A few words about IT literacy

When I’m recruiting new IT staff one of the things I always look for is how computer literate they are. It’s a hard thing to work out, as it’s usually a mixture of what they know and what they have done in the past, but also how they think and how inspired they are by technology. I also try and think back 10 years, to when I was the person on the other side of the desk who was trying to blag that a whole load of dabbling with things at home was enough experience to allow me to support some fairly important systems in a large University.

I sometimes get asked what advice I’d give someone wanting to get into an entry level IT role when they don’t have any experience. I sometimes think that’s the wrong question, because everyone has IT experience, and also the opportunity to gain experience without leaving the comfort of their own bedroom. I thought it might be worth expanding on what I mean by that, and what sort of things would impress me if I saw them on an application form or heard them in an interview. I’d also say that this list is probably a good starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about IT in general.

Use more than one operating system (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux) and learn the skills common to all of them

There is a viewpoint that Microsoft have won the OS war, and that IT professionals should concentrate on familiarising themselves with Windows and MS Office because that is what everyone uses. I don’t share that viewpoint, but I do think that it’s important to use the software that other people are using, because if you want to be able to support that software then you need to know how it works. I think it’s essential to have an overview of all the main operating systems, and I’m particularly interested in people who run more than one, or who have changed their primary operating system and can articulate their reasons why. It suggests they have thought about what they want their computer to do, and that they have considered the financial, ethical and functional criteria that contribute to the decision as to what OS to use.

For instance, my current main OS is Mac OS X. I started to switch from Ubuntu at the end of 2010 in order to better understand an OS I was being asked to implement and be an advocate for in my workplace. The switch took a few months, but by mid 2011 all of my regularly used machines were Macs. I do however maintain machines running Ubuntu and Debian, and am now doing more Linux based work which may warrant a partial switch back at some point. I like using Macs because of the quality of the hardware and software, and that fact that everything generally just works. I dislike them because of the lack of freedom, and the number of decisions about how I use my computer that seem to have been taken away from me. I like using Linux because I can customise my computer to do exactly what I need it to do at no cost to myself or my employer, but I dislike the fact it requires a lot of maintenance, and also that I can’t use some software I require to do my job and therefore need to also maintain a Windows machine or a Mac anyway. I also still maintain that the 11″ Macbook Air is the best computer ever made, and until I find something better then I want to continue using one.

What I find about using multiple operating systems (and I’d include Windows in this) is that once you use more than one, you realise they all have things in common, and once you start to spot those patterns then it makes it easier to deal with unfamiliar operating systems. Windows 8 doesn’t faze me in the slightest because I remember the Mac OS9 –> OS X shift, and also the move from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3 (and Unity, and a load of other desktops). The key for me is getting to a point where the desktop doesn’t get in the way of being productive, and that comes through regular use.

As an aside, I’ve switched my main OS a few times, and also maintained two in parallel for quite a while. I was a (classic) Mac OS user until my Mac became too old, and then had a brief (maybe a year) period of using mainly Windows. I switched to Debian in late 2004, and then Ubuntu from 2005. I got another (refurbished) Mac in 2006 and maintained OS X and Ubuntu in parallel until 2009 where I found I was doing everything in Ubuntu and hardly ever turned my Mac on (to be fair, it was very old at this point). I then switched back to OS X in 2011 as detailed above.

What I’ve noticed is that people who have only ever used one OS are often scared of all the other ones, and the easiest way to get over that is to experiment with them. Linux is free, and will install on almost anything, and if you’re in the UK then you can pick up a decent refurbished Thinkpad from around £200 from http://www.refreshedbyus.com/, or a budget desktop without an OS from http://www.ebuyer.com/ for around the same price. Windows machines are also coming down in price every year, and it’s now affordable to maintain more than one machine in ways that it wasn’t 10 or even 5 years ago. And of course virtualisation is now easier than ever (but I’ll mention more about this later on).

