The Ideal Linux Distribution, As I See It

Before I begin this post, if you're wondering how I manage to churn out these posts and still claim to be busy, I will say that I write almost all of these posts on the weekends and then schedule them to automatically publish during the workweek. I don't usually have time to write posts on weekdays.

As I review more distributions, I'm continually fleshing out exactly what I want to see in a distribution. There are a few things that I would like to see in Linux distributions, none of which should be especially hard to do, as some of these features have already been implemented. Here's what I'd like to see:
  • Mozilla Firefox (Rekonq and Arora are acceptable substitutes in KDE; Opera and Google Chrome are also acceptable substitutes anywhere)
  • OpenOffice.org (AbiWord and Gnumeric are acceptable substitutes if the distribution is more lightweight)
  • A graphical package manager
  • Most proprietary codecs either included out-of-the-box or installable by clicking on a highly visible link
  • Support for various peripherals out-of-the-box (especially mice, webcams (and external mics), and printers)
  • Stability and security
  • Rolling releases (just so that installation only needs to be done once)
  • Minimal visible bloat
The ideal candidates for this are PCLinuxOS and Linux Mint "Debian"; both are rolling-release distributions but test their packages extensively to ensure the stability and high quality of the packages. Both include Mozilla Firefox, but only Linux Mint "Debian" offers OpenOffice.org. Both include graphical package managers and most proprietary codecs (out-of-the-box). Finally, both have excellent support for mice, webcams, and printers. As PCLinuxOS doesn't have OpenOffice.org, I'm going to continue with just Linux Mint "Debian".
I would say that the best-looking GNOME theme present today is the Elementary theme, and that Linux Mint "Debian" with Elementary (and things like the Nautilus Elementary mod) would look positively stunning and will age well with the distribution (which doesn't make sense considering the distribution will always have the latest packages). (On a side note, there are some rumblings in various blogs about how Linux Mint may use the Equinox Faenza icon set in version 10 "Julia".) I've already done this with my FreshOS respin of Linux Mint "Debian". So what else would I like to see? Not a whole lot, except for one other thing:
I want to see an installer (and Linux Mint "Debian"'s installer, while adequate, isn't quite up to the level of polish of the Ubuntu-based releases' Ubiquity installer) that gives options for different application categories. What I mean is that if someone is big on multimedia, applications like F-Spot will be replaced by digiKam and OpenShot during the installation. Similarly, if someone needs programming tools, programs like Emacs, Eclipse/Netbeans, and other similar programming utilities could be installed. This way, while the user can always go to the package manager to install and remove packages of his/her choice, there are options in terms of what default applications are present after installation, nicely grouped into different categories.
How does that sound?


Sun Tzu and File Sharing

Yesterday, I was reading articles about eBook software for various OSs when I stumbled on the site Feedbooks which distributes eBooks of public domain works in various formats (including PDF). One of the featured books was Sun Tzu's The Art of War. I've heard several times that this book (handbook, really) is often used now for improving business and management strategies, and producing and selling movies and music is one such business, which file sharing is supposedly destroying. The debate over file sharing is often portrayed in popular media as a war between the poor, starving artists and the greedy freeloaders. In reality, of course, the poor, starving artists are just the RIAA and MPAA (though there are a handful of artists/filmmakers who genuinely resent and want to stop file sharing because they believe it harms there business), while the greedy freeloaders are actually people who would pay for such content if it was easy to buy and use and didn't have so many restrictions on its use (though there are quite a few people who would in fact only listen to music or watch videos for free (without regard to the legal status of said listening/watching)). So what if Sun Tzu was talking about file sharing? I can't analyze every single point made in the original book (I believe this is the Giles translation), but I will list a few that are very relevant to this issue (the citation of point Y in chapter X will be given as "(X.Y)"):
  • Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State. (1.1)
  • It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected. (1.2)
  • According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one's plans. (1.16)
  • Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardour damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue. (2.4)
  • Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays. (2.5)
  • Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them. (3.1)
  • Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting. (3.2)
  • The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege. (3.5)
  • Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. (3.6)
Follow the jump to read a more sensible interpretation of this with regard to filesharing. (NOTE: I don't intend to be fair/balanced with this. I'm just interpreting it from what I've read and from my own preexisting opinions. If you don't agree, please feel free to leave a comment with a suggestion/alternative interpretation.)


Red Hat: The New Big Monopoly?

Given the presence of Microsoft and Apple, of course Red Hat can't be a monopoly (at least in the desktop market). However, there have been a slew of reports of Oracle rebranding RHEL as Oracle Linux a.k.a. "Unbreakable Linux". This article (Brian Proffitt, ITworld) discusses how that and Amazon Linux AMI (Amazon's Linux distribution built for its own cloud servers) are proof that companies are "stealing" Linux, as Oracle and Amazon are bundling their hardware with their own Linux distributions.
First, I think it's misleading (at best) to say these companies are "stealing" Linux. How is what they are doing any different from what Canonical, Novell, and Red Hat do to Linux? Are they also "stealing" Linux to make their own distribution? I feel like this is the point of free software — allowing anyone to build customized versions of software to fit their own needs; good for Oracle and Amazon for taking full advantage of the benefits of Linux and free software. I don't think Oracle and Amazon are going to prevent loading other Linux distributions; it's just that the bundled distribution will be Oracle Linux or Amazon Linux AMI, as opposed to Microsoft Windows or Ubuntu. Also, isn't this what was supposed to happen to Android — phone makers customizing Android to suit their phones' needs? Isn't this what is happening, at any rate? Saying these companies are "stealing" Linux to suit their needs just seems a bit silly to me.
The bigger problem I have, though, is that both Oracle Linux and Amazon Linux are based off of RHEL. I think it's great that Red Hat has become so successful and so widespread, but this incredible adoption rate worries me at the same time because it could give Red Hat a monopoly over the market similar to the one Microsoft currently has over the desktop market (and I fear similar effects stemming from this). Come on, Canonical and Novell. (I am fully aware that it's easy for me to say this from the comfort of my keyboard.) Learn from Red Hat and give Red Hat some competition. People will have more choice regarding the back-end, and everyone wins from choice and competition.


Review: aptosid 2010-02 "Keres" KDE

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What's aptosid, you ask? I had reviewed sidux 2010-01 "Hypnos" before, and unfortunately, that review didn't turn out so well; it refused to load after booting in VirtualBox. So why am I bringing up sidux? Well, sidux, due to various legal and financial issues, has changed its name to aptosid (but otherwise continues the release naming/numbering system as well as the fundamental base (Debian's sid (unstable) system)). Let's see if this one works. (NOTE: I have reverted to allocating 1024 MB of RAM in VirtualBox.)


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 September 19

There were a few posts that garnered comments this week, so I will list them all.

Whose LXDE Is It Anyway?

