viernes, 23 de diciembre de 2011

I give up; my search for the perfect Linux rescue distro is over

When I discovered Linux two years ago, I started looking for what I called "The Perfect Rescue Distro", a somewhat mythical distribution that fitted into a CD, could mount Windows partitions, play all sorts of video/audio formats, include a productivity suite, decent image-manipulating tools, and burn backups...all in Live mode. Hence, over these two years, I have tested lots of distributions and some of them came really close to the ideal. I felt as if the Holy Grail was between an arm's reach.

However, something happened and I must abandon my quest. I never found what I was looking for; all distros I tested lacked either one feature or another. So, yes, I give up; I declare that my search for the perfect Linux Rescue Distro is officially over.

What made me abandon what once was my fundamental motivation to use Linux?

To begin with, 2011 was a real convulsive year in the Linux world. No, I will not talk about Ubuntu and its Unity UI; the distro that attracted me to Linux was Mandriva 2009, not Canonical's child.

Mandriva stumbled and, before I knew, I was not only using Mandriva, but also Pardus, Mepis, Mageia, and PCLinuxOS. I never distro hopped: all those beautiful OSs share my hard drives and I became pampered by the simplicity of Mepis, the consistency of Pardus, the familiarity of Mageia, and the responsiveness of PCLinuxOS. All Linux OSs interconnect, so I do not need to reboot to get my files from a different partition.

Along my process of adaptation, the role of the different communities was central. Everyday I go online, I visit the forums of those distros and I have learned about computers and technology as I had never in my life. For example, thanks to the help (and jokes) of PCLinuxOS users, the laptop that once sported a Windows 7 OS now boots three different Linux systems...and Microsoft's products were wiped out from the HD without any regret.

You see, it is this empowerment that made me abandon my quest for the perfect Rescue Distro. As I became a user of multiple Linux OSs, I discovered that my once primordial drive to use Linux was meaningless: there is not anything to rescue any longer! My computers work as they have never done it: now they are quick, efficient, and aesthetically-pleasing. I have no reason to use Windows and, consequently, I do not need to worry about how to rescue it.

With Linux, using a computer and retrieving files cannot be easier...even for a non-technical user like me. My search was over and I had not even realized it.

miércoles, 21 de diciembre de 2011

Test driving Firefox 9

Following a rapid release schedule that has upset several people, Firefox 9 was made available yesterday. Although it has been said that Google Chrome has taken the #2 browser market share position, I will continue using the Mozilla browser because, to be honest, none of the arguments against Firefox has been heavy enough for me to drop it. In addition, I like Mozilla's open Web philosophy and the useful extensions that can be incorporated to "the little browser that could".

Hence, I downloaded Firefox 9 and unzipped the tar file. Since the created directory is called "firefox", I changed its name to "firefox9" to be able to run the previous version if the new browser failed the test. Then, after opening Konsole and typing SU and my root password, I used this command to move the folder:
cp -r /home/my directory/Downloads/firefox9 /usr/lib/

I then added the menu entry and started Firefox 9. It first checked compatibility with my add-ons (WOT, NoScript, Zotero, Webmail notifier, Ad Block Plus, Download Helper) and loaded without much trouble. The add-ons are working flawlessly, too.

Is Firefox 9 faster? Well, Google+ lasted 2.67 seconds to load with Firefox 7.01. It took me 1.12 seconds to load this page with Firefox 9. The time difference is not a big concern for me, but it seems vital for some other people.

Aside from that, my untrained eye only caught two other differences: outline for missing icons and the page reload button.
Firefox 7.01: Blank page icon

Firefox 9: Outline of missing icon

As for the page reload button, it is inside the address bar in FF9.

I consider my test drive a success. I'll keep the new version to see how it performs. I have tried all critical pages (including the financial institution with which I do online banking) and I haven't had any major problem so far, only some funny display issues here at Blogger. I can live with it, though.

martes, 20 de diciembre de 2011

Pardus Wallpaper paradise

One of this days I visited a Wallmart store and went to the computer section. There, they were displaying a Windows 7 netbook. You know, according to the EULA of that "convenient" OS, you cannot change the wallpaper. Well, in an attempt to sell, the OEM probably installed something to go around that limitation and the computer sported a beautiful wallpaper... with penguins on it. I loved the paradox.

Some people--those at Microsoft, for example-- might say that wallpapers are not necessary. However, those customized images are important. People like to see something meaningful when they work with their computers. One wants one's work station to be appealing. When sitting in front of homogenized machines, people get unmotivated for work. That's the reason why employees always like to have pictures of their family in their work place.

Anyways, the oxymoron at Wallmart made me remember that there is a nice place to get Pardus wallpapers. If someone is interested, this is the link.
These are some samples (you can find different sizes at the page):

lunes, 19 de diciembre de 2011

Merry Xmas with Tux and a PCLinuxOS TV

It's vacation time already and I've been away from the blogosphere. I remember that, before 2009 (when was still a Windows user), I longed for this free time to come. No, not because I was included in Bill Gates' gift list, but because I really needed this free time to format my hard drive and get rid of all the malware pestering the OS...

As a Linux user, the X-mas virus cleaning ritual stopped for good, so I have been sharing with my wife and my one year old daughter instead. It's Christmas, so we bought some presents and engaged into some home improvements. My daughter has already learned how to walk and has turned into a charming little menace: she grabs all objects in her path, either to keep her balance or to examine them, so we had to move the old TV to a safe place and bought a 19' LED screen, which my wife asked me to mount on a wall, away from Eimi's inquiring eyes and dangerous little hands.

This thingy has a VGA port. Taking advantage of it, I connected my laptop to the flat screen to surprise my wife with something she had never seen: Linux on a TV!
She is also a Linux user and really liked to see the penguin OS there. Of course, I know that the operating system of those TVs is probably Linux anyway but, even so, it was refreshing to see the KWIN effects. My wife was, of course, delighted with the possibilities of her new TV.

miércoles, 16 de noviembre de 2011

Mandriva 2011 PowerPack: A quick image tour

As I promised, I bought the PowerPack version of Mandriva to test it. I installed it to a virtual machine because my main goal is not to check for performance, but to see what Mandriva 2011 PowerPack offers that you do not get in Mandriva Desktop 2011. Eventually, I'll install it to my testing laptop but, for the time being, a virtual machine will do.