Use more than one version of each operating system (or at least know how to use them)

Something else I’ve noticed (especially with people who grew up with Windows XP) is that it’s not just trying another OS that is scary, but moving to a new version of the same OS. It’s certainly worth being familiar with the last couple of versions of anything you’re using and supporting, and having an overview of what the upgrade path would be for someone using something obsolete and unsupported like Windows XP.

I also think that if you’re running (or experimenting with) Linux, then it’s worth trying out at least a couple of desktop environments to see what works for you (and for your computer). I’ve got machines running Gnome 3 (Debian), XFCE (Debian & Xubuntu) and Unity (Ubuntu). None of them are perfect, but all of them allow me to understand the similarities and differences of modern desktop operating systems.

If you use several different operating systems it becomes really easy to see how the user interfaces and features of one will influence another. And once you start to make those connections then it’s fairly straightforward to approach a new operating system or desktop environment and make it work well enough for you to help someone who is having difficulties with it.

Use at least two browsers

If you’re supporting software, then you’re likely supporting browser-based software, and knowing how that software behaves in all of the main web browsers is something you need to be up to speed with. I find the best way to do that is to use at least three browsers regularly, and for me that means Firefox and/or Chrome on my computers, and Safari for my iOS devices. I test everything on all three, and on other browsers as well (although if I’m asked to test things it’s usually because they have only been tested on Windows and someone wants the non-Windows perspective).

As with operating systems, if you use multiple browsers then you are unlikely to be surprised or significantly slowed down when a new browser grabs a decent slice of the market share like Chrome did a few years back. It also make it easier to switch your main browser if the one you’re using start to get slow and bloated, or no longer includes features that you really need.

Install a virtualisation tool and set up a new VM

I said I’d come back to this one, because I think it deserves a section to itself. Virtualisation software has been such a game-changer for me, because it has allowed me to continue using multiple operating systems without having to maintain a physical computer for each one. By using software such as https://www.virtualbox.org/ it’s possible to run multiple operating systems on the same machine, and also to set up virtual web servers to experiment with blogging software, wikis, and other CMS related things. I’m currently doing a lot of this sort of thing at work, and it’s great to be able to have virtual servers that are backed up and snapshotted so I can roll them back to the point just before I broke something. Once you’ve developed like this then you’ll never go back, and it will teach you all sorts of skills that are directly applicable to sysadmin work, as well as development and IT support.

Virtualisation is also great for those situations where you can do 90% of your work in one OS, but need to switch to another one for one or two specific tasks. The guest machine is only using resources when it’s on, and you may find that most of the time you don’t even need to boot it.

Know how to back up your data, and where all copies of your data are

I blog quite regularly about how I back up data, but it’s always worth writing about, as I find that things change as I stumble upon new products. My current plan is based on the 3/2/1 rule, with three copies of everything, on two types of media, with (at least) one remote copy. I use Time Machine, Crashplan and Carbon Copy Cloner to back up copies of my whole computer, and Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud to ensure that files I use regularly are available on any computer I use.

How it generally works is that any machine that stays in one place (or mainly stays in one place like my heaviest laptop) backs up nightly (via Carbon Copy Cloner) to an external hard drive. I also have a portable hard drive that I back up to weekly with a bootable copy of the two machines where I regularly create data (as opposed to consume it). When I’m not backing up to it, this drive is kept in a different physical location to the machines it is backing up. Additionally, all my music is in iTunes Match, my photos are on two different NAS drives, all my portable computers back up to another machine via Crashplan and/or Time Machine, and everything text based I’m currently working on will exist in either Evernote, Dropbox or Google Drive, depending on what it is and who else needs to access it.

I’ve also started running some experiments with Bit Torrent Sync – maintaining a small directory of emergency music and freely available ebooks which I sync between all of my machines, and I also carry around an encrypted USB drive on my keyring which contains a lot of the same sort of stuff, as well as the installer for the latest version of Mac OS X, plus recent disk images of Ubuntu and Debian.

I test my backups monthly (sometimes more than monthly), including booting all the full disk clones to make sure they actually boot. I think this is important. I also try and replace my backup drives every couple of years to ensure that I’m not backing up to something that is likely to fail soon.

