I loved clamz when I was on Arch. It’s the epitome of the Unix “do one thing well” philosophy.
If Amazon’s MP3 downloader is giving you any kind of guff, check out clamz.
I loved clamz when I was on Arch. It’s the epitome of the Unix “do one thing well” philosophy.
If Amazon’s MP3 downloader is giving you any kind of guff, check out clamz.
A few years ago, I went to a Linux conference, featuring all kinds of corporate Linux advocates, mostly speaking to education issues.
In one of the breakouts, someone from a major Linux company, and a person very much invested in Linux, made an interesting statement. He said Linux would never be a major desktop OS because too many people are too invested in Microsoft Office. He said Office was what kept people in Windows.
His theory was that there were plenty of other non-desktop opportunities for Linux, not that it wasn’t a viable OS.
I heard this five or six years ago. Before the rise of Ubuntu. Before Google Docs. Even before widespread cloud computing.
But word processing is still an issue. Not even word processing, so much as moving documents between operating systems.
(And at this time, I’d like to note that years ago, when I worked in medical publishing, a good one hour out of every day was spent translating Mac files into usable PC files, so I’m not necessarily citing any of this as a fault of Linux, but more as a inter-OS challenge).
On Xubuntu, I use AbiWord, the default word processor. Within the Linux world, I imagine most people use OpenOffice or the upcoming LibreOffice fork.
Even in my GNOME days, I gravitated toward AbiWord (when I needed a formally formatted document and couldn’t get away with a text file) because OpenOffice just didn’t make sense to me. It felt slow and bloated, trying unsuccessfully to mimic Microsoft Office, but seemingly only able to port over the worst aspects.
AbiWord is simple. It can’t do much, but it can make a typed page look OK.
The challenge I run into is maintaining formatting across operating systems — specifically citations. Even something as simple as a hanging indent doesn’t seem to consistently remain when shipped (via RTF) from one OS to another.
I’ve spent some time with Google Docs, and while it’s very convenient, allowing me to work on articles across operating systems and physical computers, there’s definitely a lag when you work in it, and it’s just enough of a lag to be a dealbreaker for me. Plus, printing is a two-step process (download the PDF and print the PDF), although word on the street is that might be changing soon.
I could write locally, upload to Google Docs, format, and then download the converted file, but that too seems a step or two labor intensive.
For right now, I usually try and send out final drafts of articles from work, where I have access to Microsoft Word and can clean them up before shipping them off.
When I can’t get to my work PC, I just kind of ignore the formatting and trust editors to fix things for me. I like to imagine everything needs to be reformatted between my document and their pagination systems. But I also worry they think I don’t know how to do simple citation formatting.
To sort of remove this barrier once and for all, I’m getting ready to explore LaTeX, a document markup language. It’s very popular with math/science/technical people who need to use formulas in their documents, but I believe it also has a small following among control freaks, like myself, who want to control every aspect of their document themselves (not unlike AppleWorks used to allow me to do, back on my family’s IIe clone).
There’s a LaTeX plugin for gedit, so I’ll get to stick to my favorite editor. To move from LaTeX to RTF, I’ll probably use something like pandoc, which converts a variety of markup languages into other markup languages. I like the idea of LaTeX, because there are also ways to convert LaTeX outlines into presentations. Beamer is one such project.
(The lack of decent presentation software for Linux is another thorn in my side. I’m usually too rushed to use S5, so I wind up using PowerPoint at work.)
Moving files between Linux and Windows is much, much easier, but it still isn’t perfect. I’m hoping LaTeX will be the method to make sure more complex word processed documents look relatively close to the same on Linux machines and on Windows boxes.
Otherwise, I may develop a standard formatting disclaimer to send off with my Xubuntu-created word processed documents.
One of the things I don’t love about Xubuntu, and about Linux distributions in general, is that a lot of times, when I close a program, I lose what was in my clipboard.
Apparently, this is known as clipboard persistence, and it’s a known issue with Xorg.
Xubuntu, and XFCE, come with Clipman, as a default clipboard manager. It’s small and customizable and once you start it, it seems to pretty much stay on forever, remembering the last few things that you saved to your clipboard (you tell Clipman how many clips you want it to remember).
Ideally, I’d love to cut text, close my file, and then paste it someplace else without losing what was cut, but if that’s not possible, Clipman seems to be a pretty simple safety net that pretty much fixes the clipboard persistence bug for me.
If you’re running into this, you might want to give Clipman, or any clipboard manager, a spin.
