Thursday, April 29, 2010

GNOME Shell preview

I mentioned earlier that GNOME 2.30 includes a preview of the upcoming GNOME Shell. To get this working under Fedora 13beta is very simple: you just select the GNOME Shell package via the standard "Add/Remove Software".

Since it's intended as a preview, not as a standard desktop replacement, you need to run this manually from GNOME (via a terminal window, for example.) I've experimented with it, and I like what I have seen, so far.

The GNOME project has screenshots, and a few videos, showing the new GNOME Shell in action. The version that I have is pretty close to these; the screenshots and videos are up to a year old now.

The GNOME Shell will be part of the standard desktop when GNOME 3 is eventually released, currently scheduled for September 2010.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fedora 13 coming soon!

If you have been following my recent posts about Fedora 13beta, you may be interested to know that Fedora 13 is coming soon! The final release is currently due on Tuesday, May 18 2010.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A peek into Fedora 13beta

It's been about a week since I wrote my Fedora 13beta mini-review. A user asked for screenshots of Shotwell and Déjà Dup, so I thought I'd oblige with this post.

First, a few notes:

I reported in my mini-review that the beta is using GNOME 2.29. The day after I wrote that, I installed a bunch of updates to my system, and GNOME 2.30 was among them.

Color profile support still requires a calibration device to generate a profile for you. One that has been recommended to me is the Datacolor Spyder, to create a color profile of your monitor. The Spyder 3 Express costs around $90. It is useful to calibrate your monitor at least every 6 months or so, since the cold cathode backlight on your LCD changes color as it ages.

Managing digital photos:

In previous releases, I'd used GIMP to edit all my digital photos (remove red-eye, etc.) Now, I'm switching to Shotwell. It's that good. Here's a sample album, showing some photos of my cat:


Someone posted a comment earlier, expressing concern that Shotwell requires importing your photos before you can edit them. This is not the case. You can right-click on any photo in GNOME, and "Open with Shotwell Photo Viewer". From there, you have access to all the photo editing tools, and I used this feature to crop a photo a friend had taken of me.

It's easy! You can choose the crop to be unconstrained, or you can use a pre-set aspect ratio and resize the range appropriately.

Note there is no "resize" function in Shotwell. That's a function of the "export". When you publish your photos online (Shotwell supports Facebook, Flickr, Picasa) you can choose a size for your photos.

Backing up your data:

I was really excited to try out Déjà Dup. It's a new backup tool that should make life a lot easier. With it, you can backup to any storage that GNOME can use (local disk, external hard drive, SSH/SFTP, FTP, Windows share, WebDAV, etc.) or directly to Amazon's S3 cloud storage. Everything is encrypted and compressed, and backups are such that you can restore from any particular snapshot.

Déjà Dup has an interface that's simple to use:


Once you have made a successful backup, Déjà Dup asks you if you want to schedule this backup for another time. I have my backups set for "weekly", to an SSH/SFTP host on my home network. It just runs on its own, and GNOME gives me a small warning beforehand so I can opt to cancel the backup if I'd prefer.

Restoring files is very straightforward, although it lacks the really cool interface from Apple's Time Machine. You can choose to overwrite your existing files with the backup copy, or restore to a new location:


There's even an option in GNOME to right-click on a file and revert to a previous version (via Déjà Dup.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Making Linux act like Windows

It's as easy as a cron job.

Although to be honest, Windows hasn't randomly rebooted on me in a very long time. I don't recall seeing this behaviour in Windows 7. But it still happened a few times in Windows Vista, and of course in Windows XP.

These days, to get Linux to better mimic Windows behaviour, you'd need to write a mod to the software update tool - so that between downloading the patches and actually installing them, you were forced to shut down and reboot.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fedora 13beta mini-review

Fedora 13beta was released a few days ago, and since I'm on vacation this week, I grabbed it right away and installed it on my USB flash drive that boots Linux. I thought I'd post my first impressions:

First, the install process:

The installer has gotten some major improvements, which now give you more options for how to install on a hard drive with another operating system. This should make it easier for current Windows users to try out Linux.

