New Trends in Linux

Posted in General Commentary on 2011/02/15 by phorneker

For many years, the X Window System has been a core component of every Linux distribution, as well as the BSD UNIX variants (with the known exception of Mac OS-X), next to the kernel itself.  It was the X Window System that provides the basic graphical interface on which our desktops were built.

When I first started using Linux back in December 1998, XFree86 was available, and this was X Version 11, Release 6.3.  X Window System was first developed back in 1984 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a project for the development of the graphical desktop that can work with any hardware that was available.

Hardware at that time ranged from terminals with graphics modes such as those manufactured by Tektronix, to Hewlett-Packard workstations equipped with tablets and plotters (that used pens instead of ink cartridges), to the original IBM-PC, XT and AT.

The X Window System was commonly used with three button mice, which were essentially bricks with wires attached and connected to a standard serial port or a proprietary hardware port (USB was not around then).

The typical use of the X Window System was to have multiple terminals open using one keyboard and one mouse.  A few gadgets were available, such as a mail notifier, eyes that moved with the mouse pointer, and a clock.  Of course, these were primitive in look compared to what we have today.

However, the X Window System was plagued with performance problems, as well as numerous bugs and security concerns.  This is one reason why it took more than eleven versions of the software, and six releases of the eleventh version, to get it right for adoption to our desktops…and it took fourteen years of development to get it to where we can actually use it on a day to day basis.

The current version of the X Window System released from X.org is X Window System Version 11, Release 7.3, and everything works as expected.

Now, after twenty seven years of development, there is a new project in the works to eventually replace the aging X Window System.

Currently, Wayland is implemented as improvements to the way X does things as far as interaction between clients and the X server, and can coexist with the current X Window System.

So far, only Ubuntu and Fedora have plans to adopt the new Wayland system.

Remember that it took fourteen years for X11 to get it right for production use.  If Wayland is to replace X11, the API functions would have to be compatible to the point that little recompilation is necessary to get the desktops working, and the Wayland project itself would have to have all components working properly to get up to speed with the rest of Linux development.

Imagine having to rebuild LibreOffice, GIMP, Firefox, and Thunderbird to work with Wayland, not to mention the amount of work required for Linux distributions (other than Fedora and Ubuntu) to adopt the new Wayland system.

This is important because the X Window System is the core component of Linux (and other UNIX) on which every graphical desktop (KDE, GNOME, Enlightenment, XFCE, LXDE, WindowMaker, etc), every hardware driver with a graphical interface (SANE, XSANE, CUPS, HPLIP, etc.), every major application (including Firefox, LibreOffice, AbiWord, GIMP, etc) was built.  In short, if X11 does not work, most everything else will not work.

LibreOffice replaces OpenOffice.org

Posted in General Commentary on 2011/02/10 by phorneker

During the last week of January, the developers of PCLinuxOS decided to replace OpenOffice.org with LibreOffice.  I have made the switch on my laptop, and found no real difference when it comes to usability.  The switch came with the Version 3.3 release of OpenOffice.org.

This comes at a time when Oracle Corporation filed a lawsuit against Google for its use of the Java platform for Android development, and that Solaris is once again a commercial product.

As I understand this, OpenOffice.org is still an open source project, but the graphics used are now trademarked by Oracle Corporation.  LibreOffice is also an open source project, but is licensed under the GPL Lesser Public License, and the graphic and documentation content are licensed under a Creative Commons license.

As of this writing, PCLinuxOS officially supports only the LibreOffice distribution, and only when installed through the LOManager (installation utility) provided with PCLinuxOS with most of its variants.

You can install the current OpenOffice.org release on PCLinuxOS, but the process is quite extensive, and you have to be logged in as root to do so.

So what do I think of LibreOffice?  What is there not to love about LibreOffice?  It functions like OpenOffice, loads and saves the same documents as OpenOffice, and uses many of the same extensions and templates available for OpenOffice.

PCLinuxOS supported here

Posted in General Commentary on 2010/12/21 by phorneker

These days, I have settled on one distribution for my laptop:  PCLinuxOS.  I recommend this to anyone who wants to leave Windows or Mac OS-X.  This is one of the easiest to install and maintain of all distributions I have tried over the years.

