am just a user of Google services and products who enjoys using Linux and likes its open and collaborative spirit. In that sense, I see year after year how Google pushes so many initiatives and projects that help improve software in general and open software in particular, and that amazes me. Stuff like Mozilla, Ubuntu collaboration, the yearly summer of code events that have worked wonders for KDE and other similar projects, Chromium, Webkit and now Blink, and many more are examples of that.

Android uses the Linux Kernel and even the Linux foundation thrives at how successful it is, and while neither Google nor Android are perfect, they are a heck of a lot closer to what I would like to see in technology as a whole than what Apple represents. In fact, it´s important to understand that Google does not have to do things this way. They could be way more greedy, close up their services and develop all of their products much more closely and never invest in open source projects. Luckily, they are not that way, so it is a good thing that we remind ourselves of that once in a while, because I see lots of people taking lots of things for granted and sometimes it surprises me. Does Google want to make money? Heck yes, but it´s how they decide to make that happen that matters, I think.

Anyway, I digress, but I just wanted to give a bit of background so my point of view is better understood. I feel happy to see Android everywhere because I think it is the better option as a whole, not just from a performance-feature level, but also a philosophical one. I don´t hold any animosity against Apple or their products, I just wished they were managed differently.

THE BEST GOOGLE SMARTPHONE

What I don´t like, though, is when people blatantly lie, or tell only half of the story, or simply close their eyes to reality because it suits their agenda. That is exactly what iMore does more and more often these days. For instance, they recently put out an article comparing the HTC One versus the iPhone 5. In that article, iMore claims that the iPhone 5 is a better Google phone because Google apps are smoother in the Apple smartphone. Right, well, that´s simply false to begin with. I own a Nexus 4 and have tinkered with a Samsung Galaxy S4, as well as with an iPhone 5 and my own iPad mini, and the fact of the matter is that Google apps behave almost identically throughout. the iPad mini, with its more humble hardware specifications probably struggles the most, but performance is more than acceptable anyways. To find the difference between the iPhone 5 and the Nexus 4 performance, one must indeed be an iPhanboi, someone so utterly and exclusively impressed by the sheer stupidity of smooth scrolling that can spend hours trying the effect and consistently being amazed by it. Even then, the difference is negligible, both devices are as smooth as it gets, but again, it takes a specific type of person to give this concept such relevancy.

The second argument they make, which is actually implied, is that Google apps in iOS are exactly the same they are in Android, both in terms of quantity and quality. Now, this is another example of dishonestly sharing only part of the information to suit their message. They of course don´t mention that Apple users don´t get every one of Google apps, as is the case with Google keep, My Tracks, Google Play Music, Car Home and others. Similarly, they skip the fact that iPhone users get Google apps weeks, sometimes months later than Android users do. Of course, they also fail to mention that all this Google app joy is only possible until the walled garden police decide to spoil the fun, as was the case when they removed Google Maps altogether.

It is probably obvious to anyone except a misinformed iPhanboi, but the best Google experience is not defined solely by having a bunch of great Google apps. Android users know that it´s not just about having the app, but also about how they use it and the features it offers. Streetview and its compass mode or Google Calendar are great examples.

On an Apple device, for example, one has to download and then sign in to each one of those Google apps, one by one, as opposed to the seamless experience that is core in Android. Similarly, apps have extremely limited sharing abilities, which is one of the nicest features in Android, one that greatly enhances the user experience. On top of that, Google apps are not, and cannot be defined as defaults (although Google are trying some smart workarounds to allow people to trigger Chrome when opening a URL from within a Google app, better than nothing, I guess). Last but not least, even if Google did a great job translating its design principles into iOS, their apps simply look out of place in iOS, offering a flat, modern look that simply doesn´t fit the obsolete skeuomorphism so popular in iOS.

So no, the iPhone 5 is not even close to providing the best Google experience. It takes someone who´s never used a modern Android device for more than five minutes or someone who´s deliberately lying to say so. The iPhone 5 does (thanks exclusively to Google, by the way, Apple has only created problems to users who preferred Google services) offer the possibility to use several Google apps, but it lacks in features, gets the apps late if at all, is always under risk of losing those apps if Apple Police randomly so decides and overall simply offers a sub par experience. One has to wonder, though, how all of these concepts escape an iMore editor when something as insignificant as smooth scrolling is all that important to them... Are they not into small details? I guess they are happy as long as it scrolls smooth enough.