Know how to upgrade/replace key parts of your computer

This is something I think is so important, but it seems to be a dying art. Not that I’m surprised though, because Apple (and to a lesser extent other manufacturers) seem to be moving towards a world where individual parts of a computer are not upgradeable, and instead you just buy a new computer when it wears out or gets slow. So many older computers could benefit from a solid state hard drive (SSD) or some more memory, and both of these upgrades will make an old computer feel like a new one. There are plenty of people who will fit parts for you, but this will cost you, and often these are upgrades you can do yourself. Since I’ve been working with technology I’ve upgraded most of my machines (even my Macbook Air), but I do worry that the next computer I buy is likely to be less upgradable than the last.

I learned about computer hardware through buying an old machine from eBay and experimenting with it. I replaced the memory, and the power supply and the hard drive, and I’ve still got it sat in the shed 10 years later. There are still plenty of machines out there that you can replace pretty much everything in, and building a PC from scratch is still very much a rite of passage for anyone who is interested in hardware.

Know how to reinstall the OS on your computer

Long gone are the days where operating systems would not be upgraded for years. We’re now in a world where things change at least every 6-12 months, and it’s important that the operating system on your computer is up to date and receiving security updates regularly. Updating software is relatively straightforward on any computer, and we do seem to be moving towards the concept of an app store, where the OS is just another app to be upgraded when a new version comes out. Whatever you’re running, it’s a good idea to know how to upgrade the software on your computer, and also how to reinstall it from scratch. These are things that you can pay someone to do, but you never know where and when computer faults will happen, and the night before a deadline or while you’re overseas are not good times to learn about reinstalling operating systems.

Use more than one office suite, and learn the skills common to all of them

A big part of IT support is knowing about what the people you support are actually using. Arcane terminal commands and knowledge of compiling software will get you nowhere if you are supporting people who largely work with documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Particularly in a corporate or academic environment, knowing about a variety of office suites will serve you well, and it’s important to stay up to date so that you’re not surprised by changes to user interfaces. This is one area of IT that can be tricky to stay up to date with if you don’t use this software yourself, and as someone who writes in a text editor, and only really uses Word for specific work-based tasks, I’m probably not the best person to advise on it. Although the fact that I use Keynote for presentations and Excel for serious data manipulation does suggest I can at least use some of more than one office suite. I also like Libre Office a lot, and think it’s one of the most underrated pieces of software out there.

As with operating systems and browsers, there is so much feature-bleed with office software that once you have used a couple of different versions then you start to see how they all do roughly the same thing under the hood. This is also a class of software where manufacturers love to change the UI radically between versions, so be prepared to relearn menus over and over again. Of course, if you use keyboard shortcuts then there should be less learning to do.

Which brings me nicely on to keyboard shortcuts.

Learn keyboard shortcuts

On my main desktop computer I have a solar powered keyboard, which means that even in the cloudy climate of the UK I can pretty much guarantee that it will work. The same can’t be said of my wireless mouse, which is always running out of power and needing newly charged batteries. That doesn’t bother me as much as it might do though, as I’m fairly keyboard-shortcut-literate, and can do most of what I need to do without picking up the mouse. Not only can knowing these get you out of a fix if your mouse or trackpad stops working, but it’s a lot quicker to open or save a file using the keyboard when your hands are already touching the keyboard to type. It’s also a lot better on your wrists, and will make you look like you know what you are doing with your computer. It’s one thing I always look for when I’m trying to judge how computer-literate someone is, and it is usually a very good indicator.

A list of keyboard shortcuts for Mac OS X can be found at https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201236. Some of these will work on other operating systems, but I’m sure there are similar lists elsewhere (Ubuntu even has one on the screen the first time you launch the Unity desktop).