I updated the Xubuntu I run at work in a virtual box and noticed I now had Xfburn in addition to Brasero for burning discs.
When I got home, I immediately removed Brasero and installed Xfburn, and that, coupled with my move to the Xfce task manager, is about as close as I’ll come to updating to 10.10.
10.10 runs fine at work, but it doesn’t seem to bring much new and improved to the table, so I’d just as soon stick with the long term support version, which is set up just the way I like it.
I understand Ubuntu’s rapid development cycle and how it keeps people excited about the OS, but I think it sometimes backfires when there’s not a lot new between releases. Instead of getting excited, I wonder if development has plateaued. I wonder if releases are going out just for the sake of the development cycle and not for the sake of the user experience.
I can’t count the number of distro switches I’ve made because an update to a new version of a distro broke something. Rather than investing the time to fix it, most of the time it just seems easier to try a new Linux flavor.
When something changes every six months, you start to think of it as disposable, not permanent.
There’s got to be a middle ground between distros like Debian and Slackware, which have years between releases, and the more rapid release method of Ubuntu and Fedora. But without the bleeding-edge complications of something like Arch.
I suspect Linux Mint Debian might be that middle ground, but it’ll be at least a few months before we know how stable it is over time.
But ultimately, non of this really matters to me. Right now, I have an OS that works for me and will have support for the next few years. But I can’t help but wonder if more people would stick with a distro if the distros weren’t on such a rapid release schedule.
Maybe there’s such a thing as too much innovation.
Ubuntu held an Ubuntu Open Week for 10.10 on IRC. One of the sessions was “Xubuntu-Alive and Well,” a panel led by Charlie Kravetz, Xubuntu’s project lead. A lot of very interesting ideas and insights into Xubuntu came out of the session, including Kravetz’s views on how Xubuntu users might differ from Ubuntu users; good lightweight applications that aren’t Xubuntu defaults; and, of course, what’s new in 10.10.
I’ve pulled out some of Kravetz’s comments that I found most interesting:
On Xubuntu users
Xubuntu does not specifically focus on new users or users migrating from Windows; alternative distributions such as Ubuntu may be more appropriate for first time Linux users. Ubuntu with its Gnome desktop is very simple to use. You have limited ability to change options, and that is a good thing for some users. Xubuntu gives you choices. We do not aim at the new Windows to Linux user, (especially first time Linux users who may be particularly at risk of experiencing difficulties due to lack of general experience). They need that simplicity that Ubuntu offers them. We do think we offer the more experienced greater choices and ability to customize.
Xubuntu does not exclusively target users with low, modest, or high powered machines but instead targets the entire spectrum with a strong focus on enabling lower end machines. Xubuntu’s extra responsiveness and speed, among other positive traits, can be appreciated by all users regardless of their hardware. Are there other applications that could provide the same functionality? Most definitely. We are using applications that are light in resources, and relatively easy to configure for most users. You are welcome to use other applications if you desire. As a matter of fact, we do routinely check our applictions as well as others to see if they still belong in Xubuntu.
On Xubuntu’s footprint:
We will not downsize Xubuntu just to say we are smaller, or we can run older equipment than someone else. The target audience for Xubuntu is users who are interested in having a modestly light weight, slim, fast desktop experience. Those users should be able to retain the usability and functionality that is required to provide an easy to use desktop environment.
It would be really nice to clear up that idea that Xubuntu is “only” for old hardware. It works equally well on new hardware.
On Xubuntu and GNOME
New users are often surprised to find that Xubuntu includes a number of gnome applications. These are included simply because if an application works well, and is considered lightweight, it fits. Any application can be included, and it does not matter if it starts with gnome, xfce, or anything other letters.
Yes, [Ubuntu and Xubuntu] look similar, with two panels and a desktop. So does Kubuntu, with just one panel, and every other Ubuntu-based distribution I have seen. A desktop is a background with icons. That stays the same. The background does change, as does the functionality.
On Xubuntu’s relationship to Ubuntu and Xfce
We owe a great deal of Xubuntu’s success to the Ubuntu teamwork. Without Ubuntu leading the way, Xubuntu would not be where it is today. We are an official unsupported derivative of Ubuntu. This means we can use the repositories and Ubuntu sources, but we receive no funding whatsoever.
We work very closely with upstream Xfce. We upstream most of the bugs that concern Xfce, and work with the developers to insure that they get fixed as soon as possible.
On Future Xubuntus Featuring Xfce 4.8
Only time will tell. Xfce developers have not completed their work at this time, and there is not a good release date yet. If it is released in time, it will definitely be included in the next version of Xubuntu.
