Monday, October 17, 2011

My Desktop Is Changing

The Growing Pains Of An Evolving Desktop
Written by 1ROXTAR

Hello to everyone in Linux land. As you know by now, Ubuntu 11.10 codenamed Oneric Ocelot, has been released into the wild since October 13th. There have been many changes since 11.04 made it's controversial debut featuring Unity as the default desktop, instead of the standard Gnome. This has continued with Oneric, with the biggest factor being that the traditional Classic Gnome 2x will no longer be available, as the new fall back will be the newly refined and integrated Unity 2D.

This release has added a lot of spit and polish with a lot of work going into Unity and, in my opinion, is looking like a beautiful and efficient desktop. The dash is coming along with elegance and integrated with Scopes and Lenses, making finding applications easier and quicker. So much has already been written about it's features that I will include the release notes because my goal is to tackle other issues with this particular blog.


I have been following the Ubuntu 11.10 development process through the Alpha releases and continually updating all the way through until the final release, filing bug reports, participating in forum discussions and reading through many blogs. One thing that I have noticed consistently is that since Ubuntu 11.04 debuted with Unity as the default environment, there has been nothing but grumbling and Ubuntu bashing everywhere. You cannot read through Linux forums without coming across many threads entitled, “Goodbye Ubuntu”, “Going to KDE...XFCE...LXDE...etc” or the proverbial, “That's It I'm Moving To Arch”.

As I have stated in another blog, whenever some new adopters post that they love Ubuntu with Unity, they are greeted with much disdain by power users who hate having their customizations limited and locked down by default. This is where all the chagrin is stemming from. In previous versions, Ubuntu used the standard Gnome 2x or “Classic” desktop by default. What made the 2x series so popular was that you could tweak and customize it to your heart's galore. I, personally, was one who enjoyed making my desktop more unique than the next guy by adding various themes, indicators, docks and widgets. I can understand the root of those strong feelings because our desktops became an extension of our own individualities. Linux is about choice. Take that away and you get your hand bitten off.

Now we come to 2011 and the Linux desktop horizon is changing with the rise of smartphones and tablets. As our data becomes more mobile, developers are working to synchronize everything we use and need across all platforms, from your phones and tablets to your laptop and desktop computers. It is believed that by having a unified interface, it will help users avoid confusion and create a productive synergy. As handheld platforms are quickly becoming the dominant tools for accessing data, computer operating systems are following suit.

Take a look at the the two major platforms, Apple's OS X and Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8. OS X is quickly adopting an iOS look and feel along with a planned integration of code. Microsoft is taking the Windows Phone 7 Metro tiled interface and adopting it as the default desktop for Windows 8. On the Linux front, we see Gnome dropping the 2x series and replacing it with Gnome 3 and it's new Gnome Shell which looks like it's also moving towards being a touch-centric interface. Ubuntu seems to be going the same route with it's homegrown interface, Unity and cloud technologies.

Each of these platforms has a very passionate, dedicated user base and community. I believe the major backlash stems from the feeling that these new interfaces and technologies are being forced upon their longtime users with little care as to how they feel or how it affects their productivity and work flow. This is especially felt within the Linux community who came to Linux because of it's freedom to control how their computers work. When you restrict them from their freedoms it stirs the ire that drove them from those other locked down proprietary operating systems. In contrast, Linux distros are built by their communities, even Ubuntu who has a commercial sponsor in Canonical, was built upon the genius of many dedicated programmers and hackers who contribute code with no thought towards monetary gain.

Nevertheless, change is here. It's everywhere and it's evolving every single day. We are heading into a whole new world of technologies and everything is becoming more integrated on every level. To me, these are very exciting times. In some ways it's frustrating because I want more, but it's also very uncomfortable. Just as I am getting used to something on my computer, a few months later I am having to learn it again. A few things are certain to me, though. As far as Gnome 2 goes, as much as I loved it, it's not coming back. Yes, it may get forked, but so did KDE 3. Where is it now? Only a handful use it today, but the majority learned to adopt and enjoy KDE 4.5 and onwards. It's a technology that stirred up controversy, but as it matured has settled in nicely. Gnome 3 and Unity were very disruptive because the changes came at the same time, with nothing familiar to fall back on. The big distros are moving forward with Gnome 3 and Ubuntu with Unity. With one more cycle all their derivatives will have make the tough choice and move forward too.

It may seem like we are living in a Star Trek:TNG episode and the cybernetic Borg are declaring that “resistance is futile” but assimilation doesn't have to mean dealing with a grim future. After all, we still have our Linux and because it's open source, there will always be a freedom that goes beyond the “free as in beer”. On a personal note, my hope is that Canonical will not forget the user base that made Ubuntu so popular, while in pursuit of the 200 million users goal. I say, meet us in the middle. I'm sure we can accept whatever defaults, so long as we can still make our computers extensions of our individualities again. To the Linux community I ask, if you do not like Unity or Gnome Shell, or any other desktop environment, use the one that suits you and tell the world how great it is. Stop the tearing down and trolling if someone else likes one that is different. As Mark Mckenna once said, “Taste is subjective and may very well change with time.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Playing To Our Strengths

Are Linux Users Shooting Themselves In The Foot?
Written by 1roxtar

In April of 2009, my Windows XP computer crashed for the umpteenth time and this time around I lost a lot of valuable data. I was so angry because I didn't even have a cd copy to reinstall my OS. Neither did I have the cash to shell out for a new cd so I did what most broke people do in my situation, (don't tell anyone) is use a bootleg cd of TinyXP. Even though I hated going this route and I never feel confident about the security of any cracked versions, I felt it was a necessary evil that got me to the point I am now.

