Linux 2016 – The Year of the Hard Shift

Linux Shift

I’m just going to come out and say it. This thing is being rushed because my thoughts are not exactly careening from stream-to-stream. I am so burned out waiting for the moment when Linux finally catches up with the rest of the tech industry.

I know there are a lot of you out there right now, don’t deny it, who are saying “Well, welcome to Linux! You’ve finally got your citizenship!” That’s not good enough, nor will it ever be good enough for me–not even close. I apologize right away if it offends anyone’s sensibilities. But there are days when I feel like I’m the only one who sees what’s happening.

Forget Apple. They’ve dropped the ball irrevocably this time because there will never, ever be a “mea culpa” for the new MacBook Pros. Never, ever, ever. You’ll die of old age waiting on it. If they want isolation, boy do they have it with that forehead temperature strip thing they’ve got going on above the keyboard. They’ve done pinched themselves off.

I’m talking about Microsoft. Have you seen them lately? Am I the only one who sees what’s happening after they gave Ballmer the boot? (Sorry. After he “retired.” Yeah, right.) Redmond is starting to learn from their mistakes, people. They’re now like Tony Stark after he built the thing into his armor that memorizes an offensive move from an opponent then counters it automatically. (Please read Civil War 1.) They’re actually innovating. It’s getting real.

While we’re over here still talking about which “distro” is the best and watching projects like Mycroft poop in their pants, the Surface Book is killing it. I don’t care what kinds of sales figures you throw at me concerning Surface Pro or the lasting negative impact of Windows 8 or the passed-out beer bonging of Windows 10 on machines all over the place. Microsoft doesn’t care, nor do they have to. Surface Pro’s figures have always been less-than-stellar. But they’re still here. Microsoft isn’t letting them go yet. And the Surface Book is them doubling down.

What are they doing? They’re answering a need! Say you’re a graphic designer. Sure, you’ll go for the Apple on instinct. But Microsoft has gone softer on their sales pushing and they’re starting to turn the creative people on. You don’t have to take my word for it. Go to the website. Here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/surface/devices/surface-book/overview. Look at some of these accessories that are being marketed. Pens with different points and point sizes? A freaking dial device that not only works with the aforementioned devices but directly on the Surface Studio screen? Guys, I can tell you having done more than my fair share of work in the creative side (graphic design, television production) but this makes even ME want to buy one–and not to install a Linux distro on it either.

Sure, they may not make the sales figures that Microsoft is looking for. But believe me, if the right people get their hands on these devices and they have their time to play with them, it’ll be a “Katy, bar the door!” moment. So I’ll come right back around and say that Microsoft might very well make the sales figures they’re looking for.

This is why I’m going to go on-record and make the grand prediction that 2017 will be the year of the hardware shift. There will be less focus on software (that includes operating systems) and more of finally figuring out things to do with them. Devices like the Surface Dial are something we need to be worried about if we ever want to see Bryan Lunduke’s latest prediction of the Linux desktop market share going up to 3%, no disrespect to the great one. Everybody can come back at the end of next year and beat the crap out of me Reddit style if I’m wrong.

Hardware How?

We all know that the Linux presence is “kinda-sorta” there with great companies like System 76, Entroware and others. Okay, okay. It needs to stay there. So the call needs to go out to you and all your friends and your pets that these are the companies you need to be buying from. Yeah, you pay more. But if we want to see the miracle happen then we need to be party to it. The more wallet filler they get from us, the more they can innovate beyond laptops and desktops and servers. Why do we want them to do this? Because the days of Linux being in the safe zone of the servers are over. You want the company down the street to start using Linux? Then you need to be able to preach the gospel with evidence. Everyone on earth has seen a computer. They run as fast as we want them to run now. We need hardware extensions that allow us to take advantage of that speed. Speed we have; now we need to adjust our dexterity scores with cool gadgets that empower people who work on the front lines.

When the Linux-powered hardware and workstation companies get their funds, they can hire people to really help them innovate and compete with Redmond and Cupertino.
The World Doesn’t Need One More Distro.

Sometimes you can just feel death threats coming and I’m sure I’m going to get a few now. Look, there are leaders in this area and there are followers. 2016 is almost gone and the cream has risen. You want your distros, here they are: Solus, Ubuntu MATE and Elementary. These are the distros of the future. If you want to use “Oogly-Boogly OS”, that’s your call. It’s going to dry up and blow away most likely, but go ahead. But the community doesn’t need any more of our resources going into an OS that maybe ten people will use. It’s time to pivot hard.

We have 3D printers now. We have the Raspberry Pi and a bunch of other boards ready-to-go with all the technology you could ever need. It’s time to get down and create devices that people can touch and relate to. People who aren’t programmers and engineers like interfaces that make sense to them. Thus, we have everything it takes to push the likes of Microsoft to the mat.

So where is it?

Well, we had our chance with the Ubuntu Edge phone. That failed. Forget the reasons, it’s not coming back. Everybody has a phone anyway. Forget the Sailfish tablet. It had its chance. It’s not coming back. Everybody has a tablet anyway. Canonical ran to the refuge of server space and they’ve presented the world with some impressive technologies. Why, they’ve even been dating Windows Server. Personally, I still don’t trust them. It’s called competition for a reason.

What we do have are hundreds of projects just a few clicks away on any crowdfunding site you dare to choose. Pick one–one that makes sense and that you can see in the hands of everyday working people. Make it innovative, but practical. People like new ways of doing things that make their work easier and that makes them feel more empowered. Then get your credit or bank card out and put some funding behind it. Or, pitch in with your expertise and vision and start your own project.