Finally, that comment about being able to use other apps alongside google apps is simply ridiculous. Android users have tons of apps of their own that are similar, if not better, than iOS apps. Like Tweetbot? Well, Android users can enjoy Robird, Carbon, Tweedle, Neatly, Falcon Pro... All excellent Twitter clients, not to mention the official Twitter client app, which gets updated in parallel in both platforms. Fantastical? Well, the Official Google Calendar app is amazing, but there are many other apps like Digical which do a phenomenal job at it. Finally, Letterpress... A game? Really? Come on!

MARKET SHARE IS NOT IMPORTANT, ONLY PROFIT MATTERS

Another one of those phrases iPhanbois repeat like parrots. Years ago, when the iPhone dominated market share, that was such an important thing... which it quickly stopped being relevant when Android took over, of course. At that point, the relevant thing was that Apple was single handedly leading the tablet arena. Yet again, a concept soon to lose any relevancy as that dominance is about to die as Android tablets get in the lead this summer.

That apparently random loss of relevancy is quite an interesting phenomenon, but nothing compared to the idea that losing market share, even if it happens as quickly as it is happening to (once market leaders) Apple devices, is of no relevance to Apple. The guys at iMore want their readers to think that is all good and dandy because Apple continues to make more profit than the competition, even if the difference in profit steadily shrinks when compared to the likes of Samsung. Who cares if Apple have lost the lead in almost any market they compete on? Who cares if the potential profit could have been 2-3 times higher if Apple would have as much market share as Android? Who cares if the Google Play Store is on its way to surpass Apple Store profits in two years (if current estimations turn out to be true)? All those ideas are just crazy concepts only trade investors care about.

The ultimate bold idea, though, is to claim that the past of the company serves as an example to demonstrate that iOS devices have a bright future in front of them. The iMore editor shares a graph showing that Apple makes more profit today out of computers than any other manufacturer out there. This concept is used to try to debunk the notion that PCs killed Macs in the past. After all, the situation is somewhat similar, and if Macs enjoy leading profit today, why won´t Apple mobile devices follow suit? The iMore editor once again strategically forgets certain historical facts, like the surely unimportant event (for him) in which Apple was rescued from certain bankruptcy by Microsoft. The current crisis in the computer market, and the fact that PC manufacturers are turning into mobile devices manufacturers, something that will take time and will make them lose money, is also left out of the picture. Finally, the fact that profit could potentially be many times higher should Apple hold a bigger chunk of the market share is once again irrelevant, how convenient.

WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

Now, I don´t pretend to know what´s going to happen because technology changes by the minute, but I think it is not very intelligent to pretend that the current situation is optimum for Apple, or to ignore the challenges the company faces. Yes, they have had 5 amazing years and such results carry inertia with them which doesn´t disappear overnight. However, it is undeniable that they put together some innovative concepts out, had their cake and were eating it, yet their competitors systematically and quickly managed to turn the situation upside down and left them with a much smaller portion than they probably thought they would have at this stage. The potential Apple had 2-3 years ago was incredible, they had the best seats to the show and had everything to become solid leaders of a rapidly growing market. However, they have consistently failed to deliver in many aspects, have been stale in terms of innovation, specially in the last 2-3 years, and in yet another display of sheer arrogance, like claiming they knew what the perfect screen size was, have failed to understand what people truly wanted. All that resulted in Apple´s lead extinguishing way faster than most could foresee.

Apple was not long ago defining the market, but just a few short years after is now, in most ways, playing catch up. The once perfect skeuomorphism is apparently to go out the window once iOS 7 is out. Rumor has it that a cheaper iPhone is on the way, perhaps even one with an even bigger screen. If those changes become a reality, they will confirm that Apple is no longer so clear on what the right strategy is.

That´s all pure speculation, though, I firmly believe Apple has every chance to become the true market leader again if they make the right choices, but the current situation does not look particularly promising. Looking the other way and misinforming to offer cheap propaganda or downright fanboysm is not the right way to manage a website which supposedly offers objective information. Hopefully the iMore editors will do as good a job when offering opinion as they do when they inform about Apple news. In fact, it would be great if they could learn from other mobile nations editors whose attitude towards criticism and weak spots in the platform they most love are much better.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Remember Vivaldi and Plasma Active? Yes, again!

