Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Nature of Metro?

A few posts back I theorised Metro was either just a new skin for IE and a tieling mode for Windows window manager. Well here's the proof.

The registry hack to switch off Metro and restore the Windows 7 task bar with start menu has already been found. Microsoft should just be distributing this as a service pack or add-on of some kind. Not a whole new OS.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ubuntu Natty and Unity - Update

The stability gained from removing MediaTomb and disabling the screen saver is short lived. So Boinc is going to have to go. Although I suspect Unity is the real culprit. I've seen some reports that 11.10 Beta 2 is quite good. I might just go a head and install that. Or I could ditch Unity completely. Set up the Gnome 3 PPA and install Gnome Shell/Gnome 3. Alternatively I could go with KDE or LXDE.

I could of course simply ditch Ubuntu and opt for Fedora or Debian. I mean it's not like I'm a total newbie dependant on Canonical doing everything for me. I've had bad experiences with distros in the past that used RPMs. So Debian might be more up my street. It is after all what Ubuntu is based on.

Microsoft Sponsored FUD?

Well here's an unexpected blast from the past. Which looks like Microsoft sponsored FUD. Windows Phone 7 suddenly gets some press coverage when everybody else had written it off and considered it a dead end. Just like Sidekick and Kin. So why is cnet suddenly covering Windows Phone 7 now?

Well unless you've been living in a cave you can't have failed to notice the Windows 8 hype machine starting to roll. The thing about this article that sparks suspicion other than the coverage of a virtually dead and buried mobile platform is that it quotes a study. A study which claimed the majority of the smart phone owning public are considering an Android based device. But yet the author chooses to focus on the Windows Phone 7 numbers? Why? Reads like FUD and propaganda to me.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Windows 8 and UEFI

I generally consider Windows 8 to be vapourware. There's no actual proper working copy of it yet. Although we do now know there is at least a developer version. Which Microsoft showed off recently. Which in turn led to much fan fair and excitement in some corners around the new Metro interface and it's Metro Apps. And I admit Metro does look good. So where's the catch?

Well firstly from what I can figure out, Metro is actually a new look IE designed to work with HTML5 apps wrapped up in an application wrapper. Which is actually how many Android and iOS apps are built. So nothing new there. Metro is basically a gimick. And gimicks are used to distract peoples attention from the small print. So what's in the small print of Windows 8?

UEFI is! UEFI is the proposed successor to the ageing BIOS. Microsoft is requireing that all OEMs and system builders participating in the Windows 8 logo program have a particular feature of UEFI enabled. This feature basically locks down the system so that it will only run approved OSs that have been signed with special security keys. Which isn't a problem if you're happy to just accept whatever Microsoft offer you.

It is however a problem if you like to tinker with your hardware. Remember you pay for the hardware. You own it. Hardware is not licensed unlike software. So surely it should be up to you what OS you choose to run? Well if Microsoft has it's way and OEMs ship their PCs with this new UEFI feature enabled, tinkers will no longer be able to use main stream OEM hardware.

UEFI with it's cripple ware feature enabled will require any OS you choose to install to be signed with those special "security" keys. Which poses problems for OSs like GNU/Linux and FreeBSD. It'll also create problems for project like the Haiku OS. A free open source version of the now dead BeOS. Developers of these operating systems would need to get every OEM to sign their OSs.

Which means at the end of the day UEFI basically excludes homebrew OS from being developed and run on mainstream hardware. Some people think this might violate EU competition rules.  I don't know how true that is. What I do know however is that this makes me think Microsoft are getting really desperate and resorting to some of Apple's dirty tricks to protect their monopoly. Apple use a similar feature of EFI to lock OS X down to Apple hardware.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Ubuntu Natty and Unity - Update

Just a quick up date. So no screensaver enabled, no MediaTomb and guess what? No crashing.The PCs been running all night quietly crunching numbers with Boinc. And it's still usable the next day. The system monitor does show one "zombie" process though, zeitgeits-datah. I'll need to do more research on that. But whatever it is. It's not stopping things from running smoothly.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

How Much Is Gizmodo Paid For Fud?

