Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Linux Setup - Meg Ford, GNOME Developer

Meg’s setup reminds me a lot of Dave Neary’s: simple and taking advantage of stock tools, rather than reinventing the desktop experience. Of course, given Meg’s GNOME work, she actually gets to reinvent the desktop experience professionally, so it’s probably a less compelling need for her when she’s not developing. Also, Meg mentions Documents in her interview. I didn’t realize it was the default GNOME document manager, which I don’t usually use, but which seems to be a great dashboard which integrates local documents with cloud-hosted ones. It’s something I might explore down the line. It’s kind of funny how, like many Linux users, I have all of this interesting software installed and at my fingertips, yet I haven’t fully explored what’s available to me. It’s a nice problem to have.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here and follow me on Twitter here.

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    I am a member of the GNOME foundation and an MS in Computer Science student. I contribute to GNOME’s Documents application, co-organize monthly Linux user group meetups and GNOME hackfests in Chicago, and help out with the Chicago Python Workshop. I’m working as a web developer while I complete my degree.

  2. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    I’m running Fedora 18. I use the GNOME desktop environment.

  3. What software do you depend upon with this distribution?

    I run the current version of Documents from git master for managing and editing my Google and local docs and for developing and testing the software itself.

    I use Pidgin for communicating on IRC, Tomboy for note taking, and GIMP and Inkscape for svg and picture editing.

    I usually use Firefox (with HTTPS Everywhere, Ghostery, AdBlock, and GNOME 3 extensions) for browsing the web, and Google Chrome when I need smooth integration with Google services.

    When I program for GNOME I use gedit and the terminal. For web development I use Bluefish. In school my primary language is Java, so I use Eclipse and JGrasp. I just started learning C this semester, and I’m going to try using Emacs. There’s a steep learning curve with Emacs, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to invest the time to learn it.

  4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

    I have a Thinkpad T61.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    I think I work on GNOME in order to help create the “ideal” Linux. It’s really exciting to me to try out new features as they are built, and contribute to the vision and development happening in our community.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

Meg Ford's desktop

Interview conducted January 25, 2013

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

You can follow us on Google+ here and subscribe to our feed here.

Friday, July 6, 2012 Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Parcellite and GNOME3: A Nice Combination

So I realized I needed a clipboard manager. For whatever reason, LibreOffice data wasn’t staying in my clipboard after I closed out of programs and I forgot often enough for it to become annoying.

I decided to install Parcellite, which I loved in LXDE. Parcellite remembers the last 25 pieces of text copied or cut to the clipboard, so if you forget to paste (or something won’t paste), there’s still a record. I was a bit nervous about how it would run in GNOME3, since the top panel is kind of off limits to everything and Parcellite usually lives in that top panel area. It installed fine, but it took me a while to find it. Eventually, I noticed it. Where was it hiding?

The bottom panel!

screenshot of Parcellite in bottom GNOME3 panel

Now that I know where to find it, I’m enjoying it as an option, although I wish the GNOME bottom panel would appear when my mouse is at the bottom of the screen, rather than making me mouse all the way to the bottom right corner. I can summon Parcellite with the meta key, but I still have to drag my mouse over to open its clipboard. And I try to avoid the mouse/trackball whenever I can.

Despite those minor complaints, Parcellite is a nice addition to GNOME3. If you’re looking for a light, easy clipboard manager, Parcellite’s will do you right.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Linux Setup - Jonathan Roberts, TuxRadar Podcast

One of my favorite podcasts, Linux or otherwise, is TuxRadar, which is produced by the editorial team of Linux Format magazine, an English publication. Jonathan Roberts is a TuxRadar host presenter/Linux Format editor, so I was especially excited to see what kind of system he uses.

Also, if you’re not already listening to TuxRadar, it’s something you definitely want to do. It’s funny, informative, and thought-provoking. And the European perspective can be especially enlightening.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    My name is Jonathan Roberts and I recently became the staff writer for Linux Format magazine. The magazine’s permanent staff also put together a fortnightly podcast called TuxRadar, so since joining I’ve also been a contributor to the podcast. It’s mostly about Linux, but always lots of fun.

    Before joining the team at Linux Format, I studied Theology at Exeter University. I also contributed to the Fedora Project in various guises, where I was known as JonRob, ran the Questions Please podcast ( and attempted (but failed) to launch a campaign promoting free culture called Free Me (

  2. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    I run Arch Linux, and I love it. It’s fast, always up to date and is actually the most stable Linux distribution I’ve ever used. It takes a little while to get set up, but thanks to the amazing Beginners Guide anyone can do it and it’s well worth the investment.

