Featured Comments: Week of 2010 October 24

Before I get to the comments themselves, I want to ask, what do you all think of the new blog look and feel? I had to redesign it to get all the gadgets to look right. Let me know in the comments of this article. Anyway, let's get back to the comments.

Open Question: Install Linux without Live Media?

This post was about installing Linux on a friend's laptop which can't boot from a USB stick and whose DVD drive is broken.
Reader Azmo suggested, "I have had really good experiences with gPXE and Fedora (boot.fedoraproject.org) lately. Just a thought if that laptop chokes on 'big' USB iso things, but might be able to work with the small bfo image."
Commenter T Beermonster had quite a few suggestions, but one which I may try out is this one: "You could use a virtual machine to get things set up as you like and then dd the virtual HDD to the laptop HDD. It's easier if you don't use a dynamic virtual disk just a fixed size one that is the same size as or smaller than the eventual target HDD (remember dd will copy everything, even empty space, so the smaller the VHD the quicker the copy - you can always grow to fill unused space on the real HDD later)."

General Disillusionment with Ubuntu

Reader Arup is perfectly fine with the current state of affairs, and I respect that: "No heavy handedness here, they are just establishing a universal and global brand name for a linux based distro which was the need for a long time."
Commenter adamwill had this to say about the review process: " It kind of depends what's meant by 'review'. Most distros have some kind of 'review' process for software being added to the distribution, but it's the details that are important: what exactly is the review process meant to achieve, how is it implemented, who is in charge of it, how open is it, and so on."

Apple's Restricted APT

Reader Van' sums up the general consensus online with this: "NEWSFLASH: Bears [excrete] in woods."

Thanks to everyone who posted comments on this week's posts, and as always, please keep them coming. Also, as always, if you like the content, please subscribe!


NFL Super Bowl XLV Broadcasting

I'm going home for winter break, but I need to be back in college by the end of January. I was thinking of the things immediately afterwards at home that I would miss, and I remembered that one of those things would be watching the Super Bowl with my family and friends at home. (Super Bowl XLV airs on 2011 February 6.) Now, of course, I'll be watching it with my friends here, so that makes up for it. Then, as I thought about it more, I wondered if I would need to buy tickets to attend a showing in my dormitory hall, as it would be considered a "public performance". I also figured that if there are more than 10 or so people watching, whoever is showing it would have to buy a license from the NFL to show the game.
Why is this? Does the NFL not want us to watch at all? Does it not make enough money already from ticket sales and advertising (especially the latter, as advertising prices skyrocket for the Super Bowl)? More importantly, isn't this kind of like déjà vu? About 50 years ago, live broadcasting of sports events became a reality, so the major US sports leagues (especially the MLB, as far as I know) fought hard against live sports broadcasts, arguing that it would cause ticket sales to plummet as people would just choose to watch it on their TV sets for free. In fact, the opposite happened, as ticket sales shot up because more people were being exposed to and became interested in following these sports once they starting being broadcast on TV. Now, I don't think this sort of thing can still happen, because even with the Internet, exposure to sports has pretty much maxed out, and there won't be too many new converts. That said, given that the NFL is making so much money already from ticket sales and advertising, why are they putting these kinds of restrictions on broadcasts? Don't they understand that to get even more ticket sales they should be reaching out (not blocking out) to their customers?


Class Discussion on IP

Yesterday in my web design, the lecturer was a guest speaker. This particular guest speaker is my college's IP attorney, and as we are designing websites, our professor feels that we should be suitably aware of the issues surrounding IP so as to not get sued. At first, I was highly skeptical as a similar talk my high school librarian gave last year was almost totally propaganda in favor of IP-protection and the wonders it does for creative works. That said, I listened to the whole talk, and I'm glad that the attorney delivered the facts straight without injecting too much of his own opinion into the discussion, and he made it clear that we should be aware of IP laws mainly for our own defense (and not necessarily to clog the system with more IP). Whenever he did (occasionally) inject his own opinion into the discussion, he made it fairly clear that he thinks that the current state of IP is a mess and that the current copyright term is way too long for its own good. All I want to say is that I'm glad there's at least one IP lawyer out there who understands that the status quo is bad without being blinded by the powerful interests in the field of IP.
On a totally unrelated note, I have come to the realization that the reason why some widgets on this blog don't look right is because I am using these new widgets on a very old template. I can't even take advantage of the new Blogger Template Designer to tweak it. For this reason, there is going to be an overhaul in the way this blog looks; though I will try to preserve the current look and feel, it will be a more current template so that I can use widgets without having to deal with things like overlapping text. I hope to finish this by the weekend.


Microsoft's Latest Scare Tactics as of 2010 October 28

For the last few years, Microsoft has been making vague threats to sue vendors of Linux-based products for infringing on Microsoft's patents. When Microsoft is asked to elaborate on what exactly is being infringed, it suffers a convenient case of amnesia. In any case, while it has bullied a few companies (first Novell over SUSE, now companies like HTC over Android) into paying excessive royalty fees for no reason, it has never made good on its threats to sue anyone, probably because it would be clear as day just how ridiculous Microsoft's infringement claims really are.
It seems like now, as this article (Adam Hwang, Digitimes) points out, Microsoft could possibly make good on this, although it seems like it's just bullying companies into paying royalty fees as opposed to outright suing. It's charging AsusTEK and Acer royalty fees for the very vague "email, multimedia, and other" functions just to make sure they don't sell netbooks or tablets with Android or Chrome OS on them. It would be a shame if these companies submitted to Microsoft's demand, but it'll probably happen considering that the same thing happened to Novell and HTC; then again, consumers are now more aware than ever of alternatives to Microsoft Windows, so I think they may actually seek out and demand Android and Chrome OS devices anyway. Let's see how this turns out.


Open Question: Install Linux without Live Media?

I wrote a couple posts back that one of my motivations for completing Fresh OS (which is very close to completion but won't be complete until the weekend probably due to my schoolwork) is so that I can install it on a friend's laptop as that friend expressed an interest in running Linux. Well, that thought is right now at the back of my mind. The DVD drive doesn't work (it's partially broken, actually), and she has told me already that live USBs don't work (as she has tried before). I tried using Wubi, but unfortunately some issues with Microsoft Windows XP regarding executables on that computer won't allow Wubi to run. So I phrase this as an open question: is there any way for me to easily install Linux on this laptop (1.5 GHz single-core processor, 512 MB of RAM) without any live media? I've seen some online solutions about downloading and extracting ISOs, but that's a little too time-consuming. Also, the reason why I'm not dead-set on this is because this is not the primary computer anyway (in fact, it almost never gets used except in emergency situations as the primary computer is now a MacBook). So, what do you say about this?


