I did not realise it’s been almost six weeks since my last post! The holiday season has been busy and enjoyable. And of course, Solstice/Christmas-time with a six and nine-year old was very fun. We visited friends in Olean, who I always wish lived closer! And it was nice to spend time with my family and Stephanie’s over the past month. I hope your December has been pleasant and not too stressful.
So on this last day of 2011, and my wife’s birthday, I’d like to reflect briefly upon the passing year.
First; I continue to be thankful that Stephanie has her job and that we, unlike millions of Americans, still enjoy a nice home and enough food to eat and that we live in a safe neighborhood surrounded by wonderful people. I’ve heard so many horror stories about what so many of our fellow Americans have gone through in the past year that it’s difficult not to be saddened. (And that’s just America; the rest of the human race has not been enjoying much prosperity, either!) Here’s hoping this coming year will see some improvement for everyone, except for the bankers and government officials and our Corporate Overlords, of course, who are faring just fine!
I continue to be amazed at how quickly our children grow and change. And I’m very happy, as a home schooling parent, that I get to spend so much time with them (well, most of the time, that is) and experience all the subtle little joys and tribulations and triumphs that make them who they are. I’ve really got a damn wonderful life here! My big resolution (I was hoping not to use that word!) for 2012 is that I make more time for writing and for painting and other creative endeavours.
And after so many years, I’m so glad that all of our troops are finally out of Iraq! That’s probably one of the best outcomes for this fading year. I just hope the misery of the Iraqi people will diminish as time goes on; but who can say?
On a lighter note; here are a few things I recently heard about that I’d like to share. The first is a tiny computer called the Raspberry Pi that sells for $35!! And it looks pretty decent! If you have a keyboard, monitor and mouse this is a great little device for setting up a home entertainment hub. They should be for sale very soon. This would be perfect for the kids! Or any body who wants to make documents, surf the web and watch videos. HERE is the official website.
Another cool thing about the Raspberry Pi is that there is a version of Bodhi Linux that is made specifically to run on the ARM processor that the Pi uses. And speaking of Linux (as I must) this year has certainly seen a lot of changes to desktop Linux distros. Over the last few weeks I’ve installed Linux Mint 12 and Bodhi Linux on separate partitions on our main computer’s hard drive to see how they run on this machine. I especially wanted to test Mint 12 with it’s tweaked version of Gnome 3 Shell. And after installing the extensions and playing around with it a while, I’ve discovered Mint’s Gnome 3 desktop environment is not bad. Still not as ‘tweakable’ as the discontinued Gnome 2, but quite attractive and usable. I think by the next release it will be really nice! Also, in the last month of 2011 two new desktop environments/window managers have come forth: Razor-qt, which is very lightweight and looks promising for the coming year; and Clement Lefebvre of Linux Mint has come up with their own alternative to Gnome Shell called Cinnamon. This also looks very promising and functional. I’ll need to try this out in the next six months or so when Mint 13 is released.
But, after all that, I also installed the updated Bodhi Linux 1.3.0 with the Enlightenment desktop. After a few problems, which were quickly worked out, it is running beautifully on this machine and has become our default operating system. It’s just fast, uses less RAM, and I can have graphic effects that Gnome 3 does not support yet. Anyway, enough for now. I’ll save more Linux news for another time!
In entertainment news there’s a TV show I’d like to recommend. It’s Homeland on Showtime. I haven’t been watching many television shows lately, but this thing is riveting! The story, the cast: it’s amazing! And it’s got Mandy Patinkin, for God’s sake! Enough said.
Another delightful surprise for me in the past year is Harry Potter. My son started reading this series a few months ago; he’s on book five now and we’ve also been reading the first three Harry Potter books with my daughter Fiona, who’s six. She loves them! I had only seen the first two Harry Potter movies, and had not read the books, so I was wonderfully surprised that I’m really enjoying the series. Of course there’s so much more in the books. And the stories are very interesting and well-written! There’s a great deal more depth to them than I originally thought. But the films also do a great job; we’ve been watching them after Arthur reads the book they’re based on.
