Life & much, much more

Gentoo Linux blogs on Planet Larry

If you use Gentoo Linux, you probably know that you find Gentoo Linux blogs on Planet Gentoo. If you haven’t heard of a planet before, A planet is a website that aggregates a series of blog feeds, and most open-source communities have one. For example, there is also Planet KDE and Planet GNOME. Planet Gentoo, however, is limited to the topic of Gentoo Linux itself, and only aggregates content by Gentoo developers. In the past, Steve Dibb (beandog) started up planet Larry, named after the Gentoo mascot “Larry“, which hosted blogs of Gentoo users. Naturally, Gentoo users get up to all sort of interesting endeavours, and so begun a slightly less technical, less stringently project-specific blog feed. Here’s a picture of Larry below.

Larry the cow mascot

Unfortunately, recently after checking back at my old feedreader list, I noticed that Planet Larry had gone AWOL, and so decided to recreate it. It was never an official Gentoo project and Steve Dibb didn’t seem around, and the domain name ( at the time seemed to be squatted on by advertisers. If you visit it now, despite a half-baked attempt at a Gentoo-ish theme it was filled with “laptop recommendations”. Instead, I registered and started up a new aggregator. The concept is the same as the original. In short:

  • If you use Gentoo Linux and write a blog which has a feed, you can add your blog to Planet Larry
  • You can write about anything you want, as often as you want. It doesn’t necessarily need to be related to Gentoo Linux at all — although I did find that most Gentoo Linux Blogs seem to have more technical content.

So, go ahead and check out If you contact me I will add your blog.

Credits for the Larry the cow male graphic go to Ethan Dunham and Matteo Pescarin, licensed under CC-BY-SA/2.5.


Installing Gentoo on Android with chroot

Note: recently edited 8th Nov 2014

Installing Gentoo in a chroot alongside Android is easy, so if you already use Gentoo and have an Android phone, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t do it. With a ginormous phablet like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and a bluetooth keyboard, you can get a super-mobile full Linux workstation everywhere you go.

Before we begin, let’s see the pretty pictures. Here’s Larry saying hello :) (Installing a talking cow should be the top priority once the base system is up and running)

Larry saying hello on Android

… and of course a shot of emerging stuff …

Gentoo on Android compiling stuff

… and finally we’re running Enlightenment 17 with the Webkit-based Midori browser with X, accessed via (Tight)VNC …

E17 on Android with Gentoo Linux

Installing Gentoo on Android

Prerequisites first: you’ll need a rooted device. You’ll also need a terminal with busybox. I recommend Android Terminal Emulator and busybox by stericson. I would also recommend installing Hacker’s Keyboard, which gives you a full keylayout.

Installing is rather straightforward: modern Android phones usually run on ARMv7 so just follow the appropriate handbook. If you are installing it onto your internal storage (not on an external SD), you can skip to chapter 5 :)

You will need to be root to install, so su - in your terminal emulator of choice. Similarly, remount Android into read-write so that you can create the necessary files for Gentoo with mount -o remount,rw /. Finally, remember to install in /data/gentoo instead of /mnt/gentoo so to not conflict with Android’s mounting preferences.

Since we’re only installing a chroot and not booting alongside android, you can safely skip configuring the kernel, configuring fstab, configuring networking, and setting up the bootloader.

When mounting, you will need to do so as root user, and use the busybox implementation for --rbind support, as so:

$ su -
[ ... superuser access granted ... ]
$ cd /
$ mount -t proc proc /data/gentoo/proc
$ busybox mount --rbind /dev /data/gentoo/dev
$ busybox mount --rbind /sys /data/gentoo/sys
$ chroot /data/gentoo /bin/bash
[ ... now in the chroot ... ]
$ source /etc/profile

This is assuming you’ve put Gentoo in /data/gentoo

Android quirks

There doesn’t seem to be a /dev/fd on Android, so let’s fix that:

[ ... in Gentoo chroot ... ]
$ cd /dev
$ ln -s /proc/self/fd`

Portage won’t be able to download files as it doesn’t download as root, but instead as another user by default. No problem:

[ ... in /etc/portage/make.conf ... ]

