Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Easierbuntu is growing!

I must say, I'm surprised at how well Easierbuntu is doing. I checked my Feedburner dashboard and the subscriber numbers currently stands at 45, compared to 10 for Far Beyond the Edge of Reason. That does make sense though - Easierbuntu is a useful resource, whereas Far Beyond the Edge of Reason is more of a personal blog about issues I'm interested in.

But I'm really pleased with how well it's doing. A lot of people seem to have picked up on it after I submitted the first post to Digg, and it's been mentioned on Productive Linux and Fresh Ubuntu, which seems to have helped reader figures somewhat. Many thanks to them for their publicity, which has gone a long way to help it gain readership.

I'm glad that people are reading it and seem to be finding it useful. Ideally, I'd like to get more people involved in writing for it so it can provide more help to people. But with the things I've provided so far, I think it has gone quite some way to help new Ubuntu users who might be struggling to get it working for them.

Now let's see if I can keep up the momentum!

How to create your own virtual self

How weird is this? You can create your own chatbot based on your own personality, and you can embed it on web pages, MySpace profiles or a blog. It can chat with people via MSN, or can even appear in Second Life! I'm going to give this a try and see what I think!

read more | digg story

Monday, 28 January 2008

People don't read books - says Steve Jobs

Maybe he means Mac users don't read books, which if it is true says very little for their intelligence! Sorry, couldn't resist a little swipe! Anyway, if Steve Jobs thinks people don't read books anymore, then he's an idiot - Amazon is one of the big survivors of the first dotcom bubble, in the last few years there have been loads of popular books (Harry Potter series, Da Vinci Code, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), and bookshops are doing pretty well. Where exactly does he get this idea?

read more | digg story

Friday, 25 January 2008

28 Wrong Ways & 28 Right Ways to Care For a New Baby

Who'd have thought an article about caring for a new baby could be so funny! Honestly, check it out, it really is side-splittingly funny!

read more | digg story

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Jook: Social Networking Meets Music

This sounds very interesting. Jook is a wireless technology which allows you to broadcast music played on your digital music player to other people with it in the vicinity. They can listen to what you're listening to, so you can share music with friends (or complete strangers). If they could integrate it with Last.fm, that would be something!

read more | digg story

Last.fm frees the music

After so much press about Internet radio services like Pandora having problems, and record companies threatening to sue people for downloading music, my perennial favourite Last.fm is flourishing! Furthermore, they've actually managed to put together a rock-solid business model that means that both artists and fans get a really great deal. This announcement is tremendously exciting!

read more | digg story

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

E-mail subscriptions now available

Just a quick post to say that both easierbuntu and Far Beyond the Edge of Reason now offer subscription via e-mail. I realised that unfortunately a lot of people haven't really woken up to how useful and powerful RSS feeds are, and don't know how to use them, so offering subscription via e-mail as well is a good idea. Also, easierbuntu in particular might be better suited to that, because it's useful to have a copy of any posts available in your inbox at any time, whereas if you subscribe to the feed you don't usually have the old posts available. It'll be interesting to see if subscriber numbers for either blog increase as a result.

But, seriously people, if you haven't discovered the convenience of RSS, do yourselves a favour and sign up for Google Reader, and start subscribing to the feeds instead of checking the same websites all the time. You really can get through a tremendous amount of stuff in a short period of time. It's just about the best way to keep tabs on what's going on! I'm subscribed to a hell of a lot of feeds, and it means I can stay informed on a range of subjects.

Sunday, 20 January 2008


Why oh why didn't I try Fasterfox before - it's brilliant! I've known Firefox to be quite slow in Kubuntu, especially on sites with lots of JavaScript like Digg or the Ubuntu Forums, but Fasterfox makes a tremendous difference. If you're running Firefox and you haven't tried it, get it now!

Another anti-piracy spoof!

While looking on YouTube for the video for the previous post, I also found this one. It's got a pretty good point - if you're watching a legitimate DVD you have to sit through that and generally can't fast foward or skip it, but get it via BitTorrent or buy a pirated DVD you don't see it. No wonder the entertainment industry is in the toilet...

The IT Crowd - the spoof Anti-Piracy Ad!

In the last few months, I've grown to love the UK sitcom The IT Crowd. Here's my favourite scene - the spoof anti-piracy advert! It sends up the anti-piracy adverts we see on DVD's in the UK, and is absolutely hilarious!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Top Ten Tips For New Ubuntu Users

A useful resource for new Ubuntu users, but with several glaring omissions - it tells you how to change your default text editor to Vim, but doesn't mention that the full version isn't installed in Ubuntu by default - it uses Vim-tiny, you really need to install the vim-full package. And are newbies really that likely to want to compile from source or install a new kernel?

read more | digg story

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Facebook Fatigue - Part 3

Here's something someone sent me on Facebook today:

Hello, my name is Medwin and I suffer from guilt for not forwarding 50 billion fucking chain letters sent to me by people who actually believe, if you send them on, a poor six-year-old girl in Scotland with a breast on her forehead will be able to raise enough money to have it removed before her redneck parents sell her to a travelling freak show.

