Archive for December, 2008


“OOo is sick” and Novell’s negative campaigns

Novell’s Michael Meeks thinks that is in trouble.  Maybe, but I have to say this sounds rather similar to another dire accusation made by another Novell employee, GregKH, this past September.

Greg, a Linux kernel developer, made news in September when he criticized Canonical for making comparatively few upstream kernel patches.  It turned out that some of his data was a little skewed.

Now, three months later, we have another Novell employee complaining about another high-profile OSS project.  Yes, Novell/Suse does contrubute heavily to Linux/FOSS development, but these negative campaigns seem highly suspect to me.  I’ve read about OOo’s arcane development process before.  I’ve even read similar dire OOo predictions of stagnation from Novell employees before.  They already more or less fork the code with the OOO-build project, why not just leave it at that?

Say what you will about Sun’s handling of OOo, 3.0 was just released and included a proper Aqua-native Mac port, much better document handling, and is overall the best release of OOo yet.  In the last several years, Sun has completed OOo Base, a much needed, if rough, MS Access work-alike, has integrated OOXML support, has ported to a new platform, and has kept the project running smoothly from an end-user point of view.  If Novell employees aren’t happy, fork it and be done with it.  Run a parallel project like NeoOffice.  If the project has merit, it may well survive, thrive, and outpace the original.  This has clearly happened before with the XFree86/Xorg fork of a few years ago.

Negative campaigns such as this may attract headlines in the short term, they may even bring Novell more customers, but in the long-run they bring everyone down and lower the quality of debate.  One of the huge benefits of FOSS development is that if you’re unhappy of the direction of development for a given project, even one as large and unwieldy as, you can fork it and put your money where your mouth is.


Information Week’s Top 10 Open Source Stories of 2008

From this article:

Overall, this article is a worthwhile recap of 2008 from an OSS point-of-view, and I agree with the majority of their picks for “top 10”.  However, I heartily disagree with the premise of “2. Sun’s Slow Spiraling Towards Nova”.  Personally, I think Sun is in a pretty good position.  They bought MySQL, own, have open sourced both Java and Solaris, and have released the first usable version of OpenSolaris, version 8.11.  This, to say nothing of the fact that they have some very compelling server options on the market.  I’ll delve into this in more detail shortly, but the summary is that, if you get the right discounts, you can get a very nice 1U 8 core Sun server with 16GB of RAM for about $3k.

On a related note, I also disagree with calling Ubuntu 8.10 and Fedora 10 important releases.  Rather, the view from my neck of the woods is that Cannonical’s second LTS release, Ubuntu “Hardy” 8.04.1 and Sun’s aforementioned OpenSolaris 8.11 are more noteworthy releases.

Hardy laid the groundwork for the minor tweaks in 8.10, is patched for longer, has a better chance of being used in both desktop and enterprise, and is a more polished release than 8.10, at least in my experience.

As for OpenSolaris 8.11, it is the first Solaris release to include ZFS out of the box, and offers a very Linux-like user experience, from their “Network Auto-Magic” to the vastly improved package manager.  This, the first ever end-user-usable release of Solaris that I have ever seen, was met with the odd and unexpected announcement of an OEM deal with Toshiba that will see OpenSolaris on select Toshiba laptops for the first time ever.  This is a very big deal for both Sun and the broader Open Source community.


OLPC XO – Cool hardware, frustrating UI

Months back, I traded an older Toshiba laptop for an OLPC XO-1. This device is spectacular on paper and the whole project is such a fantastic idea that I just had to try one out.  Honestly, from first impressions alone, I couldn’t have been more disappointed.

The XO was/is horribly slow, the UI was… without a doubt the oddest and least intuitive I’d ever used, the entire experience was just frustrating.

So, it sat unused in a corner for months.  (Well, I used it to occasionally charge USB devices, as it draws almost no power itself.)

Then I thought about trying to use it as an eBook reader.  Why not?  It has a spectacular screen for that when it’s in B&W mode.  As a reader, that CPU speed shouldn’t pose a problem.  Perfect!  Right, then I tried to view PDF.  From a USB drive, nope. From and SD card, nope.  From the local filesystem, nope. The only way I, a sysadmin with ten years of Linux experience, could figure out how to view a PDF was to put it online, browse to the website, download the file through Sugar’s odd interface and then ultimately view the PDF through the Journal app.

Yeah, I didn’t think that was good enough either.

So, the XO sat for another month.  Then I decided to sell it, then I happened across Ubuntu Hardy instructions for running the XO from an SD card.  I did that last Saturday night and am typing this on the XO running Opera in Ubuntu 8.04.1

It’s great!  Yes, at 433MHz it’s still not fast but it’s already far more usable than it ever was with the sugar UI.

And I can read PDF files from the local filesystem or a USB drive or the SD card.  Hooray!  Even the screen rotating works well.  The whole thing is so much faster in XFCE that it’s actually usable.  I click things and they happen fast enough that I don’t wonder if the OS got my commands.

My conclusion: The XO is in fact a cool and capable piece of hardware that is being held back by the Sugar interface.  Yes, innovative computer interfaces should be developed and I think there is some good stuff in the Sugar UI, but the XO is experimental enough on its own without having to also contend with a radically different, slow, and heavy UI.