General Disillusionment with Ubuntu

There's always been murmurs of discontent in the Linux community with Canonical, the company that sponsors and manages Ubuntu. Before, I didn't really understand what all the fuss was about; it was the easy-to-use distribution and it seemed to work quite well. Having watched Ubuntu's development over the last year, I can now see why.
A large part of this is just that users are jealous that Ubuntu, and not their favorite distribution, is seeing so much success. I'm not going to go into this, because it'll likely degenerate into a flame-war.
However, the two more well-supported criticisms regard Canonical's heavy-handedness with regard to Ubuntu as well as its tendency to release new versions just to meet a release date even if the associated programs aren't exactly production-quality.
There are a couple examples of the first occur. Canonical wants to further develop the Ubuntu Software Center into a combination of APT and Apple's iOS App Store in terms of functionality. However, this combination may be going too far, as Canonical is also planning to review all application submissions similar to how Apple does this. That discomforts me as well as a lot of other users, and if this does become a reality, I'm glad to continue Linux Mint (and it may be all the more reason to switch to the Debian-based version, which is something I can say for most everything I will talk about in the rest of this post).
Canonical created a firestorm of controversy before the version 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" release with its decision to move the window control buttons to the left of the titlebar, à la Mac OS X. The criticisms were one (or more) of the following: Ubuntu was becoming a clone of Mac OS X, the control placement was unintuitive, or there was no need to change something that worked (and still works). In one reply in a particular Ubuntu mailing list, Mark Shuttleworth basically dissed the whole community (which is something I covered in a much earlier post).
There are a couple examples of the second issue. In version 9.10 "Karmic Koala", Ubuntu released Empathy (though this could have been to spur further development and refinement) and XSplash, neither of which were production-ready at that time (and XSplash disappeared after version 9.10 anyway). The most recent example of this is Ubuntu's newly announced proposal to replace GNOME Shell/Metacity/Mutter with the Unity interface even on desktops. (Unity was released in version 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" as the new netbook interface, so I'm not really sure how it'll scale up as a DE for a full-blown desktop.) The most common criticisms of this is that Unity has only been included in one release so far, and that it is very slow, buggy, and rigid (as in not customizable especially when compared to standard GNOME). Yet, Canonical is so eager to push ahead with Unity that it wants to make it an environment for the common desktop as well.
I'm not going to say anything about Unity for myself because I haven't tried it (and it will likely not happen). What I will say is that it isn't surprising to me that more and more distributions today are switching from an Ubuntu base to a Debian base, because Debian is entirely community-driven and is usually more stable. That's why my Fresh OS respins are based off of Linux Mint "Debian", that's why #! moved to a Debian base, and that's why Manhattan OS (which was based on Ubuntu not too long ago) moved to a Debian testing base (along with rebranding itself to Jupiter OS). Folks, expect to see a lot more of these types of base shifts happening in the near future, as Ubuntu starts to really chart its own course.


Princeton, Bitterness, and Pink Whistles

I was talking to one of my close friends (whom I shall not name here for the sake of privacy) from back home (he also goes to my old high school) over the phone (whoa, a phone! Who still uses those?) and he was asking me about stuff relating to college applications. Somehow, Princeton University entered our conversation, and he talked about how an admissions officer who visited our high school said this:
Don't show any of your friends your college applications. They're going to steal your essays.
First, let me leave aside any discussion of copyright. It isn't really applicable here, not because essays are or are not copyrighted, but because this is more a case of plagiarism (because these "friends" would be taking your work and claiming it as their own without crediting you in any way, and if you write your essays describe moments of your own life, they would be totally false when applied to your "friends'" lives). The reaction my friend and I simultaneously had was, "Doesn't this guy have more faith in people? He obviously must be bitter about a similar incident that happened in his high school or college years." I didn't get into Princeton, and knowing this, I'm actually glad that I didn't. Maybe it's fine for graduate school, but the undergraduate environment seems to foster cutthroat competition based on this statement.
It reminds me of the recent case of a couple high school (or was it college?) football referees being suspended for two games for using pink whistles to promote awareness of breast cancer. (I've always wondered why other diseases aren't publicized in the same way as breast cancer is, but I guess at the same time something is better than nothing. That's a post for another day.) The manager (or whatever he is) who suspended these referees said that using whistles that aren't black are against game regulations and that not suspending these referees for breaking the rules would tell players that it's OK to break the rules. In a word, no. The message the manager sent is that all laws are absolute (which they aren't) and that if the law says it's wrong, even if breaking the law doesn't hurt anybody and actually helps society, it's still punishable. Both of these people seemed to feel a little small and powerless, so they wanted to exercise their power by being total [expletive]s. I guess what they say is true after all: "No good deed goes unpunished."


Apple's Restricted APT

There's been a lot of talk in tech news about Apple's new Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion" and the new Mac App Store with one-click installation, updating, and removal.
When I saw this, I was going to post this right away, but a lot of other writers beat me to it. This article (Ryan Tate, Gawker) sums it up nicely. Basically, Debian, Red Hat, and SUSE have had these features all along. I think one way to make Linux more appealing then is to brand them in ways similar to Apple's or Android's branding; it just seems more hip now, even if it made sense the whole time.
Then again, the Mac App Store will be restricted in much the same way that the iOS App Store is. To this, I say that this is what I suspected all along. I figured Apple would go down this road thanks to its extremely loyal fanbase. In short, I told you so! (I've said this to people in person, though I haven't written anything about this on this blog.)

Featured Comments: Week of 2010 October 17

There were only 2 posts that garnered comments this past week, so I'll post most of those comments.

Will KPresenter and Gnumeric Please Come Forward?

Reader murray has this to say about OpenOffice.org Calc and Gnumeric: "I tried to use gnumeric instead of openoffice, due to the fact that I need to load 40M DBF's each month, and that where incredible slow in openoffice (more than 10 minutes). More, if you take in account that gnumeric loads it in 30 SECONDS. Lately, openoffice calc gets way better, taking 2 mins. The thing is, that in gnumeric, decimals gets lost, and later I realize that was global locale settings that affects the way gnumeric interprets numbers. Thats incredible for me, and more, the way to fix it via some obscure global (reeeeealy hard to discover) command-line setting before execute gnumeric is a shame".
Commenter twitter advised against using spreadsheet programs for real heavy-duty number-crunching: "Gnumeric is a nice spreadsheet but spreadsheets are not adequate for real science. When your data goes beyond a few kilobytes, it's time for shell scripts and the specialized tools available in good gnu/linux distributions like Debian."

Preview: Pardus 2011 Beta

Reader Sylvain seemed to have more success with Pardus 2011 Beta, linking to his review of it on his blog (in French): "It rox on my computer... First with VirtualBox then in a dedicated Partition. Pardus looks great http://linuxadvantage.blogspot.com/2010/10/presentation-de-pardus-2011.html". It really does look good, so I'm wondering why I had so much trouble with it.
That said, commenter Brian experienced trouble with it as well, though he was able to make it to the desktop, at least: "It isn't too great on my PC either. The alpha release had to use KDE safe node to boot into a desktop. pisi update-repo and pisi update seemed to upgrade the system until I installed the nvidia drivers, then that failed as well.A fresh beta install attempt ends with a slew of partition errors and a traceback report with no viable option to send it back to the developers."

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's post, and remember, if you enjoy the material, please do subscribe!
On a somewhat related note, I am essentially done with my latest Fresh OS creations, so keep your eyes peeled, for I will probably upload them to the SourceForge project page sometime this week. Please do check them out and let me know what you think!