PCLinuxOS started back in 2004 as a derivative of Mandriva, which was itself originally a derivative of Red Hat Linux (now the Fedora Project).  Over the years, Texstar (as the founder of the distribution wishes to be called) has made various improvements to the point where PCLinuxOS has now surpassed its parent distribution in terms of popularity.

PCLinuxOS is distributed as a Live CD to try out on your laptop, desktop, or a netbook (if you have an external DVD/CD drive connected).  When you are ready to commit PCLinuxOS to your machine, simply back up all of your data first to whatever medium you have available, and then run the installer (using Mandriva’s LiveCD installer utility), and follow the instructions that appear on the screen.

What sets PCLinuxOS out from distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuSE, and Mandriva, is the wide range of hardware that is supported out of the box, and ready to configure, namely many wi-fi adapters, 3G and 4G modems, printers, and video cards.

You can also install PCLinuxOS to a USB flash drive, useful when installing PCLinuxOS to a netbook without having a CD/DVD ROM drive attached, or when you want to take a usable PCLinuxOS installation with you, and boot it on another desktop or laptop without disturbing that machine’s software installation.

PCLinuxOS comes in several flavors, depending on which desktop environment you want to run.

For Windows users, I recommend the original PCLinuxOS flavor with the K Desktop environment.  The desktop has the look and feel of Windows 7, but once you install this on your machine, you may never look back.

For Mac OS-X users, I recommend either the GNOME or XFCE flavors.  The desktops do not exactly have the look and feel of Mac OS-X, but they can be made to look and feel that way.

If you have an older machine such as a Pentium III or Pentium IV, and have at least 384MB of system memory installed, I recommend XFCE, LXDE, Fluxbox or Enlightenment.  These desktops are lightweight as far as the use of memory goes.  The Enlightenment desktop provides the best desktop effects with very little memory usage.

PCLinuxOS does provide support through their friendly forums, in addition to an online (and downloadable) magazine (of which I am a contributor).

With all the support available for this distribution, why have another support site?

Like any Linux distribution, if you have the skills and the time, you should be able to modify your installation any way you wish.  This is provided for in the GNU General Public License (version 2 and version 3).  Keep in mind though that there is one correct way to keep PCLinuxOS up to date and still be supported through the forums.

Texstar does not encourage the installation of third party software (i.e. software not available through Synaptic and the PCLinuxOS repositories).  This does not mean you cannot do it though.  If you do, you should use extreme caution and take care not to interfere with the official software packages.  For this, I recommend using the /opt, the /usr/local, and your home directory to install such software.

One reason for doing this is to install special drivers needed to get certain devices working on PCLinuxOS.

Another reason for support here is if you cannot configure devices using the provided tools.  One example I have come across is the configuration of my Epson Stylus NX-415.  The correct drivers are available for printing and scanning through Synaptic, but PrinterDrake does not recognize the printer.

In this case, I configured the printing for the NX-415 using a technique for configuring printers under Slackware.  Open http://localhost:631/ in a web browser and configure the printers that way.

Learn Slackware, and you have learned Linux

Posted in General Commentary on 2009/11/30 by phorneker

I have recently switched to Slackware 13 on my laptop.  This distribution is the best performer of all distributions I have used when it comes to Wi-Fi access.

You might think that Slackware is for the ubergeek.  At one time it was.  Today’s distribution, while it requires manual configuration for the most part, some parts, such as wireless networking and printer configuration have been facilitated with new tools.

Wireless configuration under Slackware, and its variants Zenware and Vector Linux, is facilitated with the wicd suite, which is faster and better than Network Manager, designed for the GNOME desktop.

Slackware flies on the Toshiba L305 laptop, and only requires anywhere from 128MB to 512MB depending on the desktop environment installed.  The 512MB is for the KDE 4.2 distribution that comes with Slackware 13.  XFCE, WindowMaker, FVWM, and iceWM are some of the desktop environments that come with Slackware, and there are numerous sources of Slackware packages.

