DesktopLinux.com's 2006 poll results are in.
The most popular distro?
The most popular desktop environment?
There's some other interesting stats there as well. I'm suprised that Gentoo has more users than Fedora. It's nice to see Xfce doing pretty good as well (I used it for a few months a couple of years ago, before I switched over to GNOME/Ubuntu).
I'd like to think these numbers are decently accurate too, seeing as the number of votes is almost 15,000. I can't see posting a link to the poll in a distro-related forum having skewed the numbers too much...
Interesting stuff though.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
DesktopLinux.com's 2006 poll results are in.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I spotted something delicious over on Planet Ubuntu recently:
upstart is a replacement for the init daemon, the process spawned by the kernel that is responsible for starting, supervising and stopping all other processes on the system.
What's so yummy about this? Well, they've got a damn good project outline, explaining why there's a need to replace the ancient init daemon, how upstart is designed, and how it's different from existing solutions such as Apple's launchd and initng. Lastly, it also explains what the state of the project is and what direction it's headed in. This is almost enough to make sure a project succeeds right there - well, that, along with a good leader and lots of free time.
While Upstart is now in Edgy's Universe repository, it's not actually going to be standard in the next Ubuntu. I'm surprised that a next-gen init system hasn't landed in a mainstream distro as of yet. (After a shallow googling, the only distro I could find with InitNG was the obscure Berry Linux.) Most of these next-gen init systems cut startup times, which would make a noticeable difference to the end user. Unfortunately, most of these new init systems just aren't quite ready for public consumption, but when they are, you can bet we'll finally see Linux boot much faster.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Now, here's an idea that should have been thought of a long time ago: Integrate a universal progress bar into the desktop environment.
Luckily, Steve Frécinaux's finally started working on it, and it's first implementation is called Mathusalem.
The author's breakdown of Mathusalem 0.3 gives a good explaination of how it works (and includes a nice screenshot).
Last week, version 0.4 was released and shows some more progress, including:
- Nautilus integration via extension.Very cool stuff, although I think it might make more sense for this to be implemented as a GNOME panel applet. Either way, the author knows clearly what he's doing, so he probably knows better than I. Google's Summer of Code is over now, but let's hope the author keeps developing Mathusalem - it's just too clever of an idea to let go to waste.
- Improved Epiphany integration.
- Only show the status icon when there is an active task.
- Show a notification bubble on task completion/failure.
Another one to watch.
If you'd like to keep up-to-date with Mathusalem, it can be followed on the author's blog here.
The Agora Project seems like an interesting idea for a library.
dpope from the Compiz.net forums explains that:
Several people expressed interest in working on a library that would package opengl graphics/animation in a useful way so that this functionality can be cleanly and easily integrated into windowing libraries such as gtk or qt.
Quinnstorm later suggested:
[W]hat if agora was the frameworks, and CoDE was the actual desktop environment?
To which MacSlow replied:
Sure, that's the main idea behind "Agora". Be a framework or library (libraries) pulling together the nice low-level bits like OpenGL, cairo, gstreamer & Co and offer a solid set of ready to use animations, effects and filters for everything put on the screen. Kind of the Xgl/compiz on the application- and toolkit-level of things.
What you want to build with it afterwards... the next gtk+, Qt or desktop-environment is up to you.
It looks like this might the Linux community's answer to Apple's CoreImage and new CoreAnimation APIs (and probably others as well). It'll allow application programmers to add a little more bling to their apps. However, don't get too excited yet - Whatever the Agora Project ends up becoming, it's certainly at least a year off. Building a library that melds together several APIs requires a deep understanding of each of those APIs, which is not something tha comes easily. However, if the project attracts good talent like MacSlow (who's made a name for himself by creating some pretty cool apps), it certainly won't be an impossible feat. We'll see where this one goes. :)
If you'd like to follow or contribute to the development, check out the Agora Project forum that has been set up.
Mark Shuttleworth has responded on his blog about the Ubuntu update breakage that occurred last week.