Anonymous reader 1, referring to my example of KDE as a tightly-integrated DE, counters, "Funny the components you mentioned as integral part of KDE (Nepomuk, Akonadi, and Strigi) can be run in any DE (like LXDE) as well."
Anonymous reader 2 counters this by saying, "To use Nepomuk, Akonadi, and Strigi you'd need to have some kde libraries : x11-libs/qt-qt3support. This probably means you have kde installed and lxde."
As anonymous reader 3 points out, "If someone really wants, it's possible to even run a KDE main component (like Konqueror) in a Gnome desktop (say Ubuntu), provided the necessary infrastructure (in this case, among others, kdebase) is provided. That, of course, defeats the idea of economy and the practical results desktop integration brings."
Finally, anonymous reader 4 explains, "Besides, I don't see that lack of identity as a problem, and something rarely mentioned: the main advantage of OB (and LXDE) is not really lightweightness,but customizability. No other DE is even a match in that respect (except maybe some tilling WMs, but those generaly require you to know some programing language)."

Microsoft's Hardware is Good Stuff

An anonymous reader corrects my description of Microsoft and its hardware: "That's cuz they don't make it, they contract for it."

Review: ArchBang 2010.09 "apeiro"

An anonymous reader asks, "Why are the pics not thumbnails so I can view larger?" I'm still working on it.


FOLLOW-UP: SourceForge, Pages, and Respins

I mentioned in my last post on the topic that Oxidized Trinity is now on SourceForge. I am linking straight to the download link here. Also, Oxidized Trinity now has a wiki page (which I haven't had the time to develop, but when I have a bit more free time, I will get around to it).
Finally, I have semi-successfully created my respin of Linux Mint "Debian" with the Elementary theme. Yay! It too is on SourceForge for download. Please note that as I made it with Remastersys Backup (as opposed to Remastersys Dist), it is not an installable live DVD. Also, the username is "live" and the password is "vbox". (This project does not yet have a wiki page; it does have a name, though: "FreshOS".) Have fun!


Review: ArchBang 2010.09 "apeiro"

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You may be asking, "Why are you reviewing this? You just did a review 2 days ago!" Actually, I wrote the preview on Sunday and scheduled it to automatically publish on Wednesday. On Thursday, the official stable version of ArchBang 2010.09 "apeiro" was released. As I have touched upon most of the things relating to this distribution in the last article about ArchBang, this will be a slightly shorter review. Or will it? Follow the jump to find out.


Presumed Innocent Unless A Digital Pirate

There's a new article (Gautham Nagesh, The Hill) that talks about a new bill being put through Congress regarding tougher restrictions on file sharing. Let's go through it, piece by piece.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee including chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which would create an expedited process for DoJ to shut down websites providing pirated materials.
“Each year, online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods costs American businesses billions of dollars, and result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs,” Leahy said in a statement. “Protecting intellectual property is not uniquely a Democratic or Republican priority — it is a bipartisan priority.”
I'm more than a little wary of giving the government more power in dealing with issues relating to digital copying and such, especially if that increase in power does not come with increased checks and balances or caveats limiting such actions in some way. And really, Mr. Leahy? Online piracy results in "hundreds of thousands of lost jobs"? Doesn't copying and modifying works digitally open up new avenues of creativity and progress? How could that possibly cost jobs?
The article goes on to talk about how the DoJ could obtain a court order to shut down an infringing site by showing "'substantial and repeated role in online piracy and counterfeiting'". It would then require the site owners "to petition the court to have the order lifted".
First of all, I think it's misguided (at best) to lump together piracy and counterfeiting. I don't think torrent sites deal with counterfeit goods. Oh, wait, I can think of a loophole: the site would have to deal with "online piracy and counterfeiting", so if it only deals with online piracy, it can't be shut down. Yay! Except that the media lobbies will likely convince the DoJ that both are somehow occurring simultaneously and that any amount is "substantial and repeated", so the site must be shut down (even if many of the torrents are legal, like those of Linux distributions). Oh, think of the poor artists!
The bigger problem I have with this, however, is that it essentially turns the presumption of innocence on its head. If this was a regular case, it would be on the plaintiffs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that such infringement occurred and that it caused huge damages and that this is why the site should be shut down. Now, the site owner (who may or may not know what activity is going on between users of the site) bears the full burden of proving innocence. Even nastier criminal trials have presumption of innocence and shorter jail sentences/lesser fines. Is copyright infringement really that bad? (I agree that counterfeiting of physical goods isn't a good thing especially for products like foods and medicines, as these counterfeit goods could potentially be life-threatening to consumers. That said, how are copies of songs life-threatening to anyone?)

The article concludes by describing the Chamber of Commerce's (one of the primary groups involved in introducing the bill into Congress) estimates of losses due to piracy, and quotes a sponsor of the bill on its benefits to all parties involved. Please tell me again how piracy costs jobs, and please tell me with a straight face how piracy is causing financial losses when the MPAA itself admits that the movie industry has been growing at a record pace this past decade; finally, please do tell me how consumers benefit from even more draconian restrictions on online content. I'd love to know!


200th Post: Preview: ArchBang 2010.09 "apeiro"

Happy 200th post Das U-Blog! I hope you readers have enjoyed reading these posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them! And, as always, if you have not already done so, please take a moment to click any one of the various subscription buttons to get updated on new Das U-Blog posts as they come out (either by email or in your favorite RSS/Atom reader)
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  1. This is not a typographical error.
  2. This is not "CrunchBang ('#!')".
  3. THIS. IS. ARCHBANG! [insert dramatic music here]
Of course, the real story is slightly more nuanced (did I use that word right?) than that. ArchBang, while not a badly-spelled version of #!, is actually inspired by (but not derived) from #!; it aims to be to Arch Linux what #! is to Debian (and was to Ubuntu before version 10 "Statler"). That's right: ArchBang is an Openbox derivative of Arch Linux. I was actually looking for other reviews of Linux Mint "Debian" when I found this article whose comments section linked to an article on #! and ArchBang. Naturally, I was intrigued upon seeing Arch's response to #!, so I went ahead and downloaded the ISO image to try it. Please do note that to better reflect this distribution's advertised capabilities as a solution for old computers, I have decreased VirtualBox's RAM allocation for this distribution to 192 MB (keeping video memory at 12 MB). Technically, the minimum requirements are 128 MB of RAM, but I think 192 MB is a reasonable stand-in for an old computer these days. Follow the jump to see how it fares in these harsher conditions.

