Sunday, 29 June 2008

The colour scheme

I've had some negative feedback on Digg and Reddit about the colour scheme of this blog, so I'm interested in knowing what people think. I've therefore added an opinion poll - please cast your vote, I don't want to be driving people away unnecessarily!

Ubuntu is easier to use than a Mac - discuss!

Ever since I bought my MacBook nearly two weeks ago, I've found it a bit of a struggle to get used to. I've used Windows XP and Vista, as well as MANY Linux distros and a few other Unix-like OS's using many different desktops - Gnome, KDE, Xfce, Icewm, E17 and Fluxbox, among others, and the OS X desktop is the hardest one I've ever had to get used to.
Add to that the fact that I've found it a pain to get used to the method of installing things, and I've come to the following conclusion:
A modern beginner-oriented Linux distribution such as Ubuntu is considerably easier to use than a Mac.
Now, hear me out. These are the points I've found where Linux is easier to use:
  1. The desktop. Ubuntu, for instance, has Applications, Places and Systems on the top panel by default, and the Application menu is broken down into categories so it's always easy to track down what you want, and other desktops such as KDE and Xfce are similarly easy to navigate. If you want a launcher, you can install Gnome Do as it's available in Hardy. By comparison, a Mac has no equivalent menu for launching applications. OK, the Dock is pretty prevalent, but it only shows a subset of applications, and if you aren't familiar with them then the only way that you can find out what does what is by trying it. And yes, you can open them in Finder, but that means opening one application to open another, which is a bit of a waste of time. Spotlight is OK, but it takes a bit of getting used to - it's not as good as either Katapult in KDE or Gnome Do in Gnome. Also, it's tiny and hidden away in a corner, while both Katapult and Gnome Do are big, friendly launchers that appear dead in the centre of the screen. To get something comparable on a Mac, you need Quicksilver.
  2. Installing new software. In Ubuntu, you can open Add/Remove Applications, pick out what you want and install it, or you can use Synaptic to get a list of everything you can install, and again can just pick out what you want, and with a few clicks whatever you want will be installed. By comparison, on a Mac you have to go to the web page, download whatever it is you want, then mess around dragging it into a folder, then you have to delete the dmg file from your desktop.
  3. Compiling from source. It's rare to have to compile from source these days, and with Ubuntu you're more likely to see new versions available in the repositories, so you probably have to do so less than on a Mac. And if you do, it's made easier to remove it later by installing the checkinstall package. By using checkinstall instead of make install, you create a deb package which can be easily removed using the package manager if necessary. As far as I can see, there's no equivalent to this on a Mac.
  4. Out of the box functionality. A Mac does "just work" quite well. But so does Ubuntu. I've only EVER had two problems in using Ubuntu or Kubuntu - one was the fact that my wireless card had a driver which didn't support WPA, so I had to use Ndiswrapper to get it working with the Windows drivers. The other was a DNS problem which was to do with my router. I've never had to mess around with my or recompile my kernel, or install any other drivers. And this is on an OS that didn't come preinstalled! To be a truly fair comparison you'd have to compare both preinstalled and installing it yourself on your own machine, as only a "like-to-like" comparison is really fair. A machine that comes with Ubuntu preinstalled "just works" as much as a Mac does, whereas building a hackintosh is MUCH harder than getting Ubuntu working on another machine, and not many non-Apple machines will work at all with OS X, whereas most will work with Ubuntu.
  5. Greater range of preinstalled applications. OK, apps like iMovie, PhotoBooth and Garageband are fun to mess around with, but they are the ONLY ones that don't have equivalents preinstalled in Ubuntu. Ubuntu has more useful things, such as the OpenOffice suite, Evolution (which includes a calendar), the Pidgin IM client (which supports more different protocols than iChat does), The GIMP etc. And it's better supplied with games - there's about five or six, whereas a Mac has chess only!
  6. Better support for third-party media players. iPods are pretty well supported out of the box in Ubuntu or Kubuntu, as are many other music players, as both Rhythmbox and Amarok have wide-ranging support for third party devices. By comparison, trying to get a third-party device working in OS X is likely to involve having to install new software, if it will work at all.
These are the ones I can think of - no doubt plenty of people will be able to suggest other reasons. What do you think? Am I right? As always, please keep it civil, and don't spout advertising slogans. Seriously, I've had enough of "A Mac just works!", it's not a convincing argument!
And if you're a Mac fan - this is not an attack on OS X, having used it I do think it's a good OS, and constructive criticsm benefits Apple because it shows them where they could improve.