We all should know by now what happens when you get the right people behind the right projects. They just work. Linux itself is a testament to that. But the world wants to know “What have you done for me today?”. The best part of that is the world loves asking that question. It’s where Linux people were born and raised.

Do your part in wiping out burnout today by contributing to projects that work and let’s use the power we have instead of reinventing the machine one more time. 2017 approaches. Right now, the world is watching the other guys. Let’s make them watch us again.

Linux in an Apple and Microsoft World

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Apple and Microsoft are getting ready to release some new, updated machines that will hopefully address issues such as lack of innovation and “all-around craptitude.” It kind of makes me wonder if the open source community is prepared to try some introspection and ask some hard questions.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Microsoft had a kind of emotional breakdown when they started “hearting Linux.” Years and years of calling it everything but a milk cow led to a CEO shakeup (not really the cause, but still…) and supposedly a full-on acknowledgement that the open source people are onto something. Congratulations to them for coming to this realization after 25 years.

And we’ve done our share of well-deserved dogging them for that and now, well, I guess it’s time to kiss and make up. But in the meantime, I believe we need to be curious about what they’re doing in terms of hardware innovation.

Sure, Linux and open source has always been more about substance over style. Raw machine power and reliability are what we want, not necessarily chic design and gorgeousness. I said “necessarily”. But we live in a world where hit records assures rock star status. Likewise, Linux needs a machine that rocks like Sabbath, but looks like Taylor Swift.

Why? Because, my friends, this is a new era. Newer Linux operating systems that exist to have a broad appeal are not slouches in the looks department. Design and ingenuity are now complementing power and efficiency. We’ve always known this was possible. But there are those who are actually doing it. Look at the likes of Elementary, the MATEs, the Budgies; they’re all producing something with beauty and brains. Shouldn’t our hardware do the same?

Don’t misunderstand; I love my System76 Gazelle Pro. It’s…attractive. It’s got it where it counts. Meanwhile, on the shores of Librem Land, they’ve got unbelievably gorgeous laptops that go to the extreme in security, but pay a hefty price in performance and hardware bugs.

Let’s not get into the fact that the prices for up-to-date configs on these machines are “Hoo Lordy!”. Let’s pretend for today that money is no object.

Isn’t it interesting how in so many years we’ve not made the same connection between aesthetics and all the other qualities that make us really want to buy a machine that ships with Linux? Not to sound elitist, but I’ve often thought of Linux people being the smartest people in the realm of technology. We’ve got a lot of folks who contribute on a non-technical level and have the design chops to make Jony Ives envious. Where the heck are they?

And why would an open source effort, with amazing design, release a half-baked laptop concept at the peril of getting less-than-stellar reviews on quality upon release? Moreover, why would they send a nasty response to reviewers for something they brought on themselves? A word to the wise would be to not put it out there unless it’s your best work, in this instance.

The sad part is I really don’t have any hard answers to these questions. Some may be locked into purchasing agreements for certain types of hardware housing that need to be reviewed. Some are banking on innovative concepts and designs to get them through the day. Here’s the fact–it’s not about surviving. When you’re all-in on hardware that everybody recognizes and uses on a daily basis, it’s about making the other guy go into survival mode. And making small batch PCs and laptops would only do more to place the onus for quality as well as design on the manufacturer. It’s about growth–going from small to big and maintaining the balances between quality, innovation and aesthetic.

Have you seen the big boys lately? Even HP has cleaned up their act–and they had some fugly machines. Quality? Ehhhh…I don’t know. I’d like to get my hands on one of their newest and try them out. But for sure, they’ve upped their game since they realize that they might be actually competing against the likes of Apple.

And Chromebooks? Have you seen some of the newest of these machines? The new Acer Chromebook 15 is just lovely! It’s a good, solid machine and not even that much more expensive than its predecessors.

This only makes the point even more relevant. You don’t have to price yourself out of business to put on a better looking outfit.
Granted, I understand that in the Linux world it’s often a matter of moving sand dunes with teaspoons. Often, the rug gets yanked and, lo and behold, where the heck is Mycroft? What happened to the promise of mailpile? Why can I only name three companies that manufacture and ship PCs with Linux pre-installed?

Maybe it’s time some effort is focused on addressing these issues to make Linux pre-installed hardware more of a driving force. Thank God for System76 and Entroware, ZaReason, and ThinkPenguin. But we need more competition in this market. That kind of energy comes with innovation, good looks, reliability and even lower prices pre-installed.

That’s what I call a dream machine.

Caged Heat: Using Open Source in a Windows Workplace

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I work primarily with Windows but let me say that I, like many of you, have no choice in the matter. We don’t live in a world where the company tells us, “Well, here’s Microsoft Office and everything we do is on a web app. Have fun!” My goodness, that would be a relative paradise for many people. You could potentially go hog wild and use the applications you want.

Still, a lot of us work with very clunky tools sometimes set on a gray-haired version of Java and birthed from Windows installers. It’s a sad reality that a lot of highly-specialized practice software applications, many of which attach to MICROSOFT databases, will only run on Windows because the developer is selling these apps for profit and not for fun. They also happen to know that 95% of the market is drenched in……Windows.

Sometimes it’s just company policy–huge barrier. Quite frankly, with all this talk about diversity in the workplace you’d think they’d include operating systems in the conversation. I’m going to copy and paste that last thought into another file because there may be another article in that, if not a Google+ rant. Ranting’s fun.

I decided I would let one of two young men prevail in this situation. One could win by simply residing to inferior tools and being miserable at work, taking frequent Indeed.com breaks. The other, however, is a bit more calm and reasonable and searches for open source tools that do the same job, if not better. So let’s take a look at some of the work-safe alternatives that can help you not only get the job done, but maybe even help you excel (D’AAAAH! Excel!) and get the job done better and more efficiently.