So, OLPC people, please decouple Sugar from the XO and keep working on both.  This article sums up the shortcomings with the interface nicely. Please take these as constructive criticisms and work from them.  I know you’ve put a lot of time and effort into it, but the interface is not yet ready for prime time and your hardware is.  Put some nice, light Linux interface on the XO and leave Sugar for another time. It clearly needs to cook for a while. In the meantime, why not follow Asus’ excellent example with the EeePC UI?  Who’d have thought that they could do so much with IceWM tweaks and a fancy launcher?

To any frustrated OLPC users out there, follow these excellent Ubuntu 8.04 installation instructions and start getting some use from these nifty, innovative computers.

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Best Christmas Album of 2008: Bela Fleck & the Flecktones: Jingle All the Way

I love Christmas music.

Actually, that’s not completely true.  I love good Christmas music and absolutely despise the crap that you so often hear in malls starting the day after Halloween.

Luckily, there’s a ton of really fabulous Christmas music out there.  I know, I apparently own about a thousand tracks worth.  Honestly, for me, good Christmas songs – new and old with interesting arrangements, are one of the good things in life.

That’s why I’m so pleased that Bela Fleck & The Flecktones have finally released a Christmas CD: Jingle All the Way.  It doesn’t disappoint.

The album is available on iTunes.  With 17 tracks, it’s a good $10.  ($9 on Amazon’s MP3 store, if you’re in the US.)  Their take on traditional Christmas songs is about as out there as you can get while still being identifiable.  Edgar Meyer joins in on cello and the Tuvian throat singers also chime in on a few tracks.  Kudos to them for doing such an outstanding job, great stuff.  If you’re looking for an interesting Christmas album, I can’t imagine a better bet.


HandBrake 0.93 for Ubuntu Hardy

I’m getting ready to take a Toshiba U300 away for the holidays.  In preparation, I’m getting various media players and apps up and running.  The machine is a Vista (blech!) machine first but I’m typically running it in Ubuntu Linux via Wubi.  I had installed Ubuntu 8.10 but have reverted to 8.04.1 as it is more stable on this machine.  I really like 8.04 and personally don’t think the minor tweaks in 8.10 are worth the hassle.

Anyway, that’s getting off-topic a bit.  One app that I really like is Handbrake.  Handbrake began life as a BeOS app and has been working brilliantly on Mac OSX for some time.  They have recently added a decent Windows and Linux GUI to it via C#/mono/.Net.  As if that wasn’t good enough, they even provide Ubuntu packages!  Unfortunately, the provided Ubuntu packages are for 8.10 only.  Luckily, a kind chap has a 0.93 Hardy repository as well.  Check it out!


Finally, the year of the Linux desktop.

2008 is drawing to a close.  Now is the time to reflect on the past year. I started using Linux a decade ago.  During my undergrad I installed Linux for people, espousing it’s benefits, with a fervor that Richard Stallman would have been proud of.  The years after that were a dissapointment for me, as Linux on the desktop was oft predicted and always projected for next year.  Fast forward almost ten years to the day after my first Linux experiences when, in October of 2007, I picked up the first of what would become the netbook:  An Asus EeePC 701.

The EeePC was cheap, silent, sturdy, light, and ran Xandros Linux with a custom IceWM UI.  The EeePC ushered in the Netbook.  Since then we have seen the HP Mini-Note 2133, the MSI Wind, Acer Aspire One, and the Dell Mini 9, as well as similar offerings from Everex, Packard Bell, Toshiba, Lenovo, and doubtless others.

The EeePC began life as a Linux-only device.  The Aspire One ships with a modified Fedora install, the 2133 with SLED and the HP Mini 1000 and Dell Mini 9 with versions of Ubuntu.  All of the netbooks run Linux well.  Netbooks in general and Linux on netbooks in particular forced Microsoft to change their plans and continue to sell Windows XP.  Linux on netbooks were and continue to be a credible threat to MS’s OS monopoly.

At work, six years ago Solaris machines were being replaced with Windows machines.  Six years later, a good percentage of the machines are dual-boot, many run only Ubuntu Linux.  I routinely see Linux laptops in the department, I’d say as almost as many Linux laptops as Vista laptops and certainly more Linux desktops than Vista desktops.

It seems that Microsoft’s stranglehold on the market is finally drawing to a close.  While I’m certain that Linux will never see a 90+% of the desktop market, I am equally certain that no other OS will ever see that kind of market share again.  In fact, as netbooks have shown, the entire concept of “desktop market share” is passé.

Linux certainly has arrived.  In routers, cell phones, mobile internet devices, netbooks, laptops, desktops, servers, clouds, and other markets not yet imagined, Linux is alive and well and is spurring a new way of thinking that reaches far beyond the operating system.  2008 saw the Linux desktop, in the form of the netbook, take it’s first significant chunk of market share.  As someone who’s been waiting for this for a decade now, it’s about time.


Testing… Testing…


Welcome to my blog.  I started this WordPress blog as a demo for the Kingston Jazz Society.  That’s done now so I thought I’d try this blogging thing.  (After all, I’ve read that blogging is past it’s prime, so it must be time for me to check it out.)

So, a bit about me:  I’m a sysadmin at the School of Computing at Queen’s Univeristy.  I live in Kingston, Ontario, Canada with my lovely wife, Phd candidate, Sarah-Jane Whittaker.

This blog will be about what interests me.  Probably some stuff on copyright and digital rights, lots about Linux, Macs, Solaris, tech in general, music, ebooks and print, web design, buying local, and other odds and ends.  Hope you enjoy! (Hope I manage to blog regularly.)