The installation process is basically the same that one finds in previous Powerpack versions. However, this time, the DVD waits a bit before it boots. That gives newbies some time to read the instructions on the screen, which is good.

The installation process also has a main difference: this PowerPack version offers you more customization of the computer instead of simply bloating it up with all kinds of software. So, you get to choose whether or not to install games, multimedia programs, documentation, or if you want to install your own packages. It also gives you desktop options: KDE, Gnome 2.32, or LXDE. Why not Gnome 3? Well, I suppose that since KDE comes with the ROSA SimplyWelcome as default, they chose to avoid some duplicity.

For the summary, if you define a country, you can also choose to install IMEs to type Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc. I chose iBUS. After the selection, the installer downloaded the necessary packages. This is convenient, but it is also offered in the free Mandriva Desktop 2011 version. You create your account and choose your avatar (I chose the cat) and then you are ready to let the system reboot. I liked the fact that the old booting screen is back...Well, sort of: they combined the Mandriva 2010 and 2011 booting screens! After a while, you are finally taken to your Mandriva 2011 PowerPack desktop:

I really liked the wallpaper because of its colors and because it brings memories of previous PowerPack versions.I fired up the SimpleWelcome and noticed two things: At the top of the screen, my cat avatar was replaced by an image of some pebbles, the avatar of the Guest account. No matter if I changed the image using KDE controls or Mandriva Control Center, the pebbles didn't go away. However, if I logged out, I coud see the image of the cat.

The other thing I noticed is that there were lots of programs that were not offered in the free version, although you can get them from the repositories anyway. The main problem that a newbie could face is probably getting to configure drivers correctly, which is one of the additional values that PowerPack offers.

Here are the images of the application categories:

Firefox version is 8.0.
Then, it ocurred to me to delete the Guest account and... voila!, my cat avatar finally appeared at the top.

I think that the PowerPack version is a good option for newbies who are not interested in spending some time learning how to configure video (yes, Flash is working out of the box) and that want games, more software, or additional value (support) out of the box for a fraction of the price they would have paid for Windows. I got the discount, so Mandriva 2011 PowerPack cost me $47.20 instead of $59. Was it worth it? Well, for me, it was a satisfactory purchase.

So was the access to the PCLinuxOS PASS.

To be honest, I cannot regret having used little amounts of money to support Linux projects. After all, Windows cost me a lot more and, if I add up all the money I wasted paying technicians to destroy my data and put Windows back, I can say that I have a good reason not to complain.

My only regret is not being able to make a small contribution to Mageia.

Maybe some day...

martes, 15 de noviembre de 2011

Mandriva 2011 PowerPack just arrived!

Right on time, Mandriva released its 2011 PowerPack version.
With the announcement, they ratify that Mandriva will be now releasing one version per year, not two versions, as they had been doing.

What does Mandriva PowerPack version offer? Well, the distro promises all drivers, the smart desktop technology, the Fluendo DVD player, and three months of free Web support, among other features.

PowerPack is a commecial version; you must pay $59 to download it. Is it worth it? Many Mandriva users always asked the same question before because of the existence of Mandriva One, a version that made installation and use of Mandriva very easy up to version 2010.2. However, it was discontinued.

I am a 2010.1 PowerPack user. Do I want to change to 2011 PowerPack? Honestly, I am not sure about that. One thing I know: I am very curious to see what Mandriva has to offer in this new commercial version, so I'll buy it an post later about it.

miércoles, 9 de noviembre de 2011

The New Laptop Experiment: The first 15 days

In this post, I talked about my experience with a new HP laptop computer that I bought. I also tried the latest releases of some other Linux distros, such as Pinguy (did not enable Wi-fi), Ubuntu (crashed at logout), and Chakra (also failed at enabling Wi-fi), I finally decided to keep these three:

It is my main OS, so I will use it to work quickly and efficiently. I configured an additional panel that auto-hides to fire up the applications that I use the most.
Interestingly, PCLOS does in this laptop something that Mandriva 2010.2 could not do very well in my desktop: run the Humble Bundle games! I can play Cogs, Crayon Physics, and Machinarium.

Desktop effects are running perfectly. Here are the KWin cube and the desktop grid.

PCLOS came with Pidgin as the IM client. I downloaded Kopete, but it refused to connect to MSN because it lacked a protocol. Pidgin connects without any problem.

The desktop theme is called "Ghost". I like the glow it adds to the dialog boxes and the semi-faded look it gives to the bottom panel.

One very good thing about PCLOS is that I did not have to break my head to get VLC to run. I just downloaded it from the repositories and it played all sorts of videos.

Mageia 1:
It will be my production distro. Since Mageia works exactly as Mandriva 2010.2 PowerPack does, it is convenient to have it in case I stumble upon a problem that I cannot solve. I spent more time configuring desktop icons here. I also added a top auto-hiding panel. Kopete was running but something happened and it now simply refuses to connect to MSN. Consequently, I downloaded Pidgin.

Again, the desktop effects are running perfectly. One challenge was to get VLC with the codecs, but I found a thread in the Mageia forums where someone suggests to activate the "tainted" repositories to get VLC to play more video formats. That took care of the problem.

One funny thing that happened is that Mageia 1 Live CD did not let me work with the Japanese IME iBus(it works flawlessly in Mageia 1 DVD, but that release did not activate the Wi-fi of this computer). Hence, I compromised and now I use SCIM, just like in Mandriva 2010.2.

Mandriva Desktop 2011

I did customize a lot more here. I moved the ROSA panel to the top and selected the auto-hide property. Then I added the Cairo Dock at the bottom.

I was not planning to install this distribution because I was not very happy with the ROSA SimpleWelcome and Launcher. I know that I can change it to a default panel, but still... However, after running the Mandriva Desktop 2011 Live DVD and seeing that it enabled the Wi-fi and the sound (which Mandriva 2010.2 had failed to do), I installed it.

Maybe the feature that made me reconsider my position about the ROSA SimpleWelcome is the time line. I find it rather interesting and convenient. Nepomuk must be enabled for it to work and that implies an additional wait of 15 seconds at boot, but I can live with it.

The Kwin effects are running without any problem.

I know that this customization is way too flashy because of its overdose of eye-candy, but it is good to show people what you can do with Linux without a lot of technical training.

More importantly for me, Mandriva Desktop 2011 also lets me type in Japanese (via iBus).

