Featured Comments: Week of 2011 February 20

There was only one post this past week that garnered a handful of comments, so I'll post all of them.

LXAppearance Issues

Reader T_Beermonster said, "ObConf?", later adding, "Oh, and now I notice you are using gnome with openbox rather than lxde or straight openbox it could be that an update has broken your .obt mime-associations. Try: update-mime-database /usr/share/mime update-desktop-database /usr/share/applications" After my explanation that this is just straight-up Openbox, this reader replied, "Ah I misread, the perils of post midnight web surfing. Anyway ObConf should be able to manage your themes."
Commenter BP had this advice: "You need to append "gtk-icon-theme-name = "[name-of-icon-theme]" to your ~/.gtkrc.mine (not gtkrc-2.0) file and then ensure that ~/.gtkrc-2.0 is configured to parse ~/.gtkrc.mine: # ~/.gtkrc-2.0 include "/usr/share/themes/Rezlooks-Gilouche/gtk-2.0/gtkrc" # or whatever theme you want
include "/home/username/.gtkrc.mine" You may also want to consider using lxappearance2-git, which is the most recent developmental build."

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's posts. I don't have anything particularly planned for the coming week, considering that I have exams and other stuff going on; I'll write what I can, when I can. Remember, if you like what I write here, please continue subscribing and commenting!


How-To: Use "Activities" (sort of) in Compiz

One of the big features of KDE 4 is its Activities; it is now possible to create defined Activities that, when started, will open a specific set of applications, widgets, and virtual desktops. For example, the "Office" Activity might start up OpenOffice.org, Dolphin, and a Konqueror part widget showing the Zoho Office Suite. Since KDE 4.5, it has become much easier to start, stop, and switch among different Activities.
Unfortunately, similar functionality has yet to be found in GNOME. GNOME 3 has Activities, but "Activities" is more like another name for simple virtual desktop functionality. GNOME 2 doesn't have anything of the sort aside from plain-old virtual desktops, and I haven't yet found a way to configure Metacity to support that sort of functionality.
Enter Compiz, which is actually what I am using as my WM under GNOME. Its settings management program allows me to associate different windows with different virtual desktops. Now, I'm able to more fully appreciate the functionality and flexibility of virtual desktops without going overboard in terms of organization. How?
First, if your computer supports it, install Compiz and set it as your default WM. Then, in CompizConfig Settings Manager, go to the "Place Windows" configuration tool, and in the "General" tab, change "Placement Mode" to "Smart" (if it isn't there already).
Next, if you have a set of virtual desktops configured in 1 row and Y columns, to make an application always open in a particular virtual desktop 'j', expand the box labeled "Windows with fixed viewport", click "New", click the "+" button in the new window, click "Grab" in the newer window, and then click the crosshair cursor on the desired application window. Then, copy the window class name, click "Add" in the window with the "Grab" button, and type without quotes "(class=) & class=[insert window class name here]". Change the Y viewport position to 'j' and click "Close". Now that window should open in only that virtual desktop.
Now, I have Mozilla Firefox opening in desktop 1, OpenOffice.org and Okular opening in desktop 2, and games opening in desktop 3. Finally, I can use virtual desktops to the fullest extent. (And yes, these aren't real "Activities".)


LXAppearance Issues

A couple days ago, I had a bit more time on my hands, so I decided to redo UberBang and start from a minimal Ubuntu installation again; this is also because it seems like my respins created with Remastersys don't seem to be installable, so I want to redo it using the Ubuntu Customization Kit. I installed the OS in a virtual machine, installed packages like X, Openbox, Nitrogen, et cetera, and started configuring stuff.
Except that now I can't properly set an icon theme of my choosing. Previously, I used LXAppearance to do this, but now, LXAppearance sees all GTK+ themes as the default Clearlooks theme and all icon themes as the default GNOME Hi-Color theme. I installed GTK-ChTheme to be able to change the GTK+ theme, but there's no other similar program for changing just the icon theme (aside from the whole package of GNOME configuration tools, but I don't want to add all that extra bloat). Plus, editing the ~/.gtkrc-2.0 file doesn't work at all; the icon theme remains at the default (and creating a ~/.gtkrc-2.0.mine file and including that in the ~/.gtkrc-2.0 file doesn't work either).
Why is LXAppearance giving me so much trouble all of a sudden? Is there a more reliable way that I can change the icon theme? I would certainly love to know!


Movie Review: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Yesterday morning I watched the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's a movie that I've wanted to watch for quite a while now, more so because last year my AP Physics C teacher kept talking about how much he loves that movie and because our high school senior class T-shirts had the famous Ferris Bueller quote on the back: "Life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Unfortunately, for every bit of the movie shown, there were bits of advertising that seemed to be at least as long.
The movie itself was great, and I'm glad I finally got to watch it. The premise is fairly simple: a high school senior named Ferris Bueller elaborately fakes an illness (replete with a dummy in his bed and a tired recorded voice activated whenever someone rings the front doorbell, among other things) to take a day off from school and brings his friend Cameron and his girlfriend Sloane with him to see stuff in Chicago and evade the school principal. I found the part of Ferris's absence count dropping before the principal's very eyes ironic, considering that when I was in high school, due to glitches in the attendance system, I was occasionally marked absent even when I was clearly in class. I was also a little disappointed that the movie never shows what happens to Cameron and his father at the end. Other than that, the movie is full of laughs from start to finish, and it's really sweet and family-friendly; I would highly recommend this movie to anyone.


