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The Open Disk 5 December, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Windows, XP.
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Microsoft is getting slightly desperate. Smart students can use Linux for free, making universities a free software heartland. In response, they run a program called MSDN academic alliance, allowing Computer Science and Software Engineering IT people to give out free copies of XP Professional, Vista 32 bit and a whole lot of other Microsoft tools. These departments have to pay $2000 every three years, and can give out as many copies as they like. Effectively it’s free, paying for itself with ten copies of XP, which could be given out in no time.

Installing my free, and indeed legal copy of XP was easy. Unlike with bootleg versions, I haven’t had any problems. In fact, my desktop’s mainboard had a driver CD that means that I actually have working integrated 3D graphics, something I haven’t managed in Linux.

The first thing that you will notice when you move from Linux to Windows is that Windows comes without any useful software (whatsoever). Though it has just enough to make your computer usable. To do this, open up Internet Explorer, go to firefox.com and proceed to download. This is IE’s most useful feature. Next, Download 7-zip, and download the Open Disk.

The Open Disk is a CD that has a collection of useful open source software for Windows, including Firefox and OpenOffice along with Inkscape, the GNU IMP, and a whole lot of others. This makes it a great tool for yourself, but the best thing is that you can burn a whole lot and give them out.

While, according to NetApplications, Linux has less than 1% OS market share, Firefox has 20% browser share. If you credit some figures, that’s as much as 30% in some areas, such as Europe. When people hear about cool software, they are more likely to install an application than install a whole OS. I think using the Open Disk for FOSS advocacy will be more successful than trying to give out whole Linux distributions. But that’s just me.

One final thought, what about all of the others like me that are installing Windows using MSDNAA? They are a prime target for FOSS advocacy, as they probably already know about Firefox, and don’t have much software on their computers to start with. I think this page should be used as a hit list.

Promised NSW Laptops: Linux in the wings? 30 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Linux, Netbooks, Open Office, Windows.
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In the 2007 Australian Federal Election, the incoming Labor leader, now Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, promised federal spending on the state’s education systems, particularly to increace access to computers, calling it an ‘education revolution’. Reading the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, it turns out that the New South Wales (NSW) Government will spend money by buying netbooks, probably 10″ models, for secondary school students.

A prize phrases in the article is

“NSW stands ready to deliver teenager-friendly, custom-built laptops to the nation,”

What does the phrase ‘teenager friendly’ mean? It is likely to refer to the design, being lightweight and portable. But when I read it, it just sounded like the OS. There’s another interesting phrase here:

These custom-made laptops are … powerful enough to support all the IT needs of our high school students.

Just what are the IT needs of the high school students? Facebook? MySpae? But I digress… If you consider the needs of a student to be working on documents in an office suite, then Linux should be fine. In fact Linux may be an advantage, given that it will be harder for students to install games. Unfortunately, OpenOffice is not percieved to be fully compatible yet. Students typing out a document in OO then wanting to work on in on their school computer, that has MS office, there will be problems. Will there be pring servers set up to work?

So, I think that Linux is a good posibility, but the education department probably isn’t that smart. They don’t understand Linux, and that’s a problem. If they go Linux, MS will probably come along and lobby. Nothing is beneath them. When I first heard this issue discussed, over a year ago, the only $500 netbook was the Linux EEE. Now there are plenty of XP models for less.

ReactOS; a free alternative to Windows 26 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Windows.
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“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” is where ReactOS, what is essentially an attempt at a free Windows clone, derives its name. The project aims to be ‘binary compatible’ with Windows NT, which XP, Vista and the upcoming 7 are based on, meaning that users will be able to run native Windows applications without forking out for a licence from Microsoft, or turning to Bittorrent. It’s an ambitious goal, which, understandably, will take a long time to reach. It’s still in alpha, and aims to be 50% compatible with the NT kernel in version 0.4. But, despite being in the alpha stage of development, it can run some programs without a hitch. You can download .iso images from the main website, or prebuilt disk images for VMware or QEMU. The OS should only be installed on test machines. Virtualising is safer and easier.qemu

Running ReactOS in QEMU seems to work quite well. The system boots up fairly quickly, but then runs slightly sluggishly, possibly because I have not set it up optimally. After the boot, you are confronted with a Windows 2000 look that just seems out of place in today’s operating system shells. There are no programs bundled with it (as one would expect from Windows), but you can use an inbuilt downloader that should automatically install programs from the project’s subversion repository. I didn’t have any luck with it. So, I quickly make an iso with programs from Portable apps on my USB stick. These run with a varying degree of success.