Preview: Pardus 2011 Beta

Before I get to the review, I want to say that while I tested Pardus 2009.2 on my old computer in VirtualBox with 448 MB of RAM, I have tested Pardus 2011 Beta on my new laptop in VirtualBox with 1024 MB of RAM, so it isn't quite an apples-to-apples comparison. Please keep this as well as the fact that I'm previewing a beta release in mind for the rest of this post.
If you couldn't glean what I'm about to say from the opening paragraph, I'll just say it: the review didn't go well at all. I raved about Pardus 2009.2 "Geronticus Eremita" in my comparison of KDE distributions for its amazing tools designed to make new users feel right at home. Well, I can't similarly rave about Pardus 2011 Beta. Why? It just refused to load the desktop. No matter what combination of boot options I chose at the boot menu, it would fly through the Plymouth boot splash and then display a blank screen and hang there. That's bad. I hope the developers of Pardus get their act together before the official release, because it would truly be a shame to see such a wonderful distribution fall so much from one release to the next.


Another Quick Update on Fresh OS

I have exams on Friday (today) and Monday, so I'm pretty busy for these few days. However, after my Monday exam, I'll be a lot more free, meaning that I'll be able to tweak Fresh OS some more.
I read WebUpd8 pretty often, and they had an article this week about Manhattan OS, a custom Ubuntu build with GNOME and Plasma along with a bunch of other cool goodies, being renamed Jupiter OS and moving to a rolling-release Debian base. Hey, that sounds a lot like Fresh OS! I'm already feeling the competition (hehheh). I guess that's one incentive to push out a new release of Fresh OS as soon as possible.
My other incentive is that one of my friends has expressed an interest in installing Linux on her computer. As her computer is fairly old and is somewhat limited in RAM, I'm thinking of either installing Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" LXDE or Linux Mint "Debian", both of which are fairly lightweight. I'm leaning towards the latter due to the greater number of features in GNOME vs. LXDE as well as the rolling-release nature of the latter. This could also give me a chance to install Fresh OS. What I'll probably end up doing is installing Linux Mint "Debian" and building it up into Fresh OS by manually getting the necessary packages.
Finally, Fresh OS itself is progressing nicely. For some reason, try as I might, I just can't change the background and theme in GDM 3 (though I successfully did it before, so it may have to do with an update to GDM 3). However, the GNOME Panel global menu applet from Hadret's Debian repository works very well, and so does the Elementary theme. I still need to work out the bottom panel/panel-replacement and the browser (and maybe a couple of other applications), and I'll be mostly done. I think I can push out a new release by next week. Yay!


Preview: Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME (RC)

Main Screen
For the few years that I've been reading software news and reading about new Ubuntu releases, I don't think I've ever seen one that's generated as much talk and/or hype as version 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat"; this is rather anticlimactic as well considering that this version isn't close to as revolutionary as version 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" was (versus 9.10 "Karmic Koala"). But aside from that, a new Ubuntu version means a new version of my favorite and current distribution, Linux Mint, is just around the corner. Although the developers have a policy of "releasing it when it's ready", they are pretty good about releasing the main GNOME version not more than a few weeks after the corresponding Ubuntu release. This is no different, because only a week after the release of Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat", a release candidate (hence the "RC" in the title) of Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME has been let out for the world to see. (Isn't it a coincidence that this release of Linux Mint also happens to be version 10?) Unlike what "Maverick Meerkat" was to "Lucid Lynx", "Julia" plans to be more revolutionary compared to version 9 LTS "Isadora".
The biggest change, of course, is the theme. The developers and contributing artists have created a new theme that mixes a green Elementary icon set with the also very popular Faenza icon set; the GTK+ theme is also a modified version of the Elementary theme, with brushed metal window decorations and slick black icons. There are some other changes, including the Mint Menu as well as the Mint Update Manager.
So how does it compare? I will say right now that I won't upgrade, but it has nothing to do with the distribution itself. (I'll say why later.) Follow the jump to find out what it's like.


Will KPresenter and Gnumeric Please Come Forward?

This is probably one of the few times that I'm wishing that I had Microsoft Office on my computer. (As it happens, as I go to the library for at least an hour every weekday anyway, I just used Microsoft Office there.) Why?
Well, for my latest chemistry problem set, I need to plot a range of data and add a trend line. Although OpenOffice.org Calc can do this, there aren't as many options. It only gives options for linear, exponential, power, and logarithmic trend lines, none of which are what I want. Although the power regression fits well, what I want is a quadratic regression, and this is something that I just can't do in OpenOffice.org, which is really a shame. I remember when testing some distribution that included Gnumeric (I don't remember which one), I needed to do a similar thing then, so I tried to do it in Gnumeric; if I remember right, Gnumeric did offer the option of a polynomial regression line (with the order of the polynomial specified by the user). Score 1 for Gnumeric, 0 for OpenOffice.org. Also, last year, I needed to make a 3D plot (x, y, f(x, y)), which is possible in Microsoft Office Excel. OpenOffice.org, unfortunately, doesn't have this capability, and at that time (I don't know if the situation has changed much now), it couldn't even render an already-created chart properly. I tried to recreate the same chart with Gnumeric, and, lo and behold, it worked perfectly! Score 2 for Gnumeric, 0 for OpenOffice.org.
Also, last year, I found myself needing to create and view many spreadsheets with lots of data (thousands of rows). Although this wasn't problematic per se in OpenOffice.org, it was certainly a lot slower than in Microsoft Office Excel. Score -1 for OpenOffice.org? Maybe.
So what does KPresenter have to do with all this? Well, it's just that in my experience, KPresenter does a whole lot better in terms of usability and ability to create high-quality presentations than either OpenOffice.org Impress or Microsoft Office Powerpoint. That's because the whole KOffice suite is geared towards desktop publishing as opposed to traditional document creation. Score 1 for KOffice, 0 for both OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office.
Oracle is being rather wishy-washy about the future of OpenOffice.org, which isn't confidence-inspiring either. I would say the only things OpenOffice.org have going for it are Writer and Math. In the near (or not-so-near, I don't know) future, I may supplant Calc and Impress with Gnumeric and KPresenter. And honestly, AbiWord is a pretty good alternative to Writer as well.