Movie Review: Liar, Liar

Yesterday night I watched the movie Liar, Liar on DVD with my family. The plot synopsis is fairly simple: Jim Carrey plays a lawyer who succeeds in life by lying not just to his clients and coworkers but to his family as well. When he promises to show up at his son's 5th birthday party but fails to do so, his son makes a wish that his father can't tell a lie for a day, and it comes true; from that, hilarity ensues.
I thought the movie was full of laughs from start to finish. It's family-friendly, and never once is it truly raunchy (save of course for the sex scene with Jim Carrey's character's partner, which is the reason why he can't make it to the birthday party). I did think the ending with him driving the airplane staircase next to the airplane was too exaggerated and overwrought. Other than that, though, it's a movie I would recommend to anyone.

Featured Comments: Week of 2011 February 13

I was getting a little scared that I wouldn't write this post for this week because I didn't post that much this past week, but thankfully, neither of those things happened. There was only one post that got a handful of comments this week, so I'll post all of those.

Not All is Fair in Linux

Reader dick had this to say about issues in Linux Mint: "I had the problem with Linux Mint that I did an Opera update from the normal method. The update went fine and all seemed to be well. I logged off. Next morning I was unable to log back in. I can't get back in with fail safe Linux Mint or any of the older versions either. Just totally blocks me out. I don't want to replace this if I can help it because I have some old photos of my grandfather, grandmother, and baby photos of my mother that I got from a distant relative who has since died and they are irreplaceable and since my grandfather was born in 1838 and grandmother 1878 and mother in 1902 they are missing from my immediate family as well. Any ideas on how to log in when you can't get there from here? Is there any way to easily get the home files from a different distro and put there some where safe? I realize I should have backed up before the update but have never had a problem with Linux Mint before. This is Linux Mint 8. Shame because this is essentially the first real problem I have had with Linux Mint and I had grown to depend on it just working without problems." I do believe that as with Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala", Linux Mint 8 "Helena" had quite a few problems of various kinds, so a system upgrade might be in order.
An anonymous reader had this suggestion: "If you have a problem with Ubuntu or Mint you can't say you have a problem with Linux (as a whole). Please, change the title of your post." I responded to this with the fact that this is an ongoing debate in the wider Linux community, so by saying "Not All is Fair in Linux", I was also implying the presence of strife in the community.
Reader revdJenk said, among other things, "I have LinuxMint 10 64bit, running on my LinuxCertified brand laptop with GM45 Intel video, and running compiz on advanced setting. I haven't experienced any of the issues you or the other commenter are mentioning."
Another anonymous commenter said, "Missing font issue you run into all the time. These days I just do PDF if I have to print else where. compiz has had issues for years. The closed source nvidia driver is not really compatible with it. But due to the type of incompadible you could go many months to years before its shows itself." Yes, but unfortunately, I needed to make a couple last-minute edits before printing; my original course of action was to just send myself a PDF file and print that out.
Reader NotZed said, among other things, "For printing - i'd recommend creating a pdf file locally and then taking that to another machine if you have to print on it. No matter what environment, missing fonts, software version differences and so on are always an issue. This is basically what PDF was invented for."

Thanks to all those who commented on posts from this past week. Due to things like exams, I may not be able to post too frequently. (If you see posts coming later this week, it probably means I wrote it much earlier and made the post automatically get published at a set time.) Once again, if you like what I write, please do keep subscribing and commenting!


A Different Kind of Math

This semester I'm taking a class titled 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics. The math class I took last semester was 18.03 Differential Equations.
Prior to this semester, in almost every math class I've taken (at least since high school, because I don't remember too much detail about my classes before then), the homework assignments have basically been: "OK, so you did this problem illustrating the fundamentals of this concept? Good. Now do 20 more problems just like that with different numbers." Sure, there were a couple word problems here and there, but those were extremely straightforward as well and didn't really require a whole lot of thought.
Now, however, all the problems are word problems, and as evidenced by the recent problem sets, they require quite a bit more thought and interpretation. They look like they are very open-ended (i.e. any answer could be right), but the truth is that there is only one fairly specific way to solve a problem. For example, there was one question on the last problem set that almost seemed like it was asking for my personal opinion, but it really was a cleverly-disguised question asking me to construct a Poisson approximation with the data provided in the problem. The emphasis now is not on the mathematical techniques, because those are fairly basic and there isn't any new math being taught here; now, the emphasis is on being able to correctly parse what the question is asking and apply the correct mathematical tools to reach a solution. Plus, this is made a little bit more difficult by the fact that many people including myself subconsciously resort to intuition to answer questions of probability, and when it comes to probability, human intuition has been repeatedly shown to be very, very wrong; I think this is because people instinctively try to look for patterns rather than looking at the bigger picture of chances, and this is something I do too.
I think it'll be a fun class, but even now it's certainly a little bit more challenging than previous math classes. I don't think it should be that bad though!