It´s been roughly eight months since I wrote a bitter ARTICLE about the (hopefully!) upcoming Vivaldi tablet. Back then I discussed the terrible customer focus and business approach, as well as the fact that the idea behind the project is so far off what people are looking for today in a tablet that it is plain obsolete way before being available.

8 months later, what exactly has changed? Well... Nothing, zero, niente, nada.

The project official site still shows no information to help customers understand what happened with their preorders. As was the case back when I wrote my previews article, the only way to get a shade of information on the project, release dates and what not, is to proactively follow Aaron Seigo´s blog and hope that he will release an article sooner rather than later. Ridiculous indeed.

Luckily, Mr. Seigo just published an update on the matter, which you can read HERE if interested.

Apparently, plans are there to upgrade the hardware specifications a bit, but other than that, what we get once again are a bunch of excuses that don´t do much after a year waiting for a device that was first introduced as being imminently available. It almost feels like these guys were jealous at Google after the Nexus 4 selling fiasco, so they want to try real hard to come out as even more unreliable! Well, push no more, people, the jury is out and Vivaldi gets the worst customer service and attention accolade by a long shot!

Personally, I think it is sad that some people are so thickheaded that they have to keep pushing for something that has no future and that, if anything, only has a negative impact in the open standards they claim to defend. As far as the average Joe is concerned, they just want to get a device, so things like these only help cementing the idea that the people behind open source projects and standards are unreliable, unprofessional geeks who´d rather play than delivering results.

If Vivaldi comes out within the next 2-3 months, it seems it will come out around the same time as the second generation Nexus 7, and roughly around the same time as Firefox OS, Tizen, Jolla and even Ubuntu devices become available. The problem is that Vivaldi and Plasma Active are way behind most of them, light years away fron what Android has become... I mean, if the rumors are true, the second generation Nexus 7 is going to be a killer device, with an extremely mature OS, a huge ecosystem and user community and millions of active developers delivering quality software... and it will be available at roughly the same price as Vivaldi, but with much better hardware!

Is Vivaldi really necessary? It´s not the nineties anymore, there are many open alternatives out there, several more in the works. Wouldn´t it be better to simply accept defeat than keep pushing a project that has been and most probably will continue to be an embarrassment?

As I said back in the day, coding in your free time, as a hobby, is awesome. Projects coming out of sheer developer passion, for free, are a great thing, and people understand that they are delivered on a best effort basis. However, when you step up to the next level, start talking about preorders, a price tag, shipping charges, presenting specifications, pictures, demos, etc., then that´s when the game is over and it becomes a business which must deliver to expectations and timelines. That´s where this project has been a huge miss, consistently failing to deliver to its own promises and losing customers in the process, who will probably put their money on options they can trust.

It is great to daydream about openness, freedom, making, playing and living, but the best way to convey that is to demonstrate that one can deliver under those principles. If the opposite happens, then it builds on the idea that only big corporations can be trusted, that closed environments are the only ones that truly work, and so the original intent of the project is jeopardized and the opposite goal is achieved.

If the project is finally released in a short while, hopefully there is something there to make up for the endless waiting, but I highly doubt it. If, on the other hand, it is still not ready within a few months, I hope the project leaders simply understand that it is best to cancel the project, communicate accordingly and let other better managed initiatives carry the open standards flag.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

KDE 4.11 to become a long term release

Aaron Seigo announced just recently that KDE SC 4.11 will be the last release before Plasma Workspaces 2. This release will be stable and supported for 2 years, getting attention and polish throughout that period. Here´s his blog entry explaining what, why, how and when:

KDE SC 4.11 ANNOUNCEMENT.

Personally, I love this piece of news. KDE has more features and options that you can shake a stick at, but even after the great SC 4.10 release, there are still basic things that could be heavily improved. We have come a long way with Nepomuk, it works fairly well now. Performance overall is amazing, it´s even hard to believe that KDE was ever considered a heavy DE, it feels light and snappy now. Improvements in Kwin have come a very long way. There have been improvements in pretty much every area you can think of, and yet, KDE still feels fragile, inconsistent and incomplete at times.

