Monday, August 31, 2009

OpenGEU 8.10 Review

Since my switch from Windows to Linux I have settled on 1 distribution, OpenGEU 8.10. I'm not much of a distro hopper even though I do have Ubuntu Studio 9.04 installed on a different partition, it doesn't get much play. It's there because recently I wanted to see if I was missing out on anything. And so far I don't feel like I am.

You may be wondering, Why Enlightenment? Well part of it was familiarity, and quite frankly when I saw E16 back in the day I new that someday I had to have it. I did try Ubuntu 8.10\9.04 and Kubuntu 8.10 as well as Elive. Ubuntu is one nice distro, I really liked it... but I wanted no taskbars and a menu system by clicking anywhere on the desktop. Kubuntu must not have liked my hardware much, and I didn't like the feel of it. It is gorgeous to look at, though. But that wasn't enough to win me over. Elive is solid, but being only available in 32bit killed it for me.

Notice that all that was a matter of preference. I really have nothing negative to say about each of those. I just didn't like their desktop feel.

You may also be wondering why 8.10? Well the OpenGEU project while well in progress is not made up of a large group of developers, so they have the same individuals working on multiple aspects of the distribution. That said, while they would like nothing more than to keep up with Ubuntu's 6 month cycle, it is quite a task for them to meet the same release dates.

OpenGEU 9.04 is in the works and due out for release very soon.

I found OpenGEU in an effort to find Geubuntu (as it was renamed), and immediately after trying the liveCD it felt right. Well of coarse it did, my early days of Enlightenment use on an old Sparc box were coming back. And best of all it was available in 64bit flavor... gotta have my chocolate.

The install went as well as any of the others I tried. It was all done from the LiveCD desktop which was very nice. And I must say, quite fast. There where no initial hardware issues, everything worked right away. Upon 1st login, I am prompted for updates... a ton of them. I get them done 1 reboot and BAM!!! Done! WOW!!!

No freaking Service Packs, not 3 thousand more reboots or spybot search and destroy, Norton was sent packing... man this is as Cartman would say.... "kick ass!!!"

Since then, the installation has required an extra step due to the fact that the distribution had to change repositories after the liveCD was released. So the OpenGEU packages now reside in a different repository that needs to be updated after the initial install. Fortunately, the folks at OpenGEU have a simple .deb package to run on their website that will automatically do that for you.

Before I go on, I want to get the whole stability issue that looms over E17 out of the way. This is Enlightenment and as you probably already know it is inconstant development. So it did take some getting used to what worked and what didn't. HOWEVER, it has been my experience that everything that isn't quite working yet are a few features on E17 and nothing to do with the apps I frequently use, such as GIMP, Firefox, Pidging, OpenOffice and the many games I have installed. All that stuff is solid. So I feel pretty confident in saying that from that standpoint, the stability is as good if not better than my Windows experience has been.

So what doesn't work?

There are a few modules that understandably are still being worked on. One of them is the Bling module. It isn't stable yet and your milage may vary with it. For me it freezes the desktop unexpectedly, for others it runs fine.

The other is Dropshadow... now while this one works well, as you can tell in the screenshot above, it seems to only draw shadows on the desktop and not over windows beneath it yet. I'm being picky but hey... I'm trying to give some details.

Compiz (from here on out Ecomorph) isn't completely integrated yet, so there are a few features that are not working yet. But for the most part, most of the cool eye candy works, such as animations, some transparencies, cube, expo and many others.

Finally, going to Settings/Look/Colors in the Menu seems to not be implemented yet as it causes E17 to restart.

OpenGEU also requires that you install the nessesary codecs to save your personal music library to mp3 and play restricted DVD's. Not too hard to do, really. But for a Windows convert like myself, it left me wondering why. I soon found out and understand why now. Likewise, instead of Java & Flash, Icetea and gnash are preinstalled, but I didn't have much luck with those. And unfortunately, those restricted apps are a necessity for me for now.

Beyond that I haven't run into much else that doesn't work yet. And days\weeks go by without E17 restarting\crashing and when it does, it never affects the applications or cause loss of work. A testament to its reliability.

The OpenGEU team has done a great job integrating gnome apps (such as thunar) were E17 is lacking. This really gives a real sense of completion to E17 even though we know it isn't yet. So despite the warnings given, OpenGEU feels solid and complete.

One of the things I like the most about Linux (be it Gnome, KDE, Enlightement, etc...) is the ability to change the look to suit our tastes. And in this regard E17 really shines. There are entire themes that change the look of just about everything you see on your desktop. From wallpapers to window borders. And you can take it a step further and use parts of other themes to make individual changes and get a totally custom look and save them into a .gth file.

