Ubuntu is getting closer to Windows and Mac (in a dumb way)

I’ve always thought that the Ubuntu team “got it right”: I found Unity beautiful, the whole integration of different pieces among different projects, the simplifications and removal of unnecessary options was good. Then I started noticing the over-removal of things. First went CTRL-Alt-Backspace, the very useful combo that kills the windows server. I almost never need it but when I needed I realized it was disabled by default some time ago. I didn’t complain too much as the feature is pretty advanced and I have found myself killing the session unintentionally hitting the combo with fat-fingers a couple of times. So I thought the choice made sense. But today the line between simplification and dumbification  has been crossed: Ubuntu Raring Ringtail 13.04 has disabled the virtual workspaces by default.

Today I upgraded to Ubuntu 13.04. At reboot I wanted to start my apps in the usual workspaces : 1 for the browser and mail, 3 for xchat… but OMG! CTRL-Alt-DOWN doesn’t work… Quick search first to learn what the heck those things are called then the sad truth: workspaces are disabled! What a moronic choice to disable them by default. Guys, come on! I understand making things simple, but dumbing down on Mac and Windows on their limitations is a stupid choice.

To enable them again there is a settings in the panel as described on Ask Ubuntu. I feel like my respect for Ubuntu’s team is at its lowest point ever and this makes me unhappy.

I think removing the workspaces is the dumbest idea ever, on par with grouping windows from the same app in the Alt-Tab cycle. Please somebody explains why. Is this because Microsoft doesn’t have workspaces, so we should copy them, right? Wrong! What’s next? Disable paste with middle-click? I might as well go buy a Mac then or learn how to live with Windows if I have to learn and live with moronic systems.

How to sync Mac OS with Funambol (part 3)

I noticed that my posts about using Funambol on Mac part I and part II are two of the most viewed posts on my blog, so I decided to update them with a new tutorial using the official Funambol Mac OS Sync app. Since I was at it I decided to test also Prezi, a pretty good software for presentations.  Although not free-as-in-freedom software, I hope it inspires other developers to write better tools for presentations.

Here is the result: enjoy it!

http://prezi.com/bin/preziloader.swf

How to avoid frustrations with BlackBerry and Mac

Just don’t buy that combo: Mac and BlackBerry are two very closed environments, they don’t want to be interoperable, they hate each other and their customers.

Not that I would make such mistake, never. But I have friends that do this kind of stuff and then I’m enough of a friend to share with them the painful experience.  A very good friend of mine loves Mac: it’s a cult (no rationality, only emotions) coupled with a very strong lock-in strategy with non-standard data format and in general poor interoperability with the outside world. She hates touchscreens, so she ruled out buying an iPhone. I can’t really say that this is necessarily bad because the iPhone would have tightened her data in stronger shackles.

So she decided to buy a BlackBerry Curve 8900 hoping that RIM’s newly released Desktop Manager for Mac would work. As she soon realized, that was a wrong assumption. I tried to help her out but DM for Mac is a smelly piece of **ap.  The software installs fine and when you connect the phone for the first time the DM happily tells you that there are upgrades available for your device. Do you want to install them? DM asked. Not now, I answered, as I first want to do a backup of all data. Ok, clicked on Backup.  The DM tried to shit but only farted: after 3 minutes with a progress bar not progressing, it said ‘Sorry, can’t backup’. Ok, I said, lets try this again. This time no useless progress bar, nothing. I noticed that the BB seemed disconnected. I unplugged and plugged it in again several times but nothing changed.  I tried soft rebooting the machine with no result, so I hard rebooted it taking off the battery. Everybody hates rebooting a BB: after waiting for 3 minutes I connected the usb cable again to the Mac Desktop Manager and the device showed up again, connected. DM asked: Do you want to install the updates for your device? This time I answered Yes, thinking that maybe declining the request the first time was the reason for the mess. Well, it wasn’t: the DM started the upgrade process but, after a few painful minutes watching the progress bar not showing any progress, it eventually gave up. I tried again the soft reboots, unplug-replug., hard reboot, etc. I even uninstalled and reinstalled the RIM Desktop Manager as suggested in the BB forums (wow! a pure Windows mentality) until I finally gave up.  I’ll see if I can find a Windows machine for her to update the BB firmware and see if that solves the problem of communication between Mac and BB.

