The new Google OS

Well for those of you who haven’t heard, internet darling Google announced in the past day or two that it will be releasing a new OS expected in 2010 (here’s my archive).

I had a few reactions:

– Google getting headline news should make it interesting, and they have the money and clout to be a real competitor. I saw the news about the new Google OS by watching the morning news and one of the taglines was “Google to launch operating system”. Sorry, Ubuntu only gets headline news within the likes of gearheads like me (see below), and it’s a footnote at best when people talk about that South African Space Tourist.
– What will “it” be? Linux? Google-Hurd? Open-source? GPL? BSD-licence? Apache Licence?
– I wondered what it would be about. Goobuntu? Ahhh, it’ll be an internet-centric linux distro — meaning, even though it’s obvious that it’s meant to be a MS-killer on the netbooks (with the possibility that it could be released, with appropriate changes, for the desktop too), its main comparison will be gOS. (Insert tongue firmly in cheek here. Then bite.)
– It’ll only have any way of working if it A) deals with the problems Fedora has out of the box (flash, mp3, avi, DVD, etc.) by no doubt including such support out of the box, and generally be AS GOOD POINT FOR POINT as MS, and then some, and B) do something better than MS — and be something that people want.
– It’ll have to likely change the computing paradigm. The cloud computing paradigm has been touted for about seven years or more now and has only been taking off in the past year or so. Google has been slowly eroding MS with things like gmail and google docs, alongside Firefox and OpenOffice.org, and generally contributing to opensource and other projects, but I’m wondering when the breakpoint will be when suddenly EVERYBODY drops MS and goes somewhere else, or rather the pie becomes properly split up such that what’s under the hood matters less than what goes on on the screen. Oh, and people don’t like change. Resistance to change is one of Open Source’s, no scratch that, “any alternative to MS”‘s biggest enemies.
– My original take on the above was that Google *would* be the people able to push things beyond the breakpoint.
– I’m wondering if it will have to go on par with MS by pulling a Novell to integrate MS-files nicely.
– Ahh, “machines with it will be sold starting in 2010” — it was but also wasn’t as specific as that … will there be a slice in it for Google? Or will there given away the way other distros are, but have insidious settings that encourage the user without realizing it to go to some web page that has google click ads? Or … what’s in it for them?

Then of course, I’m listening to one of these “deal to the lowest common denominator then add 2 points of intelligence” syndicated talk radio hosts who’s got a guest talking about this subject. To set the stage, the previous topic he discussed was a videoclip on YouTube of a person using both hands to shave his head while driving and whether there should be a law against such a thing, which he caps up with the likes of “there should be an anti-moronification law against such morons.”

To be fair, the stance he and his guest take is targeted at most people who inexplicably (to me, anyway) have no clue that there *is* an (easy) alternative to MS on the PC, besides the Mac, which he rightfully puts in a class of its own. And, Linux *is* mentioned as an available alternative, but “it’s pretty much for the gearheads”.

Here’s what I sent him, I was so riled up:

*****

Forget Ontario hair-shaving idiots making the roads less safe, I wonder about those on the radio who say linux is for “gearheads”.

I suppose I’m a gearhead, I do indeed like computers for their own sake beyond the day to day usefulness they present.

However I’ve been using various versions of linux for the past several years on my PC and take great pleasure in overwriting any existing MS format on any new computer I get — over the past three years, that’s about 5 computers, formatted a few times over on some. Some are older and more archaic than the netbooks your piece mentioned, let alone today’s top of the line desktops, and I’ve been using them for desktop uses, not server applications. On them are full OS’s that are not stripped down — unless, of course, I were to have chosen one of the minimalist versions — and interestingly are not all that slow.

There are several versions which are geared toward the “average” user. Most of the more common versions can do all of the day to day uses that were mentioned in your piece and are on par with — sometimes superior to — MS. I use a version that is a cross between the “gearhead” market and day to day usage. I recommend to newcomers Ubuntu, which I do not use. Virtually all users of MS however would be able to use Ubuntu, available at ubuntu.com, with no difficulty, and it is the most popular of the linux versions and is not aimed at the “gearheads”.