The last thing I did was to synchronize Firefox, so that all the OS's in the laptop share the configuration of the browser in my desktop.

By the way, I have displayed all the OS's in public already. None of them has let me down :-)

domingo, 23 de octubre de 2011

New laptop, new challenge: Which Linux distro is right?

A colleague who is studying abroad came back to the country and visited the University for a while. After giving me a quiz for his research project, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse: he wanted to get rid of one of the laptops he bought for the research-- an HP Pavilion g4-1135dx, AMD dual core, 3GB RAM, and more than 300GB HD, Windows 7 Home premium and MS Office 2010. The price he gave me was half of what I have to pay for it here and the laptop is practically new. It's not that I need a new mobile computer right now (my penta-boot netbook meets my needs for work perfectly), but I must confess that I have been considering to buy myself a laptop, one that I can use as a test ground. I knew there was no way I could get a better price for that machine here in my country, so I bought it and the questions began.

Windows 7... what to do with you?

I was not sure if I wanted to keep this OS and the MS Office suite. While I do not particularly hold a negative opinion about the former, I hate the latter passionately. In addition, it's not like I need to use Windows for something anyway. In the computers where I do have Windows, this OS works more like a storeroom than anything else.

After considering the options, I decided that I would settle for a dual boot. That was my decision, but Windows, as usual, had other plans: my headaches began when I tried to resize the partitions. Someone had made an extra partition and the table was full thanks to HP and its policy of slicing the hard drive. I selected the partition that I thought was harmless and resized it. Windows refused to boot and asked me for the rescue DVD which, of course, I did not have. It was almost midnight and I had little patience for babysitting a spoiled OS, so I changed my mind and simply wiped out all partitions and reformatted them, exorcising all traces of MS software from the machine in the process. I wanted the laptop to test Linux distros, not Windows, so I will not miss Vista/7 at all.

Let the Linux parade begin!

With a blank HD and no further concern, I aligned my Linux Live CDs and DVDs for a test drive of the hardware. I chose Mandriva 2010.2, Linux Mint 11 (Katya), Mepis 11, Chakra (the latest) and PCLinuxOS 2011.6. I deliberately left Ubuntu, Pardus 11 and Mageia 1 out because I didn't have live media of Pardus and Mageia and I personally don't like Ubuntu.

The test was simple: the distributions that managed to activate the sound system and the wi-fi of the laptop and could deliver an acceptable multimedia experience would go to the next stage (installation). These are the results:

1. Mandriva 2010.2 failed (no sound, no wi-fi)
2. Mepis 11 failed (sound, but no wi-fi)
3. Chakra failed (sound & wi-fi, but video wouldn't play)
4. Linux Mint 11 (passed with honors)
5. PCLinuxOS 2011.6 (passed with honors)

Second stage: installation and effects

1. PCLinuxOS
As I'm rather familiar with its installation process, I installed PCLinuxOS first. I was not very sure because I have some problems with effects on my desktop (nothing that prevents me from sleeping, actually), but PCLinuxOS went out like an energetic Texas longhorn and installed everything without a flinch. I tried the Kwin effects and everything was perfect! Of course, I was lacking the Office suite but the process to get it is simple enough for a Linux non-technical user like me: you fire up Synaptic, search "lomanager", select it for upgrade, close Synaptic and click on the Libre Office installer icon on the desktop. The only drawback, if any at all, is that this is a 32 bit OS... Again, nothing that matters much to me.

2. Linux Mint 11 "Katya"
I installed the 64 bit version of Linux Mint. I have always liked the elegance of this OS and the way it handles the installation process. I noticed something new: Mint said that it had detected PCLinuxOS and prompted me for an action. I selected "install next to it" for a dual boot. However, after the process was complete, PCLinuxOS was unbootable... In Linux-Linux dual boots that happens quite often, but my real problem was that I do not know how to repair it from the grub mechanism in Mint (Megatotoro taught me the ropes for GRUB legacy, but I simply do not know how to repair this thing). The only option was to start over...

Installation again and a surprise contestant

I put PCLinuxOS back, but not Mint. I will eventually, once that I know how to handle the dual boot without messing with the other OS.

When everything was back in place, I considered if I wanted to give Mandriva Desktop 2011 a chance. I mean, I am not crazy about the ROSA rocket bar and SimpleWelcome, but reports are that it is buggy and Mandriva 2010.2 couldn't activate the Wi-fi, so why would this Mandriva version be any different?

What the heck! I inserted the Mandriva Desktop 2011 DVD and....Surprise, I had sound! I checked the Wi-fi and...Surprise again, it picked up my network signal! It had some issues with the effects and I knew it had problems with Flash, but I installed next to PCLinuxOS just for the sake of testing.

Mandriva 2011 had some problems with the graphic card (no log out, some freezes), but the OS detected that it was due to the lack of a proprietary driver and, after installing it, all those problems disappeared. I installed the flash plug-in from the repositories and the distro is working flawlessly... Who would have thought? :-)

Another distro, another surprise

After downloading the Mageia 1 Live CD, I did not expect anything different from Mandriva 2010.2. However, Mageia Live booted without a glitch and sound was also enabled. I checked the Wi-fi and, yes, it was also picking up my signal.

Moral: Never take a Linux distro for granted. As it turns out, I have enough distros where to choose from to power up this new laptop :-)

I think that I'll keep PCLinuxOS as my main OS. I might also put Mageia in there as a production distro. I'll keep Mandriva 2011 to have a triple boot. Then I'll save a partition for testing.

jueves, 20 de octubre de 2011

Mandriva 2011 PowerPack is in the oven

With the advent of Mandriva 2011, Mandriva versions were reduced to only one. Previously, you could select among Free, ONE, and PowerPack. I was introduced to the world of Linux by the ONE version (back in 2009), but I paid for the PowerPack 2009 and 2010.

Surprisingly, I got today an email from Mandriva S.A. in which they wanted me to fill up a survey regarding PowerPack. It said that this paid version will be available in November and included questions about my Linux expertise *hehe*, the GUI I preferred, the main use I gave to Mandriva, and a wish list. Yay! I asked Text-to-speech to be included.

