Friday, October 26, 2007

It isn't worth the trouble any more

I haven't posted in some time because of Life and Work. Life has intruded with regards to my wife's health, both girls at college, as well as other issues, and Work has intruded as it always does. This leaves little time to 'play'. With such pressures coming from so many directions I have little patience left to dole out.

This post is about Linux, and the problems I've been dogged with since making the decision to upgrade to the latest versions of Ubuntu (7.10) and openSUSE (10.3). You can find all sorts of glowing reviews of both distributions without too much trouble, but the problem with these reviews is that nobody seems to be really doing anything non-trivial with them before they write their reviews. I was trying to upgrade to the latest version of Linux to get the latest kernel, libraries, and developer tools. And I also did something that in hindsight I probably should not have done, at least under Linux.

I upgraded my ATI 9700 Pro (R300) video card to a more recent ATI 1950 Pro (R500) video card manufactured by Sapphire (X1950 Pro, 512MB GDDR3 video memory, AGP 8x). I purchased the card to add a little more life to europa. I'm not yet ready to blithely replace the entire system with something newer and shinier, due to finances as well as indecision as to what I really want next. The X1950 Pro cost $170USD from Newegg, and I considered that a pretty good deal.

Upgrading under Windows XP

Europa is a dual-boot system between Windows XP SP2 and Linux. The first thing I did after replacing the card in the chassis was to boot into Windows and upgrade the ATI driver. Even though I already had an ATI driver on Europa, it was an old driver (5-10_xp-2k_dd_27256). And sure enough, when I booted up with the 1950 Pro it went into 800 x 600 degraded screen resolution. I then went to the ATI site and downloaded the latest driver (7-10_xp32_dd_53250). After installation and a reboot, the screen came back up in all its glorious color and resolution. Life was good. Or so I thought.

I tried to run some of my games. None of them ran except for Quake 3, which was using OpenGL on Windows. Everything else I had that depended on Direct3D failed. I eventually installed the DirectX 9C SDK with its tools, and discovered that Direct3D was broken not only with that version but with every earlier version down to 7-7_xp32_dd_49709. Once that version was installed every game worked, DirectX said it was happy, and I had the card working and producing good performance numbers with 3DMark03 and 3DMark05.

Fighting Linux

Getting the 1950 Pro to work under the latest version of Ubuntu and openSUSE on this same hardware platform has been a failure. Under Ubuntu, the drivers in the restricted driver package cause DVD playback to be shifted down from the application playing back the movie or video file. Attempts to install other drivers resulted in the fixing of the 'shift', but the playback of video stuttered horribly. What's more, the ATI drivers interfered with OpenGL causing various problems from corrupted display to application crashes.

In the end the best performance I got was with a pre-release set of ATI drivers, 8.42.3. I was able to follow various steps in a process that allowed me to create the necessary deb files from the ATI driver, and then install those deb files. Once the fglrx.ko module was built I found I had to load the driver by hand if I wanted to use it. I was able to verify that it indeed opened up most of the card's capabilities, and I was able to enable the 3D Compiz desktop. Unfortunately, enabling the desktop caused OpenGL rendering image corruptions with older applications. When I turned Compiz back off the corruption problems all went away. DVD and video playback was fine. But in the end, when I rebooted the system, the driver wasn't reloaded in the kernel. And I couldn't find any decent documentation that explained how to make Ubuntu load it on boot.

Then I got wild and crazy and re-installed openSUSE 10.3 again (took 20 minutes). I wanted to test how easy (or hard) it was to use the latest ATI driver. I found it much easier (probably due to long years of exposure to Suse) to install the ATI drivers. But I found more problems with 10.3 such that as soon as I'd verified that 8.42.3 was indeed a decent driver, I wiped it off and re-installed Ubuntu 7.10 back over openSUSE 10.3.

One big personal annoyance with Ubuntu is that K3B 1.0.3 won't rip DVDs. It does in openSUSE 10.3 (I tested it), and it did under Ubuntu 7.04 and openSUSE 10.4. I went looking on the Ubuntu site and found a page indicating that K3B 1.0.3 did indeed have a problem, and that it had been 'triaged' rather than fixed. Marvelous. Simply marvelous. Call me picky, but I like the easy way K3B allowed me to pick and rip tracks, and I was in no mood to go find yet another way.

