The Linux Advocate is dedicated to the honest and open discussion Linux and Open Source software and projects. You probably won't like what I have to say, but hey, I'll probably be right.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

Results of XGL Compiz experiment

Ok, the job is done. I now have a fully functioning OpenGL accelerated desktop on my Ubuntu Dapper install.

... and MAN IS IT SLICK!!

Considering that I am running my nearly ancient 64mb Nvidia card, I was expecting like 10-15 frames per second out of it. However I was greeted with a very nice surprise. The desktop was pretty stable, and nice and fast and responsive. Honestly, even with the effects turned on, GNOME in general felt a bit more responsive.

And I actually got some attention from it too. I did the install while I was grabbing coffee from Starbucks, and a guy there stopped and asked me what I was running. I told him that it was Ubuntu Linux, and explained that it is all based on open source and free software. At which point, I heard my favorite line of the night:

"Wait, you mean this whole thing is FREE?"

So I explained that, yes, indeed it is free, and proceeded to give him one of the extra Dapper cd's I had in my bag. I explained to him that Linux won't run his favorite Windows software in most cases without some work, and that the cool desktop effects werent installed by default (yet), but that there is a lot of cool stuff to do in Linux and that he should try it out. I handed him one of my business cards and told him that if he had any questions about it to get in touch with me.

To my surprise later that night, I recieved an email from the guy, thanking me for the cd, and that he had gotten it all installed dual-booting with Windows without any help.

Gotta love spreading the word!

Linspire frees "Click 'N Run" software service

In a surprise move, Linspire is now offering its CNR ("Click 'N Run") software service at no charge to its Linspire and Freespire Linux distribution customers. In addition, the company will soon be open-sourcing the CNR Client.

Keep your eyes peeled, I'll be posting a review of Freespire with the free CNR sometime later tonight.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Attemping XGL and Compiz today

Ok today is the day I'm going to attempt to add XGL and Compiz to my Ubuntu Dapper install.  I've read a few walkthroughs and I think I have the basics down.  I'll let you all know how it goes.

For those who dont know, XGL and Compiz are software packages that add OpenGL 3d-acceleration to the Linux desktop, giving it OS X and Windows Vista- like effects.  You can see an example below:

KDE vs. GNOME : Why are we STILL fighting?

As a preface to this article, please note that I will only be covering KDE and GNOME. I know a lot of you out there have your preferred desktop other than those two, but for the sake of simplicity that is all I will cover today. Also keep in mind that this article is solely for the purpose of creating helpful and insightful discussion. Not as flame-bait. Keep it civil.

We all know that the so called "war" between KDE and GNOME has been raging now for a long time. Unfortunately, this competition seems to have fractured the Linux community into two (and more) warring camps, neither able to give an inch between them. People seem to either LOVE GNOME, or LOVE KDE. I have very rarely seen a middle ground. The question I pose today is the following: Is the competition between KDE and GNOME helping or hurting Linux in the long run; and if the latter; would the community be bettered if the two behemoth projects were to come together and merge into one giant linux-standard desktop?

I'm sure a lot of the real Linux hardcores who read that sentence just passed out from screaming too loud. Keep your flames to yourself until I'm done, and it'll all be okay.

I'm going to start off by admitting my preference. I'm a GNOME guy. I started off using KDE originally, but I have come to truly like and respect GNOME. I'm sure it has to do with my love of simplicity and ease of use. But let me get it out of the way by saying that the fact that I prefer GNOME, does NOT in any way mean that I think KDE is terrible, or that GNOME is the end-all be-all of desktops. I honestly believe that the real correct answer is somewhere in the middle ground, where as of late, no one seems to want to tread.

