Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mandriva 2008.1 KDE hits a sweet spot

I've been installing some of the latest Linux releases for the past week to better understand what's available. I've taken the time to scrub the install system's (rhea) primary drive so that there's nothing on it any more except Linux. And I've tried to spend some time after the initial installation running some builds and installing other applications such as the latest Java and Netbeans, then running additional tests and comparing the results with past experiences. And the surprise, for me at least, is that the best distribution for me in this latest round isn't my old favorites openSUSE or Ubuntu, but Mandriva 2008.1 KDE. And for the record, I installed and tried to work with Fedora 9, and found that that particular dog just don't hunt.

Working with Mandriva 2008.1 KDE reminds me of the past working with SuSE Pro and early versions of openSUSE, especially version 10.2. I have come to respect and even like Gnome, but KDE is my preferred desktop environment and Mandriva helps remind me why I personally preferred it over Gnome. This is not a 'one-is-better-than-the-other' troll. I would no more have KDE 'win' over Gnome than I would have Gnome 'win' over KDE. I'm thankful there is choice, and that I can choose KDE for personal use.

One of the best features of this version of Mandriva is Mandriva Linux Control Center (MLCC). MLCC brings everything together into a useful cohesive whole. It's the application Suse's Yast should be. The Software Application section of MLCC makes software installation and management every bit as easy as Ubuntu's Add/Remove Applications and as powerful as Ubuntu's Synaptic.

One key gripe I've had with Ubuntu, starting with 7.10 and continuing with 8.04, is the poor functionality of K3b 1.0.4. I use K3b to rip DVDs to my local media server. I started to use the tool heavily with openSUSE 10.2, and when I switched to Ubuntu 7.04 I found that K3b from the Ubuntu repositories worked as well as the version supplied by openSUSE. But when I upgraded to Ubuntu 7.10, the ability to view and rip a DVD wound up broken. I eventually rebuilt a properly functioning K3b from sources and with the proper development libraries installed on Ubuntu 7.10, thinking that the LTS version would fix the K3b build problems.

Turns out the problems were not fixed. I installed a fresh copy of Ubuntu 8.04 on rhea and went through the same build process on rhea that I did earlier on europa and Ubuntu 7.10. When I finished K3b was still broken. That's when I made the decision and installed Mandriva 2008.1 on rhea. After the installation I tested K3b and discovered it needed libdvdcss and transcode to make it fully functional. Once those two packages were installed then I was back in business. Getting the proper repository (PLF) to install libdvdcss is dead simple. Just go to Easy Urpmi and follow the very simple instructions. Then use Software Manager to find and install libdvdcss.

It is amazing how well Mandriva performs on what is now considered limited hardware. It may not be the most exciting distribution you can install, but it runs as expected and performs the complex multimedia tasks I want it to run in the manner to which I have become accustomed with earlier distributions and releases. It has truly come a long way and is worthy of first consideration as an alternative OS.

Update

Speaking of europa and Ubuntu 8.04, I removed Mono (mono-common) from the distribution, and it took Tomboy, Banshee, and F-Spot along with it. I will not have C#/Mono running on my Linux machines.

Update 2

I find it interesting that many problems I encountered with the Mandriva Gnome release didn't show up on the KDE release. Or perhaps I've gotten better at installing Mandriva (whatever that means :). But Mandriva KDE installed and ran smoother than Mandriva Gnome. And in both cases is was a completely new installation including a fresh home directory.

This just in...

Two guys I know, and one I used to work with on OneTESS (Kurt Hamby) have ridden from Florida to Alaska on Triumph Tiger motorcycles. Which is a hoot with Kurt; you'll either see his blue Triumph in the parking lot or his monster diesel F350 (the one he uses to tow his horses).

I just got off the (cell) phone with Kurt:
Me: "Hey Kurt!"
Kurt: "Hey Bill!"
Me: "Where are you?"
Kurt: "Alaska. Why?"
And so it went for another minute before the link got dropped somewhere between here and Alaska. I couldn't quite make out where he said he was, but I think he said Fairbanks. GPS shows them in Fairbanks and the blog they've been keeping notes they stopped in Fairbanks and are headed back south. Kurt said it would take another 10 days to get back to Florida. When he gets back I'm sure there'll be plenty of stories to regale us at many a Tijuana Flats lunch.