Sometimes I’ve noticed that on bad reboots the /etc/resolv.conf can get reset. This will cause host resolving issues. Resolving is as easy as:

[ ... in /etc/resolv.conf ... ]

It will be a good idea to set your main user to the same UID as the Android normal user. Also, running id -a in android will show you that your user is part of various reserved Android groups. To fix issues such as your Gentoo user’s (in)ability to go online or use bluetooth, just create these groups in your Gentoo install with matching GIDs, and add your user to these groups. Here’s a list of Android UIDS and GIDS. For example, I needed to add my Gentoo user to groups with GIDs 3003 and 3004 before it could successfully go online.

If you want an X server, VNC will do the trick. I recommend android-vnc-viewer 24-bit colour seems to work, and perhaps change the input method to touchpad rather than touchscreen so it’s relatively usable.

Finally, with no fan and big heatsink on a mobile phone, you might find yourself running hot. So even though monsters like the Galaxy Note 2 have 4 cores, I recommend sticking it to MAKEOPT="-j2"

Life & much, much more

DraftSight: a free and cross-platform alternative to AutoCAD

Whilst Linux is an excellent system for programmers, it’s certainly a little wanting for people who deal with creative graphics. There are tools like Krita, GIMP, Inkscape, Blender and Digikam and so on to help fill this gap, but one area which isn’t talked about so often are CAD tools. As an architecture student and a Linux user, I can safely say that the options are disappointing. It certainly is possible to have a complete graphics workflow on Linux, but it’s not as good as on Windows.

There were always CAD packages around such as FreeCAD and QCAD (I believe rebranded to LibreCAD) and its various derivatives, but they were all slow and not particularly powerful. However for the past few years, I’ve enjoyed DraftSight.

DraftSight - a free and cross-platform alternative to AutoCAD

Firstly, a disclaimer: DraftSight is not open-source. It is certainly free to use and works very well on all platforms, but it is backed by a commercial company (Dassault Systemes), is financed through an enterprise license, and certainly has no obligation to the community.

However perhaps the reason DraftSight is so much more powerful than the open-source alternatives is because it has a very clear goal: it wants to clone AutoCAD. Unlike GIMP, which has tried to define a new paradigm for itself, DraftSight keeps users in a familiar environment.

If you are on Gentoo Linux, I am maintaining the DraftSight package and as of May earlier this year, it is available in the betagarden overlay. For more information, you can see this bug.

Life & much, much more – the workspace, and what’s going on.

Some updates. Both for newcomers to and those who have seen this project before, see the homepage, the explore page, and then finally, the page I’m writing about.

Homepage has been updated too:

And explore page updated too.

Hope you like it.

I have to apologise for only having the time to work on this very sporadically. Next in the to-do list is the apps page.

Uncategorized progress – Discover KDE!

For the impatient, here is a link to the new page, and for those who missed the last post, here is a link to the homepage. Finally, here is a screenshot of the newly added Explore page:

The homepage of GetKDE is essentially a hub with a teaser. The site structure itself is split into three sections, Software, Community, and Development.

Those completely new to everything KDE will start off in the Software section, via clicking the “Explore how KDE benefits me” option.

It is then important to market only what is relevant to the user – for KDE, this depends a lot on what device you have. KDE’s objective isn’t to convert users to Linux, however happy that makes our inner penguin, but instead to help people enjoy and make the most of their computing experience with KDE Software.

As a result, this is the page they will see. It’s objective is to make it clear what components make up a computer, which are Apps, Workspaces, and Framework. Different components will interest different people, and the availability of components are also limited depending on what the user is using. For example, Windows and Mac users won’t get a Workspace, but will get Apps and Framework. Mobile users get different Workspaces to non-mobile users. And so on.

The reason this initial segregation is so important is for several reasons:

  1. They are introduced to the branding jargon that KDE users, eg Apps, Workspaces, Framework and understand how it fits together
  2. This allows highly specific and targeted marketing in the next stage – no use comparing Kate to GEdit for a Windows user.
  3. Users understand the scope of KDE development that it isn’t just limited to desktops/laptops and are flexible to bend around what people use.

