jueves, 30 de junio de 2011

A nice surprise

It might have been a year ago or so when I entered this small computer shop near the University where I work. That day, I asked about a webcam and the clerk, all smiles, brought it to me. Then I asked the dreadful question that wiped out his smile in a fraction of a second: "Does this support Linux?"

I recall he stuttered and asked, "Linux... Is that...UBUNTO?" When I explained to him that I did not use Ubuntu, but Mandriva, and that there were compatibility problems because of drivers, he pretended to be a Linux authority and said "Oh, Mandriva!... That OS gives many problems." His absolute ignorance about Linux couldn't be more visible.

Today, I visited the same shop after a particularly hard day of a rather stormy week. I went in looking for an external HD and another clerk brought it to me. I instinctively started turning the box trying to find a Tux signal somewhere and the clerk noticed, so he politely asked me: "Excuse me...What are you looking for?"

Mentally, I sighed and said to myself "here we go again" before I told him: "I want to know if these devices support Linux".

His immediate answer startled me: "Absolutely, sir. I know they work with Gnome and KDE distros." I raised my eyes from the cover of the product, dumbfounded, and his amused smile denoted that he might have noticed my surprise. He even continued, "Do you want to install Linux to the HD, sir? They work very well to boot up a computer".

So, how about that? In about a year's time, this small shop went from the utmost ignorance about Linux to very helpful toward clients who run this OS!
The same happened in the place where I normally buy my computers. Last time I went, the technician did not frown when I told him that I wanted a new Ethernet card and that my computer ran Mandriva and Pardus Linux. What's more, he even had a Linux sign over his desk!

Besides, I have noticed something interesting: UBUNTO, er, Ubuntu signs are beginning to show in several places of the country as well.

This indicates to me that Linux, despite gloomy market share statistics, is ACTUALLY becoming more known and used everyday.

Whatever the case, I'm typing this entry while all the info in my HD is being backed up to the new external HD... Yes, the one that works with Gnome and KDE distros and that responds particularly well to boot a computer up if one installs Linux to it... (can you see my grin?)

domingo, 26 de junio de 2011

KDE configuration for Linux newbies

One of the many good points about Linux is that the user can configure virtually anything to adjust the system to his or her liking. Many users are aware that it is possible to install color schemes, desktop themes, wallpaper images, sounds, and many more resources from the system (hitting the "Get new (theme, color, sound, etc).

However, some newbies might want to pick one sound from this set and another from a different one. Maybe they would like the oxygen theme but would like to keep the la-ora pager to switch workspaces. Perhaps they would like to skin poor Kopete with something to make it more appealing. Or they are simply dying to keep an aquarium in the lower panel to entertain themselves with the fish... who knows?

These are some ideas of where to go to customize KDE. And, by the way, you can do all this without resorting to the terminal (yes, I know it's not as fun as doing it with the charming black screen, but still...)

First, are you acquainted with Kde-look.org? You can download many goodies from there.

A. Kopete skins

This one is easy. I'll use it to illustrate how to work with the "Get new___" button that you get in many of the KDE resources. All you must do is start Kopete, go to settings in the menu, and then select the icon "Chat Window" from the left. Under the "style" tab, you can see the available skins. You can download new ones using the "Get new" button at the bottom. You can browse and select the one you like and, to the right, you will see an "install" button. Click on it and then you can select the downloaded skin from the options in the previous window. I am using the "perfect_pushpin" style as an illustration.

Kopete, regular appearance (in Mepis 11)

Kopete with a new style in Mandriva 2010.2
B. Menu translucency

This one is very simple, too. Just click the tools icon in the lower panel (or Menu->tools->system tools-> configure desktop) and click on "appearance"->desktop effects. Open the tab "all effects" and look for "translucency". Assuming that it is active, click on the little tool icon next to it. A window with several control opens. Find "Menu" and drag the indicator to the left to make the menu more transparent. This works particularly well with dark color schemes, such as "Obsidian coast", "Friendly Dark", or "Night and Blood". As the icons in the menu become clearer, it is not a good idea to set the transparency level too high or use it in combination with a light color scheme.