Ride safe guys.

Is Boycott Novell just a wee bit biased?

That's like asking is the Pope Catholic. I find it amusing that my posts are linked to rather quickly when they bring good news, while any criticisms of F/OSS, such as my recent less-than-satisfied experience with Fedora 9 are selectively ignored. Well, with the notable exception of my dissatisfaction with openSUSE. Then they're all over that like ugly on an ape.

What's wrong, guys? Do you think I'm some sort of deep Redmond mole, cloaking myself in the flag of F/OSS while behind the scenes I act my part as the paided [sic] Microsoft shill? In a way I wish that were true, because there are times I could certainly use the money. But I also realize I need to be careful just where I make my living, because in the end I have to live with myself and the consequences (both intended and unintended) of my actions. I learned that bitter lesson all too well in the 1980s, in part by supporting and evangelising early Microsoft.

If you guys pursued overall F/OSS quality with the same zeal you pursue the sins of Novell and Microsoft (real and imagined) then you'd be a much stronger force for good. And based on my experiences with SuSE/openSUSE, Redhat/Fedora, Mandrake/Mandriva, Ubuntu, and Slackware I've seen wild variations in quality and regressions over the years (decades on some of them). The greatest variations (and aggravations) have been over the last 18 months. The high point of all of these distributions came during 1Q07, with the release of Ubuntu 7.04 and openSUSE 10.2. Those two distributions were a high-water mark for both distributions as well as Linux in general. Since that release each has produced buggy releases relative to 7.04/10.2 and bumpy beta cycles. Fedora's been a wreck since Fedora Core 3, and Mandriva has finally climbed to the point where it's producing consistent back-to-back releases of good quality.

And then, of course, there's the interesting article on Linux.com (It's time to retire "ready for the desktop") which is an interesting counterpoint to the Linux Torvalds interview back in February (Linus Torvalds on Why Users Aren't Flocking to Linux). In fact Linus' interview should give you a Clue as to why Redhat and Novell aren't pursuing the commercial desktop with the same vigor they're going after the business side of things. Linus summed it up best when he said
The desktop is also the thing where people get really upset if something changes, so it’s really hard to enter the desktop market because people are used to whatever they used before, mostly Windows.
And when you're quality is inconsistent between distribution releases, when features that worked in one release stop working or work incorrectly in the next, that annoys users new and old.

Going back to Linus' comment, I'm willing to bet good money that KDE 3 is going to hang around a lot longer than the KDE developers expect. And that if they want KDE 4 to gain the same wide-spread use as KDE 3, then they're going to have to lay the exact same KDE 3 functionality and work flow into KDE 4, or suffer the same backlash and anger that Vista has suffered.

And as for Silverlight acceptance, it won't happen. And here's a clue as to why. Back in the day when the Mac was first introduced, Adobe's PostScript (Type 1 fonts) were the only way to do good typesetting. The problem was that Type 1's specifications were not published and PostScript was expensive. Type 1 font engines cost a chunk of change which Apple had no desire to fork over to Adobe (in fact it was Gassée, the progenator of Be OS, who informed Warnock in 1989 that Apple was paying too much for PostScript). Gassée wanted a cheaper version of Type 1 for his "cheap" Macs, and when Adobe refused to give him what he wanted he turned to Microsoft and True Image, a.k.a. TrueType. On September 29 1989 Apple and Microsoft announced the new standard TrueType for display and printing. Apple (via Gassée) helped Microsoft stab Adobe in the back. And Adobe has not forgotten. That's why Adobe is doing everything it can to make Flash adaptation as frictionless as possible. And many in the developer community haven't forgotten either. That stunt cost Apple and contributed to its near-death experience before Jobs came back in 1997. And it's going to cost Microsoft in its push to get Silverlight adopted.

What will help Linux beat Microsoft? Quality and attention to detail. Writing about Microsoft's sins might help, but not so long as each release is inconsistent in its quality and behavior. The differences in the desktop are bad enough (see Torvalds above) without the distributions adding insult to injury with poor release quality. The day that the community in general realizes this and decides to act on it is the day that Linux really will move to unseat Windows on the desktop. But until that day comes Linux will remain a niche player and its most ardent supporters bitter apologists seeing Microsoft-inspired conspiracies behind every action they deem harmful to Linux.