Microsoft's Hardware is Good Stuff

Readers of this blog know that I have many beefs with Microsoft, primarily over software and their overzealous patent protection/bullying of other organizations. However, please do not extrapolate my issues with Microsoft to the realm of hardware. I will say it loud and clear: Microsoft makes good-quality hardware.
I know a few people that use Microsoft webcams for video calling on the computer; the quality is certainly as good as (and in many cases better than) the quality of either my integrated laptop webcam or my Logitech QuickCam Communicate STX.
About 10 years ago, one of my relatives and one of my friends went outside of our house to the street across from ours, which was filled with construction workers building new houses on that street. They found, in the construction dirt, a Microsoft ball mouse. They brought it home, cleaned it a little bit, and started using it. It still works (and is being used) today.
Today, I was working in my college's library. I usually work at a computer that has a Dell mouse and keyboard. The Dell keyboards' keys are usually sticky to the point of near-uselessness, and the mouse surface is similarly sticky. Today, however, I used a computer with a Microsoft mouse and keyboard (which seemed to be as old as the other Dell mice and keyboards). Using the mouse seemed like using it on a cloud (no pun intended), and pressing the keyboard keys yielded a fluidity in the key motions that I have never seen before. (Even the Apple iMac's keyboard's (as there is an iMac in that workstation as well) keys aren't as fluid, and iMac keyboards are renowned for their smooth operation, long life, and quietness.)
So make no mistake: while I don't agree with (to put it mildly) Microsoft's software, policies, and stance on patents, I love Microsoft hardware. I think it's ironic that its hardware is this good, considering that it puts its software on other companies' hardware.
(UPDATE: An anonymous reader has pointed out (something that I remember hearing before but slipped my mind when writing this) that Microsoft tends to contract its hardware manufacturing to another company. In any case, that company makes good hardware!)


Whose LXDE Is It Anyway?

I'm not here to answer the question of what LXDE is. Wikipedia has a very well-written article explaining what LXDE is. I'm also not here to hate on LXDE's functions and capabilities; it is a very nice and capable DE that's great for low-resource environments and environments where speed (and not overwhelming aesthetics) is paramount. What's been bugging me for a long time is that I've felt that LXDE doesn't really have its own identity.
Take WattOS. Its website says that it's a desktop made of Openbox and LXDE. Yet, Wikipedia says that Openbox is but a component (the window manager, in this case) of LXDE, and here the WattOS website elevates Openbox's status from a subset of LXDE to the equal of LXDE. What is LXDE now? Is it just the collection of LX-tools?
Now consider CrunchBang ("#!"). I've reviewed this distribution twice: once in its 9.04.01 incarnation and again in its version 10 (alpha 2). The website itself says that #! uses Openbox as the base desktop, but I've seen in a couple of forum posts that #! could qualify as an LXDE distribution. Furthermore, releases of #! 8.10.02 and prior used LXPanel (an LXDE panel tool) and Thunar (the Xfce file manager), while releases of #! 9.04 and after have used tint2 (a not-LXDE panel) and PCManFM (the LXDE default file manager). Why again is #! being called an LXDE distribution now?
So what exactly am I getting at here? I feel like the modularity of the LX-tools works against LXDE having a unified identity. When I think of GNOME, I have an intuitive sense of what's included — a GDM integrated with the GNOME theme, simpler GTK+ themes for the desktop and windows, Nautilus being the file manager and controlling the desktop, and Metacity or Compiz controlling the windows. Similarly, with KDE, I can picture a standard desktop made of the nice-looking Plasma desktop integrated tightly with Nepomuk, Akonadi, and Strigi, windows managed by KWin, logins managed by KDM, and files managed by Dolphin. (UPDATE: As an anonymous reader points out, Nepomuk, Akonadi, and Strigi aren't so tightly integrated with KDE that they cannot be run outside of KDE. I stand corrected, but I still say that the way KDE integrates them gives KDE an identity that LXDE does not have.) But what is LXDE then? Sure, it uses Openbox as the window manager, but it faces the same problem Acura had with the Legend — the latter, a subset of the former, was overtaking the former in terms of brand name recognition. (Acura therefore renamed the Legend to the RL to ensure that Acura would be the dominant brand name; with that, sales tanked, but I digress.) Sure, it uses PCManFM, but some distributions use Thunar instead and still call the DE "LXDE". Sure, it uses LXPanel, but quite a few distributions use tint2 instead.
So what makes LXDE? On the one hand, its modularity allows for better customization and easier implementation of its tools in other DEs. This comes at a price, however, and that price is an identity as a unified DE.


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 September 12

There was again only one post this week that attracted comments.

Reflection: KDE 4.5

Commenter thegzeus also wonders why "Qt seems to be faster for some people and GTK for others, even across the same distro. I don't know why this is, but it seems to be the case." I too wonder why this is so, but I feel like it ultimately boils down to familiarity and preexisting perceptions.
Reader lefty.crupps also agrees that many problems are "based on adding KDE to your GNOME-based Mint install, although others are indeed just app preferences." Indeed.
Reader Tids points out that "gimp is an (gnu) image manipulation programm. krita isnt an manipulator, but a creator," while commenter Christian Gonzalez G. advises, "Your logout/shutdown problem seems to be related to GDM. Try to use KDM instead."
Finally, an anonymous reader points out that "[t]he Gtk integration problems are Gtk problems. :) Qt integrates very well in Windows and Gnome and this isn't Windows or Gnome merit."
Thank you all for commenting, and stay tuned for this week's round of posts!


FOLLOW-UP: Review: Mandriva 2010.1 Spring

This is a slightly unusual post for me as I am writing a follow-up to a review. I mentioned in my comparison of newbie-friendly KDE distributions and my review of Mandriva 2010.1 Spring KDE that I did not include Mandriva in the original comparison of distributions due to the financial tumult Mandriva has been experiencing over the past several months; Mandriva may not be around much longer, so I reviewed it separately because comparing it to the other distributions could make that post obsolete.
Well, as it turns out, Mandriva is experiencing even harder times financially, and a group of Mandriva developers seems to agree with my assessment of Mandriva's situation and is therefore forking Mandriva into the Mageia project. This group believes that the Mandriva organization can no longer sustain itself, the Mandriva operating system, and the Mandriva community, so a new community-driven effort must be created to fill that void. It's something that I suspected would happen for Mandriva to stay alive, and this development is something that should be watched over the next few months. I may even review the first release of Mageia when it comes out. Stay tuned!


SourceForge, Pages, and Respins

I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but I have added new static pages to this blog. I wanted to mention this again as I will probably be adding at least 2 new pages in the near future.
I made a remastered version of Kubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" Trinity, which I have called "Oxidized Trinity". I no longer have to worry about Google Docs's upload limits, as this project and the ISO file are now on SourceForge. Yay! Please do download it, check it out, and be on the lookout for any bugs present in the live image, and please do let me know what you think of it!
Also, I have been working (to partial success) on a remastered version of Linux Mint "Debian" which I am calling "FreshOS". It replaces Linux Mint's "Shiki" theme with the extremely popular and handsome "Elementary" GNOME theme, and also contains the Nautilus Elementary mod, the GNOME global menu panel applet, and the Midori web browser. I have tried making a remastered ISO from this, but while the live image boots, no combination of user IDs and passwords seems to work. I hope to get this fixed soon, and when that happens, I'll upload this remastered distribution to SourceForge as well. That said, I am getting busier with coursework, so I will not have as much time to work with these things as before. In any case, please do check out Oxidized Trinity and be on the lookout for FreshOS. Thanks!


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 September 5

This is the start of a series on featured comments and who wrote what in the posts for that week. I won't republish all of them, but I'll try to get the major ones.