The lesson learned is: if you buy highly proprietary products like Mac and BlackBerry don’t expect them to be interoperable between each other. These companies hate each other and they sacrifice their user’s freedom of choice only to see the other company suffer.

Mac OS X vs GNU: my personal summary (3/3)

After two days bashing Apple, here is the good stuff as promised.

iWorks is good stuff. Keynote is simply amazing: everything is where it should be, the templates are gorgeous, animations are fluid, automatic aligning of pasted items is superb. Pages is beyond any wordprocessor out there. I haven’t used Numbers enough because I don’t have much time to learn it, but it looks amazing and innovative too. Seeing iWorks made me think of the amount of work for free/libre software developers to catch up.’  To OO.org (and koffice) developers my suggestion is: stop wasting time imitatin Microsoft Office, abandon Base (not useful), invest on improving Presenter and new UI paradigm. And get designers to work on good templates.

Time Machine is another masterpiece: that’s how backup and restore should work on all systems. I’ve always dreamed of having something so simple on GNU. All the tools are already there, but nobody ever designed such a beautiful and simple to use interface. I should probably talk of ‘experience’ instead of simply an interface because Time Machine barely has an interface. To backup you simply plugin an external disk and all the job is done without a question asked, magically. To restore you simply click on the Time Machine icon and you’re brought back in time with the interface of the software you’re running. It’s too difficult to explain, you have to watch it live. GNOME and KDE guys: please, learn from that.

Finally the hardware: bad keyboard, but amazing case. I love the magnets to hold the screen down, very very convenient. And I love the power plug. If Dell or HP made gorgeous GNU/Linux compatible machines, especially desktops that you’re not ashamed to put in a living room, I’d spend extra bucks to buy them.

So in the end, I’m happy I tested Apple’s system but I wouldn’t buy one for me: it’s too expensive for what it gives back to somebody like me that already knows how to use well a GNU system.’  Considering that GNU learning curve is so much less steep than it used to, I really don’t see many reasons not to start walking it today.

Mac OS X vs GNU: my personal summary (2/3)

Yesterday I described the bad things I found with my year experience with a Mac. Today it’s the day of the ugly stuff.

The ALT-TAB (or CMD-TAB, in Mac world) has the stupidest behavior ever. It cycles through the open applications, not the open windows. For being an OS based on the documents, not the apps, it’s disappointing, at best. It’s also annoying that if you have minimized a window, CMD-TABing won’t bring it back in foreground: you have to go on the bar and click! Dude: that’s silly!’  I know you can install third-party apps that restore the common CMD-TAB behaviour, but that’s not the point: the system should work well out of the box, as claimed.

I tried plugging in my Samsung MP3 and OGG player and the first time I did that the kernel crashed. Now, after 5 major updates, there is no crash but only a message saying ‘Cannot read this disk: eject or ignore?’ Lame Apple, lame. Especially since the same player works perfectly on OS X 10.4. Reporting the bug didn’t help (almost one year has passed).

But wait, it gets worse. Quicktime player doesn’t play DIVx and other formats out of the box!!! WHAT? The first and foremost complaint I’ve heard every time I tried to defend my GNU systems was that there are no codecs for movies. And I get this expensive computer only to find out that I still need to download VLC to watch my collection?

So, in the end, any GNU system is not different from Mac: you need to hack your box to make it work how you want it, you need to install software, you need to put codecs. Free software comes to rescue the Mac, with VLC, Firefox, Thunderbird, Songbird, MiroTV, Cyberduck, Adium, OO.org ecc completing the otherwise very limited experience. But all this software is already available out of the box on any GNU/Linux system: why pay more and use the same programs?

Disclaimer: I’m not adding any rant about the defective, DRM crippled iTunes simply because I never used it. My collection of music is in OGG Vorbis format and iTunes is of no use.