Brighthouse Networks passes BitTorrent testing

The news has been out quite a bit about how Comcast and Cox, especially Comcast, interferes with the operation of BitTorrent clients. Here's a list of ISPs worldwide that interfere with BitTorrent clients. My ISP, Brighthouse Networks (formerly Time Warner Cable of Central Florida) was not on the list. Being as paranoid as I am I decided to test my link anyway using Max Planck's Glasnost testing service.

Glasnost is open source, and consists of a Java applet running on a server page communicating with a remote server. The combined setup emulates a BitTorrent client and reports its results. I'm happy to report that Brighthouse currently does not interfere with BitTorrent traffic. Here's Glasnost's report.

Results for your host (xxx.x.xxx.xx.cfl.res.rr.com - xx.xxx.x.xxx):

Is BitTorrent traffic on a well-known BitTorrent port (6881) throttled?

* The BitTorrent upload (seeding) worked. Our tool was successful in uploading data using the BitTorrent protocol.

* There's no indication that your ISP rate limits your BitTorrent uploads. In our tests a TCP upload achieved minimal 453 Kbps while a BitTorrent upload achieved maximal 457 Kbps. You can find details here.

* The BitTorrent download worked. Our tool was successful in downloading data using the BitTorrent protocol.

* There's no indication that your ISP rate limits your BitTorrent downloads. In our tests a TCP download achieved minimal 2101 Kbps while a BitTorrent download achieved maximal 2097 Kbps. You can find details here.

Is BitTorrent traffic on a non-standard BitTorrent port (4711) throttled?

* The BitTorrent upload (seeding) worked. Our tool was successful in uploading data using the BitTorrent protocol.

* There's no indication that your ISP rate limits your BitTorrent uploads. In our tests a TCP download achieved minimal 450 Kbps while a BitTorrent download achieved maximal 457 Kbps. You can find details here.

* The BitTorrent download worked. Our tool was successful in downloading data using the BitTorrent protocol.

* There's no indication that your ISP rate limits your BitTorrent downloads. In our tests a TCP download achieved minimal 2158 Kbps while a BitTorrent download achieved maximal 2126 Kbps. You can find details here.

Is TCP traffic on a well-known BitTorrent port (6881) throttled?

* There's no indication that your ISP rate limits all downloads at port 6881. In our test, a TCP download on a BitTorrent port achieved at least 2101 Kbps while a TCP download on a non-BitTorrent port achieved at least 2158 Kbps. You can find details here.

* There's no indication that your ISP rate limits all uploads at port 6881. In our test, a TCP upload on a BitTorrent port achieved at least 453 Kbps while a TCP upload on a non-BitTorrent port achieved at least 450 Kbps. You can find details here.

It took more than a few attempts to run the test. It kept failing with the message that the test server was busy and to try again in a few seconds. So I kept clicking the link until the test finally ran. Before you run this test make sure, especially under Linux, that Firefox can run Java applets. I ran the test on Firefox 3 beta 5 on Ubuntu 8.04. I have Java installed external to Ubuntu; build 1.6.0_10-beta-b23. This is the latest version of Java 6 Update 10. When the page requiring the Java applet loaded I was presented with a dialog to install the Java plugin. No big deal and installation of the plugin went off smoothly. But installation interfered with the test and it failed, requiring me to reload the testing page.

I'm glad Brighthouse can be considered one of the Good Guys with regards to BitTorrent. I worked for Time Warner Cable when the Full Service Network was in full swing (back in the mid 1990s). I was both happy and proud to have been a part of that effort. I currently have all my communication services with them (T.V., internet, and phone), and I really can't complain. They were, and still are, a great group of people.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Fedora 9: I'm not impressed

Fedora 9 was released earlier this week to great fanfare. There were the usual spate of 'ain't-it-wonderful' articles, extolling the virtues of this latest release (you know, the kind of pap I used to write about openSUSE and Ubuntu). So I said to myself said I, "I'll just download the Fedora 9 Gnome and KDE live CDs and see how they install." And so, I did.