Not All is Fair in Linux

There are a couple experiences I had yesterday computer-wise that I'd like to share.
The first has to do with printing. Yesterday, I needed to print out a paper I had written for my history class; I don't have my own printer in my dormitory room, so I usually print on-campus. I went to one of the quick-workstations with Ubuntu-based MIT Athena computers, and I tried printing my document there. Of course OpenOffice.org recognized the document just fine, as it was an ODT file made in OpenOffice.org on my computer. However, I wasn't able to print, because my account didn't have the printer in that room as a recognized device. I didn't have very much time at all to fiddle with the printer settings, so I headed to a Microsoft Windows-based Athena cluster of computers in the library. Unfortunately, Microsoft Windows XP didn't have the Droid Sans font enabled, and of course I couldn't download it as I don't have administrative rights, so the document got printed in Times New Roman. That's not a big deal, although I would have preferred that it be printed in the font I originally used.
These are not meant to be knocks against either OS; I'm just a little surprised with some of the administrative decisions made here with regard to the network. I thought that to help keep the applications and interfaces uniform, the same fonts would be present in Microsoft Windows as in Ubuntu and the same printers would be enabled by default for all accounts in Ubuntu as in Microsoft Windows.
Last night, however, I experienced some slightly more serious trouble with my Linux Mint installation on my computer. After the boot process, I got the error message of "Ubuntu is running in low-graphics mode". I tried reconfiguring X.Org and restarting, but to no avail; the error message came up again. I then entered in low-graphics mode just once, but of course, this meant using the generic graphics driver and having no desktop effects at all. Using the proprietary NVidia drivers didn't help either, so I disabled those as well. I looked in the forums for solutions, and I found one: I logged out, logged into failsafe GNOME, removed the Compiz Fusion extra plugins, logged out again, and logged back in again. Now, [essentially] everything works again.
I read in some forum posts that the issue could be a bad update, but I looked at the Linux Mint Update Manager's update log and found no updates for Compiz in the last few days. It seems like the Compiz issue was just a random breakage; this is the first time I'm seeing something like that happen on Linux Mint, and I had hoped that it was the last, but today when logging in, all my windows' titlebars went missing, so I needed to use the Compiz Fusion icon to reload Compiz. I hope I don't have to do this again.
I feel like this is a symptom of a problem many people online have talked about with regard to Linux distributions becoming more newbie-friendly; as they start to appeal more to migrants from Microsoft Windows, a lot of the same problems start appearing. It doesn't matter that things like package managers require a password to start; hopefully the user knows the password, so once that password is typed, there is nothing to stop the user from totally messing up the system, even unintentionally. Knowing that it wasn't a bad update (though it might have been a bad update of a dependency), I have no idea what I could have done to cause this problem. Unlike in Microsoft Windows, I expect that in Linux problems do not spontaneously appear; they should have some traceable cause.
Well, all I can do is hope that these problems don't recur, and that they'll be fixed in future versions of Linux Mint.


Lack of Patents Helped Even in the 19th Century US

This semester my humanities class is titled "Technology in American History". We first started talking about the various meanings and connotations of the world "technology" and how these are significant. Since then, we've been talking about technologies that the Native Americans and early European settlers used, progressing all the way to early 19th century American technology. Today's lecture was on the role of the government in technological developments at that time.
One of the parts I found interesting in today's lecture was that in the early- to mid-19th century, techniques used in the manufacturing of guns were later applied to the manufacturing of seemingly unrelated things, like sewing machines (Remington at one point was a huge manufacturer of both sewing machines and rifles), pocket-watches, and early automobiles. Yet, these processes had no patents on them, and that's because this was all technology adapted from what was being done in the US national armories at Harpers Ferry and Springfield. Basically, the government allowed inventors and entrepreneurs full, unrestricted access to the armories provided that what they created wouldn't be patented — or, if they were patented, which is what happened in one or two isolated cases, the patent-holder(s) couldn't collect any royalties. Because of that, competition was allowed to come about, prices dropped, more innovation was being made, and the consumers won for it.
Yes, it is true that back then, it was quite a bit more costly to try to innovate something, and even afterwards, it was costly to produce it, so patents did help mitigate those costs. Now, however, especially in the software and pharmaceutical industries, patents are preventing real competition from coming about and prices are being held artificially high, and companies don't have any incentive to further innovate because they have a monopoly. And even then, there's evidence with the innovations of people like James Watt and Thomas Edison that inventors even then kept prices artificially high and didn't innovate as much because of the legal monopoly.
Also, my professor did talk about his sort of central thesis in his view of the government and technology: he sees that in most major technological developments, it's "government in, then government out". While this has been true for most major things like airplanes and the Internet itself, the fact is that patents are really just government-granted and enforced monopolies. This means that when a private inventor applies for a pattern, government comes in but doesn't go out for quite a while, especially considering all the patent infringement-related lawsuits (which involve the judicial branch of the government) in the last decade or so. Then again, such lawsuits dated back even then, and they were just as costly then as they are now.


Comparison Test: CTKArchLive 0.6 vs. ArchBang 2011.01 "Symbiosis" (on FreeTechie)

Yay! I got another guest post! This time I compared ArchBang 2011.01 "Symbiosis" and CTKArchLive 0.6, two Arch-based Openbox distributions that try to make living with Arch a little easier (but don't quite cater to newbies like Chakra does). Here's a little snippet from that article:
After rebooting, I got to the boot menu, and selected the menu entry for CTKArchLive in English. (The only other option was French.) Unfortunately, I faced the same problem that I initially did in ArchBang, and here I had no “failsafe” option. Then, I figured that maybe if I included some of ArchBang’s “failsafe” boot options in CTKArchLive’s menu entry, it would work. I pressed CTRL+E at the boot menu on CTKArchLive’s menu entry, typed in “xorg=vesa” and “nomodeset” (both without quotation marks) at the end of the first run-on line, pressed CTRL+X, and went on my way. It worked, and I was able to get to the desktop.
Please support Free Techie and read the rest of the article here. Enjoy!