Truth be told, my home desktop is not running Mandriva 2011, but Mandriva 2010.2 PowerPack, Pardus 2011, and PCLinuxOS. I do think I will buy the new PowerPack if they release it.

sábado, 15 de octubre de 2011

La conferencia sobre Vigilancia tecnológica y software libre

Ayer asistí a una conferencia llamada "Vigilancia Tecnológica y Software Libre", que había sido organizada por la Escuela de Bibliotecología de la universidad donde trabajo. Esta actividad se enmarcó dentro de las acciones para iniciar la migración hacia el software libre en la universidad.

El conferencista mostró una noticia publicada en un periódico nacional ayer. El titular era "Instituciones estatales usan cada día más software libre". ¡Yo no me esperaba eso!

El contenido de la charla se volvió más técnico después. Sin embargo, a pesar de que la conferencia iba dirigida a profesionales en tecnologías de la información, como bibliotecólogos y archivistas, el presentador compartió un par de herramientas libres muy interesantes para el beneficio de usuarios que escriben artículos: Sironta and Zotero. La primera es un programa para colaborar en documentos; la segunda es una extensión de Firefox para recuperar la bibliografía de libros en línea. Ambos son herramientas magníficas para investigadores y eruditos.

Me divierte que haya sido mi madre quien me avisara sobre esta conferencia, ya que ella es una usuaria de computadoras no técnica que solía volverme loco con llamadas deseperadas relativas a problemas con su computadora. Hoy, mi madre es una feliz usuaria de Pardus que me trasmite toda la información que obtiene sobre el acontecer del software libre en nuestro país.

viernes, 14 de octubre de 2011

The conference on Technological Surveillance and Free Software

Yesterday I attended a conference titled "Technological Surveillance and Free Software", which was organized by the School of Information Technologies of the university where I work. This activity was part of the actions to start the migration to FLOSS in the university.

The speaker showed a clip from one newspaper displaying the headline "State institutions using more free software everyday". This piece of news was published yesterday, too. That was something I did not expect!

Then, the content of the talk became more IT jargon. However, although the conference targeted professionals of librarianship and ITs, the speaker shared some interesting tools that many people can benefit from, especially those who work writing articles: Sironta and Zotero. While the former is a program for collaborating on documents, the latter is an extension for Firefox that helps you retrieve the bibliographical entry of online books, a great tool for scholars and researchers.

It's fun that I got the information about the event from my mother, a non-technical computer user who, some years ago, used to drive me nuts with desperate calls concerning crashes and viruses. Today, she is a happy Pardus user and sends me all the information that she gets about free software events in my country.

domingo, 9 de octubre de 2011

Different computer users, one common Linux complaint

There are several types of users in the world of computers. Most of them are simple, non-technical users; they are the kind of people who learned to use a computer without any formal training or they took some application courses (falsely called "computer courses"), so their understanding of a computer is simply too basic. These are naive users who tend to perceive the system as a magic box--sometimes the contemporary equivalent of Pandora's Box and, because of that, their learning is often thwarted by fear or anxiety ("I clicked here and the computer showed me a message box, so I panicked and turned if off").

Some other people belong to the opposite category: the power users. Their computer expertise makes them gurus and, therefore, the systems hold no secrets for them. My impression of these kind of people is that they speak binary code and can diagnose a computer problem rather effectively because they have more than one idea of what might have gone wrong.

There is a third group that frequently overlaps the two categories above. These people have developed skills to use several programs in a level that most computer users cannot, yet they lack the technical knowledge of power users. As a result of their expertise, they become sort of picky with their applications and the way in which their computer behaves. I call them gourmet users. This post here by Gene (ERACC) describes very well the difference between a power user and a gourmet user, whom he calls "niche user".

When the option to switch to Linux is presented, the nay-sayers of each group generally round up their reasons to something like this:

1. Simple users: (Without even trying it) "It's too difficult! It took me a lot of effort to learn to work with the computer and now I have to start it all over again?"

2. Gourmet users: "But if you cannot run ______________ (insert name of their favorite application), this is not good".

3. Power users: "Mmm. The thing is that I prefer to work with _______"(insert name of MS programming tool).

The basic issue underlying those claims is recalcitrance. Yes, those individuals are not willing to lean to work in a different way. Regardless of the arguments, unwillingness to learn is normally the bottom line, which is sad, because very rarely is it that learning something new hurts you.

I guess I fall in the gourmet user category. I decided not to jump into the MS Office 2007 wagon because I could use the previous version quite efficiently. Well, since the version I bought did not include PowerPoint, I had to learn how to use electronic presentation software in StarOffice. Additionally, I didn't like the Ribbon interface...and they killed "Linxs". To modify pictures, I used Satori (never liked Photoshop), not MS Paint. And I didn't use MS Movie Maker to produce videos, but VirtualDub. I required my OS to be able to handle Japanese input. Finally, I also wanted my OS to handle text-to-speech synthesis, to fire all sorts of alarms (music, alerts, actions) and to keep me protected from malware. I managed to learn how to do all that in Windows (with the obvious exception of the latter, which is virtually impossible). To do everything I required, the computer depended on many, many third-party programs to add functionality to the MS OS.

I never shy away from learning. That's the reason why migrating to Linux was not so difficult for me...not to mention that I found a friendlier environment in which all tasks I require from the OS can be performed more easily than in the MS operating system.

sábado, 8 de octubre de 2011

Why I failed the Windows 8 Logo Program

With all this uproar because of the implementation of UEFI as a requirement for the Windows 8 Logo Program, I decided to apply to get it because of the advantages it offers. You know, I tend to boot up rather slowly in the morning: I walk around my house in a state of semi-consciousness until all the proper drivers and modules are loaded. It would be great just to wake up and boot up into my operating system in the blink of an eye.

I discovered that one of the requirements to apply for the Windows 8 Logo Program, before I boot up, is to have secure boot enabled by default. I also must carry several sets of keys, all for the sake of prevention. According to MS, if I do not, some malicious thoughts could hijack the boot process and then I would be cast into a zombie state, controlled by some criminal or terrorist. Thus, I might end writing and sending millions of useless postcards...That's scary, isn't it?

