Friday, November 27, 2009

Multi-Platform is the Enemy of the Epiphany Browser

(Aproximated) vectorized version of :Image:Epi...Image via Wikipedia
The GNOME Journal for November was just announced, and it includes an article about Epiphany "from a - not so experienced - user perspective." A important quote from the article is
As I read in the Epiphany Manifesto, Havoc’s “main goal is to be integrated with the GNOME desktop.” For me, it’s interesting that the first priority of people who think and reflect on Epiphany and are behind its development is the exclusive integration with GNOME, and that they don’t feel compelled to make Epiphany usable outside of GNOME. This argument stems from the intuition that “the union of all features anyone’s ever seen in any equivalent application on any other historical platform” is not necessarily the path indicated to a good UI.
Other points in the article:

  • Epiphany is focused on just browsing (in the Unix tradition)
  • It's simple and intuitive
  • It has a private mode. 
GNOME needs more of this. More integration. More specialization. More connections between integrated and specialized desktop apps. GNOME is a desktop environment. It is also a development platform, but the desktop has default applications, and those applications need to move in the direction of integration, specialization, and connection.

Epiphany is in flux right now from Gecko to WebKit ... so it's not particularly featureful but GNOME 2.30 should solve most of the problems. With Tracker-store as the future back-end for Zeitgeist, I'd like to see the Epiphany bookmark storage move into Tracker.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ubuntu 10.04: Lucid's Papercut Redux Reveals Much

Screenshot of Gwibber 2.0. See egally Gwibber 1.0.Image via Wikipedia
There is going to be a second set of papercut fixes, divided into ten rounds of ten bugs each, the first three of which will actually be about Karmic fixes that didn't get into the release.
Round four will be specifically about Empathy.
Round five will be about Gwibber. That's right, Gwibber is going to be a default app in Lucid.
Round six is going to work on sound and video, including PiTiVi. Again, that means PiTiVi will be included.
Round seven will target since The GIMP is definitely out of Lucid.
Rounds eight, nine, and ten will work on notifications (fixing the location?), Compiz, and "etc.," respectively.

To summarize -- GIMP out, Gwibber and PiTiVi in.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Making Chromium a Decent Browser

Image by via Flickr
I'm getting ready to start another 30-day "The OS is Dead" trial in honor of the first look at ChromeOS (of course I'll do it with Chromium), and that means that I need to get Chromium in shape for the trip, which it's not by default. For my purposes, that means installing the following extensions:

  • Adblock+: You'll need to make sure that Chromium is fully updated for this one to work.
  • Facebook Enhancer: This extension pins the FB menu bar and side panel during scrolling.
  • Facebook Notifications: This creates a button with notifications.
  • Gmail Checker: This does the same for GMail instead of FB.
  • Google Bookmarks: This gives access to Google Bookmarks via a button.
  • Google Tasks: This creates a (hidden) task window on every page visited.
  • Jamendo Radio: This extension puts Jamendo at your fingertips. Unfortunately, it didn't work as installed and the links needed tweaking in the options.
Since I used the Zemanta Firefox plug-in for blogging, I needed to find something similar for Chrome. Zemanta's not the greatest, but it works with a feature set comparable to off-line clients. Luckily, Zemanta has a bookmarklet which causes the controls to load on supported pages. The system isn't automatic, but in my case, that's actually better since I can compose the whole post and load the components at the end, saving refreshing.

That's all I've done so far. I still need to find a video plug-in, I guess

Proposed "Ten Commandments" are very Open Source Friendly

A composite of the GNU logo and the OSI logo, ...Image via Wikipedia
Ars Technica has a short article on the UN-backed Internet Governance Forum 2009 and its discussion of new rules for the computing world. Unsurprisingly, these proposed rules are quite FOSS-friendly since they are modeled on the early years of computing and the Internet, when RFCs were the norm if you wanted your tech to take off. Take a look:
  1. Independence of applications
  2. New applications can be added anytime that’s a core value
  3. Permissionless innovation
  4. Open standards
  5. Accessible and globally inclusive—anyone can use it
  6. User choice—I can choose what applications I use and where I go to with them
  7. Ease of use—I can use it in my language, I can use it in a device I’m familiar with
  8. Freedom of expression
  9. The ability to change rapidly
  10. Trustworthy and reliable is one we have to work on; it’s got to be a core value.
Your hardware should be unlocked and you should be able to add applications you want to use. Those applications shouldn't lock you into an upgrade cycle and you should be able to change whenever you want.

