Windows 10…What’s Up With That?

A couple of days ago I formatted Windows 10 and installed Kubuntu on my desktop. More on that in just a moment.

Anandtech has it’s comprehensive Windows 10 review up. If you are considering Win10, you should check out the review.

I took part in the Win10 Consumer Preview program from the day it was announced. I was more than happy to dump Windows 8.1…even for beta software. While some of the preview builds were a bit on the buggy side, my general impressions of Win10 were favorable. I knew the consumer preview was hovering up a fair amount of data by and about me, but I figured it was a beta and MS deserved all the telemetry they could get to make Win10 a solid release. My computer originally came with Win7, I upgraded it to Win8 and then to 8.1 and then installed the Win10 previews and the final release. I never once had a catastrophic failure. After Win10 final was released I did a clean install…hey I liked the OS and wanted the optimum experience. Shortly after that my problems started. First Windows Update installed a bad graphics driver and borked my system. I had to go back to a restore point to make my computer usable. Then MS pushed the faulty driver again, forcing me  to roll back the driver and disconnect from the internet while I figured out how to stop the automatic update. I finally found a setting to stop driver updates, it was in the old “System Settings” a leftover from Win95…you know the one that was re-labeled “Advanced System Settings” in XP or Vista. Talk about having to drill down. A pain in the behind to be sure and defensive computing should not be a requirement against your OS vendor.

And then the privacy hullabaloo broke. If you are unaware of the privacy controversy, let me Bing that for you.

Then the clincher happened. I use a tv as a second monitor and speakers, it is connected through hdmi. Every time the computer slept I would lose audio which required a reboot to fix. Once again, none of the preview releases had this problem…but there it was in the final.

So just as I was getting excited about the imminent release of Cortana for Android and the improved integration that would bring, I decided to bail on Windows once again. I still don’t know what made me go back to Windows last time…I am like the battered spouse returning to the abuser time and time again. I’d like to say that I learned my lesson for good this time…but…time will tell.

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Computing’s Big Birthday

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of Windows 95. An operating system that changed the very fabric of society. Hyperbole? No. Pre-Win95, computers were for business, the elite, and a handful of geeks. Win95 along with (comparatively) cheap Intel processors introduced the era of the $1000 PC and began bringing to fruition Gates’ vision of a PC on every desktop.

A monumental release it was. However, today marks an even bigger anniversary in computing history. Today is the 24th anniversary of Linus Torvalds’ unveiling of his eponymous OS, Linux.

While Linux never gained traction on the desktop, it has taken the rest of the computing environment by storm. Powering most of the internet infrastructure, the vast majority of smart phones, it is running in everything from satellites to automobiles to air traffic control to nuclear submarines.

While most of us toil away on Windows PCs or iOS tablets, it is Linux which has become the foundation upon which our entire computing experience relies. Today each of us should raise a toast to the little OS that can did.

