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The linux-on-laptop experiment October 13, 2010

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility, Personal, Productivity.
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Eight months ago, I made a pledge: My next laptop would be running on some Linux distribution. Exclusively. At the time, I received various comments, incl. a user satisfaction curve that foresaw disaster. Yesterday evening the pledge became a reality, and it remains to be seen if the curve will also become one.

After also advising with Ubuntu’s “certified hardware” list, I went for a Dell Latitude E6410. The laptop itself is quite fine, but of course from a design point of view there’s nothing to compare with the Macbook; the latter wins hands-down. Having said that, who cares.

Installing Kubuntu 10.10 from a CD was pain, to some extent. The problem apparently has to do with the graphics card, and it took me some time before I find the respective bug report. Thankfully, there was also a seemingly simple solution which worked perfectly well. Eventually Kubuntu installed and (almost) everything worked fine out of the box. I’m quite impressed with how polished it is, and I am mostly impressed with the new default browser, Reconq. It’s dead-simple and, being webkit-based, it renders fast and without problems.

The only problems I currently have are a non-fully-functional trackpad (smart scrolling doesn’t work), and lack of thermal sensor information — which I understand is a problem with Dell and Linux across the board. I can live with both. All of wifi, bluetooth, camera, graphics*, audio, power management (suspend to RAM/disk), etc, work fine. I haven’t tried the fingerprint sensor.

Overall, I’m very happy with my choice, although it’s certainly too early for safe conclusions (and I still regret that I paid for all that MacOSX software which I now put aside). I’ll keep you posted how it goes.

Update (already): Rekonq doesn’t like WordPress. My post was sent in half. Time for the fox.

Who’s the next Apple? March 13, 2010

Posted by CK in IT.
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Seriously, if Apple continues providing its customers with all the reasons to hate it, I can well see a large amount of people moving away from it. Apple made a real difference a few years ago when it started providing systems that not only “just worked”, but they were also a pleasure to use. Marketing and good products made people almost religious about the company and every little gem that was coming out of its labs (and Jobs’ mind, I presume).

But in the last year or so, Apple became greedy. It is turning into the new Microsoft, only worse in the sense that they *do* have the best offerings. I have already decided to move away soon, and I know a number of other people who are considering or even have already taken the same decision.

So the question comes naturally: Who’s the next Apple? Who is the company who will offer secure systems that “just work”, painlessly and effortlessly? Who will grab this opportunity, to build a proper interface around a proper kernel and get a bunch of early adopters on its side? Sure, various Linux distributions are getting better and better, but the lack of coherence is almost dramatic. I’m making the experiment these days on a virtual machine, and there is honestly nothing to compare. My contempt for GNOME is well-known to many, as is also my admiration of KDE. The latter (which I am using), although great, it still does not integrate properly with the underlying system. I assume that the non-centralized development of the three layers (kernel & base system, X server, desktop), great as it is in offering choice and nurturing all those different options, it is also the Achilles’ heel of Linux (ok, GNU/Linux) systems. The same applies to *BSD. Certainly, the lack of control on hardware and Microsoft’s strong-arm practices on all vendors doesn’t help either (see for example what happened to netbooks).

My prediction is that there is now great opportunity for someone to invest in a properly good interface on top of a BSD kernel (or Linux, if licensing is not a problem). KDE is technically sound and can be the basis as it is also offering excellent APIs, but would have to integrate much better with the underlying system — and that, I guess, means getting rid of X. If someone does it though, and strikes a few deals with vendors such as Acer, Asus, and the like, I believe there’s a big market ahead. It would have to be someone big, who has the expertise and the marketing power.

So let me ask: Why not Nokia?

They are the largest seller of mobile devices. They bought Trolltech. They are moving to Linux for their phones. They are now partners with Intel on Meego. Is there anything that really prevents Nokia from making the step into desktop and tablet operating systems?

Apple no more February 21, 2010

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility, Personal.
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Apple is becoming a real pain.

On the iPhone, they decided users cannot be trusted with changing their phone battery. They also decided, no one installs anything unless Apple gets a premium out of it. More recently, they decided that noone has a right to choose even the content on their ridiculously expensive iPhone, even if willing to pay for that, unless Apple says so.

And it’s not only the iPhone. On the newest Macbooks, users can’t change the battery either — a worldwide first. My Macbook’s battery is useless after 20 months of use; literally, yesterday my laptop switched off without any warning whatsoever, while the battery indicator was at 80% or so. And that was 20 months of careful use. Thankfully, I have the previous model and I can just buy a new battery, but if I had the latest one, I’d have to part with the laptop for a considerable number of days, and that’s only because Apple says so.

I had recently decided to upgrade to an iPhone (Android-based phones came a close second). But looking at where Apple is going, also taking the iPad into account, I decided that this is not going to happen. As a matter of fact, although I had decided in the past that I’m not going back to other (existing at the moment) operating systems on the laptop, now I’ve changed my mind. Openness is not just a philosophical issue, it’s a real matter of freedom. I have been using Linux and FreeBSD on various laptops in the past for a long time, and it’s clearly time I return to that practice. Apple desperately wants to lock us in, and Google desperately wants our data, so it’s not Chromium or Android either. With both companies preparing for the mother of all IT battles for advertisements on mobile platforms, I don’t want to be part of it. Any platform whose defaults I can’t override, is not good enough.

So my current plan, as soon as I finish with my academic obligations and as long as things remain the same until then, is to convert to different hardware and some Linux distribution. On the mobile end, I will wait for Nokia’s update to N900; Meego sounds promising.

I only regret the hundreds of euros I spent on software for the Mac OS, and feel sorry I’ll have to part with some favorites such as Things, Journler , BibDesk andOmniGraffle.

The iPad, a lifestyle device. January 27, 2010

Posted by CK in Design, IT, Mobility.
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Ok, to recap:

  • No camera
  • No notifications
  • No multitasking
  • No phone calls
  • No Adobe Flash
  • The keyboard was nice and can make a difference (i.e. tempt people to replace their desktop with the iPad + keyboard)

Nice for couch surfing, maybe reading books if that’s your thing on a computer screen and you’re not longing for e-Ink. In general I’m not impressed, and assume it is mostly Apple loyals who will buy it, people to say “I have an iPad”, and gamers. It has potential to be a great gaming device.

Personally speaking, I use a Macbook Pro and would like to get an iPhone, but I can’t see the iPad filling in any gaps for me.

Safari sweetness September 20, 2008

Posted by CK in Design, Software.
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One more reason to salute MacOS UI designers: Today I found out, accidentally, the very useful menu that popups when cmd-clicking (“right-clicking”, if you prefer) on Safari windows’ title. For example, let’s assume the following URL and window title bar:

When cmd-clicking anywhere on “TU Dortmund – International”, the following popup menu appears:

It is simple things like that, which set apart (at least for me) the MacOS interface from anything else I have seen so far.