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Showing posts from October, 2007

Macbook Ubuntu Woes, back to OS X

Well, for what it's worth, I've switched my MacBook from Ubuntu Linux back to OS X. Ubuntu Linux worked, but had lots of little problems:The wireless driver worked, but it's range and speed was much less than under OS X. For example, sitting on the couch in my living room I got 4 bars with OS X but just two bars with Ubuntu. (Now, of course, the two operating systems could be reporting the same information in different ways. But actual network activities OS X seems faster and more reliable.)The connectivity to Windows file shares is much more reliable. With Ubuntu I could not reliably use VLC to play AVI movies off of a Windows Vista file share. The AVI movies would always timeout sometime in the first few minutes of play. With OS X I have no problem.I couldn't figure out how to get suspend and resume to work right in Ubuntu. As a result, battery life was not as good.The trackpad never felt good. And a single-button computer will always be a second-class citizen in Lin…

A Paper Leopard

I am disappointed by the new version of Apple OS X that was released this weekend. The UI has gone backwards in several areas. In particular, the translucent menus are hard to read, and the default "space theme" wall paper is ugly. So far it feels like a service pack with a bonus backup program.
I suspect that Apple is suffering from the same problem that Microsoft was with Vista, namely  "How do you improve on a very good existing product?" In addition, I suspect the company's attention over the past year was focused on developing the iPhone, and perhaps not enough attention was paid to Leopard.

Still, I'm not sure what they could have done better -- Desktop OSs are pretty much of a solved problem.  But I suspect that as the hype wears off people will start to question whether Leopard is a significant improvement.

Ubuntu Studio - nice idea, poor execution

Ubuntu Studio is a nice idea in theory, but the execution is lacking. The goal is to create a version of Ubuntu optimized for media creation by:
Bundling the best available open-source media creation tools.Using the real-time Linux kernel, for reduced latency when mixing audio.Using a desktop color scheme that doesn't make artistic people ill.The problem is that there are a lot of rough edges:
By using a non-standard kernel, the release has problems supporting wireless hardware, such as the wireless hardware present on my first-gen Intel Macbook.By using a cool-but-low-contrast color scheme, the UI is difficult to read on a screen-dimmed laptop.Some of the bundled free content creation tools are pretty weak compared to the commercial equivalents. (I'm thinking of GIMP and Blender in particular.)The wireless hardware support issues make this a non-starter release for me, but I enjoyed giving it a whirl.

Never trust a Doctor on how easy it is to use Linux

I recently read a positive review of Linux by a man who said he was a doctor, not a programmer, and that he found Linux very easy to set up and use.

That's great, but you have to take recommendations like that with a grain of salt. I'm not a doctor, but three of my siblings-in-law are doctors, and a fourth is a nurse, and one thing I've noticed is that medical professionals are extremely good at following technical directions. I think it's a skill that comes from how medicine is practiced -- you diagnose the patient, then apply a recommended treatment. Just like debugging a computer problem!

Maintaining Linux, like maintaining a patient's health, requires researching a scattered body of knowledge and deciding how to apply a mass of conflicting advice. Both tasks reward careful study, and exact replication of the recommended treatment. For doctors this way of working is second nature, but I don't think laymen will find it so easy.

Customizing Ubuntu 7.10 on Macbook

I've been tearing down and reinstalling Ubuntu 7.10 all weekend, trying to get wireless video playback to work well. Here's my list of tweaks, all of which are unrelated to wireless video playback:
I personally like the Edubuntu 7.10 distribution more than the stock Ubuntu distribution. Edubuntu has a nicer default visual theme and some nice educational games.Apply customizations from the MacBook Ubuntu ForumI just set up my keyboard so that the lower Enter button acts as the right mouse button.Make text better:System:Preferences:Appearence:Fonts:Subpixel SmoothingThe Google Toolbar for Firefox has a bug where bookmarks won't load. A work-around is to use the Synaptic Package Manager to install libstdc++5 and its dependencies.
In order to get the keyboard "Mute" button to work, open System:Preferences:Sound and select all the channels in the "Default Mixer Tracks" list. (Hold down the Control key while clicking on each channel.)

I've Installed Ubuntu 7.10 Final on my Macbook

I was up early this morning to get the Ubuntu 7.10 final release. I used the Ubuntu torrent (1700 downloaders) to download the file, and had the ISO image within an hour. Pretty neat!

In theory I didn't actually need to install Ubuntu 7.10 final. In theory it would be just as good to start with a late release candidate and apply patches. But I wanted a clean start.

I did run into an odd glitch during the install: the Macbook LCD display was corrupted when I first booted up off the LiveCD. I did a cold reboot and all was well. Go figure.