TrueCrypt, AbiWordPortable, Notepad++Portable, PortableAppsBackup, WinSCPPortable and 7-ZipPortable all seem to work.

PortableAppsMenu opens, and can spawn other applications, but it’s image is out. Otherwise it works.

ClamWinPortable opens a window, but does not have any icons, and freezes the OS after it successfully brings up a configuration dialogue.

VLCPortable cause the whole OS to crash in version 0.3.6, but running the latest build it starts. Icons are missing, however, and the logo seems to be upside down and blue (Inversed colours?) (???), some icons are missing, and trying to open a dialogue to open media causes the program to crash. Might be a long day tomorrow on IRC.

Both SunbirdPortable and PuTTYPortable had some errors and did not start.

So, as you see, there’s quite a range. But generally, there is a lot of programs that seem to be able to run fine. There’s a fair bit of testing going on, to establish application and driver compatibility, and to address issues. ReactOS is a neat collection of software that you can download and try out with virtualisation. But it’s not an OS to install on your computer, and probably never will be. One of the main premises behind the OS is that Linux is too complicated for most uders and they will never be able to use Free software that is diffrent from Windows. I think that this is wrong, especially given Linux’s long history of development. Also, doubts are handing in the air as to weather or not ReactOS really is a clean reverse engineering process, or weather code was stolen from the Windows kernel. There are no real IP threats to Linux.

Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex Dissapoints 17 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Debian, Distro Wars, Grub, Linux, Ubuntu.
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Ubuntu has a long and sad history of disregarding the needs and wants of power users in their drive for ease for users who are unfamiliar with, and have little inclination to become familiar with Linux. To me, it’s dissapointing. More hardline flamers have become angry at Ubuntu and Canonical. This is my experience.

I have a cheap computer. An old one died, so I simply bought a few cheap components to replace the dead box, reusing some drives. The machine has integrated grpahics, because I haven’t coughed up for a real card yet. Vesa drivers work fine, but both the 2d nv and proprietary nvidia divers don’t work. Probably because the mbo only cost me ~70AUD. I’ve known about this since I’ve had the machine. I can’t be bothered to fix it, because I can use 3d apps on another machine.

Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex uses a new version of xorg. Supposedly, it has a very little configuration needed and can dun with no /etc/X11/xorg.conf. This sounds like a good idea. But, for me it means that there are problems.

After finishing the Debian installer, Ubuntu boots. No grub menu is shown, another pet peeve I have. If you do hit escape, you are confrinted with an ugly, black screen. Then you get usplash. Great for some. Then again, if you turn it off you get ugly readouts from a kernel with useless timing enabled. Ok, this is a problem in Debian too, but I compiled my own kernel. Then you get the same ugly gdm theme Ubuntu has been using since forever.

The problem is, gdm didn’t come up. Rather than dropping to a shell to let me diagnose this, there is an ugly black screen with low resolution. I try as few options, none of which work. To finish applying settings, I’m informed that the xserver will restart in one minute. Pressing ok leaves the screen pitch black. The Ubuntu developers must be fond of black.

Dropping to a shell lets me find that there is indeed an xorg.conf. Wonderful. startx works, after killing xinit. And he voila, gnome appears. In SVGA (800×600) resolution. Xrandr will only let me change this down to 640×480. Brilliant. Copying over Debian’s configuration file is no good. Somehow, the new xorg does not accept screen resolutions in the configuration file. Anyway, after trying the other trick I’ve heard of, I remove the file. This works wonders, and now, somehow, my screen size becomes 1024×768 when using startx. No such luck when starting, the xserver still refuses to start. My next move is to uninstall the nv driver. Good thinking, I hear you say. Well, now gdm will start. But somehow, my former trick doesn’t work, and I am stuck with SVGA. So what am I supposed to do? Reinstall a broken driver?

Forget it. I’m sticking with Debian. Debian has failed in interesting ways, but I have always been able to fix it. I don’t like xorg.conf, or for that matter grub’s menu.lst, or fstab. But I’ve just learned to get used to them. Sooner or later I’m going to man up and just use vim. Don’t get me wrong, making the user do less work is great. I like apt, and rarely compile anything from source. I’m not a sadist. But, I think that these ‘miracle’ fixes, like having no configuration files, are a dumb idea. Why? Because there are situations that no developer can foresee, and they will end up just not working. And what do you do then? You edit the configs. I’ve done things the hard way, and my Debian install has more or less worked ever since.