Counter-Debunking the 1% Myth

This was the only post that week that attracted comments.
Reader John points out that while computers preinstalled with Linux in poorer countries often have the hard drives wiped and replaced with Microsoft Windows, "that cuts both ways. I've never bought a copy of Linux pre-installed on a PC, but instead just downloaded it for free and installed it myself. I'd guess that's how the majority of Linux systems come into being."
An anonymous reader makes a very good point on why the 1% figure has to be too low: "I keep asking the folks that's saying 1%. What's your ± %? How can you have a percentage at 1% without any margin of error or standard deviations. Those missing figures alone put it (well) over 1%."
Another anonymous reader describes his/her personal experiences with Ubuntu: "My South Africa relative said they never heard of Ubuntu not any of their friends use linux. among the hundred of computer users I known, none of them used linux in their daily work. My first experience with linux (RH 7)is wifi card not working. I could not watch DVD. Even until now (Ubuntu 10.04) after installing linux, I still need great effort to download codec to play mp3, dvd etc (which is a standard usage for notebooks)."
Barista Uno is just tired of the debate: "Aren't we all wasting our time that could be better spent elsewhere?" On the other hand, GreyGeek77 points to a possible source of the myth: "I believe the prime source of the 1% MYTH was Microsoft, as revealed in the combs v Microsoft case file:

Thank you all very much for commenting on the post, and please continue to do so. I really do appreciate all of your input, and stay tuned for more posts!


How I Multiplied Subscribers and Page Views in 2 Weeks

Blogger Page View Statistics
I can't claim to speak for all bloggers when I say what I'm going to say. Whatever "advice" (if that's what it is) I give will probably be applicable only to bloggers who write about Linux/free culture/open source topics, as that's what I mostly write about (with the occasional diversion, like this post).
I would like to start this post (well, it isn't technically the very beginning anymore) by thanking Linux Today for posting some of my articles (mainly Linux distribution reviews); I would not have so many comments (which I hugely value and would love to see even more of) and subscribers if it wasn't for Linux Today accepting my submission of the KDE distribution comparison test. Since then, I've been able to get a couple more articles on Linux Today's home page, for which I am equally (if not more) grateful.
Well, there's one way to do it: submit your articles to Linux Today, as you will not regret it (and your article will most likely be accepted; furthermore, once you get your foot in the door and the article is positively received by the community, your future articles are more likely than the previous ones to get accepted).
I also want to thank TuxMachines for picking up on a couple of my review posts, as this has also hugely contributed to the traffic seen on this site; I didn't even send in the submission links, so I am hugely grateful for readers and editors of TuxMachines finding my reviews. In addition, I want to thank TechDirt for accepting my story on Microsoft's shutdown patent.
I have also created a Facebook page (and a "Like" widget for this site) and a Twitter account for this blog. If you are on these social networks, please do take a moment to either "Like" this site on Facebook or follow it on Twitter. While the Facebook page's notes application isn't working quite right (I'll try to fix it soon), I update the Twitter page with posts as they are published. That said, these are relatively new additions, so I don't think they really impacted the statistics.
Statcounter Page View Statistics
The Blogger statistics show that until August 29 or so, I was getting around 30 page views a day. It's not bad, but it could certainly be better. My comparison test was posted on September 1. That was when the page views went way up. I went from 35 page views on August 28-ish to 3500 page views on September 2. The Statcounter statistics tell a similar story: I went from about 27 page views on August 30 to 2700 page views on September 3, and now I'm averaging around 400 page views or so every day. I went from about 1000 page views total then to 10000 page views now, which is an increase of a full order of magnitude.
Subscribers are much harder to retain, as most people who visit blogs do not stay long to look around at other content besides what they've just looked out (which is why I am really thankful for the readers of this blog who do just that). That said, Feedburner's statistics on subscribers does show a tripling of my subscriber level; where before I was averaging 5 subscribers every day, now I'm averaging around 15 (and there was one day when I peaked at 39).
So, to recap: if you write about free software and related news and reviews, do not hesitate to submit posts to sites like Linux Today, TuxMachines, and TechDirt. Also, please do take the time (as I have) to list your blog on Technorati, BlogCatalog, and other blog catalog sites. These will all certainly contribute to higher traffic and more subscribers.
Dear readers, thank you all very, very much!

It's Official: Free Online Content Distribution Helps Analog Counterparts

As a few readers of this blog have noticed (judging by my blog statistics), I have modified the layout slightly. I have removed the "Popular Posts", "Labels", and "Archives" widgets from the sidebar to clean it up; I have created pages in their stead (and replaced them on the sidebar with a "Recent Comments" widget) — "Archives" is now its own page, while "Popular Posts" and "Labels" have been combined in the "Popular Posts" page (but each has its own subheading). Furthermore, I have created a "Useful Links" static page, and this is where the content of this post comes in: the "Useful Links" page has a collection of links that I would recommend readers of this blog to read for a better understand of the economics relating to open source, free culture, etc. There are also 3 useful videos (dealing with similar things) that I have embedded on that page, one of which I will also embed in this post, as it has to do very much with the topic. I got the idea for this post from TechDirt's article on the same, which also includes this video:

A Presentation regarding Online Content Distribution's Impact on Analog Counterparts

TechDirt's article does a very good job of summarizing the key points of the video (as it's a long video), so I won't repeat them here. Please do read that portion of the original article (and if you are so inclined, by all means watch the video).
A couple commenters on the TechDirt article said things like, "Of course things like this would be presented at a Google conference because this is exactly what Google wants to hear!" At first, though I generally disagreed with this statement (as the research itself doesn't appear to be funded by Google), I couldn't shake the possibility out of my head. Then, I found this Washington Post article written by Howard Kurtz about how online news articles and videos supplement newspaper/newsmagazine readership and TV news viewership. The article goes on to discuss perceptions of bias (among other things) in the mainstream media by people of various ideologies and political affiliations. I think it's interesting that this story should come out so soon after TechDirt's publication of the video on its website, as it talks about how people get their news (which the video does not discuss) and it does not seem to be funded by major Internet companies. The article does note that while newspaper readership is down by quite a few percentage points from just a few years ago, this doesn't seem to be caused by the presence of online counterparts; in fact, the online counterparts is in some cases increasing print readership, which is an effect similar to one discussed in the video where a TV showing of a movie increases its DVD sales almost immediately.
Mr. Murdoch, are you still thinking of taking your websites off of Google's indexes? If so, I can say (with a fair amount of confidence, especially when compared to before) that you are shooting yourself in the foot.