It looks to me like Open Source Software is already there. The closed-source world is the one that needs to catch up.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How to Try Out ChromeOS in Virtualbox

VirtualBoxImage via Wikipedia
First, you need to download a VMWare disk image (.vdmk). Here's a . Unpack the bz2 file to somewhere convenient. Next, open up Virtualbox (install), go to File > Virtual Media Manager and add the VDMK.

Either create a new appliance or add a second controller to an existing device. You'll need to change the network adapter to Intel Pro 1000 MT Desktop in order for the network to work.

Boot to the new hard drive and try ChromeOS out. There's not much to see, but it does launch fast, even in a VM.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Karmic Issues That I've Faced

Image by via Flickr
Everyone has their share of Karmic Koala stories (well, not everyone, but most people). Since I had four home machines on different distributions and versions, and since I had moved to Thailand where bandwidth is somewhat limited, I decided to standardize on Ubuntu 9.10 x86 and use an apt cache to help ease the bandwidth burden for mirrors and the country.

My re-installations weren't without problems. Here are the ones I personally ran into. No hearsay here ... say. Ahem.
  • Flashing text and no X after installation, but only on one of the four. All four have i945 chips.
  • Samba (and network in general) discovery isn't working correctly.
  • Avahi doesn't work due to .local domain on the ISP's part, and disabling the check is no longer an option in /etc/default/avahi-daemon (which doesn't exist now). It's possible, but it's hard-coded into the start-up script, meaning that any updates will kill my change. 
  • One machine that tracked the beta had a completely broken GStreamer until re-installation.
  • Amazingly long Firefox freezes. I'm talking about over a minute. I've tried turned off safe browsing but that didn't change the behavior.
  • Brasero problems (of course!). Known bugs for eight months or so regarding DVD writes.
  • Totem plug-in gives DBus errors.
  • Totem Video Disk plug-in doesn't work since it uses Brasero.
None of these are show-stoppers for me, but they are certainly annoyances. One of these is hardware related. The others are just half-sharpened pencils.

Obligatory ChromeOS Post


Since ChromeOS requires Ubuntu to build the new operating system (and is based on it), I can't ignore it, can I? I may get fancy-schmancy and build it if an image doesn't come on-line in an hour or two.

About ChromeOS


Open Development

Boot Speed

ChromeOS in Summary

  • The OS is Chrome, basically
  • All apps are web-based
  • There's no permanent local storage and everything is stored on the Internet
  • But thumb drives are supported
  • Local config and cache are encrypted
  • File browsing is done from within Chrome
  • Music and videos, too
  • There's no printing
  • The OS is self-repairing at boot, probably limiting the customization
  • But it's largely open source so you can customize and compile your own
  • "They want, wherever feasible, to build on existing components and tools from the open source community without unnecessary re-invention. This clear focus should benefit a wide variety of existing projects and we welcome it."[1]
  • x86 and AMD64 are supported now
  • ARM support is "coming soon."
Here is the system daemon-type info:

  • D-Bus: The browser uses D-Bus to interact with the rest of the system. Examples of this include the battery meter and network picker. 
  • Connection Manager: Provides a common API for interacting with the network devices, provides a DNS proxy, and manages network services for 3G, wireless, and ethernet.  
  • WPA Supplicant: Used to connect to wireless networks.
  • Autoupdate: Our autoupdate daemon silently installs new system images. 
  • Power Management: (ACPI on Intel) Handles power management events like closing the lid or pushing the power button. 
  • xscreensaver: Handles screen locking when the machine is idle. 
  • Standard Linux services: NTP, syslog, and cron.

