Ubuntu 11.04 Gnome and Unity

1 11 2010

I’ve been wondering about the news today that Ubuntu 11.04, the next big release, scheduled for April 2011, is to ship with the new Unity user interface as the default, replacing Gnome. Gnome will still ship and users can switch to it but what strikes me is this is either exactly what the Linux desktop needs or exactly what it does not need.

For years the Linux desktop has been dogged with the simple fact thats its UI and hence UX is, charitably, not as slick as OSx or Windows, but more accurately its a pig. Given enough time and knowledge it can be much better than either of them, the problem is the popular desktop environment is not populated with Linux hackers, so those brave enough to try it see its looks crap and go back to something they know.

I’ve generally thought that between KDE and Gnome, plus a handful of also rans and slightly more specialized offerings the Linux desktop is a complete failure. Sure choice is king and being able to do what you want id fantastic, but not at the expense of being able to use the thing to get a job done. Gnome is usable, just. KDE recently isn’t even that. Both are amazing when you spend time getting them just right. But who has that sort of time? and in an environment of any size who wants that sort of maintenance headache?

Then comes the apps, tools, widgets, thingies and whatsits. The essential collection of things you actually need to use to get something done. Try finding a comprehensive set of anything that adopts any thing approaching common ground to either the desktop manager or anything else, its not a pretty picture most of the time, literally. This all severely hurts, it hurts the Linux desktop and it hurts adoption because it hurts productivity, it doesn’t help that it looks like something thrown together in a kiddies art class either.

Ubuntu has popularized the Linux desktop, growing its reach hugely and despite my misgivings about its somewhat slapdash approach to releases it proves to be ‘The Linux Desktop’.

So, one might think that Ubuntu could lead the charge and sort out the desktop UI/UX in fact I was beginning to think it might happen until the slippage of Gnome Shell and the emergence of Ubuntu Unity in its netbook remix. Unity is another desktop manger, its not Gnome, its not KDE, its Unity. Quite frankly it sucks, Ive been putting up with it on my netbook for a while and as its a device I use when I have to rather than when I want to its not such a big deal, probably more so as the application I use on it is a terminal 99% of the time.

So I was quite surprised to read that 11.04 will use Unity and not Gnome. I would have been comforted to read that Ubuntu was going to be working very close with Gnome to sort out the desktop, but that seems to not be the case. There have been a few blogs today about what this means for Gnome, well quite simply it doesn’t mean anything much. Ubuntu has barely contributed anything to Gnome, Gnome will live on and prosper based on it being largely contributed to by Red Hat et al. For sure not being the default in Ubuntu is going to hurt, but Gnome is’nt going to suffer much. Ubuntu might though…

I don’t know how many desktops use Ubuntu right now, but how many of them are going to be using it after the upgrade to 11.04 and the switch to Unity? Lets consider Unity is new, right now its not pretty, its slow, buggy and in my opinion not ready for release. But they have got time, not much though.  I wonder how many people will stick with Ubuntu when the UI changes, its going to have to be something of an amazingly successful upgrade isn’t it? Any problems could have people reaching for any of the other popular Linux distro’s and the familiar Gnome desktop.

I think its an interesting move, for sure its vital they get the news out now and start to wade through the reaction to it. Right now I think Unity for me will be on my desktop for as long as it takes to switch to Gnome and if that isn’t less than 10 minutes the switch will be to to Fedora, Debian or any one of a dozen other perfectly viable desktop Linux distributions. Unity needs some very positive media in the next month and some well led promotion, making it work well might be a good first step too.

My final thought, for now, is why didn’t Ubuntu try to adopt the Google ChromeOS type of browser based desktop, isn’t Unity actually about anything but?





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!)





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





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





Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10 and EeePC901

22 11 2009

This is an easy install. I’m installing to my Asus EeePC 901. Download the ISO file from the Ubuntu web site then burn it to a USB, I used an SD card. Your netbook needs to be able to boot from whatever device you choose, if you have a usb CD drive you could use that. In fact I found the getting my EeePC to boot from a USB key impossible, but it would happily boot from the SD card slot.

The default install is perfectly good, but a little package tweaking was needed. I removed the games (it stops the kids wanting to steal the netbook), installed Skype, Opera, Dropbox (I am not happy with Ubuntu ONE and I need something that has a Windows client too) and Tweetdeck.