I was incredulous listening to the show to hear that people still think that MS is the only option for their PCs. I suppose that the few who have heard of linux figure that something given away for free is worth the money paid for it. Au contraire, MS is less configurable and as you know virus prone as compared to linux; for the virus part, you have to pay more to get properly protected. Linux on the other hand is safer, faster, and free compared to MS.

I found your guest informative but I found the bias toward linux not being a competitive alternative on the desktop — which it has been for years — compared to Windows “very interesting”.

*****

Oh, I do think that the driver in Ontario is a complete moron. πŸ™‚

And Mr. Shuttleworth, please note that I *will* recommend Ubuntu to the general public since the learning curve is easier than even Fedora’s.

Oooooops, I was wrong … (so what else is new?)

In a previous post, “I may just have that reason to get rid of Ubuntu” I stated that the thing that killed Ubuntu for me was the difference in how OO.o on Ubuntu 8.04 and Fedora 9 deal with the “notes” function in a document. The versions of OO.o in question were — according to distrowatch.com — 2.4.0 for Ubuntu 8.04 and 2.4.0 for Fedora 9. As of today’s date my F9 notebook has updated itself to 2.4.2, so to be fair I imagine that in the past year Hardy Heron has had some updates as well.

Today I stumble across this little gem from the OpenOffice.org website:

Improved Notes Feature in Writer

“In the past; notes in OpenOffice.org were just displayed as small yellow rectangles within the text. This was not very intuitive and user friendly. With version 3.0, OpenOffice.org got an advanced notes features which displays notes on the side of the document. This makes notes a lot easier to read. In addition, notes from different users are displayed in different colours together with the editing date and time.”

Ooops.

I went off on a holy rant, wondering why the heck Ubuntu has changed a few things more that it arguably needed to, when in fact … well, it apparently hadn’t: The annoying yellow dot was a function of OO.o to begin with. At that time. If anyone was changing things, it was Fedora backporting this function some time last fall, assuming that it wasn’t OO.o doing it, or adding a preview into the version that Fedora grabbed and included in F9 — in keeping with Fedora’s usual policy of not using custom patches not necessary to Fedora integration or backporting updates, instead opting for rapid changes, new releases, and submitting bug and improvement patches upstream instead.

Which is perhaps not saying much since at release time, both distros were using 2.4.0; rather, it only raises the question of why things are different between two nominally identical pieces of software, and perhaps lifts blame away from Ubuntu.

Oh well, I still don’t like Ubuntu. πŸ™‚

In the meantime … I wonder how this is explained given that both distros apparently had the same version of OO.o at release time. I wonder if the feature was backported in Fedora. Or if it was backported by OO.o and Fedora simply passed on the change. Or … ?

And in the meantime as well, I wonder about the notes function in previous versions of the 2.x series of OO.o acting in “the new way” at least back to 2006 — again in the same post, second to last paragraph:

“The appearance of the notes in the margin is not a recent occurrence in OO.o, at least in the 2.0 series: back in August 2006 under CentOS 4.4” OK, this is still the Red Hat family” I received a document with the notes visible in the margin (being a work contract I declined the document and asked that they resend the proper version, please.) I was using the standard OO.o 2.whatever downloaded and installed directly from openoffice.org (since the CentOS 4 series originally came wih OO.o 1.5.something series; I’d been using the OO.o 2.0 series for close to a year at that point under Windows before I’d made the switch to linux.)”

Printing PDFs

I’ve just had an interesting object lesson in the differences between two different pieces of software that have more than essentially the same function.

Today I had an important PDF document to print out at home instead of at the office. For the purposes of practical convenience, it was far better to print it out at home and just deliver it to the office than spend the extra time at the office (5-10 minutes) turning on my office computer and printing it out there on a printer I knew would have no difficulty dealing with it, having printed out a few dozen identically-generated documents on it.

On my pretty much stock Fedora 10 box, I use the Evince Document Viewer 2.24.2 using poppler 0.8.7 (cairo) for the Gnome desktop to display and print PDF documents. So far, I’ve been satisfied.

The PDF’s layout had margins beyond my printer’s abilities. And of course the most important parts of the document, being right at the edges of the margins in this document, were being cut off in the process of printing out the document. A reduction in the print size was not useful since the vital information was on the end of the document being cut off in the margins. I suppose I could have tried rotating the document to try to see if the cut off part would not contain crucial information, which I didn’t think of at the time. Both these strategies, however, miss the point: If the original document has very narrow margins, something is going to get cut off no matter what; not exactly desireable.