Friday, 27 June 2008

My new purchase

I'm a great fan of Unix-based OS's in general, not just Linux. I've tried OpenSolaris, Hurd and a couple of the BSD's in VirtualBox (when I could get them to work!) and liked most of them, but there's one I've not tried till recently. Here's a clue: you can't get it free.
Yes, it's OS X. But I decided to bite the bullet and bought a MacBook. At £799, it's my single most expensive purchase, ever. But, what the hell. I can afford it and it'll be fun.
Here's the list of reasons why I decided to get one:
  1. I could be one of those people on Digg who, when a squabble over which OS is better starts, could say "I use all three and they're all cool, leave it alone".
  2. More likely, I could say "I use all three and Linux is the best"!
  3. I wanted a new computer and I decided a while ago I'm not going to pay for any more copies of Windows, which narrows it down to one with preinstalled Linux or a Mac. And I already have a Dell and an Eee PC.
  4. Macs are supposed to be good for running Linux on (that was before I found out that this one uses the dreaded Broadcom wireless card...)
  5. I might well wind up using Macs at work once I've finished my IT course, so it'd be a good idea to get used to them.

So, what is my impression of it? Well, it looks good from the outset, but I am REALLY finding the desktop to be a b**** to use compared to KDE. I'm beginning to be able to use it, but it's a struggle. I also find it a pain to install things - I keep wanting to open the terminal and type "sudo apt-get install firefox". And I must be one of the first people to buy a Mac and go running straight for the terminal! And so far as I can see if you wanted to install something like a new version of Perl or Python, the only way you could do so would be by compiling it from source.

The applications included are good (the likes of Garageband and PhotoBooth are fun to play with), but there are some things that seem odd. Why, for instance, is there not even a basic word processor, equivalent to MS Works? Do Apple think people will want to store their photos and create music, but then not even want to write a letter? Many of these people won't know about things like NeoOffice or OpenOffice.

From a development side it's very good - I'm really surprised at that. It comes with Apache and Rails preinstalled, and you even get the Xcode IDE on the install disc. But it's probably actually worse than Linux for gaming - most Linux distros include a few games, OS X has chess only, and Linux has plenty of native games free to download as well as things like Wine and Cedega to let you use Windows games.

So, overall I'm impressed in many ways - Apple do get a lot right. But I still think that Linux is the superior operating system - it's FAR more flexible as you can remaster distros, change the desktop and do whatever you want with it, whereas OS X is more restricted. But OS X is defining proof that a Unix-like OS can work for pretty much any user, which is good news for Linux too. After all, one hardware manufacturer will never be able to grab the whole of the market, and if Windows starts becoming a liability to OEMs (as it may already be, considering the rough ride Vista has had), then they will start looking for an alternative that can compete better with OS X, and that will almost certainly mean Linux. Better manufacturer support will almost eliminate the technical reasons that keep people from switching to Linux, and better software support will attract more users. So, in a way, any increase in market share for OS X may well also benefit Linux, and shake up the moribund OS market.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

The return of Google Toolbar

Yes! Google Toolbar is now available for Firefox 3! I've long used this as it's really handy, and I've really struggled without it. Now I've got easy access to my Google Bookmarks and I Feel Lucky again. Thanks for finally getting this done, Google!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Apple Haters (dot com)

Very funny Apple-bashing pictures! If you're a Mac user and easily offended, look away now!

read more | digg story

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Google Friend Connect

Having had a few weeks to ponder Google's Friend Connect, I'm starting to really think about what it could mean. It's clearly part of Google's social networking strategy, along with OpenSocial, and it shows just how big Google really think - instead of creating a social network to compete with Facebook (which would be pointless as they already have Orkut), they're giving people the chance to make the rest of the Internet into social networks.