In other related news, the homepage itself got a bit of a cleanup, which you can check out live via the link here, or in the below screenshot.

That’s it for this post! More to come!

For those particularly interested in this project, progress is tracked via its WIPUP project space.


What’s up with & Hello

It’s been a while since I last posted about, aka the KDE-www war series. It talked about the current design, and how to improve it. The series started with target audiences and conversion goals, picked apart and restructured the sitemap, revealed an initial design proposal with clear-cut priorities, and finally analysed the effectiveness of design.

Since then, the KDE-www team has gotten serious about rebuilding from the ground up and has started up project neverland. However, I shall now be continuing the work on under a new name,

You can visit right now – feedback is much appreciated.

One of the most important aspects of the redesign is community involvement. is built publicly online irrespective of the KDE release schedule. This is so that the community is free to visit it any time and provide feedback and leave comments.

There are a few differences between how is tackling the redo and how neverland is tackling it:

  • The Oxygen team is unpredictable. Neverland’s answer to this is to design without employing the blue-coloured KDE, Oxygen, Air, or Plasma-themed elements as part of the basic design- that way, it will still be relevant no matter what KDE looks like. instead regards Oxygen’s unpredictability as a fault of Oxygen, and does use the three biggest things which make KDE’s brand recognisable as it currently stands: Blue KDE, Oxygen, and Plasma w/ Air.
  • is documenting its design process outside IRC. wants to be 100% transparent with the development process, making sure that the community knows what’s being done, why, and can voice their opinions. This means taking things outside the IRC channel, as well as into real life. This is because any change to a significant visual thing representing KDE may mean changing KDE’s brand. This is not something to be taken lightly. This also means that doesn’t follow the KDE release schedule.
  • has a much smaller scope. Only pages within will be considered rather that neverland’s objective of a one-size-fits-all solution unifying all sites, including wikis, forums, translated versions, etc. This means that a lot of content will be filtered out, but quality should outweigh the quantity.
  • is following the previously outlined target audiences and goals. Neverland is following a more rapidly developed, iterative design approach, whereas marketing objectives have been laid out from the start in, and it will follow that.
  • Neverland is the currently heir to Although will perform exactly the same functions as, most of the team are currently working on neverland. As such, is being branded as an experimental alternative to – and will stay that way until either community or statistics prove otherwise. will not become

Well, I hope you enjoyed it! More will come soon. Just another week until semester is over and then I’m ready for a sprint :) Updates are being dutifully tracked on its WIPUP project.


The kde-www war: part 4

A brief history lesson. The introduction identifies as a wall of text with a pretty frame and explains why there is a problem. Part 1 sets conversion goals on our two target markets. Part 2 restructures the sitemap to make sense. Part 3 dabbles a bit on concluding the design criteria for the homepage, and reveals the homepage.

In this part, we’re going to take a step back to the release of the homepage design from part 3, and talk a little bit about the science and justifications behind the design. Firstly, a quick note that the design was tweaked slightly after part 3, as the tweaked version can be viewed here.

All webdesigns are made up of three vital elements that work together to make a successful design. Keep in mind that these elements should be considered not just in webdesign but also by application developers.

Notice how the criteria outlined in part 3 addressed each of those 3 concerns directly. Now let’s took at how we’ve satisfied the criteria.

Let’s just briefly skim through brand – we have addressed this by emphasizing KDE’s visual identity:

  • The design has blue and white as its primary colours, which are KDE’s primary and secondary colours respectively.
  • Every single environmental visual element (ie – headers, footers, and non-content elements) on the page used visual styles from Plasma’s Air and Oxygen styles.
  • Every single functional visual elements (ie- the content element) on the page used KWin’s Air widget style.
  • All graphical symbology use Oxygen icons, especially to thematically link together concepts across the design.
  • The radical design choice of KDE’s first non-bordered layout corresponds to KDE’s philosophies of “Experience Freedom”, “Be Free” and “Breathe”.
  • The lightened fonts after tweaking now also corresponds to KDE’s aforementioned philosophies.
  • The iconic Kabel font is used for the KDE logo.

Now we can ask ourselves when we ask “What does KDE look like?“, as soon as we lay our eyes on this design, we can firmly answer “Yes. Of course! That is KDE!