Menu translucency in Pardus 2011
(This last color scheme is Obsidian Coast)
C. Plasmoids

As you know, you get them from the cashew once you have unlocked all graphic elements. Well, you need to work with the cashew in the lower panel. You get many plasmoids form there. However, what if you want a plasmoid that is not included in your distribution? Well, if you do not want to browse the pool using "get new graphic elements", then you download the plasmoid from
here and, once that you have the file in your HDD, you select "install local file"-> plasmoid, and browse to find the file in the appropriate folder. This works if the file is a plasmoid. If it is a .tar file, the installation is more complicated.

Here is the process in Mandriva 2010.2

D. System sounds

First, you need to have a collection of sounds and must make sure that you remember the location of the folder where they are. Again, you can download and uncompress some from Kde-look.org.
In KDE 4.4.3 and (Mandriva 2010.2), you have to go to "System settings" ->notifications. Once there, in the tab "applications", look for "KDE system notifications".
In KDE 4.5.3 (Mepis 11),and 4.6.4 (Mageia 1, Pardus 2011...), you can achieve the change from "System settings" ->application and system notifications.

Changing sounds in Mepis 11

E. Panel and pager
Let's suppose that you installed the T-Remix theme but you don't like its pager, so you want to use the one in the Oxygen theme. Again, in KDE 4.4.3 (Mandriva 2010.2 ), you go to the tools icon in the lower panel (or Menu->tools->system tools-> configure desktop) and select the tab "advanced". Once there, click "Desktop theme details"" and under "theme item" go down to find "pager". Next to it, you can select the theme you want independently of the one you have installed on your system.

In KDE 4.5.3 (Mepis 11) and in 4.6.4 (Mageia 1, Pardus 2011), you find the details as a tab in "Workspace appearance"->Desktop theme. The rest of the process is the same.

Changing the pager in Mageia 1

I hope that you can use this information to make your Linux desktop more to your personal taste. After all, if one has to spend a lot of time on the computer, it's a good idea to keep it as eye-pleasing as one can :)

miércoles, 22 de junio de 2011

A no-OS-computer? You must be a pirate!

After reading this piece about a
Linux keyboard PC , I got excited. I've been looking for a nice computer that is sold without any operating system so that I can install my own. Yes, I'm aware of the existence of System76 (Ubuntu systems) and ZaReason (several Linux offers), but I wanted to try something else. Thus, I checked the vendor's page and, sure enough, there was a "NO OS" option. With a high heart, I selected the components of the system and submitted my request waiting to receive the quote with the price.

A day later, I received it and, with it, there came a surprise. The price was satisfactory ($555), but they had included Windows 7 Professional 32 bits and were charging me for it!

I immediately contacted the sales representative to ask why they were forcing Windows on me if I had explicitly selected a "No-OS system"(I changed the names):

Dear Sales Representative,

I have one question concerning the quote. Why are you including and charging Windows 7 if I explicitly selected the "NO OS" option? Can you sell it without Windows? I am not interested in paying for Microsoft software; I only want the computer.



This was her answer, which I found rather strange:

Hi Mechatotoro,

We can sell the unit without the OS provided you do have OS licensing. I included the pricing info for the OS so that you can deduct the $176.00 price point if you do not need one included which would make the price $379.00. Attached is the revised quote.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Best Regards,

So, she said that she had done it because, that way, I could deduct from the price the cost of Windows (?!) as long as I had "OS licensing".

This showed to me that, thanks to Microsoft's dirty campaigns, you are seen as a pirate when you request a computer without any OS. Is it so unbelievable that a customer does not want Windows? So, I replied to her:

Hi, Sales Rep,

I am a Linux user and plan to install Linux to the computer. Consequently, your point about licensing (Microsoft license, that is) does not apply in my case. Your offer seems very attractive. Thanks.

The good thing about this exchange is that I could do the math. If the price of the No-OS unit is $379 and Windows 7 costs $176, that means that Microsoft software accounts for almost 50% of the price of the system (46%)! From $555 to $379 for exactly the same computer...That is a considerable difference!