And, do you honestly believe that Bill Gates is going to give $1000 to you, and everyone to whom you send 'his' email?

How stupid are we?

Ooooh, looky here! If I scroll down this page and make a wish, I'll get laid by a model I just happen to run into the next day!

What a bunch of bullshit.

Maybe the evil chain letter leprechauns will come into my house and sodomise me in my sleep for not continuing a chain letter that was started by St Peter in 5AD and brought to this country by midget pilgrim stowaways on the Endeavour.

Fuck 'em!!

If you're going to forward something, at least send me something mildly amusing.

I've seen all the 'send this to 10 of your closest friends, and this poor, wretched excuse for a human being will somehow receive a nickel from some omniscient being' forwards about 90 times. I don't fucking care.

Show a little intelligence and think about what you're actually contributing to by sending out these forwards. Chances are, it's our own unpopularity.

The point being?

If you get some chain letter that's threatening to leave you shagless or luckless for the rest of your life, delete it.

If it's funny, send it on.

Don't piss people off by making them feel guilty about a leper in Botswana with no teeth who has been tied to the arse of a dead elephant for 27 years and whose only salvation is the 5 cents per letter he'll receive if you forward this email.

Now forward this to everyone you know. Otherwise, tomorrow morning your underwear will turn carnivorous and will consume your genitals.

Have a nice day.

Ps Send me £20.00 then fuck off

I couldn't agree more! I'm hoping these stupid chain letters will eventually die out, and I'm very glad to see other people are getting as annoyed about them as I am!

Facebook Fatigue - Part 2

Either it's a coincidence, or someone at Facebook read my blog post about Facebook Fatigue. Remember I said this?
Why can't they add a feature that will automatically ask if you want to remove an application if you haven't used it for a time?

Because I just logged in and it asked if I wanted to move a load of my applications to my extended profile! Naturally, I said yes, and my profile now loads a lot quicker.
Thank you, Facebook. I don't know if that feature's always been there and I've just not known about it before, or it's a recent addition, but it has gone a long way in restoring my faith in it. I do wish that people would stop sending round those chain wall posts, though!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The MacBook Air - WTF?

Regular readers will know I am most certainly not a Mac fanboy - I get very annoyed with the trolls who spam every Digg article about Linux with "Get a Mac", and I'm quite proud of being a Linux user. That said, I don't have anything against people using Macs. OS X is quite a good OS, although I do not like the desktop - I'm very much a KDE man. I merely think they are overpriced fashion accessories. Next time I buy a laptop, assuming it's not an Eee PC, Cloudbook or Noahpad, I'm going for a Dell with preinstalled Ubuntu - my current Dell runs Kubuntu Gutsy really well, and has been going strong for three-and-a-half years.

I thought from what I had heard that the MacBook Air was going to be something along the lines of the Eee PC, but no. Instead it's a normal, expensive laptop that's so thin it fits in an envelope. And has no optical drive or Ethernet cable. Oh, big wow. For the price I could get four Eee PC's, which are more robust and more practical.

Yet the Apple faithful are crowing about it, saying "It's revolutionary! Everyone else will be doing this soon!". How is that revolutionary? It might be light, but it looks fragile and it's less portable than an Eee - you could put it in a briefcase, but not much else, whereas an Eee you can put in pretty much anything, and is more easily replaceable.

I'm not surprised Apple's share price dropped after this. I really doubt anyone else is going to try and emulate this, despite what the fanboys say. I think the future is in things like the Eee PC, and the MacBook Air is something of a white elephant. There will be people buy it (those with more money than sense), but you won't see anyone trying to emulate it, except maybe Sony, and VAIO's are going after the same market. By contrast, vendors are lining up to emulate the Eee PC. I heard rumours today that Acer are planning their own entry into the subnotebook market.


Have tried a very promising new application today. Spicebird is based on Mozilla Thunderbird, but aims to be a completely integrated application for email, instant messaging, calendar, RSS reader and eventually desktop blogging application. It has real potential, and if a .deb package for Ubuntu becomes available I might try it instead of Thunderbird (long my fave application for e-mail).

Apparently, I can't go more than a week without changing my desktop around...

I got fed up with the Vista-esque themes and changed back to the regular Kubuntu ones. I've also ditched the themes for Firefox and Thunderbird, but Firefox I've given the great KDEFF theme, which fits in well with KDE.

