Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop and Netbook

1 05 2010

With the arrival of the Ubuntu 10.04 Release Candidate I took the plunge and did fresh installations on both my Desktop and Netbook. I’ve previously tried the Alpha and Beta and was generally impressed with the evolution of Ubuntu. My netbook is a ‘never leaves my side’ kind of thing and has to be 100% reliable and operational. My desktop is a compliment to my main desktop, which out of necessity, runs windows. The linux desktop provides my media, social networking, chat/IM, browsing/monitoring and secure access to numerous systems.

10.04 is an evolution but one in an evolutionary process that has visibly slowed down recently.That’s not to say there has not been a lot of work going on or that 10.04 is not impressive, there has and it is. When I say visibly I do mean visibly. Yes its a prettier place to live but, for example, its not got the next generation of Gnome. For that we will wait, hopefully for the next version of Ubuntu, however I do wonder how many who have opted for this latest LTS will not upgrade until the next LTS?

So, what was the install like? Well, it was pretty painless. The Operating System installed quickly, booted with no trouble (and booted fast but don’t believe the hype, its not that fast!). Sound, graphics, media cards all played nicely out of the box. It only took a short while to replace the now, quite frankly, hopeless FireFox with Opera, install the other usual suspects of my daily desktop life and be operational. I’ve always preferred a simple dock to desktop shortcuts or quick launch icons so I installed (as usual) Avant Window Navigator (0.4.0) and replaced the lower panel. I have to say AWN has improved, it feels a little more together than it used to and its not like it was bad before.

My only gripe with the new look and feel is that on a multi desktop system the close, min, max buttons are missing a menu drop down to send the window to another desktop. A right click on the title bar takes care of it but this is something that needs to be covered in the next release when, hopefully, we will see the reason why controls are on the left (ala Mac) and not the right (ala Windows), that space thats opened up on the right is going to have purpose soon we are told.

Media playback is sadly still not there out of the box, licensing and re-distribution can be blamed for this I think. Happily its not difficult to quickly have your MP3’s and DVD’s spinning away. I had one issue with Handbrake, but this was resolved by using the latest snapshot and should be resolved now that 10.04 is on general release. GIMP had to be pulled out of the repo’s as its not part of the standard install, no big deal really but silly in my opinion

BBC iPlayer, Tweetdeck, Filezilla, Dropbox and Skype all worked fine. I installed Sunbird, a screenlet I use to provide weather updates from Weather Underground and my own weather station and that was more or less that, desktop done.

Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop

Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop

The story was barely any different installing the Netbook Remix onto my EeePC901, though the desktop is, of course, the UNR standard.

Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook

Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook

One of the new features in 10.04 is better integration between the desktop and the various social networking offerings, twitter and facebook really. This takes the form of two tools, yes two, why use one when you can make everyone do everything twice? Emapthy (which replaced Pidgin as the standard IM client back in 9) handles chat and Gwibber takes care of social broadcasting to twitter and facebook.

I have to say its good to have the ability to have a single chat client, Empathy, to work with Yahoo, MSN and Facebook but it does not handle Skype – I’m not blaming anyone but this is really a huge shortcoming now for me. Skype remains outside but has become almost ubiquitous for voice and IM communication. Not having integration into a single messaging client is something that needs to be addressed. Always preferring the open route I would prefer to see Empathy (or other) include at the very least Skype IM if not voice, however, I wonder why Skype has not built the IM ability for the other popular clients?

The ‘broadcast’ client, gwibber (come on guys, time to pay someone to come up with better names) is pretty weak and not without its problems. but it works in a pretty neatly integrated fashion and lets be fair and say that with some TLC it will do the job, but it needs some love pretty soon. No one who uses facebook or twitter much already will bother with it, they will install tweetdeck or whatever. But it might help tempt newer users into the social media and networking club. Its  quick to get something out in a hurry but links, pictures, etc, forget it!

Its pretty ironic to think, again as with all things in computing tech, that we have advanced so far only to be no further forward in real terms. In much the same way that cloud was my old mainframe, the latest fancy Excel spreadsheet fails to better my old Lotus 1-2-3, now the new gwibber and empathy and skype still need as many clients as MSN, Yahoo and AIM did before. Anyway, enough of that….

There is a lot more, people are raving about the Ubuntu One Music store, sorry but I cant think of anything less exciting. I dont use iTunes and I cant see me using this. I would like to see a native Spotify client though.

I mentioned above that I installed Dropbox, Ubuntu One has been around for a while but to be quite honest it still feels unreliable, slow and badly made. However the killer is its not got a Windows client (or anything else for that matter) so its useless for me and I suspect many many others. It does however, if you can use it, allow you to synch ANY folder not just a single specified one like Dropbox. Thats a very nice feature.

Performance wise I would say its too close to call. My desktop is nothing special, its getting on and doesn’t have a spec to die for. 9 was fine, 10 doesn’t feel faster in any tangible way but it does feel a little more together and it does boot that little bit faster too. On my netbook, again not the latest hardware, I would say its the same story. In short it all runs fine and I suspect on more modern tin its going to be a real delight. The bottom line here is that I can continue to take advantage of new features, better looking desktops, without having to shell out on new hardware. Thats a big plus with linux and Ubuntu.