A look at Mozilla Fennec 19 October, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Uncategorized.
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Mozilla Fennec is a mobile web browser, intended to be used on devices such as the iphone and the Nokia N810. So, Mozilla is entering this juicy market too. I downloaded alpha 1 and gave it a spin. There’s a few bugs, and the interface is terrible on a big screen, but is probably good where screen space is limited, and you have a touch interface. Here’s some screenshots of the alpha.

Fennec has a strange interface, in which you slide around the page in order to access the side panels. The top can also be slid to hide it. This didn’t look that great to me, because the sides slid in and out when I tried to go up and down a page. This probably isn’t such a problem with a touchscreen. Also, I expected the scroll wheel to scroll the page up and down, but it zoomed in and out. Would make good sense on a phone.

At the top of the screen, there’s a loading animation / page icon / security info button, then a bar that shows the page title rather than the url, then a reload and history button.

On the right, there’s a panel with a bookmark star, forward and back buttons, and a button to bring up the settings. There are few settings options, to keep it simple.

There’s also addons.

On the left, is a panel with all of your tabs.

Finally, downloading seems to work fine, and downloads appear in the middle settings tab.

Mozilla Fennec is looking good. The only problems that I had were a result of it being a first alpha, and using it on a PC (the interface is really made for touchscreens).

Linux: Get Ready for World Domination 18 October, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Uncategorized.
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The Domino Effect is now in full swing and Linux is on the path to becoming the single world superpower. Indefatigable, she has already taken hold of Brazil and Russia, and is poised to seize new territory with the next wave of assault; low cost and donated PCs. But even now, aside from full Linux control, Open Source is crumbling the enemy’s resistance from the inside. Mozilla Firefox stands unchallenged as the world’s browser of choice for the liberated. OpenOffice makes inroads into the juicy government sector with fears of data being trapped in dead formats. No ultimatum has been issued, no prisoners will be taken. Now, the world waits for the inevitable and complete annihilation of the old empire. Carpe Diem!

The current world order.

The current world order.

By the way, this is only based on what I have heard. There are computers in Africa, I just haven’t heard that much. Also, I couldn’t be bothered with Mac. They;re probably just going to puff in silvery smoke anyway.

By way of explanation:

Russia: All schools running Linux, Open Source pulic sector by 2010

Brazil: Strong ISO protest against OOXML

China: Made Red Flag

France: Parliament, Police Force

US: Evil Microsoft holds schools to ransom

Australia: Tax department issues taxation pack that does not work under wine (NZ is just a bannana republic probably in the same boat)

More to come at a later point. I’m enjoying this! (Maybe a version with geolocation?)

Over 50,000 PCs in Government and Business Running Ubuntu 4 October, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Linux, Windows.
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The site WorksWithU is a site that shows, with a limited degree of accuracy, the number of PCs knwon to be running Ubuntu in business, bovernment and educational settings. This lists at least 45,570 PCs (or far more, I took the bottom level for some) and 676 servers running Ubuntu Linux. Impressive. The rael number may be much higher, and will continue to grow.

The number of total Linux machines must be far higher.  I can remember a few occurances of other events in the news that show great Linux adoption. Japan has replaced Windows 9x with Dream Linux in some areas, and schools may switch to Linux entirely. In Germany a tax authority moved 12,000 desktops to SuSE Linux. And the BBC has suggested that two thirds of computers in Latin America may be running Linux. And here’s a reason why:

“(Microsoft) are the big monopoly and they come from America. The xenophobic mentality in Brazil actually is what drives people towards open source software in some cases.”

And another:

Gross National Income (GNI) per capita $44,710 $4,710
Cost of Windows Vista Business $186 $364
Cost of MS Office 2007 Standard $289 $587
Cost of Business Licenses as % of GNI per capita 1.06% 20.1%
Cost of Windows Vista Home Basic $116 $252
Cost of Office Home/Student $109 $117
Cost of Home Licenses as % of GNI per capita 0.5% 7.8%
All figures in US dollars. An exchange rate of USD$1 = R$1.70 was used to compute the cost of licenses in Brazil.