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:
GTK_IM_MODULE=scim
QT_IM_MODULE=scim
XIM_PROGRAM=”scim -d”
XMODIFIERS=@im=SCIM

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 :-)

UPDATE
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

cd
/usr/share/X11/xdm

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 XMODIFIERS=@im=SCIM
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 changed....you 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...