Lunduke says the LXDE Desktop is "Nothing to write home about"

in linux on (#2TP9)
Somebody just go ahead and call this article a troll. That's essentially what it is. But heck, maybe it will get some discussion going. Linux pundit Bryan Lunduke over at Network World has spent some time using the LXDE desktop and writes, I've used LXDE for weeks, and I'm still having trouble finding much to say about it. That's not a good sign. What the hell, man?
I feel like, after all this time, I should have something interesting to talk about. But I just plain don’t.

It’s fast, blisteringly fast. And it’s damned lightweight too. After that, things get pretty boring. LXDE is built on GTK+, which means GTK-based apps are right at home. So that’s a plus, I suppose. Though that really isn’t a problem on any desktop environment I’ve tried so far. But… you know… it’s something that I can write down about it. After that, things get average and mundane… in a hurry.
I'm not sure what the issue is: in my opinion, LXDE is simple, intuitive, and stays the heck out of your way so you can work. How can that possible be a negative? So, go ahead: insult the author. Then the guy who submitted this article (me) and posted it (me again). Then discuss. I'm verklempt.

Friday Distro: Redo Backup & Recovery

in linux on (#2TNW)
Too many Linux distros out there seem to be pet projects, focused on minor choices of theme and desktop environment. Redo Backup & Recovery is much more focused and is worth a look as a useful and important sysadmin tool. For starters, note they don't even bother to call it a distro: the fact that there's Linux underneath is not the point. But take a closer look and it's obvious that it's the power of Linux that makes this thing possible.

RB&R is simple: you download it and burn it to a disk or USB stick you then use to backup your machines. Boot the machine from your B&R disk, and let it work its magic. RB&R will mount the machine's partitions, and create a backup you can store elsewhere, say on a network share. If that machine ever gets misconfigured, virus infected, or anything else, you can simply restore one of the backups as though it were a bare-metal restore. It's essentially OS-agnostic, permitting sysadmins to backup and restore Windows or Linux machines with equal ease (it's not clear how good its Mac support is though!). It's graphical, auto-configs network shares, and because you make the backup by booting the machine from your disk/USB stick, you don't even have to have login rights on that machine.

The whole thing is a simple 250MB disk image, that gets you a graphical interface based on Openbox. Under the hood, it's simply a clever GPLv3 Perl script that leverages GTK2+ and Glade, plus partclone, which does the block-level disk backup or re-imaging. Partclone supports ext2/3/4, HFS+, reiserfs, reiser4, btrfs, vmfs3/5, xfs, jfs, ufs, ntfs, fat(12/16/32), and exfat.

I like this approach: they don't make much noise about Linux; they just present a useful tool any sysadmin would be grateful to be able to use. It is tightly focused on providing a single service and doesn't get wrapped up in troubles related to inevitable "feature creep". It does one thing, and does it well. I know my openSUSE box has recovery tools built into its YaST management system, but my brief test shows B&R is way easier, user-friendly, and hassle-free. I will be continuing to use it as recovering from an image is way easier and undoes the inevitable trouble I get into by downloading and experimenting with software packages that eventually combine to hose my system. Give it a look for yourself, and sleep a bit easier.

Tablets vs Chromebooks: an unexpected year

in hardware on (#2TNS)
So much for the Post-PC Revolution! Despite all the hype of tablets and their obvious benefits and use scenarios, the demise of traditional computing form factors seems to have been exaggerated. Never mind that 2014 will probably see over 250 million tablets shipped and sold, tablet sales are actually slowing. Analysts predict that Apple will probably face a year-long ipad sales dip, though it's hard to say what the effect of the most newly-released models will have.

But just as surprising, sales of Chromebooks have actually surged over the last two quarters. Gavin Clarke at the Register points out recent research that projects a doubling of the Chromebook market year on year, with HP, Samsung and Acer taking the lion's share of the market. They still represent a small share of the market, with only 4 million units shipped (of 300m convential PCs in total), so it's too soon to say the Chromebook revolution is here.

But it does show surprising potential in the traditional laptop form factor, and give some reason to wonder if, despite all the hype about tablets, phablets, and smart phones, consumers still find themselves reaching for a portable device with a great keyboard.