Featured Comments: Week of 2011 February 6

There were only a couple of posts that garnered a few comments this past week, so I'll post all of those.

Review: Debian 6 "Squeeze"

An anonymous reader signed as Eddie Wilson had this to say: "I agree with your assessment of Debian 6.0. However I do believe that the Debian team will offer Gnome 3 when it becomes stable. I'm not sure if they will offer Unity or not. That is a wait and see item. The classic Gnome will not be developed anymore after Gnome 3 takes hold so who knows. The Debian team did adopt KDE 4.x so I'm sure they will go forward with the latest Gnome when it's stable. Good review and thank you."

Another anonymous commenter said, " I use Debian exclusively for my servers at work. I prefer Debian over Red Hat and other alternatives. I had previously used Ubuntu with extensive problems (constant rebooting for no apparent reason) which were all solved when I switched to Debian. I really like Debian's rock solid stability compared to Ubuntu for use as a server. I don't install X-Windows or a GUI, so most of this article didn't apply to me. I have not yet booted up a sandbox with Squeeze on it but I am looking forward to upgrading. I don't understand why Debian wouldn't be considered relevant. I see its purpose as a stable alternative to Ubuntu, rather than switching to something else like Red Hat."

Revisited: KDE 4.6

Reader Dustin Casler said, "Thanks for the review. I've been wanting to try out 4.6 and also been wanting to try Arch but never find myself with the time. I would have never thought of this. I have a few questions though. Were there any complications getting proprietary drivers/codecs/flash going? Also Would you mind posting or emailing me the commands you used to set it up automatically start KDE?", later adding, "Your Welcome. I saw this article at pretty much the perfect time. I've got Archbang installed, updated, and KDE added. Now i'm just having issues getting into that initrc file to change it to KDE. When I rebooted it doesn't show KDE in the session options. Going hunting in the forums now. Everything seems find with my Nvidia card, but I haven't tried using any desktop effects or playing any videos yet."

Thanks to all those who commented this week. I don't have anything really planned for this week as of yet; I am still waiting on Free Techie to accept and publish an article comparing ArchBang 2011.01 "Symbiosis" to CTKArchLive 0.6, both Arch-based Openbox distributions. Hopefully that'll happen soon, at which point I'll post a teaser and a link to the full article here. At some point (but by no means necessarily this week), I'm thinking of maybe reviewing #! 10 "Statler" R20110207 Xfce and ArchBang 2011.02 [no code names anymore] along with (when those distributions' newest versions get released) a comparison test whose participants I won't name...yet. Remember, if you like what I write here, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Revisited: KDE 4.6

Main Screen
I recently tried reviewing KDE 4.6, and it didn't turn out so well due to the combination of my installing KDE 4.6 in a live session and my using Linux Mint to try it out. (Also, I have said this before in previous articles, but again, my primary distribution is Linux Mint with GNOME, so that bias will show in this article somehow or another. Please do keep that in mind when reading this.) One frequent suggestion was to use Arch to test it next time. Although installing Arch may not be so bad, getting it configured to work right post-installation, while ultimately very rewarding, is time-consuming and pretty difficult, and I don't think I have either the time or skill to do that. Then I had an epiphany (no pun intended): use ArchBang. It comes as a live CD and, after installation, it has a nice Openbox setup with things like sound and network settings configured properly out-of-the-box. It also comes with a whole bunch of GTK+ applications, so it's ideal to see how well KDE plays with another DE/WM side-by-side.

I tried doing all this in VirtualBox on a Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME live USB, because MultiSystem, the multiboot live USB creation tool, seems to have messed up VirtualBox on my installed Linux Mint 9 "Isadora" GNOME system. I allocated 1024 MB of RAM to the guest OS, used a 10 GB virtual hard drive located on my physical hard drive for installing ArchBang, and went on my way. The installation procedure was fairly straightforward; it was a text-based ncurses-esque interface. After installing, I restarted the virtual machine and then ran the following commands in sequence in order to update the system: "su", "pacman -Syu", "exit", log out, log back in, "su", "pacman -Syu" for good measure, "pacman -S kde", and finally "exit". I also edited the ~/.xinitrc file to start KDE instead of Openbox by default. I then logged out and logged back in. Follow the jump to see what KDE 4.6 is really like.


Review: Debian 6 "Squeeze"

After a wait of 2 years, Debian 6 "Squeeze" has finally been released! Yay! It's now officially termed "stable".
Some highlights include changes in supported architectures (e.g. ARMEL instead of ARM), choice in using either the Linux kernel or FreeBSD kernel under the Debian GNU tools, a Linux kernel that is now made completely of free software, GNOME 2.30 with some updates from 2.32, KDE 4.4.5, Xfce 4.6, LXDE 0.50, IceWeasel 3.5, OpenOffice.org 3.2, more packages available, an improved installer, and more "pure blends" for different users.

