Why Open-source Is the Model of the Future

I first came in contact with open-source communities when developing modifications (mods) for the popular Bethesda Softworks gaming title The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. While the game itself is proprietary, Bethesda released a number of tools that made it possible for players to enrich the game and freely share their creations. Producing various pieces of in-game apparel I quickly began to understand how a good community should function. The basics were rather simple – sharing and caring.

To me everything was simply a matter of socialist economics, applied on a very small scale. Let us consider a trivial example.

  • We have 10 craftsmen, each specializing in a different craft.
  • Each produces specific goods, but thanks to accepted distribution channels (the Internet), he/she can freely share them among all the other craftsmen.
  • As a result, each craftsman profits 10-fold by contributing with his/her own work and in return gaining access to products outside his/her area of expertise (SHARING).
  • In addition, having varying perspectives, each craftsman may suggest others how to improve the quality of their products (CARING).

Now, if we increase the size of the craftsmen population, gains increase exponentially. Alas, the human being is an imperfect one and at some point problems may arise.

  • New members of the community might be more interested in taking, rather than giving, contributing nothing in return.
  • Someone might find a means of personal profit and sell the community-shared goods as his/her own.
  • Out of ill-intent someone may sabotage the joint efforts of the community.

Fortunately, such ‘rotten apples’ are usually over-shadowed by the good deeds of the community and, despite being loud, quickly forgotten.

The gist of it all is that an open-source community will produce things much more efficiently than a company. The flow of information and ideas is less restricted and the community can function as a single, well coordinated entity. The only boundaries are defined by common goals.

Tux Teaches Technology

It has been over 2 months since I embarked on my perilous journey to the Lands of Linux. Many things have changed, mostly my approach to technology. I feel that through my numerous struggles I have learned a great deal and gained a completely new perspective. Now, everything seems so organized and comprehensive. To me a cell phone is no longer just a cell phone. It is an assembly of various pieces of hardware with an operating system orchestrating everything. It has a clear purpose, too – communication. This new awareness made me realize that all of this is thanks to Linux…

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Currently, I feel that Linux is less of a Unix-like operating system and more of a philosophy. Its use requires understanding of specific concepts and principles governing them. Initially, I struggled as everything was new and foreign. Then, I began to understand and learn. I went through countless Linux distributions, reading on useful programming languages, kernel architecture, drivers, modules, etc. All of that not only enriched my day-to-day experience as a user, helping me troubleshoot basic problems, but also let me better understand Windows itself. As an operating system, Linux requires one to embrace the inner curiosity of Homo sapiens. Naturally, Ubuntu and the like are generally considered user-friendly, but still bring about the need for a certain level of computing prowess. The Internet and the command-line are your friends. There is no reason to be afraid of them. Quite the contrary, both are very powerful aides. Sometimes I find myself looking for the terminal on my Windows working computer, because it is that much more convenient!

Now that I have gained sufficient proficiency in using Linux, I will delve further into its architecture and try to understand the kernel better. For a curious mind sky is the limit!

Love Is in the Arch

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I was intending to craft this entry for quite some time now. However, I continued to postpone it to let my thoughts and emotions mature and so that my final view is as fair as possible. After all, the distribution I will be talking about is a bit of an underdog and truly deserves praise. Who knows, maybe others will share my positive feelings…

Arch Linux is…different. It is not your run-of-the-mill Linux distribution with a focus on appealing graphical user interfaces or general ease of use. Arch Linux philosophy is based on two core components – simplicity and transparency. They make up the foundation of the Arch Way.

Simplicity of Arch Linux is understood differently than the majority would expect. It is ‘simple’ as in ‘uncomplicated’ not as in ‘simple to use for everyone’. This means that the initial setup is extremely minimalistic. In fact, the X Window Server needs to be installed and configured manually. Arch Linux offers a small initial system base from which everyone can build further to their liking.