An Update on my Respins

I want to take this time to update you all on the progress of my respins and my future plans for them.
Both wikis (Oxidized Trinity and Fresh OS) are up and running. I've included stuff like download and installation procedures and desktop overviews; I'll include more stuff like pictures and system requirements as soon as I have a good bit of free time.
Oxidized Trinity seems to be the more popular one (download statistics-wise), though admittedly, it has been available longer than Fresh OS. Within Fresh OS, as I've split Fresh OS into regular (Linux Mint "Debian" base) and Light (wattOS R2 base) versions, surprisingly, Fresh OS Light is more popular than Fresh OS by over a factor of 4 (then again, neither one has been downloaded especially much). That leads nicely into the future plans for each.
As Oxidized Trinity is based on Kubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx", there's not really a whole lot more for me to do. The next version of Oxidized Trinity will either be based on Kubuntu 12.04 LTS (whatever it's called) or Debian 6 "Squeeze" or Linux Mint "Debian" with the KDE 3.5.12 Trinity packages. Other than that, I won't actively be working on it; for now, it's pretty much a static distribution.
Fresh OS, on the other hand, is more dynamic by nature of being a rolling-release distribution. That's combined with the fact that Debian 6 "Squeeze" (though, in an update to my first preview of Debian 6 "Squeeze" GNOME, I want to let you all know that the Debian developers have promised to release this version of Debian before Christmas) hasn't been released yet, so there are still quite a few updates coming in. I'm a little surprised that Fresh OS Light is the more popular one, considering that the semi-official LXDE Ubuntu variant Lubuntu already does what Fresh OS Light does, and better at that; given this and the fact that Fresh OS with GNOME is almost as light on RAM as Fresh OS Light, I will not be developing another version of Fresh OS Light.
Instead, I will try to release 3 versions of Fresh OS akin to how there are 2 slightly different versions of Peppermint OS (which I recently reviewed). The basic desktop will remain essentially the same, with a panel on top with the MintMenu, a clock, a global menu bar applet, and a couple other applets. All of them will use Nautilus Elementary and the Elementary theme. All of them will probably use the applet that combines the window title and buttons with the panel to save space. The differences will be in some default applications and icon sets, as well as window navigation. The first will be a "standard" version, with a panel with window switchers on the bottom. It will also use Mozilla Firefox as the default browser and Pidgin as the default IM client. Finally, it will use Linux Mint's new icons (green modifications of the Elementary icons), which have recently been released along with a release candidate of Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME (which I also hope to test soon, as I am a fan of Linux Mint). (The reason why they can go into Fresh OS is because some of the new packages for the new Linux Mint release will also go into the (unstable) repository for Linux Mint "Debian".) The second will be an "Elementary" version and will essentially be a port of a standard Elementary OS desktop; it will use the Elementary icons, Midori as the default web browser, Empathy as the default IM Client, AbiWord and Gnumeric instead of OpenOffice.org (though the latter will still be included), and a dock (Docky) at the bottom for switching windows. The third will be a "Light" version and will use Chromium as the default web browser, Pidgin as the IM client, AbiWord and Gnumeric instead of OpenOffice.org (which again will be included, but not the default), the new Mint icons, and a tint2 panel at the bottom for switching windows.
How does all this sound? I'm excited! Anyway, stay tuned for an upcoming preview of Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME!


The Future of Apple and Closed Development

I just saw an New York Times article by Miguel Helft about whether Apple's model of tightly-controlled development can work any longer now that Android devices are selling in larger numbers in the US than Apple's iOS-based products. The article talks about how while Apple releases a new or refreshed product every few months, there are a couple new Android products released every week. Furthermore, the iPad is also facing competition from Android-based tablet computers. Finally, the article discusses how the last time Apple's products (Mac OS) were challenged by competitors (Microsoft Windows), it was almost driven out of business. The article also discusses how Apple isn't likely to even be put in a bad business situation because the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad all compete in the market for touchscreen mobile devices, so they aren't just banking on one product to succeed. Plus, to call Apple cash-strapped is to say that unicorns exist: it isn't (and they don't).
While I sort of agree with the article's overall assessment of Apple's situation, there are a few points with which I beg to differ.
First, the comparison to the previous episode of Mac OS X vs. Microsoft Windows isn't especially apt. Unlike Android, Microsoft Windows cannot be modified by manufacturers for use on their devices. That was true even then (for Microsoft Windows; Android obviously did not exist). Furthermore, Apple's development process was far more open then than it is now. The Apple ][ was known for being the computer of choice for computer hobbyists everywhere due to its simple design and huge flexibility in hardware and software. As far as I know, this was true for early releases of Mac OS, though to a lesser extent. Hence, Apple's troubles weren't because of closed development (although I guess this could be a reason if this is the reason why they refused to adapt to a changing market in the 1990s); they were because Microsoft bought enough companies in the 1990s to form essentially a monopoly and grind sales of Mac OS (though not directly) to a relative halt.
While I don't disagree with the assessment that Apple will soon bring the iPhone to Verizon to bolster sales, I actually think it's good that it has so far been only available on AT&T; if the iPhone was available to all networks, it would have probably killed Android before Android could even try to compete. Verizon, not having the iPhone, looked to alternatives, and that alternative was Android; since then, Android has flourished and spread to other networks because it started with the largest wireless network in the US (I think).
While I don't disagree that apps in the Apple App Store are generally of better quality than in the Android Market place, I think it's a little surprising that the author doesn't link this to Apple's tightly-controlled development process.
Well, that's all I have to say about that. Stay tuned for my next post about my respins!


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 October 10

There were two posts from this past week that garnered comments.

GNOME 3, Activities, and KDE 4

The most common complaint about this post was that I should have read Aaron Seigo's post on the matter before writing this; unfortunately, it didn't happen that way. I'll get back to this point later. Let's continue with the comments themselves.
An anonymous reader points out, "You shouldn't worry about Compiz. Mutter will provide the desktop effects. If you really, really want Compiz integration with GNOME 3 you are out of luck. Don't ask me why but GNOME developers designed GNOME Shell to be a Mutter plug-in, so as you can see the former depends heavily on the latter, thus making impossible for Compiz developers to support GNOME Shell."
Another anonymous reader adds to this, "If I recall correctly I believe I once heard Compiz was never supposed to be permanent. It was an example of what the Windows managers (aka GNOME an KDE) could and perhaps should/should not do."
Reader twitter adds, "A lightweight desktop with modern features is E16. It has transparency and excellent 2D desktop management. E16's clear distintion between virtual screens and virtual desktops implemented the concept of "activities" more than a decade ago."
Commenter Eric Mesa adds to the previous anonymous reader's comment, "I was surprised to find out that Compiz still exists. Kwin, Fluxbox, and Metacity have all, to some degree, incorporated this. I know they aren't as flashy as compiz, but I think it's just a matter of time. Compiz was the fire under the butts of developers, showing them what X could do and daring them to match it. [...] I have to say that, in my experience, everyone who saw Compiz thought it was neat, but no one was converted because of compiz. They wanted to know if they could still do the work they did on their windows computers."
Finally, a certain anonymous reader (because I'm fairly sure it's the same reader who wrote all 3 of those comments)  complained about my analysis in 3 comments too long to repost here verbatim. I'll try to analyze it point by point.
First of all, my comparison wasn't especially apt only because I'm comparing my experiences with KDE 4.5 with other reviewers' experiences with both KDE 4.5 and GNOME 3. But let's continue from there.
I specifically state that KDE 4 Activities were unusable until KDE 4.5. Hence, KDE 4.5 Activities are quite usable and stable.
From the reviews I've read, GNOME 3 doesn't crash and is about as stable as GNOME 2.X. When KDE 4.0 was first brought into the pipeline, people were comparing its beta releases to KDE 3.5 and GNOME 2.X; why is it not fair to do the reverse now? Furthermore, GNOME Shell can be used in GNOME 2.X, so I would say that if it's made it into the repositories of distributions that use GNOME 2.X, it's certainly not a "future technology", even though it will see its first official implementation in GNOME 3.
What you (the anonymous commenter who wrote these comments) say about GNOME 3 already knowing what pitfalls to avoid is known as the second-mover advantage. It's the reason why in the battles of the jetliners in the 1940s and 1950s, the Boeing 707, which came after the De Havilland Comet, prevailed: the De Havilland Comet, while very sleek, had flaws that caused a number of fatal and spectacular accidents mostly due to the same issue, so Boeing was able to analyze this and build an airplane that did not suffer these issues. Is that really so bad? (Of course, unlike KDE with its Activities, De Havilland was loath to even admit there was a problem until after the occurrence of about 5 major accidents, after which point it was told to stop manufacturing altogether, without being given a chance to reassess its design and engineering and fix its mistakes.) Really, do you want to fly in the De Havilland Comet? No? So aren't you glad that GNOME 3 learned from KDE 4's mistakes?
Finally, with regard to Aaron Seigo's blog post, I think in his analysis, he's missing a key point: although GNOME 3 and KDE 4's Activities are implemented very differently, in that GNOME 3's Activities are a more formalized and structured implementation of virtual desktops, while KDE 4's Activities are collections of different applications, it's important to remember that if you think about it, both come from essentially the same core idea, and that is a way to group sets of applications in some manner. GNOME 3 requires the user to do it each time, while KDE 4 allows the user to do it once and then select from whatever Activities have been made. Part of the difference also comes from KDE 4's Plasmoids, for which there really isn't any GNOME 3 analogue; also, my comparison stems from the fact that although this certainly isn't the default behavior, many online writers recommend after installing KDE 4 that the user tie each virtual desktop to a different activity. Yes, KDE 4's Activities are a good bit different and a bit more advanced than Activities as implemented in GNOME 3, but it's hard to deny that they both come from the same basic idea.
I hope all this clears up my position on this debate.