Preparation

The target installation system was rhea. Rhea was currently running Mandriva 2008.1. Rhea has been a mess for some time. It has two old drives in it (27 Gig and 40Gig), and originally came with Microsoft Windows ME installed. Over time that first drive was chopped up into five partitions; two FAT32, two ext3, and swap. So this time I decided to remove everything and consolidate the space into a root partition (/), home (/home), and swap. Worked out pretty well in the past on my other system, europa, so I had no reason to suspect it wouldn't work here. And it has worked out pretty well, at least for the released distributions.

Installation

I've gone to the trouble to install both Fedora 9 Gnome and KDE. I wanted to try both with the goal of working with KDE for the most part. Both versions installed without incident, and the Gnome version, using Gnome 2.22, looks quite good and works quite well, for the most part. I did run some issues that I checked to see if they also existed on the KDE installation. Some did, and some did not.

Fedora 9 KDE is currently installed on rhea. I almost passed on Fedora 9 KDE because it does not come with Firefox on the CD. And getting it installed turned out to be an interesting adventure, and points up some of the limitations of selecting non-KDE applications to run on the KDE 4 desktop. Take a gander below at Firefox 3 beta 5 from the Fedora 9 respositories.

Looks pretty plain, doesn't it? Firefox 3 on Gnome blends right in, but on the KDE 4 desktop it looks like something from the mid-90's, like FVWM. And it's not just limited to Firefox 3. Any application that was compiled just for Gnome's theme will look like the widgets were cut out of cardboard. Take, for example, Add/Remove Software (below).

There are other problems with Add/Remove Software, not the least of which is that clicking on a category on the left does absolutely nothing. When I first found this I thought all I had todo was click Internet category and I'd navigate down and install Firefox. Nope. I finally figured out that I could type 'firefox' in the search box, and it would find and install the package.

Here's an example of looking for VLC. I installed VLC in order to be able to play back movies.


And here's an example of VLC playing back a ripped DVD (Batman Begins).


It looks fine until you notice that Dolphin is above VLC. VLC's playback will bleed through everything place above it on the desktop. Whether this is a problem with VLC, Fedora 9, or a combination of the two I don't know. It's a problem with both Gnome and KDE 4 versions.

Other little gotchas:
  • If the Gnome version is installed and you want to play back multimedia then you get sent to Fluendo for your codecs, that is if you want the complete set. I'm getting tired of the Fluendo hookup. It appeared in Fedora 8 and I've seen it in Mandriva 2008.1. I guess this is where we're headed; the nickel and dime OS. Download the free but crippled version, then start shelling out for every bit that makes the OS useful on every machine it's installed. Isn't this what we crucified Microsoft about?
  • The best place to get anything useful beyond the base install is livna. That's where I got VLC and various other codecs. Everything, that is, except the latest release drivers for my nVidia 7600GS card. Turns out that the drivers need to be patched in order work with the latest kernel. openSUSE 11 is in the same boat. And of course, without hardware acceleration, all the fancy Compiz desktop features won't work. So if I want fancy eye candy I get to patch and rebuild the drivers. Is that user friendly or what?
  • KDE 4. The bloom is off the rose with KDE 4. I was excited at first until I installed it and tried to work with it for more than five minutes. The default theme of off-white makes a crowded desktop a pain to look at. I've given up looking for the tools to customize the desktop look and feel. I've found some of them, but they don't work very well either. For example, I wanted to play with the icons that ship with Fedora 9, but clicking on them would sometimes show you an example, and sometimes not. Is that a bug or a feature?
  • And Add/Remove Software is a mess. Unlike Mandriva and Ubuntu, unless you know what you want you're out of luck. There is no convenient browse capability.
My recommendation is to install Fedora 9 only if you're already familiar with it. Beyond the pretty artwork, Fedora 9 comes across as having been rushed out the door. It could have stood more polish and cleanup, especially Add/Remove Software and integration of Gnome applications on the KDE 4 desktop. If you want a satisfying Linux distribution then stick with Mandriva or one of the Ubuntu derivatives.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

OpenSolaris is here to stay

I've never gotten angrier after reading a blog post like I did after read Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' post "OpenSolaris Arrives just to Die". The crux of sjvn's argument is:
Still, all that said, I think OpenSolaris could survive, and possibly even thrive, if it wasn’t for one sad, simple fact. Sun may not have the IP (intellectual property) rights to open-source Solaris in the first place....