Transparency of Arch Linux is…transparent. The whole system is governed in an impressively clear way. Configuration files provide necessary input and output. Even the package manager, pacman, uses very modest syntax (you won’t see long command chains like in Debian or Ubuntu), still being equally powerful as apt-get or portage.

Package management in Arch Linux also has a very interesting and flexible form. We have the mentioned pacman with its binary repositories and yaourt with its access to source-based AUR (Arch User Repositories). In essence Arch Linux combines quick and painless installation of classical binary packages with optimized compilation similar to that of Gentoo (though definitely not as extensive). Each user can contribute to AUR with new packages or re-editions of old ones. Others may then use those packages, comment on their performance and vote for favorites so that they are later added to the official pacman community repositories.

The development model of Arch Linux is something that requires explicit attention. Arch Linux is a rolling-release distribution, meaning that a single installation suffices for years and LiveCDs are merely snapshots of the OS and pacman repositories. This is not a very popular choice due to potential instability of the system. However, it doesn’t mean that all of offered software is in alpha or beta state. Arch Linux packages are thoroughly tested by a sizable community of experiences programmers before release. This reduces potential risks to a minimum. Personally, I never had any problems with the system, unless I accidentally caused them myself.

Summing up, I really enjoy Arch Linux. To me it is a perfect combination of simplicity, freshness, programming prowess and the finest features from other major distributions like Gentoo or Debian. It can be rather demanding, but the experience gained will definitely be invaluable when dealing with other distributions.

How Many Forks One Needs To…

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Some time ago I wrote about how OpenMandriva Lx and Mageia (both based on Mandriva Linux) have overlapping interests and how this causes the developers to unnecessarily duplicate their efforts.

The phenomenon is called forking and usually occurs when certain communities don’t get along in terms of philosophy or priorities. Forking is also a sign of freedom (in a sense), intrinsic to Linux Land. However, as Keith Curtis (the author of After the Software Wars) wrote on his blog, celebrating forking as a solely positive phenomenon could be compared to saying ‘Divorces are good for the society’. Recently, I more and more agree with that metaphor. Freedom should be sought after only to a certain degree. Overexercised freedom can bring demise to the community in the form of too finely dispersed effort…

Keith gives the example of Manjaro Linux. I believe it is a very good one. Manjaro strives to create a user-friendly experience of Arch Linux for the less computer-savvy. Unlike Keith, I used Manjaro for quite some time and was very pleased with it. What Curtis has rightfully pointed out, though, was that Arch Linux does not profit from the additional effort put into developing Manjaro, because of separate package repositories. A contrary example is Archbang. It directly builds on Arch Linux (uses its repositories), in addition supplying a number of components for better out-of-the-box experience (Opera as a web browser, Leafpad as a text editor, relatively simple console-based installer, per-configured X Window System, etc.). Thereby, we have two Arch Linux forks (though Archbang is more of a spin/respin) – one that strives to make Arch more appealing by simplifying the setup process (Archbang) and one that attempts to be ‘better than’ (Manjaro).

Debian is probably the most widely used Linux distribution, signified by the enormous number of distributions based on it. Unfortunately, many of them try to ‘re-invent the wheel’, out of the shear possibility to do so. I mean, honestly, does every major country in the world need their own Debian-based distro? Would it not be easier to provide repository mirror servers and language support instead, in addition to GUIs and initial setup for better out-of-the-box experience?

To be fair though, there is a number of distributions with a well defined goal that add, rather than subtract from existing communities. Sabayon tries to make Gentoo attractive, despite the extremely steep learning curve of its base distro. Tanglu brings forth a convenient aspect of Debian Testing by giving Debian developers the freedom to continue releasing packages into Debian Testing repositories, while Debian Testing proper is frozen prior to a new Debian Stable release.