I've also given Tasty Menu another try. The Kubuntu version seems to have improved a lot since I last used it - it behaves like a menu now, and you don't have to close it down yourself anymore. Here's what it looks like:

Now, Tasty Menu is a lot tastier than it was!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Facebook Fatigue

I don't know about you, but I'm starting to suffer from something. Call it Facebook Fatigue if you like. I'm getting really fed up with all the new applications people send me or the "send this on to at least 5 people or you will have bad luck or die" things.

My profile now takes ages to load - I'm really going to have to start getting rid of things on it.
Why can't they add a feature that will automatically ask if you want to remove an application if you haven't used it for a time?

And how many different walls do you need? I have The Wall, Fun Wall, Super Wall and Advanced Wall, and I'm really getting tired of it all.

But the chain letters are definitely the worst. I never, NEVER send these on, EVER. They're little better than spam, but with the difference that they're from your friends!

People go on about Facebook as if it's the greatest thing ever and it's going to rival Google soon. Quite honestly, I cannot see that happening. I was not an early adopter - I joined Facebook in August, but I am already losing patience with it. It's just becoming annoying.

It may well be that other people will begin using something else soon, but with Google's OpenSocial, almost all of the social networks will soon support similar applications, so no doubt they will all be full of Werewolves/Zombies/Vampires/What Fruit are You soon.

Is there an alternative? Maybe. Ning is a white-label service that allows you to build your own social network. Although it is participating in OpenSocial, the administrator of the network has control over it so presumably he/she can decide whether to allow applications or not. Maybe I should use Ning to build a social network that doesn't annoy the hell out of me. One that I can use to stay in touch with friends, and leave it at that.

I also like Orkut. If it was more popular in the UK, I'd use it over Facebook. It's integrated with Google Talk, so you can use it to chat with your friends, it's got a clean, simple interface the way Facebook used to be, all it needs is an equivalent to The Wall and it would be ideal for me. But it's part of OpenSocial, so in all likelihood it will still have all the same irritating applications in a few months time.

I've even got a book that tells you how to build your own social network using Ruby on Rails. That's tremendously appealing - I could have a built in blogging facility, IM and photosharing, and allow people to share links and things like that, but leave it simple and unobtrusive. I'd have to learn Ruby on Rails, but I want to do so anyway at some point.

Perhaps I'm just getting old, but I think we're likely to see a major backlash soon. If I'm getting irritated with it after only five months, others must be doing so as well. We've already had that business with Beacon, after which Facebook's star hasn't been burning quite so brightly as perhaps it once was. Maybe this year will see people move on to something else.

Monday, 14 January 2008

100 Greatest Quotes from fundamentalist christian chat rooms

Some downright terrifying quotes from fundamentalist chatrooms. Be afraid, be very afraid...

read more | digg story


I've just started a brand-new blog. Easierbuntu will run alongside Far Beyond the Edge of Reason, and will be exclusively a place where I provide useful tips for those just beginning to use Ubuntu-based Linux distros.

I felt there was a genuine need for such a thing, since when I first started I struggled with many things about using Kubuntu. Like many people, I resorted to using Automatix for things like audio codecs. For some people, Automatix works out fine, but for others it was a nightmare. I was very much in the latter camp - it rendered my system unbootable several times, and was more trouble than it's worth.

Now that Gutsy has been released, Ubuntu is pretty easy, but there's still some things that you have to know where to look to get them installed without Automatix. I now know where to look for these things, so I'd like to help other find them. Easierbuntu is a great way to do this.

If you're interested in trying an Ubuntu-based distro, or are struggling with it, then why not bookmark it, or better yet, subscribe to the feed? I've also included a couple of customised search engines for searching for help with Ubuntu or searching for software packages.

If anyone else would like to offer their own tips (as long as they aren't something like "Get a Mac!"), please feel free to contact me here. Whether you want to write something for me to post on here, or you'd like me to add you to the authors for the blog so you can post yourself, I'd love to hear from you. The more of us there are writing for it, the more tips we can add and the more people we can help!

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Making computing more personal

No doubt you'll have noticed my enthusiasm for things like the Eee PC, Noahpad and Cloudbook! All of these things are fantastic new products that make it easier for people to work, play and stay connected while they are on the move.

PC vendors have really been caught with their trousers down by the success of the Eee PC in particular. Because it's been marketed to some extent as an educational tool, a lot of mainstream computer vendors utterly ignored it, while Toys'R Us have been selling it.

I'm not surprised that the Eee PC is Asus's most successful product ever - it completely rewrites the personal computing paradigm. It may very well turn out to be even more revolutionary than the Apple iPod.

Meanwhile, laptops in general have overtaken desktops in sales, WiFi is available in more and more places (sometimes at a cost, sometimes free) and web-based apps are available for more and more purposes, so it's now possible to work, surf the Internet or read e-mail from more and more places. And mobile phones are beginning to become useful for web browsing - just the other day I was out for a few drinks with some work colleagues, and using Opera Mobile on my Motorola RAZR, I was able to update my status on Twitter. And the iPhone is just the first in a whole new series of phones that will offer a browsing experience nearly equal to that on the desktop.