Conclusion

I'm not going to recount all the various nits I have with both Linux distributions. Don't bother to flame me and tell me to report them as bugs. I learned long ago that reporting bugs is a fruitless waste of time (and truth be told, it's equally fruitless for Windows as well).

Unfortunately for Ubuntu and openSUSE, at the end of the day, the Windows installation works much better with the hardware and software I choose to purchase. I get so damn tired of the 'free' lecture and subsequent policy issues when trying to install and run with video card I have. I've got a three year old system with a 32-bit processor running last year's top dog ATI video card. This is by no means bleeding edge. Both Windows and Linux gave me grief with I decided to upgrade, primarily due to ATI drivers for the 1950 Pro. I now feel there is a quality issue with Ubuntu and openSUSE, and it really showed up with the latest distribution releases. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has a lot to do with the latest X (Xorg) release. The latest release wasn't ready for prime time, I don't care what anybody says.

I know what I've written in the past about Microsoft, and from a philosophical standpoint it still stands. But from a business point of view (or even a personal enjoyment point of view) Linux has become, for me, a poor choice for the desktop. I could probably go back to openSUSE 10.2, with which I was most happy, but I run the risk of hitting the same problems with the new video card as I did with openSUSE 10.3. Why bother going to that much trouble if there is a chance, even a remote chance, that I'd wind up with the same problems?

The only choices I now see personally are Windows and Mac OS X. I know that my daughters are happy with Vista and Mac OS X (Lauran has Vista on her Toshiba, and Megan has an iMac). I've also seen how effortlessly the office gets work done on both Mac and Windows; the office is split in its use of both. Even I'm most productive under Windows XP. I have installed many open tools such MinGW and emacs (just to name two) on Windows XP that give me the best of both worlds from a developer's perspective.

I've got too much to do and some real deadlines to meet between now and January of next year. I just don't have the time or patience to dig out solutions to problems on Linux. This is the latter half of the first decade of the 21st century, and I'm here to tell the Linux faithful that I expect a lot more from my OS, free or not. I expect it to work with my selection of hardware (which is pretty main stream and not bleeding edge), and I expect what worked in the last release to continue to work in the current release. And most importantly, I'm tired of being preached to. I no longer see any difference between Microsoft which restricts choices in OS, and in Linux which restricts choice in what hardware I can use because of its bone-headed 'code free or die' all-or-nothing philosophy.

So, for the foreseeable future Linux goes on the back burner until the next round of releases some time next year. And I go back to Windows XP for the most part. By then who knows? I may finally have a Mac or I may have found peace with Microsoft Windows. I know from personal experience that I much prefer Windows Server 2003 over Windows XP; WS2K3 just runs better for me (and seems to run faster). In fact WS2K3 reminds me of the good old days of Win2K. Linux developers all across the board would do well to clean up the code and fix problems rather than add questionable new and flashy features. If they don't then they're going to be relegated to insignificant niche markets where the faithful sit around all day and bemoan their plight. The rest of us will have moved on to Apple or Microsoft to get our work done.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ubuntu 7.10 RC: Still won't boot completely on algol (UPDATED)

Algol is my dual core (Core Duo) notebook with the nVidia GeForce Go 7800 adapter. I already have openSUSE 10.2 running on the notebook, and running at the full 1680 x 1050 resolution. But when Ubuntu 7.10 boots on this machine I get the black screen of death. I can still get to a text console and check that the OS is running, but there is no graphic desktop. This problem isn't limited to Ubuntu, Fedora 8 Beta 3 (7.92) has it as well. Older versions of these distributions boot just fine on algol, but something with the newer ones is causing a problem, and I'm pretty sure that something is the 3D graphics eye candy that everyone is so hell-bent to push.

I am, in a word, pissed.

Update Friday 10/12

Well, leave it to me to shoot my mouth off without checking all the possible boot capabilities. Booting in safe graphics mode (second selection on the initial boot menu) allowed RC1 to boot into a graphics desktop at 1280 x 1024. This was enough to post this update as well as check out other needed features. Of course that's a long way from a successful installation, but at least it works. So the solution to at least boot on algol is to boot in safe graphics mode.

Monday, October 08, 2007

419ers still out there, still trying to defraud

In spite of the story where 77 "419" email scammers were arrested and 2.1 billion in fraudulent checks were recovered, I still continue to get such emails on a nearly daily basis. For example:
Dear Friend,

Good day to you. I write to seek your cooperation as my foreign partner and your assistance to enable us to own properties and invest in the stable economy of your country. I apologize if this mail does not suit your personal or business ethics.