So, the basic idea, protection from criminals, sounds appealing. Yet, I started asking some questions and found some problematic issues hidden below the surface of the venerable claim of security:

1. The keys and what you wear

The keys that they give me allow me to boot up super fast because they restrict the elements that I need to function. For instance, I will save time getting to work because I won't have problems remembering where I left my glasses the night before. What's more, in theory, even if a malicious poltergeist wants to play with my eye-prescription device, the mischievous spirit won't be able to. However, there is a big problem with this approach depending on who provides the keys. Let us suppose that MS allows OEMs (Organism Evaluating Mechanisms) to provide their keys. The control on what I boot up into will be so tight that if I, by any chance, want to wear a pair of glasses that is not certified by the key that they gave me, I will be treated like the poltergeist myself. Yes, I'd be in trouble to change my shirt, too. This will make a uniform world, indeed. I'm surprised that the United States, a country that defends individual rights with a passion, might meekly agree to let everyone use "the same clothes". Everyone into the same school uniform! How about that?

But the most worrisome part comes next...

2. Secure boot and the right to think

The fact that I cannot choose my glasses manifests something important that is underlying this prohibition disguised as "prevention". If this so called "secure boot" will not let me swap glasses or shirts easily (action), my right to consider wearing some glasses other than the certified ones (thought) is taken away from me. That is, I cannot even think about wearing anything else... Not even the widely-used MS XP Professional SP3 Glasses, for example. Paradoxically, I won't even be able to replace my MS 8 glasses (OEM version) by a brand new a pair of boxed MS 8 glasses if the keys are given by an OEM and not MS itself. You see, my individual right to think about choosing what I want simply ceases to exist.

You might think that all this is simply solved by disabling secure boot. You are, of course, absolutely right; I also thought that way. And that's the reason why I failed the Windows 8 Logo Program: you must have secure boot enabled BY DEFAULT to apply, remember?

I guess I value my freedom more than the Logo. In the end, if I'm free, I can take care of my security myself.

On a serious note, next time I need to buy a computer, I'll make sure I'll purchase it from a manufacturer that respects my freedom to choose.

sábado, 1 de octubre de 2011

On the University migration to Free Software

Megatotoro described here how the recently announced University migration to free software made a big splash in national newspapers and even on TV news. The idea is to start by replacing MS Office suites by free software equivalents (Open Office) and, eventually, dump Windows and implement Linux.

I visited the online page of one of those newspapers to see the coverage and the comments I read were, for the most part, very encouraging and positive. Of course, the public is congratulating the University for the initiative of saving a LOT OF MONEY (that was used to pay MS licenses) through the use of Free Software and to invest this growing amount on improving the campus and on resources available to students.

Today, I had the opportunity to speak to the Dean of the Faculty where both Megatotoro and I work and somehow the conversation steered to Linux. To my surprise, she said: "So you use Linux? That's where we are heading!". Her position was one of embracing change rather than one of fear or discomfort.

Her words are certainly consistent with some actions that the University took:

1. A Free repository was enabled, so scholars and researchers can upload their works and share them with national and international communities for free

2. Several University dependencies have taken measures to guarantee access to their services from different platforms, Linux included.

3. There is a cluster of servers called ESPEJOS (mirrors) that basically lets people download linux distros and other free software from everywhere.

4. The ICT programs are required to teach courses on Free Software.

When the reporters asked the MS representative that handles government issues in the region how Microsoft was affected by this, her words were more an evasion than an answer. She said that Microsoft is “commited to work on interoperability”, and that “this implies more opportunities for developers and more technological innovation and market competition for enterprises and governments, and users”.

Yes, interoperability, she said. For crying out loud! It's thanks to Microsoft that their own proprietary formats do not work properly with other office suites (sometimes, not even their own!)

The interesting outcome of all this is that many comments from the public are urging the government to imitate this step the University took. Of course, our country is not rich and sending all that money to Microsoft instead of investing it on our students or services makes little sense.

I'm sure Microsoft will try to react to this. I was told that, last time, they had a terrible flop trying to license a specialized software for statistics in Windows...It was embarrassing because, during the demo, it crashed, just like on this memorable video...

Maybe that episode prompted the migration :-)

miércoles, 28 de septiembre de 2011

I'm a 7 user now!

Only it's not Windows 7, but Firefox 7.

I downloaded it as a .tar.bz2 file and used alien to convert it into an RPM. You do that by typing SU in Konsole, then your root password. You have to use this this command:

alien -r firefox-7.0.tar.bz2

(Obviously you need to have alien installed)

You wait a bit and then the terminal tells you that it's done. You find a firefox-7.0-2.noarch.rpm file and click on it to install it.

That's it.

I noticed that this procedure substituted the Firefox 6 that I downloaded from the MIB repos.

Since I'm still using Mandriva 2010.2, I guess that's the best way to switch to Firefox 7 which, by the way, is performing great in my system. All my favorite add-ons work and it's fast. About the changes, well, to be honest, I see the same browser I was using... I guess they are only visible to technical users.

lunes, 19 de septiembre de 2011

Happy Birthday, MAGEIA!

Mageia was celebrating its first anniversary yesterday.

A year! That was fast! Just like my daughter, baby Mageia is "a proud, promising and exciting toddler!"

All I can say is that I am very pleased with the way Mageia performs in my netbook and I hope to see more releases of this wonderful distribution that today feels more Mandriva-like than Mandriva itself.

Happy birthday, magic baby!

@Megatotoro, No, I'm not going to post that crazy Mageia poem :-P

miércoles, 14 de septiembre de 2011

Some Random Thoughts on Windows 8

I had to go to this meeting yesterday in which University representatives came to deliver a workshop and show an application that was supposedly fundamental for the good functioning of the administrative layer of the different University units. However, when I asked the speakers how I could get the application, something funny happened. The younger speaker, a man who gave me a patronizing look, said that the application was real friendly. Then he tried to impress me with "computer jargon": he said that all I had to do was "install it to the root in C: and...."

And that's where I interrupted him to say that my computer doesn't run Windows, so I asked if the valuable application could run in Linux. He was dumbfounded and proceeded with the stupidest answer you can give a potential user: "Well, we can install an OS where the application can run for you and..."

I had to cut him short saying: "Wait, listen: I don't want to discard my OS and all my perfectly functional applications only because this program was not developed to work on different platforms. The program must be changed, not my OS".

That's one lesson several University authorities are yet to learn: academic and administrative units invest time, effort and budget to develop applications that, later on, are lost when Microsoft arbitrarily determines that certain features are not going to be supported by their newest OS version. I wonder if this "fundamental program" will run next year, when Windows 8 will be released. Maybe the program will trigger the redesigned Blue Screen of Death which I, jokingly, had anticipated here.

