Tag Archives: linux

The IIII.e. Complex

As it refers to the current state of personal computing:

  • I. Inconsistency
  • I. Inefficiency
  • I. Incompatibility
  • I. Infinite updates

IIII.e., modern-day personal computing as the product of inefficient work attempted within an inconsistent, infinitely-updating environment that is incompatible with any alternate environment.

Point of GNOME Return

GNOME 3 - made of easy

I don’t know why people hate on GNOME Shell so much:

I am convinced that Gnome has no future. It will soon be pushed into obsolescence by its own suicidal design. For those who want traditional, there’s Cinnamon or KDE. For those who want, pseudo-touch, there’s Unity. For those who want touch, there’s Android. Which leaves Gnome 3 nowhere and with nothing. An idea that came to solve world hunger. On planet Mars.

Ouch. Just…ouch. I understand that GNOME 3 is still new and funny-looking and trying to make friends out on the playground and all, but to say that its design is suicidal, well, that’s just silly.

The real problem here isn’t with GNOME’s core design or usability. It’s designed well, and it’s quite usable as of version 3.6, even though there are an awkward number of works-in-progress to be finished. I use it for my day-to-day, thank you very much, Ubuntu GNOME Remix, and I’m convinced, personal preferences aside, the main obstacle facing GNOME 3 is the unnecessary nature of its inception (and not a total lack of usefulness). There was no good reason to throw out the GNOME 2 desktop paradigm. GNOME 3’s “overview” metaphor isn’t necessarily better or more efficient than the tried-and-true taskbar method. It’s merely…different. It works just fine (and I think GNOME Shell does it better than Ubuntu’s Unity, at the moment), but I suspect the drastic change was more for the sake of change than it was a response to droves of longtime GNOME users demanding desktop ascension.

Nevertheless, here we are. GNOME has undergone puberty, and its younger siblings, MATE and Cinnamon, aren’t being mature about it. They’re too busy laughing and pointing fingers at the zits, the newfound body hair to notice the inner beauty…or the sexy new Tay Zonday voice. Apples and oranges, haters and fanboys.

Why the haters are wrong:

  • Organization. GNOME Shell is well laid-out and, in my opinion, better organized than Unity. Unity’s developers took a good idea, lenses, and allowed it to proliferate to the point where clicking the Ubuntu button or hitting the Windows key now brings up a barrage of icons. Overkill.
  • Overview mode. Clean. Organized. Faster than Unity’s laggy dash.
  • Application menu. A work-in-progress, woefully useless in most current apps—but when this sucker’s short and curlies start to come in (in other words, once it’s more fully implemented across more apps), it’s going to rawk. I’ve never liked menu bars, as much as they’re needed; this is a way to free up screen real estate without cluttering up the top bar. Me likie.
  • The lock screen. It really is beautiful and useful. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s more of a pain to use than the previous GNOME lock screen because of having to swipe / click and drag with your mouse to get to the login box. Simply hit ESC or ENTER. Duh.
  • Click and drag into the overview. The ability to click and drag from, say, Files to an app open in the overview is pretty sweet. To be fair, Unity includes similar functionality with its launcher, though it can sometimes take a moment to scroll through the list if you have a lot of favorites and / or open apps.
  • Adwaita theme. A much-needed upgrade from the default, icky Clearlooks of yesteryear, and my new favorite GTK3 theme, hands down.

Why the GNOME fanboys are wrong:

  • Necessity wasn’t this invention’s mother. GNOME Shell didn’t need to happen. The previous desktop metaphor (think the GNOME 2.x series, Windows 95 – Windows 7, KDE, etc.) was and still is perfectly relevant, functional, and stylish. No user ever, ever posted to a message board asking, “Why the hell hasn’t anyone designed a UI that’s optimized for both desktop computers and tablets, simultaneously, all at once?”
  • Neurotic simplificosis. There’s a such thing as oversimplification. The removal of all but the close button from GNOME’s window manager, for example. Yes, you can maximize a window by dragging it up to the top bar, you can unmaximize by dragging back down off the top bar, but as of GNOME 3.6 there’s no handy way to minimize a window without using Tweak Tool to restore the window manager’s minimize button. As GNOME Shell doesn’t allow icons on the desktop, GNOME developers are no doubt wondering why anyone would want to minimize their windows in the first place. It’s simple: to unwind during snack breaks by appreciating that naked volleyball chick desktop background your ex-girlfriend used to hate. My question is, can you really call something a window manager if all it does is close windows?
  • Application menu. One of GNOME 3’s most promising new features also happens to be one of its pubertal blemishes. Nautilus / Files is one of the first few apps to take advantage of the app menu, though full functionality across all apps remains to be seen. And it’s not all peaches and cream. For example, when you have multiple maximized Files windows open, there’s no way to close the currently active window from the app menu without quitting Files entirely—because the window manager discards Files’ close button when it’s maximized. Yes, you can switch to overview mode and close the window that way, but it seems there should be a “close” as well as “quit” option in the app menu.