Ubuntu Unity, Unnecassarily Ununified

Mobile is all the buzz in the world of technology. Microsoft brought their phone interface to Windows 8 while Apple continues to borrow ideas from iOS for the Mac desktop. Not to be outdone, Canonical, the makers of Ubuntu Linux, forked the Gnome Shell to bring mobile UI elements to the desktop. This interface, known as Unity, has received much bashing from the Linux faithful. Previously I had very minimal experience with Unity. I installed it, looked at it, and replaced it with Gnome Shell and then went back to KDE.
I’ve been a KDE fan for years. I loved KDE 3 and it was my favorite UI for years. When KDE 4 was released too early and incomplete I switched to Gnome and even Windows for a while. Eventually, with KDE 4.4, I went back to it and it regained its place at the top of my list. I would tell anyone who cared to listen that KDE was my favorite and it was followed by Windows. But I like to give others a chance.
When Windows 8 RC was released I used it for 3 months to see if it was as bad as everyone said (it wasn’t). However, I happily scurried back to KDE when my experiment was concluded.
I keep a spare computer under my desk to install new stuff on and to do stuff too dangerous to do on my regular desktop. The other day I was re-installing Windows on it and I decided to throw Ubuntu Quantal on there as well to see how it was progressing.
Unity breaks many desktop paradigms. Previously I had installed it but not for long enough to get used to it and to see if it was superior to other desktops or just different. So I made the decision to put it on my main desktop. My goal was a six week test, to attempt to use it without serious modifications for an extended period. In this way I thought I could get used to it, experience the Ubuntu way without my previous expectations having a major impact. My 6 week adventure had to be brought to an early termination after 3 days. I don’t think my problem was that it was just different, I think it is more that Unity is not yet ready for primetime.
This is not to say that Unity is not perfect for some users, it is only for my personal use that it is inadequate. On a netbook or a computer with low resolution it may be much more usable than it is on my desktop. Here I’ll only briefly touch on the deficiencies that I found while attempting to not trash the concepts involved.
My setup involves dual monitors of differing resolutions a 22 inch (1680×1050) and a 20 inch (1440×900) with the larger one being primary. With this much real estate the integrated menu bar makes no sense. When I am working in a small file explorer window in the bottom right of the monitor I do not want to move 2 feet diagonally across the monitor to change a setting. Add to that the fact that the menu bar is hidden until you get close to it with the pointer and you have serious usability problems. Gimp has lots of stuff in the menu, I would go up and to the left until the menu bar appeared and then have to go back right to find the correct dropdown to choose a command. A second here, a second there, and pretty soon we are talking about real time wastage. While it is nice that Ubuntu attempts to get the UI out of your way, I think this is too extreme.
Moving the close maximize buttons to the left seems arbitrary and capricious. Over 90% of computer users are used to them being to the right. If Shuttleworth thinks he can win Mac converts with this move, good luck, and I hope he is happy with the targeted 7%. This is a small thing and comes down to preference more than anything else.
On my setup I turned off the dock on my secondary monitor. Still system tray and menu bar stays on both of them. I like the concept except the status messages would appear on the right side of the right monitor while I was working on the left monitor–this is over 3 feet away from where I am focused. One might as well project them onto the moon for all the good that they do. When I hover my mouse over the volume icon and scroll to change the volume, the visual would pop up on the secondary monitor so I would be forced to look one place while working in another some distance away.
I could find no way to force video and music players to open on the secondary monitor. Well, I actually found a way but it was byzantine and involved typing commands into terminal and then copying the output into Compiz and was generally a PITA.
Unity provides no method to browse applications by category. You can browse them all, but there is no means of filtering by use. This is another design problem seemingly adopted from OS X. There is a very good reason that despite its mind share, OS X has never achieved much market share: It looks good in a demo, but in real world environments it sucks to use.
Since there are no categories to browse, search is the preferred method to find and launch applications. But when you do this, you get Amazon ads for Windows software. I don’t really know what to say about this…WTF?
Ubuntu uses an older version of Nautilus with fewer features. Other Gnome software is also deprecated. Not sure what the point of this is.
Buttons don’t act like buttons. Generally when you click on a button it gives the impression of depressing to give you feedback, but not the Unity dock. Click and a second later it will glow and a short while later the application will open. This is probably no slower than any other desktop, but the mixed feedback makes it seem longer. Once again, poor design concepts.
For all of these reasons, I ended my experiment much earlier than expected. I installed Gnome Shell and deleted all traces of Unity. I’ve decided to use Gnome for the 6 week experiment. Will it stick? Will I scurry back to KDE when the experiment is over or will I come to love Gnome the way I do KDE? Time will tell, stay posted as the experiment ends in mid-March. One thing I can say already, with the advent of Gnome 3.6 and Windows 8, Gnome has moved up to be my second favorite desktop environment. Leaving Unity and OS X to fight over last place.

2011: Not the Year of the Linux Desktop

But, really, who cares?  For all but the most demanding tasks, the desktop is dead.  Linux has already stomped the smartphone/tablet competition, the only real competition is that fruity proprietary OS, but the slobs of Cupertino are too busy counting money and choking their chicken to offer up any real innovation (it seems all they can do is steal ideas, file patents, and sue…and that’s not innovation!). Microsoft currently has the most innovative smartphone OS…with the next two both running Linux (WebOS and Android).

What about servers…  How is Windows and the fruity OS doing there?  Linux continues its march….the competition swamped in its wake.  Microsoft’s OS continues to loose share and the fruity OS share gets lost in the noise.

And super computers?  455 of the top 500 run Linux!  Four and a half out of five!

Proprietary is so 90s…why haven’t you switched yet?

So who cares about the year of the desktop? We are in the decade of Linux dominance.  It may not be long until I have to switch to Windows just to maintain some diversity in computing.  (I think Win 8 is the most daring thing going on in the industry.)

What’s your views?  Still happy with Windows?  Locked in to the fruity OS?  Happy with the proprietary way you are hand fed?

IE 9, Moving Back to Windows

I went ahead and installed Internet Explorer 9 on my test box to see what all the excitement was about.  All that I can is that Microsoft has significantly raised the bar for the entire browser market.  This level of innovation has not been seen out of Redmond in years.  Internet Explorer is the “killer app” that is making me give up Linux to run Windows full time.  I’ve already formatted my laptop and am currently backing up my desktop.