Main Screen + Main Menu
With this release came a couple articles and a bit of back-and-forth discussion online about the continuing relevance of Debian. The original article posited that Debian is becoming irrelevant because its most famous derivative Ubuntu has it beat on the user-friendly desktop side and Red Hat and SUSE are also much more popular on the server end. A different article argued that Debian, far from becoming irrelevant, is essential for the ongoing survival of derivatives like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, MEPIS, and #!. The original article's author then responded by saying that if need be, although it would be a royal pain to do so, the developers of these derivative distributions could probably continue developing packages for their systems if Debian suddenly disappeared.
I take issue with that, because distributions like Linux Mint, MEPIS, and #! have smaller developer bases, so their time is already taken up by developing the smaller add-on packages to make their distributions unique; they have neither the [wo]manpower nor the funding to possibly continue developing core packages without the help of the Debian developers upstream. Plus, Linux Mint, although currently a primarily Ubuntu-based distribution, is also continually maintaining a rolling-release Debian-based distribution, so it needs the work of the good Debian developers even more in that sense, especially considering that the Ubuntu-based version of Linux Mint will diverge a bit more from Ubuntu in not adopting either Unity or GNOME 3 and not using Wayland for a while.
That said, I did read an interesting comment in one particular release announcement of Debian 6 "Squeeze", and that says that almost all the features present in the current stable Debian release were present in the most recent Ubuntu LTS release (10.04 "Lucid Lynx"), which came out just under a year ago. I would also add to that the fact that Debian stable releases are not supported any longer than Ubuntu LTS releases, which are supported for 3 years after release. Therefore, unless unbeatable stability or low resource usage is paramount, I would say for now that there's no compelling reason to use Debian 6 "Squeeze" over Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx". Of course, that case might become more compelling when Ubuntu uses Unity in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "P[...] P[...]", as Debian will likely stick to a more traditional GNOME setup and will probably appeal to more users disenchanted with the current direction of Ubuntu.

But I'm not here to argue if Debian is relevant or not. I'm here to try it out. I tried out the standard GNOME and KDE live systems through a live USB made with MultiSystem, and installed the KDE version in VirtualBox with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS. Plus, there's a little bonus at the end (which I won't reveal right now), so follow the jump to see how it all goes.


HP + Linux = Ending the Microsoft Addiction?

HP has been best known for its peripheral computer devices, especially printers and scanners, though it is also well-known for its desktop computers, and, to a lesser extent, laptops and netbooks. Its printers and other peripherals are held in high regard for fully working with Linux distributions out-of-the-box, but it has never officially supported Linux among its product portfolio. Sure, it has sold business-/enterprise- and server-grade computers with SUSE (SLED, not openSUSE), but those are tucked away in dark corners of its website; even Dell, with its on-again, off-again, relationship with Ubuntu, does sort of advertise its Ubuntu-based machines. Well, that's all about to change at HP.
Today, HP first announced a couple WebOS-based phones and a new WebOS based tablet to compete with Apple's iPad. WebOS is HP's mobile operating system based on Linux; as far as I know, other than using the Linux kernel and base GNU tools, WebOS is not related to Android, and the two will probably compete in the mobile marketplace. But the most exciting part came later: HP announced that not only would WebOS come in phones and tablets, but it would also make its way into its printers and PCs. That's right: HP is introducing its own Linux-based competitor to Microsoft Windows. Sweet! This could, after all, be the oft-proclaimed year of the Linux desktop.
Of course, with this new announcement comes new responsibilities; now HP has absolutely no excuse for their peripherals not fully supporting Linux, considering many of them will run Linux under the hood. Then again, as I said earlier, HP has been pretty good to Linux so far in terms of peripheral support.
But there's another aspect to HP's WebOS announcement. If you noticed, WebOS is supposed to be a mobile platform; yet, it's being ported to conventional desktops as well. This is similar to how Ubuntu's Unity interface, originally designed for netbooks and similarly small screens, will become the default interface for desktops as well, and how future versions of Google Chrome OS will likely be very much like Android scaled up for netbooks. In addition, it looks like GNOME 3 was also designed with small form factors in mind, what with the Activities feature and the panel only being able to show the active task, and this has been scaled up for traditional desktops. I think there's a new trend here of creating new interfaces designed for mobile devices and then scaling them up for desktop use, and I think for that reason it's true that the future of end-user computing is in mobile devices. A while back I wrote a post about how Microsoft's push for Windows 7 on netbooks was misguided and that it should scale up the Windows Phone 7 interface instead to make better use of hardware resources, similar to how Apple scaled up the iPhone's iOS for use in the iPad instead of trying to cram in Mac OS X. Well, now that we're seeing mobile OSs being scaled up to full desktops and not just netbooks, I don't think Microsoft is just misguided anymore — I think they're dead wrong, and I think it's already costing them.
The only concern I have though is that WebOS on desktops and laptops may be relegated as a lightweight "instant-on"-style OS secondary to Microsoft Windows, similar to what Asus did for a while on its laptops and netbooks. Then again, HP seems to be pretty darn serious about WebOS for desktops, and not just because consumers want something fast; they recognize that consumers also want the same polish found in modern mobile OSs, so I don't think WebOS will be playing second fiddle to Microsoft Windows on future HP desktops/laptops.