A few articles on Gizmodo have caught my eye recently. Basically in all of them they manage to mention Apple in a favourable light, support Windows 8 and bash Android or Google. Quite an interesting turn of events. Normally I'd comment on these articles in the sites comment's section. But due to Gizmodo's bizarre commenting rules I'm not allowed to comment there. So I'll do it here.

The first article that comes to mind is “Google SMASH: Why No Industry Is Safe” by Roberto Baldwin. This arrived in my in box on the 14/09/2011. The basic premiss of the article seems to be that because Google are so incredibly good at delivering what Internet users actually want. They shouldn't be allowed to compete at all. Much fuss is made about how Google have crashed everybody else's party and are playing in all of their backyards.

Which is true enough. Google were not the first kid on the block to offer webmail, on-line searchable maps or indeed many other services that Google offers. Including web searches by the way. Yahoo, Altavista, AOL and many others were around long before Google as Google was around long before Microsoft's Bing. Of course Roberto has no problem with Microsoft trying to crash in on the web and seemingly no issue with Apple's iPod. Apple weren't the first to produce an MP3 player. Remember the Diamond Multimedia Rio?

One of the specific issues Roberto has with Google is they make things easy for people to use and do. The example quoted is Google's new Flight Search feature. Google have made it easier to use than the competitions web site. So clearly Google are bad. Right? Well wrong actually. That's the nature of innovation and competition.

Company produces a service or product. Company B sees issues with that service or product and decides it can do a better job. If company B succeeds in the implementation and execution then company B wins and keeps the lions share of the market until company A comes up with an answer. In this way companies are forced to continue to develop better products and the consumer always has a choice. So why are Google being demonised here? They've done what every commercial entity is supposed to do. Compete!

Other examples given in the article include MapQuest, Firefox, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. In every instance Google came to market with a better offering. The comment about Hotmail and Yahoo Mail stuck me as being particularly odd.

“Hotmail and Yahoo mail? Totally respectable providers—until Gmail. When Gmail beta launched in 2004, it offered a full 1GB of storage, compared to the paltry 2MB-4MB offered by other email services at the time. Now all a Hotmail handle's good for is a punchline.”

First off all Google have done here is offer a better product. Nothing about what Google has done should have suddenly made Hotmail or Yahoo Mail suddenly some how “evil” as opposed to “respectable”. Many Roberto was talking about “respectable” in the other sense? Meaning they were perfectly good products. Well no they weren't. 2MB-4MB even in 2004 was incredibly limiting when you started adding attachments to e-mails. Just one or two e-mails could scupper your quota. Which is why I waited until Gmail came along before getting a webmail account at all. Before Gmail, I stuck to my ISPs offering. It had fewer space restrictions. And it's exactly that 1GB of storage that originally made Gmail so appealing.

So unable to actually find a flaw with Googles products. Roberto decides to attack Googles business model. Now it's no secrete to most who are educated and understand how the Internet and how businesses work, that Google makes much of it's money from on-line advertising revenue. Indeed this is a major source of income for Google. So naturally they seek to do everything they can to capitalise on that. And well with Google being firmly based in the worlds greatest capitalist economy, who would expect anything else?

Yes it's true Google have moved into many other markets purely to expand the scope of Internet advertising potential. That was the whole drive behind Android. To create a mobile platform that would deliver on the needs and wants of users that would also enhance Googles advertising business. And frankly it's a win, win, win, win scenario.

Google gets a mobile advertising platform that can deliver standard web pages and thus standard Google adverts to consumers. Companies advertising products get to advertise to potential consumers throughout the day and not just when they're stuck in front of the TV or PC. Handset and mobile network providers get a free OS to distribute on their devices that can meet all of these demands. Consumers win because they get a rich user interface, access to a well stocked application repository and a hand set that does more and does it better than before. In fact the only parties that don't win are Google's main rivals. Apple and Microsoft.

