Tag Archive for windows

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.

Where Are the Vista Apologists?

Brooding

Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

I’ve become more and more impressed with the MacBook I’ve been evaluating. Between reader comments and the things an Apple rep has showed me, I’m starting to really see the appeal of OS X.

The much-touted ease of use is really there. With no more instruction than “click here and here,” my son has fallen in love with PhotoBooth. The picture above is one of many he took while playing around, and he often asks me if he can play with the MacBook. I’m looking forward to showing him the Comic Life demo I downloaded.

I’ll be talking more about my MacBook experiences in the future, but for now I have to wonder, where are the Vista apologists?

I write a single post about my Mac experiences, and I’m swamped with comments and traffic spikes. There was no zealotry, just helpful advice and encouraging words. Meanwhile I’ve slagged Windows, especially Vista, several times, and there’s hardly a peep from my readership.

I’m on an email list for Illinois technology educators that has hundreds of members, and there’s a lot of talk about Vista headaches ranging from poor printer and hardware support to it being a massive resource hog. There are a few people who claim to like it, but they’re more interested in some of the administrative or security tools than anything a user might get excited about. Or, if they do like Vista in general, they have either turned off several features or they just accept the system’s quirks.

I read a column recently (I wish I could find it) that made a great point: Mac users love their systems. Windows users, meanwhile, just grit their teeth and reboot. This is why guys like John Roling, a former Windows power user, suddenly become Mac enthusiasts. This is why guys like me start exploring other options like Linux, and are willing to at least entertain the notion of purchasing a Mac.

This is why Dell and IBM are forced to offer XP as an option on their systems, and Vista was only installed on 39% of all PCs sold last year. This is why Best Buy is doubling the number of stores stocking Mac products this month.

The only thing the Windows, Mac and Linux camps can agree on is DRM and proprietary multimedia formats suck.

In the meantime, I ask again, where are the Vista apologists? If you’re out there, speak up!

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.

Let Me Count the Ways

I’m not a fan of Windows Vista at all. The chief reason is because it’s a resource hog: even on a brand new machine with a fast processor and a gig of RAM, it just kind of pokes along, even without enabling the fancy Aero graphics. And that’s before running an app on it. User Account Control is such a nuisance that most people turn it off, thus voiding all of its protections in the first place.

I’m apparently not the only one, as Vista sales are in decline. More and more people I talk to are considering their first Mac, as am I. Our superintendent was impressed with Garage Band and other tools on the Mac, so I’ll probably have a Mac to play with by Spring and our school will quite possibly have some Macs next year. Dell has to offer XP and Linux machines or face losing sales to Apple. I’ve even sent people to Tiger’s refurbished machines so they can stick with XP at (what is for them) an affordable price.

Now there are two more reasons to hate Windows:

First, they pushed out a new version of Desktop Search that’s bringing machines to their knees. At least half the machines in my district are out of date and have the bare minimum to run Windows, much less Office and all the online stuff the students throw at them. I don’t care what their excuses are, my update servers are set to only install critical updates and security patches on my network without my having to say so, and IMHO this qualifies as neither. Plus, nobody was running Desktop Search, and suddenly it’s on everybody’s taskbar. The number of trouble calls I’ve gotten from people asking “what is this stupid thing?” is bad enough, and the fact that it slows their machine to a crawl is even worse. Inexcusable.

Second, and more important, is there’s a new botnet out there called the Storm Worm that essentially fools your antivirus into thinking there are no viruses on the system. I was wondering if this would be a cross platform problem, but no, it’s not (at least not yet). It essentially infects Windows’ “brain” and delivers its own messages, so you think your antivirus program tells you everything is a-okay. Meanwhile, the botnet has its way with your system. No system is completely secure, but to be subject to such a major security flaw is likewise inexcusable.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do with our lab upgrade at work next summer. I’ll probably be stuck with Vista, and to be frank, that scares the hell out of me.

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.