Hopefully this long term release will help close those gaps and make KDE as good as it deserves to be.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ubuntu to suicide again after 2 lost years?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have come to like Ubuntu 13.04 quite a bit. Raring Ringtail marks the first Ubuntu installation lasting more than a day in one of my machines since the Ubuntu 10.10 days. In fact, the more I am using it, specially after getting some updates that have improved stability, the more I am liking it. It´s been a two year hiatus and now that I am getting to love it again, I can´t help but being a bit concerned with everything I am reading about Canonical changing the core of Ubuntu.

News has it that Ubuntu will, over the next year, change its software packaging system to what they call "Click Packages", abandon X and forget about Wayland to embrace Mir and, last but not least, transition Unity entirely to Qt. The idea behind this sequence of changes it to provide a unified foundation for all the Ubuntu platforms (mobile + desktop, maybe TV?) to build upon. Given how quickly they want it to be ready, though, and the fundamental nature of all the changes, it is quite the ambitious plan, to say the least.

Looking back at the "promise-to-achieve" ratio Canonical has been able to score in the last couple of years (quite poor), the quality of what was being offered (again quite poor, requiring 4 full releases to get to an acceptable level) and the fact that there was a clear lack of direction, this all sounds a bit scary. If getting Unity to work as expected took two years an a half, when can we expect all these radical changes to work nicely? Ubuntu 14.04 is the target of all these changes converging together on all platforms, but does that mean the same as actually meeting expectations?

Lots of users like me were disappointed in Ubuntu after 11.04 and it took more than two years to finally offer something compelling enough to bring (some of) them back. If Canonical chew more than they can swallow now, if they get back into unstable, under-performing software for several more releases, it´s just going to be a pity and they may lose some users forever.

On the other hand, I must admit that, if Ubuntu is ever going to be a decent opponent to Android, iOS and the like, these changes might be not only critical, but also an absolutely must. Some are criticizing that Ubuntu is isolating itself from the Linux ecosystem and seeking more control, but let´s be honest, that´s the only way for it to become an alternative to the big names out there. Ubuntu must up its game big time in many respects if it ever wants to put up a fight, becoming more dynamic, flexible, reliable, better looking and way more responsive.

Let´s just hope they get it right this time and are able to complete these changes as planned, within the next 12 months. If Canonical pulls this off, it may be the beginning of Ubuntu for real, a serious distro that can truly compete out there. However, if they again take 2-3 years to actually make it happen, I believe their train will have left the station, probably forever.

Monday, April 29, 2013

My take on Ubuntu 13.04

Ubuntu 13.04 was released last week, supposedly a polishing release that provides the best Unity experience to date. However, the response to this release from the media has been cold, why so?

Raring Ringtail comes two years after Unity was first introduced in Ubuntu 11.04. Back then, and for several releases to come, Unity was a bit of a disaster. Ubuntu took something that most people loved and turned it upside down, many times introducing changes that apparently made no sense or that hinted at a total lack of direction. In my case, Ubuntu 10.10 was the last release I used and have only tested subsequent releases briefly, just to realize, time and again, that Unity was still far from being a proper alternative to other options available in Linux. In a sense, I guess I have to be thankful, because I don´t think I would know KDE, Fedora and other things so well had it not been for Ubuntu messing up. That´s probably something the Ubuntu community didn´t want to achieve when they introduced Unity, though.

Ubuntu 13.04 is the first release I have actually installed and have been using for a few days, with quite some positive results, I might add. As with any release just days after it has been made available, there are some bugs that need killing, but the overall experience has been great. Performance is much (MUCH!) improved and so is aesthetics. Ubuntu now offers a much more consistent visual experience, from LightDM to the shutdown and logout dialogs, Wallpapers... almost everything looks and feel like a quality product. There are still areas that need work, like the never ending affair of Ubuntu getting its own (actually decently looking) icon set, pieces around the notification area (there is a bug I and others are suffering from related to CryptKeeper) and what not, but the release as a whole is very solid.

Now, why the same media that just months ago criticized Ubuntu for adding nonsense features instead of concentrating on the important stuff are now saying that this is a "Meh", boring release because it adds few new features is beyond me. What the Ubuntu community has done with this release is exactly what we need the most in Linux. We have more features and flexibility than the majority of users will ever care for, yet we lack consistency, many times suffer from less than optimal performance due to half-baked products, fragmentation, too many reinvented wheels, etc.