Now let’s look at the content. Content should always come before function, as it sets the scene and helps our users understand what they should expect from the page. We start by giving the most important bite-sized factoids: what is new and awesome, for our existing users audience, and what is this KDE anyway? for our new users audience. We do this by giving a large banner to represent the latest news for the existing users, as well as a large, digestible (free from jargon) definition for the new users. What is more important is if we study why we placed the elements exactly where they are. Let’s study the eye-movements as a user scans the webpage – red being spending more time looking at it, and green being quick glances:

Firstly, let’s just jump back to reality. It is important to realise that people do not scan a page top-down, they glance top-down, then return to the top then proceed to zig-zag occasionally. This means that some people might jump from 2-5, instead of 2-3 (ie- visually oriented people). Also, people do not analyse in detail whilst glancing through – they search for vital factoids and discard everything else. These have good and bad implications:

The good – this pattern and step-by-step process to grasp interest is aligned with the goals/roadmap we outlined in part 1 of this series.

The bad – we are heavily relying on the effectiveness of elements 2 and 3 to provide the vital factoids.  These must grasp interest. Element 3 will target the text-orientated people, who will hopefully see:

Notice how we have successfully separated people from product, and are marketing KDE as a community. The user is immediately not looking at “Hey, download powerful software and a new desktop interface!” (akin to “hey, get free animated emoticons now!“), but instead looking at “Hey, I’m the most important person here, and something is happening which involves me. Something to do with powerful software and beautiful desktops, which are lovely keywords which everybody can say ‘yes I want it’ to. What am I missing out on?“. This will bring them to element 5 – to Discover KDE, and start their journey.

For the picture-oriented people, element 2 is our vital grasper. As the design stands now, it is obvious that the eye lingers longer over the left side of the image (put the more beautiful part of the image there, then?) but otherwise the image is completely unenticing and uninformative. It shows a rotated desktop screenshot and that’s it. This is bad. This should be changed. The blurb is useful though, as it not only says there is some sort of release with a really long fancy name (Software Compilation, anybody? 6 syllables?), but also zeroes into the single key features why it is so awesome. However there is clearly work to be done on defining a visual style for the header image.

Finally, let’s look at the function. What the user will want to do on the webpage.

This is a little tricky, as the homepage is a hub, not a content deliverer. It’s function is as a signpost and not an infographic. For this the design’s function is to direct users to the right page, and allow the user to understand the structure of the webpage, so that he knows exactly what to do next and how things are categorised.

We’ve already done a bit of this by piquing new users’ interests with the blurb and having their eye naturally fall onto the “Discover KDE” part. However let’s take this a step further by thematically linking certain keywords on the page through sequencing them in the same way, as well as using visual icons to mark their similarities. This can be seen below:

This helps the user understand the site’s structure, or three main “sections”, and emphasises their importance through repeating the sequence again and again. Thus the “About” and “Give Back” sections are already given less priority as expected given our goals outlined in part 1 as well as our restructuring labels in part 2, without entirely ignoring them.

This also performs a very important function of all design: the ability to give the user the impression that they have freedom to choose a path, that they are in control, but subliminally guiding them through a sequenced, optimum path. The user is presented with – yes – the entire sitemap. They can read through every single link and understand exactly what the page contains, but are still inclined to follow the three set paths for them. Also shown in the tweaked layout is that only the Community column is highlighted whereas other sections are greyed out – this will not be so on the homepage (all will be greyed out) but this helps users understand which section they belong in (other colour visual indicators will be in play later). This achieves the structural segregation that the original redesign was aiming for, without being too intrusive or clunky.

I’m going to stop here. Those were the main points I wanted to talk about to help raise awareness of the importance of design. I hope you enjoyed this series, and I’ve submitted it as a GSoC proposal, so if all goes well, we can start seeing things live soon!