At least the University Libraries did not plummet into the same abyss. They improved all their systems to be OS-friendly, so I can do scholarly work using my Linux netbook and MAC users are also covered. Some units are also offering documents for download both as .odt and .doc (not .docx!)

But the administrative layer is the one that, for its most part, has no idea of what "compatibility mode for documents" is (let alone what a file extension is!). Those are the individuals who think of themselves as computer experts because they survived the adaptation to the Ribbon interface of Office 2007. However, in a notorious oxymoron, they claim that Linux/Open Office/Libre Office is too difficult because the UI is different. Yet, they simply bore and grinned when Windows 7 introduced new UI features. When a program that worked in XP ceases to work in 7, they meekly accept that as natural, cry over the dead program, and go on as cyber-zombies controlled by a Puppet Master. In short, they are the Spider Monkeys to whom Bill Gates referred and that made him grossly rich.

I must confess that I second what sinaisix mentioned as the first consequence of using Linux here. I like to have control of my computer. I want to be able to work with whatever system I have available, not one that will leave me hanging because the company that sells it decided to drop support. That happened already in the section where I work: the program that controls all the student registration processes is not supported in Windows 7. It was not my mistake, but I did not conform; my first action as the boss was to have it replaced by one that can be run in multiple OSs. It runs in Linux now. Hence, if Windows 8 decides not to run it, we will have a compelling reason not to spend money on a useless OS, right?

I wonder how the Spider Monkeys will react once they are hit by the new UI of Windows 8. Will they be able to pretend that they never said anything about a "pronounced learning curve"? Most probably, people are going to congratulate Microsoft for the brilliant innovation and say, paradoxically, that "Linux is falling behind" despite the fact that such cell phone-like UI was introduced in Linux before. Oh, and that troll who, after seeing Unity in Ubuntu and the ROSA panel in Mandriva, said that he was going back to Windows because "Microsoft knew their desktop" must be eating his shorts right now.

In any case, I hope this troop of Spider Monkeys starts backing up their info, just in case ;-)

jueves, 1 de septiembre de 2011

Happy Birthday, Eimi!

I'm taking a break from the world of computers to post something different today. Eimi, my daughter, is celebrating her first birthday!
One year! Wow, time surely flies!

She is learning to talk...I hope she will learn several languages (Spanish, English, Japanese, French and all the Thai her uncle can teach her).

Oh, she loves to slam the keyboard of my computer as we watch videos...
Yes, she will also learn to respect other people and to value her freedom.

Happy birthday, Eimi!

miércoles, 31 de agosto de 2011

Mandriva 2011 seen from a non-technical user's perspective

Mandriva 2011 arrived and, in the humble opinion of this non-technical Linux user, "Hydrogen", as the release is called, presents a target/usability paradox.

To explain the paradox, I have to go back in time, a retrospective trip of my dealings with Mandriva. In 2009, I chose Mandriva and installed it to my Asus Eee PC 900 after downloading four distributions at random. All I knew about Linux back then was that there were many versions (I didn't even know what the word "distro" meant!) and that some were more difficult to use than others. Somewhere I read that Mandriva was labeled an "intermediate" distribution.

I first ran Debian and panicked because it had a text mode installer. Then I tried Kubuntu, but it wouldn't activate the wi-fi of the netbook. So I ran the Mandriva One 2009 Live CD and, after trying the desktop and, seeing that I could use the wi-fi, I installed it. The process was a little different from what I had seen in my multiple Windows installs, but I succeeded and Mandriva made me forget about the Redmond OS.

The label "intermediate" was fairly accurate, I'd say. My learning curve was pronounced: I had to turn off the computer manually and I made many mistakes out of ignorance. However, before 2009 ended, Mandriva 2010 "Adelie" was released and Mandriva's usability experience changed dramatically: the computer would turn off as expected, hibernation responded, and even function keys worked. Mandriva 2010.1 and 2010.2 made usability better as they added stability to the distribution. Mandriva became a truly easy-to-use distro for a person who had never used Linux before.

I have been testing the so awaited Mandriva 2011 "Hydrogen" for a couple of days now. From the betas, I learned that developers were making a bold move; they introduced the ROSA panel, which I must confess is not my cup of tea at all. To me, it looks like a gigantic cell phone environment, not like the desktop of a PC. Yet, I understand that they want to somehow "simplify" the user experience.

That's where the paradox lies. You install Mandriva 2011 (a rather simple process) and get to the ROSA SimpleWelcome. It's so convenient that even someone who lacks mouse control can navigate it. However, there are several situations that make a newbie run away in panic:

1. Wi-fi is not enabled by default (the same problem that I had with the new kernel and Mageia).
2. Flash is not installed in your browser, so no Youtube viewing until you learn to walk the Mandriva ropes.
3. No codecs for .MP4 or .flv videos.

Even if Clementine plays .MP3s (which is nice because Amarok refused to do it), those three points represent major contradictions when thinking that Hydrogen is aiming at convincing new users that Mandriva is as "easy" to use as Unity or a cell phone.

Despite all that, in my particular case, there are some considerations that made me keep Mandriva 2011 and stand the ROSA panel:

1. I don't like the SimpleWelcome thing although everyone else to whom I have showed it loved it. However, I must admit that the time line tab is convenient and functional.

2. I like the fact that you get a prompt to start a program without having to navigate the ROSA applications tab.

3. If you add the pager widget, you get the four workspaces back. That's great because, once you have enjoyed this kind of computing, a single "desktop" feels over-restrictive.

4. Effects can be enabled so that the work environment becomes a lot more attractive. (That's a shot of the KWIN desktop cube rotating --with four different wallpapers and the SimpleWelcome menu visible in one of the sides).

5. Oh, yes! iBUS installs easily and runs flawlessly with Libre Office if you need to type Chinese, Japanese, etc. Sweet! それはよかった!

6. The KDE text-to-speech service Jovie is running at last.

Therefore, although I'm not very sure about the direction that Mandriva took, I cannot say that I am utterly displeased with the release. Hydrogen works for me, but Mandriva has gone back to being a distribution with a difficulty level of "intermediate". I don't think I would have kept it if it had been like this when I downloaded Mandriva in 2009...after all, enabling the wi-fi is not a task that someone who knows nothing about Linux can do easily. I would have probably tested the fourth distro I had and by now I'd be a Linux Mint user.

domingo, 28 de agosto de 2011

Mandriva 2011 is here!