Facebook's Worrying Privacy Changes

An anonymous reader writes, "Now you can use Facebook but still keep your messages private. And you don't have to depend on Facebook privacy settings. Just ‘CLOAK’ your messages with your own private keyword using the free CloakGuard browser plugin. This garbles your message and only the people you've shared your keyword with (and not Facebook) can read your messages."

Well, that wraps up the comments for this past week. Again, I hope I've made my position a little more clear. In addition, I will say once again that if you enjoy what I write, please do take a moment to subscribe via RSS or email!


Movie Review: Talledega Nights

I'll say it up front: I only watched about the first 20 minutes (or maybe a little more). The primary reason for this is that I'm a little busy (and writing this is my short break). This is why I didn't feel uncomfortable leaving so soon. The secondary reason is that it just wasn't all that great. Sure, it seemed to have a few cheap laughs here and there, but the story just didn't seem to get anywhere. It just seemed like one of those cheap comedy flicks with lots of stupid jokes and boobs. If I had more time, I would have probably sat through the whole thing, but I don't imagine that I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more.
On the upside, the pizza served at the movie was amazing. In fact, I would call it the best delivery pizza I have ever had. It's from a local restaurant called Figs, and the pizza I had was rather flavorful, especially for not having any vegetables on top; instead, it had olive oil, oregano, and parmesan instead of regular cooking oil and mozzarella. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good pizza place in Boston, though as I just saw online, it's a tad on the expensive side.


KevJumba + The Amazing Race = CBS*(CwF + RtB)

I'm a fan of (and have subscribed to) KevJumba on YouTube. Recently, KevJumba and his dad made it onto CBS's TV series The Amazing Race, and KevJumba has made 3 videos out of this so far. The most recent one (which I will embed at the end of this post) details how they almost didn't make it because one of the tasks in the beating Ghanaian sun almost made his dad suffer a heat stroke (so his dad needed serious medical help); I was truly touched by this uncut show of mutual affection and support, and I was happy to see that this round was not an elimination round (more on that later) and that KevJumba and his dad can stay on the show.
Then, after watching the video, I realized something: he has been putting clips (each a few minutes long) of the show in his video. That's copyrighted material. Yet, CBS isn't going after him for it. Now, I don't know if that's because he's using his own footage (but considering that he shoots almost all of his own videos (except when he's collaborating with other people on projects), I don't think he's shooting his own video this time, so this must be footage from CBS), but in any case, CBS isn't going after him for it, and I think that's great.
[speculation] What if CBS decided to be anal about it and send his channel DMCA takedown notices? Well, of course, he would have to comply or risk being sued; the former is far more likely. Keep in mind that while his audience is quite diverse, the largest portion of his viewers is probably of East Asian origin. Many of these viewers probably did not watch the show on CBS prior to his selection to participate in the show; hence, thanks to him, the show now has an entirely new (and quite significant) viewing demographic. If CBS really did send out takedown notices to KevJumba, while there would be a few people who are now interested enough in the show to continue watching, many more would be angered by the removal of the YouTube videos, and not having this alternate avenue for keeping up with KevJumba's progress through the show (because YouTube videos, unlike TV without a DVR, can be watched at any time), these viewers will likely stop watching the show altogether. [/speculation]
But CBS hasn't done this. In fact, I and many other YouTube commenters suspect that this round was made to not be an elimination round on purpose to keep KevJumba and his dad on the show. Why would CBS and the show producers do this? I think they recognize and appreciate the great service KevJumba has done in terms of increasing the size of the audience. Thus, not only has CBS allowed KevJumba to post clips of the show in his videos, but they have kept him on the show specifically to let this continue and thus let the viewers (and, by extension, the money) keep flowing in. In TechDirt parlance, this would be an example of connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy (CwF + RtB): the CwF is CBS allowing KevJumba to bring viewers in by showing his viewers clips of the show, and the RtB is CBS keeping him on the show, giving viewers a reason to continue watching. Eventually (though this will take a little time), these new current viewers will probably form a more permanent portion of the audience who will enjoy watching the show regardless of KevJumba's presence on the show. Bravo, CBS, for doing the smart thing (so far), and keep it up!


Comparison Test: Peppermint OS One 08042010 vs. Ice 10012010

One: Main Screen
(NOTE: I know a lot of commenters have asked for clickable thumbnails. Unfortunately, this appears to be an issue with Blogger, because when I initially upload pictures, they are clickable thumbnails, but a few minutes later, they magically lose their functionality. I'm not sure why that is, and the only workaround is to make the images the original size, which is huge (800 by 600 pixels each) and would drown out all the text, which isn't good. Unless you're OK with seeing smaller images (and they will have to be made this small), this is how it is for now. Sorry. I'm not too happy about this either, so I hope this situation will change soon.)
By popular demand, I am testing Peppermint OS (both versions). This is not going to be a completely in-depth comparison as in the comparison of KDE distributions, because the two versions of Peppermint OS differ only in the details; the way they work is essentially the same. I tested both in VirtualBox and allocated 256 MB of RAM to each version.
So what is Peppermint OS? It's not actually based on Linux Mint, as the name might suggest (more on that later); it's an LXDE distribution based on Lubuntu, with an emphasis on cloud applications. What does this mean? This means that Peppermint OS replaces many traditional desktop applications with web-based counterparts; it uses Mozilla Prism (One) or Ice (Ice) to essentially make the webpage like any other desktop application, without needing to open a fully-fledged instance of a web browser. This makes it possible to put things like Facebook and Picasa in the LXDE main menu (more on that later). Follow the jump to see how all this works out.


FOLLOW-UP: Microsoft's Ironic Shutdown Patent

This isn't a true follow-up in the sense that it isn't about the patent which I talked about earlier. It has to do with something that happened to me a few days ago when I needed to boot into Microsoft Windows 7 to relax and play some of my computer games (that don't work on WINE in Linux).
As usual, Windows needed to download and install updates and patches, and it needed to restart afterwards to make the updates effective. As usual, I chose to ignore the warnings and restart until the next nagging reminder came along. This particular warning asked me how long I wanted to postpone the restart for, so when I chose "1 hour", I assumed that an hour later, there would be a message box warning me of the impending restart procedure and asking me if I wanted to go ahead or postpone it again. Thinking nothing of this, I went ahead and started playing. An hour later, the game screen suddenly became black, and the cursor disappeared; next thing I know is the screen is showing the shutdown screen with a message about updates being downloaded and installed. That's right: Microsoft Windows shut down an hour later without asking me again just to install updates. I wasn't able to save my game, so I lost everything past the previous save point.
Really, Microsoft? Does the thing really need to be that intrusive? There's not really a whole lot more I can say about this without degenerating into a steaming, sputtering wreck (which is not something I do often); please bear with me.