Mozilla Firefox 4, HTML 5, and Rolling Releases

Yesterday, there was news that Mozilla Firefox would be releasing version 4 probably by the end of this month and early next month, and along with this, versions 5-7 would also be released this year (2011); do note that version 4 was scheduled for release in 2010 November. While some people were outraged by this announcement given how long it has taken Mozilla to release Firefox 4, it has since become clear that this is supposed to be the biggest new release of Mozilla Firefox we'll ever see, and all future whole-number releases will follow the model of Google Chrome/Chromium of releasing new versions often (and now it's nearly every month) that are more incremental improvements rather than revolutions.
I'm glad that this is happening, for it means that applications and not just whole OSs are starting to follow a rolling-release-esque model of releasing snapshots periodically but sending packages of updates thereafter. Then again, I wonder if fixed-release distributions will provide these newer versions of Mozilla Firefox when they come out; I'd certainly like to be using Mozilla Firefox 7 on Linux Mint 9 "Isadora". I'd at least like to see them added to a PPA available for users of Ubuntu LTS releases.
Plus, this comes a few weeks after an announcement by the HTML developers that version 5 will be the last explicitly-numbered version; from here on out, HTML will just be called "HTML" and will follow a similar rolling-release-esque system.
But I don't think the reason for Mozilla doing this is only to make up for the long delay of the release of Firefox 4; I think they're also concerned that Mozilla Firefox, having a lower version number, isn't perceived to be as "advanced" as its rivals, like Google Chrome 9. I've read that in the open-source community, quickly advancing version numbers when such quick advances didn't happen before in the project is frowned upon (i.e. 1...2...3......4-5-6-7), but I've seen that even developers of free software that cater to more experienced users fall prey to this as well. The best example of this is Slackware: lead developer Patrick Volkerding, concerned that users were leaving Slackware for other distributions because Slackware's lower version number (4) was lower than competing distributions and hence gave the impression of Slackware being less "advanced" or "mature", decided to skip a couple versions and released version 7 right after version 4.
Well, at the very least, I hope Mozilla Firefox 4 gets released soon. Even better, I hope I can use it!


More Microsoft Windows Trouble

Today, when I had a break between classes, I went to the library to print out some homework as those computers were the closest to where I was at that time. All those machines (save one) have Microsoft Windows XP, and they reminded me why I dislike using Microsoft Windows so much.
When I turned one of the computers on, before seeing the login screen, I saw a whole bunch of windows for update scripts, which is fine. Then, after logging in, it took a really long time to reach the desktop.
I then clicked on Mozilla Firefox, and that took a ridiculously long time to load; part of that is the fault of Mozilla Firefox, but part of that is due to Microsoft Windows XP just being slow in general as well as not preloading its libraries to let it start faster (which is why in the past on Microsoft Windows machines Microsoft Internet Explorer would beat Mozilla Firefox in load times). Then, out of nowhere, I saw a dialog box flash just long enough for me to see that the system was being restarted; sure enough, 2 seconds later, the system shut down. I had no choice in the matter; in fact, I had no time to react in any way before the system started shutting down.
Frustrated, I moved to a different (also Microsoft Windows XP) computer, which, thankfully, exhibited no such problems. But, despite that, there was a new problem: it didn't have Mozilla Firefox, which I have installed on my user account! So yes, I was forced to use the slow, "what the heck are web standards?" Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer. That's not supposed to happen; I shouldn't be forced to use one browser on some computers and another on others when I've installed one presumably to use on all.
Well, that was my rant on Microsoft Windows after having thankfully not touched it for a while.


Featured Comments: Week of 2011 January 30

There were a few posts that garnered a whole bunch of comments, so I'll only be able to post a handful of these.

Review: Sabayon 5.5 KDE

An anonymous reader had this excellent explanation of the differences in Sabayon's package management names: "I hope this helps with your confusion over package management in Sabayon. The binary package manager which comes with Sabayon is called Entropy. Equo is the command line program for Entropy, and sulfur is the GUI program for Entropy. Being based on Gentoo, Gentoo's package management system, Portage, is available as well. Emerge is simply the command line program for using Portage. Although it is technically possible to use both Entropy and Portage, it is recommended that you pick one package manager and stick with it. If you're a newer user, then it is recommended that you pick Entropy, which means all your updating/installing will be done through Equo and/or Sulfur."
Commenter dick said, "Sounds like it might be worth trying. I wonder if you might discuss the differences you see among trying as a live distro, the USB distro and the installed distro. I have found many times that the live distro looked good so I decided to install and found that the installed version did not work as well or things that worked as a live distro no longer worked. I even had one distro that worked fine as live but when I installed it from the live CD it could not find the module for my broadband adapter. I had to go search out a broadband adapter module to install before it would work and yet the live distro found the broadband adapter just fine. No idea how that happened."
Mr Green had this support: "Great article about a so so distro. personally I've never
had much luck with Sabayon. I do enjoy reading your writings as I find them right on. Its just that I'm getting old (lazy) and just won't bother much any more. As a matter of fact I'm quite happy these days with FC 14 on my main box and a re-spin combo called Fuduntu on a tester. Do keep up the work though Prashanth..."
Commenter RabidWeezle said, "I have been using sabayon for the last couple of weeks now, and I dig it so far. I wanted a distro though with a nice build enviroment like gentoo has without requiring all the time needed to do a full gentoo install from scratch. This setup worked out nicely for that. So far I have been using it as a gaming distro with many ported to linux games on it. It has been a real champ so far. Though I didn't pick the kde version since I am partial to gnome myself. I like how sabayon doesn't assume that you want the awful free nvidia driver unlike other distros I have tried. But that option is there for the taking later if you insist on it."

