A week of doing nothing?

My day job currently involves a lot of development work, and not a lot else. As a result I’d pretty much decided that I would try and do different things while I was on holiday.

So yes, apart from a day of testing beta versions of Ubuntu/Mandriva, an hour yesterday reading about the basics of Ruby (and making Hello World), and an hour this morning reading through the Rhythmbox bugs that are getting hugged tomorrow, I’ve done nothing with my computer above the level of just using it.

This has left lots of time for general relaxation (which I’m rubbish at), interspersed with shopping (I now have more than one pair of shoes again), cooking (which I never tire of) and the first part of the tiding/de-cluttering which needs to happen before our new kitchen is fitted in the summer. There was also some family-based socialising, a wedding, and a great plumbing victory which finally fixed the flood in our kitchen (involving the realisation that the plumbing in our house is ever weirder than we thought).

There was also the less wonderful realisation that Bennett’s Bar turns into a trendy disco on Thursday nights that directly precede Bank Holidays. I’m glad I won’t have to have this realisation again.

I’m back to work tomorrow, and I’m actually looking forward to getting on with things. I’ve got a couple of hard deadlines coming up in regard to the release schedule of what I’m working on, so the time between now and 21st June looks madly busy (apart from May half term which I have booked as leave). I should also get round to organising some sort of release/birthday party, as the two are so close to each other.

I should also make a concerted effort to write blog posts more often than once a month.

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and Mandriva 2010.1

Yesterday I spent a few hours testing the latest beta versions of my two favourite Linux distributions (Ubuntu and Mandriva). I often get torn between which one of these two I’m going to use, but generally plump for Ubuntu when some particular bit of software I want to use either isn’t available for Mandriva or I have to spend too much time making something work and not enough time actually using it.

So far my thoughts are:

  • Gnome 2.30 rocks, and has moved in exactly the direction I wanted it to.
  • Ubuntu’s version of Gnome is now a lot further from default than Mandriva’s, which makes swapping between the two a bit of a pain. BUT, with a bit of tweaking I can make them both almost identical (providing I use Clearlooks as a theme and do a lot of UI tweaking in Ubuntu).
  • I still try and make each new machine I install look as close to the default Gnome as possible. This is something I might have to reconsider, as both of these distros look a lot better when they look like themselves.
  • Epiphany 2.30 might possibly be ready to actually use as my default browser.
  • I don’t like dark themes. They give me a headache and just look wrong.
  • The way Ubuntu integrates social networking is miles ahead of anything else I’ve seen.
  • I really like Ubuntu’s default background, which is not pink.
  • The new Ubuntu theme does look a lot like Mac OS X, but I think the change was needed. Mandriva still looks like it did 4 years ago, which is not a bad thing but which makes it difficult to work out which version I’m using.
  • Both distros boot far more quickly that anything else I’ve used. Rebooting Ubuntu only took a few seconds on physical hardware.

I think that’s all for now. I do have a few screen shots which I might do something with later.

Review – Mandriva 2009.1 (KDE edition)

I’ve finally got round to installing the KDE version of Mandriva 2009.1 in a VM on my laptop. I’d been holding off, because I don’t really use KDE, and I wasn’t too impressed with how the other major distributions had implemented KDE4 (which is basically a total revision of every aspect). Happily, I can easily say that this is the most usable implementation of KDE4 I’ve ever come across, and it does a very good job of not getting in my way whilst still enabling me to be productive.

The desktop has seen some major customisations, as is usual with Mandriva (see http://www2.mandriva.com/ for a screen shot), and it actually looks and feels like a more polished version of KDE 3.5 (the last version of KDE I used for more than a couple of hours). There are sensible defaults, and I think the only application I would want to add is Thunderbird, because I still really don’t like Kmail.

But could I use it full time? Almost certainly yes, and if I wasn’t very tied to Gnome and the Gnome libraries and applications then I’d consider making the switch. As it is, I’ll happily keep it as a VM, which gives me the option to have a play with KDE4 every now and again without having to make any major life changes.

Changing hostname in Mandriva

I’ve been doing a bit of work on Mandriva recently, and I always forget that there are two places you need to change the host name before it “takes”.

in /etc/sysconfig/network add the following line:

HOSTNAME=hostname

Where hostname is whatever you want the computer to be called.

