Linux

As some of you know, I like Linux, and for over a decade I've enjoyed its power around my home and workplace. But always a "server", never the bride, erm, desktop. Once a year, or thereabouts, I'd fire up the latest KDE, play around a while; basically for as long as I could take it; and then kill it for another year, or thereabouts, smiling wistfully, thinking about the day when it can, at last, be considered a real desktop. As far as I can tell, that day is just about here.

Of course, this "real desktop" criteria thingie is a completely arbitrary set of standards which I alone consider important. No current desktop on any OS meets them all. So long as there is a nice fluid desktop environment where I can setup quick access to everything, then that's good enough for me, for now. Oh, that, and a quality tool for every conceivable computing task under the sun. Very few OS can do both.

Windows can, and I like it because it has Explorer, which rocks. it's intuitive, ergonomic, and able to keep up with even the most powerful power user, even on average hardware. Like any file manager, it does some dumb stuff, and has a bag of annoyances to go along with its killer features. The biggest downside of Explorer, is that it runs on Windows, and increasingly over the last few years, I've had this nagging feeling that every minute on Windows is an inch in the wrong direction. Windows is a dying OS; increasingly bloated and unusable, slow to evolve, unoriginal, and expensive. that's right folks, you are actually supposed to pay for Windows.

In what's been a helluva year, so far, I've made lots of changes. Importantly I made an oath to do less wrong stuff, do more right stuff, instead. As a part of this shift, I now; wherever possible; work on a laptop.1 I originally setup the beast with Windows 7, and after about three hours of that, exclaimed "FUCK THIS!" in a very loud voice, and browsed directly to the Kubuntu download site. I figured, if I was going to mix it up, I might as well break my Slackware fixation while I was at it. The Ubuntu family is the premier Linux for Windows abscondees; it has a huge user base, is well supported, major updates bi-annually (minor updates daily), and is available in brown and blue! Or rather, Gnome or KDE. I choose blue: KDE.

Okay, KDE is still annoying on a continual basis, but not enough to outweigh all the goodies! And of course, Linux is completely, totally free.

And what about those goodies? Seriously, I had no idea of the Universe of software that is available via the K[U]buntu on-board package management tools. You fire up Synaptic (or adept, or if you really must; KPackageKit) and Wham! Thousands of high-quality, peer-reviewed software packages, ready for instant download and installation, all free. Just type in some search term and whittle the list down to only the stuff you want. it's mind-blowing the first few times, really. There are tools for tasks you wouldn't have imagined in a thousand years someone would have their PC doing! As well as oodles for the tasks we all do every day.

What's best about KDE, for me, is the underlying stuff, and the fact that I've got it running on Linux, aka. "Linux Inside". This means all the tools I know and love are right there; mc, sed, grep, bash, and so on. And a desktop atop it all. it's like being back on Mac OSX, only better. You start to see your desktop in a new light; imagining the automations possible, the UNIXness of piping inputs and outputs, file redirection, and the rest. And a desktop.

Speaking of which; KDE just got better. Actually, that's an amazing understatement. In the last year or so, KDE has taken an evolutionary LEAP. It got finesse! And that's what a desktop, for me, is all about. it's where you work, so it's gotta be right; no sharp edges or clunky fittings! But KDE went a step further, and not only created a desktop environment almost as usable as Windows was at its best (XP), but added to that a whole bunch of extra features and useful underlying functionality. I'll likely pass on some tips at a later date.

In October, "Karmic Koala" Komes out. I'll wager that the suggestive "K" version will cause a lot of Ubuntu (Brown) users to defect to Kubuntu. The fact that it's light years ahead may also be a factor. Gnome is a pleasant environment to work in, gentle and unobtrusive. For many people, it's probably a better fit. But KDE is way more functional, configurable (I mean with clicks and stuff), and downright exciting! For your first few weeks, you can make mind-blowing discoveries almost every day! Like the first time you realize the power of those KIO slaves, doing mad stuff like sftp://root@lappy in your Dolphin address bar, and Wham! File system over ssh right there in your file manager! or smb://foobar/desktop/ to rummage around some remote Windows shares, or whatever.

Which means, in case you hadn't considered it, you can do sftp://root@localhost/, and; so long as you have your ssh server running; work with files in Dolphin, launch edit and manipulate them, as root. Kinda handy. Open a second pane as root to another machine, and just drag stuff around. it's like mc's shell link, but better. Just one of KDE's many built in "hidden" features. I could literally go on all day.

And of course, it's Linux! Which means that even if something doesn't work exactly the way you want it, you can probably get in and fix that. And if you're game, you can even get right down to the source code and add the functionality you want, yourself; such is the beauty of Open Source.