I'm beginning to think that personal computing is at the beginning of a series of radical changes which will shake the industry to its core. The term personal computing, at least for me, has always been something of a misnomer. It doesn't move with you, it stays on the desktop. Desktop computing would be a better phrase than personal computing. Laptops have existed for many years, but for a long time they did little to change this. On your laptop, you could work on the go, but you were often cut off from the Internet, and would have to wait till you got back to somewhere you could connect again before you could do certain things.

But now that is changing. More and more things can be done in the cloud, on any computer connected to the Internet. This has the advantages that they can be accessed from anywhere, even if you're at your work computer or round a friend's house. I myself store many documents and all my bookmarks using online services, and I use web mail. This way I can access them from either of my two laptops, the computer I use at work or anywhere else. It also reduces the need for processing power, as the application runs on the web server and all your computer has to do is display the output in a web browser, in effect becoming a thin client. Projects like the GNOME Online Desktop are good examples of this (GNOME Online Desktop may actually tempt me away from KDE, it's that good!).

Wi-Fi is also becoming more prevalent. I work in Norwich, and there is a free municipal Wi-Fi network covering much of the city centre, as well as free Wi-Fi in many cafes and bars. In the longer term, I would expect WiMAX to eventually take over from Wi-Fi, since this allows for much greater coverage using a single access point, and indeed the next-generation Eee PC will include WiMAX technology. It's not unreasonable to expect to see wireless Internet access on trains (it's already possible to get it on buses).

All this points towards a future where computing is much more personal than it has been in the past. In a few years time, we can anticipate a future where most of us have small, easily portable computers that we can slip into a briefcase, but are quite capable of surfing the Web, reading our e-mail, reading feeds and working from virtually anywhere. We'll be able to do everything we do from a desktop (except play processor-intensive games) on the go.

And what OS benefits from this the most? Linux, of course. It's lightweight, fast, supports more hardware than any other OS, and is already used on a huge variety of different devices. I can't deny that Microsoft are making moves to create versions of Windows that will work on subnotebooks like the Eee PC, but Linux is already there, is cheaper and is better suited to the task. In all likelihood Microsoft will now never be able to catch up with Linux in this area of the market. The Eee PC, Cloudbook and Noahpad all run Linux by default, as did Palm's ill fated Foleo, demonstrating that Linux is an obvious choice for such devices.

I've said in previous posts that I believe that the entire concept of the Year of the Linux Desktop is flawed. The truth is, something that could potentially be a lot bigger than that has now begun. The era of truly portable computing is just beginning, and Linux can only benefit from this.

Subnotebook madness!

It's always the same, isn't it? You wait years for a Linux-based subnotebook computer, along comes the Eee PC, then hard on its heels come two more!

The Noahpad runs Ubuntu Gutsy, and it looks very well-designed. Unlike the Eee PC, the creators have gone for a hard disk instead of flash memory, but they've managed to make it even smaller than the Eee PC, by using a touch panel as a keyboard. Check it out, it looks like it could potentially be even more revolutionary than the Eee!

The Everex Cloudbook is made by the company that brought us the gPC. It's basically a laptop version of the gPC, and runs gOS. Like the Noahpad, it has a hard drive, and of the three I'd say it's the most conventional laptop. It's still small and cheap, though ($400 from Wal-Mart later this month), so is in a similar price range to the other two.

Looks like the subnotebook market could be getting very crowded very quickly at this rate!

Why schools should exclusively use free software

Why should schools pay through the nose for expensive proprietary software when free software will do the same job? This is the subject of this great article by Richard M Stallman, the genius behind the GNU project (without which GNU/Linux would not have been possible).

read more | digg story

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Review: Eee laptop PC shreds the rules

A very well-written review of the Asus Eee PC.

read more | digg story

Friday, 11 January 2008

A great Dilbert strip

I love Dilbert, but today's strip has to be one of my all-time favourites - enjoy!

I'm sure this happens a lot!

Official KDE 4.0.0 Release Announcement

KDE 4.0 IS HERE! It's not perfect (I can't get Pidgin to work in it, grrr...), but it's already looking pretty cool!

read more | digg story

Birthday greetings

It's just turned midnight so it is now officially my 29th birthday. Pretty much on the stroke of midnight comes this e-mail:

Hello MattBD,

We at Ubuntu Forums would like to wish you a happy birthday today!

