Ubuntu is not going to give me a decent desktop OS anymore

I’ve always been an Ubuntu fan for the past 10 years since the distribution came out with the promise of a usable deskto, with a promise of openness, regular releases, great integration between different and separated projects, great vision for world dominance. I loved all of that and I loved the execution, including the latest evolution. I love HUD and how it uses screen real estate, allows me to be more effective at commanding window-based application without having to touch the mouse. I love most of Unity, the dash and the lenses although I don’t use most of it.

Lately I’ve gone from concerned fan to very sad: I’m considering switching to another distribution. What I don’t really like is the lack of investments from Canonical on productivity tools that we live for: an email client and a calendar client. I already ranted about the sad state of free software collaboration tools and unfortunately Canonical decided to invest time and energy in supporting not a desktop for productivity but as a gaming platform, a cloud operating system and a mobile system. Canonical is devoting its engineers to develop things I really don’t care about. All I wanted was a good, solid desktop operating system for my daily computing needs: email, calendar, web browsing, audio/video collaboration tools and a decent way to exchange ‘office’ documents with peopls stuck in 1998 way of producing content. Sadly Ubuntu is not going to provide that in the near future, it even backed out from offering the most basic tools like an email client and a calendar client.

When I look at the alternatives though, I am even more sad and want to cry. GNOME seems to be stupidly following all the things that Apple does, including the obvious mistakes like the broken behavior of ALT-TAB (I expect GNOME developers to invert the way we scroll pages any time now, because Apple did that with absolutely no logical reason). GNOME also lacks a modern email client, addressbook and calendar client, with Evolution being stuck in 1998. And spare me to mention KDE: great technology, just no decent UI for it.

I’m sure Ubuntu will look great in a couple of years on TVs, phones, clouds but all I wanted was my desktop and I fear that for the next couple of years I’ll be stuck with a broken one, being it Ubuntu or Fedora or something else.

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.

WebEx on Ubuntu 64bit vs 32bit hell

I have only a vague idea of what I was going into when I decided to install Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 64bit on my new ProjectSputnik machine. I knew that OpenStack is using WebEx for many of its meetings and I knew that WebEx has issues with 64bit Java on Linux. I had no idea though that trying to run 32bit Firefox and 32bit Java on a 64bit machine turned out to waste 5 hours of my time until I gave up. Here is what I did, maybe somebody else smarter than me can help me.

First thing, install openjdk plugin for i386 with a simple apt-get command:

reed@sputacchio:~$ sudo apt-get install icedtea-7-plugin:i386
Reading package lists… Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information… Done
The following extra packages will be installed:
icedtea-7-jre-jamvm:i386 icedtea-netx:i386 libacl1:i386 libatk-wrapper-java-jni:i386
libatk1.0-0:i386 libattr1:i386 libavahi-glib1:i386 libcairo2:i386 libdatrie1:i386
libdbus-glib-1-2:i386 libdrm-intel1:i386 libdrm-nouveau1a:i386 libdrm-radeon1:i386 libdrm2:i386
libgconf-2-4:i386 libgconf2-4:i386 libgdk-pixbuf2.0-0:i386 libgif4:i386 libgl1-mesa-dri:i386
libgl1-mesa-glx:i386 libglapi-mesa:i386 libgnomevfs2-0:i386 libgtk2.0-0:i386 libjasper1:i386
liblcms2-2:i386 libllvm3.0:i386 libnspr4:i386 libnss3:i386 libnss3-1d:i386 libpango1.0-0:i386
libpciaccess0:i386 libpcsclite1:i386 libpixman-1-0:i386 libsqlite3-0:i386 libthai0:i386
libx11-xcb1:i386 libxcb-glx0:i386 libxcb-render0:i386 libxcb-shm0:i386 libxcomposite1:i386
libxcursor1:i386 libxdamage1:i386 libxfixes3:i386 libxft2:i386 libxinerama1:i386 libxml2:i386
libxrandr2:i386 libxtst6:i386 libxxf86vm1:i386 openjdk-7-jre:i386 openjdk-7-jre-headless:i386
Suggested packages:
libglide3:i386 libgnomevfs2-bin:i386 libgnomevfs2-extra:i386 gamin:i386 fam:i386
librsvg2-common:i386 gvfs:i386 libjasper-runtime:i386 liblcms2-utils:i386 ttf-baekmuk:i386
ttf-arphic-gbsn00lp:i386 ttf-arphic-bsmi00lp:i386 ttf-arphic-gkai00mp:i386
ttf-arphic-bkai00mp:i386 pcscd:i386 libnss-mdns:i386 sun-java6-fonts:i386
fonts-ipafont-gothic:i386 fonts-ipafont-mincho:i386 ttf-wqy-microhei:i386 ttf-wqy-zenhei:i386
ttf-indic-fonts-core:i386 ttf-telugu-fonts:i386 ttf-oriya-fonts:i386 ttf-kannada-fonts:i386
ttf-bengali-fonts:i386
Recommended packages:
xml-core:i386 libgnome2-0:i386
The following NEW packages will be installed:
icedtea-7-jre-jamvm:i386 icedtea-7-plugin:i386 icedtea-netx:i386 libacl1:i386
libatk-wrapper-java-jni:i386 libatk1.0-0:i386 libattr1:i386 libavahi-glib1:i386 libcairo2:i386
libdatrie1:i386 libdbus-glib-1-2:i386 libdrm-intel1:i386 libdrm-nouveau1a:i386
libdrm-radeon1:i386 libdrm2:i386 libgconf-2-4:i386 libgconf2-4:i386 libgdk-pixbuf2.0-0:i386
libgif4:i386 libgl1-mesa-dri:i386 libgl1-mesa-glx:i386 libglapi-mesa:i386 libgnomevfs2-0:i386
libgtk2.0-0:i386 libjasper1:i386 liblcms2-2:i386 libllvm3.0:i386 libnspr4:i386 libnss3:i386
libnss3-1d:i386 libpango1.0-0:i386 libpciaccess0:i386 libpcsclite1:i386 libpixman-1-0:i386
libsqlite3-0:i386 libthai0:i386 libx11-xcb1:i386 libxcb-glx0:i386 libxcb-render0:i386
libxcb-shm0:i386 libxcomposite1:i386 libxcursor1:i386 libxdamage1:i386 libxfixes3:i386
libxft2:i386 libxinerama1:i386 libxml2:i386 libxrandr2:i386 libxtst6:i386 libxxf86vm1:i386
openjdk-7-jre:i386 openjdk-7-jre-headless:i386
0 upgraded, 52 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 56.9 MB of archives.
After this operation, 116 MB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]?Y

Next tell Ubuntu that I want to use the 32bit Java plugin using a simple update-alternatives command:

reed@sputacchio:~$ sudo update-alternatives –config mozilla-javaplugin.so
There are 2 choices for the alternative mozilla-javaplugin.so (providing /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/libjavaplugin.so).

Selection    Path                                                              Priority   Status
————————————————————

  • 0            /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-openjdk-amd64/jre/lib/amd64/IcedTeaPlugin.so   1061      auto mode

1            /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-openjdk-amd64/jre/lib/amd64/IcedTeaPlugin.so   1061      manual mode
2            /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-openjdk-i386/jre/lib/i386/IcedTeaPlugin.so     1060      manual mode

Press enter to keep the current choice[*], or type selection number: 2
update-alternatives: using /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-openjdk-i386/jre/lib/i386/IcedTeaPlugin.so to provide /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/libjavaplugin.so (mozilla-javaplugin.so) in manual mode.

Then I tried to load Firefox and realized that the icedtea plugin is not active. Firefox 64bit evidently doesn’t load the 32bit plugin. Next step: try to find a binary build of Firefox. No luck with that, I wasn’t able to find it anywhere online… I even searched it using Bing, how desperate. Someone on IRC mentioned that Firefox has some multiarch stuff… whatever, doesn’t work for me today.

Next step of a desperate man: install some i386 browser. I tried with chromium in order to avoid messing up with my system, no luck (broken package):

reed@sputacchio:~$ sudo apt-get install chromium-browser:i386
Reading package lists… Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information… Done
Some packages could not be installed. This may mean that you have
requested an impossible situation or if you are using the unstable
distribution that some required packages have not yet been created
or been moved out of Incoming.
The following information may help to resolve the situation:

The following packages have unmet dependencies:
chromium-browser:i386 : Depends: xdg-utils:i386 but it is not installable
Recommends: chromium-browser-l10n:i386 but it is not installable
E: Unable to correct problems, you have held broken packages.
reed@sputacchio:~$