My name is Dr. Terry Mambo, my colleagues and I am making this venture proposal to you in strict confidence. As senior civil servants in the South Africa Government, the South African civil service laws (Code of Conduct bureau) forbid us to own foreign accounts. The money we have in our possession is an overdue payment bill totaling Twenty Six Million, Four Hundred and Twenty Six Thousand US Dollars ($26,426,000.00) which we want to transfer abroad with the assistance and co-operation of a company / or an individual to receive the said funds, via a reliable Bank Account.

If you will like to assist us as a partner, then indicate your interest after which we shall both discuss on the modalities. All other information to facilitate the remittance of the funds will be revealed to you in due course. For your assistance, you shall receive 30% amounting to US$7,927,800.00 of the US$26.426Million, 60% amounting to US$15,855,600 for us and 10% amounting to US$2,642,600 will be used to settle taxation and other miscellaneous expenses in the course of transferring the funds to your account.

Please indicate your direct telephone and direct fax number when replying this business proposal preferably through my alternative address as this is my only confidential email address: drterrymambo@yahoo.com , I will call you when necessary. If you are not interested, please also indicate so that it will enable me to contact other foreign partner with recommendations to carry out this deal.

A swift acknowledgment of your receipt of this mail will be appreciated.

Thank you and God bless you.

Best regards.

Dr Terry Mambo
Executive Accountant
Department of Transport (DT)
Republic of South Africa (RSA)
Private email address: drterrymambo@yahoo.com

Dear Dr. Terry,

Thank you for making this generous offer to me in strictest confidence, along with the millions of others who found your message in their email in-box. It makes me feel so special that you choose me as your potential business partner. And 30% of that 26 million is a truly tempting offer (assuming you have such an amount).

But you know what, your 'business' offer is plain old fashioned stealing, regardless of the culture involved. That 26 million and change came from somebody somewhere, and I'm sure the real owners would like to get it back. I'm equally sure that somebody, somewhere, will fall for this latest scam. The law of averages and general human stupidity are unfortunately on your side. I especially like where you want me to respond whether I will help you or not. Nice little touch of social engineering; you at least get positive confirmation of an email addy. I'd love to stay and chat but you are, after all, low-life scum, and I try to avoid such as you whenever possible.

Sincerely,

William Beebe

Ubuntu 7.10: Visual Effects interfere with OpenGL

I've discovered that I can have visual effects on europa identical to what I now experience with rhea and its Ubuntu installation, or I can have OpenGL functionality, but not both. Normal visual effects and OpenGL work fine together on rhea. The difference between europa and rhea is that europa has an ATI graphics card (9700Pro) while rhea has an nVidia graphics card (7600GT). Both have the respective "restricted" drivers installed. And it's the drivers that make the difference.

I was able to enable graphics effects on europa by installing xserver_xgl via Synaptic. Once installed, I restarted the X server, logged back in, and was able to select normal visual effects. And it worked. Unfortunately Google Earth hung at the splash screen, glxgears emitted warning messages, fgl_glxgears refused to run, and WorldWind-based Java projects refused to execute properly either. So, in the end, I uninstalled xerver_xgl and went back to plain old (none) visual effects. Which, frankly, is not such a big deal. This is, after all, still a beta.

But I do hope that issues with the ATI graphics and Xgl get fixed soon. Ubuntu 7.10 final is being released in 10 days.

English as daft as Americans

I thought we Americans were totally asinine when it comes to sharing music. I was wrong. As I was checking the BBC News Online, I came across not one, but two stories about the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and its war on listening to music in public, music that hasn't been properly paid for.

The first story is about it's £200,000 damages claim in the Court of Session in Edinburgh against Kwik-Fit, a local car repair chain. What is Kwik-Fit guilty of? Its employees are guilty of playing their personal radios while on the job, loud enough that customers can hear the music. We're not talking about streaming illegal MP3s across the web. We're talking about turning on a radio loud enough to hear. Complete with the Scottish equivalent of DJs, ads, and other unique Scottish social elements (I wonder if Sir Sean does commercial voice-overs?)

The second story is about the PRS going after much smaller game. Bedlam Scooters on the Elms Industrial Estate in Bedford is being dinged £85 so they can play their radio in their shop while they work. The owner thought it was a joke at first until they got "letter and leaflet delivered" to them. Rather than pay the protection sum, they elected to turn the radio off.