Facebook's Worrying Privacy Changes

Over the last few months, there have been myriad changes to Facebook's privacy policy, many of them for the worse (in terms of being able to maintain privacy). This one (Robert McMillan, PCWorld via Yahoo! News), however, seems really bad, not least because Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, was himself a victim of this change in the privacy policy. Basically, this new "feature" allows people to unilaterally make their friends members of groups. However, if the friend leaves that group, the original person can no longer make the friend part of any more groups. The problem with this, of course, is that unless there's some sort of notification about being made a member of a group, people won't know in what groups they are members; even if there are notifications, they will likely be ignored anyway (as they already often are). Groups and pages can often extract information from people's profiles even if those people have chosen to make certain information private, which is why this is so problematic. Considering Mark Zuckerberg was made to be a member of the NAMBLA Facebook group, I'm a little scared, honestly. People who know me on Facebook, can you please do me a favor and not be a jerk (by unilaterally making me a member of a group or a fan of a page)? I'm trying to stay away from all groups and pages that don't have to do with my high school and/or college, because I don't want other random groups and/or pages to have access to my personal information.


GNOME 3, Activites, and KDE 4

There have been a slew of new articles detailing the progress of work on GNOME 3, and the refrain in all of them has been that "GNOME 3 will revolutionize the desktop". The focus on GNOME 3, ever since the release of the first mock-ups, has been on the new GNOME Shell and GNOME Activities (which are really just two sides of the same coin). The thing is, GNOME Activities has essentially the same concept (and even the same name) as KDE 4 Activities. So I was thinking for quite a while: how can this be called "revolutionary" with a straight face? Today it hit me: while KDE may have had the idea first, GNOME presents a far superior execution of this idea; GNOME Activities in the alpha and beta versions of GNOME 3 was very usable and improved with each iteration, while KDE Activities remained very slow, very buggy, and nearly unusable until the release of KDE 4.5.
All this makes me rethink my previous position on GNOME 3. I previously believed that GNOME 3 would suffer the same fate as KDE 4, in that a lot of current GNOME users would migrate to other DEs upon seeing GNOME 3 (be it for its radical nature or its buggy nature). Now, however, I don't think this is the case. I think the major *nix DEs are finally falling into fairly well-defined niches. GNOME will emphasize simplicity, ease-of-use, and understated modernity over flashiness and over-the-top effects. KDE will be the way forward for ultimate customization, web-connected computing through Plasmoid widgets, and flashy desktop effects (as well as tools for power-users, like Dolphin/Konqueror vs. Nautilus, Okular vs. Evince, Kate vs. Gedit, etc.). (Xfce and LXDE will, of course, remain the DEs of choice for people who need lower-resource but still fully-functional and modern DEs.)
But with GNOME moving towards a more tightly-integrated and powerful Metacity WM, one WM is still left out in all this: Compiz. Unfortunately, Compiz and its desktop effects still don't work in recent builds of GNOME 3. While Compiz integration with KDE has gotten better, it still isn't seamless, and Kwin is almost there (but not quite). While most everyday Linux users don't use most Compiz effects (except maybe window decoration transparency and minimize/maximize effects), these effects often play a role in convincing non-Linux users to try Linux. There have been stories after stories of people just using their Linux computers with their friends and their friends being awed and intrigued by the desktop cube and the wobbly windows; don't underestimate the power of these effects to convince people (in the implicit form of "can your OS do this?"). So what does all this mean? It'll become a lot harder to convince people to use Linux through this route, as there will be many people put off by the confusing and endless customization options of KDE 4 (or simply can't run it because they have lower-end hardware). So, GNOME 3 developers, can we please get Compiz integration with GNOME 3 before the first official release? Thanks!


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 October 3

The 2 posts that garnered comments this week were both my previews of Debian 6 "Squeeze" (which I had embarrassingly misspelled as "Sqeeze" in both article titles — eek!). As always, I won't be able to include every comment, but don't feel bad if yours isn't included.

Preview: Debian 6 "Squeeze" (Part 1: GNOME)

An anonymous reader pointed out a way to have both a stable Debian base combined with the newest versions of other applications. "I like a very stable system but newest desktop software (firefox, chromium, vlc, banshee, thunderbird...) that can be easily achieved in Debian by using apt pinning.
So, my system has all the new packages for desktop and all the stable packages for the bare system which makes it rock solid.
Who says you can't have it both? :)" S/he details how to do this in a later comment (which is too detailed to include here).
Another anonymous commenter reasons out the inclusion of Epiphany vs. Midori: "I'm a KDE fan myself, but as for Midori replacing Epiphany in Debian's default install, I don't see that happening. Epiphany is GNOME's default browser, and I doubt that will change any more than Rekonq replacing Konqueror as KDE's default browser (which is good, as I don't like Rekonq at all, no offense to its developer). Debian sticks to the default, hence Epiphany being included."
It was commenter Ivan who pointed out the spelling error: "Titulo mal escrito: squeeze no sqeeze". I tip my hat to him!
Reader Bob Robertson has this to say about Debian: "Debian Live is a great development. I hope that the "standard" Debian installation becomes the Debian Live for "desktop" systems, and the Bootable Business Card "network install" for those (like me) who like to do things interactively, building a system up from the bottom. Debian is as relevant now as it has ever been. Thank you, Debian Developers!"

Preview: Debian 6 "Squeeze" (Part 2: KDE)

Reader lefty.crupps had this to say about Debian and KDE: "It seems surprising that KPackage isn't installed by default, but AFAIK there isn't (yet??) an update-installer thing for KDE. While I love KDE, its too bad that distro people seem to figure we won't want Firefox (with Oxygen theme!) or won't want the OpenOffice.org to be themed to KDE. Debian with KDE is currently my favorite setup. It is fast and slick and KDE is rather default. However, for new users, yes I agree that Mepis is great and the next release will be even better."

Thank you all for commenting, and remember, if you enjoy this material, please do sign up for RSS, Atom, or email updates!