Ubuntu and other projects, like KDE and GNOME, are working very hard to offer viable alternatives to the big names in the business. People want good performing, secure and reliable products that are easy to set up and use. It´s not 1995 anymore, Windows and Mac are completely streamlined and consistent across a number of devices, way more robust and easy to use than they have ever been, and our "Linux has no viruses" line just doesn´t cut it any longer. We need top quality stuff, and while Ubuntu 13.04, GNOME 3.8 and KDE 4.10 are not entirely there yet, they are very good steps in the right direction, and they should be applauded for the efforts they are putting to become mature, fully functional pieces of software. That´s the behavior that should be encouraged, not acting like spoiled children when we don´t get a new toy to play with. We in the user community can greatly influence where the projects we love go, but we have to make it clear by giving clear feedback.

As far as I am concerned, Ubuntu 13.04 gets a big thumbs up from me, I hope we get more releases like this in the future!

PS: Talking of KDE SC 4.10, Kubuntu 13.04 is an AWESOME release, I recommend it to any KDE fan!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

New Boot Splash coming to Kubuntu 13.04

Not much to talk about here, just watch and enjoy!



Personally, I keep feeling Kubuntu boot splash screens are a bit boring. Ubuntu Studio, for instance, does a much better job in my opinion. Nevertheless, it's good to see a genuine interest in listening to the community and incorporating their feedback. What I don't understand is why Ubuntu distros keep using such a terrible looking GRUB2 menu... Fedora started using it a lot later and theirs is soooo much better looking.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A look at GNOME 3.8

I have talked many times about the things I like about KDE, to the point where many people reading my blog consider me a KDE fan. That´s not exactly true, though. In fact, in the last three Fedora releases, I have always installed KDE and GNOME side by side on the same box, so I could get an actual understanding of how they fair against each other.

For several releases now, it would always be the same thing. I would like some of the concepts in GNOME Shell, but after a while, I would always end up going back to KDE. Applications were better, the overall feel was more familiar and, even if certain things worked better in GNOME, it was a trade off I was happy to accept... Until GNOME 3.6 came about, that is.

GNOME 3.6 had improved significantly over the original, included several new applications that I loved, and it got cloud integration down perfectly. On top of that, its aesthetics had improved and the overall quality gains were interesting enough for me to actually LEARN HOW TO USE IT. I can´t stress this last point enough, because most of the frustration I see around GNOME Shell is essentially based on ignorance. People make claims that are most often not true and, if they actually bothered reading how GNOME Shell works instead of trying to make it work like legacy GNOME, they would have better chances of appreciating the amazing elegance, simplicity and performance of GNOME.

Now, GNOME 3.6 is awesome, but if one looks at 3.8, things get even better! Here´s a quick video highlighting some of the most interesting new features.



As part of the series of articles I am working on, which cover the stuff I use on a daily basis, I will cover GNOME Shell in depth, demonstrating some of its strengths, but mostly concentrating on some misconceptions or grey areas that have got people to ditch it without actually giving it a proper chance.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

No MTP fun in KDE SC 4.10

If you own an Android device and use Linux in your PC, chances are you've had issues when trying to browse your device through a USB connection. The fact that Android started using MTP made things difficult in Linux, because the latter was not really that ready to support it. For the most part, this is not such a big deal because there are great tools available in Android that truly reduce the gap and offer even better alternatives, such as AirDroid and obviously the Google all-in-the-Cloud approach. However, if you want to download/upload a really big chunk of data, sometimes using a USB cable is the best option.

I was particularly happy to see KDE address this Linux gap in KDE SC 4.10, which was supposed to significantly improve MTP support. Unfortunately, after trying both in Chakra and Fedora, I am consistently getting errors:



Has anybody found a fix for this or knows how to make it work?

Monday, April 1, 2013

My Current Setup: Distros

I mentioned recently that I am no longer confortable with switching distros day in and day out. I have settled with a few things I love and my setup hasn´t really changed in months. Some people were curious of what my setup looks like, so this is the first article in a series that will be covering what I use, which distros, DMs, etc.

MY DESKTOP CONFIGURATION

My desktop computer is the main one I use, covering everything I do from plain Internet browsing to photo edition and audio recording. It sports two hard drives, which I then use in a triple boot configuration, which includes Fedora 18, Ubuntu Studio 12.04 and Kubuntu 12.10.