Mac OS X vs GNU: my personal summary (1/3)

When I started working at Funambol, Hal asked me what kind of computer I wanted, PC or Mac? At that time I had suffered some frustration with my usual setup, using GNOME. I was especially frustrated by the mail program Evolution while using GnuPG encryption and its lack of support for ‘discussions’ like Gmail. Also, I was very curious to see what innovations happened in the past 6/7 years since I last used a non-free operating system.’  So, without thinking too much, I answered ‘I want a Mac’. I have a white MacBook with Leopard installed.

Now I’ve been a Mac user for almost 1 year and I’m ready to summarize the experience. Keep in mind that I’m comparing the Mac to GNU/Linux as an experienced user that, despite not being a developer, walked the whole learning curve during many years.’  This is a series of three posts: the bad, the ugly and the good things.’  Today I start with the bad stuff.

I use the MacBook to give presentations at shows and events. The guys at Apple decided not to include the connectors for VGA or DVI in the box. Those are sold separately for €19.’  That, IMHO, is cheap (not “affordable”).

Spaces brings multiple screens to OS X. Doh! Amiga had those in 1985 (even at multiple resolution) and *nix had them forever. This is such a new thing to OS X that they work in a very chaotic way. Microsoft Office goes totally crazy with it (I’m told it’s Microsoft’s fault for using their own graphic libraries) and the management of focus between applications on different screens is confusing at times.

Apple Mail still doesn’t work well with GnuPG encryption and doesn’t support any of the good features that Gmail has. Plus it crashes way too often. And why does it store attachments in a folder on the filesystem? What happens if I accidentally delete the file: will it disappear from the email box?’  And if I delete the email message, will it delete the file too?’  It’s a very very basic email program.

iSync is neat, but it’s not compatible with latest phones. Just like I would do with GNU desktop software you need to google around to find a solution, or wait for next release.

iPhoto only syncs to Apple .Mac/MobileMe site. Right, like I want to hand the keys to my personal history all in the hands of any random dude. For me that’s unacceptable, so I had to google around to find a gratis plugin that makes iPhoto compatible with Flickr.’  I’m keeping my personal photos on my other computer running f-spot: it feels safer.

At home I have an HP all-in-one printer and scanner psc 1210: I couldn’t find a way to print in B/W only (if there is it’s well hidden.) And the scanner is not recognized by the Image Aquisition software bundled with the system. I should probably google or ask an experienced friend to find an answer (tipically: install this 45mb software by HP that invades your system with useless crap, when all you need is a simple driver).’  On GNU you would have to do the same (google and ask peole) with the difference that if you need a driver, you get a driver.

That’s it for now, tomorrow I’ll tell you the ugly bits, before going to the good stuff (there is some, I promise).

It crashes, it crashes

The first time it crashed was when I first got it, brand new.’  I unpacked it, booted it, attached the Samsung OGG player… nothing showed up on the desktop, so I removed the player and BOOM!

Then it crashed again, but I couldn’t replicate the error. Today it’s the third hard kernel crash in eight months. Unacceptable, from an operating system without a decent ALT-tab function and only two mouse buttons.

I have to say though, that it crashes very very nicely. It’s beatiful even when it’s useless.

A nice screen of death
A nice screen of death

Will I get an iPhone?

Many of my friends keep asking me what I think of the iPhone, if it’s good and whether they should buy one. They are all non-techie people that want a very good phone and are willing to pay the extra money for a good handset that does email and web navigation, and a decent phone too. For such kind of customers, the iPhone seems to be the only choice out there. Lets face it: there are no free software alternatives out there. And even the proprietary platforms are not up to the task. Windows Mobile is not designed to be cool (no Microsoft product is, except the Xbox, maybe) and its usability compares poorly to iPhone OS. BlackBerry and Symbian are boring… There is no comparison: iPhone has raised the bar for all of them and they deserve the attention of the market.

Now, the question is: will I ever get one? Let me put it this way: I will consider buying one when I will be allowed to install software that is not coming from the Apple Store AND when there will be a VoIP application for it. Does it mean I’ll never get one? It’s up to Apple (like the calendar API problem, that is hurting Funambol). I’m curious to see what the iPhone Dev Camp crowd thinks of this problem or if they consider this a problem at all.

