Category Archives: GNU/Linux

Leopard for me so far

I recently read Dave Thomas’ recent post titled “The Canary Benefit“, and it reminded me that I had never made note of my switch back to OS X as my main operating system. My attempts to run my accounting and contact management on GNU/Linux over the past few years have been pretty dismal. The several options I tried to use for accounting led me to end up having to enter a year and a half of business transactions into QuickBooks from scratch, the tipping point being when I couldn’t even pull a meaningful profit and loss report for my accountant. Over time some Multisync failures had decimated my contact database as well, and that started to cost me.

Deciding to switch back to Mac was a no-brainer, but with the advent of Leopard I can say for the first time that I seem to be experiencing a bit of cruft like I have from other operating systems. Weird lockups, less-than-smooth transitions from sleep, goofy resume behavior when switching to an external monitor, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love several features in Leopard enough to put up with the annoyances. They do, however, give me pause.

The missing ingredient in commercial desktop OS options; a package management system

Having spent the better part of two days provisioning my new MacBook Pro’s OS X, Debian, and Windows XP instances, I am keenly aware of how much the Debian distribution’s package management system and its volume of packages have spoiled me. In that two days, the amount of time required to provision Debian was negligible, even though it is configured to completely match my Lifebook’s Debian Sid instance. In fact, the sum total of time to set up Debian, including every application I use, was about 45 minutes of my involvement. Those who know Debian (and Ubuntu, Linspire, Xandros, Mepis, or any other Debian derivative) are coolly nodding their heads, while others are probably thinking I am a lying, biased Linux zealot.

It’s no lie; here are the steps I had to take:

  • Run the Debian Installer business card image and perform a stock Sid installation, choosing Desktop and Standard System options in the task selection step. If you weren’t wanting to run Sid, the netinstall image would be fine as well.
  • Generate a package list on the current Debian installation via # dpkg --get-selections > dpkg-selections.txt
  • Copy the package list file to the new installation; I have copied it to my home directory in this example.
  • Set the package selections for the new installation via # dpkg --set-selections < ~/dpkg-selections.txt
  • Run aptitude or synaptic and choose the install action, then go do something else. Thousands, literally thousands of software packages are being installed for you. Everything from your email client to your office suite to your software development tools are being pulled down from package mirrors. In my case, this was over 850MB of compressed package files.
  • After the package download, answer any configuration questions aptitude (or synaptic) poses.
  • Copy your /home directory contents to the new installation.

Compare that to what it takes with either Mac OS X or Windows XP to get all of your applications installed and configured. Even if you don’t know a thing about Linux or even the more technical side of those operating systems, you can tell from the brevity of that set of steps that the Debian setup is remarkably simple.

Now, some will already be keying in their comment posts with exclamations of “Hey! There’s DarwinPorts/Fink/Cygwin!” Yeah, each of those is a nice start; however, they pale in comparison. Fink at least has the robust apt/dpkg foundation, but even it has a relatively meager package selection. I am sure I’ll be writing more on life with Fink and DarwinPorts in the near future.

I still don’t have half the stuff installed on XP that I plan to use. I get tired just thinking about the installs. 8^)

OK, so I lied…or did I? MacBook Pro in the house

I can hear the comments now; the next AJUG meeting I show up at with my MacBook Pro (MBP, the short acronym for “those in the know”…sigh, I must admit it is easier to type, even if it comes off as pretentious) will probably include a few comments along the lines of “Heeeyyyy…what happened to the Linux thing?” I have been pretty public about my distaste for Apple’s switching to Intel, mostly because of the amount of PowerPC-based Mac hardware I owned at the time. Shortly after that I pretty much shelved my PowerBooks and ordered my first ThinkPad. The Lenovo ThinkPad T42 has been a great machine, and since about mid-July I have been running Debian on a Fujitsu Lifebook P7120, an amazing 2.5-lb. ultra-portable. So, why plunk down the cabbage for a new Apple top-of-the-line MBP?