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Report Analysis–Vim, Emacs

The “Swiss Army Knives” of development are a data analyst’s dream. Honestly, I know someone who was using Microsoft Word and Excel for this, switching back and forth between applications. It was like a sad dance that sent the message of “You’ll never have a homelife again.” This person would honestly cry at work. (No, it wasn’t me.)

It takes some time to learn these tools effectively and you’ll want to brush up on your regular expressions. But it’s probably the best kept secret in the data analytics world.

For example, when you look at a report, you understand there’s a rhyme and reason to each sequence, each space, each character position. Raw data is highly efficient, but not fun. But if you open it for editing in a text synthesizer, like Vim, combine it with your regex skills and follow your corporate reporting guides (if you have them) and you could have a very productive work day. You can write regex to do so many amazing operations that you’ll be able to spot report anomalies like a ravenous hawk and make those corrections. Again, it takes a little practice, but it’s easier than you might think.

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Database Queries–MySQL Workbench

You probably balk at the mention of Oracle. But let’s not forget that they’ve also purch…sorry, given us some great tools that don’t cost one thin dime. This is one of my personal favorite tools.

Assuming you have read/write access to your company’s database, you can make changes to as many elements as you need quickly and easily. Keep in mind that you might need a little cooperation from your company’s IT department and others in order to be able to connect this tool to a database. But explain to them the benefits of this product and you might make some believers out of them.

Also, if you’re one of those who don’t and never will get write access, MySQL Workbench will still work very nicely in allowing you to pull data quickly and in very easy-to-read output. This app is your friend.

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General Productivity–LibreOffice

I love LibreOffice because it’s founded on some very solid code and is developed by one of the most dedicated communities in the entire world. They understand that there is not one among us who has a job that isn’t touched by the classic elements of the productivity suite. Even if you’re not in a company that has embraced the open document way of doing business, then you’re covered with Microsoft file format compatibility.

I can testify about a certain situation in a previous job involving our corporate Intranet. LibreOffice was our ticket. We actually ran into a situation where we were creating online training quizzes in a very ancient, yet very comfortable for our executives. Due to a change in its HTML export features, MS Office wasn’t cutting it. We decided to give LibreOffice a try and, perhaps due to the formatting of the quizzes being closely aligned with an older version of PowerPoint, the new online quizzes worked. Make no mistake, they were as ugly as they ever were. But that’s what the company wanted. Thank you, Document Foundation.

If you’re one of those who tried OpenOffice (RIP) back in the day but weren’t impressed with the slowness in opening Excel spreadsheet files, you’ll be delighted at how quickly they load now; it’s pretty much seamless.

Users will also note the simplicity in the features and menu items across LibreOffice apps in comparison to MS Office’s. Sure, it’s not as “cutting-edge” as Microsoft would have you think. But let’s be honest–how many features in Office are you ever going to use? If you have no caveats in this area, then LibreOffice could be your man.

If, however, you work in a department that has heavily scripted its productivity suite workflow, you may succeed or fail when trying LibreOffice for the same tasks without reinventing the wheel. So in some cases, LibreOffice is more of a qualified recommendation.

Also, I’ve heard from many accountants that Excel is really the only way to go in terms of spreadsheet use. But that’s a very good discussion idea for another day, if I do say so myself.

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Web Applications–Firefox Browser

This one shouldn’t be a surprise. The fact is that a lot of business, such as PeopleSoft from Oracle, are web apps, connected to via a URL, the browser acting as host for the interface that connects to a remote server. Some hate this but some love it. Depending on your Internet connection your experience will range from “No problem!” to “Noooo!!! Problem!!!”

Assuming your place of business has listened to its reliable sources in the IT department and the planets have aligned toward that end, your connection speed will be phenomenally good and web apps will be something you’ll be able to love, at least in the connection and interface areas. (How you feel about the application itself is subject to whether or not your monitor has sustained any injuries inflicted by you. Don’t do anything like this.)

The ability to run an application like this in a browser such as full-bodied and dependency-satisfying as Firefox is a great thing in more than one way. Depending on the app, there are cases in which you can actually run it very well in a proper Linux desktop. Huh? You like that? I can tell you from my PeopleSoft experience that I have run it successfully in Linux serveral times inside Firefox. Beware any updates that could break the compatibility, but it worked for me.

Worst case scenario, you could possibly still run the app on the Windows version of Firefox.

The Good Kind of Rebellion

There’s a distinction I’m trying to draw here, so don’t take it at the most academic sense. There’s a difference between this and mutiny. The goal should always be to get the job done and done well and for your rewards to follow. That said, this is not my way of co-signing anything that could potentially hurt your position at work or to hurt your workplace in any way. Always check with your immediate supervisor and let them know your intentions are to simply do your job while adhering to certain software preferences. Make your case diplomatically. Who knows? You might be able to convince them how much better Linux and open source is at doing the job where you work. At the very least, between you and me, we know there’s almost always a better way than Windows.

Sabayon Bizarre But Useful

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Sabayon, which gets its name from the the Italian egg-derived dessert known as zabaione, is a distribution that we don’t hear too much about these days, although the British Linux press gave it some love a few years ago. It was unassuming…with a hint of mystery. I tried it back then, when I was still fairly new to actually using Linux and thought it was a nice effort, but a little too weird. That wasn’t their fault; that was mine. I was still clinging sharply to Ubuntu at the time. Plus, I was a bit more shallow in those days because I was really set on the idea that an operating system had to look good before I would really put some hours into using it. I still am in many respects. I’m just not crazy about boring.