I did try something that happened to involve a Windows box (ughh) mostly because it had a different printer, and you never know how things behave differently with different equipment.

Not surprisingly, the windows box happens to have an Adobe viewer installed (I avoid that box as much as possible; I don’t even maintain it, that’s my brother’s job. πŸ™‚ ). I click to print the document and whaddya know, in the print dialog there’s an option to fit the document within the printable area. Document printed, convenience secured.

Now what I would like to know is how much of the print window in my desktop is governed by HPLIP, how much by Gnome, how much by CUPS, and how much by the application invoking it at the moment. So I did a little experiment: Always selecting my printer, I opened a print dialogue in Evince Document Viewer, OpenOffice.org (3.0.1), Firefox (3.0.7), The Gimp (2.6.5), Xpdf (3.02) which I intentionally installed for the purpose of this experiment, and gedit (2.24.3) (on which I’m composing this blog). Besides Xpdf, each appears to have the same base, and except for Evince Document Viewer, each also adds a function tab of its own. Xpdf, on the other hand, has its own stripped-down interface — either invoke the lpr command or print to a file.

Here’s a quick table listing the tabs listed in the print dialogs available in five, off-the-shelf standard installs of Fedora 10 software, with my printer selected, plus Xpdf, which was installed directly from the Fedora repositories without any modification of settings or whatever on my part:

OpenOffice.org*: General; Page Setup; Job; Advanced; Properties
Firefox: General: Page Setup; Job; Advanced; Options; Properties
Document Viewer: General; Page Setup; Job; Advanced
The Gimp**: General; Page Setup; Job; Advanced; Image Settings***
Xpdf: Xpdf has its own stripped-down interface
gedit : General; Page Setup; Job; Advanced; Text Editor

* There is an Options button in the “Page Setup” tab for OpenOffice.org.
** The Gimp treats my “special” PDF as an image much like any other, and automatically sizes it to the current settings, much like it would handle a .png or .jpg image
*** The Gimp has an option to ignore the margins; see above note

Not one, besides The Gimp, has an option to fit the document within the printable range, and The Gimp only indirectly, because of the way it seems to handle PDFs by default as an image to be manipulated. And of the others, to be fair, only Document Viewer and Xpdf deal with PDFs — even FireFox delegates PDFs to the Evince Document Viewer by default.

Then I did another little experiment: I installed Adobe Reader 9.1 (that license is interesting, pretty convoluted, and makes me wonder whether I may use the installation at all; in any case, I’ll be getting rid of it since I really only installed it for the purpose of this experiment, and decided a while ago that having 2 PDF viewers above and beyond that which is available in the basic distro installation is superfluous unless ther’s a particular reason for it.) And what do I see? A new print dialog that reminds me of the one I saw earlier on the windows box. Interestingly, it has “fit to printable area” and “shrink to printable area” options.

So my little experiment has led me to the following conclusions:

– many pieces of software, presumably not wanting to reinvent the wheel, rely either on the OS or I suspect, at least in this case, the desktop environment for its print dialogs;
– some software authors do want to reinvent the wheel, such as to “do it their own way”, or to be completely platform and environment independent, and therefore make their own dialogs;
– some software authors want to do extra things but don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so they have a wrapper for to add extra functionality to an existing base;
– in my documents, I shouldn’t try to stuff as much content as possible into each page too far, at least not by playing around with the margins.

Looks like something for the Evince authors to toss in. Assuming, of course, that — without fundamentally changing a document — resizing a PDF and/or its content to the local printer’s printing range is a really useful feature, such as to deal with awry margins, or PDFs sized for A4 instead of letter sized or vice-versa. πŸ™‚ And that such non-conformities and/or their prevalence make it worth my using the Adobe Reader, licensing issues aside. Or that another PDF reader out there that has that functionality.

Hmmm … OO.o differences, Fedora, and Ubuntu

In my post I may just have that reason to get rid of Ubuntu I whined about minor differences between “stock” OpenOffice.org appearances and functions and those I used straight off the OO.o website as well as what ships with Fedora.