Fedora 18 is the distro I use the most of the three and the main reason why is that it is, even with its consistent delays, the best GNOME distro out there so far. I absolutely LOVE GNOME Shell after what they have done in version 3.6 and, from the looks of it, 3.8 only improves even further. I will cover DMs on another article, though, let´s concentrate for now on Fedora 18 and why I like it.

I was critical on Fedora for a while when they seemed to completely forget about standard users for a few releases. It seemed like all they cared about was keeping the programming features included up to the latest version available. Since Fedora 15, though, a change of direction became apparent and more and more features that could appeal to a wider user base started to get attention. Much needed performance improvements around SELinux, the recent Anaconda face lift and so many other important changes that I can´t keep track of, have made each recent Fedora release a success. In fact, I have seen much more agreement on that notion lately, the idea that each Fedora release is the best yet... It didn´t use to be like that, there was more of a love/hate deal with Fedora.

So, yes, I like Fedora A LOT, but why exactly, what kinds of things appeal to me that differ from, say, Ubuntu? Here´s my list:

  1. Living on the edge: Fedora is about being at the forefront of Linux. The latest Kernel, new partitioning defaults, new file system defaults and probably most importantly for standard users, a very up to date application catalog... As long as a Fedora release receives support, users don´t need to worry about their software getting rusty, as is usually the case in Ubuntu. Being systematically on the cutting edge of the spectrum is not always best, it has pros and cons and sometimes you may find nasty surprises along the way, but I have come to appreciate that Fedora is amazingly stable given its edgy spirit.
  2. No PPA hassle: A direct consequence of the previous bullet point is that staying up to date results in no need to look for repositories to download updated versions of software. Fedora repositories are pretty significant in size, which in my case means that I have never downloaded anything outside of the official and/or fusion repositories. This makes using Fedora comfortable, but also very safe as one can rest easy knowing that software always comes from trusted sources.
  3. YUM package manager: Unlike Ubuntu, Fedora does not have a great UI software manager, so you end up using YUM way more than you would use APT in Ubuntu. However, because of how great a package manager YUM is, after a while you come to appreciate it and it´s hard to get away from it.
  4. Pure DM flavor: Fedora likes to keep the user experience with a certain DM as pure as possible. In that sense, you will not find a heavily customized KDE or GNOME here, it´s all pretty stock, and that´s something I love.
  5. Security: Aside from the PPA bit I discussed before, I like how Fedora doesn´t go overkill with sudo, as Ubuntu does. Some things remain locked under the root umbrella, and while that may feel a bit less comfortable than usual if you come from Ubuntu, it quickly makes sense. Other features like SELinux and the onboard Firewall certainly help in keeping you and your data safe.
  6. Flexibility and Power: Some distros out there have, for better or worse, a very defined scope. They target a certain set of users and what the distro does and how it works is very closely related to that scope. Fedora has a more flexible approach in that regard, offering all the power a very advanced user may seek while (specially in recent releases) offering a simple enough approach for starters. Now, don´t get me wrong, Fedora cannot (and probably doesn´t want to) compete with Ubuntu or Linux Mint in terms of ease of use, specially for someone new to Linux, but is accessible enough while certainly offering more flexibility and power in the top end.

Obviously, there is a lot more to choosing Fedora than just distro-specific reasons. Desktop Managers have lots to do with it too, as do splash screens, login screens, etc., but I will cover those in future articles.

Kubuntu 12.10 is another distro I use a lot. In fact, it used to be the most used before I started using GNOME 3.6. KDE is a great DE, no doubt about it, but some of its quirks are like an itch. I put up with them but they are still there, bugging me somewhat. Anyways, reasons why I choose Kubuntu over other KDE distros:

  1. The Ubuntu community: Ubuntu is obviously a very popular distro with a huge user base. In my experience, it´s hard to experience a problem with a distro from the Ubuntu family that you cannot find information about in the Internet. Fedora is popular as well, but I have not seen nearly as much information about it out there.
  2. The Ubuntu benefits, minus the problems: I must admit it, I can´t stand Unity. I have tried over the past couple years, but I just don´t like it. Performance problems are just a tiny part of the problem when you release an alpha project to the public and keep adding nonsense features instead of addressing basic issues... And who wants all the Mac-like design concepts? The lack of a decent icon theme is not a major thing, but still bothers me, specially since they have been announcing it for so long and it is important if they want to be a true alternative to Android, Windows Phone or iOS.
    Kubuntu offers most of what is awesome about Ubuntu, with a solid KDE integration that still boots very fast, has probably the best installation wizard in Linux and all the other stuff that make Ubuntu great.
  3. Drivers management: This one is indeed an Ubuntu benefit, but deserves its own category. Ubuntu does an EXCELLENT job at detecting and automatically downloading and configuring drivers needed for specific pieces of hardware. So does Kubuntu.
  4. Software management: Fedora has improved recently with PackageKit, but I find Muon better. Not only do I slightly favor its UI, but it is also great that it incorporates ratings and reviews from Ubuntu.
  5. LightDM KDE: While Kubuntu aims to be as pure KDE as possible, it stopped using KDM and embraced LightDM, as used in Ubuntu. Personally, I think this is the right way to go, as LightDM is faster, lighter, easier to tweak and theme, and most importantly, fixes many of KDM shortcomings that have bugged me for years. For instance, is it so difficult to display a message when a user enters an invalid username or password? In KDM both fields are reset and the user has no idea what the problem is... "Was my user account not created?" "Is my password incorrect?"
    LightDM also fixes some of the inconsistencies around screen resolution, avatars, and the ability to add a guest account.

Finally, Ubuntu Studio 12.04. In this case, there are not that many options out there to choose from if you want a Linux distro that is powerful, current, stable and media creation oriented, specially if you don´t like Unity. Ubuntu Studio raised from its ashes and, in my humble opinion, nothing in Linux does the job quite like it.

So there you have it, a quick rundown of my distros of choice and some of the reasons why I use them. You´ll notice that some of those reasons are sometimes somewhat opposite, like liking Muon and Yum. This is alright with me, though, because Linux is all about choice. At the end of the day I want to experience the best of GNOME and KDE and Fedora and Kubuntu both match my expectations there.

What do you use and why? Please add your comments below!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What happened to the Linux Experience!?

Yes, it's been a long while since my last post and I thought I'd do something to clarify things a bit...

So where are the new articles, you may ask? Well, always in the works, is the short answer. The blog is not dead by any means, but I have got to a position in which I am extremely happy with the distros I use and my current setup. In other words, I just can't see myself ditching it to rebuild everything the day after to get just a slightly different flavor of the same thing anymore.

At the moment, I have a very good set of distros that serve their purpose perfectly and allow me to be both creative and productive. After testing tons of distros over a span of roughly four years, I finally settled in, found what works for me and I probably won't be writing reviews anymore, except for maybe new releases of distros or DEs I use.

I plan to write articles about things that interest me in the Linux realm, like Android, GNOME, KDE, etc., but they will come at a much lower rate than before. As always, if there is a topic (outside of reviewing a distro) that you want to read about here, please drop me a line in the comments section.

Once again, thank you all for your continuous support to my blog!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ubuntu for smartphones: Better late...?

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!!!!

Yes, I am sure you have heard the news yesterday... Ubuntu for smartphones! Great news, right? Here's the official video hosted by non other than Mr. Mark Shuttleworth himself. This video is particularly interesting because it sums up what 2012 meant for Ubuntu, what milestones have been achieved (from a highly optimistic lens, I might add) so far and where it's headed moving forward:



So it's all good and dandy, right?... Well, maybe not so. As exciting as this announcement is, as amazing and drooling it may be for us techies, it's just that, an announcement. Is it any different to what we have already seen about Ubuntu TV or Ubuntu for Android? Will it become a reality this time?

If everything goes smoothly (which is never really the case), we should start to see Ubuntu smartphone(s) early 2014. Even in a perfect World in which Ubuntu would be released 100% ready and bug free, with all applications available and fully functional, I am afraid it would still be too late.