It all started with World of Warcraft, which my wife and I have been playing together for several weeks. I only have two PC laptops in the house, the ThinkPad and the Lifebook. The ThinkPad runs WoW great; the Lifebook running WoW is an exercise in tolerance. I consider my early WoW learning to be like unto those martial arts movies where the pupil must do typical tasks with large stones tied to them, so that toward the end of the training montage (it’s always a montage) they are suddenly capable to carry water and do laundry with amazing proficiency, as well as fight 25 ninjas simultaneously. My wife’s iBook and my old TiBook do a pathetic job of running WoW, making the Lifebook seem tolerable. So it’s basically a hardware problem. 8^)

When I started surveying the PC laptop market for units that are portable and have high-end graphics hardware, I was floored at the cost. Units that are 8-12 lb. behemoth start at US$ 4K. They’re also ugly. The build quality is also shite. Now consider that a decked-out 15″ MBP goes for under US$ 3.3K, and that’s with the 3-year Applecare warranty and support, and extra battery, and an extra power adapter.

When you also consider the leaps forward in virtualization and multiboot options for MBPs, it quickly becomes a no-brainer. Parallels Desktop for Mac is amazing, and their embrace of more than just Windows is welcome respite from the tragedy that was Microsoft’s acquisition of Connectix and their flagship product VirtualPC. The performance of Parallels has thus far surpassed VirtualPC, and its networking support works as expected for host-to-guest communication, which is more than I could ever say for VirtualPC.

I now have Mac OS X, Debian, and Windows XP all running well on a single machine. Oh, and WoW runs quite well, too. I have a Mac, but it’s still x86 architecture, so it’s not so much that I lied, but my wounds over Apple’s switch have had time to heal, and I too now see it as having been a great move.

BBC News, Bill Clinton, and an Ubuntu thong

So I am perusing the “Latest Headlines” RSS feed in Firefox this morning and notice the word ubuntu. It turns out Bill Clinton used it as a key term in a recent speech to the Labour party conference. The article goes on to discuss the increasing ubiquity of the word’s usage, including the mention of Ubuntu the operating system at the end of the article. And apart from a picture of Clinton at the top of the article, the only other image is of an Ubuntu thong like the ones you can buy off of Café Of all the choices, why pick an Ubuntu thong? One person suggested to me that Clinton and a thong was a natural fit. 8^)

The long-overdue release of java-package 0.28

An updated java-package will hit unstable in the next mirror pulse. Apologies to all for the delay; my discretionary time and that of my sponsors has been rather sparse for some time now. There are at least 9 bug reports addressed in the release. All users who have a JRE or JDK packaged by a previous version of java-package are encouraged to first remove their existing packages and then install an updated one generated by 0.28. Again, sorry for my low level of productivity for Debian, but paying my bills and being a new dad has been quite taxing (albeit rewarding) the past nine months.

Debian Graphical Installer — excellent work, guys

I recently had to provision a laptop at my client’s site for my use. Certain third-party applications that are key to managing the technology practice there are Windows-only, but I (am fortunately allowed to) refuse to have a Windows-only machine. They are cool enough to let me shrink the corporate WIndows XP image and set up a Debian sid instance for dual-booting. I took my trusty CD of a recent daily snapshot (the fact that I have been able to use daily snapshots of the Debian Installer ISO for several years with little to no trouble is in itself a huge testimony to the quality of that project’s work) and popped it into the media drive of this rather battered Dell Latitude D600. I had heard at DebConf that the graphical installer was now fully part of the daily snapshots, so on a whim I invoked it with the ‘expertgui’ directive at the boot prompt.