One thing I must complaint about is the fact that the folks developing Enlightenment have not seen the need to make a theme editor that is more user friendly. Currently, theming in Enlightenment requires that you know how to code in .edj, and quite frankly it is not easy or easy to learn quickly. It requires some determination and time to learn. They do have an .edj editor, but for someone with little to no coding experience like myself it is useless. This is not the fault of the OpenGEU developers though, as this is something the Enlightenment camp should address at some point to allow more people to unleash their creativity without having to contemplate learning to code .edj.
Fortunately, there are users out there that are trying to theme, and are uploading themes for others to download at

There are some features being worked on for the next release of OpenGEU (Quarto Di Luna, Ubuntu 9.04 based) that will enable users to save and share changes made to base themes. This is one feature I am really looking forward to. I am also hoping that Ecomorph (Compiz) is fully implemented in the next release or in the very least moved further along.

One of the things most e fans like is its small footprint. e is very light on resources and you can see exactly that in OpenGEU. Upon login you can start experiencing its speed. And a quick look at CPU & Mem use on mine hovers at 0-1% CPU use and less than 350mb ram use at idle with Ecomorph enabled. Without Ecomorph it hovers around less than 300mb at idle.

Windows XP in contrast needed nearly 1g of RAM at idle after all the protection tools needed were running on my system. Kind of pathetic when you think about it. And I hear Vista is even worse, thus the rush for Windows 7 to come out. But I'll not go into that here. However, if you ended up here and you are running Windows still... take note!

Having Ubuntu 9.04 on a different partition I've been able to do a few comparisons such as the speed in which applications launch. IMO, OpenGEU is just as fast if not faster launching apps. And I may have to give OpenGEU the benefit of the doubt since I have quite a few fonts loaded and just the basic fonts in Ubuntu 9.04 that come with a fresh install.

Ubutnu 9.04 does have full implementation of Compiz and that paired with Emerald for window decorations is absolutely stunning. I probably would be quite happy with Ubuntu if I knew how to get rid of the task bars and be able to access the menu clicking on the desktop. It's one of the things that keeps me coming back to OpenGEU. That and iTask-NG.

AWN and Cairo in Ubuntu, in my honest opinion pale in comparison to iTask-NG in OpenGEU. The iTask-NG dock in its current state is very reliable and I use it 24x7 without any problems. Some of the issues I had with AWN like loosing icons in between login sessions or reboots have yet to happen with iTask-NG in OpenGEU. iTask-NG is also themeable, but I think that at the moment that aspect of the dock is not fully implemented yet as I have not been able to get it to work. I've also noticed that Icons do not show with certain downloaded themes, but that may be a bug in the Theme code... I guess not all is perfect as already mentioned E17 is still in development, Nonetheless, transparency works on it and that is how I use it most as you can see on most of the screenshots.

I did have high hopes for Cairo when I test drove it as it does a heck of alot more than AWN and iTask-NG, but I didn't like the look and feel upon 1st impressions. And quite frankly, fans of Cairo can rest assured that yes I probably should give it another shot, and I probably will on Ubuntu at a later date. All that said, I am more than extremely pleased with the functionality and look that iTask-NG offers at this stage in development. It is quite useful.

OpenGEU also offers what they call shelves. In essence they hold a bit more than docks and are also highly configurable and best of all they do not need any compositioning to run.

In the screenshots above of OpenGEU running on my Acer 6530 laptop, I have a shelf on the left with some modules loaded on it for the local weather, moon phase, system temp, CPU speed, date & time and system menu shortcut. Below center is another shelf with an app launcher and trash can module. Notice they look different and that is because of the control they offer. Very nice and also very light on resources.

I feel that Enlightenment gets a bit of a bad rep sometimes. But who can blame them when even I as a long time fan feel that indeed a bit of effort needs to be put on a stable release already. E16 took a long time to reach a stable release and that always comes up in discussions as being the same fate E17 will meet.

The Enlightenment folks are making an effort nonetheless, as evidenced here in their Release Schedule
So I am grasping on to that little bit of hope.

All that said, OpenGEU 8.10 is not only fast and beautiful, but despite the use of E17 is very stable as well. My goal was to be as detailed as possible in reviewing it as to expose as many hidden surprises as possible as there often is when using code still in development. All in an effort to facilitate those that have been putting off trying E17 again due to growing pains early on, make the decision weather or not is worth trying again.

So if you are concerned in OpenGEU's stability and reliability due to its implementation of E17, rest assured that it is indeed stable and reliable. I wouldn't be using it if it wasn't and I even donated to the project since I have installed it on all 5 of my systems at home. 5? Well yes... besides me using it on my Desktop and travel laptop, all 3 of my kids use it on their computers too. And those guys hammer it pretty good with Flash & Java based web games, WINE and a bunch of other games, from Wow to Unreal tournament 2004. Those guys don't hold back, and would have told me if OpenGEU sucked. And so far they love it as much as their Dad.

