It’s All in the Wording

Posted on 2010/11/08. Filed under: community, Kubuntu, Linux General, Mandriva, openSUSE, Ubuntu |

There is more than one way to look at anything. I read hundreds of RSS feeds and blogs daily. I see it all of the time. Writers taking potshots at things that they don’t like. Currently it is open season on Ubuntu. But it has been a long hunting season. Backlash has been going on for some time.

This headline caught my eye:Ubuntu To Ditch X For Wayland. Note the word ditch. This gives a negative spin on an otherwise positive story. Ubuntu is supporting Wayland which the person writing calls a “more modern alternative” to X and likes the decision. So why write it in a negative light if they are supporting something that is worthy of support?

There have been hundreds of such posts. Ubuntu Ditches GNOME or Ubuntu Dumps GNOME are examples. The theme here is that Canonical or Ubuntu are bad boys. Words like ditch and dump are succinct, but pejorative, implying that Ubuntu and Canonical are disloyal philanderers or worse.

After enough of these headlines, Jono Bacon, Canonical’s Community Manager issued a call for respect. I don’t blame him, but we have to put things in perspective. This has been going on for a long time. If it is not checked then it gets nasty and this is what is happening. You cannot ignore it and expect it to disappear.

I am not using Ubuntu at present, but I have in the past. I like the fact that Canonical is changing things and even rocking the boat a bit. The community needs a shake up every now and again. We are a complacent and isolated lot. But there is more happening here.

The community does not have to agree on everything, but we don’t have to be a beast that devours its young either. We seem to delight in trying the destroy what someone else is building, even if we do not plan on using it. In fact, most of the critics of Canonical and Ubuntu come from outside the community. It is like Republicans trying to change the Democratic party. They can’t, so instead they seek to gain advantage by politically motivated responses.

The way to change something is to join and participate. Otherwise your criticism rings hollow. In the end you do not want to do anything positive at all. Your goal is not to be an agent of change, but to criticise for the sake of criticism. You are like a film critic that goes to movies and never stops to enjoy them. You get your kicks from finding fault.

I don’t think that most people are like that. I think that most Linux users are happy and satisfied. They want to feel part of something that is bigger than they are. They embrace a distribution and its community. That is why Ubuntu has been so immensely successful. Ubuntu is based on a philosophy. With Ubuntu you get a package deal. You get the distribution, community and the ideal. They all work together and I think well. When you dump on Ubuntu you aren’t just criticising the distribution, but people and they can take exception.

I don’t think that Ubuntu is alone in this. Each distribution has its advocates and community whether it is big like Fedora or Debian or small like PCLinuxOS or MEPIS. The way to build up your community and to promote your distribution is to work within and to promote it to others in a positive manner.

Ubuntu has a code of conduct and by and large its members abide by it. I don’t see them trash talking other distributions or raiding the user base of other distros. I see it all of the time in forums and in blogs that users from other distributions love to take shots at Ubuntu, hoping it will improve their chosen distribution. It doesn’t help. It makes you seem small and petty and your community seem to be unfriendly and uninviting.

I do not use Ubuntu for many reasons. None has anything to do with the community, which is not perfect, but it is very good. I stick up for Ubuntu because I respect what they are trying to do. They are trying to change Ubuntu and make it a better experience.

You can ascribe ulterior motives if you want, but what purpose does it achieve? People say that Canonical is taking but not giving back. All I know is that if they stopped developing it, a lot of people would be out of work. So they are giving something to Linux. You just don’t appreciate how much or the nature of it.

Critics say that they are developing in house for themselves. Every distribution does that. Debian is not thinking of Ubuntu or Fedora when they develop. When Mint made its Mint Menu it wasn’t thinking of downstream projects, but they were adding value for their users and promoting their brand. I have used openSuSE, Mandriva and Fedora. They all do it to one degree or another. Nobody criticises Mandriva when they make a new applet that is on their platform alone or when Fedora tries something new that other distros don’t use.