The kde-www war: part 3

Just a quick history lesson. In the introductory post we highlighted several tell-tale symptoms that had a very big usability and design problem. In part 1 of the war, we discussed a back-to-basics question what are we trying to communicate, what are we trying to achieve, and outlined goals for our various target audiences. In part 2 of the war, we started to achieve the goals outlined in part 1 via restructuring the pages and site map in order to distinctly separate between the KDE: The Community and KDE: Software. In this part, we’re going to focus on the home page – the central entrance hub for new members, and how we can use design elements to achieve part 1’s goals, and still cover all of the masses of content that KDE has to showcase in a streamlined manner as in part 2, and even reenforce KDE’s identity in the process.

Now that we know what we want to achieve and the structure of, we can start thinking about the layout of the home page. The home page is – obviously – the most important page of the website. It acts as a central hub to link together everything that KDE has to showcase, it acts as the first stop for information for KDE newcomers, it acts as a publicity and news broadcast, it is the link between the various KDE sub-communities and communication channels, and most importantly, in today’s web-centric world, it defines KDE’s visual identity. After much debate, it had to satisfy the following criteria:

  • Embodies KDE’s visual style and branding – ie, the Oxygen, Air, Breathe, and Be Free. It should be a design that when you see it, you say “that looks like KDE”
  • It had to make people get KDE. To understand KDE not as a product and a software suite, but as a community. We want them to share with KDE’s passion. KDE has grown further than just a collection of apps and a desktop interface, and thus we can no longer be so shallow as to market it as such. We must follow our rebranding efforts to separate people from product, and emphasize open-source’s greatest strength – the community. We are a community, not a company. We create passion, not products.
  • It had to showcase our latest and greatest event/release/activities. However we need to showcase it in a way that people understand. Saying “Akademy 2011 is here!” alone doesn’t mean anything. Nor does “KDE 4.6 released – experience freedom”. Let’s change that to have meaning.
  • Clear segmentation between Software, Community and Development sections – to succeed where the current design fails. Let’s not make it a maze.
  • Absolute directions towards the goals we outlined – Goal 1: to become a user of KDE. Goal 2: Say hi and tell us what’s up. Goal 3: would you like to scratch your own itch?
  • Allow the user to understand how the site is structured and what exists without overwhelming them.

For this part of the war, I’m not going to write a wall of text. I’m just going to throw out the design right now, and let it speak for itself.

More to come. Let’s make a change.


SLUG Feb monthly meeting

Being completely new to Australia and since Malaysia doesn’t have any sort of open-source community whatsoever I searched around for a linux/blender/open-source group when arriving. I found SLUG, or the Sydney Linux User Group. They hold monthly meetings, and though I was unavailable to join their January meeting, I did manage to join the February meeting on Friday. It was my first meeting of this nature so I must say it was very interesting regardless of the actual content of the meeting.

The meeting was kindly hosted by the folks over at the Google Sydney office, which was an experience in itself. It was certainly the most open and personalised set of offices that I had ever seen. I’ll let a picture speak for itself. (Why yes, that is a tire swing there)

The talk was given by Dr Silvia Pfeiffer about HTML 5’s video and audio capabilities – which are, needless to say, extremely powerful. The talk inspired me to implement HTML 5 video support in WIPUP, and for those that are interested in the talk, she gave at LCA too and is available here.

But what was more interesting was the people. They were your usual ragtag group of geeks.

How unexciting to meet such regular people.


The dust has settled.

A while back, I got myself a VPS from JohnCompanies. Previously I had been under a shared hosting account by OpticEmpire (I still use them for some of my sites). I chose to use a VPS for the convenience of having a personal server to run your little life-hacks, for the learning experience as I inched towards independence with my webservices, for the flexibility of current and future webservices, and obviously because I, like most people, like to have control over their own stuff.

I ended up with Debian. I found Debian to be quite a decent distribution to work with, but all in all, it actually strengthened my attachment to Gentoo (except for the long compilation times!) With absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about running a server or all that magical voodoo that goes behind internet servers I managed to – within a week – learn about and set up my very own DNS server for a few of my domains, learn about and set up a postfix+dovecot(+squirrelmail) mailserver, set up the usual PHP security modules and webapps (eg: phpmyadmin), and migrate and my email (oh, and of course put up a Quassel core!). Well, well. *pats self on back* Oh, and of course, on the way learning how to use Debian (as the only distro I’ve ever used at a mentionable length is Gentoo)

I would have to throw some kudos at the JohnCompanies’ tech support – as because I wasn’t familiar with setting this stuff up, they helped recommend packages and pointed at a few documentation pages for me to look over. There were some bumps along the way as I had half set-up an email account (to migrate to) and thus their email got sent to the half-created email account instead of my existing one and thus a few email messages were lost. But otherwise things were great.