Of course, you can install additional packages from source tarballs.  Once you get everything you want running, it runs faster than many well known distributions such as OpenSuSE, Mandriva, and Fedora.  Only Ubuntu comes closest to performance when compared to Slackware.

Back to the Future

VirtualBox and QEMU are emulators that allow other Linux distributions as well as other operating systems to run within Linux (in this case, Slackware 13).  As of this writing, I have PCLinuxOS running inside VirtualBox, FreeDOS 1.0 running inside QEMU, and IBM PC-DOS 6.3 running in QEMU.

Why did I do this?  I have in storage boxes of old DOS and Windows software on diskette of which I have purchased back in the 1990s, and I wish to get as much of this old software running on my laptop as possible.

On FreeDOS, I have Lotus 1-2-3 v2.4, the Rebel Spreadsheet (how many of you remember this lesser known product?), and Turbo Pascal 4.0 (now there is a classic).  FreeDOS includes the Watcom C and C++ compilers.

On PCDOS 6.3, I have the DJGPP compiler system with GNU utilities.  This is the definitive software development system for development of 32-bit DOS applications.  (These applications can run on DOS with 32-bit extenders, Windows 3.x, Windows 9x/ME, and OS/2.)  I also have Geoworks Pro v2.  This was an office productivity suite built on GEOS (originally written for IBM x86 machines as well as for the Apple II series, Commodore 64/128, and Atari ST series machines).

On WINE (the Windows compatibility layer package), I have Lotus Improv running on Slackware.  This product is a true classic.  This was how spreadsheets were supposed to be designed.  I could explain how this spreadsheet works, but then I would take up too much space on this blog to do so.  But I do know this:  WINE allows access to printers connected through the CUPS system, thanks to the WINEPS.DRV file.  How’s that for going back to the future.

Yes Virginia, there is a Hannah Montana Linux

Posted in General Commentary on 2009/09/18 by phorneker

I could not believe what I found on Sourceforge this week, Hannah Montana Linux is a Kubuntu variant rebranded with the Hannah Montana label to appeal to teens.

What the developer of this distribution did was to create new themes for Kubuntu, including the login manager, startup splash screen, and of course the backgrounds.  Since Linux is a freely modifiable and distributable product, the developer simply integrated the themes into the distribution and repackaged the ISO disk image.

To download this, you will need a Bittorrent client.

I tried this distribution in VirtualBox, and it actually worked, even with 384MB of RAM allocated for the virtual machine.  I was able to pull horneker.com from within VirtualBox, so the network functionality works.  What you get is a customized KDE 4.2 desktop with Konqueror, Amarok (of course there needs to be a media player in order to play Hannah Montana songs), and some basic KDE applications.  On the downside, you will need to install the GIMP and OpenOffice as they are not included with the distribution.

Since this is on Sourceforge.com, I am worried that this will be a short lived distribution, as the name Hannah Montana is trademarked by Disney.  I just hope that the developers got permission from Disney to use the name.

Windows 7 Propaganda

Posted in General Commentary on 2009/09/18 by phorneker

Windows 7 is to be released on October 22nd, and this past couple of weeks, Microsoft has launched a campaign to get the masses “excited” about the new release.  This is actually a two front campaign.  According to Linuxologist.com, Microsoft produced a “training video”, really a PowerPoint presentation, for Best Buy stores presenting the “facts” about Windows 7 vs Linux and its use on Netbooks.

I saw the PowerPoint slides, and true to form, it was not only misleading, but contained everything from factual inaccuracies to downright lying.  Fortunately, the presentation of the “facts” leads to the conclusion that Linux really is a better choice.  :-)

One of the points made out was the inability of Linux to run popular video games.  First of all, who in their right minds would want to play games on a netbook with an eight or ten inch screen for a display?  Netbooks were designed specifically for Internet access on the go, not for playing games designed for desktops, which have far more computing power than a traditional laptop, let alone the new generation of netbooks.

The keyboards on these netbooks are one reason why I chose to purchase a new laptop instead of a netbook.  I have large hands, and the keyboards on even the large screen netbooks feel quite cramped compared to a laptop.