Review: KDE 4.6

Admittedly, this review wasn't the best. Many of my problems with KDE here stemmed from installing it in a live session (as opposed to an installed session) as well as using an Ubuntu base, which, as I found out, doesn't exactly provide vanilla KDE functionality.
A common suggestion for the next review (or for revisiting KDE 4.6 itself) came from an anonymous reader, among others, and that is to try Arch next time: "I urge you to use Arch linux for your next KDE review. the reason is that it uses 'vanila KDE' from upstream sources with little changes. Since it is a rolling distro you can try it out immediately after launch and not wait for the next release." Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the experience to install and properly configure a working Arch system...maybe something else could work easier?
In general, people suggested staying away from Ubuntu for KDE purposes, like this anonymous commenter: "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE! When reviewing KDE, stay away of anything Ubuntu-related. It has been said time and time again that Ubuntu and KDE mix like oil and water. No, despite what you may hear from Ubuntu-fans, Kubuntu is not a good KDE distro: it get so many things wrong and its affiliation with the main Ubuntu project casts a big shadow over other better supported/maintained KDE distributions which probably will give you a much better experience anyway!" That's probably true, but I've seen a lot of highly positive reviews of Kubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat", and KDE 4.3 and 4.5 worked (relatively) just fine for me when installed in Linux Mint alongside the standard GNOME environment, so I feel that I was right to expect similarly positive results in 4.6, and that didn't happen. Maybe I should stay away from even-numbered point releases...?
KDE developer Aaron Seigo had this to say: " Gtk+ integration: you actually have to configure it properly. Apparently it wasn't. The "trick" is to set Gtk+ to use the Oxygen Gtk+ theme, something I find easiest to achieve with the GNOME control panels. It would be nice if your distro would set it up that way for you by default. Black screens: that's what happens when a kwin effect goes wrong. Often this is due to a bug in the x.org driver that is being triggered by the effect. Sadly many x.org drivers are still dreadfully buggy. 'KDE 4.6': there is no such product as 'KDE 4.6'; you essentially reviewed (or attempted to review) Plasma Desktop" Unfortunately, the GTK+ theme tip didn't work, though the explanation about the black screens was helpful. Also, given that the majority of the front-end of KDE 4 is the Plasma desktop, what difference does it really make? (1) KDE seems to have a branding problem akin to Acura and its Legend in the late 1980s and (2) it frankly doesn't make a difference to me.
Reader gene, among other things, had this to say: "Rekonq is a completely separate project from Konqueror, and has quite a different layout and feature pack. At the moment I'm using Konqueror+Webkit, but if Rekonq gets a couple of little issues dealt with it may become my web browser of choice. I'll stick with Konqueror for a file manager though; Dolphin still bites weenies. As for 'problems' with Ubuntu, I'm sorry, but there's no excuse for a release to come out with such an enormous buglist. If I'm running a rolling release like Arch, fine, I expect an update to break something from time-to-time. But for a so-called "stable" release the Debian/Slackware creedo is the only one that makes sense: it's not ready until it's ready."
Another anonymous reader defended the position of the user over the software: "I continue to have issues with KDE also. Random annoying crashes, the black screens, the logout plasma crash, the inability to customize basic parts of the DE. These happen regardless of distribution as I have tried on several. The normal responses are to blame everything but KDE. The xorg drivers are buggy - why are they not buggy with Gnome and Compiz? Nothing to do with KDE 4.6, which works fine... Please stop blaming KDE for integration issues - what you can't just install KDE and expect it to work properly - Gnome and XFCE work fine when installed in addition to another DE. And my favorite - Obviously it's a bug between your keyboard and chair. KDE 4.6 works fine - apparently not or I would not have these issues! These have been the same type responses from the KDE developers since KDE4's introduction. Never the fault of KDE. Too bad KDE went from a superior DE with KDE3 to a DE inferior to even Windows with KDE4. And oh no, with that said, here come the attacks from the KDE4 crowd again. Thus why the KDE still has reliability and usability problems."
Reader United against had similar words: "I appreciate your comments about KDE as it is always blaming some thing else. If some one suggest in an article that they have tried other desktops other then KDE people slam them for even bringing up this topic. I for one look forward to articles like that as it give me an idea as to what to use instead. I do not like them changing so much and making it harder for people to use. I realize that KDE has put different ways to do things but to people like me I do not like these ways of doing things. Another thing is Arch Linux is not that had to install with the beginners guide. I installed it and did not have issues doing so. The length of time to do this though is longer then other distributions but it is not all that bad."
So now I know that when I want to review a new KDE release, it may be fine if I do it at first in Ubuntu/Linux Mint alongside standard GNOME, but I should first at least do it in an installed (i.e. not live) environment; then, if things go wrong, rather than writing about that, I should then try it in other distributions that treat KDE a bit better (e.g. Mandriva, PCLinuxOS, Arch, openSUSE).

Review: Madbox 10.10 (on Tech Drive-in)

An anonymous commenter said, "MadBox provides for a really light distro and against what you measure with htop, it lands to the desktop at something between 75-80 MB of Ram. For a better accuracy you should use the 'free' terminal command and take the second row figures under the column 'used'." That's a really helpful tip, although when I tried it, the results were inconsistent with both the GNOME system monitor and Conky.