Host a website

In the days of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and a thousand other readily available web-based content sites, it’s rare to find someone to doesn’t have some sort of web presence. When I started out with computers it was harder to get content online, and I had to learn a fair bit of HTML just to have a simple home page, whereas now I can just create an account online in a few minutes. Despite the fact that it’s so easy, I still think it’s valuable to know how the nuts and bolts work, and how to set up your own website that you host and control yourself. My first site was hand crafted HTML, and my current website is a self-hosted WordPress blog (cloud hosted now, but originally hosted on a server under the desk in my office).

I think it’s still valuable to know how to configure a web server (I use LAMP – Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP), and install a CMS like WordPress on it. Even if you don’t use it for your main blog it is something you might be asked to do one day, and it’s a skills set that I’ve found myself using over and over again (and is in fact something I’m working on professionally right now).

Learn a programming language (or two)

I’m not a programmer, but I do know a little bit of HTML, CSS and PHP. Programming languages are not required for IT support, but as programming is largely about problem solving then there are a lot of transferable skills. Programming is also useful for solving in-house problems that your support tools can’t do (like writing a password generator or something to convert proprietary mailbox formats to something more open – both requirements I’ve come across in my own team).

Learning some basic scripting is also a good idea, and a familiarity with shell scripting and Windows powershell scripts is never going to be wasted time and effort.

Know what you can do and what you can’t do

And finally, this. It’s all very well to look and sound impressive by stretching your IT skills and knowledge to the extreme, but it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do, and which of your theories are backed up by practical experience. Experiments are all very well in the comfort of your own home, but when you’re dealing with other people’s computers and data then ensure you know what you are doing and when to ask for help and guidance.

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

I’m quite impressed with the new version of Ubuntu, and because it’s a LTS release it means one less VM I need to maintain during the next release cycle. I generally keep a VM of the latest LTS and release version, as well as tracking the development version from Beta 1. This results in 3 VMs (or two if the current release version is also a LTS).

I also maintain a VM of Debian testing, as well as a really minimal version of stable and unstable (I run stable physically as well).

And then I have several minimal webservers, which are running Ubuntu 10.04 LTS or Debian stable.

But I digress.

I think this version of Ubuntu is important because it will be around for 5 years and will form the basis of the Linux strategy for a number of organisations. I would certainly recommend it highly, and think it does a good job of providing a decent desktop experience for users of all levels (and particularly non-technical users).

Looking back and looking further forward

By this time tomorrow I will have successfully implemented the support of Mac OS X in my workplace. It’s been a long 14 month slog, but I’ve learned a lot about Macs, project management, and a fair few things beside. I’ve also lived pretty much wholly in Mac OS X since April 2011, which scared me at first but now feels oddly familiar.

Next up will be iOS and Linux. iOS is a new thing for me, but Linux certainly isn’t, and it was quite soothing today to open up my Linux laptop and do my first bit of Ubuntu work for nearly a year.  I’ve also (finally) given up Gnome 2, and after a brief dalliance with Gnome 3 have decided that Unity is the interface that I’ll use on all my Linux machines from now on.

Not that I’m giving up my Macs though. Unity and OS X are actually quite similar in a lot of ways, and I see both of them featuring heavily in both my personal and professional future.

A productive first day of my holiday

Today was a day for doing computer-related things. I’ve had a brief play with Gnome 3 and Unity (again), and still found both of them getting in my way a lot more than I’m used to. I will persevere though, because I figure that eventually I’ll end up using one or the other, and could actually do with knowing about both.

I also took advantage of having my very fast work laptop with me and built a few virtual machines as part of a personal project that I’ll write about in more detail at some point soon. Suffice to say, using the Macbook Pro was remarkably painless, and it really does offer a viable Unix development environment, especially when working with Virtualbox (which I work with a lot). I’m also 75% towards getting Unity and Gnome 3 running virtually (both have fairly steep graphics requirements), and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to build something that other people could use before the end of my Easter break.

Apart from that I’ve done very little, but have plans for the next two days so should be out and about a bit more.

Life on the bleeding edge

I love new things.

I still get that thrill when I buy a new piece of hardware or download a new piece of software.

I still run the latest version of Ubuntu on my laptop and my netbook, and generally upgrade to the next release whilst it is still in beta.