As Linux is growing in popularity with small governments, schools, and the general public, we have to ask ourselves if offering TWO major desktops with every release is really the sane thing to do. Realize for a moment that the average to below average computer user is barely even aware of what WINDOWS is. Giving out tech support to people over the years and asking them what version of Windows is on their machine, only to get back the answer "Dell", has told me that. If those users, or even a fairly advanced Windows user, who is unfamiliar with Linux, are asked to choose between two fairly esoteric, non-descriptive names for thier desktop, they are certainly not going to know what to choose, without doing some internet research first. ( Which we know many people are too lazy to do. ) I mean could you imagine a Linux-based computer world in Linux's current state? Imagine tech support for a moment.

Caller - "Hi, my computer isn't working"
Tech Support - "Ok what distribution, desktop, and kernel version are you running?"
Caller - "Dell?"


The major problem with public adoption of Linux in general, is the feeling among most people who have even heard of Linux is that it is "too complicated" or "for those computer geeks" which, for a very long time was absolutely true. The recent push from distros like Ubuntu, OpenSuse, Linspire, Xandros and others to provide a comprehensive Linux desktop that "just works" is incredibly heartening to me. It proves to me that Linux has matured to a point where we are very quickly nearing our "coming out" party. The use of software like Mozilla Firefox and OpenOffice are also starting to whet people's appetites for quality open source software. These programs are acting like a gateway into the larger open source community for a lot of people (including myself). If Linux is to succeed we have to take advantage of the fact that people are starting to pay attention to what the community is doing.

Unfortunately, someone looking in on the OS community from the outside, does NOT see a pretty picture. We look like a bunch of squabbling teenagers who can't decide on a single thing. We have tons of different desktop environments, tons of word processors, tons of web browsers, hell we can't even seem to decide on a standard way to program all this stuff! To most businesses, governments and average people, this is not the right way to develop a quality product. Now, being INSIDE the OS community, this all makes sense. It has worked all along! We are all building off of each others work to create the new and better. Why fix what isnt broken? However, it would be nice if we could at least decide on a single standard desktop environment for all of the major distributions to use. Many will say this is very un-open source of me to say, and I suppose it's true. Though imagine how much simpler software development would be if we only had to have one desktop / major software toolkit installed by default in all of the major distros for everything to "just work". Having a singular desktop standard does not in any way mean that people can't go off and create other desktops, as I'm sure people would. It would just mean that we would all have something to rally around, instead of bickering all of the time. It would also give all of the Linux flavors a similar look and feel. Linux would always at least LOOK like Linux. Nowadays, some distros look like Windows, some look totally different, and the average computer user wouldn't be able to identify Linux if they tripped over it. The ability for the average person to look at a laptop in Starbucks and say "Oh is that the new Linux, wow!" Would be HUGELY beneficial for public adoption.

This is not to say that it would be an easy transition. A lot of hard work would have to be scrapped, or re-written, and it would be a very hard time for a lot of Linux coders. But in the long run I think it would seriously help the public viability of Linux and open source. Of course you hardcores out there wouldn't be forced to use what you would consider to be this "monstrocity." I'm sure that both KDE and GNOME would continue off on thier own forks, and you would be able to switch back and forth at will.

My point is this. the competing development of KDE and GNOME has sparked some wildfire-like advancements in Linux over the past few years. This is a great thing for the community and for anyone who takes advantage of open source software. However the time is coming soon where Linux will have the chance to seriously gain some spotlight in the world, and I think it is our job as open source software users and developers to make sure that when that time comes, we put aside our petty squabbles and finally start to work together to make sure that the product everyone has been working so hard on for so long is as polished and professional as humanly possible. If that means giving up either KDE or GNOME , or both to make sure we put our best foot forward, I think that is not a terrible price to pay.


So let's just assume GNOME and KDE were merged into a single Linux-standard desktop that was installed by default on all of the large distros. Ignoring most of the technical details that would make this extremely difficult to pull off, let's just assume it was possible and completed:

I'd like you readers to comment and let me know what you think on the following questions:

What pieces of KDE and GNOME would you keep in this new standard desktop?

What would you be rid of?