Microsoft also points out the multimedia capabilities of Linux are lacking.  This is not true.  Today’s Linux distributions provide a means of installing the necessary software to play certain types of multimedia such as WMF, WMA, and RealMedia.  In fact, MP3 is widely supported with all major distirbutions.

Microsoft bills Windows 7 as having complete support for hardware.  Of course it does!  That is because Microsoft made it that way.  How?  By paying some hardware manufacturers not to support Mac OS-X or Linux.  But that does not stop some small time developers and manufacturers from supplying drivers for Linux and Mac OS-X.  If a solution can be found, someone will come up with it.

Here is the best fabrication of all.  Microsoft claims that Windows 7 is safer to use than Linux.  Really?  When was the last time a Linux user had to worry about trojan horses, viruses, spyware, or other malware?  Never!  Why?  Because most of that malware was written specifically for Windows.  The reason for that is simple.

Linux, Mac OS-X, FreeBSD, and other UNIX variants were built on fourty years of UNIX development, which was developed with  security, multitasking and multiple users from the ground up.  Windows, in contrast, was originally designed for one user on one machine, and security, multitasking, and multiple users was considered an afterthought.  In fact, Windows was originally a graphical interface for MSDOS, which itself was designed as a single tasking and a single user operating system.

Here is another kicker.  The NT kernel was derived from Digital Equipment Corporation’s VMS (now a Hewlett-Packard product), which itself was plagued with problems when running on the old PDP-series machines.  (How many of you remember back that far?)

Back in the 1980′s, Microsoft had a UNIX dialect called Xenix.  Had Microsoft developed NT from Xenix, rather than from VMS, the computing world would have been a different place.  Of course, there would have been no Linux, but then, NT would have truly been the respectable operating environment that Linux is today.

Enough with the training video.  The other part of the campaign is the television advertising.  The ads involved a seven year old girl, assembling a “slide show” containing selected quotes from the mainstream computer press.  To top if off, the words “more happy is coming” were used to get the masses excited to pay $120.00 to $300.00 USD for the upgrade.  In these economic times, does it really make sense to spend a minimum of $120.00 for a software upgrade when that money could be used to pay down credit card debts!

More happy, indeed.

Graduate Student ordered to pay $675,000 for downloading music.

Posted in General Commentary on 2009/08/01 by phorneker

This comes out to $22,500 per “violation” according to the story as reported by CBC News.

On one hand, this is the major record labels protecting a business model that has been outmoded and outdated by technology.

On the other hand, what was copied was copyrighted commercial music.  By commercial, I mean the record labels, which get most of the money for each copy of the song in question, determine the licensing for the songs, usually allowing you to own a copy of the vinyl, cassette or CD of which the song resides.

The artist who recorded the songs usually gets a mere pittance for each copy of the recording per contract with the major labels taking more than the lion’s share of the profits.

Of course, I do not advocate downloading and sharing copyrighted music.  But, how many of you know about the Creative Commons licensing concept?  Music or other works of art licensed in this manner can be freely distributed, modified, or otherwise collaborated on.  There are different types of CC licenses.  Some allow for derivative works, for example, you can take a piece of music licensed with a CC license that allows for derivative works, and freely include it in a remix.  Some CC licenses allow for commercial use, which means you can make money off the music.

However, all CC licenses require that if you use a CC licensed work, you are required to attribute what you use to the original author of the work.  In addition, you must license your resulting work under the same or a compatible CC license.

Jamendo and Magnatune are examples of music labels where you can freely download and exchange music, or if you are a musician, you can upload your music for distribution under a CC license.  These companies make their money from CD sales and donations.  Their business model calls for half of their proceeds to go to the artists who record for their labels.  Contrast that with a major record label contract.

In the case of the student who downloaded the music in question, had that student gone to a site such as Jamendo, Magnatune, or ccMixter, the situation would have been avoided in the first place.

Note:  ccMixter is a place where music and remixes are freely distributable.  There is some great music to be found here, and legal for you to download.

There are other places where you can legally download and share music.  Go to the Creative Commons site to get a listing.

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