Bit the bullet, tried messed up with Firefox:
reed@sputacchio:~/bin$ sudo apt-get install firefox:i386
Reading package lists… Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information… Done
The following extra packages will be installed:
firefox-globalmenu:i386 libcairo-gobject2:i386 libcanberra-gtk3-0:i386 libcanberra-gtk3-module:i386 libcanberra0:i386
libdbusmenu-glib4:i386 libdbusmenu-gtk4:i386 libgtk-3-0:i386 libltdl7:i386 libnotify4:i386
libstartup-notification0:i386 libtdb1:i386 libvorbisfile3:i386 libxcb-util0:i386 notification-daemon:i386
Suggested packages:
latex-xft-fonts:i386 firefox-gnome-support:i386 libcanberra-gtk0:i386 libcanberra-pulse:i386 librsvg2-common:i386
gvfs:i386
Recommended packages:
xul-ext-ubufox:i386
The following packages will be REMOVED:
firefox firefox-globalmenu firefox-gnome-support
The following NEW packages will be installed:
firefox:i386 firefox-globalmenu:i386 libcairo-gobject2:i386 libcanberra-gtk3-0:i386 libcanberra-gtk3-module:i386
libcanberra0:i386 libdbusmenu-glib4:i386 libdbusmenu-gtk4:i386 libgtk-3-0:i386 libltdl7:i386 libnotify4:i386
libstartup-notification0:i386 libtdb1:i386 libvorbisfile3:i386 libxcb-util0:i386 notification-daemon:i386
0 upgraded, 16 newly installed, 3 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 23.1 MB of archives.
After this operation, 4,423 kB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]?

There are some packaging issues there too, something is off. Firefox looks ugly, like it’s missing some GNOME integration and, most importantly, doesn’t load any of the plugins. So, back to square one.

I tried also different approach but that depressed me even further

Last option is to investigate creating a 32bit LXC or a full virtual machine. Geez.

OpenStack at UDS

What a week! Ubuntu Developer Summit is one of the best meetings I have attended to. Here are a few things that impressed me most.

The infrastructure is amazing! The networking is astonishingly good. I learned that the Ubuntu team bypasses the usually lame the Internet connections provided by the hotels and puts down their own. Ubuntu’s wifi was gratis, easy to join and always on! By comparison, the access provided by the hotel was mostly down and costed $10 per day.

The participation is insane! Not only Canonical employees participate to the summit but also volunteers from around the world. In Orlando there were around 700 people all interested in making Ubuntu the greatest operating system in the world.

OpenStack is everywhere! Three plenary sessions were dedicated to OpenStack and many sessions of the summit had to do with it. Canonical is putting lots of energy into making OpenStack its cloud. Mark Shuttleworth in one of these sessions made it also clear that he wants to provide resources for OpenStack to maintain compatibility Amazon’s API.

Rackspace distributed the coolest t-shirts at the event: we ran out of three full boxes in a few minutes.

The pace of the summit was not as mad as I imagined after looking at the schedule. Even if there are many parallel tracks from 9am to 6pm for five full days, I ended up with plenty of time free to meet people and talk with them. Sharing the same hotel with a big swimming pool and very nice weather probably helped the conversations. I enjoyed also the free buses available to go out in large groups.

All in all, it was great to be there since OpenStack Developer Summit is modelled after UDS.

Shuttleworth sees Ubuntu as the universal OS

In his keynote this morning, Mark Shuttleworth sketched a future where by 2014 Ubuntu will be an universal platform on all devices with a screen. He mentioned Ubuntu-powered phones, TVs, tablets, cars, with the existing desktops and servers, all connected to the cloud. It’s a huge challenge.

I’ve been hearing this story of the universal operating system many times in the past 20 years and nobody has managed to come up with one. I’ve seen the failure of LiMo, Maemo and Meego later (not Tizen), WebOS and more in direct competition with iOS and Android on the mobile/embedded space. Mark may succeed where others have failed.

Why is Asus selling bad customer experience?

When I read that Asus announced to ship three new models of its Eee PC with Ubuntu I was excited. Then I went on to read the full announcement and I found out ath

NETBOOK INNOVATOR Asustek has announced that it will ship three models of its Eee PC with Ubuntu 10.10 preinstalled.

It will ship Ubuntu’s older version, 10.10 while now we are at 11.04. So the first thing that Asus customers will see when they boot the machine and connect it to the internet is a cute screen that says “There is a new version of your operating system. Do you want to upgrade?” What? I just spent $ for this new system and it’s obsolete? And it’s not going to be a simple system update or a ‘service pack’: it’s a whole new version of the OS, different GUI and more.