So when I approached Matt with the idea of documenting a revisitation to Sabayon, he greenlighted it immediately. Team Sabayon has been very busy. It still has a hint of mystique that I find very attractive. It’s got a lot of applications at default and offers you a lot of decision-making power as well. More on that later.

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Countdown Halted

There were a couple of relatively minor issues I had with Sabayon in the very beginning. First, it didn’t offer a means of creating a bootable USB in the documentation outside of using a Windows-based utility. Mmmhh. I don’t want to be a mean guy here, but that’s not good. I don’t want to use Windows as a gateway to using Linux. Furthermore, in the year of our Lord 2016 I don’t want to burn a DVD. But that’s what I did. And there was still a minor hiccup following that–nothing traumatizing, however.

Still, being able to create a bootable USB flashdrive is fast becoming the preferred method for installing a Linux distro. I’m truly glad a method exists for Windows; what else is it good for? (Oooooh!) But if you want to hop from distro to distro, it’s really the best method. Reviewers certainly appreciate it. (Oooooh!)

We’re All Clear

Getting over the aforementioned hurdle was great because Sabayon is actually a really good experience, especially if it doesn’t scare off the new people.

So just to it’s known, I’m running Sabayon on an Intel Core i5 with 16 GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 530 chipset. It also has a Kensington Lock. That last one has absolutely no bearing. On anything. I believe the omission of a Kensington Lock on a system could save the buyer tens of cents.

Also, Sabayon is distributed in two releases, the monthly of course and a daily, for those living on the edge and for developers.
Maybe it’s my unfamiliarity with Gentoo, on which Sabayon is based, but I liked the installation experience proper, which didn’t take long at all despite the precooked 2.2 GB weight. In the meantime, I was able to create the password for the root user as well as create an administrator user for myself. It’s great to have something in which I can be active during installation other than a slideshow letting me know that I can watch videos and get work done. No offense to any Linux marketing person but I kind of already know this. I’m in my forties; time is precious.

I say this particularly in regards to the startup of the desktop graphics services. It may be an issue with X but it took nearly a minute for the desktop to appear in subsequent boots. It’s not really an eternity, but long enough to prompt the impulse of another restart, which from my experience only yields the same result. On the second attempt my patience proved fruitful.

At the desktop, I was treated to what looked like a very foreboding wallpaper–just a farm horizon at night, a gravel road and a giant yellow moon hanging over the setting with the Sabayon “chicken foot” logo shopped inside the circumference. No life outside of the trees was present. It really held my attention but I’m not sure how others would take it; it was kind of creepy. I don’t have a problem with creepy at all. I love spooky stuff! But some might be a bit sensitive to it. Of course, this is something that can be changed rather conveniently.

I’m Seeing an Alignment to the Northwest

First impressions make a difference for a lot of people and I noticed that the four default desktop icons, the trash, Get Live Help, Donate to Sabayon, Rigo Application Browser and the Home folder had somehow converged in the upper lefthand corner of the screen. I was able to pry them apart with the usual amount of effort and line them up. However, this was a bit anomalous.

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Gnome 3’s changes are very pleasant, the dated brushed metallics and “3D” objects swept away like the old republic and replaced with clean, flat design, which I hope never goes out of style. It almost felt like I was expected to show up someday, since Sabayon defaults its icons to the Numix Circle theme, my personal favorite–free or not.

I was particularly surprised by Get Live Help so I jumped right in. This launched the Chrome (with the ‘e’ and without the “-ium”!) default browser and I was immediately viewing a live chat window. I’ve never seen this before in any distro. Any. It hit home that this was a very ambitious distro. It’s a page of the Sabayon website, which of course links to the Wiki and the usual appointments. I’m impressed. It’d be good to see something like this in larger distros.

Now Entering the Apps Nebula

And it’s about time, I know. It’s a bit of a deluxe package. You have GIMP along for the ride, always welcome. It’s the only photo editor/graphics design package I’ve ever needed. Sabayon provides a good foundation and a speedy startup for it. Also, LibreOffice 5 is there as per the usual. Yadda-yadda.

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I was shocked, however, to see Pitivi video editor. I’d never been much of a fan but I thought I’d download a short clip to see if it’d changed since I last used it, which was a couple of years ago. It works well and seems to render very well despite the system’s initial hiccup with X. Furthermore, I think it’s an interesting notion to include a video editor with an OS default setup. I’m starting to see this more and more, first with Mageia. It seems to make the statement that since more people have the ability to shoot video than ever before with smartphones and tablets, the time has arrived. There’s something about a distribution team’s decision making process in the inclusion of a particular application that I think is pretty fascinating. Does it go beyond, “Well, we use this one and we like it,”? Or is it a partnership of sorts? Whatever the reason, I think it’s extremely thoughtful and it further solidifies such an app as a real productivity tool. Maybe I’m overestimating it, but for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I really don’t think I am.

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I think I’ll go even further on this point; the team seems to be really interested in furthering the media capabilities of the operating system in general. The opinion appears to be spoken loudly with the inclusion of some really great applications such as Cheese (always fun), Kodi Media Center for people who love their movies and music on the telly and the ever-popular Rhythmbox. About that last one, I’m still one of those caught in the Google product cage and I still like it. Sorry. It’d be great to join the rest of the Linux hipsters by connecting Google Play Music to Rhythmbox. I believe there used to be a valid way but it’s not working for me. I’ll probably head for greener pastures in terms of Linux-based music players as a result. That’s my first-world struggle, however.