This could be very cool if, as I expect, they roll it out to their own services. For instance, if they made it easy to use it with a Blogger blog (which I suspect they will), then any blog will be able to become a social network. While any blog already has a community around it (unless no-one reads it), this could make it easy for people to get to know others in the community, and encourage participation and debate. For me, I think it would be especially handy for Easierbuntu, as it would mean people could connect to each other to share tips and advice on how to use Ubuntu more easily.

It's a shame that Facebook have decided to stop letting people sign in using their Facebook profile as it's one of the biggest social networks, but I do feel strongly that it isn't their decision to make and they shouldn't have done so. If I want to give Google that information, it should be up to me as it's my data. Facebook should not be able to stop me from doing so. In my case, I have other profiles I can use, but not everyone does. I appreciate that they have their own competing product that they want to push, but at the end of the day it's my data and I should be able to do with it what I wish.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

BT OpenZone

Fed up with having nothing much to do in the evenings without broadband and having had little success with mobile broadband, I've just signed up for BT OpenZone. Now at least I can get online in a cafe, just means I'm no doubt going to spend a fortune on cups of tea!
For £10 a month, it's not too bad to get wi-fi on the go, but it's limited to 500 minutes per month. Not really enough for me, but I'm not planning to do a huge amount of browsing on it, just read a few feeds.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Finished part 2 of my course

Just wanted to say that I've just done the online assessment for the second part of my IT course, and I got 26 out of 29! I'm really pleased with that as I found this part harder than the first and was a bit apprehensive about the test.
I'm studying for CIW Associate certification, and I'm thinking that once I've done this course I will then go down either the Enterprise Developer or Web Site Manager route
I'm really looking forward to the next part, Site Development Foundations, as this actually gets into building websites, which I find is a lot more interesting. Also, I can do it on my Asus Eee!


Today I decided to try out Wubi on my Windows Vista machine. For the uninitiated, it's a great new way of installing Ubuntu from within Windows. You just boot up as usual, then run umenu.exe from the disc and go through the menu options to install it. If you then reboot your system, you'll be able to choose between Windows and Ubuntu. If you select Ubuntu, it will be installed for you and you can then boot straight into it. While it's not quite the same as a normal install, it's a lot more convenient as you can later uninstall it from within Windows. I've tried dual-booting in the past but found it a pain - this is a lot more straightforward.

I installed Xubuntu, and I was impressed with how well it worked. Then, on a whim I decided to skin it to look like a Mac, using Mac4Lin. I had a lot of trouble with this, so I decided to switch it to Ubuntu instead by uninstalling the Xubuntu desktop and installing the Ubuntu desktop in its place. After a couple of hours work I had pretty much nailed it.

I'm very impressed with the end result. It's not exactly the same, but it is pretty close - see what you think:

I think I'm going to keep this Ubuntu install on here as I have in the past been using VirtualBox as a test bed for messing around with Linux, but that's somewhat limited. I think this will be better for tinkering, and also so I have a Gnome-based install to play with - KDE is great, but it will no doubt do me good to check out what Gnome offers as well. Also, that's the computer that my music is on so I've installed Amarok and set Ubuntu up to mount my Vista partition automatically so I can listen to music in Linux.

All in all, Wubi is very impressive. Only problem I've had is when I installed Gnome Do - it seems to be a real memory hog, worse than Firefox ever was. Anyone else had this problem?