I’m not that big a fan of UI developers’ deciding to apply tablet interfaces to traditional desktops / laptops. Ideally, a desktop should have a desktop-specific UI, and a tablet should have a tablet-specific UI. But if this is how it’s going to be, if this is our point of GNOME return, then GNOME 3 seems to be a comfortable middle ground. And, in light of the massive train wreck that is Windows 8, I suspect there’s more love for GNOME 3 than the haters will let on, because even Cinnamon, designed to thumb its nose at GNOME’s sexy new body, has recently implemented its own “expo” and “scale” overview modes. ;)

The Ignorant Pipsqueak’s Ultimate Linux Fail Checklist

Linux T-shirt - Linux, sucking less for over 15 years.

This rant was originally instigated during the Fedora Core 5 days (as outlined in I will not use GNOME until…), and has been building steadily ever since, reaching a crisis point thanks to my recent purchasing of the Dell Inspiron 14z (2011). I’d been saving up my pennies and nickels over the last year with the intention of upgrading from my trusty but slightly-underpowered, way-too-small Asus UL20FT. I wanted something that would play nice with Ubuntu. The 14z was listed as being “Ubuntu certified,” so I figured what the hell. I wasn’t dating anyone at the moment; I didn’t need that dental work. I ordered the laptop at the Dell web site and uttered a quiet prayer that it wouldn’t arrive on my doorstep with a smoldering hole in the side of the box.

For the most part, using Ubuntu on the 14z has been a fuck-yeah experience. I’ve been using it for my daily work for about two weeks, and I can’t find any serious complaints. Video seems to work; audio works; the Internet works; the webcam works; the keyboard is uber-comfortable, with hardly any flex. Yesterday I had some free time to watch a movie…and that’s when the 14z’s dirty little secret was revealed to me: video playback (1080p or otherwise) “works” in Ubuntu—but it doesn’t exactly work right. Regardless of player software or file type, there’s a constant area of distortion / tearing at the top of any given video window. And here I thought the days of video tearing / vsync issues in Linux were long past. Not so. In an age when every single electronic device on Earth has the ability to play video (properly, most of the time), Linux is still the awkward kid who shows up to the talent show without having fully practiced his juggling routine the night before. There are balls rolling all over the gym floor. Worse, this video-tearing thing is happening on a piece of hardware that’s supposedly been certified to work flawlessly with Ubuntu. Or did I miss the fine print on the Ubuntu site? Is their certified hardware merely guaranteed to work, but not necessarily work optimally?

Yes, there’s a lengthy bug report over at launchpad.net regarding the issue, so I don’t doubt that in another year or two video will play properly on my 14z. But, damn it, I want it to work right now. Guess I’ll just have to pass the time by beating what’s left of the ol’ “Linux sucks!” dead horse. Don’t blame me; this wouldn’t have happened if Ubuntu would simply have let me watch Mr. and Mr. Smith without distorting the very top of the seme’s head.

Ultimate Linux Fail Checklist

Video tearing / vsync issues on certain computers with 2nd-gen Intel Core CPUs. 1080p video played flawlessly on my 1st-generation Core i3 laptop (UL20FT). On the 14z, well, I’ve already gone over that above. There’s a workaround for this—if you use Compiz. GNOME-Shell, my preferred desktop, doesn’t use Compiz. GNOME-Shell users such as myself are fucked for the time being. Unless we switch back to Windows 7, which plays video just fine on the 14z. Oh, the temptation.

ALT-TAB functionality is still in beta. That’s right, you heard me: one of the oldest and most taken-for-granted desktop conventions is still a work in progress for two of the most most prominent Linux desktops (GNOME-Shell and Unity). Random apps don’t show up in the ALT-TAB list. Instead, I have to constantly switch to overview mode. ALT-TAB always worked so well in Windows I’d long ago assumed that there’s no way anyone could fuck it up. Unity found a way. GNOME-Shell found another way.