Do you think having a standard is a good idea or a bad one? Why?

Do you think that Linux as a project has moved past the point of just being a hobbyist venture? If and when do you think we will finally reach "the year of the Linux desktop"

Discuss, argue, and discuss some more. Keep it polite though people, flaming is not welcome here.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Wow. I am totally FLOORED by the amount of response I've gotten over my article. And I'd like to thank all of you for commenting and keeping the discussion going. A lot of you have made a TON of great points.

Thanks for flaming me on my spelling and grammar issues (sarcasm). If you don't like this blog, I'm not holding a gun to your head to read it. Feel free to go elsewhere. To be honest I didn't really think anyone would actually READ it. I'll try harder in the future to hold my spelling and grammar to a higher standard. As for the issue of my not trying the latest greatest version of the GIMP, that all lies with the fact that I use Ubuntu Dapper. I use the version of GIMP that comes preinstalled, and currently there is no upgradeable version available to me without whipping out the command line and going through a bunch of steps that I simply do not want to do. This is a problem I will address one of these days, but please do not flame me for it. When Ubuntu Edgy is released I will be sure to try the new version of GIMP that will come with that as well.

I am very dissapointed to read that a lot of you don't think GIMP is able to reach the status of a professional level tool. I work as a photo retoucher and graphic designer at my day job, and besides the points I leveled in my article, I am fully able to use GIMP for approximately 80% of what I have to do. I'd say thats a VERY good start. With a bit of funding, and a concerted effort to clean up and organize the UI, GIMP isnt that far off the mark.

People laughed at the fact that I even posed the topic of comparing Photoshop to GIMP, but the point of this blog is to highlight projects in the open source community that have the potential of breaking out and becoming widely used. We know this scenario is certainly possible, Firefox and Open Office have proven that. Hell, entire small COUNTRIES are dedicating themselves to open software to reduce costs. This is just a notice to the developers that if they put in a bit more effort into professionalizing the project, it could produce a product that would shine as yet another jewel in the open source crown.

On the topic of GimpShop, I have used it, and it doesn't really add any REAL functionality to the software, it just reorganizes the menu so that it more closely resembles Photoshop. I was simply talking about the main GIMP function set.


Anyway, thank you again for the support, comments, and arguments. All are welcome here. Look for my new article regarding the war between KDE and GNOME, coming either later today or tomorrow. Thanks for visiting The Linux Advocate, come again soon!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

13 Diggs

Just wanted to say thanks to the people who have Digg'd the last story at :) Remember to come back for new articles soon!

GIMP vs. Photoshop - What still needs to be done?

We all know that the GIMP is more or less the de-facto standard for image editing in Linux, where Adobe Photoshop is the standard on the Mac and Windows (and some Linux boxes using Crossover Office) The question is the following: Does GIMP have what it takes to dethrone Adobe Photoshop as the standard?

Right now, the answer is no.

But there is that distinct possibility in the future. This brings me to the point of this article. What needs to be done to bring GIMP to the forefront of the industry, and overthrow Photoshop in the same way that OpenOffice is starting to overthrow Microsoft Office?

Lets start at the biggest problem facing GIMP:

The Name:
Ok, sure, calling it the GIMP back in the early days of Linux was cute. It was an easy to remember package name. But now that the GIMP is starting to garner attention from professionals, and gaining professional-level tools. the name has to go. I don't care what it's called, but naming a professional level graphics tool after the derogatory term for a person who can't walk is not smart business. Linux purists will certainly balk at this notion, however, if one steps back from the community to look at the big picture, it becomes plainly obvious that this is an inappropriate name. One would argue that Google is a silly name, or even Ubuntu, but at least those have a meaning behind the name. For example Google is a misspelling of the word "googol" which means 10 to the 100th power, which is a play on the number of search results you'll get, or more recently, the amount of money Google has.
GIMP however, is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It basically is trying to be called GIMP. Change. The. Name.

