Tag Archive for Linux

"Click! Take a pic!"

The Canon EOS 450D (aka Digital Rebel XSi) has been formally announced, and it shall be mine. (Provided it doesn’t come with Rosie Perez’s voice.*)

I’ve been wanting a digital SLR for a long time. I’ve used an old 35mm camera in the past, and I really enjoyed it compared to using a point-and-shoot digital. Looking through the lens gives you better control of the shot, including the framing and focus. My 6-year-old Canon PowerShot G2 was top of the line in its day, but now with its stuck pixels and its focusing frustrations, it’s time for an upgrade. The nice thing is with the changing technology I can buy a much beefier DSLR for the same price I paid for the G2.

I’ve been watching Digital Photography Review for more information, and they didn’t disappoint: they’ve got a brief hands-on with the 450D and a summary of differences between it and its predecessor, the 400D/Digital Rebel XTi. It looks like Canon’s packing in some solid features, and that’s got me drooling all the more. I read somewhere that it doesn’t ship until April, but if I’ve been waiting over two years to get my hands on a DSLR, I guess I can wait two more months.

Maybe.

The question, then, is will the investment result in better pictures? I sure as hell hope so. If nothing else I’ll have a lot more fun taking pics. Of course, judging by what I saw out of my friend Richard’s Rebel and Speedlite, the softened flash alone is worth the price of admission. I’m sick to death of blown-out faces and subjects’ uncontrollable blinking in my pics.**

The first step to improvement will probably be jumping into the Digital Photography School forums. It looks like there’s a lot of great advice flying around in there, and it’s a lot faster (and cheaper) than trying to take a photography class at a local community college.*** DPS also has a great blog with some cool tips.

With photography more on my brain than ever, I’ve started thinking more about digital workflow. I’ll need some processing capability for RAW no doubt, which means some extra software for the GIMP on my Linux box. Of course, if I do make the Mac switch, that will change things significantly. It’s a little premature to be worried about the Lightroom vs. Aperture debate, so instead I turned my attentions to iPhoto on my MacBook and compared it to digiKam on Linux.

If there’s one app that I think I’d truly miss in Linux, it’s digiKam. Both it and iPhoto perform the same function: importing and organizing your pictures. They both allow easy sorting and importing, and they both support tagging. iPhoto’s presentation is a little bit cleaner, but feature-wise they’re more or less the same.

The key difference is in the back ends, and maybe some of the Mac folks can speak up here.

What I like about digiKam is it drops pics right into the filesystem. If I need to find my pictures in any other application or through a file browser, I know right where to find them because the albums are a mirror of the folder hierarchy. If I change the names of the picture files on import, that name is applied to the file name, replacing vague camera filenames like IMG98939.JPG. The added benefit here is if for any reason I lost the digiKam database with my tags and such in it, my files are untouched. If I have to access the drive remotely (via SSH/SCP, which I do often) or have to recover files with a drive enclosure or similar method, I have a good idea of what I’m looking at.

iPhoto, on the other hand, drops everything into a package of some kind. The files appear to be copied to the filesystem, but it looks like the titles are only part of the iPhoto Library package and database. I did figure out there are both Original and Modified folders inside the iPhoto Library package, and there are folders for year and then Event, but the image filenames are still IMG884737.JPG. Having an automatic backup if I edit a pic (an untouched original and the new, modified file) is not a bad idea, but does this not take up extra space?

How will this affect remote access? If I use SSH to access a Mac, or if I connect via SCP to copy a handful of pictures to a remote computer, am I going to be able to browse — via the shell or a SCP GUI like WinSCP — to my pictures and copy them? Am I going to have to upload pics to Flickr and fetch them from there? Or is there some other Apple sharing method that I may not be aware of?

And most importantly, if my darling rugrats shove my Mac off a table and shatter it, am I going to be able to access my pictures — and recover tags, titles, and other data — if I yank the hard drive and drop it into an enclosure?

Why does iPhoto do it this way? Inquiring minds want to know.

*For those of you who don’t have rugrats, Rosie Perez is the voice of Click the Camera on Go, Diego, Go! And she sings. It’s truly the work of the Devil.

**I have about a tenth as many pics of my wife as I should because she can’t keep her frickin’ eyes open. If I show you a good shot of my wife, chances are it was taken outside in broad daylight in the middle of summer. As a result she’s probably wearing sunglasses, too.