Can ICANN agree to oversight of its decisions?

in internet on (#2TNQ)
Central to the functioning of the Internet as we know it is the Domain Name System (DNS), and currently at least, central to DNS is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). And now, in the context of expanding mandate of DNS names (the new global top-level domain names), the Snowden revelations that showed how the US government has abused its role in overseeing ICANN, and a few bungle-headed decisions by ICANN itself, that may be up for revision and change. The Register writes: The future health of the internet comes down to ONE simple question: can ICANN be forced to agree to oversight of its decisions?
Such is the importance of the core that ICANN has been purposefully lumbered with an organisational design that tests the limits of sanity: three supporting organisations (one of which is broken up into another four components and then sub-divided again); four advisory committees; a 20-person board; and a permanent staff. Just like the internet, however, this global and decentralised organisation has a potential flaw: a central core of staff and board, without which the rest of it would start to erode and break apart.

And that’s where the US government comes in. Since the creation of ICANN in 1999, the US government has overseen the organisation. Uncle Sam was supposed to step away within just a few years but for various complicated reasons, in every one of the 15 intervening years, ICANN’s core – its staff and board - have made at least one fundamentally stupid decision, usually against the explicit wishes of the majority of the organisation.

And then refused to change its mind.

Each time it has done so, the United States administration has done the equivalent of walking into the room, smacking ICANN over the head and leaving again.
An interesting and important subject, and a well-written article (slightly longer that usual, at 4 pages).

Nexus 9 Tablet to be powered by Nvidia Tegra K1 64-bit chips

in hardware on (#2TMT)
story imageWho's happy about Google's newly-announced Nexus 9 Tablet? Well, lots of folks, but no one is happier than the guys at Nvidia. The Nexus 9 will be the first device to run new Android Lollipop, and powering it will be the 64-bit version of NVIDIA's Tegra K1.
[The Tegra K1 is] an ARM Holdings v8-based beast with dual 2.3 GHz Denver CPUs, and 192 Kepler GPU cores. That's a huge relief for NVIDIA shareholders, who still remember last year's painful Tegra 4 delays, which enabled Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 to win a coveted spot in Google's second-gen Nexus 7 tablet.
It's a fast chip, and reportedly smokes both the Nexus 6 Adreno 420 and Galaxy Note 4 Mali T-760 in GPU tests. Furthermore, Using the superscalar micro-architecture, these chipsets support Dynamic Code Optimization and use Kepler GPU architecture, which powers some of the world's few fastest gaming PCs and supercomputers.

The pundits claim this new chip, with its kepler architecture will allow Google to bring state-of-the art graphics to Android for PC and console-class games. At a minimum, it will allow your Angry Birds to fly a hell of a lot faster.

[2014-10-22 19:43 edit: Typo: Nexus, not Nekus]

Escape from Microsoft Word

in microsoft on (#2TKJ)
Edward Mendelson over at the NYT writes:
Auden’s contrast between mediocrity that gets things right and genius that is always wrong is useful in thinking about many fields other than politics. Take, for example, the instruments used for writing. The word processor that most of the world uses every day, Microsoft Word, is a work of genius that’s almost always wrong as an instrument for writing prose. Almost-forgotten WordPerfect—once the most popular word-processing program, still used in a few law offices and government agencies, and here and there by some writers who remain loyal to it—is a mediocrity that’s almost always right.
Good look at the quirks of the modern office's favorite bit of software from a more philosophical point of view. It starts with a quote from Plato, for starters.

Google's new "Inbox" hopes to simplify email

in internet on (#2TKC)
story imageGmail is the email solution of choice for a huge number of Netizens, and that provides a rich playing field for developers hoping to be useful to you by providing tools that simplify email overflow. Enter Google with its latest endeavor, "Inbox." From Engadget:
If you're anything like us, Google's Gmail has an iron grip on your life. Google's looking to create a whole new iron grip with a new app from its Gmail team, and it's called "Inbox." What is it? That's a good question -- Google's made a demo slash advertisement video that we've dropped below. As far as we can tell, Inbox is a combination of Google Now and your Gmail inbox -- a "smart" inbox, if you will. It combines alike pieces of email (bank invoices, for example), highlights related information (like Google Now alerting you to flight changes, traffic, etc.) and keeps track of your life (it'll give you reminders, among other heads ups). Is this the end of Gmail? We seriously doubt it, but it is Google's latest foray into simplifying email.