Ubuntu cannot win. If they switch to anything they are criticised. If they add Banshee they will be criticised for adding Mono content. When the switched to Shotwell they were criticised for abandoning Mono based F-spot. When they change their buttons to the left they are criticised for becoming Mac like. If they add windicators then they will be criticised for developing in house. When they created Launchpad people cried out that they were not giving back to Linux, but whe they released it those critics were silent.

There seems to be no satisfying Ubuntu critics. So they should not try. They should stick to their game plan and work within their community to communicate their vision better. They need to concentrate on community building which is a strength. Criticism from the outside should be expected and they need to stop being naive about it.

For the most part, it is just sour grapes, but they need to address it by being proactive, instead of fighting fires afterwards. When Shuttlworth is to announce a big change at UDS then they should be ready with press releases and responses to anticipated criticisms. That should silence much of it. Right now, people are playing on their naivety and they are coming across as unprepared, which only makes it look as if they have not thought things through or are hiding something. I take them at face value, but some people want to find fault and this gives them fuel.

We need to learn to ignore sensationalist headlines or to take people who post them to task. Mostly, we need to learn to build the community at large up. I am supporting Ubuntu, but I am using Fedora 14 at present. (I am trying to experience other distributions by walking a mile in their shoes. After that I will try a different distribution. Kubuntu is my baseline and has been for awhile. But, I am determined to understand the larger community and for that reason I am using a distribution for one month solid.)

A strong Ubuntu is no threat to Fedora. Fedora has a different vision and a different sort of user base. Because Fedora is strong I don’t see Fedora users as promoting division and spreading dissension. That is what having a strong presence and a consistent vision can do. Users do not have the need to bushwhack others and be constantly looking over their shoulder. Fedora users do not need to compare and as a consequence do not feel the need to attack Ubuntu.

I could point fingers where most of this is coming from, but I won’t. Distributions that feel threatened have good reason to feel that way, but Ubuntu is not the threat that they imagine. The threat comes from within. They are not growing because of decisions that they have made (or more importantly not made) and not because of things that others have done. The way to improve the situation is to communicate your vision to others or if they reject it to accept that gracefully and work to ensure your vision persists. The problem as I see it  is in the last part. They cannot accept that others would reject it or can’t be graceful about it, so they lash out. The consequence is that they are harming their community, but don’t realise it.

We can build or we can destroy with words. We can promote unity or division. When we choose to use certain words then we are doing one of these things. I hope that writers will choose words carefully and weigh the consequence of using them. What do you want to achieve and is this the way to do it? Is it helpful or harmful to the goals of Linux at large and my distribution in particular? Finally, is it being done in a respectful manner which reflects positively on me and the community that I represent?

Words, say a lot about you, perhaps more than you intend when you write them.



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Desktop Linux, Where the Fun Begins

Posted on 2010/10/29. Filed under: Computing General, Fedora, Gnome, KDE, Kubuntu, Linux General, Mandriva, openSUSE, Ubuntu, Windows |

Linux is my sandbox. It is where I go to play. It is also where many people go to be productive. Desktop Linux has many millions of users. You probably have not heard much about it because of the way that it is developed and promoted.

The Linux community is very fragmented which is a plus and a minus. It is a plus because it spawns much innovation and  a minus because things get done, or not, in a very different way. Linux is divided into communities and projects and resources are not efficiently used. People go where their interest lies. That makes for happy workers, and some projects get lots of attention and develop quickly while others languish and die on the vine. It is all part of the process.

Linux for the most part does not have a big name behind it. Sure, it has Google, Red Hat, Novell and Canonical, but that is it. None is as big as Apple or Microsoft and more importantly it does not have a history of working closely with OEMs. Linux does not have an advertising budget and it does not come pre-installed which is problematic for many new users. They do not know where to begin. Linux is mostly spread by word of mouth which is why we may come across as evangelists. We know that without our work it would not be known at all.

Linux is divided into three main categories. There are very basic distributions, very easy to use distributions and those that lie somewhere between. You may wonder why anyone would want  a basic distribution. Some people like to fix their own car or  make a cake from scratch. It is all about choice. Using a basic distribution involves getting closer to understanding what is going on and how it works and many people like that hands on feeling. Others do not want to roll up there sleeves, but like a quick and easy approach. Fortunately there is no shortage of either.