I was intrigued by mpv Video Player. I’d never used it since I’m pretty much sold on VLC, but I really like the interface, especially for newcomers who are and forever will remain in the gui world. It’s compatible with a pretty good range of formats, not as extensive as VLC. But you only have to drag and drop to the interface and sit back. Very simple. BUT…I couldn’t get that method to work, no matter how hard I tried. You have two options here–try the drag ‘n drop or find the file, right-click on it and select mpv as the application in which to view it. The latter worked very well, I’m somewhat happy to say. Still…the drag and drop is kind of a big matzo ball.

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VNC Viewer is something I’m happy to see. However, let’s face it, there are better solutions out there for remote connections. Pick your favorite; I won’t judge you. However, it’s good to know that it’s there for your use in the clutch, its slowness notwithstanding.

I did notice an anomaly in the Graphics portion of the menu. Either team Sabayon really likes Shotwell a lot or it’s in there twice for other reasons. No big; just uninstall and reinstall if it bothers you. It just strikes me as odd that a system with this much polish still has a few hangnails such as this one. Also, it would be like to see different icons for the many selections under the Sabayon menu. Once or twice for the chicken foot logo is okay, but a little diversity in the cosmetics would’ve been nice.

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Programmers have an interesting choice at default with included Python tools such as PyShell, PyCrust and PyAlaMode, all version 3.0. Glade is right in there at 3.20, as well as XRCed at 3.0. I’d never used any of these tools so I was really intrigued. On the outset, they’re just preset configurations of the same exact tool, each one catering to a Python coder’s specific wants and needs, each one with more obvious features than the previous. But like other apps in Sabayon, it’s thoughtful, especially when combined with Glade.

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I’m still trying to make up my mind about Rigo Application Browser, however. It’s not like an “app boutique” by a longshot in that it doesn’t really give you a frame of reference from which you can browse. You kind of have to know what you’re looking for.

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For example, if I type in “video editing”, it keyword searches for what’s available in the repository, in this instance it pulled up Kdenlive and the OpenShot file library. Fair enough. However, it’s not really a shopper’s paradise in that Rigo doesn’t provide screenshot options for applications on the outset. (For libraries and files, I completely understand why this is the case.) If the intent in Rigo’s inclusion is to be minimalistic, then that’s good. However, it’s not an excellent tool if you’re relatively new. Perusing the documentation for Rigo would be a good idea if you’re still finding your legs in Linux via Sabayon. Clicking on the “More Info” button does a bit more to help the situation, still sans screenshot. But it does give some easier-to-read insight into the file in question, also offering the option for the user to rate the app or file on a five-star scale. Run-time and build dependencies are also there for your perusal. It’s not sexy but it works.

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In a similar vein is Magneto Updates, located in the System Utilities menu. I like it a lot, although its layout seems to be a little stacky and messy on the outset. The way it layers visually is a little annoying, but a quick and patient readthrough of the listed notifications gives decent and informative results, with the friendly admonition from Sabayon that you should always peruse these. This is a good idea and a good show of transparency from the development team. Note that if you have no pending notifications, clicking on the Magneto Updates icon in the menu will do absolutely nothing. That might be a bit confusing at first, however. Maybe a notification of no notifications with that event would be a good idea.

Re-entry and Splashdown

If it sounds at all like I don’t like Sabayon, perish the thought. It’s nicely balanced for a wide variety of users for both production and recreation, especially with Steam included by default. I enjoy its simplicity and good looks, although the contrast between the default wallpaper and the Numix circle icons can be a bit clashy. That’s not necessarily a complaint, so much as it sounds like something I would do for my own system. I’m prone to such eccentricities post-installation.

That said, it kind of poetically reflects the joys and very minor pains in running Sabayon. If I were to compare it to a model of the U.S.S. Enterprise (which I am going to buy, you bet your tribbles) I would say it’s very nicely put together with a small decal defect and some prickly edges that need to be sanded down. It’s fun to use and has a lot to offer for a reasonably wide variety of tasks. It’s not quite there, however. It still feels “put together” in some instances. Honestly, these are some barriers to entry for real competition with the rest of the Linux world. The OS is more than good enough to get them some clicks and a listing on DistroWatch. But these issues seem so minor and highly-highly fixable, possibly over a weekend if they were to go at it like team Solus. Sabayon’s been around for a while now. I’d like to see them take it up a notch. This team has something interesting, useful, easy and visually appealing. Now, I’d like to see some fired-up effort in polishing the rest of it. They can do it. I know it.

Solus Stands on Its Own

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If I had to pick one operating system of the year, I would be picking Ubuntu MATE 16.04, if Solus hadn’t come along and stolen the title.

If it was a contest (and let’s admit it; it is.) this would be nothing short of a gripping and dramatic victory for Solus’ lead developer Ikey Doherty and team, especially in this new generation of proven and truly great Linux systems. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Linux community at-large was full of such amazing and cooperative people, I would call it a distro war.

Now, before I get called out for trying to “sensationalize”, let’s get something straight. In recent weeks I have heard the words “competition” and “competitors” used more in the interchange of “fellow developers of other distros” than I have ever heard in my years of involvement with open source.

And I’m proud to say that I welcome it with open arms. Nothing makes you better than someone trying to outdo you. At the moment, no one is trying to outdo you like Team Solus, so you’d better eat your Wheaties.

desktop with numix

They’ve Been Win-ning!

If you’ve used Solus at all in the past couple of months you’ve probably noticed a deluge of changes and bug fixes. I feel as though I’ve been watching a day and night construction of the Winchester House; only this time it’s not out of fear of ghosts and the stairs being added actually lead somewhere.