  3. What software do you depend upon with this distribution?

    I’m not that fussy about software and often experiment with different options to see what works best for me. At the moment, I write my articles in Vim, and I use Chromium a lot for research etc. I used to use gedit, but when preparing an article on the 50 best Linux applications, Vim got such glowing reviews that I had to give it a go!

    I also use VirtualBox for testing distributions or setting up servers/development environments when researching an article. It saves me breaking my system and having to re-install it all the time.

  4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

    I use a Toshiba Satellite laptop - an R630 to be exact. It’s a great machine, and it was a real bargain too. It has 2GB RAM - I’d love another 2GB sometime soon - a Core i3 processor, integrated Intel graphics and a Broadcom wireless chip that uses the open source drivers. Everything works out of the box with 2.6.38+, so it’s an ideal machine in my mind.

    As well as all those components, it’s got a 13-inch screen, is incredibly thin and light with a 3-4 hour battery life. Since I carry it to and from work everyday, these are really important features to me.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    Just give me another 2GB RAM and I’ll be thrilled.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Sure, though there’s not a lot to see since Gnome Shell hides everything! When I’m at work I have an external monitor and keyboard connected as well, hence the strange look of the screenshot.

Jonathan Robert's desktop

Interview conducted 9/12/11

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

GNOME 3.2: Who Invited Nautilus to this Environment?

So to no one’s surprise, I made the switch to OpenSUSE 12.1 on my main laptop, a Lenovo T420i.

The main reason? I fell in love with GNOME shell. Sabayon LXDE was nice, but tiny things kept creeping up, like clamz not working to unpack Amazon music. It was nothing that impacted the usability of the machine, but it was just enough to make me open to switching distros.


I still like all of the OpenSUSE things I liked when I reviewed it a few weeks ago.

I’ve been reading up on GNOME 3 and one thing I didn’t pick up in my review was that OpenSUSE has a curated GNOME shell implementation. They pre-installed some GNOME extensions that have made GNOME much better. For instance, OpenSUSE uses the extension that gives shell an option to power off. They also install the GNOME tweak tool by default.

Of course, that’s a little less necessary thanks to the GNOME extensions site that recently went live as an alpha. It allows one-click extension installation (and removal) from a web interface (as long as that interface is Firefox). There are some cool extensions, but I was most interested in the one that brings back traditional alt-tab behavior (GNOME 3 lets you tab between applications, not windows. To tab through application windows, you need to use alt-`, which just wasn’t ideal for me).

One thing that’s not so great about GNOME shell? The Nautilus file manager. For instance, to delete a file, you actually need to click ctrl-delete. Delete by itself doesn’t actually delete. Also, you can’t drag files into bookmarked folders via the file tree navigation. And apparently, it’s deliberate functionality. I didn’t want to uninstall it, since GNOME seems to have Nautilus do a lot of different things, so I just installed my beloved PCManFM file manager. GNOME treats it as the default, so I don’t even really see Nautilus anymore.

I wish the desktop calendar, which lives along the top panel, could read your Google Calendar directly. There’s a script to make that happen, but it seems easier to just have Evolution import the calendars for me (although it would also be nice if you could choose the calendar GNOME uses — I’m not a huge Evolution fan).

In general, I’m getting used to OpenSUSE. YaST, the software manager, is logical. OpenSUSE uses a lot of repositories, so I’m getting used to finding and adding those sorts of things. For example, KeePassX, my password manager, isn’t in one of the default repositories. I had to add a password management repository. And the restricted codecs are all in another repository. It’s a bit of a shift from Ubuntu and Sabayon, where just about everything is in one giant repository.

In general, though, I’m loving GNOME and OpenSUSE. It’s a very fast desktop environment, but also a very nice looking one. I mentioned the word cohesive in my previous review and I keep coming back to that concept. LXDE felt like a lot of nice parts that worked independently of each other. GNOME feels like all of the parts are in sync. It’s not a knock against LXDE, which is a great desktop environment in its own right, so much as its a tribute to OpenSUSE’s GNOME implementation.

Now, if they could just somehow extract Nautilus from the equation.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Review of GNOME 3 and OpenSUSE 12.1

I was curious to try out OpenSUSE 12.1 not just because the buzz on it is that it’s a great release, but also because it presented a chance to kick the tires on GNOME 3, which I still hadn’t worked with.