Display brightness setting isn’t saved between GNOME-Shell / Unity sessions. My display always resets to full brightness after a re-start. Good for me with my glasses off, bad for my laptop battery. The fix: manually turn the brightness down after each re-start, or create a shell script to be launched automatically upon log-in.

Ubuntu’s overlay scrollbars. Interesting idea, clumsy implementation. Half the time the scrollbar handle appears when you mouse over the scrollbar area, the other half nothing happens until you re-focus the window. Adding insult to injury, the feature can only be disabled by editing certain config files, or by uninstalling the related packages. A toggle switch somewhere in System Settings would’ve been nice. Instead, three system packages have to be removed, either from the commandline or through the package manager.

There’s no convenient way to drag and drop between maximized windows. I almost exclusively work with maximized windows. Like, all the time. As far as dragging and dropping between maximized windows, Microsoft runs circles around Linux. In Windows 7, you simply drag down onto the taskbar and onto whichever app / Explorer window is appropriate at the moment. In GNOME you…um…where’s the taskbar?

(GNOME-Shell) How the fuck do you shut down your computer? Yes, I know you can simply hold ALT while the status menu is open to change “Suspend” to “Power Off…” but considering how flaky Linux can be with suspend, why is that GNOME’s knee-jerk shutdown option?

GNOME-Shell’s top-bar global application menu is merely a glorified close button. Seriously. All you can do with it is “Quit.” Supposedly, plans are in place for this to eventually become GNOME’s answer to Unity’s global menu. By that time everyone will have switched over to Xfce.

In GNOME-Shell, tall menu pop-ups are often hidden beneath GNOME’s top bar. For a desktop environment that prides itself on being neat and clean and keeping out of the way, this is pretty offensive. Almost as bad as when earlier versions of GNOME’s file chooser dialog opened at microscopic dimensions that had to be manually re-sized each time you tried to open or save a file.

No customizable compression settings in GNOME’s archive manager. This hasn’t changed in six years, and probably won’t change in another six. At least it supports 7-zip.

XUL-based apps (Firefox, Thunderbird, Celtx…) are slower than their Windows counterparts. I think I once read somewhere that the Linux versions of XUL apps aren’t optimized as well as their Windows versions. Why the hell not? Did recent polls show that Linux users prefer not to surf porn, check their e-mail, or write their next snuff film as efficiently as Windows users?

The lock screen isn’t as private as I’d like it to be. Moving the mouse or hitting a key during a locked GNOME session in order to bring up the password dialog causes your desktop background to pop up as well. Many users voiced their concerns over this “feature” before GNOME implemented it…and still there’s no preference setting to keep my supposedly locked laptop from revealing the naked Alicia Sacramone image I have set as my desktop background. All it takes is an accidental mashing of the keyboard by the bare butt of an uninvited guest, or the brushing of a tumescent wang against the touchpad and bam! Instant awkward.

(Disclaimer: The above is simply a reality check(list). I’m not hating on Linux in general, Ubuntu, Unity, or GNOME-Shell, even. In fact, GNOME-Shell and I are going steady. I just wish she wasn’t such a stubborn biatch sometimes. My fault for dating a Taurus.)

(Disclaimer #2: I’m not hating on Taurus people. In fact, two of my closest friends are Taurus, and I’d follow them to the ends of the Earth. I just wish they weren’t such stubborn assholes sometimes.)

(Disclaimer #3: I’m not hating on stubborn assholes. In fact, several of my immediate family members are stubborn assholes…)

The Almost-GPL Cereal

I've always wanted to try an open-source cereal

Grocery shopping is what I do when I want to pretend I’m too busy to work on my various novel / screenplay projects. Today was Fresh & Easy day. I don’t even like frosted flakes, but somehow a box of Mother’s Joy brand sugar-frosted flakes wound up in my shopping cart. While certainly not my first choice for breakfast, Mother’s Joy is actually slightly less offensive when compared to that other leading brand, and has BHT in the packaging only (if that sort of thing concerns you). Most important: Tux, the lovable Linux mascot, is on the box. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to eating an open-source breakfast cereal. Speaking of which, the source code can be found on the side of the box, listed under “ingredients.” L33t eating.

From the What the Fuck? department:

The lesson here: video games based on Olympic sports are just plain ludicrous. Odds are you’d stand a better chance at actually becoming a world-class athlete than you would at being able to play QWOP effectively (iPhone version coming soon!).

Samus’ Power Suit Can Run Ubuntu

Metroid sucks morph balls

Thanks, Sal, for the image and blog post title. Neither has much to do with window buttons, but that’s okay. I like them both anyway.