SUCH A TIGHT ENVIRONMENT

We have seen vast improvement in Android during 2012. Just a few months after Android 4 was released, we turned into 2012, and during its twelve months, everything about Android and its ecosystem matured exponentially. From stability and performance to UI design and the corresponding standards solidifying around the HOLO interface, Android finally became the stronger contender to iOS. Flexibility, openness and customization had always been Android strengths, but during 2012 they aligned with a robust, much more secure and faster OS. Along with that came tons of improvements to Google's own apps, the most popular being Google Now, Google Maps, Google+, Google Earth 3D, Gmail and Google Drive. However, Google did not settle at the OS or application level, they pushed like crazy to expand the ecosystem, improving and polishing the incredible Google Play store, which now sells all kinds of media in a wide array of countries. As if that was not enough, Google made a strong effort to make its own line of devices grow, and now the Nexus brand is very popular Worldwide, not just in smartphones, but also in tablets.

Long story short, today there are two very well defined and fully mature ecosystems available, with a third one coming together pretty fast, Windows Mobile. Microsoft and their many partners are pushing hard to make Windows Mobile another strong contender, and it's hard to argue they will fail. Like Google, they offer a wide array of services, as well as native integration with the most popular desktop OS available today. Certainly, the Windows Mobile ecosystem is still a bit immature compared to the two big dogs out there, but I believe it will be on par, or at least fully mature, come 2014.

That leaves us with three incredibly strong contenders by the time Ubuntu for smartphones should be ready to hit the market, but that's not it. RIM will present its much renewed Blackberry 10 OS in just a few days, and they seem in a good position to regain some of the enterprise leadership they had not so long ago. Last, but not least, it's important to remember that there are other open alternatives already available and ahead of Ubuntu, such as OPEN WEBOS, which has HP support and already has version 1.0 available and working Alphas:



Also, let's not forget about MOZILLA OS.

Is Canonical's offer so compelling to be able to make some room for itself in such a crowded market? What exactly is it offering that should attract OEMs over other more mature alternatives like the ones mentioned above?

UNFRIENDLY CARRIERS

Yes, it is indeed a very crowded market, but also one not very friendly to openness. The big names in the carrier market in the US, AT&T or Verizon to name a couple, have openly shown their disapproval for open mobile OS. They don't like people doing whatever they want with their phones because they want a controlled and profitable environment in which to make money. Android being so big may have the strength to push back on some of their limitations, but it is very unlikely that a poor underdog will cut it for them. Unfortunately, we have seen many examples proving that in order to survive in the mobile market, specially in the US, it is key to have the support of a wide range of carriers. Samsung VS HTC is a clear example.

Will Canonical and their partners be able to get support from many carriers to guarantee some success?

IT'S ABOUT SERVICES

I have argued in the past that, as mobile ecosystems mature, it's less and less about the device itself, or a particular UI, or even apps, and more and more about what the services and the integration available to the user.

I am a Google user, extensively using lots of their services, so for me it is clearly advantageous to choose Android and have all of my stuff seamlessly integrated, from the desktop to my mobile and/or tablet. On the other hand, I work in a company which went Microsoft's way, meaning Outlook, MS Office, Sharepoint, Internet explorer and things of the like are the tools of choice. In that case, it is clearly better to go Windows mobile, and the same rationale would apply if Apple services and products were there instead.

Where does Ubuntu fit in there? In terms of services, it offers almost nothing, perhaps Ubuntu One and Music, but they are already available for Android and they are far from the industry leading alternatives out there. Therefore, what exactly does the Ubuntu experience offer to lure an Android or iOS user away from his/her services and devices? Little or nothing, I am afraid, and even less a year from now.

GOOD LUCK!

I know this article has a negative vibe to it, but I couldn't help it. We have seen how quickly industry leading solutions fell down to pieces overnight (RIM, Symbian) in an incredibly tight and competitive environment. To think that Ubuntu can make a difference because it is open and has a beautiful interface is simply naive and ignorant, specially since there are already open alternatives that are struggling and because a sleek and beautiful interface means little in a World of custom launchers like Android.

I honestly hope I am wrong, I have been using Ubuntu for years and sincerely wish they succeed on this one, but it is clear Canonical face a massive challenge this time, probably bigger than the desktop one. In fact, I can only think of one little niche where they can enjoy some modest success: budget phones. If they manage to squeeze a decent performance on humble hardware, they may attract some attention and buyers here and there, but looking at some of the latest budget offerings from Nokia and other Chinese manufacturers... It will still be a huge challenge. Moreover, that would be the exact same strategy Mozilla is looking into!