Posts tagged ‘Ubuntu’


Wow! Jaunty is nice!

I’ve been upgrading a few of my machines to Ubuntu’s latest 9.04 release. It’s fab!

I first installed it on my Toshiba M400 tablet, it is noticeably quicker than it was under 8.04. Yes, it boots faster (especially with ext4) but apps seem to launch faster and the entire UI seems more responsive in a way that I can’t put my finger on.

I also installed 9.04 on a desktop quad-core machine. This is the first time I’ve had a machine that was beefy enough for the Compiz desktop effects. Boy, am I ever glad I tried some of them out!

My longest-standing annoyance with Metacity is relieve: I can now alt-tab between apps on all workspaces! Such a little thing, so annoying that I had to switch window managers before. Also, I’ve mapped F8 to a Spaces-like feature in compiz. As is the case on the Mac, it shows me all workspaces and lets me drag apps between them. It even has a few niceties not available in Apple’s implementation.

Anyway, I’m just digging in to it, but 9.04 looks like a very nice, solid release. Much better than 8.10, which I never really liked.

8.04 will still be my default, if for no other reason than the longer patching period, but for people willing to maintain their own machines, 9.04 looks like a great upgrade.


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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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.