Regarding window buttons, I just got a peek at the forthcoming Ubuntu 10.04 release, and I no likie the left-oriented window buttons. The new layout brings to mind a long-standing GNOME usability quirk involving window title bars being so close to the default top panel (regardless of whether the window buttons are on the left or the right) that you risk accidentally closing, maximizing, or minimizing the active window whenever you interact with the panel. Particularly if you’re in a hurry. For this reason I always remove the top panel whenever I do a GNOME install. Two horizontal bars stacked together is bound to result in accidents.

Say what you will about Windows, but Microsoft has at least gotten their button placement “likely” over the years. What I mean by that is each corner of your screen has a likely purpose. The top-right area is strictly for minimizing, maximizing / restoring, and closing your program windows; the top-left is for menu entries; down below, your Start bar holds its own, out of the way and yet easily accessible, with the bottom-left of your screen reserved for the Start menu, and the bottom-right for notification items. A place for everything and everything in its place. If your cursor is in any given corner, it’s there for a particular reason. What the new Ubuntu layout has done is give multiple purposes for a single area. Great for consolidation fans, but, in my opinion, a disregarding of the hard-won convention that each corner of a user’s screen space is reserved for a specific function.

Of course, this won’t be an issue if GNOME moves its application menubars elsewhere. But for the time being left-aligned window buttons are just too close to the menubar for my taste. Here’s to hacking the config file and reclaiming my “rights,” so to speak. ;)

Interview, Heroes’ Day Reissue, Ubuntu 9.10 Gripe List

I did a brief interview regarding the writing process over at creative-writing-help.com. The site is new, but growing quickly, and there are already a number of interesting interviews / advice pages available. Worthy of a check-it-out.

Those of you who frequent my blog will already be aware of the demise of Vertigo Alley as a publishing imprint earlier this year (though it still exists as a parent company—let’s just say there are politics involved and leave it at that). This means Heroes’ Day had been placed on the endangered species list only a year after it had been published. But it looks like my new team of irritable office monkeys have redone the novel under the Jessture.com imprint, which is now handling reissues of my previous work. If you’ll check out the Heroes’ Day page, you’ll find a brand spankin’ new cover and, indeed, an entirely new interior layout for the book. Both were sorely needed, as the yellow / black gymnast silhouette cover was a last-minute job after the original artist died unexpectedly before he could deliver his finished artwork. Also, the trade paperback version’s typeface is now readable. The interior text for the old paperback version had mistakenly been taken from the e-book source files—meaning the e-book looked great, but the paperback version looked…awkward. This is no longer the case.

A brief note on the Ubuntu / Linux front: For the first time in a long while a new edition of Ubuntu has actually taken several steps backward for me and my notorious Acer Aspire 5100-5674. Save for the fact that several key programs quickly became out-of-date (OpenOffice, VLC), 9.04 had been bitchin’. The video drivers were fairly solid, sound was smooth as silk, and wireless worked out of the box. I expected 9.10 to be a continuation of this, and so eagerly made the upgrade. The result was a prompt uninstall and this list of gripes:

  • Lousy ATI Radeon Xpress 1100 drivers—OpenGL flickers, and exiting 3D-accelerated games results in the system freezing / locking up
  • Audio playback is riddled with pops and crackles, be it system sounds, VLC or Audacious playback, or OpenGL games (changing the respective programs’ audio output plugins and buffer settings doesn’t help)
  • Under GNOME, locking the screen sporadically locks up the entire computer
  • Logging out of GNOME frequently results in, you guessed it, a system lockup
  • The GNOME panel crashes whenever closing Opera

With the exception of the lock-screen bug, none of these issues were present in Ubuntu 9.04. I suppose I should’ve stuck with that version and used the PPA repositories to update my key programs. The alternative solution, though, has worked with minimal effort on my part. I tried the Linux Mint 8 live CD on a whim, and even though it’s based on Ubuntu 9.10, Mint 8 has none of the issues listed above. I don’t understand it, but I’m digging it. Stupid, spiteful computers.

Windows 7 Sins

Windows 7 Sins—The case against Microsoft and proprietary software

Windows 7 has been getting a lot of positive press lately—and this site aims to make sure the sour is appreciated as well as the sweet. While I’m not an out-and-out Windows hater, I can relate to point 4:

Microsoft regularly attempts to force updates on its users, by removing support for older versions of Windows and Office, and by inflating hardware requirements. For many people, this means having to throw away working computers just because they don’t meet the unnecessary requirements for the new Windows versions.