Six Divided by Two is Patented

I was reading through TechDirt when I came across this (Mike Masnick, TechDirt) article summarizing how IBM has filed a patent for determining how many passengers are in a vehicle. Naturally, I was a little skeptical that a company would try to patent something so trivial, so I thought the link might be to a less credible rumormill site. Instead, following the link took me to the actual patent filing, where I could see the details of the patent in all of its silliness. This is in stark contrast to the Apple patent filing (which I have written about before) which is downright creepy (but, in all fairness, rather clever and probably original). I figured that at least IBM would have a system that detects the motion and direction of passengers through the doors to determine who has entered and exited to then determine the weight of the bus.
Is it that complicated? Let me ask you this: should 6 divided by 2 be patented?
Why do I say that? The actual patent is nothing more than sifting through existing data showing seasonal average weights, weighing the bus when empty and filled, taking the difference and dividing by the appropriate average weight to arrive at a probable head count. Really?
This is nothing more than primary school subtraction and division. The only other things the patent calls for are a computer system and a GUI to assist in this calculation. There are a couple of sensors on the vehicle hooked up to the computer measuring the weights of various parts of the vehicle, so that these can be subtracted from the total weight reading.
I seriously hope that the courts don't let this one get through, but given their past actions, I think if someone mentions that mathematical operations (and this is one, rather than a complex piece of software) are not patentable, the judges are going to suffer collective amnesia.

Reflection: KDE 4.5

Main Screen, Widgets, and Lancelot Launcher
I've been using KDE 4.5 for the last 2 weeks (since I reviewed it), and though I generally like what I see, I think my first experiences with Linux (i.e. with a GNOME desktop) have already biased me against fully accepting KDE 4.5. I think it also has to do with the fact that I'm using KDE on top of GNOME instead of just KDE, as would be the case if I used Linux Mint 9 "Isadora" KDE (or something similar). I've already gone through what the KDE developers have gotten right, so while I may touch on these things a little bit through this post, I will end up talking mostly about why I don't think this can replace Linux Mint's implementation of GNOME (and remember, part of this has to do with what I started using first and how I have installed KDE). Follow the jump to read more.


First Sale Not Applicable to Licensed Software

Wired has a new article saying that an appeals court has ruled that the first sale doctrine of copyright (that says that people can sell or give away copyrighted products once they have purchased it without permission from the original maker) does not apply to licensed copyrighted software. It comes as the company Autodesk has said that a man selling unused copies of AutoCAD that his company purchased many years before was not legally allowed to do so.
What does this mean? I can't sell a copy of Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Office to you even if I've never used it (and in this case, I will be giving you the only copy I have as opposed to making another copy and giving that to you). The Wired article also discusses the implications for library books as well. Although the argument against the ruling with reference to its effects on books is valid, I'm not sure how relevant it will remain as eBooks already function as licensed software.
What's scary, though, is that the court has said that if issues come up with regard to books, Congress can modify copyright law appropriately to remedy any dilemmas. Given that the publishing industry has a huge influence on Congress's view of copyrights, I'm sure this can only go downhill.
Also, I fear for the safety of the fair use provision, as now companies can say that fair use constitutes unlicensed use of software (or other products). This doesn't look too good.

Righthaven Copyright Suits are like Property Repossession in the Extreme

Why do I say this? (It's from this article (Mike Masnick, TechDirt).) Read on, dear readers.
I have previously written about patent troll company Intellectual Ventures and how they claim to invent new things when all they do (aside from not inventing a single thing) is buy other companies' patents for the sole purpose of suing people who infringe upon those patents. Well, that concept seems to have been extended to Righthaven, which is a copyright troll. All it does is buy newspaper articles' copyrights for the sole purpose of suing people who infringe upon these copyrights, and it, unlike Intellectual Ventures, seems totally honest about its motives — instead of couching its actions in language about how newspapers cannot afford to lose in the fight against copyright infringement and piracy, its CEO essentially says straight up that it's out to make the big bucks by filing as many lawsuits as possible. Furthermore, it's going after people who write content online who copy even small portions (e.g. sentences, small paragraphs) of published articles and give proper attribution (and who link back to the original articles); I think this is a violation of the ideas of fair use and attribution, all for the purpose of making money.
So what's the news here? Well, not only is Righthaven suing the pants off of some websites that republish small parts of articles and attribute and link to them properly, it's even demanding that these sites hand over their domain names. What?
The TechDirt article is probably right (or so I hope) that this is most likely a scare tactic, in that most websites would rather settle the lawsuit out-of-court than fight, lose, and actually give up the domain name, as almost all defendants have settled out of court, while none have actually ceded their domain names. That said, assume for a moment that Righthaven is serious about its demands.
What does this mean? Imagine for a moment that Jill stole a lamp from a store to decorate his house. The analog of what Righthaven is doing is if after Jill returned the lamp to the store (under the force of the law) and served his jail time, the store owner further demanded possession of Jill's entire house and its contents.
No, that isn't quite accurate either. Imagine again that instead of Jill stealing a lamp, Jill borrowed a screwdriver from Dave to fix Bonnie's bicycle, told Dave what she was going to use the screwdriver for and when she would return it, and told Bonnie who the owner of the screwdriver was and when she would return it. Righthaven's actions are like Dave accusing Jill of stealing the screwdriver, taking her to court for it, and demanding repossession of both Jill's house and Bonnie's bicycle.
Is that a good analogy? It's something I thought of at the spur of the moment, so let me know how I can improve on this in the comments. In any case, isn't the whole sage just ridiculous?

Apple to Third-Party iOS Developers: You Can Return Now

I got this from an OSNews submission on this. In a previous post on the subject, I lamented how Apple exercises near-total control over third-party developers' abilities to write applications, such as what programming language and tools they use.
Well folks, this just in from Apple itself: the requirements have been relaxed! Now, developers can use any tools and languages they want (as long as no other code is downloaded); in addition to this, Apple is being more transparent (or so it says, but we'll see about that) about its review process.
These are both huge pieces of good news for iOS developers who have been shut out of the process for reasons never fully made clear (until now). Hooray, and bravo Apple!