Now this is the real smash. Google have built their business without resorting to litigation to compete. They have invested massively in infrastructure. Often driving up standards in technology. Which it should be mentioned their competitors have benefited from. Competition is not a bad thing. Competition is what drives the market. Google are forging a path of innovation. Others can join them. Or sit around complaining and become obsolete.

The next article that comes to mind is this one. "If You Already Hate Windows 8 Then You Hate Technology” by Matt Honan. This landed in my inbox on the 15/09/2011. Now clearly an article like this is going to make comparisons. We'd expect nothing less. However there are a few things I don't understand. One of them being the need to berate Android and claim Apple has no competition in the tablet market?

This is an interesting comment. Least of all because Apple's iPad and iPhone products have been given such a run for their money by Android, Android now easily owns the smart phone market and Samsung's Galaxy S range of tablets were so enticing to consumers. Apple felt the need not only to have them banned globally. But they tampered with evidence just to get the point across. The point being Samsung's new Android powered tablet was so good Apple wouldn't have been able to compete. So they chose to litigate instead.

A few other things I didn't understand about this article. How is it Windows 8 goes from being so awesome at the start of the article it's the only competition in town for the iPad. To not actually really working properly yet and being a bit crap at the end? And yes I read the “IT'S ONLY A DEVELOPER BUILD” disclaimer. It's mentioned almost in hypnotic fashion by every journalist covering Windows 8 right now. Well that's all great and everything. But what exactly is “sub-optimal” hardware? Is that maybe hardware that's not powerful enough to do the job properly? Just what would be the optimum hardware configuration for Windows 8? Surely Microsoft must at least know what they're aiming for? I mean this new “Metro” interface can't possibly be asking that much can it?

And just what is this “metro” interface any way? By all accounts it's a tiling mode for Windows 7's window manager. And you can only use it to run certain applications. Metro Applications. So not a tileing mode then? Probably more like IE with a new skin. Which sounds more plausible given that these “Metro applications” are basically HTML5 web pages in an application wrapper. Hardly revolutionary. Other OS's have a tileing mode for their window managers and many smart phone apps are just HTML5 in an application wrapper.

So the killer app Microsoft are delivering in Windows 8 then is an interface for smart phone style apps on Windows 7. I'm struggling to get excited here. But then again according to Matt. That means I hate technology.

Actually it means I'm bored to the back teeth with Microsoft delivering too little too late and then buying media attention for stuff everybody else has already done and left by the way side. Microsoft aren't fashionably late to the party. They're belligerently ignoring the invitation and then complaining when they're left out in the cold. Microsoft should try doing something that genuinely adds value. Like the way Sony has integrated it's new tablet with the PS3 and it's range of Bravia TVs.

So far as Windows goes. It will always be fighting the reputation Microsoft has earned. Please take not of that. Microsoft earned it's reputation. Microsoft are big enough to play nice. But instead they very often choose to be dicks.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Ubuntu and Natty -Update

So another day and another quick update on life with Natty. Yesterday I hit a new problem. Ubuntu kicked me out to the GDM login screen with no warning. I'm not even sure what log to check to find out what went wrong there. But logging in again was no big deal.  I also had something of an epiphany.

When I upgraded to 10.10 I was running MediaTomb. Which made the OS somewhat unstable. Removing MediaTomb and reinstalling it fixed the problem. So for the time being. I've ditched MediaTomb. The improvements have been instantly felt. Boot ups no longer require the filesystem to be checked on every boot.

However I was also messing around with Kubuntu on a VirtualBox virtual machine. I'm thinking maybe VirtualBox still has some issues with Ubuntu Natty. It seemed a bit slow at time. However that may be due to Boinc which I also have running in the back ground. Boinc is next on the hit list. I think I may confine it to a virtual machine. First though I need to figure out how to make a minimal Ubuntu installation disc.

The reason I was playing with Kubuntu was because I'm thinking of ditching Unity and Gnome altogether and moving wholesale to Kubuntu. Which raised a question in my mind. Why aren't Canonical putting all their efforts into Kubuntu? KDE already does more or less everything Canonical are developping for the Unity interface. Not only that but all the effects and features of KDE are integrated with the desktop environment already. Certainly there's room for improvement. But so far as i can see. Everything Unity offers is already there in KDE. It seems to me KDE is a much better launchpad for Canonical than Gnome will ever be.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Ubunty Natty and Unity – Update

Well another day and more problems.