The only drawback with this is that I occasionally run into the sort of bugs that new software is well known for. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a show-stopper, but there have been occasions where running bleeding edge software has hampered my productivity somewhat.

I’ve also recently come to the revelation that whilst I love new software, I’m also very keen on making my desktop look and feel the same no matter what operating system I’m using. Which is why it’s often very difficult to tell what version of Linux I’m running, as I tend to have a very minimalistic looking desktop that is probably quite close to how it looked in 2005 (and also quite close to how Debian 6 looks today). I also tend to use the same wallpaper on all my computers (regardless of OS) which can also muddy the water a bit.

What I seem to be moving towards now is running the latest released software at home, and dual booting between something stable and something experimental at work (where I do need to keep up with the bleeding edge of whatever I’m working on, which at time of writing is Mac OS X and Ubuntu). This ensures that I have a stable platform to use for email, writing documents etc, but that I also have the latest builds of Ubuntu and Mac OS X running on real hardware so I can iron out any potential support issues early on. I also have at least 10 virtual machines that I use regularly, and I wonder how I ever got by without Virtualbox (actually the computer graveyard in our spare room offers some clues).

What kicked of this train of thought was Ubuntu 11.04, which ships with a new default desktop called Unity. I’ve had a play with it, and don’t hate it as much as I thought I would, although I’m glad I can still make a fresh install look exactly like my existing desktop in under 5 minutes. It does seem like a further step towards the UI of Mac OS X, but as someone who has always preferred that to Windows then I don’t mind that at all. I’m still not sold on dark themes, but as I’ve said many times, these things can be changed easily.

So yes, another version of Ubuntu that I can work with and will upgrade to on my home machine. I might also spend some more time with Unity to see if it’s something that I can one day grow to love. Of course, I also wouldn’t say no to a new Mac once Lion is out, but I do get to use quite powerful Macs at work at present, which does scratch the OS X itch for now.

A few notes on minimal Linux installations

I figured it was time I got round to finishing off a few blog posts that have been sitting around in dropbox for what seems like weeks. First off is my attempt to build a really fast and light installation of Debian or Ubuntu for netbooks and virtual machines.

This setup will work using either Ubuntu (alternate or server CD) or Debian . It will give you a basic graphical environment, with a web browser, mail client and terminal, and can be built upon with other software (should you find you need any other software). I find this most useful as a virtual machine, or as a minimal installation for a laptop that will largely access a more powerful machine remotely.

1. Install a minimal installation of Debian/Ubuntu. This involves just installing the base packages with no additional package groups. Once you’ve done this, reboot and you should find yourself at a terminal prompt.

2. Install the following packages (as root): x-window-system-core xserver-xorg gnome-core gdm and network-manager-gnome. Once you’ve done this reboot, and you should find yourself at the graphical login prompt.

3. You should find you’ve got epiphany, evolution, gnome-terminal and not a lot else. You can then add anything else you need through apt/aptitude.

I’ve set up a few of these, and find them useful for development, testing and generally having a computer that I can set up easily, break, and then restore to a fixed point in time.

I’d like to pair this setup with a netbook with a decent screen resolution, long battery life, and more than 1Gb of memory. But that’s a subject for another post.

More adventures in new technology

It’s been a week for exploring new technology. After my iPad adventure, I also got to spend a bit of time with Ubuntu Netbook Edition this week. Now, I’m a big Ubuntu fan, but I have never been particularly interested in running anything but full-fat Ubuntu on my netbook. I still feel like this, but after doing a couple of wireless setups at work I have gone as far as creating a USB version that I can play around with when the mood takes me. On first impressions it seems very fast, and while the interface is slightly alien, it does make sense on a smaller screen, in the same way that the new ambience/radiance themes only make sense on a big screen.

I also spent a couple of hours working on one of the new Macbooks today, testing how mail.app and iCal integrate with exchange. I’ve not explored this side of Mac OS X for a couple of years, and was very surprised as to how far things have come. I think we’re getting to the point where the default calendaring and email software are finally ready for the business desktop, and I feel I could easily do 95% of my job on this Mac.