As promised, and right on time, Mandriva 2011 has been released. Its codename is "Hydrogen".

Mandriva now only supports KDE officially. For me, that's OK as I prefer to use KDE, but the other changes make me a little anxious. There is a revised installer, the RPM5 thing and, of course, the ROSA UI that is certainly beautiful but has both supporters and detractors. I guess I'd have to be counted in the latter group, but one never knows.

So, I'm right now donwloading and getting ready for testing. If someone with limited knowledge like me can handle the installation and the test drive, then the Mandriva team achieved their purpose.

sábado, 20 de agosto de 2011

The Friendly Black Screen that Talks (Espeak)

Today, I had great fun with my little nephew thanks to Espeak, which I had installed from the Mandriva repositories long ago in an attempt to make my computer talk again. In Mandriva 2009, the task was performed by KTTS. However, as Mandriva 2010 kept KTTS despite KDE renamed the text-to-speech service (now it's called Jovie), my computer became voiceless. Or so I thought.

Being a Linux newbie, my knowledge of command line amounts to almost zero. Sometimes I unconsciously assume that if the GUI does not work, the program is broken. How silly of me! KTTS handled everything for me so, when I installed Espeak, I simply found no way to make my computer talk again via GUI.

Today, I launched Konsole and typed: espeak --help

Then, I saw all the commands to make my computer start talking again. If you type espeak, all the sentences that you type would be pronounced by the default voice (English).

However, there is a great assortment of languages to choose from. When I typed espeak -v fr [enter], my computer started speaking every line I wrote in French. If you want Spanish from Latin America, you type espeak -v es-la [enter].

So, my little nephew was delighted listening to a computer talk every absurd sentence he asked me to write. He also tried some, but he doesn't know how to write yet. The good thing is that he promised me to study a lot to learn the alphabet soon because he wants to make the computer talk ;-)

For the reference, the voices are stored in /usr/share/espeak-data/voices. The executable file is espeak and it's found at /usr/bin.

Now I only need to find a way to add a Japanese voice...

jueves, 18 de agosto de 2011

About Mothers and Linux

I read constantly that "Linux is not ready for Mom" but I cannot help ask myself which distribution....or, to be more specific, which mother.

Three days ago, we celebrated Mother's Day in my country. Thus, my brother and I wanted to surprise our mother and my wife (who recently became the mother of a cute baby girl). We wanted to give them a memorable present, something that they could use both for entertainment and, why not, to learn. In an unplanned visit to a computer store, my eyes fixed upon the classic Asus Eee PC 900, the tiny netbook that drew me to the world of Linux with its version of Xandros. Next to it sat the Asus Eee PC 901. Temptation was formidable, so we ended up buying both despite the clerk never quite understood why we rejected his offer of some other netbooks (preloaded with the rip off known as Windows 7 Starter).

For those who might think that those were inappropriate gifts because a mother simply can't use Linux, let me asure them my mother is a happy user of Pardus Linux while my wife, who bought a laptop two years ago, asked me to install Mandriva 2010 not to have to use, or suffer, should I say, Windows Vista.

As soon as my mother saw her present, she became truly happy because she wanted a netbook to be able to check her email and socialize with her virtual friends in Facebook without being stuck in front of her desktop PC. However, she rejected the preloaded OS. Before Ballmer celebrates, let me clarify that she did not ask for Windows. She wanted Pardus 2011 instead of Xandros! By the way, this Asus Eee PC runs it with full effects without a glitch despite its modest 1 GB RAM and 20 GB storage.

On the other hand, when my wife saw her Eee PC 901, she decided to give the extinct Xandros an opportunity, mainly due to its flawless voice command. Yes, a tiny computer like than one can receive voice commands even better than the Eee PC 900 did. Windows 7 Starter, you should be ashamed of yourself!

So, there you go: that's two mothers who are happy with Linux.

Acerca de madres y Linux

Constantemente leo que "Linux no está listo para mamá" pero no puedo evitar preguntarme cuál distribución...o, para ser más específico, cuál mamá.

Hace tres días celebramos el día de la madre en mi país. Mi hermano y yo queríamos sorprender a nuestra madre y a mi esposa (quien ya es madre de una bebita de 11 meses). Pues bien, queríamos darles un regalo memorable, algo que ellas pudieran utilizar para entretenerse y, por qué no, aprender. En una visita no planeada a una tienda de computadoras, mis ojos se fijaron en la clásica Asus Eee PC 900, la diminuta netbook que me introdujo al mundo de Linux con su versión de Xandros. Junto a ella se encontraba la Asus Eee PC 901. La tentación fue demasiado grande; terminamos adquiriendo las dos ante la mirada extrañada del vendedor, que nunca entendió por qué rechazamos sin miramientos el ofrecimiento de otras netbooks (precargadas con la estafa conocida como "Windows 7 Starter").

Para quienes piensen que los regalos no eran adecuados porque una madre no puede usar Linux, me permito asegurarles que mi madre es una feliz usuaria de Pardus Linux , mientras que mi esposa, cuando adquirió su laptop, lo primero que hizo fue pedirme que le instalara Mandriva 2010 para no tener que usar , o debería más bien decir, sufrir, Windows Vista.

Cuando mi madre vio su regalo, se alegró mucho porque ella realmente quería una netbook para poder revisar su email y dedicarse a socializar con sus amigos virtuales en Facebook sin tener que permanecer en la computadora de escritorio. Eso sí, rechazó de plano el sistema operativo preconfigurado...Pero antes de que Ballmer celebre, ella no pidió Windows. ¡Me pidió que le cambiara Xandros por Pardus 2011! La Asus Eee PC corre Pardus 2011 con todos los efectos sin problema, a pesar de contar con apenas 1 GB de RAM y 20GB de almacenamiento.

Mi esposa, por su parte, al mirar su nueva Eee PC 901, decidió darle una oportunidad al extinto Xandros gracias al impecable funcionamiento del comando de voz. Sí, una computadora diminuta como esa recibe órdenes verbales aún mejor que la Eee PC 900. ¡Windows 7 Starter debería avergonzarse de sí mismo!

Así que aquí lo tienen: dos madres felices con Linux.

domingo, 7 de agosto de 2011

Japanese in PCLinuxOS? Of course!