As for the installation proceedure, I ran into a few problems when Debian insisted on installing webapps into /usr/share/* and chowning them root:root. PHP modules such as mod_suphp don’t quite like this, and so I had to rechown them, and assign them to their own virtualhost (and add the docroot to suphp’s config too). Debian’s "solution" of running both mod_suphp and mod_php5 at the same time is, sadly, quite stupid.

So yes, the dust has settled and things should be working awesomely. In the meantime, I did also have some chance to play with photography which I will be adding regularly to, and you can view them here. Here’s one of the photos just to spice up this entry.


Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) – packed with goodies.

Just because I use Gentoo doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a little Just Work ™ once in a while, and from what they’d like people to believe, Ubuntu apparently does just that. You’d be a fool to argue that Ubuntu doesn’t play a vital part of the Linux ecosphere, and so despite my customiserish nature I’ve been watching that release date for quite some time and now that their latest version is out I couldn’t resist giving it a spin. Of course it helped that a family member wanted a dumb-proof Linux on their computer.

The main reason I was excited to try this release was due to their rebranding effort. Though a KDE-user I was excited to see how they had cleaned the murk-murk that you normally associate with Ubuntu’s default GNOME.

Download, burn, boot (a nice, fast boot!), and 20 minutes later I had a perfectly working Acer Aspire 4736Z running with Lucid Lynx. Sound, resolution, internet (including wireless!), webcam, and pretty much all my peripherals working out of the box. Well done. Kudos to the fact that I didn’t actually install it, but left it to my rather technologically illiterate mum.

Before going into the setup, the first thing anybody notices is the purple and orange highlighted colourscheme adopted by Canonical. It’s sharp and clean in a very distinct way. I have to admit that initially, I really quite liked the design (including that wallpaper somewhat). It had a sense of class the separated it from the age-old widget-like borders of other GNOME themes. Better yet, it did this whilst maintaining that characteristic Gnomish feel which I can’t really describe (you know, thick padding and such). However this doesn’t mean it’s good – on the contrary, GNOME’s bulkish plop of an interface lacks sleekness and eats up screenspace with excessive padding, large borders and ridiculously spaced widgets – both vertically and horizontally. It’s a mess. Upstream’s fault, true, but the large font size and the widget theme doesn’t make it any better.

What really contributed to the feel (in my opinion) was really in the monochromatic icons used. That was probably the sole cause of class other than the dropshadows on panels and slight compiz-integrated effects. The widget set wasn’t anything special, but the consistent rounded feel really contributed to the whole “smooth” look of the desktop.

However the polish falls short when it comes to the colours used in the widgets itself and icons. The widgets sport a hazy purplish brown throughout the entire interface, which really makes myself appreciate the clarity and brightness of my KDE desktop. In hindsight I suppose it was a way to prevent the harsh contrast that would otherwise exist when the dark toolbar and bright window background were combined, but all the same I think it could be improved. Radiance is lighter yes, but looks rather sickly pale.

The orange sported by progress loading bars and tinted across many icons (such as the folder icon and the close window button) is disgusting. It’s really terrible. Orange works upon purple well as a striking and clearly defined edge, but as a hazy blur (such as seen in a small area in the top of their wallpaper) it is a recipe for fail. Especially as I suspect the hue of orange used in icons was not part of their branding hue.

When using it for some time, I find that two things either will make you hate or love it – the size of the font and the default Ambiance theme. The size of the font by default is a shocking size 10. It’s large. It’s bulky. The rendering is decent but that doesn’t give it excuse to fill up the screen in a non-professional looking manner. I would’ve preferred size 8, but apparently dear mum who was using it wanted it changed back to 10. Getting older, eh, Shuttleworth? The Ambiance theme though on its outlook is rather nice may start irking you after a while having to adjust to the contrast between the light and dark. Navigating menus starts becoming painful and even though the padding helps, it’s not enough. Points for originality but no kudos from me there. I think a note should be said about default having the buttons on the left – it didn’t really affect me (I use them on the left anyways) and my mum (illiterate) but I guess legacy Windows folks might rant about their muscle memory.