If you give OpenGEU a try, be sure to visit the forums...

I'll definitely see you there :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Let's end the use of pirated MS Windows OS\Software

I think it a very good idea to end the use of pirated MS Windows OS\Software. Or in the very least help lessen the problem. After all it is illegal and quite frankly there really is no need to take the risks involved.

What risks you may ask? Well, there are many, and I'll list the most important ones...
  • It's Illegal - who is going to find out you may ask? Well I for one wouldn't want to find out.
  • It's a security risk - In this day and age, the security risks are many. Specially if you manage your finances on your computer.
  • Pirated software is not safe - many of their sources can't be trusted and often lead to infections with worms and viruses that look to compromise more than your HW.
  • Lack of support - the internet is a good source of info, but while searching for solutions, you risk getting or soliciting help from scam artists.
That is just a brief list, and quite frankly it should be enough to turn you away from using illegal\pirated proprietary software. It's become such a problem that it also affects legal users that have to endure the anti piracy measures being taken by the companies that sell their proprietary software.

According to Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, pirated OS\Software users make up a bigger market than Linux & Apple users combined.

It really shouldn't be so. There is no excuse for opting for pirated proprietary products when there are legal far more affordable options available. Not to mention far more secure in many ways when it comes to using your computer for all personal reasons.

I understand that these are very tough economic times, and the price of Windows and Apple systems is just too high. I couldn't agree more, quite frankly not only are they expensive, but if you are savy enough to deal with pirated OS\Software and its associated security risks, then they are also not aimed at you since they restrict your computing experience as if you were their target market.

I wholeheartedly believe that many if not all of people using illegal\pirated software are savy enough to be using Linux. As a windows server admin whose had his fare share of systems compromised over my carreer in IT, I can tell you that the small problems you'll encounter adapting and learning to use Linux, are small potatoes compared to having your system compromised by a virus or worm that can potentially steal your identity, banking information, and force you to reinstall your operating system.

I don't mean to say people that use pirated software are the ones doing the piracy... on the contrary those folks are far more skilled than the Proprietary Software companies themselves. What I mean to say is that if you are savy enough to use pirated OS\software and deal with its associated risks and ARE ABLE to fix them, then you are no ordinary user. Or one that needs to be led by the hand as Microsoft and Apple aim to do with their target market.

What I mean to say is that you need to be freed from their reigns, and should be enjoying a better computing experience. Now it will take a little bit of learning, but anyone can deal and fix a messed up Windows installation, then you are selling yourself short thinking Linux wouldn't be as easy or any easier.

Linux is a real world option these days. It is free and legal to download, use and redistribute. It has come a long way to becoming more user friendly and compatible with lots of hardware out there. Not only that, but gives you more control over your system and many fixes are simple editing of text files using the command line. While this intimidate mosts, they need to get over it... the command line is the isht when X windows wont start.

Applications are also a dime a dozen, and if this old Windows Server Admin has managed to find applications to do everything I used to do in Windows (from editing photos, docs, spreadsheets to even color calibrating my monitor and playing games) so can everyone one of those users taking risks on illegal OS\software. And the beauty of it all is that all those options are also free and legal to download use and redistribute.

Think about it, if you dislike Microsoft for their over priced products and want nothing more than to stick it to the man, don't do it in a fashion where they can get back at you. Stop using their products to send a clear message and do it legally by opting to use Linux. I can almost guarantee that Windows will not be an option once you have familiarized yourself with Linux.

It's time to put those computer savy skills to good use and give Linux a try. Give it a real shot as it will likely have you a bit confused at first while you get familiar with it. In the end, it will be worth it and the help online is free and there are some incredibly knowledgeable Linux users out there that want nothing more than to extend a lending hand.

Wouldn't it be nice if Windows and Apple offered their OS and applications free and allowed you to pay what you could afford instead of the ridiculous price they set for their products and then charge for support?

Well in the world of Linux, you can do just that. Once I found the distribution of choice, I donated to that project a set amount I was financially comfortable with. You read that right... and while some may say that Linux problem is the many flavors it comes in, I think it one of its greater strengths and went shopping for a distribution that looked and felt the way I wanted.

I legally, downloaded it, use it and if I didn't like it, went on to the next one I wanted to try... Try that with your illegal pirated offering... or legal proprietary purchase for that matter ;)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Windows to Linux... Is it that hard to adapt?

Many people feel that making the switch to Linux is difficult. And in all honesty it does require a bit of effort and willingness to adapt to a new Operating System and its applications. But in reality, it is no more difficult than learning to use a computer for the 1st time.

Most might recall that time and remember some aggravating moments. Fortunately, having had some experience under your belt already, you can take that with you and use it to help you use a different operating system. Unlike your 1st time on a PC, you now have an idea of what you need to use to get your tasks done. So its a matter of learning what applications do what, and familiarizing yourself with their menus.