The screenshots above give a general idea of the look and feel, the terminal window has had its background turned transparent and colours set to green on black. The desktop wallpaper was changed to an image from Desktopnexus.com

I can honestly say this is a solid linux distribution and I can see this being the netbook operating system I stick with after trying out a few of the alternatives.

 





Adventures with a Netbook

22 11 2009

Since I first acquired an Asus EeePC its had Windows XP installed. This has worked fine if a little slow and cumbersome. The atom based netbooks are not fast and this one (a 901 with 1G RAM) is no different, but they are perfect for light use and taking everywhere. Anyway, I decided it was time to move on from XP and started to look at options.

Option 1. Stick with Microsoft. This meant Vista or Windows 7. Well I’ve had pretty much no trouble at all with Vista on my desktop, it all works pretty well. This isn’t the usual story though and I cant see it running well on a netbook. So Vista was out on the basis of it being slower than XP unless fed a decent CPU and RAM. I’ve been running Windows 7 since early beta on my laptop and I have to say its very good, this was definitely going to be an option, but I’m not ready to fund Steve Balmer’s retirement (unless he guarantees to retire) yet, so this would have to wait.

Option 2. Hackintosh. I’ve always liked Mac’s. I haven’t actually used one as my own PC for years though and the thought of introducing a 3rd OS into my daily mix isn’t appealing. Conclusion, review again as a choice between OSX and Windows 7.

Option 3. linux. I’ve had Ubuntu 9.10 on a desktop linux PC since it released a little while ago and also as a dual boot on my laptop, so far I’ve not had any trouble and its been a decent operating system for daily use.

So I decided to bin Windows XP on my EeePC and try out some linux based solutions.

My netbook needs are simple

  • Terminal access (via SSH) so I can get at all the systems I look after
  • Web Browsing, preferably using Opera but FireFox will do
  • Skype (plus something for yahoo and messenger)
  • Office suite, light weight ideally but must be word/excel compatible
  • A twitter client (using the web isn’t great)
  • BBC iPlayer would be nice
  • eMail
  • Remote desktop /VNC
  • Media player, though not so important
  • Easy to use

So, will UNR910 cope? What about Google’s newly released ChromeOS? How about Intel’s Moblin project? and what is Jolicloud?





My Desktop

12 11 2009

I have various PC’s, some Windows based, some linux based. I use Windows daily for the bulk of my work despite that fact that most of the systems I manage are linux based. My personal view on operating systems has always been they are just a tool to do a job, choose the right one and the job gets done, choose the wrong one and its slow and painful for everyone.

I do love the fundamentalist’s views over which operating system is best; Windows, OSx, linux, etc. Personally I really liked OS/400 on the AS/400 (iSeries), but then maybe that’s because it was designed and built to do the job required, not fulfill the need to fluff about with a thousand pointless other things.

So, on my desktop (thats the actual wooden desktop of my desk) I have 2 decent size screens. The main one is the display for my workhorse PC and its Windows, currently Vista (with which I have to say I have had very little trouble since installing it when it launched).

The second, slightly off to the side is, as it happens Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala. I have fiddled with this, it runs a Mac like dock (AWN) and is used generally for web browsing, Tweetdeck (or Seesmic), Skype, iPlayer, SSH, development, etc – a general all things to all men but not Windows PC.

Sometimes I choose the Windows PC, sometimes the  linux PC, sometimes my choice is made for me by what I need to do. We all use Microsoft Word or Excel, that dictates using the Windows PC. Yes, I know, I could use the linux one, but why?

The best choice is not having to choose one but rather use both.

So this brings me to mobility and the generally accepted total lack of in relation to a desktop PC. Enter desktop left, a laptop. In my case a nice 17″ Dell Vostro running Windows 7 (but with a dual boot to Ubuntu 9.10).

A little while ago, as part reward for assisting migrating my brother from Windows to Mac I acquired an Asus EeePC 901. This came with Windows XP and once set up has proven to be quite useful when lugging a full size laptop about seems too much. The trouble is XP is not a light weight operating system, its pretty heavy and slow and not very well built for low power netbooks. Its no surprise that it has taken over netbook sales though, I mean linux is scary, its strange and mostly, it doesn’t do things people want very well. I think it gets a bad rep. but no doubt about it, a normal PC user confronted with some linux distro or Windows XP is going for XP every time.

So what else is on my desktop? Well typically some other assorted junk, usually my cell phones; a little Nokia thing and a Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 (which on various days I either love or hate). Normal land line telephone, often my camera (Eos40D) and always a mess of papers, notes and documents related to whatever real work I’m doing at the time.