Then in /etc/hosts just add the hostname after localhost on the first (and probably only) line in the file. It should look something like:

127.0.0.1       hostname localhost

Where again hostname is the name of the computer.

Do this, reboot, and all should be well.

Thoughts on KDE4

I’ve made an effort over the Christmas break to try as many new (or long-unused) software packages. This is party to ensure that I stay up to date (I can just about justify not knowing the inner workings of Vista, but not being able to configure Kmail is just embarrassing), but also because I will soon be buying a new main computer, and am still undecided as to what OS to run on it.

My usual working environment revolves around the Gnome Desktop Environment, running on either Ubuntu or Mandriva. I’m also a regular user of Mac OS X (both Tiger and Leopard), as well as Windows XP which I have to use for a couple of tasks at work. I’ve not used KDE regularly for over 4 years, and have not used it for more than 5 minutes since KDE4 came out. To rectify this shortcoming, I’ve now set up two test environments:

  1. A fresh install of Mandriva One 2009 (KDE version) on a 6 year old HP laptop which has a flaky wireless card and a broken trackpad (but which is surprisingly fast otherwise).
  2. My usual Ubuntu laptop with the kubuntu-desktop metapackage installed on top of what is already there.

The way KDE4 is set up varies a lot between the two distros, so some of my observations apply to one or the other:

I like the overall sense of minimalism. Previously KDE seemed cluttered, and both distros have done away with the clutter to a greater or lesser degree. Kubuntu have made no preconceptions about what users might want on the taskbar, choosing instead to just have a menu icon and a very useful file management widgit. Mandriva have put shortcuts to configuring desktop and computer (both very useful), as well as a “show desktop” icon and a shortcut to Firefox. All of these work, but as with Gnome I find myself wanting to add my own frequently used applications (in Gnome I always add Firefox, Thunderbird and Gnome Terminal to the top taskbar as soon as I do a fresh install).

Mandriva have chosen to go with a KDE3 style menu, while Kubuntu go with the KDE4 default. Both are fairly instinctive, but I had a little trouble finding Dolphin on Mandriva, and was a little baffled that Kubuntu doesn’t seem to have decided whether Dolphin or Konqueror should be used as a file manager (which is a shame because I’m really taken with Dolphin).

Configuring Kmail was very different in each distro, which confused me, but both were at least as simple as Evolution, and I had no problem setting up my email, and performing a few basic tasks.

The look and feel of both distros is excellent, and they certainly look prettier than anything I’m running at present. I can certainly make Gnome look this good, but out-of-the box KDE is more aesthetically appealing.

My only real gripe is with Plasma; both the annoying Folder View that comes as default, and also the fact that adding or removing widgits can cause random crashes. It’s useful, but just doesn’t seem finished to me.

I think KDE4 has the potential to be really good in about 6 months time, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone coming to Linux from Windows. I also think both Mandriva and Kubuntu have taken KDE in interesting (but very different) directions, and I find myself wanting to see how other distros have implemented it now.

Christmas Eve with KDE4

While I’m off for Christmas, I thought I’d spend a little time getting to know KDE4. To stop me cheating, I installed the latest KDE version of Mandriva One, which means I’m without a fair few other things I’m very reliant on.

So far I’ve changed a few cosmetic things (desktop wallpaper and window decorations), and installed all available updates. Mandriva 2009 does have Firefox, so I don’t think it is cheating to use it, although I am also exploring Konqueror as an alternative browser, as well as using KWrite, Dolphin, and a few other things I’ve not used before.

After some customisation, my desktop now looks like this:

second_boot1

(time passes)

A few hours later I realise that this experiement has to be at an end for now. Not due to anything to do wih KDE4, but more to do with the fact that the laptop I’m testing it on has several hardware faults which make long-term use non-viable. But in the few hours I’ve had, I’d say that I’m pleasantly surprised. Dolphin is a great file manager, Kmail has come on a lot, and the desktop environment as a whole has the feel of something that can move beyond what KDE3 was and redefine what a desktop environment does.

I’m still not abandoning Gnome though.