***I tried to take the photography class when I was in college, but the single section offered was always filled within about 6 nanoseconds of the start of registration.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Advantage in Being Proprietary

My Apple rep, Joe, was in my office as I was packing up at the end of the day. I leaned over to my MacBook, clicked the Apple icon, and clicked Shut Down.

“Did you just shut down your MacBook?” Joe asked. He gave me the same look one might give someone who had just shoved a live viper down the front of their pants.

It dawned on me in that instant how PC laptops had reinforced bad habits. There was no reason to shut down the MacBook because I was going to open it right back up when I got home in ten minutes. Joe had taken his laptop out twice during his visit, and each time opened and closed it without a hitch. I’ve opened and closed m MacBook several times, also without a hitch. In fact, I haven’t shut down the MacBook since, and it’s been eight days.

You can’t get that with Windows or Linux.

Linux has the uptime, but sleep and hibernation are iffy at best. I never got it to run on my old Dell with a few different Linux distros, and I eventually gave up on trying.

On Windows, you may get that kind of uptime out of a server, but on a workstation chances are you’ll have needed to reboot for one reason or another. Sleep and hibernation are at least supported, but when it does work it takes some time to shift into sleep mode and then to wake up again, and even then you may experience problems. For example, we have two shiny new Lenovo ThinkPads at the school, and when they come out of suspend mode they lose their keyboard (it’s especially problematic on a docking station). I have another Dell at work that’s only a few years old, and its suspend gives me fits at times as well. On a Windows machine, don’t even think about interrupting the suspend/wakeup process, because you’ll have problems. Close the lid on accident, realize you forgot something, and open it up again, and you pretty much freeze up the whole system. My wife’s uncle bought a brand new Dell XPS laptop and it took him three power-down and -up cycles before he finally got Windows to work again. Finally, even when it does cooperate, you’re looking at (I’m guesstimating based on previous experience) between 10 and 20 seconds before the system is actually usable.

On this MacBook, meanwhile, opening and closing the lid has been flawless, and damn near instantaneous. Close the lid and it’s suspended. Open it and it’s up and running in about a second. Count the time it takes to reassociate with a wireless network and you’re looking at 2-3 seconds, tops. But that’s okay, because you can start fiddling with apps. I had to write an email this morning, so I sat down and opened the lid. By the time my finger hit the touchpad, the MacBook was ready for me.

I wondered how that could be. Are Apple developers just that much better than Windows or Linux developers, or is there some advantage they have? It occurred to me that being proprietary may be all the advantage they need.

Whether you’re talking Windows or Linux, there are a plethora of machines they can be installed on with a wide-ranging set of features and hardware, each of which require their own drivers. It’s further compounded by the manufacturers handling different features in different ways.

In the Windows world, we have a closed-closed relationship. The hardware manufacturers are all protecting their hardware and software, and Windows is protecting their operating system. Windows only shares the Application Programmer’s Interface (API) with the hardware people, essentially telling them “this is how you talk to Windows.” If there are bugs and problems, it’s on the hardware manufacturer to figure it out, and the end users have to sit and hope the two sides can work things out.

In the Linux world, we have a closed-open relationship. Few hardware manufacturers are writing Linux drivers, but the Linux programmers have the advantage of full access to the Linux kernel and its drivers. They have a better chance of figuring things out, but the user still either has to code up a solution himself or hope a geek out there has the same problems and publishes a driver. The good news is this has drastically improved over the past few years with more companies like Canonical getting into the game, and partnerships between companies like Canonical and Dell are a big help, but there’s still a little ways to go.

The Apple guys, meanwhile, know exactly what the hardware is going to be. Their engineers and programmers all talk to one another and share information, so by the time the end user gets his hands on the product, everything Just Works. (Generally. I realize Macs are not 100% bulletproof.)

The advantage goes to Apple. By the same token, this is probably why the Xbox works so much better than Windows, despite their both being Microsoft products. The Xbox crew knows exactly what’s in the hardware and how to talk to it, so the Xbox operating system is rock solid. (Again, generally speaking.)

Which leads to the next problem: cost. I think I’ll save that rant for another post, though.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

MacBook: First Impressions

It’s here!

Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.


The MacBook arrived today. I’m tapping out this blog post on it right now, in fact.

I have to give credit to Apple, they certainly know how to handle product presentation. White isn’t my first color choice, but though it pervades everything from the packaging to the laptop itself, it gives the product a very sharp, clean, almost futuristic appearance. The laptop was wrapped in a protective sleeve and laid out in a nest of Styrofoam eggshells, and the extra parts and little bundle of manuals and CD’s were waiting patiently beneath it.

When you open a new Dell or Lenovo, meanwhile, you get some cardboard boxes and plastic bags. The accessories rattle around the box and you end up with six pounds of inserts littering the floor when you’re done unpacking everything.

Those are little things, certainly, but they show Apple’s at least trying to provide a little bang for the buck. And it’s pretty cool they included a nice cleaning cloth with it, because the glossy chassis is prone to fingerprints.

The drooling didn’t last long. I’m a function over form guy so I pulled her out and opened her up. I was surprised, at first, by the lack of a latch. Instead, Apple’s got a nifty magnet that holds the lid shut. Nothing to protrude and snag or break, and no puzzle to figure out. It complements the magnetic power connection, which I think is nothing short of brilliant. In fact, the power supply magnet already came in handy twice: first the Squirt stepped on it while climbing on me on the couch, and then I turned to one side and the cord snagged on a table corner. A regular connector would probably have survived the latter, but the former may well have resulted in my ordering a new power supply.

Three things surprised me when I opened the lid: the buttons, the lid hinges, and the touchpad. The buttons are larger and spaced farther apart than I expected for a 13″ laptop, and they’re very comfortable and easy to type on. The lack of extraneous media controls was also nice, as I never use any of that crap anyway. I was still leery of the single mouse button at this point, but I felt the huge trackpad would come in handy. I find it kind of amusing the enter key is labeled both “enter” and “return”; it makes me want to hunt for the “any” key. I see there’s also a nice “alt” label on the option key for us PC folk, and then of course there’s the squiggly box thing us PC folk tend to sneer at. The light on the caps lock key is a nice touch, though I just now realized there’s no num lock or faux number pad. I can’t imagine I’ll miss it as I never used it anyway, but it’s suddenly weird not seeing it there. I don’t see other PC standbys like scroll lock, print sreen, or pause/break, either. I never use scroll lock and print screen and pause/break are once in a blue moon, so I guess it makes sense for Apple to ditch the clutter. Finally, the hinge mount gives the user an extra inch or so of distance from the screen, making me feel at least a little less like I’m sitting too close to the screen. It also frees up some chassis real estate for the power button, which in turn probably gives the user a little more room for the touchpad and on the palm rests.

This is the entry-level MacBook, though we did get it bumped up to 2GB of RAM. However, even at entry level it’s got the built-in iSight camera, 2 USB ports, a Firewire port, an Ethernet port, a VGA output (albeit with a proprietary Mac connector — our rep tossed in an adapter), headphone and (I assume) line-in jacks, wireless, and Bluetooth. I’ve got the DVD player/CD burner combo, and it’s the Apple self-loading style rather than the pop-out drawer you get on PC laptops. And, of course, I can’t forget the light-up Apple on the lid. All told, I have to agree with John and others that for the specs and hardware it’s at least comparable to most PC laptops at the same price. I do wonder if the lack of a PC card slot will be a problem for some users, but it won’t be for me.

Time to take a look at the real guts, OS X. The rep gave me the option of Tiger (10.4) or Leopard (10.5), and I told him I want the latest and greatest. Leopard started with a welcome movie and then started asking me the standard account-setup questions. The first notable point here was it used the iSight camera to take a picture of me for my account button. Little more than glitz, of course, but kind of cool. The Midget and I mugged for it together, and I later saw that same picture/avatar appear in Mail and iChat.

The second notable point was the wireless setup. My WAP at work filters by MAC address, and there’s no sign of the MAC address on the laptop itself (most manufacturers put it on the bottom). Apple ditched all of the extraneous labels you find beneath a PC laptop, thus leaving me on my own. My options were to select another network (like Ethernet or Bluetooth) or tell it I don’t connect to a network. I selected the no network option so I can see how tough it would be to get this sucker online later.

Moments later I was up and running. First task? The wireless. I found a wireless icon on the desktop, and it showed me it had found my WAP. Another click into Advanced and voilá, there was my MAC address. I half wondered if “AirPort Address” actually referred to my access point, but I guess Apple calls both the cards and the access points AirPort devices. No big deal, because the moment I keyed it into my WAP I was surfing the Net in Safari.

I watched a few YouTube videos and found I had Flash support out of the box, no plug-ins required. I also had PDF support. Sound is decent, but hey, it’s a 13″ laptop. I still can’t find the speakers, but it almost sounds like they’re behind the display. The remote control for Front Row (think Media Center, Windows people) works like a champ and Front Row itself is easy to get around in. I’ll probably put it through its paces at another time. I then surfed to Apple Trailers and watched a couple. 1080p videos were bigger than my screen, but let me tell you, 720p on this baby was nothing short of gorgeous. I aimed the screen at the Wife across the room, and she was similarly impressed by its clarity. It also played the HD video and the audio with no sign of chop. Similarly impressive was the machine claims it will get over four hours out of the battery. I’ll test that another time, but if it’s true I’m going to need to change my pants.

While Safari is kind of cool, I did find out the hard way that it doesn’t cooperate with WordPress, which powers my blog. A little digging and I found out I was screwed because Safari uses the Gecko rendering engine rather than the Mozilla or even IE engines. No matter, I wanted Firefox so I could continue using Foxmarks if nothing else.

Getting up to that point was where I did my initial wrestling with the differences between Macs and PC’s. The delete key debate question did prove invalid, but I do see a few other areas of adjustment. And I best start by saying none of these are showstoppers, they’re just the Mac way of doing things.

First, copying and pasting are accomplished with Command-C and Command-V, respectively. I found this out by browsing the Edit menu and looking at the shortcut keys. Here’s where I missed having a right mouse button, and I’ll probably fix it with a three-button USB mouse. Yes, I realize I can also copy with Control-Click, but if I’m going to be clicking an extra button I may as well use Command-C. I’ll further admit I’m spoiled by Linux’s automatic copying of highlighted text to the clipboard. Highlighting and then middle clicking just plain rocks.

Second we have the menu and window placement. In the Windows world, almost every app runs in its own window and gets its own menu. In the Mac world, the menu across the top of the screen changes to become the menu for whatever app you’re actively using. This is not a problem. What I do miss already is a taskbar, or at least an easy way to access running apps. Yes, I realize this is what Expose is for, and it is very pretty, but it’d be able to get a listing via the mouse. I’d even be happy if it was in a stack like the Documents and Downloads buttons on the Dock (and if there’s a way to accomplish this, do feel free to leave me a comment). I’m going to have to get used to this quick, because chasing windows around was a pain.

Next we have the Dock itself. I don’t really have a comment here, other than I guess it’s pretty snazzy. It’s just a different way of doing things, and I don’t feel I have a preference for it over a Start button setup. I played with it in the System Preferences and whipped it into what I suppose is a reasonably functional shape.

Which leads me to System Preferences, which is the same as the Control Panel for Windows folks. Easy to browse and navigate, with all that you need right there. Much better than Microsoft’s goofy category view, and a hair more straightforward even than the classic view.

This is also where I tweaked mouse behavior. Out of the box, I couldn’t tap the touchpad to click icons or buttons or sweep a finger across it to scroll within windows. That became the first thing I had to fix after the networking. There wasn’t much I could do about the single button, but I did discover I could scroll both horizontally and vertically simply by using two fingers to do the sweep.

I may have to tweak the touchpad’s sensitivity a bit, but I’m impressed by two-finger scrolling. In Windows, maybe you get scroll space along the side and/or bottom of the touchpad. In Linux, it will reserve the side and/or bottom of the touchpad for scroll space even if the hardware wasn’t set up for it. This can become a nuisance because they both often misinterpret what you’re trying to do when your finger accidentally strays into these spaces, and you also get accidental clicks rather than scrolls. The Mac is not prone to this because it knows you’ve got two fingers on the pad and that you intend to scroll, not click. I also didn’t have the problem where the mouse stops on videos (or worse, Flash-based banner ads); it scrolled right on through them, even if I started right on top of them. Kudos, Apple!

I set up a Mail account and connected it to my server at work. This was a fairly straightforward process, and I was presented with my email from work. It dutifully downloaded my Inbox first, then politely went about downloading the rest of my mail in the background so I could get to work right away. Rockin’.

After that I set up iChat. Very straightforward, nothing remarkable. I opened the Address Book, iCal, iPhoto, and iMovie, but I didn’t play with them much. I’ll have to play with them another day, and I especially want to get my hands dirty with iPhoto.

The last thing I tackled, and the last thing I’ll cover in this post, is software installation. I downloaded Thunderbird to manage my home email and to see how it would look on a Mac, and I also snagged Firefox and a FTP/SCP client called Cyberduck. All three came in the .dmg disk image format. There was just one problem with that:

I had no idea how to handle the damned things.

I haven’t felt this helpless behind a keyboard in years. I expected the system would lead me through the install process when I clicked the files, but not so. Instead I got a window with a big application icon in it. I clicked the little oval in the upper right corner of the window border and got a bigger window with some folders and such on the left. I soon figured out I was inside the .dmg file, but still wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing with them.

Obviously this was just a fundamental lack of understanding of the Mac world, so I hit Mozilla’s site. Unfortunately they offered no hints. Then I hit Cyberduck’s site, thinking they’d have an install guide. Nope. Google came to the rescue. After a few searches, I learned I needed to copy the big icon — which was the application itself — to the Applications folder. I did so and then had a working program.

Advantage one of doing it this way? No registry.

Let me say that again: no expletive deleted registry! In fact, no extra files, period. Nice. It’s tough to gauge it against Windows because I can install exe’s in my sleep, but I suppose a newcomer with a little guidance may find it more convenient because they can drop it wherever they want rather than blindly accepting Windows defaults.

On the downside, I think I prefer Synaptic. You don’t have to surf anywhere to find an app, it takes care of all the installation for you and you return to the same place for updates. It’s also more intuitive to click “Add/Remove Software” and get a full software catalog than to download a file that you first have to find on the system and then have to open and copy its contents to somewhere else. Cyberduck threw me a little because it had several files and olders within the image, not just the application, and I’m going to have to learn to manage the Dock before it gets too bloated with installed applications.

As I said above, none of these are showstoppers, they’re just a matter of learning. I only mention them as comparisons to the PC world and so you can point and laugh at the dummy with the shiny white laptop.

I’ll continue to fiddle around and I will soon attempt some work-related tasks for both the day job and the writing. OpenOffice.org is definitely in my future (or at least NeoOffice, anyway), I’ll be installing some printers, connecting to Active Directory, and of course I’ll fiddle with the iLife apps and the Unix guts of the system.

In the end, I like this sucker. I can’t say I want to run out and by my own, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from purchasing one. In fact, I feel more confident than ever in saying a person can sit down in front of any machine and quickly become productive. I’ve spent more time writing up this post and watching videos than I have trying to figure out how to do something. If you can surf with IE or Firefox, you can surf with Safari. If you can set up mail accounts in Outlook Express or Thunderbird, you can set up Mail. And finally, even if the controls throw you for a loop, you’ll get used to them in no time.

It will be fun to find out if the users I support feel the same way.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Vista Crawls

I didn’t intend this to be tech day on the blog, but now I’ve found this CNet article talking about how Windows XP is a lot faster than Windows Vista. My first reaction was “tell me something I don’t know.”

While I’m not a big fan of Windows XP, I do admit it’s the best system Microsoft has put out. Vista just doesn’t impress me at all, because in my eyes if you’ve got a current machine, whatever software you put on it should hum. On a brand new ThinkPad I purchased, Vista was very pokey, even with the eye candy turned off.

In the article, one of their VP’s says:

“Frankly, the world wasn’t 100 percent ready for Windows Vista.”

Ah, yes. When Linux has headaches, it’s not ready for the desktop. When Vista has delays, canceled features, etc., it’s the rest of the world that’s not ready. Nice.

When co-workers and parents come to me asking to buy a computer, about half of them are asking me where they can buy a machine with XP on it. They’re not asking me what I think of Vista, or if they should upgrade, they’ve already heard that it’s no good, or that they should wait until Service Pack 1 comes out. Two parents have asked me if they felt their kids could still get college work done on a Mac (and I said “Of course!”, of course).

There’s a few people who tell me how great Vista’s new features are, but how many of those apply to Joe End User? Very few. There’s some great stuff in there for network admins and for securing Vista in a large network, but not a lot that the kid down the street surfing the Internet and typing up essays is going to take advantage of. I really hope Microsoft is getting the message on this one, and that the next operating system they claim they’re working on solves a lot of these problems.

Until then, people are going to be paying more and more attention to the Apple Switch ads and the similar Linux ads. (I find it all the more interesting these Switch spoof ads are run by Novell, who partnered with Microsoft for greater Linux interoperability.)

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Ubuntu vs. Kubuntu

I finally got around to reinstalling Linux on my desktop PC, and wound up taking both Ubuntu and its KDE-driven sibling Kubuntu for test drives.

My DVD drive didn’t like the Ubuntu CD for some reason; the disk worked fine in other boxes, and Kubuntu and even Xubuntu CD’s worked just fine. Put Ubuntu back in and it would crap out while booting. Oh well, I’m used to KDE, so I went ahead and installed Kubuntu.

I wasn’t quite as impressed with it as I was with Xubuntu. If the look and feel of Windows XP is Fisher-Price, then the default KDE setup of Kubuntu is Little Tikes. I felt more like I was staring at a Nintendo game rather than a workhorse desktop and I quickly started tweaking out the desktop settings to make things a little less soft and pretty. I’m not necessarily looking for sparse, but kindergarten isn’t the right direction.

But hey, functionality is more important, so I restored my personal files using KDE’s Dolphin file manager (think Windows Explorer only much more functional). I did like this, and it had a convenient button to switch to superuser mode and get full access to the system. Very nice.

Next I started installing necessary apps. Kubuntu forgoes the tried-and-true Synaptic in favor of its own front end for APT called Adept. Given the name, one would think the software would be good at what it does. To the extent of browsing packages, it was.

Actually installing packages was another matter. I tried installing the Java browser plug-ins, and the license agreements popped up on the screen. I clicked next, but then the license prompts disappeared and Adept spat out an error and ceased installation, claiming the other packages I selected were not installed.

Yet when I looked in the menu, there were Thunderbird and Firefox (Kubuntu tries to get you to stick with Kmail and Konqueror instead — they’re not bad, but there’s something to be said about standardizing across all my desktops, and in my opinion the Mozilla products are the best at what they do). I filed that particular quirk for future reference and went back in to select a few more packages.

Same error, same result. Deselecting some packages and resetting some other selections didn’t help, and after several tries I got the same error over half the time. Not to mention I was no closer to having a Java-enabled web experience.

I thought about having it suck down the GNOME side of things from the Ubuntu repositories, but why? I had just wiped my Linux partitions clean to change the file system format and resize my partitions, so why not just start fresh again? I hooked an old CD drive to the computer, booted the Ubuntu CD, and this time it worked.

I decided to see what would happen if I just formatted the new root partition and left /home alone so I wouldn’t have to restore my personal files a second time. Then I was prompted with a new question: did I want to import files and personal settings? The installer had not only found my Windows partition, but it had ferreted out the profiles for myself and my wife. I only use Windows for gaming and my wife has never logged on to this Windows install so I didn’t need any of that, but I was impressed that it was presented as an option. A few more clicks and I set the installer loose.

On reboot, GRUB appeared and asked me to select an operating system. Where Kubuntu only gave me a Linux option, Ubuntu automagically configured GRUB to give me Ubuntu, a safe mode install, and a Windows boot option. Also slick, especially since I needed the Windows partition for game night with the guys shortly.

Once inside, I actually found GNOME comforting. Sure, with some tweaking I can easily make one look like the other and vice versa, but I was much more comfortable just sitting down to start working rather than spend another hour or so tweaking things out. A minor victory for Ubuntu to be sure, but at least Canonical seems to understand there aren’t just nine-year-old girls in their install base.

I found my /home partition intact, so I moved on to software. Canonical provides OpenOffice.org by default rather than KOffice, and Firefox is the default browser, so I was already halfway there. I added the Medibuntu package repositories and fired up trusty Synaptic.

Bliss. Not a single error, and in minutes I had Thunderbird and several other packages and plug-ins installed and running. Firefox spat out a Flash error at first, which I thought was odd since I’d installed it from Synaptic. Fortunately just clicking the “get plug-in” options within Firefox had Flash 9 up and running in seconds. Not too shabby.

Ubuntu and Kubuntu may share the same guts, but the presentation is vastly different. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll bother downloading KDE at all, but the Kubuntu guys have some work to do if they want to compete with Canonical, especially in package management.

In the end it’s Ubuntu for the win.

It’s also worth noting that I did all of this in about the same span as it would have taken me to get Windows XP installed and up and running just once. Downloading the various software packages alone, not to mention extra drivers and vendor-specific software, would have taken the better part of a day, and I was up and running with Ubuntu in about half an hour. Not too shabby.