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's posts. Today is a big day for two reasons: NFL Super Bowl XLV as well as the release of Debian 6 "Squeeze"! Hopefully I'll have a review of the latter sometime this week, but I can't guarantee anything. Remember, if you like the material, please do continue subscribing and commenting!


Science Can Get Kind of Political Too

This semester I'm taking a class called "Technology in American History". Currently we are discussing the meaning of the word "technology" and how it can never be separated from the culture in which it exists.
One specific idea that we discussed was how technology in and of itself (and not just the creators and their motives) can be political. The best example of this is in Long Island in New York City, NY; there, the road overpasses are much lower than what is normally found elsewhere in the country. The reason for this wasn't based on cost, engineering design, or aesthetics; it was purely a political move. Apparently, the chief designer/engineer overseeing the design of the bridge was prejudiced against blacks and other minorities, and the new roads going under existing roads (necessitating the construction of overpasses in the old roads over the new roads) led to better, more wealthy parts of Long Island. He wanted to keep minorities out of those better parts of town, so he made the overpasses low enough that cars, mostly owned in Long Island by generally wealthier white people at that time, but not buses, mostly used in Long Island by generally poorer minorities at that time, could get through. I never knew that technology itself could overtly embody an agenda, but this example has really opened my eyes.
But one thing we agreed on in class is that in general, the sciences are a little more removed from the culture surrounding them, although there are pretty visible exceptions to this as well. I'm here to confirm this with one example from another class that I'm taking. I'm not talking about controversies like stem cell research, evolution, or anything like that.
Currently, I'm also taking Physics II Electricity & Magnetism. The class's lecture as well as my recitation leader are both theoretical physicists. They have insisted on using the CGS (centimeter-gram-second) system of units as opposed to the more familiar and common SI (Système International i.e. metric system) units. Why? Apparently CGS units are the system of choice for theoretical physicists. Yet as a student, not only do I have to learn new material, which is all good and fine, but I also have to learn it alongside a totally new system of units, which in electricity and magnetism is often not at all analogous to SI units. For example, in SI units the unit of current (the Ampere) is a base unit and is not derived from any other units. However, in CGS units the units of charge and current are both derived from units of mass, length, and time, which complicates things a lot both in terms of formulas and calculations. Given that almost all the students in this class are most familiar with using SI units in science calculations and have learned electricity & magnetism formulas and quantities in SI units, what's the point of needlessly introducing a totally different system along with more challenging material? I really enjoy my physics class lecturer and I think he's a great guy, but I think this shows that he has an agenda of some sort. It's sort of like how my chemistry professor last term started teaching us crystal field/ligand field theory and organometallic chemistry because it's his area of expertise (and he won a Nobel Prize for his work in organometallic chemistry); he was even pretty upfront about that being the reason why he was teaching us stuff that really didn't belong in a freshman introductory chemistry course.
The conclusion is that I just needed to vent about how confusing the CGS system can get at times. Sorry about that.


Preview: GNOME 3

Main Screen + Calendar + Notification Area
Usually, when I review desktop environments, I review KDE, specifically version 4. Why? It's constantly evolving and improving, and it's nice to be able to see such changes occurring on all fronts so quickly. By contrast, GNOME and Xfce (not to mention other WMs like Openbox) have remained relatively the same over the past few releases. Sure, Nautilus got tabbed browsing in version 2.22 (I think) and split-pane viewing in version 2.30. Sure, there may have been a couple other back-end changes. But generally speaking, where KDE 4 has changed pretty noticeably between point releases, GNOME has been quite stable. That's all going to change, because GNOME is about to be released under a whole new number: 3. That's right: the number preceding the decimal point in a GNOME release will no longer be '2'.
There are some pretty big changes in store for GNOME 3, much of which can be seen in the front-end. Because many major distributions are planning to upgrade to GNOME 3 once that gets released (in a few weeks, apparently), it's important that users try GNOME 3 beforehand both to get accustomed to it as well as to find and report lingering bugs. Happily, the good people at Fedora and openSUSE have put together live CD ISO files with vanilla GNOME 3 on them, just for the purpose of trying out GNOME 3. I downloaded both files and intended to make a multiboot live setup using MultiSystem, but unfortunately MultiSystem reacted with error messages to both ISOs. Knowing that openSUSE doesn't play well with UnetBootin, I decided to just try out the Fedora version on a live USB through UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see how it goes.


Review: Madbox 10.10 (on Tech Drive-in)

Yay! I scored yet another guest post! This time it's a review of Madbox, a user-friendly Ubuntu-based Openbox distribution. Here's a little snippet of the original article:
MadBox is a relatively new Ubuntu-based Openbox distribution. It tries to cater to CrunchBang (“#!”) Linux users who want an Ubuntu-based Openbox distribution (as #! switched to a Debian base almost a year ago), as well as to users who want a fast and lightweight OS or one that will work on a slower computer without sacrificing polish.
Please support the good people at Tech Drive-in and read the rest here.


First Day of Second Semester

Well, today my second semester of college starts. Luckily, as I haven't had lecture for that class yet, one of my recitations has been canceled, and my PE class doesn't start until next week. What this means is that I don't need to go to campus until 1pm! Yay!
That said, it's snowing like crazy here; I can barely see outside my window. It's going to be tough getting to class in the afternoon; hopefully I can make it!