Security Model

  • Process sandboxing
    • Mandatory access control implementation that limits resource, process, and kernel interactions
    • Control group device filtering and resource abuse constraint
    • Chrooting and process namespacing for reducing resource and cross-process attack surfaces
    • Media device interposition to reduce direct kernel interface access from Chromium browser and plugin processes
  • Toolchain hardening to limit exploit reliability and success
    • NX, ASLR, stack cookies, etc
  • Kernel hardening and configuration paring
  • Additional file system restrictions
    • Read-only root partition
    • tmpfs-based /tmp
    • User home directories that can't have executables, privileged executables, or device nodes
  • Longer term, additional system enhancements will be pursued, like driver sandboxing

How encryption works

In a nutshell, each user gets an encrypted image file in a hidden directory that is created at her first login. Thereafter, each time she logs in, the encrypted image is unlocked and made available for use. On logout or reboot, the user's data is locked away again. On some logouts, the encrypted image may be compacted. This step minimizes data loss due to file system fragmentation inside the image.

Find out more at .

Is Ubuntu Too Big for Its Own Good?

I miei CD di Ubuntu ShipIt!
Image by via Flickr
After writing my post about the default applications in Ubuntu last night, I had some thoughts which Fieldyweb might agree with:
What they should do, is redesign that, take ALL the apps out of Ubuntu, other than ff add adobe flash and as many codecs, 3g ethernet and wifi drivers as they can get away with, then redesign the app store, so if you want printing, you install it from there, if you want evolution, gimp whatever you install it from there.
My opinion is that the universe and multiverse repositories contain too much software for Ubuntu to QA properly. The number of bug reports during alpha and beta is so large that many of them aren't triaged until long after release. The release bugs aren't triaged until the next version is just around the corner. Invalid is the natural response in that situation.

Ubuntu is a foundation-run project, but the software reflects on Canonical, which sells support. The Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life needs to take the lead here and move the MOTUs out of the official Ubuntu repositories and into Launchpad, Canonical's code hosting and buid server. Making optional software available in individual PPAs, will mean that Ubuntu becomes responsible for much less and can concentrate on making the applications in main, especially default applications. Canonical can work toward its stated goal of creating a worthy competitor to OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and Windows 7.

What would the process of moving towards more streamlined look like? First, there would be no more mass import from Debian Unstable. Ubuntu would be responsible for the basic application and drivers necessary to run the various projects. MOTUs should be encouraged to move as quickly as possible to PPAs. AptURL should have the prohibition on PPAs removed for Finally, the Software Center needs to be reworked into a front-end for Launchpad PPAs. Backports will be responsible only for core applications (and likely only for LTS releases).

In the end, MOTUs and their PPAs would be obviously responsible for third-party package bugs which are now blamed on Ubuntu. Ubuntu development would more closely model its rivals (OS X and Windows), concentrating on the core OS and leaving the extra applications to interested parties. Users would still get one-click installation of software. Users would also stop bitching about having to upgrade in order get the newest software. The default Ubuntu install would just work.

There are some problems with this approach:
  1. Making sure users understand how to get PPA software and that the process is easy. This is solved using AptURL and one-click adding of PPAs and keys.
  2. Enforcing a packaging method in PPAs which limits or eliminates dependency conflicts. This is solved by having the software center only search for MOTU PPAs, where MOTUs are responsible for limited numbers of packages. Python bindings for Coherence (uPnP) are handled by one MOTU and Python programs which use that binding are assigned to other MOTUs.
  3. Ubuntu will definitely get some backlash for supporting fewer applications. Hopefully, this problem is mitigated by the improved quality of the core OS.

What Applications Should be in the Standard Installation?

An image of a compact disc - Pencil included f...
Image via Wikipedia

You may have heard that GIMP and aren't safe for inclusion in 10.04. 700MB isn't much space to work with Why not question all the applications in Ubuntu, then? What should be in the default installation? I'll look category by category, but I'll talk a little about why the current defaults are chosen first.

Ubuntu is first and foremost a GNOME distribution. It takes GNOME applications unless there's a definitive reason not to. For example, Firefox was originally used instead of the GNOME default Epiphany browser because Epiphany was in a terrible state at the time, and FF is still preferred because it's a very poplar browser and serves as a familiar signpost to switchers. But mostly, you've got Totem, Nautlius, Evolution, and all the gang. Ubuntu thus looks much like any other GNOME distribution.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The questions about The GIMP are great -- they represent a critical look at what should be included. How many people do advanced photo editing? Few, probably. I would guess that the same can be said for PIMminess. Has the average user even even opened Evolution? Most home users handle all their personal business through web services like or .

