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 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!