It’s been an amazing (and sometimes startling) experience. Anyone who read my initial Solus review will probably remember my misadventure with Wine, where I was trying to get a Windows MUD client to load. My reaction was genuine. I was writing in real time. One minute I was testing the client in Solus and it wasn’t working. A few minutes later I tried it again, using the same method as before and it worked. I was able to play Aardwolf on Solus and it was like getting a present. Is there a Betty Ford for MUDs, by the way?

Many, many improvements have occurred since those heady days of development by Ikey and the gang. Most recently, with the 1.2.0.5 release, some of the tightening up includes a fix for a slightly annoying battery icon refresh issue and some keyboard region “guess” issues.

They also switched over to Gnome screensaver for screen locking and for better power management. Somewhat infamous installation issues for the Nvidia Maxwell cards as well as the Intel Skylake chip series were addressed. Gnome technology stacks for 3.20 were added as well as Ikey’s favorite PulseAudio 9, Mesa 12, GCC 6.1.0 and glibc 2.2.4.

If you’ve ever been curious but afraid to try installing it yourself, Solus saved you the trouble of installing the latest Linux kernel, 4.7.2. So far my experience has been really terrific and I’ve not run into any issues in these regards.

I’ve Got to Run, Run Like the Wind…

I like an OS that doesn’t mess around and Solus definitely gets to the point and sings in the startup and shutdown departments. Even on my recently modified Acer Chromebook 15 with SeaBIOS it boots up in 13 seconds. You read that right. Even with Numix icons installed and having to select Solus on GRUB. There’s even an optimistic little “Doong-doong-doong!!” chime once the desktop appears Shutdown? Four. That’s applause-worthy.

Apps start up very quickly, with even Google Chrome beating the clock. So even on low-spec systems, you can really sense the drive for a great desktop experience. It’s light, but pretty. It’s fast but doesn’t skimp. It’s easy; even if you’re the laziest desktop user on the planet you can get what you need without having to go spearfishing on the Internet.

software center

Beavis Installs Packages

In the Solus repo, you’ve got a slew of new packages ready to go whenever you want them. In fact, 41 were introduced, however many of those fulfill several software dependencies for installing others. However, those are easy to spot since they use a “brown postal wrapper” icon. Another thoughtful touch is Solus’s way of understanding that you’re pretty busy and don’t have time to look through all your package dependency issues. Amazingly and very faithfully, Solus follows through by letting you know up front to the effect of “This package requires these others so it can work and work well.” So there’s little-to-no chance of me screwing this up. So far, all of these dependencies have been satisfied and I’m running my packages so well they’re impressing the living dead out of my family. Then I told them that it’s the genius of Solus and not me and they all went back to watching whatever was on Hulu at the time.

Steam

You Think I’m Playing Games Here?

Actually, I am for a change. And I’m having a great time with the emulators that are ever-so-conveniently contained in the repo. Of course, I’m going to give them a try because they’re there for, you know, development. And I’m going to try the mGBA emulator out with my ro…backups. This is science, for Heaven’s sake!

Even on a 5th-gen Celeron the frames are something to write home about. Of course it’s GBA, so we’re not exactly burning down the house. It is clear that when they chose an emulator for GBA, they chose wisely.

There are several others here, including the amazing snes9x-gtk, which will always have a special place in my heart. If you’re an old-school gamer, it’s a treasure trove.

Solus also comes with the latest possible version of the Steam client, with which I installed my copy of Warhammer Quest. This game has some relatively low spec requirements but the frame rates and rendering were really smooth, even with the settings all the way at 11. I’m having to tear myself away because this is one of my favorite turn-based RPGs.

I guess the point here is that if you want a gaming system, Solus is up to the task. And just because something you want doesn’t work today, that does not mean that it won’t work later. I can tell you from personal experience. These guys will spring the development on you.

terminal

Whole Kernel Porn

It may be just “an interesting choice” for many that team Solus chose to use the latest Linux kernel full-time. Way to be reserved because I’ve never been more excited about it. For a long time, I’ve wanted to fearlessly use the latest kernel because…well…all the other big Linux guys were doing it. Plus, I keep reading about the advantages (and potentially broken things) that follow a kernel update. I’ve been burned before. Like when I was dumb enough one time to upgrade the kernel in Mint.

One of the advantages of having the latest kernel is security, having the latest drivers for third-party video card support, speed and stability. Well, that last one can vary from distro-to-distro. But it provides a better foundation from which a developer can work, particularly if they’re really going hard at it.

It’s also a bit of a risky maneuver, since so many things can go wrong. Essential packages can fail to load and you end up with a broken system until you boot into recovery mode and roll the kernel back. The way the Solus team has approached this is that it gives them little-to-no excuses to turn up something that doesn’t work. In short, you can see that these guys are putting their time in. I’ve yet to run into a brick wall with Solus and I’ve tried many, many of these packages. Maybe I just hit it at the right time or maybe they don’t sleep. I don’t know. But the experience is anything but disappointing. If you’re the type of user who spends a lot of time in the gui and doesn’t really like to touch the Terminal, no big–no big at all. We keep going back to the reason Solus exists and that is to give the user the best desktop experience possible.

That’s not to say that the harder of core can’t have fun with the Terminal. No, no, no. This is Linux. And if you want to compile your own packages and do your own development (maybe contribute some stuff to the Solus gang) then get right to it. Development tools are right there in the repo. If you’re a Perl guy, like me, you’ll be welcome with a tip of a hat. You don’t see Perl anymore! Huh!

G’day MATE!

This much beloved desktop environment was added recently thanks to the expanding use of Gnome via GTK3. It will be provided as an installation option and a Solus MATE edition will also be released, of course MATE being the default.

