Autumn Linux Round-up!

linux_distrosSummer is leaving, fall is just ’round the corner and the harvests are approaching with their pumpkin-headed harbinger in the vanguard. For me the season of orange-brown kaleidoscopes and falling leaves is always a time of recollection and deep melancholy. However, still holding onto the sunny mood, like the last warm gust, I decided to devote this entry to a round-up of several Linux distributions I found most worthwhile for both greenhorns and veterans alike. There will be numbers, but they mean completely nothing.

  1. Debian. The father, mother and grandparent of most Linux distributions, the oldest in this round-up. Debian can be literally anything. It can be an ultra-stable, unbreakable server (Debian Stable), an all-around desktop operating system (Debian Testing) or a developer’s ‘playground’ (Debian Unstable). There are very few things which Debian does not do well. Unfortunately for me, one of them is dependency resolution. In its attempt to be helpful, Debian sometimes links too many packages in a dependency net, causing artificial conflicts. This happens very rarely, though, and is swiftly resolved by package maintainers.
  2. Ubuntu family. ‘Descendant’ of Debian. A distribution created to show people that Linux can be attractive, fully functional and extremely capable at the same time. Also, that it is most likely the operating system model of the future. Thanks to its many flavors, Ubuntu is suited for most hardware, even rather dated.
  3. Arch Linux. The Linux of the people. Debian gives choice, Arch Linux means choice. It is the very essence of Linux (plus, a package manager!). It gives the user basic tools to create his/her perfect operating system and thorough guidelines how to do it. There are completely no limits to how far one go with it.
  4. Manjaro. The first-born of Arch. If Arch Linux seems too daunting, there is Manjaro. Many aspects of Arch Linux have been optimized and streamlined to provide top-notch out-of-the-box experience. There are kinks and rough edges sometimes, however this should come to no surprise, since it’s very difficult to build on something as do-it-yourself as Arch Linux.
  5. Fedora. The grand innovator. Entirely driven by its vast community of dedicated users, designers and programmers. It’s more streamlined than Arch and has its base in the legendary Red Hat. Truly, while Arch is geared towards tinkerers, Fedora seems to be the distribution of serious creators. Again, sky is the limit…but it’s always blue.

Finally, I have to make a sad yet necessary announcement.  I will be temporarily closing this journal in favor of a goal I set myself regarding Unix development. More on that in the opening entry of my new blog…on Python!

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Feeling Fab in a Fedora Hat!

iuIn my previous entry I mentioned Fedora and how it encourages the use of free software. It seems that I have underestimated the magnitude of its first impression charm and it got me hooked already. I finally feel committed to a specific distribution and I am more than eager to contribute by solving people’s problems (this I particularly enjoy) and reporting bugs. I wanted to share my opinion on a number of Fedora’s features that I found encouraging:

  1. Supported by Red Hat. While for many Linux enthusiasts this may mean a strong enterprise/industry focus and less care for open-source and free software, this is not true. Fedora is funded by Red Hat and serves as a testing ground for features to be later incorporated into Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), however it has a soul of its own. One that’s driven largely by a community of dedicated users and developers, who primarily care about popularizing Linux and free software. From a different perspective, one has to understand and appreciate the huge contribution of Red Hat to Linux development when it (Linux) was still in its infancy (1990s).
  2. Great out-of-the-box experience. Recently, I concentrated on Linux distributions that are easy to install and offer a useful selection of software to work with early on. I’m a bit tired of setting up new boxes from scratch (sorry, Arch :() and fixing setup problems that shouldn’t even exist anymore (oh, Debian and openSUSE…), hence my choice of xUbuntu, Fedora and the likes. Among the ones I tested, Fedora seemed to sport the most sane features. Reasonable software selection (especially the LXDE spin!), pleasing, yet not over-beautified desktop implementations with calm themes rich in blue, etc. Installing additional software also seemed straightforward and fast. Yum and dnf offer a much more descriptive output than Debian/Ubuntu’s apt (seriously, what was wrong with aptitude again…?) and speed-wise are on par with Arch’s pacman. Furthermore, aside from Arch Linux, Fedora was the only distribution where Skype worked instantly after installation (openSUSE, how about sorting those dependencies out yourself, hmm?).
  3. Strong and vibrant community. All Linux distributions have their communities, but usually they are somehow restricted to forums and/or IRC channels. Arch Linux had the aspect of Arch User Repositories (AUR) as an additional means of software-related interaction between users and package maintainers. However, Arch adheres strongly to KISS principles and the community is rather small. Fedora has basically everything. There are forums, IRC channels, a magazine announcing new development decisions or features, gatherings (Flocks), reports, etc. One can really feel that most, if not all, aspects of community are covered. It’s extremely easy and encouraging to contribute.
  4. The vanguard of software development. Fedora is the first to get the most fresh and exciting Linux features. Most packages are close to their respective upstream versions and there is a lot of contribution between Fedora and upstream project groups (mainly kernel.org) going on. The software is cutting edge, but it doesn’t bleed the user. Moreover, interesting new features are documented by Fedora Magazine in an encouraging manner. It’s hard not to get excited!

Currently, I am in a state of deep euphoria and I would like Fedora to be on all of my computers (and the computers of my colleagues, for that matter!). It’s also nice to see people wearing a blue classy hat around you. Emphasizes the ‘unity’ in ‘community’. Seems now that my migrations have seized, I can fully concentrate on my new goal – programming in Python. More on that in my following entries.

Tux Freedom Forces Against Monopolies!

337px-Fist.svgSince I started using Linux, and more specifically Arch Linux, I really enjoyed the freedom of the open-source ecosystem. Initially leaving Windows, I was afraid that some of my favorite programs may not function properly or wouldn’t have usable alternatives on Linux. Therefore, I greatly investigated the availability of software designed for specific tasks – listening to music, browsing the Web, gaming, etc. In principle, everything was there and in significant variety! To this day, however, I deeply dread invisible walls of computing restrictions, like copyrights, proprietary file systems, and so on and so forth. Even getting to know industry-oriented openSUSE required a bit of courage on my part. Alas, various restrictions are definitely present and their main ‘culprit’ is monopolies.

Monopoly is an economic term, and as such refers to influence/presence of a company/product on the market. The software space is like any market, hence all (most) of the same principles apply. Monopolies are established when a single company/product in its type/purpose becomes and remains insanely popular, because it appeals to the target audience splendidly. They [monopolies] persist, provided that they’re flexible enough to adjust to the inherent dynamics of people’s tastes. Microsoft’s Windows does it quite well, though as we know, not without ‘hick-ups’. Monopolies are not intrinsically bad. However, they often tend to be when instead of encouraging, they enforce the use of a product by restricting the use of alternatives. Notable examples again from the Windows-verse – proprietary file formats. Many software suites use their own file formats, rather than utilize publicly available (free) formats. One reason could be a choice of tailored features or a technical merit. This wouldn’t be a real problem if the competition had complete access to those formats, even if only for the sake of being fair. Obviously, this does not happen, because companies barb their software with copyrights in order to protect their secrets and accomplishments.

How do we go about the problem, then? It’s far less complicated than it may sound. After all, it is (hopefully!) in our interest to encourage the use of alternative products and lessen the presence of a particular monopoly. What we ourselves can do is:

  1. Become an example, use chosen alternatives and show they’re equally good as monopolists.
  2. Spread the word about alternatives, how good they are and why people should start using them.
  3. Improve alternatives, participate in their development. After all, ‘community’ means ‘unity’ and ‘unity’ means ‘power’.

Alternatives and competition in general are vital to the market as they encourage improvement of available products and their better adjustment to the needs of the populace. Contrary, monopolies lead to stagnation and lack of development, because there is no (or hardly any) demand for it. Things worth considering when going for the most popular product, because it’s popular.