Sunday, September 20, 2009

gnu/linux/bsd notes and VirtualBox (on MacOSX)

One of the new features of Karmic (found in Alpha 5) is iBus. "ibus" is supposed to allow you to switch input modes on the fly, so that if you suddenly find you need to input some Korean or Arabic in your document --like maybe an address-- you can just toggle into the desired input method and type it in. Previous methods would require you to download the language support, reboot your computer (or session?), re-open the application and document, etc. I was unable to get iBus to work( present an input toggle or selections), however, and after an hour or so of messing around with variations of the settings, I tried installing ye olde SCIM-Anthy and SCIM-Canna as input methods. They worked, so I will stick with them for my Japanese input needs. That may make Ubuntu a final solution (!) for the eee 4G, although it is still getting internet connect speeds that randomly drop from around 300 k to 29 k, or about half the speed of a a dial-up modem.

I wanted a second OS to use on my Mac Mini as I slowly wean myself away from my main OS of MacOSX. After I decided on PC-BSD, the installer worked fine, but it was unable to boot. The live disk of it was also unable to boot, so maybe there is a hardware incompatibility. The rEFIt bootloader sees the BSD and Linux residing on an external HD, and hands off the boot process to the PC-BSD bootloader as I think it is supposed to, but the PC-BSD crashes and burns with multiple dumps, panics, fatal errors and other entropic events expressed in Linux terminology beyond my comprehension and troubleshooting range. Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 5 wasn't booting, either. OK, didn't want that on here anyway. OpenSUSE defaulting to 800x600 on a 22-inch monitor pissed me off. Don't want that here either since I have openSUSE as an startup option on the family Fujitsu a meter away. I have already used Mandriva, too. I wanted to learn more about Fedora, so plan B (or was it C or D by this time?) was to install that. I put it on the same external hard drive as the BSD (different partition of course), and although the rEFIt sees it (and BSD) and I can select the Linux (Fedora) partition and I did install the bootloader in that partition for Fedora, the PC-BSD bootloader takes over at this point, crashing and burning as always. That bootup issue could probably be fixed, but the Fedora installation also borked MacOSX on the mini's HD. Supposedly, the mini HD wasn't touched. I was able to fix it in 20 or 30 minutes with the Snow Leper Install Disk > Disk Utility>Repair Permissions and Repair Disk, but I didn't appreciate the borkitude. Fedora could be good, but as far as a viable free open source replacement candidate that would even run on the MacHardware without killing all competing operating systems, I wasn't having much luck here. Furthermore, when Karmic Alpha 6 was released, I downloaded it and burned a live disk to see what was new there. After running the live disk, MacOSX was borked again! I get the Apple logo and about 24 spins of the meat-grinder clock thingy and then a no-parking symbol replaces the Apple icon in the same lovely off-white-on-white of the apple logo. A circle with a slash, sort of a universal sign for zero or null. "I got nuthin," says Apple. That's not supposed to happen. I don't think the internal drive was even mounted, but maybe I did something wrong. Anyway, the Ubuntu Karmic live CD IS an Alpha, and carries a warning not to be used on "production machines" since it is a "beta" (er, even though it's an alpha) so maybe I was foolish not to heed the warnings. I was able to recover it to bootability again the same snowleperly way, but this leaves me in the position as a Linux adopter and Linus promoter (who probably hasn't converted anyone yet) where I cannot in good faith even recommend that someone use a live disk to see what Linux is about, because that may render their drive unreadable! Bad Ubuntu! You animal! And Mac, "You so delicate!"

Plan E/F or G: Give up on the whole dual/duel boot/boot idea and go for virtualization. Think different, outside yet inside the VirtualBox. I had already downloaded Sun's VirtualBox, and after a few false starts (they say you can use an iso as the image source but I found the physical disk works better) I got it up and working. It seems to be very stable. I 'm impressed. PC-BSD, which didn't work on the real hardware, works on the virtual hardware simulated by VirtualBox. Fedora 11 64-bit and Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 6 are running along in their bubble universes, too. There's no reason to really run all three VMs at the same time; this is just for testing and demon-stration porpoises. Internet works. My Wacom tablet mouse behaves kinda spastically within the VMs, so I may need to adjust it here or there or just add a different and more generic mouse. Next steps would be to try printing, set up some shared folders to exchange data in and out of the virtual OSes, maybe resize the virtual monitor resolutions. The Acer H223HQ i have is 22(?) inches at 1920x1080 so there is plenty of space for OS windows but not Windows OS if I can avoid it!

Despite the self-evident advantages of virtualization, it is a little sad to see the three free open source operating systems under the dominating heel of the MacOSX, like unfortunate zoo animals shot full of PCP and dropped into a virtual reality for the amusement and use of the zoo-goers. But, on the other hand, since MacOSX is not one of the virtualization options (supposedly, anyway), that's the only way you are going to see the MacOS running alongside linux, BSD, Windows, etc. for free. AFAIK.

(Sorry about the low resolution of the severely jpeg'd images. Will investigate photo-hosting alternatives. The native Mac version of Firefox is in the upper left, others are labeled.)

I've commented again on the difficulties and hurdles to Linux adoption. Linux newcomers are called newbies or noobs, but that shouldn't be necessary, as the OS should not require expert knowledge (if it's ever going to get beyond 2% market share). I mean, the noobs should not have to apologize for being new to Linux so much as developers may need to apologize for not yet having the OS ready for Gramma. Not that anyone really needs to apologize for anything, but it shouldn't take hours of re-training to start the computer, for example. I've said before that more things need to be push-button easy so that a user just needs to know enough to push the right button as opposed to, say, entering long strings of commands at the terminal. Boot-up has been the biggest problem for me. Right now it's as if when your name tag fell off at a conference, you suffered complete amnesia-- or disappeared. That shouldn't happen because your identity should be intrinsically and holographically embedded throughout your being. As the new up-and-coming OS, Linux needs to play nice with pre-installed systems. Windows has MBR, Mac has GUID, Linux needs something that supersedes those and is backwards compatible. Easier said than done, I guess. If I am going to complain, I may be obligated to do something about it myself, to the best of my abilities, but all I can do is call attention to that and submit my opinion that it needs more attention.

I think Linux adoption will be given a big boost by Moblin, GNU's Hurd, and especially Google's involvement in consumer Linux with Android and Chrome. It's not only big global companies like these that want to break free of dependence on the Microsoft monopoly (and its twin dwarf control-freak Apple), but also foreign and domestic governments (Brazil, China, India, Russia, France…), educational institutions, individuals, non-profits, and so on. In other words, I think the demand and driving force is there if it is not throttled by the difficulty of uptake and conversion. The Linux/GNU landscape will probably change drastically in the next 1-2 years due to the new developments I mention, and aided by netbooks and cloud computing. That will be a bigger change than the arrival of Ubuntu on the scene a few years ago. I could be wrong about working with other OSes: maybe the best way forward is to ignore them and develop devices that work better than Windows/Mac and just network well with those older devices.

BTW, I've just learned about Lubuntu: it doesn't just exist in my imagination. Among the advantages of this distro are the relative ease of pronunciation of this 'buntu, and its use of the "Lube" prefix signifying ease of entry, at least among English language users. Lubuntu Lucid Lynx is going to be great, mark my words. (linux-mag, developer, download)

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