Saturday, November 28, 2009

Linux adoption milestones and notes

I've been very busy but when I have some time I'm trying to get to where I can use Linux most of the time.

It has been a month now since Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala came out. I was refreshing the download page and wondering where it was as midnight approached. When it did appear, my download was expected to take an hour. As new Ubuntu users crowded onto the servers, the reported time gradually lengthened to over 24 hours, so I started some bittorrent downloads, which followed the opposite pattern: near infinite download time at first, but as more and more peers acquired copies the download time shrank to a handful of hours. I eventually downloaded 8 or 9 versions of Ubuntu:

  • Ubuntu 9.10
  • Ubuntu Netbook Remix
  • Ubuntu Moblin Remix
  • Kubuntu 9.10
  • Kubuntu Netbook Remix
  • Xubuntu 9.10
  • Edubuntu 9.10
  • Ubuntu 9.10 PPC
  • Ubuntu 9.10 alternate installer
By the way, since that time, I have also downloaded 5 versions of Fedora
  • Fedora 12 i386
  • Fedora 12 PPC
  • Fedora 12 XFCE
  • Fedora 12 LXDE
  • Fedora 12 i686 live
  • Knoppix 6.2
--none of which I have not yet tried. I have tried all of the versions of Ubuntu except PPC and the alternate installer, which really isn't a version.

Somehow I have not downloaded the new OpenSuSE, perhaps because I went there to get the PPC version and was annoyed that they had stopped making an official PPC version (although there is a daily build).

I did some experimenting on the Little Sucker (an eee 4g). I tried installing Moblin on its SSD flash memory drive. It took 2+something GB. Good size. Liked it more at first but the GUI is a little too chunky and weird. Icons are overlapping with other icons, but it works and is snappy. I like GRUB 2, too. I tried Ubuntu Netbook Remix but didn't like the behavior and look. You can't (easily) turn off netbook-launcher, and it's actually a very inefficient use of space compared to the non-netbook-remix, requiring more clicks to do anything. I also tried Kubuntu Netbook Remix, which I'd recommend if your screen is big enough. It requires 576 pixels of vertical space, and didn't work on the 4G because I couldn't use alt-click and drag to move windows and had to use tabs and try to guess what was offscreen in the installer, which didn't work and wasn't going to lead to a good outcome anyway. I also tried Xubuntu on the Little Sucker, installing it on a USB flash memory stick. It looked good and worked well, too. I didn't want to run it off the protruding stick, though, so it was just a test. I installed the regular Karmic on the SD card and have booted that most of the time. Grub 2 lets it see the other installs on other media regardless of what media you boot from, unlike the way it would give an error and quit before. That's a huge improvement.

On my other Asus, Little Puppy (Eee 1000HE) I upgraded to Edubuntu 9.10 on a whim and a prompt, and promptly lost Skype sound. Other system sounds seems OK. I'm waiting for a system update to magically fix it, or a new version of Skype, or in the worst case I may just have to knuckle down and figure out how to fix it.

I managed to finally install a Linux distro --Edubuntu 9.10-- to the Mac Mini (Macmini3,1), and have it boot correctly from rEFIt, which chainloads GRUB2 in the BootCamp partition. It also downloaded the driver for the display, so the Acer H223HQ came into full use. It also downloaded a wireless or ethernet driver (one wasn't working initially; I forget which one). It looks great; better than the Mac OS because you can customize it to your needs. Mac is like a shiny (capsule) hotel room owned by a huge chain whereas Linux is more like having your own place to live. It can also see the Macintosh HD and all of the files on it except for the users home folders, so I have made a top-level documents folder in MacOSX to be better able to access it from Linux. There were a few problems. One is that shutdown and restart do not work properly. You need to power off with the power switch after it hangs in shutdown limbo. That may not be a big problem because with Mac and Linux I often let the computer go a month or two without rebooting. Sound wasn't working, either--until today. I haven't tried, but printing is also likely to be useless since the Canon Pixus 990i (AKA i990 outside Japan) is reported as "paperweight", the worst possible status, on the Linux Foundation's OpenPrinting database.

I may have to carry a list of "Perfectly" Linux-compatible printers and go shopping for a cheap replacement. This also explains why I can't go cold turkey into Linux immediately without putting all of my dux in a row.

Today I found the magical incantation to get sound working, and it was gratifying to experience loud and clear sound. The solution came from Victor Costan and was stated as
To get the sound working, add the following line to /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base
options snd-hda-intel model=imac24
Many thanks for that!

Starting from zero, you may think that you'd search for the file, open it, modify it, and when saving it, if not authorized, you might be prompted to authenticate, right? Well, it doesn't work that way. The unstated assumption in this instruction is that you would know to open a terminal and type
sudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base
save a copy of it as a backup to a safe location,
then add the line
options snd-hda-intel model=imac24
and save (overwrite) the file alsa-base to its original location in
before rebooting and enjoying sound.

Ideally, it shouldn't be necessary to do this to get sound working. It would be easy for a new user to make a mistake or just give up before getting this far. Also, if it were easier, the distinction between newbie and experienced Linux user would start to erode, like the popular OSes. Finally, the assumption that every user should or would know to authenticate on the command line as superuser and designate an application and a path to a file to be edited in order to edit alsa-base is expecting too much of new users (or old users or potential users). Linux has a long way to go.

I tried out Yahoo! Zimbra Desktop and Thunderbird for the MacOS on the Mac Mini, too. I'm pretty hooked on Apple Mail and would like to find a worthy replacement. These two are both cross-platform and available on the Mac (unlike Evolution--I think). Zimbra works well with my unused Yahoo accounts (no problem using the 2 accounts) and it works with Gmail, too, but I couldn't get Hotmail working yet. Thunderbird didn't work either although it works well in Linux for me. I probably gave up troubleshooting too soon. I already know that it's not quite as easy as Apple Mail.