That's really nice, isn't it? I know it's just an automated thing, but it is a nice thought, and just another example of why the friendliness of the Ubuntu community is the main reason for it's success.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Social.im: The Instant Messaging Service For Facebook

In my opinion, integrated instant messaging has the potential to be a killer app for social networks - think how easy it makes it, your friends are already there! So I was very pleased to hear about this IM service for Facebook. Although it's currently for Windows only, they are planning to build an XMPP/Jabber interface, allowing Linux and Mac users to connect to it via multi-protocol clients like iChat and Pidgin.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Are You Ready For Cars Driving Themselves?

As a non-driver, YES! How cool would it be to be able to go out, get as drunk as you like, then be driven home automatically in near-perfect safety!

read more | digg story


Are you a Linux user? Do you use the KDE desktop? Have you tried Yakuake? I just have and it's brilliant! Here's a screenshot of my laptop with it open:

You can leave it on and open or close it by pressing F12 (or whatever key you set it to)! I don't know if I ever want to use Konsole again! Now I can press F12 to open a terminal session, or the Windows key to do a Google search with Google Desktop, or open any application with Katapult using Alt+Space.

Give Yakuake a try if it's in you distro's repositories. For all I know, it might work OK with Gnome as well.


A few weeks ago I started using Pandora Radio. Although I'm not as keen on it as I am on Last.fm, it has a more sophisticated interface and tends to be better for recommending similar sounding music, rather than music liked by the same people.

Here's the text of an e-mail I got late last night:

hi, it's Tim,

This is an email I hoped I would never have to send.

As you probably know, in July of 2007 we had to block usage of Pandora outside the U.S. because of the lack of a viable license structure for Internet radio streaming in other countries. It was a terrible day. We did however hold out some hope that a solution might exist for the UK, so we left it unblocked as we worked diligently with the rights organizations to negotiate an economically workable license fee. After over a year of trying, this has proved impossible. Both the PPL (which represents the record labels) and the MCPS/PRS Alliance (which represents music publishers) have demanded per track performance minima rates which are far too high to allow ad supported radio to operate and so, hugely disappointing and depressing to us as it is, we have to block the last territory outside of the US.

Based upon the IP address from which you recently visited Pandora, it appears that you are listening from the UK. If you are, in fact, listening from the US, please contact Pandora Support: pandora-support@pandora.com.

It continues to astound me and the rest of the team here that the industry is not working more constructively to support the growth of services that introduce listeners to new music and that are totally supportive of paying fair royalties to the creators of music. I don't often say such things, but the course being charted by the labels and publishers and their representative organizations is nothing short of disastrous for artists whom they purport to represent - and by that I mean both well known and indie artists. The only consequence of failing to support companies like Pandora that are attempting to build a sustainable radio business for the future will be the continued explosion of piracy, the continued constriction of opportunities for working musicians, and a worsening drought of new music for fans. As a former working musician myself, I find it very troubling.

We have been told to sign these totally unworkable license rates or switch off, non-negotiable...so that is what we are doing. Streaming illegally is just not in our DNA, and we have to take the threats of legal action seriously. Lest you think this is solely an international problem, you should know that we are also fighting for our survival here in the US, in the face of a crushing increase in web radio royalty rates, which if left unchanged, would mean the end of Pandora.

We know what an epicenter of musical creativity and fan support the UK has always been, which makes the prospect of not being able to launch there and having to block our first listeners all the more upsetting for us.

We know there is a lot of support from listeners and artists in the UK for Pandora and remain hopeful that at some point we'll get beyond this. We're going to keep fighting for a fair and workable rate structure that will allow us to bring Pandora back to you. We'll be sure to let you know if Pandora becomes available in the UK. There may well come a day when we need to make a direct appeal for your support to move for governmental intervention as we have in the US. In the meantime, we have no choice but to turn off service to the UK.

Pandora will stop streaming to the UK as of January 15th, 2008.

Again, on behalf of all of us at Pandora, I'm very, very sorry.


-Tim Westergren
(Pandora founder)

This is a very sad development for internet radio, and an example of how, yet again, the music industry as a whole seems determined to cut its own throat. No wonder so many people are turning to downloading music through BitTorrent when a legitimate and innovative service such as Pandora which encourages people to listen to new music is targeted by such asinine laws.

However, today has not been all doom and gloom for music lovers. Napster are planning to go DRM-free which is a positive step. DRM makes music-lovers think twice about purchasing music through legitimate channels, and now that Napster have made this move, people may be more willing to go through legitimate channels to obtain the music they love.

I'm not going to go through the reasons why the music industry is slowly strangling itself; it's been done elsewhere by people better informed about the issues than me. However, one thing I do know - singles do not make money (not unless you sell a colossal number of them), they basically act as advertisements for the album. There's no guarantee that they'll break even, since CD's cost the same to duplicate whether they're singles or albums, only the larger cases and inserts make a difference, and what's that, a few pence? So, why not give them away as free downloads? That way you don't take the risk of losing money by printing hundreds of copies that don't get sold. If you are making an album anyway, you've got to pay the recording costs for all the songs on the album. So if you decide to release a single in this manner, it's almost free to release (the only costs being web hosting, which is a few quid a month if you use a commercial web hosting company) and acts as an advert for you. If people can get loads of singles free, they're more likely to try lots of different things, meaning more obscure acts are more likely to be noticed.