On what’s new in 10.10
On lightweight applications NOT included by deafult
A disclaimer is needed here – Xubuntu as a team does not officially endorse any of these in particular. They are being given as examples only:
Any or all of these can be installed by the user. Please check the repositories before downloading or compiling applications.
Please note that the above applications are not presented as approved or recommended by myself or Xubuntu. There are given here as examples.
On why those applications aren’t installed by default
Since we have limited developer resources available, we use applications maintained by Ubuntu that fit our needs. The application must also have a good user GUI, if possible. The more complicated it is to configure the application for use, the less likely it will fit the requirement. Some of the above are still in development, and are not yet released as a stable version. That, too, must be considered before including the application in a stable operating system.
In general, I love working with Xfce via Xubuntu.
It’s simple, everything makes sense, and everything just works.
But like most Linux afficionados, once I’ve got a distro set up just right, I start thinking about the next one.
Because I’m so in love with Xfce, I’ve been considering going to a distro that’s more Xfce pure, with less GNOME touches.
The best way to do that would be to use a minimal distribution that let you build up your OS from scratch. I was thinking in terms of Debian and Arch.
I’ve played with Arch before and the bleeding-edge thing always ended up killing me, so I was considering Debian running Xfce.
While I was thinking about this, it came to my attention (through Steven Rosenberg’s amazing blog) that Xubuntu allows you to run Xubuntu sessions or Xfce sessions.
The Xfce session option is more of a pure Xfce experience, without the Xubuntu bling.
It’s a subtle difference, but the Xubuntu icons do make for a nicer experience. It gives the desktop a more contemporary feel. And everything seems to be a bit more vivid in the Xubuntu environment.
It made me realize that despite my Ubuntu control issues, they really do bring a lot to the table.
On a semi-related note, I’ve been playing with the new Mint Debian in a virtual box and it’s made me appreciate the Ubuntu repositories. It seems like anything I want I can find in the Ubuntu repositories. That hasn’t been my experience with the Debian ones. For instance, they don’t have Chromium and I don’t have the energy or time to compile it from the source code.
So despite my reservations about Ubuntu, and how many decisions they make for me, at the same time, I do appreciate how much they enhance my OS.
I could probably accomplish most of what I do using Xfce as the desktop for a non-Ubuntu distribution, but it wouldn’t be as easy and it wouldn’t look as nice, so what would be the point?
A few years ago, my wife bought me an iPod Touch.
I loved the Touch. It was light, had a nice interface, and used WiFi, a relative rarity for devices like that just a few years ago.
But then, I switched from an XP/Ubuntu dual-boot to a 100% Linux machine and I lost the ability to add music to the Touch (even through a virtual XP).
It was kind of annoying, but I gave my wife the Touch, switched to a Nokia N810 and things were pretty much back to normal for me.
NOTE: From what I understand, this is no longer an issue with the Touch. Also, iOS now seems to do a much better job of letting you manage Apple devices without syncing it to a PC or laptop.
I was thinking about this because my Nokia’s gotten to feeling a little bulky and has become less necessary now that my phone gets Internet. I’ve basically been using a gigantic MP3 player for the past few weeks, so I decided to get something a little smaller.
My first thought was to go iPod. At the time, Apple had some nice refurbished Nanos for around $100.
But before I pulled the trigger, I figured I should do some research into the current iPod/Linux integration, just to make sure it wouldn’t be an issue.
It didn’t seem like it would be, but it got me thinking: Why am I about to spend money on a company that doesn’t care about Linux? Why not support a company that’s more Linux friendly.
So instead of getting a refurbished Nano, I got a brand new Sansa Fuze (and for less money, too).
It works out of the box with Xubuntu (once it’s in USB MSC mode). Linux users can even update their firmware, which is a pleasant surprise.
You need Wine to convert videos the weird Sansa video format, but the screen is so small, I can’t imagine I’ll watch that many videos on it.
As a music player it’s fine. It doesn’t handle cover art very well, but that might be because I always let my Nokia handle that via Canola (Canola downloaded all of the covers for me, which was super convenient).
The sound is fine. The size is small and I’m once again in love with the click-wheel interface, which I haven’t used since my 2 or 3G iPod.
So I got a great MP3 player AND I gave my business to a company that’s Linux friendly (or at least not Linux hostile).
