Friday, July 29, 2011

Comparison of three Linux Operating Systems

A while back I wrote Comparison of Operating Systems, but it turned into more of a tutorial than anything. It only compared Windows and Ubuntu Linux, my current OS. So now I am going to compare Fedora 15, Opensuse 11.4, and Ubuntu 11.4. Let's start with Fedora.

Fedora is a free Linux OS sponsored by Red Hat, the creators of Red Hat enterprise Linux. The fifteenth release (the most recent at the time of writing) includes the Gnome 3 desktop environment in it's fullest form. It has some Gnome features that you can't get from the unstable repository currently available on Ubuntu. It starts off with just a close button, but that can be easily fixed using the Gnome tweak tool. As an Operating System it didn't seem to vary much than how Ubuntu acted when I had Gnome 3 on it. It did have one serious graphical issue. I was doing some 3D graphics at the time using Google Sketchup 8 through Wine and it wouldn't boot in fedora. I did some Googling and sifting through the forums and found that Fedora had some unofficial Nvidia drivers instead of the ones found through Administration>Additional Drivers in Ubuntu. After manually installing these drivers all hell broke loose on the Operating System. It simply wouldn't boot after installing the drivers. This is a known problem and it wasn't something that I had messed up installing them. If you do 3D art or anything else that requires good graphics (Heavy desktop effects, gaming, and 3D just to name a few) then Fedora isn't for any Nvidia user. Otherwise it was a very nice and friendly operating system.

The next Operating System is Arch linux. Looks pretty similar to an OS X and Windows mixtogether, right? Incredibly wrong. When, (and if you are able to) install Arch Linux you have no GUI whatsoever. You need to manually download and configure an X11 Window manager and a desktop environment to get a GUI. However, this makes Arch an extremely lightweight OS when you first download it. Arch is a platform on which you can build upon whatever software you wish. Arch Linux comes with a package manager called Pacman, which many people find to be a step up from apt and it is. Pacman can even give suggestions to what packages you may be looking for if you make a spelling mistake in your query.
Arch can be seen as a canvas where the artist can paint whatever they wish.

The last Operating System in our comparison today is Ubuntu 11.04. Ubuntu started off as a fork from Debian, the Universal Operating System. At first all it aimed to do was improve on Debian's slow update times, but it turned into something else. Now Ubuntu is the distribution of choice for newcomers to the Linux kernel. It is where users aspiring to move beyond it come to learn, and it is where people who want a highly customizable OS come to stay. Because of Debian's popularity, and now Ubuntu's, anything available to Linux is usually available to Ubuntu in the form of a .deb file, which requires 0 source building. I could start complaining about Unity again, but I have already done that and it isn't what this post is about. The installation is made easy with the Live CD, so there is virutally no command line to have to worry about during installation.

The decision...
Even though Ubuntu, Fedora, and Opensuse are great Operating Systems I have to make Arch the winner of this comparison. Arch just gives you the very basics and lets you decide what part of an Operating System you need. Do I use arch? No. Do I think it is a great idea of a Linux enthusiast to use Arch? Yes.

Rambling about Google's Operating System

Google's chrome operating system (not to be confused with Chrome the web browser) is inching closer and closer towards it's final release. It's goal, in my opinion, seems to make our idea of a modern operating system seem like it is too much of a hassle for someone to use.

Chrome OS deals with just the internet and doesn't allow you to download any software, store any files, or do many of the things that we all do daily. The video starts off by saying we spend 90% of the time on our computers online. For intense Facebookers or web designers this may be the case, but for the rest of us it is not. I spend around 5 hours daily on a computer and probably only 1 hour total on the internet. Another one of the Operating Systems draws is the startup time. Apparently they aim to reduce it to 7 seconds by release. The OS that I use only takes a maximum of 6 seconds to get to the login screen and another 6 to become completely useful, so they are spreading misinformation in the form of high numbers to gain downloaders.

An obvious problem with Chrome OS is simply the idea. Why would I want an Operating System that can only access the internet and not store files on my computer? That doesn't sound like simplicity  or ease of use to me, it sounds like an excuse to make a cheap operating system.

Let's use my computer as an example. I have a 1.5 TB hard drive 26% filled with software, pictures, and documents. My desktop is filled with 8 folders, 28 programs, and 6 documents. One of the programs is Google Chrome, my web browser. What Chrome OS wants to do is drag all of my folders and documents to the trash and leave all but my web browser, and finish by calling it a revolutionary idea.

The Operating System also introduces terrible security issues. You can still save files on your computer, but it is a hassle. Everything is stored "In the cloud". Which is perfect for some files, but not the case for all. Would you feel okay uploading the contents of all of the folders in your home directory to the internet? Or uploading that world-changing story or program you're writing? Before you answer keep in mind that hackings increased  over 90% this year. Stuxnet, the worlds most advanced computers virus, nearly destroyed all of Iran's nuclear centrifuges. If a virus can do this it can also find your files online and abuse/steal them.