In the recently concluded Novell/SCO trail, however, Novell’s attorney’s focused a great deal on the Sun’s deal with SCO. You don’t need to read between the lines to see that Novell may be having second-thoughts about letting Sun’s assertion that it had the rights to open-source Novell’s Unix code in OpenSolaris....
There's further 'facts' sjvn pulls out to back up his argument that Sun is in serious trouble because it really didn't have the right to open source its version of Unix in OpenSolaris. And that Sun it going to be beholden to Novell, and that Novell might just revoke whatever agreement that Sun signed with the SCO Group in order to open source Solaris.

Bullshit.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is serving up a heaping pile of FUD aimed right at Sun and OpenSolaris. I have no idea what his agenda might be, but if I were to make a wild guess I'd have to say it's based in part on jealousy and sour grapes he tends to share with the Linux community. Part of it I can understand. Sun under Scott McNealy was no friend of Linux, and that's a fact. But McNealy left in April 2006, replaced by Jonathan Schwartz. And before he left it should be noted that Sun opened up the code base to Solaris back in June 2005. That'll be three years next month. And now Novell opens its mouth on the stand and hints that it has a problem with this? Novell should have and would have discovered this long before now, and should have certainly made some initial comments long before the trial. Especially given that the ruling that Novell, not tSCOg, controlled the Unix copyrights was handed down in August 2007.

Considering how Novell professed at the time that that they had no plans to sue anyone over Unix, you have to wonder how they'll square that position with the current comments coming out of the SCO vs. Novell trial that just finished. They can't have it both ways. Especially when it looks like the only reason they might consider revoking Sun's agreement is as a blunt anti-competitive business weapon against a formidable competitor. You know, behaving like Microsoft.

And why should Novell care if Unix via Solaris is open sourced? Wasn't that what Ransom Love and Caldera wanted to do when they purchased the Unix business from old SCO back in 2001? Ransom was quoted in a later article as saying that "we wanted to open-source all of Unixs code, but we quickly found that even though we owned it, it was, and still is, full of other companies copyrights." I wonder if a lot of those copyrights were Sun's? And that seems to run counter to Novell's "we own it all" claims in spite of the court's findings. Just exactly what could Novell do if they decided to do anything?

If Novell is stupid enough to go after Sun and to try and shut down OpenSolaris, then I predict that Novell will be hit with a backlash that'll make the current community anger to over their Microsoft agreements look insignificant by comparison.

The community needs diversity. Up to this point it's been achieved, and rather poorly, by the creation of various distributions, some of them just forks with various tweaks to scratch some peculiar itch. The community needs Unix in the form of OpenSolaris because it is truly unique. It's Real Unix. It isn't beholden to the current zealous cabal responsible for writing the Linux kernel, which frankly I find comforting. OpenSolaris in its current form is limited primarily by its lack of drivers for what Linus once called "strange hardware". But everything else is right there, and frankly, there is enough decent hardware support to really be a viable economic threat to all the Unix majors, including Redhat. And that's what puts fear into everybody's belly who sells Linux.

And that's why I now wonder if sjvn hasn't gleefully stepped into the same role that Dan Lyons and Rob Enderle have held for so long, the Paided [sic] Shill. Except this time, instead of shilling on behalf of tSCOg against Linux the way Dan and Rob did, sjvn is shilling on behalf of the Linux majors against Sun and OpenSolaris.

OpenSolaris 2008.05: Notes from the field

I'm subscribed to indiana-discuss@opensolaris.org. This came across the wires earlier this morning. It's a report about an installfest that was conducted in Bejing on Tuesday, May 6th.
subject: [indiana-discuss] Some Thoughts After An Installfest Event

Today in Beijing we organized an installfest event with OpenSolaris 2008.05. The machines we used are Lenovo E680A, which has an intel core-duo 1.73 GHz CPU with 1 GB memory. This was a full-day event -- we provided 45 laptops, which attracted more than 100 people during the whole event. They were instructed to install OpenSolaris 2008.05 from CD, and install some packages via IPS and traditional method. Some engineers and interns from Sun were there to provide onsite. Most of the attendees had but very little experience with Solaris previously, some of them used Linux for various periods before.