The social integration is very neatly done. I had to watch over her setting up email and chats but it was surprisingly straightforward. Facebook, GTalk, MSN and email were nicely tucked into Ubuntu’s stylish monochrome status icons on the top right. Very well done. Recognisable, quick to pick up for beginners, and no need to wonder what the hell “Evolution” is and that it’d be under Applications -> Internet if you’re the sort of illiterate who believes GMail is the only way messages are sent online. The status editor is wonderful. I can’t help but really feel quite jealous of this whole status area, even though KDE is meant to be the “social desktop”. What a load of tosh. Thank goodness some work is being put into the systray for KDE SC 4.5.

Notifications are neat. Not as informing as I’d like them to be, but definitely better than the default GNOME notifications. The hover blur is a neat trick, and the dark background fits the rest of the tooltips and information providing bubbles.

Moving on to the default set of applications, I can’t complain. Removing The GIMP was a good choice IMHO, and the default is enough to give beginners a taste before they poke around in the software center – and on the topic of software, I must say it’s great how simple it is to install codecs, plugins and other software for beginners. Not exactly my cup of tea and incomparable to portage, but it’s definitely user-friendly and easy to start with.

On the whole, a (net) great release. Here’s to hoping that they extend this branding throughout the rest of their stuff (and please, clean up that disgusting website design they have!). For more information on branding I’d recommend this blog post for those interested – especially in the site design.

Note: in this review I’ve focused on their default look as well as their first impressions. Obviously everything is themeable but the point is that if Canonical is aiming to strike a certain brand with their identity plan, this is the stuff that’s going to count, whether or not you can customise it later. Of course, Ubuntu is not for everyone (me included, obviously, as a Gentoo user) so I’ve tried to look at things from their supposed audience’s view.

Kudos +1.


Tech tip #4: Copy a random set of files from a directory.

More for archival purposes than anything, today I wanted to copy some songs out of my serious mess of a music "collection" onto my microSD card. I didn’t want to have to choose and I haven’t rated my songs so that wouldn’t help. Instead I wanted a random selection of songs. I’m not a bashmaster (absolutely pathetic at it, actually) but this is what I ended up using – after symlinking all of the various directories I had my files under together:

find -L /home/drive/music -type f -name "*.mp3" | sort -R | tail -n100 | while read file; do cp "$file" /media/disk/music/; done

-n100 represents how many files are going to be copied. Hope it helps somebody! Of course any improvements are welcome.


Why is Chrome OS going to be successful?

People reading this post who know a little about Chrome might point at the title of this post and consider it a typo – it should read why isn’t Chrome OS going to be successful? I wish that this were true.

Chrome OS is Google’s attempt at an operating system, and can be described as a browser in a box. It looks identical to its namesake and contains little more. The interface is simply a browser window with tabs for separate “applications”, it’s applications are naught more than websites (or in true 2.0 lingo – “web apps”), and just to ensure that the user is limited as to what they can do, the filesystem is read-only. In other words – the Chrome is good for one thing and one thing only: surfing the web.

Why then, with statistics showing internet usage globally leveling out and laptops being introduced to more and more children, would a generation understanding the capabilities of machines be content with such a handicap as Chrome OS? It’s known that “simple sells”, but too simple?

The answer lies with the market that Chrome OS is truly aiming at: SMEs. With the Go Google initiative the next step is to provide the hardware that supports it. Most uses of a laptop in corporate environments are limited to document processing and web research. Given that they choose the specs of the computers, Chrome OS is able to provide this at a bargain. So when management has to give Joe down at accounting a laptop for his work, he doesn’t need to bother about licensing, cost, endless software debugging and maintenance – but simply throw (yep, SSDs!) a Chrome laptop at him. Data redundancy, “software” upgrades and whatever else the cloud brings is an added bonus. Yeah – it’s not a hard choice. It’s cheaper, gets the job done, and it truly is a “work” laptop.