What bothers me about both stories is it represents what we Yanks refer to as double taxation. I make the very basic assumption that English commercial radio is the same as American commercial radio. If you listen to music on commercial radio you have to put up with all the ads and other crap that the station owners lard into the music. I don't know what it's like over in England, but here in the States it's pure unadulterated crap. Commercial radio is, without exception, long stretches of advertising punctuated with short snatches of music. Pardon me, I said all of them. The one notable exception is National Public Radio, and while it's ad free, it does have its annual beg-a-thons where the local stations beg for public funding.

So here I am, listening to commercial radio with the commercials, from stations that are already paying for music they play from ad revenues they generate, and then the PRS walks up and demands even more money if they can hear your radio in a public place. Or in the immortal words of the PRS:
A Performing Rights Society spokesman said: "Anyone wanting to play music in public needs the permission of the people who wrote every piece of music they intend to play.

"To make this easier, composers and songwriters formed 'collecting societies' to grant these permissions on their behalf.

"From time to time, the society focuses on small segments of potential licensees who may not know about the work of the society.

"Currently, we are writing to motor traders to explain about the work it does and the way composers and songwriters are paid."
What a racket. It's enough to make a guy like Al Capone real proud.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hey Sony, I guess I'm a pirate

I missed this last week, but according to Jennifer Pariser, the head of litigation for Sony BMG, in testimony she gave in the trial Capitol Records, et al v. Jammie Thomas:
Gabriel asked if it was wrong for consumers to make copies of music which they have purchased, even just one copy. Pariser replied, "When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Making "a copy" of a purchased song is just "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy'," she said.
So there you have it. If I rip any of the CDs I've purchased since the music CD was cheap enough for me to afford in the mid 1980s, then I'm a pirate. And I guess you can throw in all those DVDs I've been ripping lately as well, and leaving them on my home-brew DVR to play back and watch.

Why have I been ripping?
  • The primary reason is preservation. A number of the CDs and DVDs I own are rare/out of print, and I wanted to make my own copy and then put the original away. As time marches on I am slowly archiving them all and putting the digital content (mp3 and mp4) on big fat 500GB and 1TB drives, to be played back when I want them.
  • I want a high quality digital reproduction. Right now the best I can do is 320KB mp3. I know there are probably better encoders, but 320KB sounds a lot better than any sample I've ever listened to that came off the Internet.
  • I don't like 99% of what passes for music these days. I listen to the Moody Blues, the Beatles, CSNY, The Eurythmics, etc, etc, etc.
  • Ease of playback. For example I have a Nokia 6133 flip phone that can take a micro SD card. I have a 1GB card loaded with a small sampling of my library, and I use the ear buds that came with the phone to listen to those songs when I'm out walking Max. I can see now the RIAA brown shirts running me down by the side of the road because I've made an unauthorized copy from CDs I originally purchased.
  • Removal of crap from DVDs. I've long since grown tired of all the ads that appear before the movie starts. This is the same thing I have to put up with at the cineplex. Those ads, along with increasing ticket costs, have incentivized me to stop going to movies unless it's about something really want to see. And then, when I purchase the DVD of the same movie, I have to put up with it again. No thanks. So I go and find the track that has the movie, and rip it. After that, no fuss and no muss, and the DVD goes back into its cover and back on the shelf.
But of course, Sony BMG would like copying everywhere to be illegal like it is in Australia. And it's the same Sony that sprung the anti-copying root kit back in November 2005. No, I'm not surprised that Sony has such an attitude. And it's that attitude that has driven me away from purchasing anything Sony-made. No electronics, no music, no DVDs, not even going to a movie from their studio. I vote with my pocketbook and attempt to persuade others to chose something else besides Sony. That's why I buy Olympus and Canon cameras, Apple Macs and iPods, and just about any other studio when it comes to music and movies. It's also one major reason why I own a Wii.

In fact, speaking of gaming consoles, just to show you how little I think of Sony, if the only choice open to me for a new game console was between Sony's Play Station 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360, I'd choose Microsoft in a cold New York minute. And you know what I think of Microsoft.

I'm not sharing, especially online. Not just because I do believe it is stealing, but simply because the studios have gone totally insane in their attempts to control "their" content. I'm going to continue to do what I've been doing; making copies for personal use, and avoiding all things Sony.