Just a thought...let me know what you think!

More desktop shenanigans

Wasn't quite happy with my desktop, so I have tinkered with it a bit more, and this is the result! Note the Vista-style window decorations for close, minimize and maximise, as well as the transparent panel (I had to go for the transparent one because otherwise you'd get an annoying effect where the names of open applications seemed to get superimposed on each other when you moved the mouse over them, but I like it anyway).
And all this was accomplished without using Compiz-Fusion or anything like that!

Asus Says Eee PC is Most Successful Product Ever

The Eee PCs huge sales numbers are well known by now, but Asus just announced that the Eee PC is their most successful product ever! That's huge news from such a large company!

read more | digg story

Monday, 7 January 2008

Pimp my laptop!

Earlier today, I saw a screenshot of a new version of PCLinuxOS with a great, Vista-like theme, and I was inspired to try and make my own laptop look similar.

Here's a few screenshots:

Here's an image of my desktop with a few applications open.

Thunderbird has a brand new theme...

As does Firefox.

And finally, here's the desktop in all its glory! Nice, eh?

Sunday, 6 January 2008

So....WTF are you?

So....WTF are you?, originally uploaded by eric.genn.

Judging from people's comments, I think this might be an alpaca, but it doesn't really look like one - looks more like some sort of weird cross between a giant hairy caterpillar and a camel!

KDE 4.0.0 tagged in preparation for release

KDE 4.0 has been tagged in preparation for the official release. The source code is ready for packaging.

read more | digg story

Saturday, 5 January 2008

What's Tux doing here?

A friend sent me this picture on Facebook. I can't help but think that the penguins look familiar from somwhere...

Thursday, 3 January 2008

I'm a PC, I'm also a PC

You know, those Apple "I'm a PC, I'm a Mac" adverts really get my goat (for readers outside the UK who may not recognise them, the photo is of comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb, who do the UK version). Not because I'm a Linux user although, let's face it, these adverts aren't entirely fair to Linux users because, well, there is no-one around to represent Linux, and the number of Linux users is likely to be comparable to the number of Mac users, it's just difficult to tell as many dual-boot with Windows (in my case I have two laptops, one running Kubuntu, the other Vista).

What really annoys me is the way that they make this distinction between a PC and a Mac seem (at least to the non-technical computer user) as if it's a hardware issue. It's most certainly not.

A modern Mac uses an Intel chipset, just like a Windows PC, and indeed is quite capable of running Windows. It just doesn't come with Windows preinstalled. If you installed Windows on a Mac, it would have all the same issues as any other Windows PC. It'd be as vulnerable to malware as any other computer.

The only other way in which it differs physically from any other PC is that it looks nice. So do Sony VAIO's, but they're PC's. Therefore, a Mac is a PC.

The advantages Mac users like to emphasise - stability, resistance to malware, and a nice GUI, are all software issues. OS X is essentially a version of FreeBSD that Apple have added a different desktop to. That is where the stability and resistance to malware comes from - its UNIX heritage.

Install Linux on a PC, and it has that same stability and resistance to malware, as Linux is a pretty close copy of UNIX. In fact, Linux is probably more resistant to malware. Partly because it's more diverse, with hundreds of different distros, each subtly different, and partly because the open-source community actively encourages people to find and report bugs and security holes so they can be patched. Yet, apparently that is still a PC, and apparently there is no distinction between that and one running Windows. Or, at least that is how it might seem to a non-technical user.

They also like to champion the fact that everything "just works" with a Mac. Well, if the manufacturer also creates the OS, then they aren't going to include anything that doesn't work, are they? Under those conditions, any OS will work with all the hardware. And I'm pretty sure there's plenty of third-party hardware you can find that WON'T work with a Mac. Dell are working closely with the Ubuntu community so I would expect that over time you'll find Dell's with preinstalled Ubuntu come increasingly close to matching Mac's in terms of "just works" functionality.

For that matter, it would probably be possible to run OS X on any PC with an Intel chipset. Would that make it a Mac? No, it wouldn't. But it would have exactly the same advantages in terms of stability and resistance to malware as a Mac.

The other thing Mac users like to champion is how nice the GUI is. Well, that's purely subjective. Here in the Linux community we have a good example - we have two main desktop environments, Gnome and KDE (yes, I know there's others such as Xfce, Fluxbox etc, but I'm keeping it simple). If one was outright better than the other, then everyone would use that one. They don't, and indeed disagreements about which is better are quite vocal. Therefore, the one GUI is not going to suit everyone.