Language selection in the graphical Debian Installer

If you haven’t seen this, go and burn an ISO of the daily snapshot for your architecture and boot into it. (I won’t even elaborate on the fact that being able to choose from 11 different architectures is massively impressive.) What a beautiful interface, and how amazingly tasteful as far as look-and-feel. It’s very professional-looking, yet not corporate. There’s a button to capture snapshots of the install screens right there on each screen. It may take a minute or two to adjust to having the right line in the display highlighted before clicking the button to continue in more-complex screens, but the annoyance is neglible. I was thoroughly impressed, so much so that I wiped my backup laptop, a ThinkPad T42, and did a reinstall using the graphical interface. You can still pop over to the other virtual terminals just like in the character-based installer; the graphical interface seems to use the fifth virtual terminal. I just popped out of it to the second via Ctrl + Alt + 2 and was able to mount a USB drive with some firmware I needed.

I wiped the T42 so I could run the IBM recovery and get XP back on a small partition. Hey, how else am I going to play Warcraft III? (Seriously, though, if anyone has managed to get Warcraft III to run via an emulator, let’s talk.) I found it a study in contrasts, installing XP and then installing Debian immediately after. The first thing I noticed with XP is how little visibility I have into the install process compared to the Debian installer. I suppose I shouldn’t have to since all these vendors have supposedly ensured (stifling audible laughter here) a smooth installation process for me. However, when something does go wrong, I am pretty much out of luck. Second, I have come to take for granted how quickly you can fully provision an OS instance with Debian’s rich package-management system. The benefits of an awesome package management system are painfully obvious as soon as you have to reinstall Windows or OS X, especially if you are a software developer with a whole litany of tools necessary for your work.

A graphical installer was the last major impediment to me recommending Debian to my friends and relatives who are too befuddled by a character-based application or installer. This closes a significant gap in the Debian offering, and I wish to sincerely thank those who have poured so much time into the installer project as a whole and have gone the extra distance to create an interface that reaches out to the less-technically-oriented crowd.

Mark Pilgrim switches back to Linux from Mac OS X as well

Blog commenter James pointed out to me that the esteemed Mark Pilgrim has recently moved back to Linux for his desktop OS as well. Since Mark’s blog post doesn’t have to be conformed to fit conventions of a major technical publishing site, the style is more conversational. His take on the faux openness of the Mac platform is insightful. My favorite two paragraphs from the entry are the following:

I would like to point out that it is entirely Apple’s choice that their operating system does not run on my new Lenovo ThinkCentre. I’m not saying it was a bad business decision — they are a hardware company, after all — but it is particularly galling to realize that if I bought a new Mac, I would be subsidizing the development of an operating system that contains code whose sole purpose is to lock me into a specific hardware platform. I realize that most people don’t look at it that way, but there it is.

In many ways, the tale of my switch is more of the same old story. Mac OS X was “free enough” to keep me using something that was not in my long-term best interest. But as I stood in the Apple store last weekend and drooled over the beautiful, beautiful hardware, all I could think was how much work it would take to twiddle with the default settings, install third-party software, and hide all the commercial tie-ins so I could pretend I was in control of my own computer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to my eye Apple isn’t beautiful anymore. I’ve worked around it or ignored it for a long time, but eventually the bough breaks.

Spot on, Mark. I still kick myself for thinking it perfectly normal at one time to have to own a PCMCIA network card just to be able to use WLAN with my Aluminum PowerBooks equipped with “Airport Extreme”. Deciding to “switch back” was almost like realizing I was in this relationship with someone who was taking without giving back, and using manipulative schemes to win my allegiance.

Oh yeah, and more Mac zealot whinging in the comments, apparently enough for Mark to have turned off comments on that post.

chromatic writes on switching back to desktop Linux from Mac OS X

Every now and then you come across an article or blog entry that makes you exclaim “Yes, I know exactly what you mean!” I try to only do that with my inside-the-head voice. I spotted an entry from chromatic on O’Reilly’s LinuxDevCenter RSS feed this morning on switching back to desktop Linux from Mac OS X. This is an excellent writeup that captures all the reasons I had for moving to Linux on my laptops instead of Mac OS X.

Desktop Linux is not for everyone, but neither is OS X. Judging from some of the Mac zealots’ whinging, that’s hard for some folks to accept.