I’d still be using my circa-2000 Athlon Thunderbird system for video editing if ATI hadn’t stopped refining the drivers for its All-in-Wonder 128 Pro line. Fuckers. That card had hardware MPEG-2 decoding. It was sweet. Ah, well. Spilled milk. With Windows 7 I think for the first time in a while I’m going to miss out on the whole upgrade frenzy—and I’m not going to care. Ubuntu 9.04 is friggin’ perfect. Well, Brasero burns discs at ~1x unless you remember to disable certain plug-ins, and VLC’s audio output is broken—and GNOME’s screen lock feature sometimes freezes up when you try to log back in, but other than that (and the fact that there still isn’t a good, easily-installable video editor for Linux) it’s Ubuntulicious. I think Ubuntu even renders Microsoft’s new Cleartype fonts better than Vista does. 13px Corbel looks pimpin’ in Firefox 3.5.

Holy Shatner. I just realized my loyalty to one particular operating system hinges solely on its ability to render type in a clear, legible manner. Can you say OCD?

My New Favorite GTK Engine: Candido

Simplicity is beauty:

A GNOME desktop theme using the Candido GTK engine

A GNOME desktop theme using the Candido GTK engine

I first discovered the Candido theme engine when I stumbled upon the excellent (and quite elusive) Carbon theme included with Linux Mint 7. Sorry, no link provided, as there’s not even an author name in the gtkrc file—which is a shame, because I’d love to thank the theme’s creator for whipping up such beautiful eye candy. My only complaint is that the default tooltips are an ugly gray. However, after browsing the web for several hours, I managed to find a solution. The overall results of using GNOME + Candido + Carbon + the gnome-colors icons have been enough to keep me salivating over my desktop (instead of working) for the last week.

GNOME users in search of a quick and clean interface: Candido is teh shiat.

Ubuntu 7.10: A Brief Out-of-Box Experience

Ubuntu 7.10, live CD - and with only a single snafu!

Ubuntu 7.10, live CD - and with only a single snafu!

Update: It seems the ENE card reader (CB-712/4) in my Acer Aspire 5100-5674 doesn’t work too well after all. Two of my 256mb SD (Secure Digital) cards mount / work just fine; my 2gb SD card mounts, but gives me I/O errors whenever I try to copy to or from it. I have yet to receive any feedback concerning the problem, so I can only assume the Linux ENE drivers don’t yet (properly) support SD cards larger than 256mb(?).

* * *

Preliminary thoughts on Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon): a reasonably worthwhile upgrade, if not for the security fixes, then for the under-the-hood updates, as well as the fabulous software repository. And GNOME 2.20.

Wireless / video card configuration is now as simple as checking a pair of boxes in the “restricted drivers” dialog—if you’re savvy enough to figure out that that’s what you need to do. Unfortunately, GNOME isn’t very helpful in this respect. Upon first logging in, a panel icon informed me, erroneously, that both my wired and wireless connections were enabled; this didn’t necessarily mean that I was able to go online. It turns out I first had to enable the appropriate “restricted drivers” for my Broadcom chipset—but before I could do that, I had to make sure there was a working Internet connection (read: catch-22!), and I had to enable the proper repository.

Time for some menu-hunting

Then I could enable the restricted / illegal / immoral drivers in question. For moderately experienced Linux users, the process is a yawn; for newbies, a pop-up box or informational tool-tip would be of great benefit. Better yet: A clear, concise “getting started” sheet. Maybe that will come in a future Ubuntu release…

As with Ubuntu 7.04, my laptop’s sound system (Realtek HD Audio) works great with 7.10. Better than with the pre-installed version of Windows Vista that came with it (despite having DMA enabled, the latest audio and video card drivers installed, Vista’s sound system cracks and creaks during high network activity). And my built-in ENE flash card reader is finally supported! Which means Acer Aspire 5100 owners are only a single piece of hardware away from having a fully-functional, Linux-based laptop. The straggler? Why, Acer’s OrbiCam, of course. There’s a bit of a fuss in the forums about whether or not this device will ever be supported out-of-box, and whether it’s even worth the hacking time. The state of video in Linux is still primitive. Most people recommend buying a supported USB camera; since I’m a starving writer, I’ll continue to stick it out with Vista, which, despite its various eccentricities, supports all my hardware, and hasn’t crashed on me.

As of yet. ;)

Lunapark6 has a more in-depth review here: