My Continuing Adventures with a Netbook

28 01 2010

So here we are fast approaching the end of January 2010 and I have itchy Netbook Operating System Syndrome, again. Having played with what i thought were the front runners in the linux distribution stakes for my Netbook OS it seems I may have missed one. One that is about to take an evolutionary step as well.

Eeebuntu currently, as the name implies, is a build of Ubuntu (9.04) for EeePC Netbooks. Now there are plenty of Ubuntu based distributions out there, in fact there are actually precious few not based on Ubuntu; Ubuntu Netbook Remix, JoliCliud, Moblin, ChromeOS, etc all have their roots in Ubuntu. And Ubuntu has its roots in Debian.

Now I’ve never really been a Debian user when it comes to servers or desktops, but truth be known, I’ve never heard a bad comment about it, quite the reverse in fact. Eeebuntu 3 is the current release and as its based on Ubuntu 9.04 the obvious question is where is Eeebuntu 4 which will obviously be based on Ubuntu 9.10, well no, it won’t. Its going back to the top of the food chain, so to speak, and will be based on Debian. So no longer will it be tied to Ubuntu’s coat tails and this could be a good thing. There are plenty of 9.101 ate my desktop stories out there and Ive had a few issues with it myself, nothing serious, but enough to taint my opinion of it.

As a precursor to the (soon hopefully) release of Eeebuntu 4 (name change required I think) I thought I would take version 3 for a spin. I’ve just gotten a little tired of UNR and its lack of finish, its good, don’t get me wrong, but its just like every linux desktop in that it feels unfinished, unpolished and, quite honestly, second class to Windows or OSx. UNR is a remix for Netbooks, but essentially its a screen real estate limited front end to Gnome and not much else.

Eeebuntu has a Netbook friendly Kernel plus EeePC friendly tools for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Screen, Sound and CPU mode. Other than that its a ‘full’ desktop, in so much as the GUI is full on Gnome and not a cut down. If this is a good or bad thing I’ve yet to determine. There are a few flavours to choose from, Base (my choice to start), UNR (a netbook remix, which is what Im getting away from) and a Standard version. As I prefer to pick and choose my applications and not have to remove some else’s clutter I’ve opted to install the base version.

Downloading and burning to an SD card was simple. Running as a live disk to have a quick tour showed everything to be present and correct, all working out of the box. Full installation was the usual uneventful affair and once installed and booted an update offered to update to the underlying Ubuntu 9.10, I declined and just updated the 9.04 install. So here it is, ready to be loaded up with OpenOffice, Putty, Opera 10, Skype, TweetDeck, iPlayer and a few other daily needed applications.

Downloading and burning to an SD card was simple. Running as a live disk to have a quick tour showed everything to be present and correct, all working out of the box. Full installation was the usual uneventful affair and once installed and booted an update offered to update the underlying Ubuntu to 9.10, I declined and just updated the 9.04 install.

So here it is, ready to be loaded up with OpenOffice, Putty, Opera 10, Skype, TweetDeck, iPlayer and a few other daily needed applications.

EeeBuntu

The little display on my EeePC 901 seems to cope fine with a full desktop, where I had previously thought it might not, hence my previous choice of UNR.

There is a certain pleasure in getting a desktop setup just the way you want it, I was happy with the UNR interface but over time found it limiting and ultimately short on delivery of its promise. Let’s see how Eeebuntu performs and hopefully soon how v4 raises the bar for Netbook linux distributions.

Initial impressions are good, everything I use installed without incident, I tend to keep anything other than essential offline data online these days, and this is especially true with the various portable devices I use. Dropbox and my own NAS system serve my purposes perfectly well and the odd SD card full of mp3’s gets me by.

Screen real estate on a Netbook desktop is scarce so the bottom panel bar has to go, the window list moving up into the top panel bar. Date and time was shrunk to just time. I’ve seen quite a few Netbooks running various Docks (like the OSx Dock) and though I find the one I run on my full size desktop linux PC to be a very useful way of getting to key applications there simply isn’t room on a small screen to handover space, that leaves the Gnome menu system, lets say its adequate and leave it at that for now.

EeeBuntu

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#UKSNOW gives way to #UKFLOODS

17 01 2010

With the inevitability of Simon Cowel’s next awful superstar (or RATM gaining a few hundred thousand purchasers of their records who will never play it let alone ever buy another one) we find our selves on the verge of #UKSNOW giving way to #UKFLOODS.

Here at Redwood the snow has almost completely melted, the lake has a thin covering of broken ice over most of it but its melting fast. The swans and ducks look a little happier about getting their habitat back. The lake often rises quite a bit after heavy rain and over our time here I would say we have seen it crawl up the bank by 2 to 3 feet. But the lake is not really the concern, the Loddon is.

The Loddon floods every year, certainly every year I have lived in this part of Berkshire I have read or seen it flood, with quite often disastrous results for some. Just before Christmas the following Flood Warning was issued, as far as I know its still in place. It did seem amusing to drive past the cinema and see people’s cars under water, not for the owners though I suspect.

The snow certainly caused chaos here over the last 10 days but the snow melt arriving is going to be worse. You can check flood warnings with the Environment Agency web site.

I will be keeping an eye on the local warnings, though thankfully we are high enough to not have to worry about it effecting us directly, at least for now

It seems the BBC has us down for another snow fall mid week, according to their forecast

Redwood Weather

Posted via email from Steve’s Blog





#uksnow – Snow and the Weather Station

8 01 2010

As every one not living under a rock will know the UK has been hit by quite a lot of snow in the last week. Here at Redwood we still have 8 to 10 inches laying on the ground, now frozen as we have not see a temperature above freezing for a few days.

I’ve been watching the weather station sensors of my WS2350 out on the roof outside my office windows and its stood remarkably well to its second winter in the snow. The wind speed anemometer has not frozen and has continued to provide good readings, The temperature, pressure and humidity have provided readings as accurate as they are ever going to be and well with in the margin of error when cross checked with other local weather stations. In fact only the rain sensor lets the side down a little by having no way to distinguish between snow melt and rain fall, hardly the sensors fault I know, but it does raise the question of how one avoids measuring snow melt in the rain fall stats. Its also bound to suffer from frozen water on the tipper which when it melts will add to rain fall stats too, less of a snow issue, more a freezing temperature issue.

I was also thinking about how to deal with recording snow fall, both depth and rate. Obviously there is no sensor to record this automatically (that I am aware of) so one would need to take manual readings and record these. The excellent Cumulus software (www.sandaysoft.com) I use as my data logger and web site feeder has provision for a weather diary in which snow conditions can be recored but it does not seem like the standard Cumulus site presents this diary. Of course snow fall is one thing, sunshine is another and lightning strike, both of which can be measured by the amateur using available sensors and software. Snow, it would seem, is not so easy to measure with automation.

There was an excellent series of weather programs on the BBC Four earlier this year, The Weather (www.bbc.co.uk), in four parts. One of which covered snow in some detail. I was hoping there may be a repeat showing but I cant find them.

The excellent #uksnow twitter tag mashup by Ben Marsh (uksnow.benmarsh.co.uk) has been incredibly popular again, showing a simple picture of snowfall across the UK based on a tweet comprising your postcode then a 1 to 10 scale of snowfall. But it only records snow fall not depth (in fact it only records what you tell it so its very subjective). I think there are definitely a few changes that would take it forward and make it even more popular.

The Weather Underground (www.wunderground.com) has a fantastic mashup map, based on personal weather station feeds, such as the one here at Redwood, but again, snow is obvious by omission only.

I’m sure in places where snow fall is greater that recording and publishing methods are much further advanced than they are for the typical personal weather station, but I am curious what else I can do. Its likely that these winter conditions are indicative of future winters and that snow fall will be a useful addition to the recording going on here at Redwood.

You can follow the weather here at Redwood on the web site (weather.60redwood.com) and on twitter @RedwoodWeather

There is more snow expected this weekend

Finally, here a few pictures from my office window out over the frozen garden Redwood lake

Posted via email from Steve’s Blog





Linux Desktop Cohesion part 1

3 01 2010

I’m a big fan of Linux and also Windows, I work on a simple concept of using the right tools for the job. All the servers I work with are Linux based, but that’s because it provides the right environment and performance over Windows (though its a much narrower advantage now than ever before). If Windows turned out to be the right server for as particular deployment, in exactly the same way if a Sun box or iSeries did, then I would use it. Operating System Fundamentalism is pointless and does nothing to drive forward anything useful.

On the desktop it gets more complex. Windows works. OSx works. Linux really struggles. Why does Linux struggle? Well look at Windows and OSx, they do not provide a dozen different window managers, desktop managers, theme engines, windows controllers, widgets, gadgets, thingies, whatsits and godknowswhateles. They do one! I’m all for diversity and choice but how about some natural selection too? (or is that what’s happening and the Linux Desktop is breeding itself out of the gene pool?)

Under Windows or OSx pretty much every thing works in a similar way, looks the same at the application control level, uses the same mechanisms for interaction. One of Linux’s greatest features is the one thing that continually stops it making any real inroads into the desktop market. Saying Linux allows you to make it work exactly how you want it to is great, pointless, but great. Sadly though no one wants to spend a week building a desktop environment that works and doesn’t hurt their eyes. Even distributions that try to (and continue to) tidy up the mess only get so far and once you go past the very basic and very short list of distributed applications you’re lost in a sea of miss matched GUI’s and bad UX. I think a fair measure of acceptable levels of success would be to be able to move from word processor to email to IM to web to micro blogger without having to adapt to 5 different UI’s for the basic applications.

You would (sensibly) think that this mess should have been resolved by now, but in my opinion its getting worse. Its probably true to say that Gnome and KDE represent the two dominant desktops under Linux and they are both as bad as each other. I love them both but boy they make it hard to create a desktop environment that looks decent and works across all the applications required. And its not just the Linux side that continues to make a mess of it, so called ‘cross platform’ systems like Adobe AIR also make a hash of it, seriously how much of an ask is it to expect a application to use the standard frame buttons for min/max/close?

So how much of this is down to the development philosophy of ‘my way is better’, well possibly all of it. I’m not saying ‘your way’ isn’t better, but if it makes ‘your’ application behave differently then quite likely that’s going to mean it doesn’t get used as much as it would otherwise do.

The UI/UX battleground is a war torn landscape dotted with small victories lost in a mire of defeats.

Perhaps the increasing number of interface systems; desktop, web, mobile, netbook, is making for a problem that is simply too large, too out of anyone’s hands to ever be solved in a meaningful way. Gesture based multi touch can greatly simplify things and if you can think past your preconceived ideas of Windows Icons Mouse Pointer, can be intuitive and productive, but it does not lend itself easily to being a cross device method. We will see multi touch desktop based systems and even if their price makes them real they wont work as the keyboard is the primary interface and ‘touch’, multi or otherwise is a control method.

An early conclusion could be that the reason we have such a diverse ecosystem of interfaces is because no one has got it right yet, I would say that after Xerox got the basics and everyone stole/copied it progress has been very slow.

So, what do I want for my Linux desktop? Well I would like to be able to have a desktop environment where everything worked well, was easy to make it look like it is all part of the same thing (without a degree in astro-emerald-compiz-physics) and looked good out of the box. Until then I will still be using it as a desktop (alongside Windows of course) but I’ll be one where a thousand others will stick to Windows (or OSx) only.

Posted via email from Steve’s Blog