Some feedbacks:
  1. Installation was very slow. We used to install SXDE onto the same machine before, which took us less than 45 minutes to finished. Today, most of the folks spent about the same amount of time on installation. We think this is too much to install a CD.

  2. There was some problem with WIFI, don't know exactly. Some of the machines were getting IP, and most of them were not. It took extremely long for the AP selection dialog to popup after the system booted. There were several Mac and Windows machines in the same room and worked just fine during the whole day. "wificonfig -i wpi0 scan" return the correct information, but "wificonfig -i wpi0 connect AP_Name" would failed. At first we suspected that this was because the name of the AP was Chinese, but when we changed the name of the AP to English we encountered the same error.

  3. A majority of the people complained that OpenSolaris could not mount their USB drive correctly. Well, we did see some success, but a lot of failures at the same time.

  4. Compiz totally failed due to the fact that we are using integrated graphic cards. The problem is, when Compiz failed it is very difficult to turn it back to non-3D desktop. We knew how to do the trick via Alt+N key combinations, but sometimes the system was not able to response to this trick.

  5. Many people would like the shutdown button be placed at a more visible location.

  6. When connected to the networked, there was a network icon on the task bar, and it is annoying that you can change anything via clicking on that icon. Since NWAM was not yet smart enough (to pick up the AP's in a timely manner) during the show and so new to the folks, they were very unhappy about this.

  7. For those who have previously installed Solaris 10 or SXDE, they were happy about the installation procedure, and the new UI.
I will try to write more later.

Best regards,
Qingye Jiang (John)
Senior Manager
Sun Developer Network, China
Feedback like this is important, both good and bad. I'll offer my corresponding experiences on four of the posts issues.
  • Unlike 2, I had no problem with WiFi on the Gateway M685.
  • Unlike 3, I had no problems with mounting thumb drives, and I tested with various Sandisk (4GIG, 8GIG) and Kingston (4GIG) drives.
  • As noted in the prior post, I had both good and bad experiences with Compiz. The worst was on the machine with 512MB of memory, while the best was on the Gateway with 2GIG of memory (see 4 above).
  • Like 6, they're right about the confusion of using the network applet with NWAM. It could be better.
As good as I believe OpenSolaris 2008.05 to be, this is its first big release, and it does have problems. It will be interesting to see how quickly and in what manner they are addressed.

Monday, May 05, 2008

OpenSolaris 2008.5

OpenSolaris 2008.5 is available as an ISO download (and here as a torrent). It's shipping with the Gnome 2.20.2 desktop, so it will behave quite comfortably for those who are familiar with Ubuntu 7.10, openSUSE 10.3, and other recent distributions from the last six months. I've booted the live CD on europa, and so far everything Just Works.

When OpenSolaris first starts to boot you're presented with a nice Grub screen with three selections; select OpenSolaris (the default), memtest, and boot from the local hard drive. After selecting or waiting for the timeout for OpenSolaris, the next screen is a crude text-based menu to select your keyboard and language. And when I say crude I mean crude. It's defaulted to select English for the keyboard and the language, so a couple of returns (for me) and you're booting into Solaris proper. After the keyboard/language selection it takes a good 30 seconds on europa before the desktop finally appears.

When it finally shows up, the desktop shows just how far OpenSolaris has come in the past year. With the notable exception of the default theme (Nimbus, currently being developed for Java 6), there's very little differentiation between the OpenSolaris desktop and any good Linux/BSD desktop distribution. And that's actually a Good Thing.


Everything seems to work, at least on europa. That includes a decent graphics driver (but not nVidia, which means no 3D out-of-the-ISO), network, mouse and USB. In fact it recognized and automatically mounted my Kingston 4G thumb drive. Notable by its absence was any indication of the Windows XP (NTFS) or Linux (ext3) file systems on europa. I've grown used to Linux's interoperability at the file system level, and if OpenSolaris is missing this, then it's a fundamental mark against it in my book. It at least recognizes VFAT file systems, since the Kingston is formated as FAT32.