Counter-Debunking the 1% Myth

Caitlyn Martin of O'Reilly Broadcast has another interesting article about why the figure of Linux market share is quite a bit more than the oft-quoted 1%. She starts out by doing a bit of math: (1 Linux netbook)/(3 total netbooks) * (18 total netbooks)/(100 (desktops + laptops + netbooks)) = (6 Linux netbooks)/(100 (desktops + laptops + netbooks)) — Linux netbook sales alone constitute 6% of the total desktop market. I can't argue with that. It's also a really impressive number; the number for total Linux desktop sales (that includes desktops, laptops, and netbooks) will obviously be higher — I don't know by how much, but the total number is certainly at least 6%. I think it's great that Linux desktop sales have come this far.
The bigger question regards the meaning of this number, and I believe the problems with this article occur before and after the calculations. For one, the author starts by saying that Linux market share in servers and embedded systems is significant. I don't think anyone ever doubted this, and several studies have shown that Linux distributions are in fact in the majority on these types of hardware. Therefore, I think it isn't quite right to start the article like this when the title clearly indicates a discussion about Linux desktop market share. That said, this is a fairly minor issue.
The article's argument gets more murky when Steve Ballmer is brought into the discussion. It has been written repeatedly that the presentation referenced clearly shows that the biggest threat to Microsoft Windows is illegally copied versions of Microsoft Windows (not Linux, Mac OS X, or BSD). Why? This is the case in many countries with poorer populations, as people simply can't afford to buy a licensed copy of Microsoft Windows. Furthermore, Linux adoption in these countries is low because the computers sold there often don't have the tools (Internet connection, working USB port, working disk writer drive) to create a live CD/USB, and there's no cost advantage to using Linux as people will just copy Microsoft Windows. A lot of commenters in the linked article also point out that in these countries where unlicensed use of Microsoft Windows is rampant, it is cheaper, in fact, to buy a machine with Linux preinstalled and then wipe the hard drive and install an unlicensed copy of Microsoft Windows. I don't doubt the verity of this. That said, the 6% figure is for the US, where unlicensed Microsoft Windows use is likely to be much lower; therein lies another problem, as statistics for US Linux market share is being compared to statistics for worldwide Microsoft Windows market share.
And why should Steve Ballmer know about precise statistics for Linux and Mac OS X usage? It certainly is easy to look at sales statistics and see what percentage of computers are sold with licensed copies of Microsoft Windows; also, as Microsoft "phones home" to see which copies of Windows are licensed and which are not, it should be pretty easy to tell how many unlicensed copies of Windows are being used. While one can safely conclude that the rest of the pie is occupied by Linux, BSD, and Mac OS X, it is not so clear how much each contender has of that slice of the pie. I guess one way of telling how many people use Mac OS X is by tracking sales of Microsoft Office for Mac, but this is problematic as many Mac OS X users stay away from Microsoft Office and instead use iWork, OpenOffice.org/NeoOffice, or a web-based productivity suite.
So why would Steve Ballmer put Linux market share at or above Mac OS X market share? Microsoft knows that it can compete with Apple's Mac OS X in terms of features (in some ways) and price, so Mac OS X isn't really considered a huge threat. On the other hand, Linux can do most of the things a typical computer user wants (e.g. web browsing, productivity, peripheral support) for free, which does technically pose a serious threat to Microsoft Windows. At the same time, Microsoft has repeatedly accused the free software community (and Linux in particular) of infringing upon its patents. Therefore, Microsoft is pegging Linux market share that high in order to justify those accusations — if Linux market share is that high, then of course Linux needs to be stopped before such patent infringement gets out of control! (This is what I would imagine a Microsoft executive saying at such a presentation.)
I won't argue that Linux desktop sales make up at least 6% of total desktop sales. Usage is a different matter entirely and should not be treated the same as sales figures.


Review: Linux Mint "Debian"

Main Screen
I wrote a few posts in the past discussing CrunchBang's move to a Debian base (among other things), the realization of Linux Mint LXDE based on Debian for PowerPCs, and the development of Linux Mint GNOME based on Debian for the i386 architecture. Well, now Linux Mint "Debian" GNOME is here, and I wanted to try it out. Just to recap, Linux Mint "Debian" is based on Debian's Testing repositories (right now, that means "Squeeze"). That said, it is a rolling-release distribution, meaning that once one installs the distribution, full distribution upgrades will become a thing of the past as all users will get any and all package updates as they come. The developers have said that they are currently focusing their efforts on the GNOME release for the i386 architecture, though more architectures and DEs (more on the latter later) will be supported in the future. The developers have warned that being based on Debian instead of Ubuntu, Linux Mint "Debian" may seem a little rougher around the edges than its Ubuntu-based counterparts. Follow the jump to see whether or not this is actually true. (NOTE: As per the new status quo, I tested this in VirtualBox with 1024 MB of RAM and 12 MB of video memory. I also tried out a few steps of the installation process (but didn't actually complete the installation) — more on that later.)


Classes Begin Tomorrow

Today is my last day of doing absolutely nothing, and I probably won't get a day like this for the next few months (and that's if I'm lucky). That said, I am really excited about classes starting tomorrow. What that also means is that I won't be able to write posts as often. (I have a post scheduled to be published tomorrow morning; I've already written it, so don't think I'm writing from class or anything like that. Then again, I don't have classes at that moment, so it's possible.) Oh, I'll write a post or two (maybe more if I have time) on the weekends just to relax (and possibly blow off steam), but don't expect to see any on weekdays. If I do post something on a weekday, it means I really don't have anything better to do.
Are any of you excited about the coming academic term? Please let me know in the comments!


FOLLOW-UP: How to Oxidize KDE 3.5

SUCCESS! I have actually remastered Kubuntu!
As it turns out, I didn't need to install Kubuntu 10.04 Trinity to do this remaster. I have already installed it (and made the modifications I detailed in the previous post on the subject) within VirtualBox. I realized that I could share folders between VirtualBox and my Linux Mint installation, so I followed the instructions on the forums to do so. It worked, as Kubuntu 10.04 Trinity in VirtualBox recognized the selected folder on my Linux Mint installation.
I then needed to move folders like .config, .kde3, and .openoffice.org to the /etc/skel/ folder in Kubuntu. After doing so, I used Remastersys to create the ISO image of my Kubuntu 10.04 Trinity installation and moved it to the shared folder. I was then able to test it in VirtualBox, and it worked! Yay!
I have linked the email subscriptions for this blog to my Google account, which also manages Google Docs. I have thus uploaded a compressed file containing my remastered ISO for free download (both as in beer and as in speech). Please note, however, as you try the ISO (either virtualized or as a live DVD/USB), the ISO itself is 1.1 GB which is quite a bit bigger than a CD, so if you want to install this on a computer without a DVD reader, the computer must have a USB port and allow USB boot (or else this just won't work on such a computer). With regard to testing the ISO, note that there may be a full-screen console window that shows up with a bunch of information ending with the word "boot". Just press "Enter" to continue to the boot menu and select either the first (preferred) or second option. Also note that if one is doing this in a virtual machine, after the boot splash there may be a warning saying "Ubuntu is running in low graphics mode"; just click "OK" and let Ubuntu run in low graphics mode anyway. Right before the login screen comes up, an error message may come up. Just click "OK" to proceed. For some reason, the login screen has the username "pvbox" (which was my VirtualBox username) typed in as default. Please change "pvbox" to "guest" and press "Enter" twice. Note that there is no password to log in. You should now be greeted by a screen very similar to the one in my previous post. The KDE desktop and applications should have the Oxygen treatment, and so should OpenOffice.org. Next, note that there is an option to install this remaster (it's a standard Ubuntu installation), but there is no icon either on the desktop or in the KMenu indicating such a possibility. To install this remaster, open Konqueror (which is pinned to the Kicker panel), click on the home folder, click on the icon to the desktop, and then click on the icon labeled "ubiquity-gtkui.desktop"; this initiates the installer. Finally, note that after shutting down, one must press "Enter" (when instructed on the screen) to complete the shutdown process.
I have uploaded this ISO as a 7z compressed file on Google Docs. In most Linux distributions, File Roller or Ark can open and extract 7z files. If they can't, you most likely need to install the p7zip packages from the repositories. In Microsoft Windows, you can download the 7zip program to view, create, and extract 7z files. The file itself is 967 MB, which is still pretty big (but smaller than the 1024 MB Google Docs upload limit — the ISO image is 1.1 GB, which is too big), so downloading may take a while. I will now post the download link. Have fun testing this, and please let me know of any comments, suggestions, and other thoughts you have about this in the comments section (or by email)! Thank you!