Many professionals who work with Photoshop in a production environment use the CMYK color space on a daily basis. Any pro-level tool without this is destined to fail. It needs to be added, and I'm sure it's on the list for inclusion. Actually, It might already be, but I havent tried the newest version recently.

Vector-Based Shape/Text support:
This was one of the BIGGEST additions to Photoshop in terms of productivity enhancement. I know for a fact that vector support is being added to the GIMP, but its inclusion needs to be added soon for designers to really start taking GIMP seriously. The ability to freely scale vector shapes and text would be a huge help.

Layer Effects:
This is another tool in the Photoshop users cookbook that needs to be added to the GIMP. I know the GIMP doesn't want to be a Photoshop clone, but the ability to add non-destructive layer effects like bevels, drop shadows, and glows without adding additional layers to already bloated projects is a god-send for Photoshop users. This should be yet another feature high on the list for GIMP inclusion.

Resizable Brushes:
Here's a biggie. I shouldn't have to keep 50 of the same brush in my brushes swatch just so I can have different sizes. Each of the brushes should be independantly resizeable at any time, possibly using the [ ] keys as hotkeys for resizing, similar to Photoshop. It will make painting with a mouse instead of a tablet much easier.

That's my list of the biggest issues facing the GIMP. As you can see, it's a fairly short list. If those few things can be solved, the world will finally have a free / open source replacement for Photoshop, which knowing the development base of the GIMP, will probably surpass Photoshop in a few years.

Hello to Everyone from The Linux Advocate

Hello. My name is Justin Flood. Im a professional graphic designer, and a begrudging Windows power user. Personally, I hate Windows. I hate that it crashes constantly, I hate that it monopolizes the software industry, I hate the fact that Windows Vista is going to require a ridiculous system just to run in full mode, and I ESPECIALLY hate that Vista Ultimate is rumored to cost in the $500 range. All of these facts have conspired together for me to become an advocate for the Open Source Community. My mission with this blog is to review and offer my opinion on new Linux Open Source projects and news. I will NOT hold back with my opinion. I am 100 percent NOT a linux apologist, and if there is something that I don't like, you will hear it. Personally, I think there are a LOT of ways that Linux can be improved right now, and I plan on posting a series of editorials on the subject.

I suppose I should tell a bit about my history as a computer user. My first pc was an IBM XT with an 8086 processor, 640K of RAM, and a 15 MEGABYTE hard drive, running DOS 3. Yeah. So I've been stuck using Microsoft software for a LONG time. I was a DOS power-user, reconfiguring my autoexec.bat and config.sys on a daily basis to run whatever game I wanted to play.

In 1995 I switched over to Windows when Windows 95 was released, and I wasn't 100% happy. Sure it was pretty to look at, but now most of my DOS games didn't work anymore, sure you could go exit to a dos prompt, but that was usually more trouble than it was worth. Not to mention it seemed to crash a lot. Eventually I moved to Windows 98, which seemed to be more stable than 95, and by that time, most of my software use had made the transition to Windows. This wasnt too bad at all, however, unfortunately I made the mistake of upgrading to Windows ME. This was an ATROCIOUS operating system. It crashed MULTIPLE times per day, slowed down to a crawl within a month or two of a clean install, and ate up RAM like a fat guy at a buffet ( and I'm a fat guy who likes a buffet, so i know EXACTLY how that is ). It was awful.

It was around this time that I had my first experience with Linux. My father brought home a magazine with a copy of Debian Linux on it. We both thought that the idea of a community built OS was really cool, so we decided to wipe ME off of one of our PCs and give it a try. Now keep in mind that my father worked for a computer hardware firm, and built and tested computers on a daily basis, and I was both a DOS and Windows power user. So we pop in the CD-Rom and attempted the install. The automated install program ( not sure what it was now ) formatted the hard drive, and installed Debian. Unfortunately it only installed the command line, and despite 15 HOURS of work from both of us, neither of us were able to get X to start so we could get a GUI. This was a huge dissapointment for the both of us, and we grudgingly returned to the hell that was Windows ME.