If there is a silver lining to the error, it is that it happened during the one week in six months when we have the core distribution development team together in one place. This gave us the opportunity not just to analyse and fix the issue, and to talk about the sequence of events that led to the problem, but also to discuss the processes we must improve to further reduce the likelihood of a repeat. The team is now more aware than ever of the responsibility we assume given extraordinary rate of adoption of Ubuntu.
It's a well-written piece, and left (at least) myself with a restored confidence in the Ubuntu team for taking this as seriously as it deserves to be taken.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Yesterday, an Ubuntu security update/bug fix apparently broke the Xorg server (ie. graphics capability) of any user who downloaded the update.
From reports on the Ubuntu Forums, it seems (for now, at least) that the breakage affects all users that have upgraded, and is not limited to a certain subset of hardware.
There is now a large green note at the top of the Ubuntu forums pointing to the new fix.
Ubuntu Demon is reporting that a fix has been published, but that users should wait until the new "xserver-xorg-core_1.0.2-0ubuntu10.4_i386.deb" is uploaded to the Ubuntu servers.
Update: The new package has hit the update servers, everyone's safe to update again.
Posted at 6:46 AM
Monday, August 21, 2006
I was engaging in a random Skypecast a few days ago, and I found myself talking to a Mac user who was considering installing Linux on one of his Macs.
He explained to me that he was reading about Red Hat Linux, and that he saw there was a lot of console-based stuff going on in the screenshots. From what he was telling me, I got the impression that he didn't realize there IS a graphical interface for Linux (X, or Xorg these days).
I explained to him that he should try looking at Fedora Core or Ubuntu Linux, since much of the information on Red Hat Linux on the internet is very outdated (that's the price of being around forever, I guess). I continued to tell him that any recent version of these operating systems feature a user-friendly graphical interface that rivals the usability of Windows and OS X. (I was speaking about Gnome from experience, but I wouldn't discount KDE at all here.)
This is precisely one of the reasons why I blog about Linux - I want to spread the word about what Linux is really like today, and where it's going.
I've talked to so many people who've reacted to the word "Linux" with, "Oh, all that text-based stuff?". The Linux community needs to do everything they can to shake this image. Somehow I don't think billboard advertisements are going to show people what Linux is really like.
Frankly, the Ubuntu Video project is going to be more effective in this area. Cool YouTube videos don't hurt either. :)
I'm curious to see what other people think the best way to show people what Linux is really like is. Any thoughts?
Also, have you ever talked to someone who had an extremely outdated view of what Linux is like? Share you story in the comments below!
At least I had the benefit of seeing this thread before I updated my machine. If you've got an Ubuntu 6.06 machine, I suggest not doing any Xorg-related updates until this is fixed.
Judging from the number of posts and views in that thread and the small amount of time it's been up, I think this is one's a biggie.
If you've already busted your X server, or expect you're going to do it by accident, write down the solution:
sudo apt-get install xserver-xorg-core=1:1.0.2-0ubuntu10
Edit: There's a sticky at the Ubuntu Forums outlining a slightly different fix.
I think this is pretty much the Ubuntu team's nightmare right here - Pushing out a regular security update or bug fix that ends up breaking every user's system. (At least it's repairable, although I think any non-power user would have a hard time finding the fix.)
The shock factor for a new user when they reboot their PC and are greeted by a friendly non-graphical login is going to leave quite the mark on Ubuntu's good reliability record.
(I have a machine at work set to automatically install security updates, I wonder if it's going to get busted too...)
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Word on the street is that GNOME's preferences/administration "capplets" are going to get an overhaul, although it won't be ready for the 2.16 release.
While the specifics are still up in the air, it looks like there's going to be a fair amount of the capplets grouped together. Rodrigo Moya's initial proposal looked like this:
* a11y keyboard, keyboard and keybindings: merge them in one single
* background, display, font, mouse?, theme switcher, ui-properties,
windows: merge them into a single 'Display' capplet
* default apps
* file types, mime-type
* network, url-properties
* sound: add video device setup and call it Multimedia??
If you had to ask me, I'd say that judging by a few similar discussions I've read, the new "preferences/administration" would maybe end up looking like the following: Display, Input Devices, Sound and Multimedia, About Me, File Associations, Accessibility, and Localization. (Note: This is almost complete speculation.)