If you like to learn the basics you could choose any of Arch, Gentoo, Slackware, or Linux From Scratch. There are others. If you want an easy to use distribution where you basically never need to type a command then you can opt for Linux Mint, one of the *buntus (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc.), PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, SimplyMEPIS, or openSuSE. You are by no means limited to these, but they are the biggies. Distrowatch maintains a top 100 list. In between these options are many fine distributions that are regarded as being harder to use, but still fine. This would include Debian which is the basis for Ubuntu and its derivatives and which will run an just about any architecture and Fedora which is the testing branch of Red Hat. Again there is no shortage of choice.

So, the first question is what kind of user are you and what do you want to do? If you want to learn how Linux works then opt for the first category. if you just want it to work out of the box, then go to the second category and if you want to get things done but still have some control then opt for category three.

Something else to consider is package management. Linux has two main package managers, but here are several others as well. The two main categories for package management are DEB short for Debian and RPM which is short form Red Hat Package Management. Packages are the way applications and libraries are bundled together and installed. The manager tracks the installation process, puts the parts in the right places and makes them available to you by making a menu item (for graphical applications). RPM and DEB are incompatible and different. Each Red Hat-based distribution has a different front end for managing the packages. SuSE uses Yast, Fedora uses Yum, Mandriva uses Urpmi for example. DEB is more unified. They all uses apt and dpkg. There are different package managers, but the commands work the same way whether you use Ubuntu, Debian, or MEPIS.

There are more distributions that use RPM, but DEB is the most common because the biggest distributions like Ubuntu use it. In general, there are many more applications available for Debian based systems. So if your software needs are more modest then RPM is fine, but if you need access to the biggest selection then you will likely be happier with DEB. Unlike Windows, you do not install Linux software by buying it or hunting for it on the internet. Software is stored in secure locations called repositories. Each distribution maintains its own repositories and they are incompatible with each other. In fact, a different version of the same distribution usually cannot manage the packages of a previous or later version. Repositories mean that everything is made to work with that distribution and version, they are checked and are free of viruses and malware, and you can get updates to each package as they become available.

The next thing to consider is support. Linux is developed, maintained and supported by the community. This includes developers and users. There are forums, wikis, online help, FAQs and more. The larger the community the more support there is. Some communities are huge and the amount of information available is also huge. That can be good and bad. The answer to your question is likely to be there, but finding it can be something else of a problem.

Some communities are more helpful and open than others because each community has a history and distinct character. Some distributions that are considered more geeky, may not seem as open because they function at a level that you may not relate to. They may seem to talk over your head and use lots of jargon and even seem elitist. Others may be more welcoming to new users. Some may even surprise you by taking you under their wing and mentoring you. The key to gaining friends in Linux is to embrace the new and get rid of old preconceptions. The worst thing that you can do is assume that the way that you have done things in the past is the best or only way. You are sure to get your chain yanked if you try this.

The thing to do is to join a forum and look around and see how people have responded to questions of people like you. If they seem terse and give solutions that would not be helpful to you then continue your search. To find a forum just type Linux forum in a search engine. Some forums are specific to a distribution or family of distributions and others are more general, like Make a test post and see how welcoming they are. Be prepared to move on.

In general forums are frequented by people who try to be helpful, but not all help is useful to you. Many experienced users are comfortable with typing commands into a terminal and some even pooh pooh the GUI. If you are uncomfortable with the commandline then say so., otherwise you cna expect the to advise you to open a terminal and type commands and remember syntax. Although cut and paste works well enough if the instructions are clear.

The other thing to do is to test a distribution out. Most distributions use Live CDs or DVDs. This means that you can insert them in your DVD drive and boot from the CD or DVD. Nothing is written to your hard drive. You can test them out to see how they work on your equipment. You cannot install applications to a CD since it is read only and it will run slowly. You may be able to install an application to RAM disk, but that depends on your RAM and the distribution. You can do the same thing with a usb stick and it will run a bit faster.