Nevertheless, I would like to end my musings with a come-back to the title of this entry. It refers to a slightly racist joke concerning household lighting maintenance. ‘How many <put your least favorite nationality here> do you need to change a single light bulb?’ The answer is: A hundred – 1 holds the light bulb in place and the rest rotates the whole building to screw the faulty one out and then a new one in.

Linux – the definition of choice!

Recent events documented in the Interwebs, the Lands of Linux, and a certain article led me to reflections concerning the very nature of Linux.

Some months ago it was confirmed – systemd will become the primary init system in Debian. This has been a matter of general dispute in the Linux Land due to a number of controversies surrounding the development of systemd and its authors. The supporters of systemd claimed it is a decisive step in the right direction – improvement of system management efficiency. Many people disaggreed, though, and with good reasons. The way systemd’s architecture is centralized creates a single point of entry for hostile entities (viruses, keyloggers, hackers, etc.), thus questioning the intrinsic security of Linux. In addition, some have seen systemd as a feature typical for Windows, not Linux. To me, that is a bit extravagant to say!

On a different front – Facebook introduces new policies. According to the changes in the Terms of Use agreement, now “third parties” will have full access to information regarding us, our computers, cell phones, etc. Unfortunately, as with certain clauses in the current agreement, the term “third parties” isn’t precisely defined and could mean exactly what a “third party” is – a person/institution/organization/etc. who is not a side in the agreement. While not a fan of conspiracy theories myself, the Paranoid Pete in me boiled…

After those unsettling news I felt slightly depressed. Then I read an article by a very knowledgeable Debian expert and my mood improved. In my journey through Linux Land I completely forgot about the essence of Linux – choice!

I am in no way forced to condone to systemd! I can simply choose a distribution which utilizes a different init system, for instance Gentoo, CRUX, Salix or many others. In fact, I am currently considering running a non-systemd distribution at least as my secondary OS (about that later).

Facebook is also not a ‘must’ to me. There is a plethora of other social networks with tons of participants waiting to be befriended. The key is choice. Corporations seemingly create monopolies, but those are only monopolies of popularity. One does not have to follow corporations as long as alternatives are available.

Fortunately, in the age of globalization alternatives will never become a limiting factor!

Playing Happy Hippo with Makulu Linux!

Recently I stopped hopping distributions, because I found one that I like a lot – Arch Linux. There is a lot good that can be said about Arch Linux, though I would like to save it for a proper occasion. Meanwhile, I will talk a bit about a new/old discovery I made lately – Makulu Linux.

splash4To be perfectly fair, I have not used Makulu Linux before. I merely looked at it from afar since version 6.0. It piqued my interest as a Debian Testing derivative with a pretty take at the XFCE desktop environment. I am not a very big fan of XFCE, but I did use it apart from E17 when beginning my ‘new life’ with Linux. It was comfortable and triggered severe Win98 nostalgia in me. Definitely something to consider for other ‘Windows refugees’.

The author of Makulu Linux made certain key changes in the new instalment (version 7.0), for instance switching the kernel from a Debian-based to a Ubuntu-based one. I considered this an interesting choice as it could potentially yield a Debian-Ubuntu hybrid – the best of both worlds.

My very first impression when booting into the live environment was…stunning. Makulu Linux XFCE is gorgeous! The tasteful icon design, the fantastic set of wallpapers, everything! Since it was rather late at night, I thought I’m using a gaming GUI, instead of yet another Linux distribution. The visual pleasure was so great that I instantly suggested Jacque Raymer (the author of Makulu Linux) the following:

– Preparing an XFCE theme package of Makulu Linux

– Making a similar theme for the MATE desktop environment (my current favorite)

In all honesty, Makulu Linux offers the most visually attractive XFCE there is!