Another interesting point is that OEMs, companies that work with HARDWARE, not SOFTWARE, are actually doing the dirty work for Microsoft. If piracy affects the Redmond software vendor, it should be the one checking for licenses and doing the police work, not OEMs. I wonder how Miscrosoft is going to keep up with the abusive idea of the MS tax. Can they still bully OEMs assuming that No-OS necessarily implies Windows piracy? Can they get away with it in a world in which we see multiple OSs and users are aware of this today?

So, OEMs think that I'm a pirate because I don't want Windows? That's fine with me, really... Just give me the option NOT to buy Windows and we call it a deal!

UPDATE: The sales rep got back at me and said I can buy. It seems that I am on the clear now. Great! :-)

domingo, 12 de junio de 2011

Arguments against Linux and the opinion of a non-technical user

First of all, let me clarify two points. One, I'm no power computer user: I know nothing about programming; I neither speak Java nor make my living analyzing data that go through routers and I certainly cannot assemble a computer from scratch as if it were a 30-piece jigsaw puzzle. Two, as an educator, I believe that the human mind is capable of learning when the subject is willing to participate in the process of knowledge acquisition. That being said, let me review some of the arguments that I have encountered against Linux, which, in my humble opinion, manifest some subjective reasoning that is used as an over-generalization.

1. Linux is not ready for simple computer users
From my experience and from my observations of the people who run Linux around me, this is FUD. As I said, I am a simple computer user and both my desktop and netbook have been running Linux for two years. In comparison to my 10+ years as a Windows user, I have found Mandriva Linux liberating, more stable, and definitely more reliable than Windows. So has my wife, who had no problem adapting to to the Penguin OS and begged me to remove Vista from her laptop. My brother, who runs Mepis, shares our opinion. And my mother, who was terrified of computers until she discovered Pardus, also agrees. A student of English, who runs Ubuntu and its new Unity-thing, loves his OS. In general, those people that embraced Linux expecting it to be different from Windows migrated successfully. Who says that to run Linux you have to run avant-garde software that requires compiling the kernel?

2. Windows just works and Linux will fail at a critical time.
Just two weeks ago, during a school meeting, I saw a colleague getting embarrassed by Windows 7 in front of everyone. This is so common that people have just stopped paying attention, I think. This time, she was supposed to deliver a presentation and the greatly acclaimed child of Microsoft decided to install several updates before getting to the desktop. It took so long that my poor colleague had to go get another Windows 7 computer. However, to her despair, there was a momentary blackout and the second computer decided to lock itself. In the end, she had to forget about her presentation. In comparison, last time there was a power shortage, Linux came back instantly when the power was restored and remembered everything I had open.

3. Linux is poor for games.
I can't deny than playing a game is a great source of pleasure for many. However, this argument does not make sense in a corporate environment, where computers are supposed to be tools for working, not playing. I don't know of any boss that selects office computers for the staff because of their amazing capability to play World of Warcraft.

Now, if you are talking about your personal machine and you are a heavy gamer, that's a different scenario, but I personally don't have any problem with Linux games. Nor many simple computer users I know. They use their machines mainly to type documents, send email, and browse the web. Did you know that many adults who use computers do not actually care about games? How about your teen child? I bet s/he will rather have a console than having to take turns with you to use the computer.

4. You cannot run Tax software or Netflix in Linux
Oh really? I'm going to dump Linux! Wait... I don't live in the U.S.!
In my country, Netflix or tax software are not
problems: we don't use the same tax system and Netflix is not offered, either. This is applicable to many of the other countries where Linux can be and is used. Let's get into a more universal argument, shall we?

5. FLOSS names make it difficult for the user to find applications

This makes me laugh in disbelief. What a pedestrian argument! I guess people who said this can never travel, for they are completely unable to identify objects or places. Yes, if those people go to London, poor them! They have to go up and down stairs all the time because they never find "elevators", only strange doors called "lifts". Let alone going to a country where people speak a language other than English... You can expect things to have different names there.

So, you don't know what GIMP does? Well, do what I did: you open it, use it for a while, and you are good to go. Simple and painless.