After having installed PCLinuxOS 2011.6, I must say that I am very pleased with it. Differently from Mandriva 2010.2, I can see videos and listen to MP3 files out of the box and I don't need to fiddle with the system to mount the partitions where my other Linux distributions are. It seems that everything works as expected. Great!

But I still had one concern. Although I'm not a power user, for my work, I require a feature that is not very common: a Japanese input method editor. That's one major area (of the many) where Windows 7 fails miserably; you are expected to pay more to obtain a Japanese-capable system, which is a rip off because regular XP did include a Japanese IME. Oh, well, we are familiar with the "Less-is-more" philosophy underlying Windows...Too bad it doesn't apply to your pocket ;-)

On the other hand, many Linux distros can handle Japanese typing, either via SCIM or iBus, working with either OpenOffice or LibreOffice. For example, while Mandriva 2010.2 can accept Japanese IME (SCIM + Open Office), the newly born Mageia 1 handles Japanese typing via both iBus and SCIM with LibreOffice. I know that Mepis 2011, Fusion 14 and Zenwalk 7 also let you type in Japanese.

The question was, could I activate either iBus or SCIM in PCLinuxOS 2011.6? I mean, I've only been using PCLOS for less than a week. Besides, this distro works with LibreOffice and, because of my repeated failure making this suite and IMEs work in Mandriva, I was not very confident.

Anyway, I first tried with iBus. After downloading all the packages and their dependencies, differently from what happens in Mandriva 2010.2, iBus started. The problem was that, despite I downloaded Anthy, iBus did not detect any typing method. I checked the dependencies and the reason was simple: the iBus-Anthy wrapper is missing in the repositories.

I tried SCIM then. I followed the same steps to activate SCIM in Mandriva and failed again. I then undid my changes and went to the Forums for help. I read an explanation here. Thus, I realized that I was missing some dependencies, so I downloaded those and, after following the relevant indications (because the thread is for a situation other than mine), absolutely nothing happened.

I was back to square 1, but not discouraged. With all the dependencies already installed, I decided to follow the process to activate SCIM+Open Office in Mandriva:
  1. First, I looked for i18n in /etc/sysconfig.
  2. After seeing that the structure is the same, I fired up Konsole. I typed su then my password.
  3. Once as root, I typed CD.. to get to / and then CD /etc/sysconfig
  4. I typed Kwrite, opened i18n with that application and appended the following lines to the end:
XIM_PROGRAM=”scim -d”

After saving, I logged out and then back in. Nothing happened, apparently. But you must remember that different systems work differently, so I pressed CTRL+Space and voilà, er, できた!PCLOSで、私はだいたい日本語を書くことができるよ。方法もあまり難しくない、すばらしい!日本語、PCLOSで?もちろん!

So, that's the way I found to type Japanese in PCLinuxOS with SCIM and LibreOffice. I couldn't be any happier with this system now :-)

After a new install, LibreOffice started behaving differently and would not respond to the above process. To make SCIM work with it, you also have to open Konsole and, as root, type


then type kwrite to fire up the editing program and open a file called
Xsession, to which you will append the following lines before the line that starts with exec

export GTK_IM_MODULE=scim-bridge
export QT_IM_MODULE=xim
export XIM_PROGRAM="scim -d"

and, after a log out/in, that does the trick.

viernes, 5 de agosto de 2011

Document Exchange: The World Has Changed, Billy

In the movie "Dad", there is a scene in which old Jake Tremont, thinking about the past, shares the following words with his grown-up son, John: "The world has wouldn't believe how the world has changed". John, some time later, repeats exactly the same sentences to his son, Billy, amazed at the generation gap between him, a professional in his forties, and his teenage son.

I was thinking about that movie today when I tried to access one of the administrative web pages of the university where I work. Do you still remember that world in which people thought that there was ONLY ONE operating system? Two at most (Vista and XP)? Do you remember when all documents where exchanged using a proprietary format that, one good day, was arbitrarily changed and this act generated confusion when users couldn't open documents?

Well, when I started using Linux, practically NO ONE knew of the existence of the .odt format. Professors, students, and administrative staff were all mindless zombies who would send documents in proprietary formats assuming that the person receiving the information was going to able to open those letters, memos, essays, you name it. This is no longer the case: in two years, people have realized that they have to think about the receiving end, so they are using .pdf and compatibility mode to exchange their documents.

This might not not seem like a great change, however, as I got to the administrative page looking for some forms, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that they are offering two links: one for the traditional .doc format and another for .odt. In some of the links, the downloads for .odt exceed those of .doc files.

I had heard of the university plans to dump Microsoft Office in favor of open alternatives, but I personally did not have high expectations. Today I saw it: now they are not taking for granted that you use Word and you are satisfied with it.

Microsoft, for its part, needs to change some of its stances concerning open source if it wants to remain a big player in this new world that we see everyday. FUD campaigns are not working; users are gradually opening their eyes to see that they are suffering from the abusive policies of a company that lies to them. Some of them have already seen Linux computers which make their own Windows 7 PCs look like outdated dinosaurs that offer them the same problems found in computers a decade ago.

Steve Ballmer is delusional if he thinks that young people, those mobile phone-thumbing individuals, belong to the recalcitrant, almost extinct user base that yells "Windows or nothing!"

Bill Gates knew that the success of Windows depended on the ignorance of computer users. However, the world has changed, Billy... You wouldn't believe how the world has changed...

domingo, 31 de julio de 2011

PCLinuxOS, the REAL deal!

A couple of days ago, I described how I had an unfortunate experience while I attempted an install of PCLinuxOS. Because of lack of time, I had to remove the distro to recover my PC and finish my work, promising to get back at PCLOS later.

Well, time has come: a kind reader of my post, to solve the problem of the multiple boot, recommended me to visit the PCLOS forums and find the wise sage, who goes through forum-land under the name of Old Pollack.

Since I'm not a registered user in the forums, all I could do was read some previous posts, but that was enough to identify the problem and find the solution. It pays doing your homework, doesn't it?

So, now I'm discovering new possibilities with the distro that displays a Longhorn as its logo :-)

Old Pollack, let me thank you for your selfless sharing. I don't know if my words will get to you, but here's one more PCLinuxOS user thanks to your knowledge.

Wish me luck; I have many things to learn ... but who is afraid of learning?