It may sound like too much effort, but in reality its not that bad. And of coarse, it doesn't hurt to be able to turn somewhere for help. But the key is to be willing to learn and not get discouraged.

You might ask yourself why change to begin with? Well that is a very good question, and one that may have a different answer depending on the individual. However, chances are that if you are reading blogs such as this one, that you are able to answer that question for yourself. In my personal experience, the answer to that question was simply that I was tired of not being able to browse the net without having to spend money on security tools, and even then some attacks still made it through. This was a particular recurring problem with my children's computers.

Linux offers a real solution to that problem, and that was one feature I was willing to take advantage of, and set off to find out at what cost.

Back in April, I decided to switch from XP to Ubuntu. One of my 1st fears was HW compatibility and those were quickly dismissed with nearly 100% of my hardware working right away after the initial install. There are some issues out there with some HW, don't think those do not exist. But I quickly found out that my older systems were easier to setup with Linux. This was good because, the old HW I have for my children actually couldn't handle Windows Vista and was just getting by with Windows XP. More more on that later.

Setting up my system and getting everything to work was much easier than I anticipated. Many of the answers I needed I quickly found in forums and using Google search. Within the 1st week of using Ubuntu, I had my Flatbed scanners, printers, and even my colorimeter (Monitor color calibrating hw) working. So I can say that for the tech savvy, Linux has made great strides to be easier to use and setup.

I have been using Linux since then, and will admit that I am still learning and likely will for a long time. But to me it feels no different than when I work on Windows servers at work. In fact, I feel that I was able to use my work experience as a Windows Server Admin to good use with Linux.

Pleased with my personal computer setup, I began seting up the rest of the computers in the house with Linux. I expected some resistance from the kids. But it wasn't too hard to convince them to change when they were complaining that their systems where once again being compromised with adware and other junk they were picking up from browsing the web.

At 1st there where many questions from the children. How do I do this, where is that and so forth. It was to be expected. But surprisingly, the kids were soaking it all up. Getting games to work was a bit challenging at 1st, but we have learned to focus on games that work in Linux, be it natively or via WINE. And I am happy to say that 5 months later, they are doing their own installs of games and such.

It is often said that kids adapt to change much better than adults. And while that may be true, they are also at a bigger disadvantage since they do not have the level of comprehension we have as adults. I believe that if we get past the will barrier that adapting and making the necessary changes would come easier.

One particular challenge popped up during the end of the school year for one of my kids. He had to do a Power Point presentation for a school assignment. But after 10-15 minutes, I had him working on his school assignment using Open Office. And it was no problem for the teacher to view and grade it with the Windows systems at school. This was a very satisfying experience for a few reasons that are worth mentioning here.

  • OpenOffice was free and readily available for install from the trusted repositories for Ubuntu. My jaw nearly dropped! We will not go over how much I paid for an old version of Ms Office a few years back in an effort to save me from popping a blood vessel and bleeding to death.
  • I watched in amazement as my son simply didn't let the different menu layout intimidate him into thinking he wouldn't be able to find the features needed to get his presentation done. I was proud of him, and couldn't help but think again, that it was his willingness that kept him focused in learning to use the tools available to him.
  • Did I mention that OpenOffice was free and that i didn't have to make a trip to the store to spend a couple hundred on MS Software? ;)
I mentioned earlier that I have some old hw that my children use for their computer needs and entertainment. 1 in particular struggled with XP and I new would never run Vista efficiently. The other would probably run Vista very slow. But neither of these systems have any trouble running Ubuntu, even with Compiz enabled. And if you are wondering what Compiz is and does, some have told me its like having the eye candy of Aero in Vista enabled.

The children have adapted to their new systems with little fuss. And I believe it's because with Linux their systems are fast, responsive and safe from being compromised with junk while browsing the net. This not only keeps them happy, but it sure has saved me a ton of valuable time and aggravation. There was nothing that got under my skin more than having to fix a virus or adware ridden windows install. Those days are over for me.

I will say that we are blessed to be able to adapt so easily. In reality I almost feel guilty it was this easy for me and my family to adapt. But even if I had to pay someone for Linux support, it is easy to see how in the long term it would be a much more affordable computing experience. Having a secure and much more hardware efficient operating system means that trips to the computer tech would be few and far in between.

In my experience, the small challenges to adapt were easily met and conquered. it is certainly within everyone's scope of possibility to do so as well. The rewards are many,
  • longer lasting hardware
  • more efficient computing experience
  • less financial impact to use and support
  • more secure internet experience
Again they key is to be willing to meet the challenge. If you are not willing to put in the effort, then it will be very difficult to justify and conquer.