Comparing the Microsoft and Google tool chains

About six months ago I left Microsoft for Google. One of the big differences between the two companies is the tool chains that they use. Microsoft mostly uses its own tools, many of which they also offer to sale to third parties, while Google uses mostly open-source tools. I thought people might be interested in seeing the differences. Note that my experience may not be representative of most Microsoft or Google employees, because I was not working in the main-line part of Microsoft (I was in the Xbox team), and I am not currently working in the main-line part of Google. So in both cases I am not familiar with the specialized tools that each company has developed for doing its mainline work.

Here's a table comparing the tools I used at each company:

Tool
Microsoft
Google
Opinions
IDE
Visual Studio
Eclipse 3.3
I give Visual Studio the edge on debugging UI and IntelliSense. But Eclipse has some nice features, such as showing errors in the scroll bar.
Languages
C++, C#
C/C++, Java
Microsoft C++ i…

Laptop buying advice

A friend recently asked me for advice on buying a laptop for a college student. Here's the advice I gave them:

These days laptops from different companies are all pretty similar. They use roughly the same parts, and are built in exactly the same Chinese factories. So I would try to figure out roughly what configuration you wanted, and then shop for the best deal, pretty much ignoring the manufacturer.

The first decision, and the only one where the manufacturer matters, is whether you want a Macintosh or a non-Macintosh. The benefits of a Mac are:
Great support if you happen to live near an Apple Store.Check if you do by looking here: http://www.apple.com/retail/Macs are fashionable.Macs can run Apple software in addition to regular Windows software.Macs have good resale value. (Although laptops in general are very fragile, so it's likely that your laptop will break before you resell it.)The disadvantages of a Macintosh are:
About 30% more expensive than other brands, especially i…

Learning about Git

Lately I've been learning the git source code control system. It's a distributed version control system, which means there is no central repository. It's especially good for working on multiple branches.

Everyday GIT with 20 Commands

Alas, currently it doesn't work well on Windows. (Due to many of its utilities being written in a hodge-podge of Unix shell scripts. Pretty lame. If they'd just used C, Perl, or Python it would have been very easy to port.)

The Linux Guide for Windows Users

A nice overview of Linux for Windows users. It's a little bit dated, but still contains lots of good advice:

http://www.psychocats.net/essays/linuxguide

He has a number of good Linux-related essays on his site, it's worth poking around.

Linux in a Windows-centric home network

I was a happy Microsoft employee for many years, and as a result, I run multiple Windows Vista machines at home. My family and I are happy with the system, especially the Vista Media Center / Xbox 360 combination that we use as our Digital Video Recorder, so I'm in no hurry to try and replace my Windows servers with a Linux ones.

This leaves my poor Ubuntu 7.10 Macbook as something of the odd man out. Over the past few weeks I've been learning how to configure it to work with my mostly Windows network.

Wireless Networking

This worked out-of-the-box. If I recall correctly, I had more trouble connecting to my home wireless network when running Apple Macintosh OS X 10.4.

Hah, for what it's worth, my wireless router is a Linksys router that's running Linux, so effectively there's no Windows involved. But I wanted to mention that wireless networking and Internet connectivity worked well out-of-the-box.

Connecting to a Windows Vista File Share

Here's where I ran into my fi…

Linux Goes Where?

Now that I have changed jobs, I've decided to try changing blog hosts as well. Older posts can be found here: Grammerjack at Spaces.msn.com

This blog will probably have a lot of "Linux newbie" posts, as I am trying to learn Linux, after a long time away from unix systems.

I hope these posts will prove helpful, or at least entertaining.

Ubuntu 7.10 Beta Issues

I'm still getting used to using Ubuntu 7.10 beta on my Macbook.

Unresolved Bugs
The bottom task-switcher bar sometimes disappears.
Firefox doesn't quit cleanly - it always crashes.No big deal, this just means that I need to deal with a "do you want to restore" dialog every time Firefox starts up.
Macbook Audio can't be muted.
This appears to be a long-standing Ubuntu / Macbook bug, due to the way Macbook audio muting is implemented. Someone needs to write a driver, and unfortunately audio driver writers don't seem to care much about Macbook laptops.

Resolved Bugs
Support for a one-button trackpadChoose System:Administration:SynapticUse synaptic to install the mouseemu package to allow F11,F12 buttons to emulate middle and right mouse clicks.Phantom button clicks while moving the mouse:Choose System:Preferences:Mouse:TouchpadUn-check "Tap to Click".Choose Close.
Problems connecting to Windows Vista Printers and Windows Vista Shares: See my post on this: Linu…