In other tech news, the purchase order for the MacBook for work goes in today. I look forward to comparing the apples and oranges of the two, and getting into the guts of its command line. This should be fun.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Xubuntu Impresses

I’ve pretty much written off my good old Dell Inspiron 8000 as an obsolete clunker doomed to crawl along, but I keep it around because I can still run Linux at a reasonable speed on it, connect via wireless in various places, and get some writing done on the road. I most recently ran Fedora Core 5 on it with Fluxbox loaded up as the window manager. Fluxbox is very sparse and minimalist, but it works, and I figured that install would take me through to the laptop’s end of life.

That end of life is looking farther and farther off, however, as I can’t afford to just go out and pick up a cheap laptop, much less a shiny new MacBook. I may as well get the apps as current as possible, so last night I installed Xubuntu 7.10, a spin-off of Ubuntu 7.10 that installs Xfce as the default desktop. Xfce is supposed to run better on older hardware than its more-popular cousins KDE or GNOME, but I saw a negligible difference between it and KDE on my laptop under Flux/FC5.

Not so under Xubuntu. I didn’t see an improvement in boot time (not unexpected), but the desktop did load faster and I didn’t experience a lot of the drag I did before, even under Fluxbox. Flux got the job done, but it’s nice to be back into a fairly modern desktop again.

After that, it’s all Ubuntu candy. The Synaptic package manager impresses me more every time I use it. Firefox and Thunderbird are both current, and the Ubuntu folks didn’t make the idiotic decision to skip Firefox 2 like the Fedora gang. The Software Sources (the sites Synaptic downloads its software from) are much easier to manage, and within five minutes of first login I had Flash 9 up and running. Sound worked out of the box.

Wireless threw me at first. My Orinoco card had a green light to indicate it was running, yet I didn’t have an established connection. Then I spotted the network management applet up by the clock. Click, click, click, voila! At least as easy as using Windows XP’s wireless manager (and easier than some of the vendor-supplied managers).

I started surfing around, and it was a good ten minutes before I noticed the fonts. The fonts are sharper and clearer than I’ve seen on Linux in a while, and they’re at least as sharp and clear as the new IE fonts (which, admittedly, look pretty damn good). It’s not that there was anything wrong with the fonts under FC5, it’s just these are much cleaner and clearer, even under the high resolution. Then it dawned on me that Xubuntu managed to figure out my display resolution on its own, too! I used to have to select a better resolution by hand on this laptop. Under Slackware it meant tweaking X by hand, and under Fedora I had to choose the correct display.

In fact there was zero configuration on this install, period.

The installer asked maybe a half dozen questions: what language I speak, how to partition the disk, my timezone, who I am, and for a password. It then cooked along and presented me with a working system minutes later. People talk about the difficulty of installing XP all the time, but I never saw a major difference until now. This installer runs circles around just about every other installer I’ve ever used.

I still have to dig around and see what else is in there, but it’s looking like I’m going to be an Ubuntu convert. The sticker goes on the laptop chassis this evening, I’ll be installing Ubuntu (or more likely Kubuntu) on the home PC sometime soon, and I look forward to testing Xubuntu on some of the old hardware I’ve got floating around at work.

Linux doesn’t get much more ready for the desktop than this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

A Guide to Gutsy

If you took my advice and downloaded Ubuntu 7.10, aka Gutsy Gibbon, but you don’t know where to begin, try this installation guide. It’ll take you through the install from start to finish, complete with screenshots, and leave you with a complete working desktop that includes everything you need for work and play.

Enjoy!

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Try Linux Today

Today marks the official release of the latest version of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, making it one of the best times to take Linux for a test drive. Possibly as early as this weekend I will finally be upgrading from an older SuSE distribution to Ubuntu 7.10, aka Gutsy Gibbon.

Join me, won’t you?

Need more incentive? Kim Brebach has 13 reasons Linux should be on your desktop. While I’ve never tried the Simply Mepis distro, his reasoning applies just as well to Ubuntu. What’s more, Ubuntu is the distro Dell now preinstalls on some of their systems, meaning you’re more likely than ever to find someone else using Linux near you.

Or maybe this Wired magazine review will help put you at ease, not to mention Cory Doctorow’s assertion on Boing Boing that Ubuntu’s latest release is both “easy” and “sexy” and he dumped his Apple in favor of a PC running Ubuntu.

What are you waiting for? Download a live CD and enjoy.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.