The other thing I usually do when trying out a distribution is checking the size of the repositories and their content. I admit it is completely perverse, though I really (highest necessity, you see!) need to know whether I can safely use my dedicated NVidia graphics card or should I completely forget about it. Luckily, the NVidia drivers were present in the repositories and I would have gladly proceeded with their installation, had this not been done already! Quite surprisingly, the drivers were already installed during the setup process. Although, they were not the only thing that I received as a ‘tribute’. Makulu Linux came pre-installed with a fine selection of software I would have to install myself later on anyway.

Unfortunately, I had some problems with NVidia driver configuration. Since I noticed that the complete set of drivers is installed (including the PRIME package for dedicated laptop graphics), I assumed that I can simply run the nvidia-xconfig command from the terminal and be happily done. Alas, nay! The nvidia-xconfig command ‘was not found’, to my complete astonishment. Re-installation (removal, purging, etc.) of all of the driver packages did not help. This was new to me as I had far more problems with crashing X Window System/Server on startup rather than key commands not being recognized. In the end I ignored the problem and did everything the traditional way – Bumblebee. This worked flawlessly as on any other Debian-based operating system. This might be an interesting case, though. Bumblebee is known to cause problems under Ubuntu, from which Makulu Linux 7.0 now possibly stems.

From there everything else worked flawlessly. After a bumpy ride on the reefs, my Linux boat could finally set sail onto the magnificent Makulu sea of infinite possibilities. There were some minor setbacks, but nothing major I would be unable to resolve myself. From a completely different perspective, I believe the greatest selling point of Makulu Linux is actually human effort. Jacque Raymer has shown to the Linux community that a single person, when striving for utmost perfection, can achieve much and often more than a team of developers. Two words – well done!

The Bitter Taste of Mandrake Juice

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Mandrake (also known as Mandragora) is a very interesting plant. The shape of its root often resembles a small, wrinkled creature. Therefore, it was considered by alchemists a source of various magical properties. Alas, there was a catch. The ‘cry’ of a freshly uprooted Mandragora could kill or at least daze the inexperienced gardener.

Mandrake was also a Linux distribution originally forked from Red Hat (as stated on DistroWatch.com), which in 2005 gave birth to Mandriva. Unfortunately, in 2011-2012 Mandriva somehow died down as a PC distribution (ah, that luck…), leaving behind several children – ROSA, PCLinuxOS, Mageia and OpenMandriva Lx. 

ROSA and PCLinuxOS steadily drifted from the original Mandriva concept, each gaining a new, independent identity. Mageia and OpenMandriva Lx were brought to life possibly to continue Mandriva’s legacy…

One of the definite strengths of Linux is choice. One is not limited to a single distribution, desktop environment, etc. I myself ‘hop’ distributions frequently, like a nomad of sorts. However, it pains me greatly when I see good deeds being duplicated and hence partially going to waste or remaining unnoticed. I tried both Mageia and OpenMandriva Lx, and although popularity trends favor Mageia, I can see why OpenMandriva Lx deserves praise. It shows incredible effort and polish from the developers. My LiveCD and proper installation experience was perfect. OpenMandriva Lx’s approach to the KDE desktop was smooth and surprisingly fast. Positive was also the selection of packages in urpmi (Mandrake’s package manager). Running OpenMandriva Lx for a few days I was very eager to stay with it or at least switch to the KDE desktop environment – so good was my impression!

Unfortunately, I could not say as much about Mageia. While the intentions were truly noble, my experience was quite negative. Every single time Mageia felt heavy and not optimized properly. I used only the LiveCD, because the installer was buggy and would take ages to do something other distributions’ installers could do within minutes. Surprisingly, the installer also failed to install WiFi drivers for my network adapter, while it actually properly recognized it and offered those drivers!

In that I saw that Mageia and OpenMadriva Lx are like two sides of a single coin – parts of a whole, yet not seeing each other…

There does not seem to be any major interaction between the communities, while actually there should! Since it is not such a bad idea, I believe someone has already suggested a merge. Again, it pains me to see how much both distributions would profit if they were one.

Alas, such is the sad and bitter fate of freedom…