FOLLOW-UP: Windows 7 on Netbooks?

A couple of months ago I had written a piece on what I believed Microsoft's strategy should be with regard to putting Windows 7 on netbooks and tablet PCs. I believed then that Microsoft should try to scale Windows Mobile 7 up onto netbooks and tablets as opposed to trying to scale Windows 7 down onto netbooks and tablets. While I still believe that this plan would deliver optimal performance, a new review (Sasha Muller, PC Pro) of ViewSonic's two new ViewPad tablets suggests that the latter option may not be as bad as I once thought. The 10.1" ViewPad dual-boots Android 1.6 (as the newer versions do not support its hardware) and Microsoft Windows 7. As expected, Android is amazingly quick on the hardware, but more surprising is the fact that Windows 7 is actually quite usable on just 1 GB of RAM, an Intel Atom processor, and a 10.1" screen. I therefore congratulate Microsoft on a job well done in scaling Windows 7 down to a touchscreen tablet PC; I now believe that Windows 7 could actually work (and that it may not just be empty Microsoft rhetoric) on 10.1" and 11" netbooks, as Windows 7 doesn't have to deal with the added requirements of a touchscreen. Bravo.

Linux and Breakfast Cereals

I got the idea for this post from this article (Caitlyn Martin, O'Reilly Broadcast), which is a response to this op-ed piece (Graham Morrison, TechRadar).
I find it a little ridiculous that Mr. Morrison can seriously claim to not understand Linux package management after dealing with it for 12 years. But, then again, the article seems to support this as well. Follow the jump to read more about this.


How to Oxidize KDE 3.5

What's the title supposed to mean? You will figure this out by the end of the article.
I mentioned in my review of Kubuntu 10.04 Trinity that while the Trinity revival of KDE 3.5.11 has huge potential as a new contender in the field of DEs for old computers (competing with Xfce and LXDE, among others), KDE 3.5 looks pretty bad. Sure, it looks quite cool/cute when it first came out. That said, the KDE 3.5 developers themselves said that they benchmarked the speed and looks (and went over and above the stability of) Microsoft Windows XP when developing KDE 3.5. As a result, it is very fast, very stable (unlike Microsoft Windows XP), and bears more than a passing resemblance in its icon, panel, and window decoration themes to the latter. I haven't ever particularly cared for the default look of Microsoft Windows XP (and honestly, Microsoft Windows 7 is pretty good looking, making Microsoft Windows XP even worse to look at), and KDE 3.5 looks even more cartoonish (and this is exaggerated further with the KDE 4 looks).
What does all this mean? If KDE 3.5 is here to stay, it needs at least a visual overhaul to stay competitive with other DEs optimized for low-resource environments. So I tried to do just that. Follow the jump to read how I tried (and failed).


One Outrageously Uninformed Yahoo! Article

I was browsing through my Yahoo! homepage and stumbled upon this article. I looked through the 6 outrageously overpriced items, and I do agree with all of the choices. I suppose that for an article targeted at total laypeople, I can understand why things like "paying for the label" might not make sense at first; that said, I am still astounded as to how a financial article doesn't (appear to) understand why these prices are actually so high. Let's start from the top.

Movie Theater Popcorn

The article here asks why the markup for a bag of popcorn at the movie theater is a factor of six compared to the price for a similar product at a supermarket. It claims to not know the answer to this.
The answer is that in a movie theater, there is nowhere else to get popcorn, and moviegoers like the convenience of buying already-cooked popcorn (as opposed to having to cook and pack their own popcorn). The theater owners have a near-monopoly over the popcorn market inside the theater (as enough people would rather pay more than spend time making their own popcorn), so theater popcorn will of course be more expensive.

Greeting Cards

This follows a similar vein as the popcorn case, though here the card sellers don't have quite as close to a monopoly over the market. For ordinary people, time is precious, and they believe the higher price is a worthy tradeoff for the time saved compared to making a card by hand (after all, one has to buy similar quality paper and pens and think of a witty message (and maybe even a drawing)).

College Textbooks

This is one place where I'm also not sure why the products are so expensive, given the presence and ubiquity of used-book shops (both online and brick-and-mortar) and the rising influence of book rental companies. That said, do consider that prices of goods like cars have experienced similar increases over the same period of time (according to this, the average price of a Ford Mustang in 1985 was $7286, while the current MSRP of a Ford Mustang (2011) is just above $22000). While the increases may be for different reasons, I think it can be partly attributable to plain-old inflation.

Bottled Water

Despite the numerous reports that bottled water is usually packaged unfiltered tap water, perceptions do linger, and the leading perception is still that bottled water is of higher quality than tap water (and, by extension, that tap water is of poor quality). Hence, people would rather pay for the convenience and higher quality of bottled water than spend time filtering tap water and refilling a reusable bottle.

Printer Ink

There are two reasons for this one. One is that there's no alternative to printer ink sold (except to buy another printer). The other is that printer manufacturers lose money on every printer sold, so they recoup it by putting huge markups on printer cartridges. This is also why video games on current consoles still cost $60 even though the disks themselves cost next to nothing to actually produce.

Brand-Name Fashions

Isn't this one obvious? Most of these labels have established reputations, so customers really are willing to pay for the label. It's Microeconomics 101.

I also find it shocking that the material for this article was provided by Investopedia. Why are they writing articles?

Review: Kubuntu 10.04 Trinity "Lucid Lynx" (Idea by Candid of Linux Today)

Main Screen: Ethais Wallpaper + Kicker
First off, I want to give a huge thanks and a shout-out to Linux Today reader Candid for suggesting that I take a look at Trinity. Your suggestion piqued my curiosity enough to make me want to do a full review and write-up. This one is for you. Thanks!
Reviewing this Linux distribution has reminded me of automotive news site Edmunds Inside Line's final review of the 2010 Mercury Grand Marquis in honor of Mercury's impending demise. It was a great nostalgic piece, as the car itself had turned into a weird mishmash of throwback controls and modern safety technology. For example, antilock brakes are present (as is traction control), yet the frame itself is a ladder-frame (like a truck, rather than a car's unibody frame) and the turn signals are operated by actual switches (as opposed to computerized systems). This is how I felt when testing Kubuntu 10.04 Trinity. It's a weird mishmash of old-school and new-school KDE.
So what is Trinity? For one, it's not the codename of this distribution — this version of Kubuntu 10.04 is still called "Lucid Lynx". Trinity is actually the name of a project that aims to revive, maintain, and further develop KDE 3.5 as a fork from the main KDE project. Yes, folks, KDE 3.5 has risen from the dead! [Insert dramatic sound effects here.] The project itself has had to overcome a lot of obstacles, chief among them the facts that Qt 3 has not been officially supported for 3 years (and rewriting the Qt code is just what the developers did for KDE 4) and that KDE 3.5 itself has not been actively developed or maintained for over 3 years. (Trinity is only a few months old.) That said, the Trinity packages are available for Ubuntu systems and can be installed alongside existing GNOME or KDE installations as a separate desktop environment. Trinity labels this newest release of KDE as KDE 3.5.11 (as the last official release was 3.5.10). Follow the jump to accompany me on a trip back to the future. (I had to say it. Sorry.)

