Surviving a Two OS World
I live in a two OS world.
At work, I live mostly in Windows 7, with some brief excursions into XP.
At home, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I live in Xubuntu.
Keeping the two worlds in sync isn’t that big an issue, though. In fact, I’d say it’s hardly an issue at all.
The glue that holds my worlds together is actually Google Calendar. I’m not a huge Google Calendar fan because of some of its reliability issues. Calendars will sometimes go down for minutes at a time. It’s not a horrible, but since I use Google Calendar as my to do list, it does occasionally compromise productivity.
Digression 1: I have so many concerns about the reliability and uptime of Google Calendar, I set it to send a daily summary email of my calendar, so if the live calendar isn’t available, at least I have an earlier version from which to work.
Digression 2: I’ve been looking for a replacement web calendar on and off for about a year or so. I’ve yet to find something as good that will also let me seamlessly import all of my Google calendars (the .ics file is quite large, which I think causes some import issues).
I find that just by putting stuff I need to do on my calendar and then checking my calendar, I can move pretty easily between Xubuntu and Windows without missing a beat. And anything I can’t do on a particular OS gets accomplished the next time I’m on the one I need, since it’s on my calendar and since I check my calendar religiously.
I’ve discussed this before, but the AbiWord/Gnumeric to Microsoft Office conversion/translation hookup is imperfect, but workable. One OS concession I usually make is to send out files from Xubuntu as PDFs wherever possible, just so I know files look like I want them to across OSs. Also, PDF is now an open standard, which is pretty cool.
Obviously, with the cloud and whatnot, a lot of work gets done in the browser. I pretty much set up every browser the same way, so I never have to shift mental gears, no matter where I’m working. For me, that means Chrome for Windows and Chromium for Xubuntu. I always install AdBlock, Chromed Bird (for Twitter), and the Web Developer Toolbar, which to be frank, just isn’t as good as the Firefox version.
I put in browser bookmarks for pinboard and CiteULike and change the default search to DuckDuckGo. This pretty much gives me a flawless illusion of always working on the same computer, no matter what the OS is.
It seems pretty much every article about working across computers mentions Dropbox. I too am a Dropbox user and I use it to work across multiple computers but in a fairly limited way. I don’t have the Dropbox client on my home computer as a way to maintain a psychological boundary between work and home. I work with files using the web interface, which is pretty nice, but not so nice that I feel compelled to work more than I need to at home.
And that’s really all that it takes for me to work across computers and operating systems. It’s really just a matter of finding a workflow that works and replicating it across computers. The less I need to think about where I’m working, the less likely it is that something will go wrong.
Why I Love My Xubuntu Laptop
Last month, Jono Bacon had a cool post about what he loves about his 10.04 installation. I thought it might be fun to do the same thing for my 10.04 Xubuntu install.
I love Chromium. On my machine, it’s much, much faster than Firefox. Plus, you can kill failing tabs, rather than having to shut down the entire browser (not that that happens too often with Chromium). Plus, I love the Chromed Bird extension. It eliminates the need for a separate Twitter client (although I do have Pino installed). Chromium gives me a lot of bang for my buck.
The Xfce application finder is surprisingly robust. It can’t open files or directories, but it’s great for opening programs quickly. I feel like people were really into application launchers and now they’re kind of off of them, but for someone like me, who hates to take his hands off of the keyboard, application finder is perfect (I bound mine to Alt-space). On a semi-related note, the Quick Open plugin for gedit lets me quickly open text files I’ve worked on, without using the mouse. Quick Open ships with gedit so you just need to activate it. It opens up with Alt-Ctrl-O. Then, start typing the name of your file, if it’s not already on the list.
I’m not a big OpenOffice/LibreOffice fan. It just feels so bloated. Gnumeric seems to do everything OpenOffice’s spreadsheet does, without requiring me to also have an unnecessary word processor, presentation, drawing, and database program installed. The Unix philosophy is do one thing well and Gnumeric is a good example of that. My one complaint is that copying-and-pasting is borked due to some kind of conflict with the Clipman clipboard manager. Luckily, I don’t do too much spreadsheet work.
I know people hate Gimp. I know people think it’s overly complex. And they’re right. But after years of trying to work with it, I feel like I’m finally becoming competent (for my very, very basic purposes). It doesn’t win any style points and the usability is non-existent, but it lets me crop and size images pretty quickly and easily. I probably use it once a week (on Xubuntu but also at work on Windows 7). I’m grateful for Gimp.
I don’t listen to much music on my laptop, but Exaile is great for keeping everything organized, editing metadata, and for the odd times I do want to play music. Exaile is simple and I never have to think about it. It even picks up album art for me. I just wish I could get it to burn CDs.
There are probably some things I’m forgetting, but these are certainly the main things on my computer that make me very happy to be running Xubuntu.
Firefox a Casualty of the Browser Wars
I’ve always browser-hopped.
I was an Opera devotee for years. It ran well, especially on Windows, rarely crashing and always opening pages with pep. Even back when I had dial-up.
Eventually I left Opera for Firefox because of Firefox’s add-ons, which let me give additional functionality to my browser.
And if I had to pick an add-on that made me leave Opera, it would be the Web Developer’s Toolbar.
Eventually Opera did create its own version, but it just wasn’t as convenient as the Firefox one.
It seems silly to choose a browser based upon one particular function, but that was all it took to keep me a loyal Firefox user across multiple OSs.
For the past few weeks, though, I noticed a lag in my Xubuntu system. It wasn’t a huge thing, but menus were taking just a split-second too long to open.
I looked at top and saw firefox-bin taking up a decent amount of memory and CPU.
And that’s when I decided I should probably leave Firefox for a while, just to see if my set-up became more responsive.
I already had Chrome so I switched to that as my main Xubuntu browser and it’s been pretty great. It’s quick. There’s no system lag. And best of all, there’s even a decent developer’s toolbar.
Even better, Chromed Bird, a Chrome Twitter extension, is really nice. Even nicer than EchoFon, my previous browser-based Twitter client (and one that decided to stop supporting Linux, I might add).
The main issue with Chrome is that I’ve been trying to dial back my dependency upon Google (even as I use it for my RSS feeds, my calendar, my email, and my site analytics). Luckily, Chrome is configurable enough to use another search engine as the default search in the address bar. In my case, I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my first search option. Plus, I realized Chromium, a slightly less privacy-invasive version of Chrome, is in the repositories, so I switched to that.
I run a virtual Lubuntu and the first thing you notice once it’s running is that Firefox isn’t installed. The default browser is Chromium. At first I thought it was kind of odd, but now I see why a distro, especially one like Lubuntu that prides on being fast and light, would opt for Chromium over Firefox.
Firefox is getting too big and slow for its own good and I think we might be a few iterations away from Chromium becoming the default browser for a lot more Linux distributions.
At the same time, I realize these things are cyclical, so I’m open to the possibility Firefox will one day become less resource-hungry and Chrome might start to bog down.
When Internet Explorer won the browser wars, browser development stagnated for a long time. It’s nice to see the war picking up again.