I'm actually really trying to sound reasonable here, because I am quite peed off with some trolls on Digg who spam every single Linux-related article with "Just Get a Mac". I'm not into downright fanboyism - I love Linux, and I do think everyone should try it, but ultimately there are many people for whom it would not be right, and if they gave it a good try and didn't like it, then that's fine. I'm not going to harass you about it.

If I was recommending an OS to someone, I would sell it on its advantages, I wouldn't spout some advertising slogan over and over - that does not a convincing argument make, and just makes you look a prat - imagine if someone tried to sell you on Kit Kats by posting comments on any Digg articles about chocolate bars saying, "Have a break, have a Kit Kat" - you'd think they were an idiot! Linux would come top of my list because you can install it on any hardware, there are plenty of really easy distros such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint and PCLinuxOS which are probably easier than Windows to use. But it may not be suitable for some things, and I wouldn't recommend it for someone who wouldn't get on well with it.

If you want to play the latest games then Linux is not for you (although it would be good if loads of games were available for Linux, since many gamers like to customise their PC and really soup it up to get the most out of it - then put a standardised Windows install on it? How much better would it be if they could use Gentoo and customise their OS to get the best performance out of it the same way they did their PC?). Equally, there are some things that a Mac does do best - Photoshop is a good example. I'm certainly not going to recommend Linux for someone who won't get on well with it - I'd happily recommend Windows or a Mac to someone if I genuinely felt they would be better off using that. I wouldn't dream of trying to get them to use my favourite Linux distro just because I liked it.

I recently converted a friend to Linux, but he was interested in trying it because he'd heard me say about how much I liked it. I gave a good hard think about the problems I had when I started out and how much easier it would have been if I had known what distros to try. I finally recommended he try Linux Mint as it's easy to use, and doesn't require arcane knowledge to get things like MP3 and DVD playback going, and is also well-supported due to being based on Ubuntu, and has a nice GUI. He really likes it. But if I had tried to push Kubuntu, he might not have liked that, because even though I love it, it probably wasn't the right OS for him.

We in the Linux community have our own reasons for not choosing Macs. Typical ones may include:
  • We just escaped from Microsoft's vendor lock-in, why would we want Apple to lock us in instead?
  • We value free software (both in the free speech and free beer senses, and although Apple do use some free software, they're not terribly good in terms of contributing to the free software community, whereas Red Hat or Canonical are)
  • It's fun - I've heard Linux compared to a Lego car, because you have to spend time configuring it to get it just right, whereas other OS's are already set up the way Microsoft or Apple wanted it to be set up - wouldn't you be annoyed if you got a Lego set and opened the box to find someone had put it together for you?
There's no doubt many other reasons people have for choosing Linux over a Mac. I'm not going to go into the ones about the Cult of Mac and things like that, because I do have friends who use Macs.

But that's a little off-topic. My point is this: A Mac is a PC. Don't pretend otherwise. Perhaps these adverts should be "I'm Windows. I'm OS X." That would be far more honest.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Street Photo

Street Photo, originally uploaded by matthewbdaly.

I took this photo a while ago - doesn't look that great technically but I think it's quite atmospheric.

More apps

I've been trying a few more new applications today, quite apart from CNR. I read about two of the applications that will be in Kubuntu Hardy Heron, KGMailNotifier and Tasty Menu, and decided to try them both out.
KGMailNotifier is essentially a small applet for the KDE system tray. It shows the GMail logo (a small red envelope), and when you receive an e-mail it turns blue and a sign pops up. Handy if you use GMail (or Googlemail as it's known here in the UK), but not essential.
Tasty Menu is very good. It's a replacement for the K Menu (equivalent to the Windows Start menu), but is more complex, but also probably better laid out with three panels, one the main menu, one showing the sub-menus, the other showing the most recently used applications. One annoyance though - it doesn't turn itself off when you launch an application. Instead, you have to either click on the menu to close it, or click on the cancel button. Hopefully this will be sorted in Hardy Heron as it's a minor annoyance. But then, I imagine I'll wind up using the KDE4 version of Hardy so it may not be relevant.

UPDATE: Tasty Menu has crashed the Kicker panel! I've had to uninstall it from the command line and go back to using K Menu. I guess there's a reason why it's not in the repositories yet - hopefully the version that winds up in Hardy will be more reliable.