I tested it on my ThinkPad T43 (on the actual machine and not in a virtual one) and it installed with no problems. Everything worked perfectly out of the box (as a side note, on a recent edition of the Tux Radar podcast, host Jonathan Roberts credited improvements in the Linux kernel in making non-Ubuntu distributions competitive hardware-wise; where Ubuntu found early success getting hardware to work, now the kernel itself seems to handle a lot of that heavy lifting for distributions).

OpenSUSE with GNOME 3 looked great. Everything worked. Everything felt fast, even on an older machine with 2GB RAM.

GNOME 3 isn’t that different from the previous GNOME. The big difference is the Activities area, which is kind of a master dashboard area where users can search for applications or files, and see everything they have open, as well as access a program dock.

It seemed perfectly innocuous, though. I bound it to Alt-space and found I had a great application launcher and file opener. It reminded me of a nicer looking GNOME Do. I could just flip open Activities and start typing whatever I needed. GNOME 3 also allows users to browse through their menus, too, which I often had to take advantage of, since I hadn’t used GNOME in quite a while and wanted to poke around a little bit.

screenshot of GNOME 3 Activities area

The Activities bar, which runs across the top of the desktop, shows only one application at a time, not all of your open programs. If it’s only going to show the one program and if that program is already open in front of you, I would just as soon not see anything in that area. And the inability to see all open windows for a program sometimes caused me to have some problems finding a Chromium window I had open somewhere.

GNOME 3 also has some interesting messaging. Some website messages rolled down from the top status bar. Other messages, like when I inserted a USB drive, came from the bottom. I’m not sure what was controlling the top messages versus the bottom ones, but it didn’t bother me. It seemed an interesting, new way to inform the user about something going on with their computer, like when updates are ready or a flash drive is installed:

example of bottom messaging

GNOME still has the Desktop file area, even though no files are shown on the actual Desktop. At this point, distros really need to think about the “Desktop” metaphor. I get that lots of desktop environments want to keep the desktop clear of files, and it’s a valid choice. But then what purpose does a folder called Desktop serve? Why not just get rid of it and avoid the confusion?

There’s an option to enter in Internet accounts. I put in my Twitter credentials and never saw any change, in terms of receiving messages or in the behavior of GNOME. There was also an option to enter in my Google credentials, but I’m not sure what that would have done or how it was supposed to work. The Twitter non-action left me a little cold, though.

The font rendering also isn’t great, although the fetchmsttfonts package/script, which facilitates the importing of Microsoft fonts, seemed to improve things.

There were some weird things. Gedit didn’t have a minimize option, which might be deliberate, although Chromium had one. My understanding is that GNOME is very easy to customize, since GNOME Shell uses a lot of JavaScript. The funny thing is, I didn’t feel a huge need to change anything. The out-of-the-box experience looked great and felt incredibly cohesive.

The crazy thing is, after a few hours, GNOME 3 felt very familiar. Anyone who’s spent any time with GNOME will recognize this new environment. It’s not as dramatic a change as it may have seen when GNOME 3 first came out. GNOME 3 is very much an enhancement of how I used to use GNOME.

OpenSUSE’s GNOME 3 was so nice, it got me curious about their LXDE implementation. I installed that on the T43 but was left throughly unimpressed. Everything worked well, but it looked kind of flat and ugly. A lot of that is probably a result of comparing it to my current LXDE implementation, which is a tweaked Sabayon. But it’s also fairly obvious that OpenSUSE puts their energy into GNOME and KDE. I quickly switched my T43 back to GNOME, where I’d like to continue playing with it.

From a GNOME perspective, I’d like to check out some of the shell extensions that are available. From an OpenSUSE perspective, I might try and work with Tumbleweed again, to make a rolling release.

Finally, not to make this an anti-Unity screed, but just as a point of information, the GNOME experience was way nicer than my Unity one. Unity felt broken and sluggish, where GNOME shell feels fast and whole. As Steve Rosenberg points out, the two environments aren’t all that different (Rosenberg also has some nice GNOME 3 observations here), but the big difference is in execution. OpenSUSE’s GNOME 3 is much more polished than Unity. For everything that Canonical’s put into Unity as a front-end to GNOME shell, I’m not really sure what it gives you that GNOME 3 alone doesn’t. Unity feels like it’s grasping to pull different GNOME parts together. GNOME shell on its own seems to effortlessly pull them into a unified experience.