Review: Mandriva 2010.1 Spring

Main Screen
Before I do anything else, I want to apologize to readers of this blog (and of Linux Today) as well as to the Mandriva community for giving Mandriva such short shrift in my comparison of KDE distributions for newbies. As I did this test separately (full disclosure: I also wanted to try desktop effects, so Mandriva gets 1 GB of RAM and 128 MB of video memory, while all of the distributions tested on my old computer got 448 MB of RAM and 12 MB of video memory), comparing Mandriva's performance against the others' isn't quite fair, so I won't compare them. My reasoning in the article for not testing Mandriva was that PCLinuxOS uses some Mandriva repositories and tools and seems to support more hardware than Mandriva, so it would be a better contender in the comparison. (It's like why I would choose Linux Mint over Ubuntu in a comparison of GNOME distributions.) Furthermore, Mandriva has been going through a roller-coaster ride of a financial situation of late, so I'm not entirely sure how much longer it will be around in its current incarnation. While the second point still stands, I stand corrected with regard to the first point. Please follow the jump to see why I am so sorry that I chose not to include Mandriva in the last comparison.


Movie Review: Hackers

I just watched this in my dormitory auditorium with a bunch of other freshmen. One of the graduate students introduced the movie by saying that it's hilarious for its absolutely outdated technology. I wondered before if it was supposed to be funny, if it was considered funny in its own time, or if it's only been funny since recent times.
After watching the movie, I think it was supposed to be semi-serious, but I think even movie watchers of that day would have called it "so-bad-it's-good". To call the acting in the movie poor would be to insult poor actors (and that was how Angelina Jolie acted way-back-when!?). Also, 28.8 Bps (along with all the other made-up pseudo-tech jargon they made up)? I can only laugh.

Sometimes, Apple Doesn't "Just Work"

I was at a presentation this morning where the presenters were discussing research opportunities at MIT (called "UROPs" (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programs)). The presenters showed a video about UROP that was put together last year to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the inception of UROP.
Before I continue, I would like to mention that at MIT, almost all of the school run computers (in the "Athena clusters") run Ubuntu 10.04.1 LTS, which is really cool. In fact, the Athena software is optimized to run on Ubuntu 10.04. Weirdly enough, I can't run the Athena software on my computer even though I run Linux Mint 9, which is basically Ubuntu 10.04 with some theme and included software changes. That said, I have exclusively seen Apple MacBooks used at presentations like these at MIT. This presentation was no exception.
The lady who started the presentation said a couple of things in general about UROP before showing the video. The video was on a separate DVD, and I saw her insert the DVD into the laptop. What happened next surprised me. There was no dialog upon insertion of the DVD asking what to do. She had to manually open the DVD's contents folder and search for the correct video. Even when that was done, she wasn't entirely sure which program to use (I suspect this is her first time using a Mac, considering that she struggled a little even to open the contents of the DVD); despite there being VLC Media Player on the laptop, she wasn't sure whether to open the video with iMovie, iDVD, DVD Player, or VLC. (She eventually picked DVD Player, and it worked.)
Macs are supposed to be easy to use and they are supposed to "just work". Then there's this. Your move, Apple.

I wanted to end this article by expressing by deepest thanks to the huge flood of visitors and commenters on this site. I never thought my article on KDE distributions would make it to Linux Today's front page; I feel extraordinarily lucky that it did. I also want to add that if you like any of the other content on this site, please sign up for updates through RSS or email; both options are pretty high up on the sidebar. I may even have an article exclusively for subscribers (at least initially) coming up, so that should be an incentive to sign up. If you haven't done so, please do it now! Finally, the next article (which, incidentally, is not that exclusive article I just talked about) should address the concerns of many of the commenters on the KDE comparison article. That should be a big hint as to what it is.

Review: sidux 2010-01 "Hypnos"

Main Screen
This is a really short review of sidux 2010-01 "Hypnos". In fact, there will be more background information than review content. Why is this so? First comes the background: sidux (yes, it is all lowercase) is a distribution built off of Debian's unstable "sid" branch of development (as is Ubuntu, but sidux stays closer to its Debian roots in terms of tools and customization of the system). It uses KDE by default, though Xfce (and maybe even other DEs) is (are) available. It is a rolling-release distribution, so the latest and greatest packages are available on sidux when they are released.
So why is this review so short? In VirtualBox, I got lucky once, and sidux actually booted to the KDE desktop; then, it froze, prompting me to force-quit the guest OS in VirtualBox. (For the record, I gave sidux 1024 MB of RAM and 12 MB of video memory, just like I do with other OSs I test in VirtualBox on my new computer.) Trying a couple of times more put me into a console, every time. I figured that maybe the AMD64 version was faulty, so I then tried the x86 version; I was experiencing the same problem here as well. (I also tried fiddling with some boot options, like the kernel and drivers used. Aside from the first time, this tweaking didn't help.) Quick web searches yielded no results regarding this issue. For now, I'll file sidux 2010-01 under "doesn't work now, maybe try again when I have more time".


Microsoft's Ironic Shutdown Patent

I got this article (Wolfgang Gruener, ConceivablyTech) from a Slashdot link.
This patent actually amuses me for several reasons. First, it shows just how (and why) the shutdown process on Microsoft Windows is so long and complicated. As it turns out, if there are graphical programs running, there are 3 different ways for the application to be terminated by force and the shutdown process restarted. That is astounding by itself, but not surprising to many people who use Microsoft Windows regularly. Even afterwards, when a top-level program is hung up, there is a way to abort the shutdown process altogether; that's another factor in the process taking so long.
The author of the article laments the absence of a patent that just shuts the system down (ideally in 5 seconds or so). For one, I would argue against a patent for that, as that would be too simple and wide-ranging to be patentable. Secondly, the diagram in the article leaves out one last reason for shutdown taking so long (which is so well-illustrated in this Linux in Exile blog post): automatic updates which are downloaded and installed after the shutdown button is clicked (but, of course, before the system actually shuts down). So let me add in a corollary to the flowchart provided, a sort of mini-flowchart, if you will.
As the Linux in Exile post said, the Windows Update process holds the computer hostage during shutdown, and given the relatively high frequency of updates that need to be installed at shutdown, this is a major contributor to long shutdown times (especially considering that there are a lot of Microsoft Windows users who do not have access to broadband).
Well, there you have it: Microsoft's long shutdown times demystified. You know what? Let them have the patent. Why would anyone else want to license such a long and complicated shutdown procedure anyway?