The objective isn’t to throw it into the market as a whole or start from the housewives and grandparents with such a simple laptop but instead the objective is to turn it into an industry standard – an industry standard that works best when companies have Gone Google. Most SMEs don’t care about the drawbacks of using a cloud-based system either – this makes the costs of moving to such a standard minimal. Both sides win. This approach into the market is only one that Google can employ – and is the reason why Chrome OS can break in successfully compared to others like Moblin, even though Moblin has the same simplicity and speed.

Then of course some of the less computer literate (which is the majority of the world, unless you live under a rock) don’t mind using it either. Chrome OS makes the netbook what it should be – a netbook, and schwoop we have another player in the market. In a nutshell. The trick behind this is the frictional costs. The frictional costs of moving to such a system is minimal. I say this as a relative term in comparison to the costs of switching from a cloud-based system.

The conclusion is not that Chrome OS is going to take over the OS market. No – especially in large firms the costs of moving to such a system is unquestionable. However this approach will definitely break the barrier between lightweight computer users and Linux-based OSes. Whether or not this is a good thing for existing Linux platforms is still unknown and free for speculation.

Of course, in the future when our needs for computers far exceed this, Chrome OS is definitely not the choice for that generation – but then again, Google has plenty of time to work towards that!


My OpenDesktop Competition Submission: Wipup

Folks from PlanetKDE last heard me announcing my journey along the path to become a KDE developer. There are many ways to do this and unfortunately the path that involves learning a load of C++ and start developing applications is still making slow but steady progress and not (yet) eligible for public announcement.

But – there are many ways to contribute!

I knew about the OpenDesktop Competition for quite a while now and originating from the area of webdevelopment I realised that my latest project ties almost perfectly with its goals. Obviously being very much related to KDE development and open-source in general I wanted to share it here:

Click here to check out my submission.

Obviously the main way to make this project become successful is through community support. I really think this can be integrated well such as through plasmoids or plugins on applications such as Krita or Dolphin.

Sorry for not really explaining what it’s about because it’s quite difficult to explain very quickly. But here is a crappy attempt: It allows users and developers to showcase the works in progress of their projects and keep in touch through them.


Of course, if you like the idea, I would love feedback and voting :)


The Google Operating System – Chrome.

Read Google’s original blog post about it.

That’s right, my conspiracy theory about Google (orignally posted a good month back) has come true, and it’s going to be out there around late 2010.

Brief summary: Google is making an operating system (Linux-based too) with help from the open-source community that focuses on getting the user online and into a browser as quick as possible. The browser is now the ultimate tool on the system. It is currently mainly meant for stuff like netbooks (note this is a separate project from Google Android) but will apparently also be able to provide a good experience for any desktop setup.

Since it’s too late to grimace at Google during their drawing board sessions, I like to ask myself what would an OS be in a time when many of our activites are web-centric.

Most of the main problems I outlined for Google in my conspiracy theory was how they could convice people to change their workflows. Apparently Google has decided to give them an operating system. This interface can easily be optimised to make it feel natural to shift their workflow completely into what they can do in a browser, some tabs and the new shabang HTML 5 will come with.

I took a look at Moblin, another netbook Linux-based OS – one thing instantly popped through my head: this doesn’t look like any window manager, it looks like a website or single application. Something you might expect similar to MythTV. (If I am wrong please correct me).

The first decision I would make on designing a UI for Google’s purposes is not to have any start menu. Something similar to Apple’s dock with modifications (also with an auto-hide) would be great for optimising screen real estate. I would also integrate what I now see as KDE Plasmoids as part of the entire interface (as in within applications itself too instead of only the desktop shell). I would also ask myself what applications could be and should be replaced by web applications. Such examples are email, document editing, chatting, and social networking. What could not and should not be are graphics and multimedia editors, games, and system management tools. It seems very much now that we can split our activities into 2: if you want to make technology, do it offline. If you want to use technology, do it online.

Personally, I can easily now see how easily I can adapt my workflow to this internet-centric pattern.

What about you? What do you expect from Google’s OS?