In previous releases, you only had the option to use the space from a previous Linux install, use just the free space on the drive, or blow away everything and use the whole disk. Now, you can also opt to shrink an existing operating system and use the space that's left over. Basically, this uses an NTFS tool to non-destructively resize a Windows filesystem, [hopefully] leaving enough room to install Linux.

But in my case, I already had Linux installed to my USB flash drive, so I just re-used the space on that. Actually, I did a "Custom" install, and told it to re-use my existing partitions (but not to reformat my encrypted /home partition, but to use it as-is.)

The install process is very fast, even though the Fedora 13beta LiveCD is a bit bigger than will fit on a CDROM (this will be fixed by the time Fedora 13 is officially released, in May.) From start to finish, it took about 15-20 minutes to install Linux.

And the changes:

The user interface has gotten an update, as well. One thing that became immediately obvious is the resizeable mouse pointer. I recall that, with previous releases, you could choose between a "normal size" mouse pointer, or a larger one (for example, if you had poor vision.) Now, the mouse pointer is customizable as part of the theme (under "Appearance - Customize - Pointer") and you can scale it to the size you want. I prefer the smallest pointer size, in white. The default is a sort of dark grey.

The desktop icons have also been refreshed. The icons are similar to the previous releases, but have a more modern look to them. I like it a lot:

(Click to enlarge)

Note that I haven't created a "Demo User" account for taking screenshots, so this is using my own desktop. I've hidden my username, but otherwise this is the standard Fedora 13beta desktop. I'm using all the defaults.

The beta is using GNOME 2.29, not GNOME 2.30, but it's been very stable so far.

New features:

There's a new color profile tool available, where you can install an ICC file to set the color profile for your display, scanner, or digital camera. My laptop screen seems to do okay, so I haven't installed an ICC file, but I did experiment a bit with the provided presets, just to see what it did. Sure enough, it adjusts the color displayed on my screen. This will probably be very useful to people with displays whose colors tend to drift, or for those who do professional work with digital media (photos, video, etc.)

If you use an NVIDIA card, there's experimental 3D support via the Nouveau driver. But I have a different video card, so I'm just commenting on that for you.

For me, one of the most interesting features is the new photo manager. GThumb has been replaced by Shotwell. To test, I took some pictures of my cat, and easily imported them from the camera into Shotwell with a single click. From there, I could edit the photos, crop, resize, etc. Here's the feature list:
  • import photos from any digital camera supported by gPhoto
  • automatically organize events containing photos taken at the same time
  • use tags to organize your photo collection
  • edit non-destructively when altering photos, without ruining originals or using disk space for each copy
  • publish photos to Facebook, Flickr or Picasa
  • one-click auto-enhancement
  • rotate, mirror, and crop photos
  • reduce red-eye and adjust the exposure, saturation, tint, and temperature of your photos
  • edit any photo, even if it's not imported to the Shotwell library
Most impressively, after editing a few photos, I was still able to go back to a photo I'd worked on earlier, and undo some of the changes I'd made without undoing any of the work on the other photos. When I was done, Shotwell let me automatically publish my photos to my Facebook and Google Picasa web albums.

In previous releases, I'd used GIMP to edit all my digital photos (remove red-eye, etc.) Now, I'm switching to Shotwell. It's that good.

But looking through the list of changes in Fedora 13, I'm really excited to try out Déjà Dup. It's a new backup tool that should make life a lot easier. With it, you can do local or remote backups, including to Amazon's S3 cloud storage. Everything is encrypted and compressed, and backups are such that you can restore from any particular snapshot.

If Déjà Dup sounds familiar to you Mac users, it should. I have a Mac at home, too, and Time Machine has helped save me from myself more than once. "I really need that file from 6 months ago." It's there. I'm curious to see how Déjà Dup fares.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On Virtual Desktops

Virtual desktops can help reduce desktop clutter, where you have too many windows open to keep track of them all. Each virtual desktop becomes a separate workspace, to help you organize your work tasks more effectively.