Earlier today I decided to do something I've been putting off for a while and get myself set up on CNR. For the uninitiated, CNR is an online store for downloading software for Linux (kind of like a software version of iTunes, but a hell of a lot of the stuff is free). It's always been part of the Linspire distribution and its free cousin Freespire, but last year they announced they would begin offering it to other distributions.
Ubuntu was first to be supported (they plan to add support for Debian, Fedora and openSUSE), and a few weeks ago that was announced. So I've got it set up on my system now.
Wow. It really is a good way to make Linux more accessible. The Debian package management system used in Ubuntu is really easy to use if you want anything from the repositories, but for anything that isn't available from there, it's a bit harder. By offering loads of software in a familiar fashion, and making it easy to install, it's a really useful service. But it is quite a lengthy process to install - perhaps the Ubuntu community needs to either include the CNR client in Ubuntu or make it easy to install from the Ubuntu repositories. But for making installation easier it's a much better choice than Automatix, which was gave me no end of grief.
The website gives the number of CNR client installations as well - at the moment I'm writing this, 8,469,349. Considering Linspire and Freespire aren't terribly popular distros, I'm guessing a fair number of those are Ubuntu installations. That's quite a respectable number, isn't it? And that's just three distros. Now try telling me no-one uses Linux.

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What does 2008 have in store?

I've done a round-up of the most significant events for Linux in 2007, so what's next? What we can expect in 2008, of course! Here's my expectations for events in this new year:
  • The Year of the Linux Desktop - Hell, no! This concept is utterly flawed. When did you ever hear anyone talking about the Year of the Windows Desktop? Linux is growing steadily, which is healthy. There likely won't be a sudden huge surge in Linux usage, just a gradual increase in usage. It will likely creep up on everyone. However, it might well be that 2008 is the year that Linux comes to the notice of the man in the street, as driven by Vista's poor reception, people may be more willing to investigate alternatives. Still, don't expect miracles.
  • More subnotebooks using Linux - The Eee PC and the One Laptop Per Child have made it clear that Linux is ideal for use in small, cheap computers that don't really have enough oomph for Windows. In particular, the Eee PC is proving extremely successful, and at the moment it's basically cornered the market in subnotebook computers, but you can bet your life that Asus's competitors are keeping their eyes on what is happening, and they may well be making their own plans to move into this market. Some may no doubt wind up using a Windows-based OS, but many more will follow Asus's example and use Linux - Xubuntu in particular may be well suited to this since Xfce is so lightweight. After all, Linux is not only more lightweight than Windows, but most distros are free, meaning that there will be a significant price difference between Windows and Linux-based ones. Add to that the fact that Microsoft might well need to create a new version of Windows to cater to these devices, whereas Linux is already very portable. All this means greater market share for Linux.
  • More OEM's offering preinstalled Linux - I mentioned this in my post about the events of 2007. Dell's preinstalled Ubuntu offerings have been quite successful, and other OEM's have been looking into doing this as well. Asus and Lenovo have made some moves towards doing so, and there have been rumours about Hewlett-Packard doing so as well so it's not entirely off the wall to suggest that other vendors may consider doing so. It's likely to remain a niche offering, but I wouldn't be surprised if at least one more large vendor starts offering preinstalled Linux. Just don't expect Apple to join in!
  • More budget computers running Linux available from supermarkets - 2007 saw the launch of the gPC in the US through Wal-Mart, and a PC with preinstalled Ubuntu in the UK through Tesco. The gPC went down a storm, and I just looked at Tesco Direct and their Ubuntu PC is sold out, so I guess that must be doing OK too. Perhaps it's not unreasonable to expect that the Wal-Mart owned Asda in the UK may soon start selling the gPC as well. Other chains may get in on the act as well.
  • Better driver support - In 2007, there was an offer by Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman to write Linux drivers for any piece of hardware for the manufacturers and the response was overwhelming. This may very likely yield better drivers for Linux for a long time to come. 2008 is the year when I expect to see these new drivers begin to appear in the kernel in large numbers and in subsequent distributions. I'm not going to say that all hardware problems with Linux are over (not by a long shot, as not all manufacturers will want to participate) but it may well be that fewer people will have problems with their hardware when they try Linux, encouraging them to stick with it.
  • Android beginning to make its presence felt - I really don't know whether Android will be a success (I hope so) but 2008 is the year it will become available, so expect to see the first mobile phones running it later this year.
  • Maybe, just maybe, high street electrical retailers may start selling preinstalled Linux - I'm really doubtful about this, the likes of Dixons and PC World are actually lagging behind Tesco in this. But it's not completely out of the question that one or two high-street vendors may actually consider selling preinstalled Linux, based on the success it has seen this year. I remain very sceptical, but I believe it could potentially happen this year.
That's about all I can suggest really. Obviously, most of this is just a continuation of existing trends. We may well see some completely off-the-wall things - entirely new distros (since gOS came out of nowhere), devices with embedded Linux and other things. Equally we're quite likely to see Microsoft flailing around, desperately trying to maintain their market share - more patent claims and other FUD aren't out of the question. Overall, I think 2008 may well be a good year for desktop Linux.