I’m not a GNOME person but even I loved OpenSUSE’s GNOME implementation. It’s stable and fast and well thought out. If you’ve been curious about GNOME 3, OpenSUSE 12.1 is a great place to start. I don’t see myself leaving LXDE (although I never see myself leaving a distro right up until I do it), but GNOME 3 is very intriguing. It’s something I’ll keep an eye on.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ubuntu 11.10: Looks Kind of Cool But Who Is It For?

I decided to try out Ubuntu 11.10 on my Thinkpad T43. It was actually my first time using Unity, although I had used the Ubuntu Netbook Edition on a netbook, and I knew the two had similar UIs. This isn’t going to be a huge, in-depth thing because I don’t see how anyone is going to touch the Ars Technica review of 11.10 (DarkDuck’s Unity vs. GNOME3 review is also quite good).

I was very curious to spend some time with Unity. I know it’s controversial, but I’ve been intrigued by the idea that Canonical is trying to give Ubuntu an experience beyond what’s provided by existing desktop managers. It seemed like an interesting direction to take.

While the Unity interface is interesting, the code behind it still doesn’t seem to be there yet.

For instance, to make any kind of change to Unity, you need to download and install the CompizConfig Settings Manager and then edit the Unity plugin. There’s a shortcut to do this, using about:config from the Unity launcher. However, after updating my system and installing CCSM, I lost the Unity interface. After messing around and even re-installing Ubuntu, I figured out that the Unity plugin was being deactivated by some kind of conflict. I reactivated the plugin in 2D mode and Unity was back. But I had never even changed anything in CCSM to cause a conflict. It seemed to be something in the update process that caused it.

The side panel thing is kind of strange. I would guess most users would want to be able to easily customize it. I’m not a big menu person, so it didn’t bother me. The application launcher is nice, but I was never able to figure out a key combination to summon the launcher. I would have loved to be able to use something like Ctrl-space to pop it up and open files and applications. Having to click a menu key just isn’t as cool.

The side panel menu also seemed to get stuck sometimes, where it wouldn’t recede after I had opened a program.

And I don’t get moving the window control buttons to the opposite side of the screen. That just seemed mean. Or else, Canonical is trying to re-train our muscles.

I think some of my problems with the Unity plugin might have been related to using older hardware (my T43 is over five years old). But in my experience, most people run Linux on older machines. In fact, that’s how lots of people get into Linux. So why not optimize Unity for older hardware? Unity has the 2D option, but it’s not as eye-catching as the 3D version. And part of the appeal of Unity (I imagine) is that it has so much visual bling.

The UI is an adjustment, but it seems designed for newer users who don’t want to tweak their systems. But how many new Linux users are going to feel comfortable in a system where they can’t change any settings to make the experience more familiar? Or one where they have to download a program and navigate a wall of settings to make simple changes?

And the technical issues I encountered were shocking. Ubuntu installations have always been flawless and drama-free. That’s a huge selling point of the distro. Everything usually just works. And whatever doesn’t work usually doesn’t prevent you from getting up and running enough to fix the rest of your system. But my Unity issues were pretty rough and required some command line work to poke around and launch programs. I’m not sure a new user could have known how to even begin to get Unity back.

Unity looks cool. It’s simple. It’s not about giving users choice. It’s about crafting a very specific experience for them. I’m OK with that. I think the global application menu is weird, but I get that Canonical wants the screen to look seamless.

But I keep coming back to who Unity is for. It seems to be for new users who aren’t invested in an existing desktop environment. But it would seem to be designed newer Linux users who are willing to install Ubuntu on relatively new hardware. How big a market segment is that? Plus, the technical issues are going to be a huge turn-off for new users. The previous Ubuntu versions are much, much, much more new user friendly. You install and you’re ready to go in less than an hour. Unity took me longer to get going than my last installs of Ubuntu, Lubuntu and Xubuntu combined.

I know Canonical is looking to crack the enterprise market, but is enterprise ready for a totally new desktop concept? Windows 8 is already taking hits for being too different a desktop. Enterprise thrives on the familiar, not necessarily on the innovative.

I understand Unity isn’t for me and I think it’s a very interesting experiment. But it still feels like a work in progress. I’m not sure why Ubuntu didn’t hang with GNOME a little longer, even if they avoided GNOME 3, instead developing Unity as an option for early adopters. If there were Unity packages users could play with, without having it forced upon them as a default, I think more users might have been more open to the Unity concept. It wouldn’t have been as heavily tested, but changing a desktop paradigm takes time. It’s not something you can do in two or three releases.

Canonical has been rushing to get Unity up and running and it shows.

Change is good, but it needs to be handled well. Unity feels like change that’s still a little bit broken.