When I ran Linux at work, I used to open my email client on one virtual desktop, my web browser in another, and my OpenOffice documents in a third desktop. This was especially useful when writing a document that required referring to other Word or Excel files. I could open all the files at once, and keep them open on the same virtual desktop, making it much easier to switch between them.

Even Mac OS X supports virtual desktops natively, through Spaces. This is basically the same thing as on Linux, except you have to press a hotkey to select a different virtual desktop.

So why is it that Windows still does not have a virtual desktop manager? I'm currently running Windows 7, and this very useful feature is missing. I've been using virtual desktops under Linux since 1993/1994, and Apple has supported them since Mac OS 10.5. But Microsoft hasn't gotten there yet, I guess. It's 2010, but still no virtual desktops in Windows?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Windows 7 won't power off

Maybe I'm bitching about a bug, but this one happens often enough that I don't think it's intermittent behavior, so it's fair game. Most times (read: not all the time, but a lot of the time) I try to "Shutdown" my Windows 7 laptop, Windows goes through the motions - but doesn't actually power off. I have reached the point where I watch for when Windows should have powered off, then just pull the plug.

Note that I don't usually leave the battery in the laptop when I am at work. This is a Dell D430 laptop, and it's connected via a mini-dock when I'm at the office. There's not much ventilation in the dock, so when the battery is left in, the system gets really hot. Easy solution: I take out the battery when I put the laptop into the dock.

But Windows only fails to power off since I moved to Windows 7. This wasn't a problem with Windows XP or Windows Vista. And it is never an issue when I run Linux (from a USB flash drive) on the same hardware.

People sometimes complain that Linux doesn't support this or that hardware feature on their computer, so that's why they don't use Linux. But why does the latest version of Windows not work with this basic feature of laptops?

So I'll ask you guys: What is going on here? Any suggestions for what Windows is (or is not) doing, that I can fix?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Restart to finish installing updates

I got one of those "Click here to install important updates" in Windows today, and since it said I could continue using Windows while it installed the patches, I went ahead and clicked on it. I've mentioned before that I'm confused about how Windows installs updates, because sometimes it can install updates with me using the system - and sometimes it lies to you and isn't able to install updates because you are still using Windows.

Now I'm confused again. If Windows Update said I can keep using Windows while it installs updates for me, then why does it tell me I need to "Restart now to finish installing updates"?

This doesn't make any sense. I have complained in other posts that there should be a "flag" in the updates to say you can only install such-and-such updates when you shutdown. Now I think there needs to be a "flag" that says you will need to reboot to install an update.

Linux has a neat feature in the update program that flags which patches will require you to reboot afterward (like, for a kernel update) and which will require you to logout before the change will take effect (some GNOME updates, for example.) This is very basic functionality, and has helped me decide maybe to delay installing an update until I'm ready to shut down.

But on Windows, I guess I'm supposed to reboot. Maybe it's been long enough that I should take this as a given with Windows.

You know, I'm only trying to get work done here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

GNOME 2.30

For those of you following GNOME, the new GNOME 2.30 is now available. I'm looking forward to trying out some of these new features: the file manager has new improvements, including a new split view mode; the updated Epiphany browser; remote connections; and iPod device support, via the libimobiledevice library ... and of course the preview for GNOME Shell.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Microsoft fails the standards test

There's an interesting post over at Alex Brown's blog: Microsoft Fails the Standards Test. Alex discusses the Microsoft Office Open XML ("OOXML") file format in the forthcoming Office 2010 suite. In brief, Microsoft promised that Office 2010 would implement the ISO-approved standard for Open XML - that is the "Strict" version. Alex responds:

On this count Microsoft seems set for failure. In its pre-release form Office 2010 supports not the approved Strict variant of OOXML, but the very format the global community rejected in September 2007, and subsequently marked as not for use in new documents – the Transitional variant. Microsoft are behaving as if the JTC 1 standardisation process never happened, and using technologies (like VML) in a new product which even the text of the Standard itself describes as “deprecated” and “included […] for legacy reasons only” (see ISO/IEC 29500-1:2008, clause M.5.1).

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