Approximately a year or so later, Microsoft released Windows XP Professional. This was EASILY the best OS to ever come out of the Gates camp. It was MUCH more stable, pretty to look at, and most importantly it seemed to run faster than ME did on the same machine. I was quite happily living in a Windows world until a new word entered my vocabulary. Spyware.

Yep. Spyware. The virus writers of the past had gotten smart and decided to market their skills to advertising companies. This was the ultimate downfall to Windows XP. People had to be careful downloading any program, going to any web page, for fear that Internet Explorer would let in some kind of pop-up creating, computer-slowing, toolbar-creating piece of trashware. At the worst point in the first barrage of the really bad spyware, my internet explorer had 15 toolbars attached to it, my search page was some spyware thing, and my computer ran like crap. It was at that time that I formed my friendship with Ad-Aware and Spybot. But even though those programs fought the good fight, I ended up having to format my hard drive, and start clean.

That was the year that I rekindled my interest in Open Source. My gateway to the community was my download of both Open Office and Firefox. Open Office because my computer had been bundled with Microsoft Office, but I was never given a disk for it so obviously when I formatted, it was gone, and Firefox because it was immune to spyware and viruses. I never looked back. These were two of the greatest pieces of software I had run in a long time, both as good, and in some ways better than thier commercial counterparts. It was then that i started to research again into Linux. I downloaded and burned god knows how many different distros to try them out. Fedora, Knoppix, SUSE, hell I even BOUGHT a copy of Linspire. But none of these really scratched my itch for whatever reason. I always had some sort of niggle that annoyed me about the distro, whether a file format didn't work, or software installation was annoying, or it didn't correctly configure my hardware. There always seemed to be something wrong. Until I found the distro that DID scratch my Linux itch.

Ubuntu. I had downloaded a copy of Hoary, and for the first time everything just worked the way I wanted it to. Sure I had to install my multimedia codecs, but at least there was a COMMUNITY at the ubuntuforums to help me out with anything I needed to do. I found FAQs and walkthroughs and I was able to get everything working that I wanted to have work. This was the first time I was using Linux and I wasnt missing Windows for one reason or another. I could do all my web-browsing, e-mail, typing, and even some of my graphics work all in Linux.

Since my introduction to Ubuntu, I've really been interested in keeping up with developments in the community. Checking Digg, Slashdot, OSnews and DistroWatch on a daily basis, and trying new LiveCD distros. I've read hundreds of articles about how this year is "the year of the Linux desktop" and I'm going to go against the group and tell you that it's not. While I'm not anywhere NEAR a Linux power user, I am more techically proficient than the average person. So while I personally had no problems getting Ubuntu up and running, I'm sure there are more than a few people who would.

That's why after almost a year of Linux living on my desktop pc, (Windows is unfortunately still on my laptop because I need it for work) I've decided to get up on my soapbox and tell the community what needs to be done to REALLY achieve the year of the Linux desktop. I know most of you dont want to pay the $500 for Windows Vista Ultimate, if and when it ever comes out, and I'm sure a lot of other people don't want to either. This is Linux's chance to steal the thunder from Microsoft and make a serious dent in marketshare. Most of the Linux pundits that will read this blog will not be happy with what I have to say, but most of what I say HAS to be done to make Linux accessible to the general public. And we wont get taken seriously by hardware and software makers until Linux is accepted at least to some level by the general public.

So I'd like you all to come back and keep up with what I have to say. Hopefully I'll be able to make a difference.


By the way, you will notice I haven't mentioned Apple in this article. Linux competing with Apple just isnt worth the effort. Mac fans are Mac fans. Most of them will be deathly loyal to Apple no matter what, so I will focus only on what it will take to bring Linux into the general knowledge of the average Windows user.