Nevertheless, as soon as I was up and running again, I began to Google for alternative computer operating systems. “There had to be something out there”, I thought to myself. I searched and read about BSD, and Solaris, but the one that kept sticking out was Linux. I quickly came to understand what a Linux distribution or “distro” was. I further researched as to which distro would be the easiest to install and use. What blew me away was that, for one, it was free. Secondly, I could install it on all my computers from the same cd without activation keys. Thirdly, I could even test drive it right from the cd itself.

I asked myself, “Is this even LEGAL???” I still laugh to myself that such a thought entered my head, but it was justified. My previous experience was that if it was free it had to be a bootleg or that it just wasn't any good because I never heard of anybody using it. Nevertheless, I tried several LiveCD's before I made the attempt to install it on my own computer, I tried out Fedora, Debian, Freespire, and ultimately, Ubuntu. Everything I read about Ubuntu told me that that was the distro of choice for Linux newcomers, so I ran with it.

I ran an Ubuntu 8.10 LiveCD and surprisingly it was pretty easy to navigate through and even though it was different than the Windows I was using, a lot of its features functioned in a very familiar way. I was quite impressed and completely intrigued. Ubuntu came with my favorite internet browser, Firefox, installed by default. It had a movie player, a music player, it's very own office suite, a bittorent client and a universal instant messenger client, right out of the box. I was one week away from the release of 9.04, so I waited and after its release I downloaded and installed it to my computer. I never looked back again. I was “sold” on this free Linux.

Of course, I still had lots of questions. My only experience was with Windows up to this point. I needed to know which Linux programs could replace the ones I used before and which ones worked well. I joined some forums and with the help of the community, I was getting more familiar and more adept at using a linux based operating system with success. They even helped me make friends with the command line terminal, something I rarely used on Windows. My question now is why isn't everyone in the whole world not using it? We should be giving Microsoft the middle finger and laughing our butts off at the absurdity of paying $100 - $300 to an “evil” company, while we can do the same things on our computers and that it can be done at no additional monetary cost.

I know that Redmond is acting like Linux isn't a big threat, but it is doing everything in it's power (and deeeep pockets) to keep vendors from preinstalling any kind of distro on their machines. But thats not where the deeper problem lies. In my opinion, Linux users are more responsible for spreading far more FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) about themselves than even what Microsoft has thrown against it. As I read through various forums and blog sites, it is our very own who cry out, "We are NOT ready!" From my perspective, it even seems like old linux power users don't even want for Linux to go mainstream. They don't want anyone messing with their niche. Other users say we won't be ready until we get Linux versions of MS Office or Outlook or Adobe's Photoshop or mainstream games. These may be what many are used to, but Linux also possesses awesome feature rich programs that can stand on their own two feet.

Too often the attention is focused on what we don't have rather than what we do have that makes our computing lives more complete. The forums are filled with folks who have abandoned Windows and Mac on their personal computers. Governments, schools and businesses are starting to adopt Linux on the desktop and open source, in general. Largely, as a community, we don't play to our strengths and that is what I believe is hurting mass adoption. In essence, we are shooting ourselves in the foot with all the negative talk and attitudes.

When I started looking into ubuntu and linux forums a couple of years ago, I found it to be very, very helpful. I learned so much about Linux that I completely removed Windows from all my own computers. Nowadays, it's become a constant flamewar battleground against Ubuntu, Unity and Gnome 3 Shell. Sometimes I feel a sense of embarrassment as I read through new user's threads in the testimonials and experiences sections. Many newbies post that Ubuntu is the next best thing since sliced bread, only to be sliced and diced themselves by “power users” who hate Unity.

But I don't want that to take away from the fact we do have excellent examples of quality programs that could keep you from ever having to go back. For starters, LibreOffice is becoming a truly solid and fully featured suite. Gimp is also a powerful tool for photo editing. Firefox and Chrome are faster and more secure replacements for Internet Explorer. OpenShot has much better features than Windows Movie Maker. K3B is a disk burning tool that rivals and surpasses Nero, in my opinion. Arista Transcoder does all my video conversions effortlessly, Sound Juicer rips my cd's like a ninja and VLC plays every video format I can throw at it. This isn't even the tip of the iceberg, folks. There are tons more and many distros are making it easier and easier to install apps from their repositories and software centers. In fact, both Linux Mint and Ubuntu offer customer ratings and reviews, thus making it easier to pick the best ones out there.

For gamers, I understand that we don't have a lot of commercial games ported to Linux just yet, but we are starting to hit big with beautiful and fun indie games. Thanks to the likes of the Humble Indie Bundle, the Ubuntu Software Center and Desura (an online digital distribution service for gamers), we are getting more games coming at a rapidly increasing rate to wet our appetites. In fact Linux gamers have consistently payed more than both Windows and Mac users combined during the Humble Indie Bundle pay-what-you-want campaigns. There is a lot of optimism on that front now, much more than even two years ago.

Herein lies our path to success on the desktop. We have to stop the flamewars and bickering. There has to be a unified consensus that Linux is ready. Pave the road for adoption. Remember why you came to linux. Show your immediate world what we truly have. Additionally, we need to dig into our pockets and help FUND our favorite Linux and open source programs. We have many great programs and distros already and if we promote their strengths rather than their shortcomings, we could start pulling ahead and gain some much needed market share.