First of all, UBuntu needs to decide whether it wants to be a home or professional operating system. Pro users want different things out of the box. Trying to please  both sets of users with one CD is an exercise in frustration. Take a look at the table below to see what groups I think want various features (and keep in mind that it's easy to install these bits if you are an exception).

Application Class
Current Choice
Home User
Professional User
Printing, Calculator, etc.
Yes, and more
Photo Manager
Bitmap Editor
Vector Editor
OO.o Draw
Image Scanner
On insertion of a scanner
On insertion of a scanner
IM Client
Probably no
Personal Information Manager
Not likely
Web Browser
Remote Desktop
VNC Client and RDP Client
Bittorrent Client
No (a hundred times, "No!")
File Synchronization and Back-up
Ubuntu One
Yes, but not this one
Presentation Software
OO.o Impress
Spreadsheet Software
OO.o Calc
Word Processor
OO.o Write
Disc Burner
Video and Audio Player
Music Manager

Using very rough calculations (via apt-cache show's size), the home user profile above would shave 75-80MB. That's more than enough to add more themes, a video introduction on first run, a video editor, cool games, or other things deemed useful for the home user.  The corporate user will only get 60MB or so, but you could then make a case for removing Tomboy so that Mono could be ripped out, saving even more space. What would go in instead? Certainly the would be tools for connecting to directory services. Tracker should be installed and Nautilus should have Tracker functionality re-enabled.

Ubuntu devs are constantly fighting amongst themselves about which applications deserve to be on that tiny, 700MB disk. Serving two different customer bases with one CD just makes that problem worse.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Fate of Photo Editing in Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala

You may have started to hear rumors that The GIMP and aren't safe for inclusion in 10.04 Lucid Lynx. "What?!?" you say. "The GIMP has been in every GNOME distribution since GNOME existed (sinceGNOME is written to GTK, which stands for the GIMP ToolKit)." Well, well. Good idea. Not likely to move forward.

The argument goes like this:
  1. Not many people actually edit photos.
  2. Fewer people use GIMP to do the editing, since the interface may be difficult for some.
  3. Most of the editing people want to do on photos is available from within F-Spot, and thus GIMP is duplicating functionality.
I think getting rid of The GIMP in the default install is a great idea. It takes up precious space on the Ubuntu Live CD. It's easy to add later by searching for "graphics editor" or "photo editor." Unfortunately, getiing rid of the GIMP means that F-Spot needs to be examined, and it has been in a terrible state for several releases.
  • It didn't work at all on 8.04 AMD64 at release time.
  • It had an awful "the sidebar has zero width" bug for two other releases.
  • It doesn't categorize or edit photos that aren't imported, even if those photos are in the ~/Pictures folder.
The sharks circle F-Spot and say "since we're removing The GIMP, let's replace F-Spot, too. $Foo is a great project," where $Foo is one of:
  1. gThumb
gThumb has been around for a long time (and is still the default for Fedora), but was replaced with F-Spot on Ubuntu several years ago. Are the Ubuntu developers going to admit that moving to F-Spot was a mistake? Are they going to appear to cave in to the Ubuntu users that oppose Mono apps in the default installation?

Shotwell is a new photo management app for GNOME written in Vala, and it gets decent reviews. Still, it's new, untested, and doesn't support tagging or real editing options. Check out the Shotwell PPA by entering "ppa:yorba/ppa" into the Software Sources -> Third-party tab.

So ... I don't think it's going to happen. I'd like to see this change (along with some others in the default application area), but there's not a clear path forward, and definitely not enough agreement to get a real plan.

My preference? Leave 10.04LTS alone, get it as stable and bug-free as possible, and look to replace F-Spot with Solang (install Solang) in 10.10 when GNOME 2.X gives way to GNOME 3. has put a lot of work into this project. It's a photo manager which stores tagging information in Tracker, and he's written a Nautilus plug-in which handles Tracker tags, as well.  Wouldn't it be nice if the information you entered in your photo manager was available to your other applications, and to Zeitgeist, as well?

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