Here's a little dark humor about movie piracy from The IT Crowd:


Update

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation comes this February 15, 2006 article, in which they point out the hypocrisy of the RIAA with regards to copying content you already own via CD. In particular they quote Don Verrilli before the Supreme Court as saying:
"The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod."

Category clouds and the New Blogger

I wanted a category cloud like those I've seen on other blogs and other sites. The new Blogger has a category listing feature, but nothing like a category cloud. Well, Google is your friend, so I went googling for 'blogger category cloud' and sure enough the first page contained a link to phydeaux3 and the provocative entry "Setup and configuration for New Blogger Tag Cloud / Label Cloud." Read phydeaux3's blog entry through first, then follow the directions, primarily cutting and pasting. The only thing I did was to change the title from 'Label Cloud' to 'Category Cloud', but that was it. Oh. One little gotcha about this interesting hack. If you go back in and edit in HTML mode then all the code in the Labels widget gets wiped out. If you edit the widget (change the title with the Blogger tool) the internal code gets wiped out. All the other code snippets hang around.

Just look to the right to see the results.

Ubuntu 7.10: Changing Nautilus' view pane background

Nautilus has basic configuration capabilities, one of which is the ability to change the background of the view pane (the large panel on the right). To change the background, select the Edit menu and "Backgrounds and Emblems..."


This will then bring up the Backgrounds and Emblems dialog. You can select a texture or a color. To apply a texture or a color, select one and then drag it from the Backgrounds and Emblems dialog to the Nautilus' view pane.


You can find more information in Help, Working with Files -> (s6.8) Modifying the Appearance of Files and Folders -> (s6.8.5) Changing Backgrounds.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ubuntu 7.10 beta replaces openSUSE 10.3 GM

I finally followed through my on my threat to replace openSUSE with Ubuntu. I've replaced openSUSE 10.3 GM with Ubuntu 7.10 Beta 1. Based on my experiences with both on my machines, I consider Ubuntu 7.10, even though it is still in beta, to be the better of the two distributions.

I tried to do this once before with openSUSE 10.2 and Ubuntu 7.04. In the end I went back to openSUSE 10.2 and stayed there until now. This time the transition is considerably different, and considerably smoother. A lot of the ease of transition can be attributed to both distributions using Gnome 2.20, and to how I went about switching from openSUSE to Ubuntu.

Upgrading openSUSE

The first (un)planned step in migrating from openSUSE to Ubuntu was a planned step to migrate from openSUSE 10.2 to openSUSE 10.3. I had every intention of upgrading when 10.3 came out, and to start that migration I installed openSUSE 10.3 RC1 on europa. I wasn't particularly pleased with how it occurred. There were issues with what appeared to be a corrupt installation DVD/ISO. I managed to get nearly everything fixed and europa was finally up and operational.

As I started to use 10.3 as a development platform I discovered a problem with running Java 6, downloaded from Sun's site, on openSUSE 10.3. I found I could install the 'official' openSUSE version, which was essentially Java 6 Update 1, and have my Java applications and tools run without problems. This, for me, was not acceptable. Especially as the latest versions of Java 6 from Sun run without any problems on Ubuntu 7.10 on rhea.

GM Release

On the day of the GM release I decided to test both methods of upgrading my openSUSE system. I followed the directions on upgrading the RC1 installation to a GM installation, then I downloaded the GM ISO and performed a completely clean install from the ISO onto europa. After all, that's one of europa's tasks.

The upgrade actually performed better than the clean install, and if I'd been satisfied and stopped at that point then openSUSE 10.3 would still be on europa. But the upgrade lost the use of the ATI drivers, and I still had issues running Sun-supplied Java, so I went on ahead and performed the full install. In addition I have two notebooks with openSUSE 10.2 that I wanted to upgrade to 10.3, so there was a reason to test the DVD installation.

I used K3B to burn the DVD on an NEC DVD/RW ND-2510A drive. I've had this drive now for a good year, and I've never had any issues with it. In addition to burning DVDs I've played DVDs and booted many a live DVD/CD from it. It's even been used to install openSUSE 10.2 on this machine. But this time, I had problems.

After burning the DVD (and making sure the checksums matched), I booted into the DVD and had the DVD check its own integrity. Integrity check passed. I then attempted to install from the DVD. I got all the way to the point where the installation software attempted to find the catalogs, and then it started to fail. Repeatedly. Europa is blessed with two DVD drives. The second is an older Lite-On Combo DVD/CD model LTC-48161H. It can only burn CDROMs. On a hunch I pulled the openSUSE DVD out of the NEC and dropped it into the Lite-On. Sure enough openSUSE started to install without errors. I went on ahead and let it finish the installation.