It’s pretty amazing, if you haven’t tried it yet, you really need to.  This is what MS has needed to finally make users give up XP and adopt Win7. Once anyone is exposed to IE 9, then they automatically become a  Windows convert.  I am sure that I am not the only only one switching back to Windows so that I can run their obviously superior browser.  It will be years before the other browser makers catch up to IE 9, and by then we will have IE 10 (or even 11!).  Browser Wars 2 are over, and the results are the same.  With IE being Windows only it is safe to say they will be re-claiming market share there, too.

[Edit: The reader should note the publication date of this post.]

Fedora 14, Best Fedora Ever

I cut my Linux teeth on Redhat Linux (Fefora’s predecesser).  I’ve tried about half the releases since then…14 was/is the first that I found remotely usable.  Usually the first round of updates break the system beyond repair, thankfully things have improved.

Note that all comments are directed at the KDE spin, I’ve never been much for Gnome.  If I can’t use KDE, then I would rather run Windows.  Not being a developer, the OSS nature of Linux is not the primary draw.  I want an easy to use, stable, customizable, and fun desktop with enough software to satisfy.  In my view, KDE and Windows are the only desktops that can deliver on that.

So I installed Fedora 14 KDE to replace a broken Kubuntu on my laptop while I wait for the Mint 10 KDE RC (which should be imminent).  There is a script called EasyLife which makes installing codecs and such easy (be careful, it is designed for GNOME and will install a ton of garbage if directed).  I was able to successfully configure the odd hardware on my laptop/tablet, including middle button scrolling and touch interface.

I got all my standard software installed including proprietary favorites flash, java, and Dropbox as well as new versions of old favorites including the latest beta of Firefox 4.  I was able to install all suggested updates without borking my system (+1 Fedora!!).  The desktop is beautiful, GTK apps are well integrated, application availability is wide and deep, and the theming is among the best and most complete.  Fedora’s benefactor is one of the best OSS businesses, on any debate, you will find Redhat on the correct side (along with Mozilla, these two companies keep the rest honest).

I really want to like Fedora.

Compared to Kubuntu, Fedora is slow and balky.  Some typing can’t keep up with my 33 WPM, the desktop compositing consumes 5 to 10 percent of CPU resources when sitting idle, there is a general lack of responsiveness, it continuously drops the wireless connection. And what is up with SELinux?  I am not a government contractor, I do not work for the NSA; the nags were worse than Vista RTM.

I am glad to see Fedora progressing, but it is clear that mainstream desktop is not one of their goals.  It will be interesting to see what the Fedora derivatives do with this distro over the next few releases.  Linux Fusion seems to have some good ideas (but no KDE:-( )

Ranting aside, Fedora is the best distro about contributing upstream, and they deserve major credit for that.

Now I think I am off to install the new Pardus 2011, a Turkish KDE release that I’ve never tried.  That should hold me over till Mint 10 KDE is released.

New Distros Released, Linux Keeps Getting Better

Just a couple of brief things relating to Linux Mint 6 KDE CE and a new (to me) distro called moonOS.

Let’s start with Mint.  On Wednesday, Linux Mint 6 KDE CE was released.  Based on Ubuntu Intrepid and using KDE 4.2, I think that this is the first usable KDE 4.x distro to be released.   Mint KDE ships with the default Oxygen theme, which is actually very distinctive, but not what I would call beautiful.  Thankfully KDE remains the desktop tweakers choice in Linux desktops, easily customizable.  With this release, KDE 4 finally comes to the masses and it is apparent that a firm foundation has been laid for future development.  The development team at Mint deserves credit for being the first out the door with a usable KDE 4.x.

Also worth noting is that this past Tuesday Linux Mint 6 Fluxbox CE was also released, I am not a fan of Fluxbox so I have no comment to make.  But if you are, then check it out.

The other distro that I wish to mention is a new one (to me) called moonOS.  moonOS comes out of Cambodia and is based on Ubuntu, like Mint it uses the same repositories as Ubuntu.  moonOS uses the E17 desktop which is fairly lightweight and fun to work with.  What sets moonOS apart is the themeing that has been done, it is unique, beautiful, and very funcional.  Check out the screenshots, as you can see it has a very Asian feel to it, at least in this Westerner’s mind.  It seems that moonOS has managed to break out of the sterile machine feel of most distros.  It is clear that a lot of time and energy (and talent) went into this release.  I had no problems getting it up to speed on my Toshiba laptop.  While their are a few niggles in version 2 which was released about 7 or 8 weeks ago, development is underway for version 3.

With Mint’s graduation into the top tier of distros, moonOS has become my favorite up and coming distro…go check them both out…