This blog (here’s my archive) explains a bit why: It says “Many Linux distributions ship ooo-build. … Fedora ships a modified OpenOffice.org, but Fedora does not use ooo-build.” Which means that in keeping with Fedora’s usual policy, it ships upstream versions of software with only reasonably required modifications to make it work under Fedora. When I was using CentOS, I was using the vanilla version directly from OO.o.

That explains a few things. It doesn’t necessarily justify my whining — nor all the changes Ubuntu or other distros (or even Fedora) make, but … Why mess with a good thing? πŸ™‚

Vino-server appears to have struck again!

Back a couple of years ago, my CentOS-4.6 system was slowing down to near unuseability. Using the Top command at a command line, there seemed to be this service listed at the top called Vino taking up a good amount of resources. My brother looked at it, researched it, and set up an hourly cron job to kill the vino-server every hour, and the problem was solved.

Back last fall, I was getting this notion, while running Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, that the system had slowed down a bit much the same way that Windows 2000 is a little slower than Win98. When I switched back to Fedora 10, I noticed the same thing. However, I never noticed a return of the infamous vino-server.

Then last week I figure it’s time to get more memory and decided to pull out my 512meg memory stick and go with it, for comparative purposes to make sure I get the right thing, to the store to get a twin for it, or a 1gig stick, in the hopes that either a gig or a 1.5 gigs would improve performance. I’m cheap and was pleased to pick up what appeared to be a nearly-new, opened box of 1gig of SDR2 667mhz for $5.

Well, I guess those of you who actually know what to do around an open computer are chuckling by now and know that my new purchase doesn’t fit in my DDR slots, the little slot in the DDR2 stick being about a millimetre or two over from the same slot in DDR memory sticks.

In the meantime I of course put my original memory stick back and notice over the past week that my computer is becoming increasingly bogged down to unuseability. During the week I found a website that seemed to make my computer freeze, but others didn’t. Today I mention the general slowness that the computer has bogged down to to my brother who looks at things and he has a flash of memory. A quick hourly cron job is set up to kill vino-server, and my computer works fine again.

James Brown was right — I feel good!

I’m installing Fedora 10 on my desktop right now as I type.

Last week I updated months’ worth of blogs. One of the big themes that came out was my long-standing dislike for Ubuntu. Admittedly, unfounded beyond being a bit old (Red Hat) school, slow to adjust to change, and generally distrusting anything attached to big marketing and fanboyism.

The thing that did it involved the admittedly trivial differences with the tool bars under OpenOffice.org (why change them?) and the behaviour of the notes for commenting in Writer.

Hmm, my disk 2 is not good, if I have time tomorrow I’ll have to download another .iso, otherwise the computer will just be in standby for a couple of days, I have to go on a business trip tomorrow afternoon.

to be continued ..

It’s an Ubuntu World After All …

So last night I went to a Linux Meetup up here in the Wonderful City of Montreal, my hometown. I have my laptop up and running. Another participant walks up to it, notices the stylized “F” in the upper left-hand corner of my gnome desktop beside the “Applications” pull-down menu, and says “Ooooo, that’s different …”

The person using my laptop matter-of-factly responds, “Well sure, it’s Fedora” and continues with what he’s doing. I enjoyed that.

(Curiously, at the same time, I wonder what was going through his head as he switched the default keyboard over to US-English. Montreal is a predominantly French-speaking city, the second-largest French speaking city after Paris, in fact; I’m a native-English speaker, operating my computer in English, using a Canadian-French keyboard; he, a native-French speaker, obviously preferring the US-English layout.)

At a previous such meeting, I found it refreshing to observe two people on opposite sides of an heated discussion: One, annoyed that “When people think of Linux they think of Ubuntu” and argues how the wonderful thing about Linux is the diversity and choice, how everyone can drive the colour of car they wish, and it doesn’t have to be black. The other is arguing not so much in favour of Ubuntu per se, but the notion that if one distro is strong enough and helps move the Linux cause forward, so be it, it’s a good thing.

Laptops, Linux, and US Customs

This weekend I went to meet some friends in the beautiful Commonwealth of Massachussets. I live north of the 45th Parallel in this part of the world (many of you might think “So what?” Think of the 49th Parallel, where the Canada/US border is much of the time out west.) I find crossing the border stressful, I always have all sorts of delusions about the difficulties I’ll be experiencing while answering questions from someone carrying a gun. (Usually the remarkable crossing is returning home: The Canadian guards roll their eyes in a bored kind of way when I pass them my passport, no doubt thinking “Oh, he’s a citizen, we have to let him in.”)