There is no question 10.04 is a good operating system, if you already use Ubuntu its a no brainer upgrade. I usually find problems in a week of use and I’ve not had anything so far. Its been stable and reliable and everything works as it would.

Upgrade now, you wont regret it (however if you do don’t come crying to me!)

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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





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





JoliCloud moves into Pre-Beta

29 12 2009

Previously I wrote about Jolicloud while I was testing different Linux distributions on my EeePC netbook. I chose distributions that were, in theory, better suited to life with a netbook. After some basic trial use of Google ChromeOS, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Moblin and Jolicloud I settled on Ubuntu and for the last month I’ve been using it quite successfully on my little EeePC 901.

The thing I liked about Jolicloud was its ‘Jolicloud application installer’ this provides a whole slew of applications ready to install and not just the off the shelf Linux stuff, this also has applications that would normally require you to compile from source or run through Wine (the pseudo windows emulation library for Linux)

Since that initial look Jolicloud, which is based in Ubuntu so shares the same solid foundation, has gone from alpha to pre-beta. Pre-beta drops the need to be invited to try Jolicloud and opens it up to the wider world, in their words, “We consider the product and its installation stable and simple enough for a broader release.”, I would agree.

Now the thing that potentially interests me again in Jolicloud is the ‘New UI’, reading the Jolicloud blog further reveals this to be a lot of theme and icon redesign with the goal of providing a more consistent feel to the, lets be honest, mixed bag of typical Linux distro’s.

The launcher has been given a HTML5 makeover and looks greatly improved, cleaner, clearer and ultimately more usable. Compare

with the current/old

It seems to me that if Jolicloud roll out the UI update and pull off a good attempt at a cohesive UI for Linux then they will have a success on their hands. Google’s play is to simplify (dumb down?) the UI to a HTML5 browser, but its tomorrow’s toy, Jolicloud looks set to offer this today.

Season the mix with 98% netbook compatibility and a Windows installer that will install Jolicloud alongside Windows on your netbook (assuming you have the disk space) and there might never be a better time to give Jolicloud a spin and see what the latest world of Linux has to offer the daily netbook user.

So I am going to be re-installing Jolicloud soon, once that new UI is available, and quite possibly moving on from Ubuntu Netbook Remix. That is as soon as I get hold of a new SD card to load it onto.

Posted via email from Steve’s Blog





Google OS

23 11 2009

This week Google gave a preview of its upcoming operating system, ChromeOS. It also open sourced the project as ChromiumOS and the Chromium Browser (Google Chrome). Now then, apart from confusing the hell out of everyone with its naming (including me, so if my understanding is wrong, what did you expect?), this has been talked about as either the Microsoft Windows killer or a waste of time. Personally I think its neither.

I downloaded the source code and built it. I then installed it on my netbook. I thought I would spend a few hours playing with it but after 30 minutes there wasn’t anything left to play with. If you have been wondering why there seems to be a lack of screenshots on the interweb its because there is precious little to take a screenshot of.

Basically, Google’s OS is a completely stripped down linux variant (they are working with Canonical of Ubuntu fame), it boots very quickly (I got mine booting in something like 10 seconds) but thats because it doesn’t boot anything other than the bare minimum needed to run a very limited list of hardware and the Google browser, Chromium. Once running everything is in the ‘cloud’, its all on line, apps, data, the lot, its all on the net. No local storage.

The browser has matured into a ‘full’ front end to everything you want to do with your netbook, to be honest I don’t see anything really new here, in fact I’m not sure Google OS gives so much as it takes away, less is more, more or less.

I think the UI concept has some limitations, but these are offset by the netbook, you wont run 10 apps at the same time because your netbook doesn’t do that, its really 1 or 2 things at a time and the UI (not just Google’s but the others too) handles this quite well. In fact you could give Google an extra point here for having applets inside the bigger frame, such as Google Talk or a notepad.

Its all online, it will be interesting to see how well unreliable connections are handled, writing your presentation on your netbook on the train to work sounds great. Its something we have all done. But today when the train goes through a tunnel I don’t lose the connection to my hard drive, tomorrow with Google’s OS I would lose my connection to the cloud, without some clever caching and recovery at best I will have to wait for the connection to return, at worst, well lets see.

You can read more everywhere about it. I think its good, it shows what you can do if you focus on your purpose and nothing else. Is it going to kill Windows? No! Its not going to even raise more than a ‘oh yeah we have heard of it’ from the boys at Microsoft and why should it?

But, in a years time when they launch it with the hardware as well, remember that all they have let out in the wild is the open source project, well then I think it will be time to sit up and take notice. A proper light weight OS, no frills, on hardware built for the task. Think of the applications. Google’s web browser tablet, news reader, media player, cell phone, video phone… this is just the first showing of the first building block of Google’s OS. Only a fool would write it off based on this, lets see what Google does next.

So is Microsoft going to be looking at the next 12 months and wondering what the landscape for discrete devices might look like if Google makes its play? Yeah, I think so.

I read today that, shock and surprise, its likely that Google OS and Android (Google’s OS for cell phones and mobile devices – you can see the overlap) will converge, read here