My first stab at self-interview

In my last post I mentioned The Setup. This is my attempt to answer the questions.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Andy, and I work for IT Services at the University of Birmingham in a Service Desk management/development role. In my spare time I listen to and write about music, dabble in free and open source software (mainly Ubuntu), and am sporadically involved in the Isles of Darkness live action roleplay society.

What hardware are you using?

At work everything is largely generic. I have a Dell desktop that is coming to the end of its life, but that is still more than capable of dealing with most of my emailing and calendaring needs. It is plugged into a 17″ Sony monitor that has been with me for about 4 years now, and which I keep holding on to as it is one of the few desktop monitors I’ve used that doesn’t give me a headache after hours of staring at it (yes, I know a new monitor and more breaks might be a more sensible plan).

Most of my actual work is done on an (again) fairly generic Fujitsu Siemens laptop, which I started using a couple of years ago, and which allows me to type for hours without my wrists hurting. I wouldn’t recommend this laptop above any other, but it does the job.

At home I have pretty much left desktop computers behind. My main workstation is a Sony Vaio VGN-NS10l (dual core, 4Gb ram), which I bought a couple of years ago and deals with anything I throw at it. I’ve also got a 10″ Dell Inspiron Mini, which goes everywhere with me, and is increasingly becoming the computer I do most of my web browsing, email and writing on. My backup machines are a G4 iBook and a EeePC 701, and we’ve also got another Mac and a Wii plugged into the TV downstairs. My wife has several other computers which I’ll not mention here except to say that we have more computers than there are rooms in our house (by quite a lot). And that’s not counting the ones that are propping open doors or otherwise not really being used for anything productive any longer.

And what software?

Work is a mix of Windows XP (desktop) and Ubuntu 10.04 (laptop). In Windows I largely use Outlook for email and calendaring, office communicator for collaboration, and very little else. In Linux I use Firefox for browsing (with Chrome and Epiphany for testing), Evolution for email, Empathy and Dropbox for collaboration, OpenOffice.org for creating documents and spreadsheets, and (generally) Bluefish for coding. Recently I’ve been using GIMP a lot too, and have also been dabbling with a few command-line image conversion tools. I also maintain several instances of Mediawiki, as well as a full LAMP environment for development, and use google calendar to plan and maintain my work-life balance.

At home both of my laptops are running the latest version of Ubuntu, which I’ve used as my primary OS since 2005. I use largely the same software as I use at work, although I’ve recently reverted to using gedit for writing blog posts and other bits of text, and only venturing into OpenOffice when I want to make something available to other people. Home is also where I spend a lot of time playing with WordPress and Virtualbox, and where I use Rhythmbox to listen to music (and Last.fm to catalogue what I’m listening to). I’ve also recently started using Google Reader, and I now don’t know how I coped without it.

My Macs run a very stripped down version of Leopard, and really only get used for iTunes and other media related things now (although I’d still use my iBook as my main portable computer if it weighed a little less). They also run Dropbox (as does every computer I own), and I’ve been syncing all my important files between all my machines for a couple of years now. I still can’t understand why more people don’t do this, and I’ve lost count of the number of times this one piece of software has got me out of a hole.

What would be your dream setup?

I change my mind about my ideal working environment a lot, but what I basically want is a laptop that is thin, light and stylish, and that can perform at the level where I could use it as my only computer (including storing 100gb of music). The nearest thing I’ve come across is the 13″ Macbook Pro, although I’d be happier with something the size and weight of my 10″ Dell Mini with all the power and stylishness of the Macbook Pro. Being able to run OS X and Ubuntu at the same time would also be great.

Of course, having used an iPad for the first time recently, I’d probably have to add that to my wish list, just because it’s a really stylish and functional piece of kit.

I also wonder if having a desktop computer with two large monitors would make me more productive. I have a feeling that most of what I do can be achieved on a single small screen, but it would be nice to have the opportunity to experiment with these things.

Question format borrowed from The Setup under the Attribution-Share Alike license.

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.