Preview: Debian 6 "Squeeze" (Part 3: LXDE and Xfce)

LXDE Main Screen
Each review done individually would be rather short, so I'm combining reviews of these two DEs into one post. It shouldn't turn out to be too long. The other thing is that I didn't test the installation procedure in either because I suspect it's the exact same as in GNOME and KDE (and because this current virtual hard drive is messed up GRUB-wise).
LXDE seems to be the new hot thing; to cater to users who need a lightweight distribution either out of necessity (older hardware, need to allocate as much memory as possible to applications without giving up a usable DE) or out of preference, pretty much every major distribution has begun to offer an LXDE edition. It's user-friendly but light on resources; it's well-built yet very modular. It just seems like the place to be.
Xfce Main Screen
On the other hand, Xfce, previously the DE of choice for lightweight DE enthusiasts, has been the source of these new LXDE users. What do I mean? While some people still do swear by Xfce, it's quickly losing more and more users, and distributions are shifting their development resources away from Xfce (and usually towards LXDE). Why is this? Unlike LXDE, which is consistently getting better with each release, Xfce hasn't really changed in quite a few releases — it has become a sort of static DE. Plus, it just doesn't look as fresh and cutting-edge as the other DEs. (Full disclosure: The only experience I've had with Xfce is with Linux Mint 7 "Gloria" Xfce, and as Ubuntu does to Xubuntu, Linux Mint makes the Xfce version behave a lot more like the GNOME version (as opposed to leaving it with the default Xfce look).) Even looking at DistroWatch statistics (which are alternatively called accurate and inaccurate), Lubuntu has overtaken Xubuntu and even Kubuntu in popularity.
Follow the jump to see how each DE fares, as implemented in Debian 6 "Squeeze".


Preview: Debian 6 "Squeeze" (Part 2: KDE)

Main Screen
This is the second part in my series of previews of Debian 6 "Squeeze". The ISO image I used this time was again the daily build from 2010 October 3. I tested this in VirtualBox with 1 GB of RAM allocated to the guest OS and a 25 GB virtual hard drive available (the same one on which I installed the GNOME version).
Why am I covering KDE separately from GNOME? It may seem strange at first, considering that Debian doesn't make too many huge modifications to the DEs it uses. However, the fact that KDE 4 (at version 4.4) is included means that KDE 4 has finally reached a level of stability that is acceptable to the developers of stable versions of Debian. Previously, the only distribution based on stable Debian that used KDE 4 was SimplyMEPIS 8.5, based on Debian 5 "Lenny". Now it looks like that may have some competition (though I have heard some rumblings on the Internet that a new version of MEPIS is coming soon — I can't wait to get my hands on that!). Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Preview: Debian 6 "Squeeze" (Part 1: GNOME)

Main Screen
Trying to forecast when the next version of Debian will be released is like trying to figure out whether or not it will snow the next day in Washington DC in winter; it's an exercise in futility. That said, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Debian 6 "Squeeze" will be released soon. Why? I'm testing the new Debian live images which were first released a week ago (and are daily builds — this one is the 2010 October 3 build); before that, the most recent live image available was of version 6 "Sqeeze" alpha 2. Now that they're doing daily builds, I figure that it's not too long until we see the official release.
So why I am I calling the review of the GNOME edition "Part 1"? Debian is one of two distributions (the other being RHEL/CentOS (and I suppose PCLinuxOS could be included to some extent, so I guess that makes 3)) renowned for its stability; the reason why there's a relatively long gap between releases and why new versions are released only when they're ready is so that as many bugs as possible can be ironed out. (A side effect of this is that large amounts of time are allotted specifically for the purpose of getting rid of bugs, in what is known in the Linux distribution development community as a "feature freeze"; a side effect of such a long feature freeze is that by the time a new version of Debian is released, its components are already 3 or 4 versions old, which is good in terms of stability but bad in terms of getting the latest and greatest features (and oftentimes, newer versions of software iron out the wrinkles of older versions, so sometimes the well-tested older version may still be buggy in some ways). Keep reading to find out whether or not this is true.) Anyway, the point of saying all this is that if an application or even larger component (e.g. a DE) makes it into a Debian release, that's basically a seal of approval in terms of stability. This is why I want to test the GNOME, KDE, LXDE, and Xfce versions of Debian to see if these versions live up to their promises of stable computing; LXDE is a relative newcomer to the DE scene, while KDE 4 suffered from stability problems up until a few months ago, so the fact that these have made it into the newest stable version of Debian must mean that they themselves are fairly stable.
Today, I'm starting with the GNOME version because this is typically the version of Debian that gets the most attention. It is often described as the most bare-bones and lightweight (on hardware resources) implementation of GNOME possible (Arch and Gentoo notwithstanding). Follow the jump to see if these things really are true. As this is a milestone in Linux distribution releases, I'll also be covering the installation procedure.


FOLLOW-UP: Six Divided by Two is Patented

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a new IBM patent on estimating the average weight of passengers in a vehicle. Well, I just read a TechDirt article about an even more frivolous patent by IBM for similar things. Basically, this patents the measurement of a car's speed and the division of 60 mi/hr by the speed to determine the refresh rate of a billboard at that location.
How is this even more ridiculous than the last one? The last one didn't explicitly use a symbolic formula; it just described the calculation in words. Here, an explicit symbolic formula is given. I would say that goes against every precedent saying that mathematical formulas (especially ones so simple as this one) are not patentable. The person who submitted this tip to TechDirt asked what I also asked upon reading the introduction: would the refresh rate be infinite if traffic was backed up? There doesn't appear to be any sort of backup plan (no pun intended) in the abstract of the patent, though further down in the details there vaguely does appear to be some provision of this sort.
There is much more for me to say about this. I think the ridiculousness of the patent filing speaks for itself. All I hope is that the USPTO rejects this one, but at that rate, I might as well hope to find a magnetic monopole.


Why I'm Sticking with Blogger

This semester, I'm taking a class on web design. The name itself is misleading, as this class is also a humanities ("HASS-H", in MIT parlance) and communication-intensive ("CI-H") class; therefore, the emphasis is more on working together as a team and writing high-quality proposals and reports, and the professor expects that each group have at least one member proficient in web design. Neither myself nor my group members are proficient enough in web design to be able to build a dynamic website from (essentially) scratch, and all of us want to get this project done ASAP. To that end, we found that a student group at MIT really needs a new website, as the current website is a few years old and isn't even complete. To quicken and ease the creation of the site, I initially suggested that we use WordPress, due to its extensibility and its professional-looking sites; plus, one of the members of my group is good enough with programming that learning PHP (a near-requirement for WordPress) wouldn't take too long. However, as I later discovered, downloading and editing the PHP files is cumbersome, and we would have to pay if we wanted to host it on our own domain (!) or edit the CSS pages (!!). Wow. I think it's bad that WordPress isn't more up-front about what exactly will require payments. Naturally, we searched for alternatives. Then, I realized that Blogger would be a great tool to create a website and can be made to look just as professional as WordPress sites.
Blogger makes editing a site's theme as easy as pie; with WordPress, one must know PHP. In Blogger (as far as I know), it is free to change domains; with WordPress, one must pay. The story is similar for CSS. That's why we've settled with Blogger for our site. It's friendly towards newbies and non-technical types (like myself), and it's easier to customize (at least on the surface). Hence, I'm glad I went with Blogger for starting this blog.
Of course, these things weren't on my mind over a year ago; it's just that I had a Google account and was commenting on a few Blogger blogs, so I figured the easiest way to create a blog would be through Blogger. I'm sticking with what I know works for me.


NVidia, Linux, and Hardware Acceleration

When I got my Asus laptop, I immediately installed Linux Mint 9 "Isadora" GNOME and searched for the proprietary NVidia graphics driver. For some reason, at that time, nothing turned up. I didn't really worry about it, as I could enable 3D acceleration and desktop effects anyway, and they worked really well, as they still do. A few days ago, I got the idea of looking again to see if I could install those proprietary drivers, as those might give my computer using Linux Mint even greater graphics capabilities. To my pleasant surprise, this time, the drivers were found and had already been downloaded; all I needed to do was click "Activate", and I did. I then restarted the computer and logged back in, only to find that I could no longer use desktop effects. Well, that was strange. The thing is, I have 2 graphics cards in this computer (an NVidia GeForce 310M and an Intel GMA 4500); Linux Mint recognizes both (as tested in the terminal), but I don't know for sure which card is being used. Furthermore, deactivating the driver brought back desktop effects. Has anyone else had similar issues? Does anyone else know what to do in such a situation? Thanks in advance!