The real problem is not about ease of identification, but custom. Did you know that this silly argument about names also applies to Windows? I remember I first typed my documents with an application called MS Works. All of a sudden, it was gone! Did I stop typing letters? No, I simply saw MS Word. When I saw Word in the menu, I thought it was a dictionary. Yet, I opened the program and started using it. So what's the big deal about names? The human brain has a memory. You use a new program for a while and your brain creates an association. The result: you never have the same problem again. That's the first stage of learning. Even children can do it, so why do people think this is a problem?

6. The appearance of Open Office/Libre Office is different
Yes. So what? So is MS Office 2007 different from MS Office 2003. Users had to adapt to the change and they simply bore and grinned. What's more, you occasionally have to undergo the same process every time there's a major update of a program you use in Windows, say, Nero, Audiocatalyst or any other. When I dumped Windows, I discovered Open Office and, to the best of my knowledge, I did not die learning the rules. I've heard people say that those rules or processes are impossible to master. That's flattering because then they are implying that I'm a genius! Am I? Nah, I'd rather go for a different explanation: they are lazy whiners. I wonder if they complained the same upon transitioning from MS Office 2003 to 2007 or to the trumpeted new bar of Windows 7...

Now, if the complaint is about functionality, before they give me the same arguments based on custom, let me say that I generally expect a more expensive product to offer more. MS Office is more expensive, but handles LESS file formats. Paying more for a product that offers less is a rip-off in my view.

Linux has been great for learning about new useful applications and discovering how my computer works. I value learning. It's good to be able to invest my time learning about my machine instead of using it to keep myself updated on how to protect a fragile OS from viruses, malware and all sorts of threats.

miércoles, 8 de junio de 2011

Mind in the clouds

A Cloud withdrew from the Sky
Superior Glory be
But that Cloud and its Auxiliaries
Are forever lost to me

Was Emily Dickinson predicting Cloud Computing and saying no to it? :-P

The debate about the Cloud is beginning to fire up. Some enthusiasts claim that's the future and assert that control over your computer is a futile worry. Why caring about your OS or data if an angel somewhere up in the sky can manage those for you? Why complicating your existence with such bothers of computing? They perceive computer users as people who do not have any idea of what their OS version is, for whom the computer is useful as long as it works when you turn it on. These users have no idea of the format in which the documents they produce are stored. What's more: for them, any office suite will do.

Some of the thoughts above might be accurate. However, there are users who still have something that is very human: preferences. Yes, for the better or worse, they like their desktops to look one way or another; they cling to an office suite (more because of tradition than because of usability) and they do not trust services that charge you to buy a music file from them (especially if the seller keeps the file!). Call them recalcitrant if you may, but they prefer to stick to Yahoo Mail Classic regardless of how much longer it takes for them to attach a document to an email message.

Then we have those who are cautious and say, "But, what if the elastic cloud falls and does not bounce back up?" And which cloud can you access and which one is barred for you? Are all those clouds available for a vast megalopolis of Care Bears to jump upon freely? Will Microsoft's cloud reject Care Bears that do not flash bellies with a design in yellow, red, blue and green, as it's hinted by the behavior of their newly acquired Sky-pe?

I, for one, grow very suspicious of the Cloud. I plan to avoid it as much as I can. Yet, if one considers Web-based email as the lining of the Cloud, then I already failed at avoiding it. And the content of this blog is stored who knows where...probably in a friendly Google Cloud.

Where I work, we are about to export the database keeping the records of 4000+ people to the Cloud... And I welcomed the change because the native system was made to run only in Windows (XP). The Cloud-based one will let me use the database from Linux and Microsoft will not have any excuse to keep pushing the University to rent more stupid licenses.

Weather forecast: CLOUDY!

Still, I'll keep my personal files inside of my HD. Dropbox does not offer me more portability than a flash drive does. Because that's the entire point: once the file is in the Cloud, it's not yours any longer.

It's the Ides of August!

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Roman general Julius Caesar is given an ominous message by the Soothsayer.  The message is a simple warn...