I think it’s great that the updated Ubuntu One does nice things with your iPhone contacts and it’s great that Ubuntu is acknowledging what its users want, but at the same time, don’t Linux-friendly people and companies owe it Linux, and to themselves, to support the products that already work for us? Isn’t time better spent on managing those relationships, rather than trying to get stuff to work for devices that were practically built to exclude our OS?
It’s not about hating on Apple. Apple is doing their thing. It would be great if we could support the companies and products that do our thing.
The next time you need to buy a piece of hardware, see if you can find something that works for Linux out of the box and give that company your business. Workarounds are a necessary part of life with Linux, but when there’s a chance to avoid, the workaround, we need to support the company that’s making it possible.
I’ve always browser-hopped.
I was an Opera devotee for years. It ran well, especially on Windows, rarely crashing and always opening pages with pep. Even back when I had dial-up.
Eventually I left Opera for Firefox because of Firefox’s add-ons, which let me give additional functionality to my browser.
And if I had to pick an add-on that made me leave Opera, it would be the Web Developer’s Toolbar.
Eventually Opera did create its own version, but it just wasn’t as convenient as the Firefox one.
It seems silly to choose a browser based upon one particular function, but that was all it took to keep me a loyal Firefox user across multiple OSs.
For the past few weeks, though, I noticed a lag in my Xubuntu system. It wasn’t a huge thing, but menus were taking just a split-second too long to open.
I looked at top and saw firefox-bin taking up a decent amount of memory and CPU.
And that’s when I decided I should probably leave Firefox for a while, just to see if my set-up became more responsive.
I already had Chrome so I switched to that as my main Xubuntu browser and it’s been pretty great. It’s quick. There’s no system lag. And best of all, there’s even a decent developer’s toolbar.
Even better, Chromed Bird, a Chrome Twitter extension, is really nice. Even nicer than EchoFon, my previous browser-based Twitter client (and one that decided to stop supporting Linux, I might add).
The main issue with Chrome is that I’ve been trying to dial back my dependency upon Google (even as I use it for my RSS feeds, my calendar, my email, and my site analytics). Luckily, Chrome is configurable enough to use another search engine as the default search in the address bar. In my case, I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my first search option. Plus, I realized Chromium, a slightly less privacy-invasive version of Chrome, is in the repositories, so I switched to that.
I run a virtual Lubuntu and the first thing you notice once it’s running is that Firefox isn’t installed. The default browser is Chromium. At first I thought it was kind of odd, but now I see why a distro, especially one like Lubuntu that prides on being fast and light, would opt for Chromium over Firefox.
Firefox is getting too big and slow for its own good and I think we might be a few iterations away from Chromium becoming the default browser for a lot more Linux distributions.
At the same time, I realize these things are cyclical, so I’m open to the possibility Firefox will one day become less resource-hungry and Chrome might start to bog down.
When Internet Explorer won the browser wars, browser development stagnated for a long time. It’s nice to see the war picking up again.
In general, I’m trying to run as much Xfce-native stuff as I can within Xubuntu.
I noticed that the upcoming Xubuntu 10.10 is using the Xfce task manager instead of the GNOME system monitor and wondered why I couldn’t make that switch now.
Making the change was easy. I just dumped gnome-system-monitor for xfce4-taskmanager and now I have the native Xfce task manager going.
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t noticed much of a difference in terms of performance. I use some system-monitoring stuff, like top, which shows the CPU and memory usage of the top five most resource-intensive applications, in my conky configuration, so I usually have a good idea of what’s going on, just from looking at my desktop.
And to be even more honest, I mostly used the gnome-system-monitor to remind myself of which version of Ubuntu/Xubuntu I’m on, and now I’ve lost that, so there was a bit of a downside to making the switch for me.
But other than that, I’m very happy with the change. Not because it really improved things, because as near as I can tell, it didn’t, but because it’s one less GNOME thing going on in my Xubuntu world.
And just to clarify, the Xfce task manager is fine for my purposes. I wasn’t a huge user of the GNOME version, so to my mind, they’re interchangeable. If you’re a GNOME system monitor power user, you’ll obviously want to do some research before you make the switch.
But if you just use the GNOME system monitor to figure out what’s slowing down your Xubuntu system, the Xfce task manager could be an easy way to fly your Xfce flag a little more.
This isn’t an Xfce-specific issue (or even an Ubuntu issue), but Dave Richards once again brilliantly makes the case that the perfect desktop experience isn’t about the OS, but about how the OS conforms to user expectations. Linux makes this possible but not nearly enough people take advantage of this in an enterprise setting.
Desktop managers are important tools that often seem to be treated with the least amount of thought and respect.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have Richards working for your organization.