One of the things I was worried about was my laptop. On the advice of my Linux-guru brother, I ask him to set up an automatic login so that should the friendly US border guard ask me to show him my computer, it’ll boot up no trouble and not go through a login that may raise suspicion that I might be logging into a bogus account hiding all sorts of nefarious things. He also recommends that all .mp3’s be absent as well as other, ahem, illicit material (which I don’t normally have anyway), advice I take to heart.

However, besides the nuisance of a possible confiscation of my beloved 5+ year old laptop, what really has me worried is a suspiciously-asked:

“What’s that?”
“The gnome desktop under Fedora Linux.”
“Oh, that looks different.”
“Sure, you can get Linux off the internet for free …” (wince, I shouldn’t have said that, at least not that way …)

And then a bunch of annoying explanations that no Sir, I don’t have any illegally downloaded software, yes Sir it’s free and legal to do so, no Sir, there’s no copyright infringement here, no Sir, I’m not one of those nefarious computer crackers you hear about, think of this the way you might think of a Mac; an alternative to Windows …

Of course, the really nice border guard at the US border couldn’t have been less interested in the fact that I had a laptop with me, let alone that I turn it on.

An interesting revelation further to my “Confused” post

I came to an interesting epiphany when discussing my little whining session regarding the computers being sold at a relatively wild range of prices with my brother (at least, wild given the ranges, from $230 to $700, all fabulous deals to begin with) and apparently being sold principally by the metrics of clock cycles, memory, and price tag. Oh of course the other things are there too, but we all know what’s really important, don’t we? πŸ™‚

The realisation was that perhaps I should be using Gentoo linux instead of what I happen to be using, CentOS 4.5. Or really, Gentoo (or any of the other source-based linux distros) instead of any of the others. More about what appears to make Gentoo so special in a moment. Suffice it to say right now that Gentoo is not for the faint of heart, and I have a faint heart. πŸ™‚ Gentoo is *very* difficult and complex to set up. And can take days in some cases, even assuming that it all goes well.

My brother decided to take his AMD 2.8 with plenty of memory and convert a movie to DVD format; possibly under Windows, possibly under CentOS 5.1, he didn’t tell me which. He decided, for the fun of it, to convert the same movie, at the same time, with a dual-core 1.3, I believe under Windows. AMD’s have faster performance per clock cycle than Pentiums, so an AMD 2.8 is purportedly similar in performance to a P4 3.8.

We were both surprised: The dual core 1.3 won the race.

Apparently, the video conversion software was optimized for dual cores on said machine, so between the software, its clock cycles, and all the other metrics (bus speeds, memory, etc.) it was able to beat out the other machine just using brute processing force.

Gentoo is a linux distro that is distributed as source code which must be compiled at the time of installation, and which figures out what kind of hardware you have, then compiles the source into binary code using settings and tweakings specific to your computer. This way, you see slight to noticeable to (occasionally) fabulous improvements in speed and performance over installing standard binary ISO’s of another distro built from exactly the same sources, on the same machine. In principle, if you were to make a binary ISO of every Gentoo install, no two would be quite identical; nor would the binary ISO from one install on a given machine necessarily give the same performance on a comparable but slightly different machine.

The word “Gentoo” is the proper name for a type of penguin that happens to be the fastest swimming penguin; the Linux mascot, Tux, is a penguin. Hence the name Gentoo for a Linux distro.

Hmmm, now I understand the raison d’Γͺtre for Gentoo. And an appreciation for things in general. And, maybe I’m a bit more confused. πŸ™‚

And no, I have never tried Gentoo, nor am I likely to in the near future.:) This is neither an endorsement nor critique about Gentoo or any other linux distro; it is an observation further to previous observations that there are many, many, many metrics by which to compare two or more computers and that software, including the “mere” (yet very involved) compiling of the source code as a function of the hardware, is yet another very important metric in deciding how to purchase a new computer. One which I suspect the mass consumer such as myself is not likely to comprehend — or at least properly evaluate on the street — when pulling out their credit card.preteen lover
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