In puttering around the desktop I noticed that the OpenSolaris developers believe they can support the Compiz desktop. The Appearance Preferences have the Visual Effects tab. It didn't work for me and my ATI/AMD card, but maybe it will when it officially ships. Of course, I'd like to know if I'd ever be able to use ATI or nVidia drivers. ATI doesn't ship drivers for Solaris, but nVidia does.

How will OpenSolaris fare against Linux and BSD? Only time will tell, and I believe time is against OpenSolaris. Linux and BSD are heavily entrenched with well-understood tools and APIs. OpenSolaris on the other hand is the new kid and is Real Unix, with subtle but important differences between it and both Linux and BSD. I haven't gone deeply into the command line or looked at the other tools, and I haven't played with the programing APIs, but a decision to go with OpenSolaris means a serious commitment to OpenSolaris. OpenSolaris is going to have to work really hard to prove itself better than Linux to effectively compete on the desktop. And Linux on the desktop has matured markedly over the past 15 years.

Update 1

Pulled up a shell. It was bash version 3.2.25.
Invoked java (!). It was version 1.6.0_04, and the JRE only.
Invoked python. It was version 2.4.4, not 2.5.2. Pity.
Invoked Perl. It was version 5.8.4, which is reasonably current.
No gcc (or cc), no Ruby, and older versions of the other tools. I'd have to install OpenSolaris and then attempt to find those tools via its repository. I wonder if I should install OpenSolaris instead of openSUSE on rhea.

Update 2

Booted the live CD on rhea, the system with the nVidia 7600GS and 512MB of memory. I had a hunch about nVidia graphics support, and I wasn't disappointed. The OpenSolaris live CD comes with the nVidia native driver, and when it booted on rhea, the nVidia splash screen was displayed right before the graphic display came up.


The process to enable 3D effects was a bit peculiar. I clicked the advanced radio button on the Visual Effects tab and it churned the live CD for 10 seconds, then came back and told me it couldn't enable effects. Then, about 15 seconds later, 3D effects started working, as you can see in the screen shot above. Perhaps it's how Solaris interacts with the live CD, but it was surprising how it all sorted itself out.

I learned a bit more about OpenSolaris with rhea. Firstly, it needs at least 1GB for the live CD. It was painfully slow in 512MB. This stands in stark contrast to Mandriva 2008.1, Ubuntu 8.04, and openSUSE 11 (the three Linux distributions I've been really tracking), which are quite zippy in 512MB, and even more so once installed (Mandriva). Second, the native nvidia driver notwithstanding, the Solaris kernel doesn't support a lot of features on the nForce2-based motherboards I have. Granted the motherboards a getting quite a bit long in the tooth, but I have no problems with the nForce2 chip sets using just about any current Linux distribution you care to name that comes with a recent 2.6 kernel. As a consequence rhea had no network connection. Europa had a network connection, but that's because I have a four-year-old Intel gigabit ethernet card (82541GI) in the box, a legacy from the time when SuSE 9.3 didn't support nForce2 very well, especially the on-board ethernet. Solaris detected the Intel controller and used it.

Support of legacy hardware (and that's what I've got now) isn't necessarily a problem unless it's your problem. I'd need to try this on more current hardware to get a better feel for hardware support before making any kind of grandiose judgement on the fitness of OpenSolaris (or the lack thereof).

Update 3

Booted the live CD on the Gateway M685. It is a two-year-old notebook with the 17 inch 1680 x 1050 screen, nVidia GeForce Go 7800 video subsystem, 2GIG of DRAM, and a 2GHz Core Duo (not Core 2 Duo). It runs a whole lot better than it did on either europa or rhea, which just goes to prove that current hardware and more memory give a better experience. In fact, I can't tell the difference in performance between OpenSolaris and openSUSE 11, or the installed openSUSE 10.2.

Starting up custom visual effects went correctly this time. This further underscores that 512MB is not enough for the live CD. As you can see below I'm thumbing through a number of windows on one of the desktops using the shift switcher plugin.


One feature that finally (finally!) worked for me is the gears inside the cube effect. I've never gotten it to work in any of the Linux distributions, but it worked like a champ on OpenSolaris. I know it's silly, but hey, if you're going to have eye candy, then it should all work.