Well, that’s all I can say for now. We’re meeting some friends to see ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ in 3D this afternoon. Our kids have not seen a 3D film before, but I’m thinking this would be the one to see. Should be fun!
I’ll leave you with a few other links. See ya soon. Happy New Year!
I’ve written a few things from time to time about changes in Gnu/Linux Desktop Environments that have taken place over the past year. 2011 has seen tremendous changes in the Linux desktop; from Unity in Ubuntu; to the transition from Gnome 2.3 to Gnome 3 Shell; and to the growing number of people who are finding Xfce and Enlightenment (e17) and KDE more to their liking because of these changes.
This is the time of year when many Linux distros come out with new versions of their Operating Systems (Fedora, OpenSUSE, Sabayon, Ubuntu and Linux Mint, to name but a few), and I’ve been trying out some of these new distros to see how Gnome Shell is progressing. I’m especially interested in the upcoming Linux Mint 12, since I now am running Mint 10 on the computer that my wife and I use a lot. The Release Candidate for Mint 12 came out this past week and I’ve played around with the Live CD a couple of times now.
I have to say, I’m a little disappointed; or maybe I should say underwhelmed. It’s kind of a mish-mash at the moment between features of the old Mint with the new “MGSE” (Mint Gnome Shell Extensions), resulting in two different ways to do several common tasks and not the usual coherent integration of visual style that we’ve come to expect from Linux Mint. Though of course, this is not the final release, and there are naturally a lot of bugs that need to be ironed out from this totally new redesign of Mint. I’ve tried other distros with standard Gnome 3 Shell (Fedora and OpenSUSE) and find it nice to look at but severely lacking in usability. And Compiz doesn’t work in Gnome Shell/Unity, so desktop effects are limited. At least Mint’s Gnome Shell extensions (and Gnome tweak) make it a little more configurable; but still, Gnome Shell and Unity are, in my opinion, a huge step backward for the Linux desktop experience. Come on, people! I need my wobbly windows and fading transition effects! I need a panel I can right-click to modify and move wherever I want on my screen!
My first experience using Linux was Ubunt 8.10, Hardy Heron, three years ago. When I discovered I could download and try out any of dozens (hundreds!) of different distros from Live CDs that cost absolutely nothing, I was ecstatic! Back then Ubuntu had a slightly plain, almost retro look compared to the Macs I had been using. But it was very easy to use, intuitive, and it worked pretty darn well. After a little time reading forums and experimenting I learned I could do so much more with Linux than I ever could with the Mac or Windows. There was so much I could change and configure about the way the operating system looked and the way it worked. And there were other Desktop Environments besides Gnome to choose from! There was Compiz for groovy desktop effects, tons of different window manager themes and icon themes to download that I could change and rearrange with a couple of clicks! And a universe (and multiverse) of free and open source software I could easily install in several different ways. I had a few brief problems at first, but thanks to Linux forums I discovered I could fix any occasional glitch all by myself. What a sense of empowerment! And don’t even get me started about the wonders of the command line!
After less than a year of using Ubuntu I found Linux Mint, and today I’m using Mint 10 on our main computer and Bodhi Linux on another desktop and a laptop. I’ve installed other distros; like Dream Linux, Xubuntu, PCLinux OS, Fedora, Mandriva, Moon OS, Pardus Linux and Pinguy OS; using Gnome, KDE, Xfce or Enlightenment. But for now, standard Linux Mint 10 (Gnome) and Bodhi Linux (Enlightenment) are tied as my favorite distros. And they’re both based off Ubuntu. I’m very familiar and comfortable using Ubuntu (and thus Debian) based distros.
So this is what I don’t understand: After several years most Linux distros have progressed rapidly, thanks to the open source development mentality, to become easier to use, faster, more reliable, more elegant, and more compatible with hardware and peripheral devices. But with Ubuntu ditching Gnome for Unity, and the Gnome Developers making some drastic changes from Gnome 2.3 to Gnome 3 with Gnome Shell, it seems to me like that progress has been stopped in its tracks.