If they’re selling these machines at the Ubuntu (or general GNU/Linux) fans there is no problems as we’re used to fast upgrades. But if Ubuntu and Asus are aiming at Windows users, as it seems, I think they have to make an effort not to welcome their new customers with a message that can be read as:

Welcome! You just bought an obsolete system!

That’s poor customer experience.

via Asus will preload ubuntu linux on three eee pcs- The Inquirer.

Mini-review of my ExoPC running Ubuntu

Intel is missing the mobile boat: its Atom architecture is losing the battle against the ARM-based competitors and they’ve started spreading FUD. They’re bashing Windows on ARM with compatibility issues but, as Ars says, they’re missing the point.

Intel is right that legacy software runs on its x86 chips. The Exopc Slate that Intel gave me is nothing but a PC. The thing has even has a fan, and the infamous black screen BIOS peeks when you turn it on! I soon realized that Meego is not ready for prime time, so being the Slate a PC, I was able to install Ubuntu easily: as Intel says, its Atom chips run ‘legacy’ applications. What Intel forgot to mention is that legacy applications have little practical use. Ubuntu is a desktop system and on a keyboard-less PC it becomes basically unusable. Intel is spreading FUD when they say that support for legacy applications on small, portable devices is valuable.

The first thing to do after putting Ubuntu on the tablet is to setup the virtual keyboard. I tried Florence but it’s buggy and in my experience it locked the screen (or crashed the touchpad driver –I didn’t investigate) too often so I removed it. I configured Onboard, the default onscreen keyboard to stay always on top and appear when entering passwords. The second thing to do is to remap the ‘Home’ key to actually go home instead of launching Banshee. Multitouch doesn’t work, neither does the automatic rotation of the screen. If you have an ExoPC and want to know more read here, here and here (read the comments too).

I can do some web browsing with Firefox after installing the Touch-n-Grab extension. And I can do some reading of PDF with Evince. That’s it for me. Email is impossible with Evolution: the scrolling widgets are too thin to scroll the list of email and writing anything with the virtual keyboard requires painful accommodation and resizing of the windows poking the screen with your finger. Changing from Unity to ‘Classic’ doesn’t change anything.

GN/Linux software runs on the Exopc Slate but that’s pretty much it: it runs but you can tell it’s not made for it.

All my hope of finding good use for piattola2 (named after the original piattola that my friend used a long time ago, I think it had a Transmeta processor) now rest in Meego 1.2, due next week or a decent port of x86 Android. See you at the Meego conference.

 

Getting Funambol 8.5 on Ubuntu Lucid LTS

Ubuntu4.10 and Funambol running in VirtualBox
Ubuntu 10.04 and Funambol running in a VirtualBox

I wanted to make sure that newest Ubuntu 10.04 being a Long Time Support one would be capable of running the newest Funambol DS Server version 8.5. I can confirm: not a problem there. I downloaded the 32bit .bin package from Funambol Forge, issued the install command with sudo sh funambol-8.5.0.bin and I was ready to sync with Gnome Evolution and my Nokia E71 in a breeze.  While I was at it, I have created a VirtualBox appliance that you can download and use for an even faster test drive (username: funambol, password: fun2test). It’s a massive 1.3gb download: if you find it useful, I may use some help to make a torrent file. Since this virtual appliance doesn’t have an X server, you need to run the Funambol Admin Tool (for  Windows or GNU/Linux) from your desktop machine. Have fun.

Everybody loves forums… or do they really?

I often find web-based forums difficult to participate to. Most of the times the graphic interfaces are too rich, clogged with unnecessary information, visually tirening and distracting. Usually they have too many categories to chose from the start page, threads are difficult to follow, most of the time you can’t really tell who’s answering to what. And they force to stay online to interact with others, there is no ‘offline’ support.

Method of Ubuntu Community Support
Method of Ubuntu Community Support

Compared to a local email archive from mailing lists I think that web forums are suboptimal for collaboration. That’s one of the reasons why I like Collabnet’s discussion services (as in Funambol Forge), that integrate a mailing list with a simple web forum UI: you can have the best of the worlds.

Reading Canonical’s Survey Results I was surprised to notice that their community prefers to use web-based forums to mailing list for community support. Is that because Google indexes forum archives better than mailing list archives? The’  Ubunty forums entry page doesn’t look too inviting, so I imagine that the most common entry point is a search. From there on the user is engaged and starts posting. My feeling is that web forums have a lower barrier to entry and mailing lists have a higher retention rate of contributors. Does anybody have pointer to scientific studies about this topic?