Since browsing and word-processing are handled well in Linux, E-mail and podcasts are my main daily concerns. I'll try the default music manager, which I guess is still Rhythmbox, and explore a few alternatives for managing podcasts and iPod support (until I get a Sandisk). I hope F-Spot, Picasa, and/or DigiKam can replace iPhoto.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Supercomputing with Penguins

I hadn't realized that most of the world's supercomputers were running Linux (as of June 2009). When did that happen? Apparently between late 2003 and early 2004 Linux began to displace the Unix memes from their virtual niche in the supercomputing ecosphere. I don't know the history, but the shift is so fast it suggests that Linux became more efficient and was adopted en masse by supercomputer admins. Or I suppose it could be a licensing thing. Anyway, Linux was adopted because it was better for one reason or another.

Victory over all in the supercomputing field doesn't necessarily mean Linux is headed for supremacy on the desktop, but it's still a good sign. By the way, has some interesting charts, historical graphs, and tables you can generate.

Windows 6.1: You're gonna hafta pay for that!

A few days ago I remarked to a friend how strange it was that Microsoft had come out with a new monolingual operating system in 2009, ten years into the age of multilingual operating systems. But after that I wasn't so sure if it had been 10 years --or more like 8 or so. Was I exaggerating?

Then I stumbled across a multilingual version of Windows 7 that only costs $219.99. OK, Windows IS available in a multilingual edition for a price. I suppose that's only for a single license, so if you had a few computers lying around, you'd need to multiply that by 2 or 3. Or by 20 or by 500 if you are a school. Too bad that most of the teachers in most of the world's schools barely make that much in a month--or a year.

Designed for people who want it all
Windows 7 Ultimate is the most versatile and powerful edition of Windows 7. It combines remarkable ease-of-use with the entertainment features of Home Premium and the business capabilities of Professional, including the ability to run many Windows XP productivity programs in Windows XP Mode. For added security, you can encrypt your data with BitLocker and BitLocker-To-Go. And for extra flexibility, you can work in any of 35 languages. Get it all with Windows 7 Ultimate.

$219.99 also doesn't compare very well with the $29 Snow Leopard which you can slap onto as many of your Intel Macs as you like without much bother (just keep buying Apple hardware and they won't mind). It compares even less favorably to free Linux or BSD.

So how long have most operating systems been multilingual? A quick google at Apple Mac OS X in Wikipedia shows 10.0.0 was multilingual, released on March 24, 2001. Well, excuuuse me, that was only 8+ (but almost 9) years ago.

Mac OS X version 10.0, code named “Cheetah”, is the first major release of Mac OS X, Apple’s desktop and server operating system. Mac OS X v10.0 was released on March 24, 2001 for a price of US$129.

What about Linux? Distrowatch records Debian 1.1 as a multilingual operating system at the time it was released: 1996-06-17. So in this case it was over 13 years ago. Split the difference, and we're now roughly a decade into the multilingual OS era--with the exception of laggard Windows. Other Linuxes such as (Open)SuSE 6.0 was multilingual as of 1998-12-21, Mandriva (Mandrake at the time?) on 2000-01-14, and YDL 2.0 as of 2001-05-17, just behind Apple. As far as I can tell, BSD was a bit slower to catch up, but a multilingual FreeBSD 4.9 was out on 2003-10-28. These are just a few popular and older examples I picked at random.

What's more annoying about MS is that they market it as some kind of high-end luxury premium purchase, rather than a free and natural choice to use your own language(s) with no fuss. "Hey there, big spender!" "Yo, fancy pants, you want to pay for THIS!" The caption is "Designed for people who want it all". It's bundled with encryption. Right. Of course, people who want to use another language or more than one language must be arrogant, epicurean, big spenders, AND encryption freaks. Probably spies.

If you really "want it all", the ability to compute in your own language (or two), encryption, compatibility, interoperability, and your money and self-respect, get Ubuntu, Fedora, or one of the (gnu)Linux (or BSD) operating system software distributions referenced above. As always, I'd recommend a major distribution which is free and which supports a wide variety of processors and languages, and which has a user-friendly desktop environment. These conditions are not met by the Bills and Steves of the world who did us the favor of bringing personal computing to us from their garages in the 1970s and 1980s (and who reaped the rewards in the 90s and n00ties). We're grateful for that, but it's time to graduate to Linux.

Walking through Akihabara today, I noticed how the place is changing. Although there are bigger, newer buildings and train lines, the electronics stores are being replaced by more places to eat and stores selling anime-related items, game software, and kiddie-oriented stuff. It didn't look high-tech to me at all today. I could see it as more of an old, baroque Turkish market or something taken from the pages of a 19th-century Sears catalog. Here and there were computers advertised as having English (or sometimes "Enblish") installed. One store had a wordy, crowded signboard advertising its English computers. Another annoyance was the iPods everywhere. Shopkeepers, it doesn't distinguish your store if you have the same iPods in the window that the other 500 stores have. I was looking for a SanDisk player and would have spent time and money in any store that had one, but I guess I'll just save time and buy it on Amazon without checking it out in the material world first since the time I spend walking around looking for one to handle is getting to cost more than just buying one to try out. ThanXmas is on the way, so one can always give it away in the spirit of the seasoning. As twilight fell, the harsh ugliness of the city faded and the beauty of the contemporary and future e-waste and its fetishists in the city's autumn air began to emerge as the anthropogenic lights began to shimmer. I JRed home.