I, and I think a lot of the readers here, are Google supporters. Their products are unmatched by any other when it comes to a friend user interface and speed, safety, and usefulness. However I am not hopping on the Chrome boat, and if it doesn't change a lot of people won't.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Comparison of Desktop environments

This article is ever-so-slightly deprecated. Please see:
As you saw in my post below I do not use Unity. I use the currently unstable version of Gnome 3 on my Ubuntu operating system. Today's post is about comparing some popular desktop environments for Linux. XFCE / tiling fans, I'm sorry, but I am not included you in this debate. I do not have any experience with XFCE or many tiling window managers and I wouldn't be able to give a fair report on them.

What desktop environment you choose is a matter of preferences. From the four I have used they all did the same thing in a different, sometimes prettier way.

The Ubuntu development team dropped Gnome as their default desktop environment on their release of version 11.04 - Natty Narwhal. They swapped it out with a more modern looking desktop environment called Unity. The key features of Unity are a taskbar (With a very intelligent window-dodge system) and header-window integration. For instance, when you open Libreoffice the options file, edit, view, all go to the top panel. As with most Linux desktop environments they can be customized heavily through themes. Unity suffers from a lack of customizability. No matter what color scheme you use or what desktop effects you want you will still always have the taskbar and integration panel hanging around. It is also hard to use for beginners. Icons from the launcher can't be removed and placed on the desktop as you might think. You need to make a whole new launcher to get desktop icons.

Some good points to make about this desktop environment is the familiarity Windows 7 users will have with be able to keep launchers for their favorite apps. This is something that old Gnome versions couldn't do prettily. It also reduces the amount of distraction and increases the screen size for maximum viewing convenience.

Gnome 3
I have used Gnome 3 longer than any other desktop environment. It retained it's ability to be highly customized but also had a very appealing user interface. It can be confusing to start off with because of the lack of minimize and maximize buttons, a dock, or the lack of a file-managing desktop. (All of which can be changed with software like gnome-tweak-tool and docky). The most powerful part of Gnome 3 is something that I called the Sea of Windows (Shown to the left in the picture). It is activated by moving your mouse cursor to the top left corner of the screen (Similar to how the Unity launcher is summoned). There will be a ripple effect and it will show all of your open windows and processes(like Dropbox or Screenlets). This is also where the favorites bar is kept and where Launchers can be stored. Everything in the Sea of Windows is customizable through gtk 3.x themes and gnome-shell themes. (Gnome shell themes being the one that changes this part of the DE).

This paragraph used to be about the instability of gnome when trying to install it on Ubuntu 11.04, and yes, that is a very bad idea if you do not want to kill Unity. It may even make both desktop environments flawed if something goes terribly wrong. However, Ubuntu 11.10 is out and it has fixed the compatibility issues of having Gnome and Unity installed at the same time. In addition to fixing the problem, Gnome 3 has been added to the Ubuntu repositories, so installing it is as simple as using the software center.

Enlightenment 17

 I will admit right off the bat that I have little good to say about E17. It's selling point is the lightweight beauty that it has. It is true that for someone willing to make their DE a hobby that E17 is the best out their for only 4 Megabytes. Some things I noticed was the bottom bar was confusing to use at times and was terrible at hiding itself. It would always overlap any window that entered it's territory. Maximizing and minimizing buttons were included but completely broken. Right click doesn't work on the desktop because left-click takes it's place. It comes with no detection of previously edited global shortcuts, which I didn't really expect it too.

  The only good parts about E17 is that is has the potential to be great AND it is incredibly lightweight (4MB). It comes as sort of a template. But for people not willing to spend days tuning it to their liking it is just not for them.
    Kde 4.6 - Plasma Workspace
I haven't used KDE for quite some time (since about 4.6) the reason being after about two weeks of using it on Ubuntu 11.04 it decided to not boot for me anymore. Also, at every boot I would need to sudo remove kde-window manager, sudo install kde-winder-manager just to get it working.

The release of KDE 4  attempted to change the style of the DE into a prettified masterpiece. One of the first things I discovered was the built-in desktop settings manager. Straight out of the box I was able to activate my wobbly windows, change my color schemes around, and add widgets without having to leave my desktop. Windows users would find it easy to use as well because of the K menu, which resembles the start globe from Windows Vista and Windows 7. There are little things thrown into this desktop environment that make it what it is. Things so small most of the time they go unnoticed. For instance, when a window closes it doesn't abruptly shut down. It sinks into a center point and fades away. Or when a popup from the side of the screen comes out it will glide back to where it came from.

KDE's desktop effects can be turned off with the command alt+shift+f12 if you have a bad/old graphics card. Upon installation it checks to see if your settings allow you to run the Plasma workspace, so it may already be off by default.