Firefox crashes constantly. Why is this Canonicals fault? Well Ubuntu doesn't come with vanilla flavoured Firefox. It comes with integrated Ubuntufied Firefox. Which might I also note didn't update to revoke DigiNotar security certificates. I had to remove them manually.

Any extended period on in activity seems to kill Ubuntu. It won't even shut down or reboot. I keep having to press the power button to force the whole machine to shut down. Not good.

All I can say is October is feeling like it's a really really long way off. The silver lining is I discovered ALT+F2 actually does still work. I think I've going to have to keep a better diary of problems I encounter.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ubuntu Natty And Unity

When I wrote my last piece on the Unity interface I was criticised for not giving Unity a chance. Which one could argue was fare. Unity was still in development at the time. Now that Unity has been the default desktop interface for Ubuntu desktop edition. Introduced to Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal). My fears about Unity have not yet changed.

Unity simply put is lacking in basic features and Ubunty 11.04 as a whole is somewhat unstable. I've just noticed at some point the CD automount feature crashes. Apparently this is an issue with gvfs or some such. And lets not forget compatibility with MusicBrainz is still broken.

So to date what are the major problems with 11.04 and Unity.

CD automount invariably crashes. There appears to be no work around or fix other than rebooting.

Speaking of rebooting. For the first time ever my system is now regularly hanging on reboot. This seems to be a Plymouth issue? I could be wrong. But I've never had this before. All my hardware checks out. So the problem must be software.

Unity has no way to clear the “recently used files” list. This is a basic feature that has existed on most desktop environments for years. Decades! Even Microsoft can pull this one off without a hitch.

Unity has no way of creating a custom launcher from with in the Unity interface. This again is a very basic feature. A launcher is just a link of a sort. Nothing special about it. Why this feature isn't there is a total mystery. It begs the question which type of people Canonical thinks the Ubuntu community is made up of? The work around is to create the launcher manually using Gedit. Not really something a beginner would think of. More time than it's worth for a “power user”. I can see why people are abandoning Unity. Unity isn't even aware /bin exists. Anybody would think any sort of “run application prompt” in Linux would at least be aware of /bin. But no. That's too hard. But it gets worse. Unity doesn't even let you type the path name of your application. It just doesn't accept it.

Unless Unity is made aware your application exists via the creation of a launcher, it's no dice. And unity has no way to create a launcher. So in the age of the ultra slick GUI we're reduced to typing at the command terminal just to launch a simple application. And don't get me wrong. Users shouldn't be afraid of the command terminal. But using just to launch a single app is over kill. It's geek masturbation.

MusicBrainz compatibility is broken. MusicBrainz as I understand it was re-jigged to be Gnome 3.x compatible. Ubuntu Natty is still dragging it's heals at Gnome 2.x. This is a major let down for an OS that claims to be “social from the start”.

These problems might not seem massive. But for a desktop user they can be show stoppers. When your music app can't even tell you the name of your audio CD or even mount it automatically in the first place. It doesn't look good. In fact it looks really, really bad. It's not the sort of OS you want to hand out to people. How can we recommend Ubuntu when Canonical are getting such basic features wrong? You can't recommend an OS and then say “oh never mind if X doesn't work. Canonical will fix that in the next 6 monthly release”. It just doesn't fly. The only positive note is Unity does inprove somewhat in the future. It gets better. But who knows if Canonical will address all the stupid issues that should never have arisen.

At this point in time I feel Canonical would have been better off leaving Unity on the netbook. Developing it in the background while using Gnome 3.x for the time being. Unity just isn't ready for mainstream usage. It gets in the way more than it helps. And when your OS is getting in the way of your work, play or whatever. It's time to find a new OS.

Edit: Alt+F2 still brings up a run command prompt that actually works. Unity is damn confusing. Which brings to mind something else that's missing. An introduction to Unity and what it does.