Now, by the time development starts rolling on this, the whole "preferences/administration" interface may have been blown away in favour of the "GNOME Control Center" or have at least a different interface style (compared to the menu method used now.) Since it looks like the preferences and administration menus might be merged, I'd bet that a bigger redesign and reorganization like this is the most likely thing to happen.
If you'd like to get a more in-depth glimpse of the ideas that people are throwing around, check out "Preferences Revisted" on GNOME Live.
(I should also mention Ubuntu Control Center, which is an answer to Novell's control center in their SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. It'll be interesting to see what the GNOME guys do if Ubuntu ever decides to switch over officially to the Ubuntu Control Center...)
Friday, August 18, 2006
The August edition of The GNOME Journal has been out for a few days, and it's worth checking out if you want a behind-the-scenes look at GNOME development. I've mentioned Tinymail before, and if you're a developer, the article on it is a good read. (Tinymail is being developed as a sort of object-oriented framework instead of just a library.)
Lastly, the interview with Davyd Madeley is pretty interesting:
In your opinion, what should be the next GNOME big steps?
Integration and collaboration. If I have a Bluetooth device, its useful functionality should be integrated with my GNOME applications. My Nokia 770 (or the one I wish I had) should be able to seamlessly integrate with my GNOME Desktop. Not just by syncing data with Evolution, but also at an application level integration. The Jokosher remote is an interesting example of this.
Collaboration is somewhere where we can really get ahead of the game. Collaborative Abiword, collaborative Inkscape, these applications are really pushing the limits with how people expect conventional applications to function. The way we work is undergoing a paradigm shift, in that we no longer all work together in the same office and sometimes, there is no office at all. The ability to collaborate in the same basic way but over a network is seriously a cool thing.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Today we saw the first release of USBSink:
USBSink is a GNOME program for file synchronization over USB.
It is designed for users of removable drives, such as flash drives
or external hard disks. The goal is to have a complete automation of
data trasfers, after a task has been defined. With file monitoring and
hardware detection features, USBSink is able to respond and act
according to relevant events across the desktop.
I'm surprised nobody's created this utility before, and thankful someone finally has. (How long have USB flash drives been around for?)
There's two screenshots available as well as some basic development plans.
If looking for a useful utility to synchronize files to a USB drive, this is the answer to your prayers - Give it a download!
A Stranger's Universe has a nifty article on Edgy Eft (Ubuntu 6.10) & GNOME 2.16 Features. Most of the items in the preview are mild improvements to individual GNOME applications, but there's still plenty of time for the next Ubuntu to become a bit more "edgy".
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I remember reading somewhere that the artwork in Ubuntu 6.06 didn't quit turn out as good as it should have (due to a lack of time).
Well, after getting my iMac at work to boot off the Ubuntu 6.06 Live/Desktop CD (without Bootcamp, I might add), I was playing around with the Gnome Partition Editor, and I noticed this slight oversight:
(Btw, if anyone's interested: To get my (early 2006 model) iMac to boot off the Ubuntu Desktop CD, I just had to install the latest firmware update for the boot loader. (This page explains it.) After that, I held down the "option" key when I rebooted, and selected to boot off the CD (ironically detected as "Windows"). Linux on a Mac was as easy as that!
(Now, is there any easy way to get a Mac to boot off a USB key with Ubuntu installed?)
Posted at 8:26 AM
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Here's some interesting stuff I've stumbled across in the last week and a half :
- Linux.com has a new article outlining the new Dates and Contacts apps that are in development. They both use the Evolution Data Server as a backend, meaning they'll use your Evolution contact/calender data. (People have been complaining about Evolution being slow forever, so maybe we'll finally see a lighter frontend coalesce in the next year or two.
- Ubuntu developers Canonical have hired Jono Bacon as their new Ubuntu Community Manager. Jono is well known throughout the GNOME community, and will serve Canonical very well in this position. (Jono's also heading up the Jokosher project, which has turned into a fantastic multi-track studio.)
- Christian Schaller has covers some recent developments with Rhythmbox and Totem. (It sounds like the Totem Mozilla plugin might turn into the end-all-be-all media plugin that it should be.) :)
Posted at 10:12 AM
Sunday, August 13, 2006
I just stumbled across the "Linux Rock Star" blog, which covers Linux audio applications, hardware, synths, etc.
If you're into audio/music production and run Linux, this site will most definitely come in handy.
There are many music apps available for Linux including Synthesizers, DAW's (Digital Audio Workstations), Trackers, Sequencers and much more. There are also complete Linux Distributions available with all of the programs setup and ready to use. My goal is to cover many of these available programs and make them accessible to the reader.
Sounds like a niche that could use filling! Check it out and be sure to add this one to your feed reader.
Posted at 7:31 PM
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Digg scooped up two very important tidbits today:
- Intel just released open source drivers for their i965 chipset graphics controller.
- InfoWorld is reporting that AMD is "strongly considering open-sourcing at least a functional subset of ATI’s graphics drivers", following the recent aquisition of ATI by AMD.
First off, Intel has a good history of releasing open source drivers, and they're continuing to set a great example for other big industry players. (Their new "Intel Linux Graphics" site is a good move.) The press coverage that they're getting for these new drivers comes at a particularly opportune time, considering what AMD/ATI's thinking about doing. I think this'll put some pressure on AMD/ATI to release open source graphics drivers, which is a good thing. (The current legal situation with Linux distributions bundling and using binary-only drivers is a bit sticky.)
NVIDIA's closed-source drivers and support have consistently beat the quality of ATI's offerings, so it would be quite the shocker if ATI open-sourced their drivers. ATI would suddenly have much more respect within the Linux community and their graphics cards would (hopefully) all work "out-of-the-box" in Linux. The decision would essentially leave NVIDIA no choice but to similarly open-source their own drivers.
Now, this is all best case scenario - There's other possibilities here as well. I think the worst that could happen if ATI's drivers do get open-sourced is that, well, we have "at least a functional subset". That could mean just 2D acceleration support, which is better than nothing, but not nearly as good as it could be. In that case, I doubt that NVIDIA would end up releasing any form of open source driver in response - ATI just wouldn't have upped the ante enough.
Regardless, the push for open source graphics will definitely be one to keep an eye on over the next year.
Posted at 8:04 PM
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Ubuntu head honcho Mark Shuttleworth has just blogged about communicating release goals. Most of the article is an email from Matt Zimmerman (an Ubuntu team member) which talks about the importance of clearly expressing the team's release goals in order to prevent end-user disappointment.
Matt Zimmerman writes:
Many are criticizing shortcomings in Ubuntu which have existed for years now, or deplore the lack of eye candy and other superficial features, as justification for an overall negative impression of the release. In particular, I see repeated mentions of:
- Lack of 3D support out of the box on nVidia chipsets: 
- Need to use the command line for certain administrative tasks (including the above)  
- Lack of out-of-the-box support for Java, Flash, MP3, DVD, etc. (RestrictedFormats)  
- Lack of 3D accelerated desktop effects and other eye candy (e.g. Xgl/AIGLX, prettier usplash)  
- Lack of support for a particular hardware component (e.g., wireless card or printer)    
- Ubuntu not being easy enough for the typical user 
- Lack of availability of development tools in the default install  
- Manual partitioning is clunky  
None of these are new problems, but they are pointed out as examples of major shortcomings by these reviews. It's notable that in some cases, we're being compared with Windows, rather than other Linux distributions, which is a much higher bar, but overall my impression is that there has been a disconnect between the expectations of the community and what we delivered with Dapper. In particular, I see indications that users expected Dapper:
- to be better-looking ("polished")
- to have more long-standing feature wishes implemented ("polished")
- to have no regressions from Breezy ("polished")
- to have fewer bugs than a typical Ubuntu release ("polished")
(important part bolded for emphasis)
Now, is there anything surprising about the fact that Ubuntu users want "more long-standing feature wishes implemented"?
When I first started using Ubuntu, I was extremely pleased by the number of things that it "got right". Applications that it shipped with it worked out of the box (I had terrible experiences with older versions of Mandrake), and it's hardware support was among the best of the Linux distributions.
Now, it seems that Ubuntu's pace of continuing to "do things right" has slowed down. The reason why people keeping commenting about Flash/MP3/Multimedia/Nvidia/ATI/etc. support being major negative points is because:
A) Simply put, they are major flaws. (I don't think anyone would deny this.)
B) They haven't been fixed in any Ubuntu release to date.
The community's expectation is for the Ubuntu team to take these problems seriously and to address them (that means fix them). These were major problems two years ago, and they're still major problems now. If the Ubuntu team doesn't move to fix these problems soon, it's going to start wearing down the morale of the community. (Nobody likes developers who ignore the complaints of their end-users.)
So, what have we learned? Perhaps that even if we meet our goals in our own eyes, we may be considered a failure by some if they have a different interpretation of our intentions.
I'm going to agree with Matt on this one, as it's a very important lesson for any developers who have a fair amount of contact with their users. Game developers often make the classic mistake of mentioning planned features that never end up seeing the light of day, which only leaves gamers disappointed.
...of the five specific examples, it's quite likely that no more than one or two will actually be implemented in Edgy.
If Edgy fails to include at least some of the "next-generation" features originally mentioned by Mark Shuttleworth and fails to fix some of the major missing pieces that the community keeps complaining about (Flash, multimedia support, etc.), then there's going to be an excellent opportunity for a new Linux distribution to come along and dethrone Ubuntu.
C'est la vie.
Posted at 12:51 PM
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Back in May, I began using a wireless network connection on my home (Ubuntu 6.06) computer. I decided to install the futuristic (in a usability sense, at least) NetworkManager, which makes networking "pain-free".
The first time I rebooted after I installed NetworkManager, I was prompted to enter my "keyring" password after login, so that NetworkManager could connect to my wireless network. The wireless network I have is encrypted and requires a WPA key to logon. Since the WPA key is essentially a password, it's stored in GNOME's Keyring and thus requires authentication to let an application (in this case, NetworkManager) to access it.
The problem is that if you power down your computer at night to save energy, you'll be prompted to enter your keyring password every time you power it back up. After you punch in your login password, you get another prompt asking you for your keyring password, which seems redundant. This annoyance is compounded by the fact that for some reason unbeknownst to me, I sometimes get asked to enter my keyring password up to 3 times, simply to connect to my wireless network.
I finally found the solution to this problem over at the Ubuntu Forums, in this thread. To make it even easier, there's a .DEB on page 3 in this post with some quick instructions that are very easy to follow. If anyone else has been annoyed by the constant barrage of password entering they have to do, this should ease the pain somewhat. Enjoy!
Posted at 9:03 PM
Thursday, August 03, 2006
I was shopping for a new USB key two days ago, and my local Factory Direct store was advertising a pretty good deal: A 2 gigabyte USB stick for $50 CAD. Great price, great size, you can't go wrong - or can you?
After returning to work with my new toy in hand, I plugged the USB stick into my iMac. It appeared on the desktop as a 2 gigabyte removable drive, and I started amassing an arsenal of portable apps to put on the device. After starting to copy some files over, I noticed the USB key was pretty slow. I had been using my Creative Muvo NX (USB 1.1) as my USB key for a while, and I was hoping that my new drive would be significantly faster. It didn't seem any faster at all. I thought to myself, maybe it's just slow because I'm copy lots of little files, so I tried copying the Ubuntu 6.06 desktop CD image over.
This is when the fun started. After about 100 megabytes, Finder locked up on my Mac. I couldn't kill it nor "relaunch" it. I tried to cancel the file transfer, but Finder was still locked hard. The only way out was a reboot. Once the Mac was back, I took a look at the contents of the USB drive. The Ubuntu image was partly there, but I couldn't read it back. I created a new directory, "untitled folder", on the USB key and started copying the CD image over to this directory once again. The file copy eventually stalled completely, but Finder didn't lock this time. However, I did get the nice treat of my "untitled folder" getting turned into a 0-byte file, which had the added bonus of not freeing the space that the half-copied CD image took up.
At this point, I knew something was terribly wrong. I quickly remembered coming across an eBay guide outlining how to spot fake USB drives that have been flooding eBay. After looking at the list of fake brands, I gulped:
"No Name or Unpopular Brand"
I had most definitely bought an unbranded USB key. I scrolled down to the images of the fake USB drives, and the red fake Sony USB key caught my eye:
It's exactly the same as the one I had bought, albeit in grey and without the Sony name on it:
I immediately emailed Factory Direct, and they told me:
They are not fake USB memory sticks but that particular one may be a defective one.
I was told they would replace it with a "good" one if I returned it to the store. (If I can't get a refund, at least I can try to get a different brand, something that's less likely to be fake.)
After some more sleuthing on the net, I came across this interesting thread over on everythingusb.com. It looks like the USB drives have some funky partitioning to fool the OS into thinking they're larger than they are. If you crack open your USB key and punch the model number of the memory chip that's inside into Google, you'll find out how small the USB drive actually is. From the thread, people have even reported their drives having turned out to have just 16 MB of space. Thanks China!
(There's even been some reports of these fake USB drives containing trojans out-of-the-box. For the record, when I tried plugging mine into an XP box, I do think I saw something fishy flash up on the screen for a second like a command prompt...)
As you can probably guess, I'm a little bit ticked off about this. Because I got ripped off? Yes, but moreso because I bought it from a local retailer in Canada, not some sketchy eBay seller in China. Itching for some consumer action, I contacted the RCMP, who informed me that I should contact Cosumer Affairs to handle this (because in my case, there was no Sony logo, so no copyright infringement).
I'm going to try to head back to the Factory Direct store today and try to press them to give me a refund. Either way, I'll still probably end up reporting this to Consumer Affairs (it's still false advertising/branding(?), and tons of other people are going to get screwed by this.)
Last words of wisdom: If you're buying stuff from a shady liquidation store, watch what you get. Hell, if you're buying stuff from any shady store, be it online or locally, be careful. (I suppose this isn't news to anyone, but I learnt it the hard way.)
Update: There's absolutely no brand markings on the packaging that came with the USB key (just the words "FLASH DRIVE" and a bunch of flags), but I did find a warranty card that must have fallen out of it. The warranty card reads:
This product is under manufacturer warrarnty.
1. This Flash Drive can be exchanged within 30 days from the day of purchase.
2. If you experience difficulties within the 30 days of purchase, please send the productto:
8335 Winnetka Ave. Suite #238
Winnetka, Ca 91306
Please allow three to six week for the exchange.
For more information or to download Driver pelase visit our web site:
3. This warranty card must be marked by sakes.
It's interesting that there's no contact information at all besides the address written on the warranty card. I google mapped the address, and yes, it does exist. (If anyone lives near there and they want to go and see is there's actually someone selling/making USB flash drives there, please do and report back. According to the WHOIS for that site, you're looking for an "Appliance Service Co.")
If you go to their website (who's address I'm not actually linking to so that Google won't up their PageRank), the only contact information you'll find is email@example.com. (Edit: I've just found another one: firstname.lastname@example.org I've sent them an email asking them about their USB drives, so we'll see what they send back. (Wait a second - They have both www.flashdrivememory.com AND www.flashdriveSmemory.com, under the same no-name label...)
Lastly, the third point in the warranty is pure engrish.
Update #2: Factory Direct took the USB key back and gave me a store credit. They refused to give me a refund, and they didn't appreciate me telling them they might have a shipment of fakes on their hands. The guy said they had sold "hundreds" and only had 3 or 4 returned. I wonder what percentage of people actually tried using more than 256 MB of space (and what percentage tried reading the data back)? 3 or 4 percent? Hmmm....
I received an email back from "FlashDriveMemory" support, and they told me to send the USB key back to them for a replacement.
Did I really just have bad luck and end up with a faulty drive?
I highly doubt it due to the similarity between my experience and others with verified fake USB sticks.
(But that being said, I wonder what would have happened if I had sent it back to the FlashDriveMemory people... )
Oh yeah, and if you WHOIS their domain, you get some more interesting info, but I think I'll stop there. If anyone has anything they'd like to contribute, please leave a comment!
Posted at 9:47 AM