In other words, while it's always been on the cards that Linux would eventually be the best desktop, it occurs to me that it also has the potential to be the PERFECT desktop, because the configurability that YOU want is most likely on its way into the next version as we speak. And if not, you can speak up and make it so! Most developers are keen to hear suggestions for killer features for their programs, especially anonymous ones they can the take credit for!

And of course There's that spinning cube.

it's normal, with Linux, to have multiple desktops. it's one of those features you instantly miss in Windows after a spell in KDE (along with the Alt-Click stuff, of course). One desktop for home, one for web, one for dev, one for A/V, or whatever you like, as many as you like; and with recent versions of most X11 window systems, the ability to have these exist as a virtual "cube" which you can literally pick up and spin around. If you HotKey to another desktop, the effect can be made to animate the switch. Of course it's trivial, but to a man, everyone who's seen me switch desktops with the cube, immediately wants to know more.

that's how Linux will win the hearts of the masses; eye-candy. Let's hope that by the time the masses get here, basic stuff like hover-to-select, and find files will have been fixed, because it's those little things that will drive the masses right back to windows, swearing under their breath.

And that's KDE's biggest problem; in the push to include all the latest greatest technologies, many of the little things get overlooked, left unpolished. In Karmic, you will be able to (or already can, if you install all those juicy backported updates!), at last, open folders by simply hovering your mouse over them (in the plasma workspaces), BUT it's still not possible to simply select an icon in Dolphin by hovering your mouse over it, regardless of what the preferences imply. Though KDE has no problem applying this behaviour in places where it is definitely not required, like list views. Sheesh!

And while you can set keyboard HotKeys for just about everything, the KDE development team themselves can't decide on a standard set of HotKeys, which makes navigating preferences and other dialogs potentially dangerous. You get used to Alt-A meaning "Apply", then suddenly it means Abort, and Apply is now Alt-Y, or Alt-P. There's a word for this, but I promised not to swear again in this blog, seeing as how I used CAPS last time.

And while you might whoop with joy at being able to access your application's preferences as plain text files, that elation will quickly wane when you realize that they are contained in not one, but multiple config files, spread throughout various obscure locations on your system, and overlapping in seemingly mystical ways; in short; a nightmare. After a couple of hours of trying to get Kate to remember a session properly, or not ignore any number of your settings, regardless of how many times you set them; you'll be mailing idm; asking then to hurry up with their UltraEdit for Linux (UEx) beta, for sure!

Linux will never be finished. For me, that's kinda half the fun of it. I'm blessed with enough technical savvy to be able to scrabble my way out of just about any tech trouble, and so tend to take things like complete loss of video, or inability to login at all, for example, in my stride. But I do wonder how the computer illiterate, even average computer users are supposed to handle Linux. The lack of available documentation2, and ways to access the documentation there is, are serious hurdles, for a start. I guess I could help out there. smiley for :blank:

Here's an idea: That "What's this?" pop-up help - enable editing; wiki-style. We could all add documentation right from our desktop; after all, a person just figuring out what some new control actually does, is perfectly positioned to describe its functionality. We could get new "What's This?" help every day, with our usual system updates. Okay, I know I know, post it at bugs.kde.org, gotttit!

KDE is almost there. But there are still some things that Windows does better, and that annoys me (in case you hadn't noticed, the theme for recent blog output is; what annoys me!). And most of these things seem relatively small fixes, too, which is even more annoying. Of course, I'm beating myself up over not having got stuck in properly sooner, been more help.

I'm changing that, along with lots of other stuff in my life. Shit happens. But I wonder what shit would happen if I start posting 100 "annoying quirks/bug reports" every hour? Aside from getting nothing else done, that is. Maybe I could start with one a day, like blogging. Maybe I could start blogging like that, too!

So, the theme of today's blog is, "I Love Linux", always have. That doesn't mean I hate Windows, and I'm not abandoning my windows software users, either. By the wonders of virtualization, or by some other means, I plan to provide updates, fix bugs, and even release some new (to you) stuff, in time. But as I said elsewhere, other stuff must come first.

By the way, Windows users; most Linux come in "live CD" format, which you can copy to a pen drive (unetbootin), or if you really must, burn to a CD/DVD, and actually run Linux without installing anything or changing anything about your current Windows System.

Of course, it runs at about 1/10th of the speed of a proper Linux install, but you'll get the gist. Grab the Kubuntu Pre-Release, and put the fun back into computing!

Did I really just say that?
Maybe I need a Windows Live CD!

;o) Cor

ps. yes, Hirens 9.5 would work, but I was just kidding! And anyway, I burned that once I discovered GParted did a Live CD, too. I mean, wekl!

references:
1. So that I can work whilst swinging in my hammock, of course!
2. And by available, I mean the user can search for a word, and get back *something*. Having to install Gnome help to be able to do a decent search of the KDE manuals, sounds kinda backwards, but hey, works!

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