Is it time to fork Debian?

in linux on (#2TFM)
The grumbles over systemd and its ramifications are well known and have even been discussed on Pipedot [links below]. But it's taken on a new urgency. The members of the Debian community are set to vote on an init system, and if by any chance the "give preference to systemd" option wins, this group of angry sysadmins is organized, willing, and prepared to fork Debian. Their argument is measured and calm, but they've got their finger on the trigger. Here is just a portion of their argument.
Who are you?!
We are Veteran Unix Admins and we are concerned about what is happening to Debian GNU/Linux to the point of considering a fork of the project.

And why would you do that?
Some of us are upstream developers, some professional sysadmins: we are all concerned peers interacting with Debian and derivatives on a daily basis.We don't want to be forced to use systemd in substitution to the traditional UNIX sysvinit init, because systemd betrays the UNIX philosophy. We contemplate adopting more recent alternatives to sysvinit, but not those undermining the basic design principles of "do one thing and do it well" with a complex collection of dozens of tightly coupled binaries and opaque logs.

Are there better solutions than forking?
Yes: vote Ian Jackson's proposal to preserve freedom of choice of init systems. Then make sure sysvinit stays the default for now, systemd can be optional. Debian leaders can go on evaluating more init systems, just not impose one that ignores the needs of most of its users.

Why is this happening in your opinion?
The current leadership of the project is heavily influenced by GNOME developers and too much inclined to consider desktop needs as crucial to the project, despite the fact that the majority of Debian users are tech-savvy system administrators.

Can you articulate your critique to systemd?
To paraphrase Eric S. Raymond on the issue, we see systemd being very prone to mission creep and bloat and likely to turn into a nasty hairball over the longer term. We like controlling the startup of the system with shell scripts that are readable, because readability grants a certain level of power and consciousness for those among us who are literate, and we believe that centralizing control services, sockets, devices, mounts, etc., all within one daemon is a slap in the face of the UNIX philosophy.
Also see:
Kernel hacker's rant about systemd
Boycott Systemd movement takes shape
Uselessd, an alternative to systemd
Debian to vote on init system again

CUPS 2 has been released

in hardware on (#2TCH)
CUPS, the Common Unix Printing Specification, has just released version 2.0 of its software. Mike Sweet, the project founder, reflects here on what makes CUPS 2 different, how printing has changed over the 15 years elapsed since CUPS 1.0, and what printing means in a world full of wifi and cloud-connected devices.
Today our focus on printing is much different than in 1999. Wireless networking and mobile computing are everywhere. We no longer want printer drivers, but expect printers that support standard protocols and formats with fantastic output quality that we could only dream of 15 years ago. And our printing is more focused and personal.
The changes since the previous version of CUPS are actually not all that substantial. This is a minor bug-fix and maintenance release. Specifically:
CUPS 2.0.0 is now available for download. The focus of this major release is on performance and security improvements. Changes since 2.0rc1 include:

The scheduler did not preserve listener sockets from launchd or systemd after a restart ()
Added some USB quirk rules for the libusb-based USB backend (STR #4482)
Spanish localization update (STR #4487)
Updated documentation for 2.0.0 release.

A new approach to assisted biking: the Copenhagen wheel

in hardware on (#2TC5)
story imageInteresting new tech if you're into bikes: the Copenhagen Wheel is a disc-shaped module that can be retrofit onto almost any bike. It's:
... an electric pedal-assist motor fully contained in the oversized red hub of an otherwise normal back bicycle wheel. Inside that red hub is a delicately crammed array of computing equipment, sensors, and a three-phase brushless direct current electric motor that can feel the torque of my pedaling and add appropriately scaled assistance.

Replace the back wheel of any bike with the Copenhagen Wheel and it's instantly an electric bike—one that not only assists the rider but senses the surrounding topography and can even collect and share data about environmental, traffic, and road conditions. First developed in 2009, through a partnership between MIT's Senseable City Lab and the City of Copenhagen, the wheel is now in its first stages of commercial production. By the end of 2014, thousands will be shipped out to fulfill pre-orders around the world.
Sometimes you do still have to pedal though.