Interestingly, the team has gauged the possibilities of future desktop environments down the road, some a lot more than others. These are GTK lovin’ guys so it’s not really likely that a KDE Plasma version is in the cards yet–as unbelievably interesting as that would be. But it’s a good idea to keep your scope in check since the development team is still pretty small and ambitions are high. So at the moment, it looks as though development is confined to Budgie and MATE.

I like that, though. Scope creep is a huge enemy of any project. If Solus was a rock band, they’d want to experiment without going full-on pop. They want their appeal to come from the merit of their own efforts and remain as pure to the original product as possible. They want to please everyone who crosses the already established bridges. I believe this is the best approach for something as original as Solus. There just aren’t many independent efforts like this around these days that have this kind of momentum. They way they’re handling development can assure a tight cult following with the potential for mass appeal. Time will tell, but as I wrote in my first Solus review, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Solus derivatives begin to form as the original continues to expand and galvanize.

Gimp

Time in the Sun

The more I use Solus, the clearer it becomes that it’s a desktop.. It’s cutting-edge but highly accessible. It’s elegant and in a class by itself, but not hostile to varying desktop environments. It’s slick, but not slippery. It’s polished and fun but still has seriously powerful elements. It’s for work and play. While it’s true that there are no perfect distros, this team has done a masterful job at creating something so close to that.

I now have Solus installed on both of my main systems. I’m getting the same feeling I got when I found Ubuntu. I can work with it because it allows me to do so with speed, low system overhead and enough complexity on the back–end for when I’m in full-on geek mode.

I can say that the only people who need to use Solus are those who value their happiness in computing. When I’m trying to work on something important, I don’t want to be bogged down feeling like I’m finishing the developer’s job. I don’t always have time to go searching through websites to do something as simple as trying to remote into another system or to do something as simple as install an icon pack. Maybe I’ve just not run into the situation yet. But again, there are no perfect distros.

Maybe that places me on the more creative end of the spectrum than the scientific end. Fine. But it’s great to be there with Solus around. Dare I say..? Dare I? We finally have the power and ease-of-use of a Mac in a Linux distribution.

And it’s still growing. Wow.

Mostly Smooth Sailing with Mageia 5

Mangeia

Mandrake Roots

Between 1999 and 2006 I worked for a little company called Electronics Boutique. It was a great place for a college kid to work because you had access to all the latest games all the time. Software came in boxes and some of it was still on 3.5″ floppy. Great game studios like TalonSoft and Looking Glass were still putting out the best stuff you ever played. And, if I could’ve directed you to the far shelf facing the cash wrap, just right of the center, about two-thirds of the way down, you’d have seen something I had a regular laugh about–Something called Mandrake Linux.

 

It sold for about $35, had a trade paperback novel-sized manual and in a sturdy box with a cute little picture of Tux the Penguin on the front. And that’s exactly what I thought of it at the time; It was cute. The screenshots were laughable. It actually looked a bit like the later versions of DOS. It was totally unappealing. It looked like such a trainwreck that I became obsessed with it.

We actually carried MS Office and other productivity packages there at the time. It wouldn’t run those. It wouldn’t run my favorite FPS, Quake. I was being a major ‘A’-hole.

Long story short, it stayed with me like a creeping virus. I began to see some versions of my favorite games from some company called Loki and for the love of God one of those was Quake! Linux officially had my attention. I bought that lonely copy of Mandrake and decided that maybe it was time to give this thing its day in court.

Since then, that venerable distro has seen good days and bad, getting its teeth kicked in by King Features Syndicate over the name and changing it to Mandriva. “Ooh! You’d better watch out! Prince Valiant is our IP litigator!”

Mandriva was humming along for a few years but in 2015 the development effort dissolved. Pity. But from there, the community forked and three new distros have come to carry on the Mandriva tradition–Open Mandriva, PC LinuxOS and the subject of today’s experience, Mageia.

MageiaDesktop

The Mageia project’s focus, per their official website is “to build great tools for people.” Aside from that, their mission is to collaborate with other organizations and help drive innovation. They utilize an “elected governance” within their organization to build collaborative relationships and oversee the project and are open to all kinds of contributors, from financial to artwork to technical. They place added emphasis on the aesthetics. A stab in the dark on my part, but I think they want it to look as good as it performs. Nothing wrong with that.

The Failed Magician

It goes against my grain to use a virtual machine for reviewing an operating system. I really do want to get a feel for the system and as it stands I’m having to resort to the 32-bit version of Mageia to get things done and to produce a responsible review.

I began by attempting to install Mageia 5 on an old dual-core Celeron system at 1.6 GHz, 4 GB of DDR 3 RAM and a 128 GB SSD.

Installation, once everything got underway, was smooth and speedy, clocking in at around 13 minutes, which is not bad. Right out of the box, you get a choice between several, not one or two, desktop environments, a lot like the old days! Initially I chose Gnome, since I’m starting to get muscle memory accustomed to it on my Fedora setup. More on that in a bit.

The installation procedure is interesting and I can say that Mageia might be one of those environments for people who want to just get things out of the way and get to work; things like keyboard and mouse configuration, time zone, network setup and even network backups. It places it all on one page and allows the user to just go down the list and take care of business. I like that. The business guy in me, who doesn’t have time for the pretty presentation, is impressed.

As I mentioned, you can set up your online file backup during system setup. I like this a lot because it keeps people like me from procrastinating on that and it’s a second backup factor right out of the gate. Smart stuff. So far, Mageia isn’t messing around at all.

Then…I experienced a crash at the welcome screen, which is failing to render text or anything at all in the window. That does it. We’re going to have to get out the new SSD and start this up on my primary system with a Core i5 and 16 GB RAM.

A second installation on a more powerful system later, we’re situated and we have Mageia 5 installed on a more powerful laptop. Let’s get a look at some of the things that stand out most obviously.