To get Linux you download a compresses image file called an ISO which is available from the distribution or a site such as Distrowatch which specialises in tracking distributions. Once you download the ISO you can burn it to CD or DVD (depending on the size of the ISO) or write it to a usb stick. Follow the instructions here:

Distrowatch for ISOs:

For a usb stick look here:

I really like Unetbootin for this. It works in Windows or Linux and it can even download the ISO for you.


Another good resource is

You can get a free Ubuntu CD:

Also works for Kubuntu and one of the other *buntus. For example:

Buy a cheap CD for most distributions:

Some distributions sell it pre-installed on a usb stick, but you will have to search around to find it.

Almost all distributions are free of charge. A few are commercial only. Some have both free and commercial versions. All Linux distributions are also free as in free speech if they follow the GPL or one of the other free software licenses. this means that you can fork it and release your own variant, which explains why there are some many distributions to begin with.

How do you know what is available and how popular they are? Check out which is not definitive, but it does keep track of page hits over time. The undisputed king of distributions is Ubuntu which is the flagship of Canonical, the company that backs it. They also make other distros (short for distributions) such as Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Edubuntu and Ubuntu Studio. They have the same basic inner workings, but have a different front end or GUI. Other distributions of note are Fedora, Mint, openSuSE, Debian, PCLinuxOS, and Mandriva.

Some distributions such as the *buntus come with a specific desktop environment while others give you a choice. Fedora comes with both GNOME and KDE for example. Many distributions have both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, but some only come with 32-bit which will run on both chipsets.

The desktop environments are the graphical user interfaces by which you interact with the computer. There are several choices. Some are very full and others spartan with the difference being more features at the cost of lower performance. The two full feature ones are KDE and GNOME. GNOME tends to be more popular by virtue of the fact that it is the interface for Ubuntu which is the most popular distribution. KDE has its share of distributions though and Canonical makes a KDE distro called Kubuntu.

The difference really comes down to personal preference. KDE is older, but has had the most recent face lift with KDE 4. GNOME is undergoing a facelift now and will come out with GNOME 3 next year. KDE is written in Qt and GNOME is written in GTK with a few Mono apps thrown in. Both include a desktop environment and applications covering the gamut that one would expect. KDE apps will work in GNOME and vice versa. Many people choose to run a hybrid system by installing apps for the other desktop environment in preference to the ones that came with it.

KDE is fuller in that it has a bigger stable of applications and it is more configurable. GNOME is more tightly controlled, but knowledgeable users can configure it as much as KDE. Where there is a will, there is a way. KDE has many things built in that you would have to add utilities to GNOME to do. For example, KDE allows for wallpaper rotation, but GNOME requires a third party app to do the same thing. KDE’s built in compositing is more robust than GNOME’s. KDE has more widgets and toys.  But some people like it simpler, so it all comes down to what you want.

Some people say KDE resembles Windows more, but that is a superficial comparison. Windows is more locked down like GNOME. KDE uses single click by default and GNOME sues double click like Windows XP. KDE has the panel at the bottom like Windows by default, but it can be moved anywhere. GNOME has two panels with the top one being the main one, more like the Mac.

And all of this comparison will soon be irrelevant because GNOME will release a new and very different interface with GNOME Shell in version 3 (which you can try out now in the repositories of many big distros or will come by default early next year).

I use KDE mostly, but use GNOME on my netbook. Both are from Canonical (Kubuntu and Ubuntu). I also have seven or eight other distros installed on various partitions at any given time. I like Fedora which I always have installed, Aptosid (formerly Sidux), MEPIS, PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, Sabayon, and Arch. I test the most recent versions of most big distros and test Ubuntu from alpha to final release. I like Kubuntu and Ubuntu because it works best for me, which is not to say that it will work best for you. I run lots of applications and like the size of the repositories and I have several years of working with the community. It makes it hard to leave.

If you don’t like either KDE or GNOME there is no shortage of options. XFCE is a relatively full desktop environment that is neither like KDE or GNOME. It offers less, but has somewhat better performance and you can run both KDE and GNOME apps to your heart’s content.  If you want even more performance bang, there is Fluxbox, LXDE, Openbox, Enlightenment, Sugar, IceWm and more.

Further reading:

Screenshots of desktop environments:

Comparison charts of DEs:

Comparison charts of Distros:

Linux Timelines:


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