I know, I’ve heard the rationalizations. They want to appeal more to the masses; to the trend of more people using notebooks and netbooks and other portable devices, so they took the look and features of a netbook OS and came up with Unity and Gnome Shell (which to me are pretty much indistinguishable). But I just don’t understand why you would take a Desktop Manager that is easy to use and highly configurable like Gnome 2.3 and then take many of those features away; make it less functional. That makes no sense!
To me, the great thing about Gnu/Linux-based operating systems is that there isn’t just one flavor. And as I’ve said before; that’s probably the worst thing about getting the masses to try a Linux operating system: too many choices. With Mac OSX what you see is pretty much what you get. And the same with Windows. It takes years for a new version of these OS’s to get released, and even then, you pretty much know what to expect. There aren’t any drastic changes to the way it works. And the changes are evolutionary; you expect the new version to do more than the previous, not less.
So for the majority of Windows and Mac users who aren’t used to being able to change the look or usability of their OS, the new Ubuntu or a distro with Gnome Shell may be simple and attractive enough to get them to try it. Certainly the price tag and freedom from viruses and malware is a big plus. Trouble is, the vast majority of computer users still don’t have a clue what Linux is, though Canonical, Redhat and the Free and Open Source Software community may gradually be changing that. The thing I love about Linux is what makes it so difficult to promote. There is no single Face for that elusive thing we call ‘Linux’, and despite Mark Shuttleworth’s efforts there may never be.
Of course, that diversity is also a great strength. I, and a lot of other Linux users really love Gnome 2.3. And even though it’s being phased out for a less friendly, more rigid Gnome 3; the world of Open Source is all about innovation. There are always new extensions for Gnome Shell and Unity popping up, and there’s MATE, which is now in its infancy but may bring the goodness of Gnome 2 to Gnome Shell. There is always hope! But at this moment my Linux Mint 10 is working beautifully. And after checking out the alternatives, I’m going to keep using it for as long as I can.
Another alternative that I find more attractive all the time is to just bypass all this fuss over Gnome and Unity and use an Enlightenment distro like Bodhi Linux. e17 is so customizable that it takes a while to learn, but for people who want full control of their desktop and eye candy without Compiz, it’s the Cat’s Pajamas!
If things with Gnome aren’t much better a year from now, I think all my computers will be running Bodhi. I know I forgot some points, but that’s my rant for tonight! Thank you. Comments are welcome.
I’m back with a few opinions about the world of Linux and specifically the controversial state of desktop/window managers.
As anyone who knows anything about Linux is no doubt familiar, the state of Linux for average desktop users has been changing a lot since Ubuntu 11.04 came out in April. Instead of Gnome 3 Shell, or Gnome 2.3; Ubuntu now uses the Unity desktop interface. Many people like it, but many people also dislike it in its present state of development. It may have been released a bit prematurely, but I imagine Unity and its ability for customization will improve greatly when Ubuntu 11.10 comes out, and in the coming years.
The other big change, of course, is the total redesign of Gnome 3. I’m not too crazy either about the current state of Gnome 3. Like Unity, its slick and pretty, but it’s lacking in user customization options and its system settings are very limited compared to the stable, versatile and familiar Gnome 2.3 that we’ve used for years. And like Unity, I’m sure it will evolve over the coming years to be much more usable.
However for those of us who don’t want to wait years, or may never find Unity or Gnome Shell our ‘cup of tea’, I’ve been looking around for a better alternative to Gnome. Because unfortunately, unless someone decides to make a fork of their own to continue development of Gnome 2, all the Linux distros that currently still use Gnome 2 (Linux Mint standard edition, ZorinOS, Pinguy, etc, etc…) will eventually have to abandon Gnome 2 for Gnome 3, if my understanding is correct. That’s when I stumbled upon this insightful article, which talks about the latest version of Linux Mint using the Xfce desktop manager.
I’ve tried Xfce before and like it the best of all the ‘lighter’ desktop managers for Linux. Still, it was not as customizable or easy to use as Gnome. But (after reading the article) I’ve just tried out the latest Live CD of Mint Xfce, and I’m very impressed! At least Mint’s version is way better looking, has more features and many more configuration options than the ‘old’ Xfce. In fact, after playing with it for over an hour on our main computer I’d say this is a great alternative to Gnome, and it uses less power and RAM. Running Mint Xfce from the CD was lightning fast! It looks good, gives the user choices, and I’m becoming rather fond of the Xfce ‘Thunar’ file manager. And Mint Xfce is now Debian-based so it’s a rolling release. Pictured is my Mint Xfce desktop (with my own desktop picture I added) from the Live CD session. I’m sure development on Xfce will be even better in the future as some/many Linux users turn from Gnome 3/Unity to other options. But for all the details I would suggest checking out the blog article link above.
For another alternative desktop manager to Gnome there’s always KDE. For a years since I discovered Linux I’ve tried to like the K Desktop Manager, but I still don’t! I recently tried out the Pardus Linux Live CD, which I’ve read has a really nice implementation of KDE. And it does! KDE looks beautiful, but I still find it overly complex and flashy to the point where it gets in my way. Just my opinion, but after installing Pardus and using it for a brief time, I felt frustrated and somehow claustrophobic and had to return to my beloved Linux Mint Gnome distro, which is easy to configure and stays out of my face; OR, my other favorite distro that I would recommend, Bodhi Linux, which uses Enlightenment (E-17). Enlightenment takes some time to learn, because there are many settings options. But I find it easier to use than KDE.
I think Xfce or Enlightenment are both worthy alternatives for all you Gnome fans out there. I love Bodhi because it’s very customizable (I use that word a lot!), light like Xfce and beautiful without sacrificing on performance. In fact, I’m thinking that with all the new development around E-17 (thanks to Bodhi) the Enlightenment desktop and applications will see much growth in the future.
As someone commented on this post, LXDE is also another Linux desktop manager that is comparable and belongs in the top 3 alternatives to Gnome/Unity/KDE. Very similar to Xfce, it’s also lightweight and runs well on older hardware.
So there are still some great choices for Linux users! And isn’t that what Linux is all about?
Update March 17, 2012: I’ve decided to create a new blog here on WordPress strictly dealing with Linux and Open Source Software for the average desktop computer user. Please check it out at: TheFearlessPenguin. Thanks!
I’ve written about Bodhi Linux a couple of times before, but I’m back today to tell you why I absolutely love Bodhi (now at version 1.1.0) more than ever.
I had been using earlier versions of Bodhi Linux for a few months on my ‘experimental’ computer upstairs, and have learned a lot about configuring Enlightenment. But last month I installed Ubuntu 11.04 to try out the new Unity desktop manager, as chronicled here. After a week or so I decided Ubuntu’s Unity was not my cup of tea. There are just too many things lacking, compared to when Ubuntu used Gnome 2.3. Though every week it seems there are more third-party hacks posted on-line for making Unity more configurable and to behave more like the way Ubuntu worked before Unity. Which is why I stopped using it. Why use an operating system that you have to keep adding fixes to, just so it works like the old operating system? Plus, it just felt a little too simplistic for me.
So I installed the newest version of Bodhi Linux again on that computer (I’ve already been using it for a while on my old Dell laptop) and I’m increasingly impressed at what a fully-functional and beautiful operating system Bodhi is, and at how much Enlightenment has progressed in the past year. The Enlightenment desktop manager has grown from something experimental and arcane to a stable, light (as in system resources) and visually beautiful user experience that is a joy to use on a day-to-day basis. In fact, due to the many unfavorable reactions to the Unity and Gnome Shell desktop managers, I think Enlightenment is looking like a much more attractive alternative. And Bodhi Linux, in my opinion, is the most polished and user-friendly distro out there that uses Enlightenment.
I continue to be impressed by how much work Jeff and the entire Bodhi team put into this distro! They’re constantly improving the website, artwork, upgrading software, updating the repositories and adding tutorials and informational resources that make learning to use Enlightenment so much easier for the new user to Enlightenment or Linux in general. I’m beginning to change my opinion that Bodhi Linux is only for people with Linux experience, but for anyone who wants a sleek and feature-packed open-source operating system. Pictured is my current desktop using one of the pre-made Bodhi themes called ‘Japan’ (Thanks to Agust). I usually use my own desktop picture, but I just love what comes standard with this theme.
And unlike some Linux distros, Bodhi can easily be configured into anything you want it to be. The user has complete control of looks and functionality, so you can be as minimalistic or as way-out as you can imagine! By default the distro comes with minimal installed applications, leaving the user to install whatever they need quite easily. But check out the Bodhi links below for everything you need to get going and create your own ideal computing environment.
Update March 17, 2012: I’ve decided to create a new blog here on WordPress strictly dealing with Linux and Open Source Software for the average desktop computer user. Please check it out at: TheFearlessPenguin. Thanks!
Here it is, a stunningly beautiful Sunday morning in May. Cherry blossoms; leaves bursting forth above sun-washed green grass; colorful tulips beneath a blue sky. And I’m sitting inside to regale you Linux users out there with my thoughts on Ubuntu 11.04 after using it sparingly for the past week. After this I promise: no more harping on about this new version of Ubuntu, or specifically the new Unity desktop.
So after a week of playing around, my experience with Ubuntu and Unity is this: I think it has great potential to be a visually pleasing and user-friendly desktop operating system, but it’s not there yet. I find myself wishing Canonical had waited till the next Ubuntu release in October to switch to Unity. It just has too many annoying little bugs. If you want to have an operating system that has the same functionality of the previous Ubuntu with Gnome 2 you need to search around the internet and add all kinds of other people’s hacks to get many basic things to work. And that’s for someone like myself who is familiar with how Linux works and where to find these hacks. For someone wanting to switch from Windows or Mac, this would seem pretty user unfriendly/difficult to configure. And even then, I find many things still don’t work right.
Just a simple thing like the panel weather indicator; it’s set to auto-update every fifteen minutes but it never does. If I manually update the weather, the temperature information beside the picture icon disappears. Then if I open the preferences and change something, and click ‘OK’, nothing happens for a minute and then the dialog box goes gray and I have to force-quit the indicator. This happens every time! Another example: every time I open Firefox it pops open in full Maximize mode. I don’t want it maximized. When it’s maximized the window control buttons appear in the left side of the Global Menu Bar instead of the right side of the window where I’ve used ‘Ubuntu Tweak’ to set all other window buttons because I prefer them on the right. I can Unmaximize the Firefox window a dozen times, but when I restart Firefox it’s Maximized again. It never did that before. I don’t know how to change it!
I know it’s not such a big deal, but it’s these little inconsistencies that build up and annoy the crap out of me! Before Unity I never had these problems. Things just worked and I could configure to my heart’s content without having to disable Global Menu or use someone else’s hack. There have been other similar little bugs. This is why I think anyone wanting to try Unity might be better off waiting till Ubuntu 11.10. There are fixes for things appearing almost daily, but why use an operating system that doesn’t work well without installing a hundred patches? You might as well use Windows! ;)
But it all comes down to: if you enjoy it, use it! If not, there are tons of other options in the Linux universe. (And don’t get me started on Gnome 3 right now).
So here’s the end of my little rant. For anyone out there interested in trying Linux for the first time I would still heartily recommend Linux Mint, or if you really want lots of apps and bells and whistles pre-installed, Pinguy OS is quite groovy, too.
If you’ve been around the block with Linux a bit, also try Bodhi Linux with the Enlightenment window manager. It’s light, gorgeous and configurable to the nth degree. And in my opinion, makes Unity look old and crude in comparison.
So get outside and smell the honeysuckle! Give your mother a kiss and a hug. Or give someone else’s mother a kiss!
Happy Mother’s Day!