I’m Not Happy and That Makes Me Sad

I’m not going to bore you with the yarn about my Gnome experience with Mageia 5. It was just bad from the letterboxed and limited resolution options to networking. It would constantly slip off my wireless network. It would crash and freeze constantly. Let me just say that I highly advise using one of the third group of desktop environments included, namely LXDE, Xfce, Enlightenment, or MATE.

DesktopOptions

I will also not waste your time and mine about not being able to get the 64-bit version to work. I will tell you that I’m a bit annoyed that with all the great packages that Mageia has to offer natively that it would be great to be able to take advantage of greater system resources that 64-bit affords.

My system has an Intel wireless adapter and it still seems to have some issues with it. I’m just as surprised as you but I have also heard with my own ears that this is not unusual as another well-known Linux developer has had a few issues with Intel wireless. Rather than monkey with this, I decided to use my Realtek USB wireless adapter. My connection was rock solid at that point. But I’m disappointed. After all, what if I didn’t have it? I’m sure this is something the Mageia community is working on. But that kind of thing is a dealbreaker for some and I recently dumped a beautiful Arch-derivative installation due to this fact. I don’t believe myself to be overly sensitive to this issue. From my personal perspective, I want it to perform its basic functions at the beginning. I don’t mind fixing most issues myself after the fact.

Then the Clouds Part…

MATE is one of my favorite lightweight desktop environments and it proved to be the breakthrough I needed for a good Mageia experience. It proved to be an amazing desktop environment for Mageia; and maybe some of that is coming from my previous hardship, not to keep bringing it up. But the experience of having fun with my OS is welcome. Exploration into the packages included in Mageia is like Christmas morning.

MageiaMate

But waiting for startup and shutdown is not like waiting for the holidays at all. It’s lightning fast, with startup on my system taking roughly 20 seconds. Shutdown was even quicker. The native experience of Mageia is designed to cater to a variety of different people. LibreOffice 5 is comprehensive, containing the ancillary apps such as LibreOffice Math and Draw, not just the core components of Writer, Calc and Impress. Under the Sound and Video menu I was stunned to find OpenShot Video Editor. Wow! I don’t recall seeing that as a native of any distribution I’ve tested. (I need to explore more; I know.) Dia Diagram Editor is included in the Graphics menu, as is GIMP, one of my personal favorites.

The Internet menu is also full of goodness with Filezilla, Firefox and Remote Desktop Viewer. I’m surprised to see Ekiga Softphone, a telephony package that, of course, allows you to make phone calls from your system as well as video conferencing.

Mageia 5 also includes a handy Startup Applications Preferences utility, allowing you to cherry-pick the apps you want to be present from the get-go. This includes the ability to add and remove applications, utilities and processes that aren’t native to the default list. So you can configure your ideal initial startup for convenience and clarity. Sometimes anyone can have those days when stress levels are high. Rather than scrambling to find the app you need to do your job, it’s right there. Amazingly, this didn’t have a huge impact on startup, although there was a noticeable difference upon adding applications such as OpenShot to the list.

Sorcerers’ Apprentices Welcome

The urpmi command line tool is an interesting one to study. It’s a bit terse compared to other, more popular distributions. However, it’s highly functional and methodical. Fore example, there is the immense Mageia Wiki (which is a reason to check out Mageia in-and-of itself). Say, for example, you want to add a software repository. The command requires the parameter of the full URL of the repository; a little more work on your part. But I can’t help but think this takes the responsibility of researching repositories out of the hands of Mageia and gently encourages the user to research these repositories to determine whether or not they’re trustworthy. Honestly, being a guy who loves hard truth, I can’t help but feel humbled and corrected by this. Here’s an example:

urpmi.addmedia nameofmedia ftp://ftp.site.com/path/to/Mageia/RPMS

How many other distributions offer a good measure of caution before adding any package (termed media on planet Mageia) or package repository into the house? It may seem like it’s pushing you around. But evidently, the Mageia community believes this is good for you. I can’t argue with that. Therefore, I strongly encourage anyone who decides to spend time in or commit to Mageia to peruse the wiki. It is exceedingly easy to read and I’m positive that it rivals others in the amount of content. The community has made a great effort to treat Mageia as though it’s the last Linux distribution on earth. That’s not only diligent, but it’s how it should be done.

The Return of the King?

Well, let’s not get carried away. I’m still aggravated that I had to go through so much of what should have worked in order to get to what actually worked. I confess that I’m not the most intrepid of tinkerers when it comes to configuring an OS and making it work no matter what. I’ve done that with CentOS on one of my personal servers. It was fun but, for what it’s worth, it’s an overrated experience. My experience with Mageia 5 was intended to be a workstation experience. That’s something that should, for the most part, work right out of the box.

I felt a bit blindsided by the difficulties I had with Gnome, one of the most common and workable desktop environments in all of Linuxdom. What perhaps saved this experience was my turning to MATE for help and I’m grateful as it works. Therefore, I believe it should be one of the more prominent and recommended choices during the system setup process.

However, once my networking and desktop hurdles were cleared, I felt like things had come full circle between my earliest Linux experience with Mandrake to today with Mageia 5. I’m a little upset with it because, well, I guess it reminds me of myself in some ways; it’s smart, eager and full of potential and can deliver once it gets going. But there are some stumbling blocks out of the gate at times. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of reviewers. An OS is for users. The difference between the two is that a reviewer will often give second and even third chances. A user will often cut bait after the first bad experience.

That said, I am very confident, given my later experience with Mageia 5 that we are in for one treat after another as its community keeps making efforts to making it better. That’s an encouraging thought for everyone.