Support of Compiz, especially in the Gateway, is the best I've seen to date. And it goes to underscore why OpenSolaris is needed; as a quality leader to the rest of the Linux distributions. I've lost track of the number of features, large and small, that work just fine across several releases only to wind up breaking on the next latest and greatest. OpenSolaris, if it does nothing else, can be a leader in quality, which this release has in spades.

Here's a shot of the nVidia control applet.


And here's an interesting shot of the system monitor. I was intrigued to see that, with the exception of work required to launch an application, that the average core usage was around 2%, and that was with the graphic desktop enabled. This is far less than with any Linux distribution; the lowest I've seen to date is openSUSE 11 beta 2 on this notebook, and that was around 8% at idle.


OpenSolaris shows a lot of intriguing features with this release. It isn't perfect, and it's lack of support of many audio subsystems required for full multimedia (such as the M685's Intel 82801G (ICH7) high definition audio controller) makes this release more suitable for OS geeks and developers than the average Joe Sixpack. But it's definitely a release worth investigating further, and certainly one worth keeping an eye on for future development.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

openSUSE 11 beta 2

I'm posting this from my Gateway M685 running the openSUSE 11 beta 2 Live CD and Firefox 3 beta 5. It is, simply put, very good. The version I booted and tested was the KDE 4 desktop (KDE 4.0.3 release 17). I can't do much more than a cursory report as I did not install it. I'll touch on what caught my eye.


The live CD booted into the graphic desktop without any problems whatsoever, and into the notebooks full 1680 x 1050 resolution. It did not have any drivers to take advantage of 3D acceleration, but the driver that was used provided more than adequate 2D performance for the desktop.

One small but very important application I've come to appreciate is Dolphin, the 'replacement' for Konqueror's file capabilities. Konqueror still has those features, but Dolphin is supposed to be the lighter-weight alternative. I'm sure it's meant to compete with Gnome's Nautilus. One feature in Dolphin (and Nautilus) is the columns view.


Not to put to fine a point on it, but if you've been around Mac OS X , you'll see that it's very, very similar to OS X's Finder in this aspect. Consider the example of Finder under Tiger, from my daughter's iMac under Tiger.

There are some who will say that Finder's implementation is superior to Dolphin's. I personally don't care. The brushed metal look was interesting for all of five minutes, and that was years ago when it was first introduced. I prefer the pastel look on Dolphin. What I do wish is that the wasted white space around column slider were eliminated just like it is on Finder. It would also be nice if a different default slider style were selected.

What's also missing is search. The following is what happens on the Mac when I type 'java' in the search bar located on the top right side of Finder.

You'll note that it finds everything that is has the word 'java' in it, and categorized them. Now there's a Mac feature worth copying.

The other application which I briefly used is the Konsole. While it certainly isn't new, it's been cleaned up considerably to the point where it certainly feels new. First and foremost it comes up with white text on a black background, instead of the insipid black-on-white that seems to be the norm of every command terminal on both KDE and Gnome for the last few years.

I am very pleased the developers implemented split-view mode in Konsole. This makes it very easy to look at two different views of the same output, or two different terminals side-by-side or one atop the other (see above). This is going to make development a lot easier. Kudos to the Konsole developers.

Other little touches include the overall theme (which I like) and the bottom panel. It's nice and well-balanced, and I can find everything with little or no trouble. The only problem I have is that Konqueror has pride of place on the left side. I expected Firefox to be there. I know that Konqueror is quite capable, but many sites don't recognize it when it's used as a browser. For example:


And this is but one example of many, including my other major site, Google. With the shift to the 'cloud' and more applications from Google and Yahoo the last thing that KDE needs is a browser that's treated as a second class citizen. Why must distributions that use KDE insist on shoving Konqueror at the user as the browser of first choice, instead of Firefox? Kubuntu does the same thing, and it doesn't even provide a link on the desktop to Firefox the way openSUSE KDE does.

Annoyances aside. I really like the KDE 4 desktop and where it's going. And I really like openSUSE 11. I may wind up installing it on rhea over Mandriva just to see if some of the issues I found with openSUSE 10.3 have been addressed. I like the fact that the latest kernel is shipping (2.6.25), and I also like that the latest gcc (4.3.1) is being used and looks to be shipping with openSUSE 11. I grow increasingly optimistic with each release.