The only bad things to say about this desktop environment are that it is not lightweight and that Gnome applications (If you install it over Gnome) keep themes. The download of Kubuntu(Ubuntu with KDE instead of Unity by default) is around 140MB if you already have the kernel and Libreoffice(It tries to install the Libreoffice suite on installation).

Kubuntu will also install KDE-related software if you don't deselect it. (Don't unless you know what you are doing. The Window manager is NOT enough to run KDE). This could lead to jumbled app lists like a System Settings Clone or Kate and Gedit. Two programs that do the same thing but each designed for another DE. Any program from Gnome works on KDE and vice versa, though. Like I mentioned earlier only KDE applications retain themes in KDE.

Extra: KDE can be installed on Windows and Mac too.
KDE also features a Sea of Windows, but it needs work.

The Verdict
  Originally this paragraph hailed KDE as the winner of my competition, but now I feel that Gnome 3.2 has blown it out of the water. This is just opinion, since all of them are very usable desktop. There are the occasional crashes with Gnome, but it's simple, efficient when you start learning the ins and outs of the system (like wikipedia querys from the application search bar), and customizable through CSS. The height of the interference to the user is the occasional popup of the process dock and the always-present activities bar.

To download Gnome 3 your distribution probably has it in the repositories. If not and you would like to try it, there are other versions of Linux that were built with Gnome 3 in mind, like Fedora 16.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Installing Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 11.04.

If you've been following some of my older posts you should have gathered that I am a Linux fan. My distribution of choice is Ubuntu, but I dabbled with some Fedora recently on my new Hard Drive and fell in love with Gnome 3. Fedora 15, however, did not keep my interest because of the lack of Nvidia graphics driver support (3D graphics were impossible to create).

     Gnome 3 is a desktop environment, and if you are using Windows chances are this term is new to you. This is because of the integration of Windows explorer desktop environment with the operating system itself. In Linux the two exist as separate entities that work in conjunction with one another. Desktop environments are everything graphical that you interact with. The Windows 7 taskbar, icons, launchers, and anything that isn't command line is provided by your desktop environment.

     Ubuntu 11.04  was different than past versions of Ubuntu because it abandoned the Gnome DE and traded it for Unity. Many Ubuntu fans were outraged by this because of the lack of polish that Unity had upon release. The looks of Unity were better than gnome 2, but at the cost of a LOT of productivity. Unity revolves around a launcher that is buggy, obstructive, and sometimes confusing to use. This is why some people, like myself, are trading it in for Gnome 3. Gnome 3 is sleek, customizable, and integrates well with Ubuntu.

History spiel is over. Here is where the work gets done.
Your first step: Add the Gnome 3 repository. Without this your OS wouldn't know where to look to download Gnome 3.
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3

Step 2: Update AND upgrade the system.
It may seem a bit redundant to update right before trading out Unity, but it helps Gnome integrade with Ubuntu safer. (I updated without upgrading. Now it takes 2 minutes to boot and another 4 to gain full functionality. Not mentioning a few mandatory commands each login. Do BOTH) 

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install dist-upgrade

Step 3: Download Gnome 3
You are about to download Gnome Shell. There is no need to specify what version of Gnome you want. Gnome-shell is always kept up to date with the latest version. When typing the code remember the hyphen.

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

The heavy lifting is done, but that doesn't mean you are.
There are still more terminal commands to be run. But first, restart your system. Boot into the recovery console and type

sudo apt-get install gnome-session

This makes it possible to log into Gnome 3. Type "exit" in the recovery console and return to the login page. Change from "Ubuntu" to "Gnome" or "Gnome shell". Once you are in you will probably notice a very low FPS rate. You simply need to install your graphics drivers again before you can fully use Gnome 3. At first it may look ugly because it uses GTK 3.x. You need to download a new theme from if you want your Eyecandy back.

Also, once you're in download the Gnome tweak tool and have File Manager handle the desktop. This will let you put icons on the desktop. A feature that is disabled in Gnome 3 for some reason. You can also feel free to change any other settings inside tweak tool, it won't damage anything. To find tweak tool after you download it move your mouse button over to the activities corner and search for "Tweak Advanced Settings".

Some not-so-necessary applications that will make your Gnome life easier
There are a few applications that are going to make using Gnome a lot easier. They are Gnome do, docky/awn, and (Removed).
Gnome do is an application Launcher that learns as you do. It saves your application preferences. If you typed chr to access Google Chrome 4 times and chr to access Chromosome chart 3 times chr would be saved to Chrome for the time being. Gnome do can be put on a keyboard shortcut for fast summoning. 

Docky (or Avant Window Navigator) are both Docks. They just give a better track of things than the anti-clutter policies of Gnome 3.

(Removed) seems to have been discontinued. Nevermind that.

Vague video that sums up everything I've said without the clutter incoming very soon.