Post-Install Problems

The system booted up and I logged in without incident. The release's free Xorg ATI driver allowed me to set the resolution to 1600 x 1200. I logged in on both the KDE and Gnome desktops, and everything was working fine as was to be expected. Because the install was finally clean, my problems with Open Office to not recur. The only issues were installing native ATI drivers and the failure to run Sun-supplied Java 6 GUI-based applications.

That doesn't mean it was trouble free. The screen refresh was configured so that it was skewed off to the left, and the left side was clipped. I tried to adjust this with Sax2, but Sax2 was unable to adjust it. And this time, rather than download the native drivers, I decided to use the ATI repository to install the ATI binary drivers. The driver version in the repository were 8.37. The drivers I downloaded from ATI and installed for RC1 were 8.40. Regardless, if it was easier to install the ATI drivers via Yast and the repositories rather than by hand, then I was willing to forgo being right at the current release. While the installation seemed to go correctly, and while it was easier to find the ATI driver repository and to use it, the drivers failed to operate once installed. As luck would have it, the ability to run anything under OpenGL went to hell in a handbasket at that point.

Tipping Point

I'm sure the openSUSE fan boy is thinking "suck it up and fix it." In the past I would have, because the perceived rewards far outweighed any problems. But this time it was different. I need native ATI driver support (I always have). I need solid OpenGL support. I need the ability to run Sun's latest Java releases without any special configuration or hacks. I need solid development support as well as a platform for entertainment, and when it comes to a choice between the two, I need the development support first. And I had that (and more) with Ubuntu 7.10.

The decision to replace openSUSE with Ubuntu was easy. I already had it up and running on rhea, and knew from first-hand experience what it was capable of. I inserted the Ubuntu 7.10 beta 1 CDROM, rebooted into it, then installed off the desktop. Once installed everything came up and ran.

Final Comments

In spite of the hype, openSUSE 10.3 comes across to me as sloppy and amateurish in some spots, especially the revised Yast. I have never seen more annoying little pop-ups and dialogs from an application than what you get when you start any part of Yast and it's checking the local catalog. I believe too much emphasis was placed on eye candy and not enough on the foundations. The Java problem, for example, was a regression from earlier in February.

I have tried to keep politics out of my feelings towards openSUSE, but I can't help but feel that Novell's cooperative agreement with Microsoft has had a negative impact on the quality of openSUSE 10.3. Good talent has left Novell because of the agreement, and Microsoft is not a quality shop in my not so humble opinion. I have a strong positive feeling towards openSUSE 10.2, and feel it's the best release (so far) of the 10 series. Release 10.3 just does not compare well to release 10.2.

So the trigger has been pulled, and this time I have absolutely no problems running with Ubuntu on europa. Will I ever go back to Suse? Who knows? Ten years with a distribution (SuSE) is a long time with any distribution, but I won't blindly stick with anything, especially if it's of poor quality and capability. And there are just too many other good choices out there. I've made my choice, switched to what I believe to be a good one, and now it's time to get back to work.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Digg news widget is gone

I had the Digg widget off to the right, displaying the top 10 stories about Linux. It was good for a few days until I noticed that blog page rendering slowed down significantly while waiting for the Digg widget to finish loading. I've removed it and now the page is rendering faster again. I may turn off more widgets to get back more performance.

Ubuntu 7.10: Lockups

Nothing to show in pictures, but there is a lockup problem that has occurred twice now with Ubuntu 7.10 running on rhea when
  1. I select Extra or Custom on the Visual Effects tab (Appearance Preferences)
  2. The screen saver kicks in.
I have never had this problem with Ubuntu 7.04, and I don't have this problem with either Normal Visual Effects or None.

Again, this is a beta, so it's to be expected.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ubuntu 7.10: Changing the look

Someone asked in the last post how to change features on the desktop. I'd like to show folks, both old and new, how easy it is on this latest version.

Move the mouse to somewhere on the desktop. Right click to bring up the desktop menu, and select "Change Desktop Background." This brings up Appearance Preferences, with the Background wallpaper tab selected. Appearance Preferences under Gnome 2.20 combines all the individual applets from earlier versions of Gnome that could effect the desktop appearance, into one convenient tool.