Isaac Newton, Progress, and Patents

In my physics recitation class today, our recitation leader briefly digressed from the material at hand to discuss the history of differential calculus and the conflict between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. Basically, Newton claimed to have invented differential calculus first (although, as with any other "invention", neither can truly claim to have invented calculus from scratch as they were building on the work of mathematicians before them (and I don't just mean 1 + 1 = 2 — I mean things like infinite series and tangent lines)), but as he kept his work secret for decades, he ended up publishing his work on calculus after Leibniz published his work. While both were initially on good terms, as Newton became more possessive of his own work and convinced of his own originality, the debate became progressively more heated, with Newton and his supporters accusing Leibniz of plagiarism. Follow the jump to read more.


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 September 26

There were a few posts that garnered quite a few comments, so I'll try to include a few comments from each post.

Review: aptosid 2010-02 "Keres" KDE

I complained about the lack of Synaptic Package Manager in aptosid. Reader T Beermonster had an excellent explanation of this: "Because aptosid is based on debian unstable packages move fast (when debian isn't in a pre-release freeze anyway) upgrading (which should always be a dist-upgrade not an upgrade) or installing anything that touches X should not be done from a running X session because breakages can and will occur."
Commenter HPB had this to say about the distribution and the community: "I think aptosid is one of the best debian/sid based distro's. It's very fast, up-to-date and it has a very friendly community. As it is apparently not for newbies, it certainly is the distro of choice for newcomers to learn what GNU/linux is all about."

The Ideal Linux Distribution, As I See It

I complained that PCLinuxOS 2010 does not include OpenOffice.org out-of-the-box, thus justifying my choice of Linux Mint "Debian" over it. As an anonymous commenter reminded me, "Pclinuxos does have OpenOffice, but not on the live/install CD. You can download it using the Get Open Office script that will get all the right parts and localization, even KDE or Gnome integration."
Another anonymous commenter, in response to another anonymous reader's question about it, responded, "just try htop - the memory footprint is practically as low as a pure debian install's. And that's the smallest you can get with a pure gnome install."
Reader qa1433 remarks, "I have been using Mint Debian since it came out. On my old clunker box it works faster then other Ubuntu based OS. However, all OS's with KDE 4.5 seem to run very slow except Chakra which is Arch based."
Finally, commenter Matias had this to say about newbie-friendly distributions: "So my favs to newbies - Mint and Mandriva. Personally i'm mostly using Fedora. My family prefer Linux Mint."

Review: wattOS R2

I complained about the removal of the power management utilities that gave wattOS its name. Reader iggy_koopa explains that "I wrote the power management gui originally for wattos, but haven't really had time to work on it in the last year or so. It needs to be updated to support ext4 and I need to rework it so it can be packaged as a deb. I'm assuming that's why biff left it out of this release. Hopefully I'll have time soon to get it back up to date."

Well, that's all for last week's comments. Stay tuned for the posts coming up this week!

Review: Sabayon 5.4 KDE

Main Screen
I've already reviews Sabayon 5.2 and 5.3 KDE, so I don't think it's necessary to repeat the history and roots of Sabayon. Suffice it to say that it's an easy-to-use binary variant of Gentoo that includes everything and the kitchen sink.
According to the Sabayon developers, Sabayon 5.4 brings to the table a new theme, many bugs fixed, and a couple changes in the included applications. Follow the jump to see how it fares. I tested this in VirtualBox with 1024 MB of RAM allocated for the guest OS, as this is how much RAM my old computer had when I tested Sabayon 5.2 on it directly (i.e. from a live USB instead of from VirtualBox).


Review: wattOS R2

Main Screen and Main Menu
The only review of a lightweight Ubuntu-based distribution I've done before this is of #! 9.04.01. I was looking around to see if there are any others, and I came across wattOS.
wattOS R2 is based on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" and uses LXDE. From other reviews of this distribution that I have read, the thing that sets it apart is its comprehensive set of power management tools (hence the name).
The other reason I wanted to test this is because I wanted to try to make a "light" version of my Fresh OS respin. Yeah, I know this is based on Ubuntu while the regular version is based on Debian, but I've heard murmurs in the wattOS forums of the next wattOS version being based on Debian anyway. Anyway, this means that I will also be testing the installation procedure as well as a few other things post-installation.
I tested this in VirtualBox with 256 MB of RAM, as I wanted to test the performance of this lightweight distribution under a lower resource environment. Follow the jump to see how all of this goes.


Stuxnet, Microsoft, and the Media

There have been a slew of articles about a new piece of malware called Stuxnet which has infected tens of thousands of computers in Iran without the computers' users' knowledge. There's an article by Ellen Nakashima in the Washington Post about how Stuxnet could be used against the US, considering the target of the original attack was probably one of the nuclear power plants in Iran. I wondered what sort of havoc it could wreak on our country's computers. Then I clicked on page 2, and my suspicions — not about Stuxnet's fearsome capabilities, but about its modus operandi and how the mainstream media would report it — were confirmed.
Of course, reading the article again, I should have been suspicious on page 1 itself, considering that "[t]he antivirus security firm Symantec analyzed the worm this summer." Does anyone seriously expect Symantec to be a disinterested party in this? It's a question of computer security, so of course they're going to inflate numbers a little (though whether they've actually done so this time or not is another question) to scare the public into buying their products.
But the second page holds the real "goodies" of this article. Let's go through the major ones.
But "not even two days later," he said, a hacker Web site posted the code so that others could use it to exploit the vulnerabilities in Microsoft.
I should have figured as much. It only affects Microsoft software. Why must the mainstream media equate Microsoft software with all software, considering that in higher levels of the government (e.g. the Department of Defense) Linux is in widespread use for its security benefits? For goodness sake, the military uses RHEL/CentOS!
* It exploited four Microsoft "zero-day" vulnerabilities, allowing Stuxnet to spread automatically without computers users' knowledge.
* One vulnerability allowed the worm to spread via the use of a thumb drive or other removable device. That flaw and one other have since been patched.
* It is autonomous - it requires no hidden hand at the control stick to direct its moves. [...]
* Once it found its target, it was designed to inject code into the controller to change a process. What that process is, is not yet known.
All of these have to do with the fact that Microsoft Windows automatically elevates users to administrator privileges and grants executables administrative privileges as well, so of course this virus will spread without the user's knowledge, spread via removable media, spread autonomously, and inject code autonomously. With Linux, the concept of user privileges (as well as the way Linux handles executables, which is very different from Microsoft Windows) means that this sort of thing would require a lot more effort to execute. And don't counter with Apple's Mac OS X; a recent Secunia report has showed that Apple software has experienced more security vulnerabilities this year than Microsoft software.
So please, Washington Post: don't conflate Microsoft software with all software, and please do some more of the investigative reporting that made you famous in the 1970s with regard to a certain president; is that too much to ask, in this day and age?