Like me, others are concerned with Apple’s DRM policy.’  Joshua Gay, campaign manager of the FSF, wrote Why free software and Apple’s iPhone don’t mix:

Apple’s license says that to write and distribute software for the iPhone, developers have to agree that any freedom users should have to modify and share their software is secondary to the paramount requirement of observing and protecting Apple’s DRM system.

[…] Apple […] want[s] to control what users do with their computers.

Write to Steve Jobs and let him know that you won’t buy an iPhone until Apple will empower users to develop and install free software on the device. Let FSF know what he says.

Funambol on Mac OS X, part 2

Update Jan 12th 2010: the best way to sync Funambol on Mac OS X is to use the official Mac OS Sync app. Check How to sync Mac OS with Funambol (part 3).

Yesterday I talked about SyncEvolution as one of the two options to sync contacts on Mac OS X using myFUNAMBOL. Today it’s time to introduce the other option: the Funambol Plugin for Mac OS X, contributed in his spare time by Kevin Lovette (a hacker of the Funambol Professional Services team). Like Patrick started SyncEvolution to be able to sync his SyncML devices with his GNOME desktop, Kevin had the same kind of itch on his Apple desktop and started to scratch it.’  Funambol Inc allowed him to develop this software in his spare time in exchange of knowledge about the Mac desktop platform.

Funambol Plugin for Mac OS X is a System Preference application. You can download the binary (version 0.1), unzipped it and double-clicked on the resulting .PrefPane file. You can install it only for your user or for all users of the machine. Once the plugin is loaded, enter your myFUNAMBOL username and password, and make sure that the URL is http://my.funambol.com/sync/.

On the next tab, Sync, tick Contacts selecting the ‘Card’ option from the dropdown menu. If you want you can also enable syncing Tasks tick it and select ‘Tasks’ from the meny. The other options are not selectable because they’re still not supported. Now you’re ready to hit the Sync Now button and wait for the sync to finish. The notification area has a bug and it doesn’t notify clearly what is happening.

Being in such early stages of development, I’m sure there are more bugs waiting to be discovered. You can help Kevin to improve this software: look at the project pages on Funambol Forge and discuss it on the Funambol Users discussion list.

Funambol on Mac OS X, part 1

Update Jan 12th 2010: the best way to sync Funambol on Mac OS X is to use the official Mac OS Sync app. Check How to sync Mac OS with Funambol (part 3).

While the world goes crazy with the iPhone, I decided to spend some time testing the two options for syncing on Mac OS X using myFUNAMBOL. There are two options available, both are community contributions. Today’s post is about SyncEvolution, contributed by Patrick Ohly.

Patrick Ohly’s SyncEvolution provides the missing link between Mac OSX and SyncML. The application is’  *nix style, command line based, originally for GNOME Evolution GNU/Linux and later ported to iPhone, OS X, Maemo.’  Old school *nix users will find it very easy to setup and run on Apple’s system.

Download the package from the Mac directory (I used the latest version, SyncEvolution 0.7). Expand the tarball and copy the binaryes in ~/bin (modify the .bashrc PATH variable to include your $HOME/bin, as follows).

PATH=$PATH:~/bin

Then create the directory ~/.sync4j/evolution/myfunambol and copy in it the files share/doc/syncevolution/funambol from the original tarball. Since I couldn’t find a way to make Finder show the hidden directories, I used the unix cp and mkdir commands (I’m at home with those, but YMMV).’  Now it’s time to edit the configurations. I use smultron as text editor,

$ smultron /~.sync4j/evolution/myfunambol/spds/syncml/config.txt

Change deviceId to something unique (especially if you’re syncing from many computers or more than one account on the same computer) and add your myFUNAMBOL username and password.’  Then it’s time to edit the addressbook configuration:

$ smultron myfunambol/spds/sources/addressbook/config.txt

change the type to the Mac type and make sure that the sync is configured as follows (unless you need different setup)::

type = addressbook
sync = two-way

That’s it. Now go on with the sync:

$ syncevolution myfunambol

and that’s it.’  SyncEvolution doesn’t support tasks nor calendar yet, but at least the AddressBook support is pretty good and stable. If you are a Mac programmer or you want to try becoming one, help Patrick to add a GUI to SyncEvolution and extend its functions.