To change the window border, icons, and general theme, select the Theme tab. On the main Theme window you can select a specific theme or you can fine tune the one currently selected.

To fine tune a theme click the Customize button at the bottom. This will bring up the "Customize Theme" dialog. If you wanted to use the latest Gnome theme you downloaded from Gnome Looks, then you'd click on the Install button or else drag-and-drop the same package via Nautilus (or from the desktop if that's where you saved it) over to Theme area.

The Window Border tab allows you to select one out of many you may have accumulated. It's real easy to try them out; selecting any one will immediately make the one selected the current window decoration. A word to the wise, however. Close up Firefox, especially if you have a bunch of browser tabs open. It's been my experience that Firefox will lock up if you change the window decorations or theme, especially the theme. Once you've finished playing with the desktop you can open it back up again.

Icons allows you to select one from your collection. Just as with window decorations you can download new icon sets and install them via the Theme tab. Mist comes pre-installed. The selection has an immediate effect.

The Fonts tab looks formidable, but it's not. As you can see I use DejaVu everywhere.

And finally the Visual Effects tab. Here I've got all the shiny bits turned off.

Update

A new update (66 packages) dropped on Ubuntu early this morning. After installing everything I set Visual Effects to normal, and then looked around at the result. The performance issues are gone, and the nice visual effects I noticed in the alphas are back.

Maybe it's just me, and maybe Gnome has advanced as well, but I've come to notice and appreciate a restrained design elegance in all the desktop elements. It's this same quality I also appreciate in the Mac desktop. I just do not like the Aero desktop, nor any of the spawn of Aero.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ubuntu 7.10: Tweaks make it smoother running

It didn't take much to get rhea running smoothly again after the upgrade from 7.04 to 7.10. The first thing I did was ignore the shiny shiny and turn of all visual effects. That seemed to help tremendously. I then began to change the desktop elements into something I liked that also was reasonably light on the system:
  • selected a simple JPEG wallpaper via MacWallpapers,
  • selected Clearlooks controls (the latest version to ship with Gnome 2.20)
  • picked up and installed Humanoid-OSX
  • and selected the Mist icon set.
Once all that's done you have the following reasonable desktop (below).


You're looking at an NTFS volume in Nautilus from the days when rhea ran Windows 2000. It stopped running Win2K when I swapped out the original motherboard for the current one, and Win2K stopped working because the drivers for the old motherboard wouldn't work with the new one. However, the Linux distribution installed on it at the time, SuSE Professional 9.3, continued to operate and booted right up on the new motherboard. From that point forward grub was modified to boot Linux only, and it's been that way ever since. This version of Ubuntu reads and write NTFS, and I am quite happy to report that it does indeed. I'm now deleting old cruft and getting ready to backup what's left, then I'll reformat the partition under ext3. Oh. And in case you're curious, it was originally purchased with Windows ME installed. After 48 hours of Windows ME I dropped in a second drive and installed Windows 2000 and SuSE professional in a dual boot mode and never ever ran Windows ME again, except for certain very specific applications. Rhea really is a bit of a Frankenstein's monster. All it needs is a pair of neck bolts.

I'm not complaining about Ubuntu 7.10's inability to run fill-tilt graphics on the box, but the ability to tailor the distribution to meet the capabilities of the platform while providing useful work. In spite of its beta-ness it's quite usable and now quite fast, again.

Remeber when Apple actually "Thought Different?"



(As narrated by Richard Dreyfuss)

Here's to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The trouble-makers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They're not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo
You can quote them,
Disagree with them,
Glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can't do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
And while some may see them as the "crazy ones",
We see genius
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the World
Are the ones who do.

And the original ad.



Update

Here's a longer transcription of the ad I found, but no link to the video.

Here's to the Crazy Ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They're not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing that you can't do, is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They invent. They imagine. They heal.
They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or, sit in silence and hear a song that hasn't been written?
Or, gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.
While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world,
are the ones who do.

If you were a computer programmer like Bill here...



Here I am, a long, long way away in time from 1975 and the IMSAI 8080. All I ever aspired to do was write some interesting software on what I thought at the time was the absolute epitome of cybernetic technology. And truth be told, gaze in lust on those fabulous front-mounted panel switches and watch those awesome blinkin' red LEDs. I thought I had arrived and that it could get no better than that. It was a very simple and wonderfully naive time. No Bill Gates and Micro-Soft. No Novell. No Linux (but Unix was out there). Funny, but I never did log into WOPR. Oh well.