Archive for the ‘Linux’ category

Using Android on Netbooks

April 2, 2009

We have talked about netbooks and Google’s Android before. I am pretty excited to see where Google’s Android is headed, and I am very hopefully that netbooks will continue to adopt Linux as a viable OS. Not that I fault anyone for buying a netbook with XP, but as Linux becomes more common on netbooks so too will the OS become more common in the mainstream.

So comes the news that HP is considering using Android in their netbooks. Ars does a good job breaking down the good and the bad. Android isn’t designed for the desktop, at least not yet. The OS is designed more for touch than for external input, but those barriers can be easily overcome. Perhaps the bigger negative is the ecosystem. Android has its own development platform and highly customized kernel. HP already ships with Ubuntu the advantage here is installing all the vast wealth of Linux and Open Source applications. Android would limit that integration with, as of now, a limited iPhone-like app store. However, this disadvantage to the Linux faithful may be an advantage to the Linux noob. If Google is reviewing each application it insures stability and compatability…something Ubuntu can’t do as of yet. It will also be pretty easy to install these applications. With that in mind having Google’s name backing up the otherwise nebulous OS may also be of great importance…who has heard of Ubuntu, but Google is something I can trust.

If HP takes Android in its current state than this is a bad move on HP’s part, but, given the open nature of Android, if they can make it into something truly revolutionary this may be one of the best moves for the Open Source community. Hopefully HP will surprise us all.

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Python to get a speed boost by Google

March 27, 2009

If this is true this is awesome news by Google. Python is a scripting language, and as such usually has poorer performance on intensive programming projects. For me, though, I like Python because of its ease of use and flexibility. Google obviously uses Python extensively and effectively. If this new interpreter can really bring about a 5x speed boost than I say it is a win win. It also looks like this new interpreter will help utilize multi-processor and thread hardware.

From the article:

The goal of the Unladen Swallow project is to use LLVM, the Low Level Virtual Machine compiler infrastructure, to build a just-in-time (JIT) compilation engine that can replace Python’s own specialized virtual machine. This approach offers a number of significant advantages. As the developers describe in the project plan, the project will make it possible to transition Python to a register-based virtual machine and will pave the way for future optimizations.

Good luck Google. May you bring it to pass.

mp3HD or FLAC

March 26, 2009

When Apple’s iPod became mainstream and the most popular portable music player with came the standardization of the mp3 file format. In some ways this format has served us well. It simplified things so we didn’t have to worry about compatibility. Despite other formats that are open or better mp3 makes for a universally positive experience. One key feature of mp3 is that it compresses the music file and takes out “unneeded” data. This is why mp3 is dubbed a lossy file format. This is good because file sizes remain small while the whole of the music remains the same. The bad part is that certain aspects, particularly ranges of music, are dropped to save file space. There is great debate about how noticeable or serious this is, but nonetheless mp3s are lower quality than cds. At the time giving up quality for quantity was needed with the small file capacity of most audio players. Even our HD based computers were limited. Today this isn’t so much the case. You can easily get cheap 500GB and even 1TB drives, external or internal, and flash memory is increasing in capacity and decreasing in price. I’m fairly certain I would fill up my 8GB iPhone, but in a few years iPhones will likely have 3-5X the capacity at the same size and price. So we may be at a turning point. A turning point where we can take back quality and still have quantity. This leads to lossless file formats.

Ars ran a good article discussing mp3HD. On the surface it would sound like a good thing. Take the popularity and universality of mp3 and make a lossless “HD” version. There are a few problems in the details as Ars points out. First the basic premise is to have both the mp3 compressed version and a compatible HD version. That is essentially doubling the file size and while capacity is growing the last thing you want to do is add extra burden during the transition. There are few other details, but you can read the article for that. What I want to point out is there is already a gold standard in lossless file formats. It is FLAC. Now yes I am an open source nut, but here me out. FLAC is currently already support in most every audio “mp3” player out there with the exception of Apple’s line of mp3 players. Most people already recognize that if you want a lossless library FLAC is what you use…as such the few store fronts that sell digital lossless files do so in FLAC already. Since FLAC is open source there is no licensing, regional, patent, or development limitations. Basically I am arguing that FLAC is already the platinum standard for lossless formats and because it is open source it becomes a win win situation. Believe it or not mp3 is not an open or free codec. You have to license your product to play the files. When you buy Windows or Mac you are paying to play your mp3s. Now all of that happens in the background, but it is still happening. Now I am not a purist, in fact, my library is mostly made of mp3s. I see no reason to switch to the open OGG format because it isn’t universal. But if FLAC is already well supported and is the non-stated lossless file format why muddy the waters with another closed and licensed product? Believe me when I say that if the world starts heading towards lossless distribution of music Apple will come around.

Honestly, I hope mp3HD never sees the light of day. We have an industry leader and we should keep it that way…and of course since it happens to be open source I am all the more for it. If you are considering going lossless I hope you consider FLAC as your format of choice.

World of Application Launchers

March 16, 2009

I am all about key strokes and not using the mouse. For me I spend a lot of time typing, and stopping to mouse breaks the flow too much. When I first switched to Apple OSX I was at a lose for how to launch applications quickly (like Window+r). What I didn’t realize was the world of application launchers. These are key stroke based applications that allow you to launch programs with a few clicks of the keys (as apposed to the mouse). I call them application launchers, but that is their most basic function and primary I guess.

The leader of this group is Quicksilver. The application at the time was not open source, but it was free. I don’t know if it came first to the bunch, but it certainly was the most mature and created the standard for all other application launchers. My key binding is ctrl+space which opens a box where I type a particular program or command. Mostly I use it to launch programs (it annoys my wife that the doc is virtually empty, why do I need any programs on the doc?). You can also control itunes or send IM’s along with many other features. If you are a Mac user and aren’t using this you need to install it now.

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For Linux there is a nice product called GNOME-do. It is for use in the GNOME desktop which is what is installed by default with Ubuntu. Until recently GNOME-do was pretty weak on features. But recent releases made GNOME-do the quicksilver of the Linux world. It is open source and can do a few tricks outside of launching applications.

For Windows there are a few competitors, but I find Launchy good enough for my needs. Again same concept only for windows. It has been a while since I used Windows so I can’t really speak for what it can or can’t do. It scans your program files to make its list and does a pretty good job. If any of you have experience with the product I would love to hear that in the comments.

So this is the world of application launchers. There is one for each OS. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

O’Reilly’s state of the book market programming languages

February 25, 2009

O’Reilly is releasing their numbers on the book market via programming languages. It is pretty interesting to see where growth was and what languages are more popular than others. For instance they saw the most growth in Python, and saw a pretty significant drop in Ruby and C++, while C# is the most purchased programming language book.

Of course O’Reilly isn’t the end all be all of computer book sales (as in there are other players who may have totally different results) and this is totally just by number units sold, but it is interesting to see what the numbers casually tell you.

UK government to adopt open source

February 25, 2009

Score one for the UK government. They announced plans to use open source wherever possible. This is very exciting news for the open source community. It seems like there has been a significant uptick in open source for infrastructure and servers, and this is only just the most recent one I have seen. From the article:

…Open source can help avoid many of the hidden costs of proprietary software such as making organisations re-pay for licenses if they want to shift use of a particular piece of software from one place to another.

That is one of my biggest problems with closed source products. Long license keys and if you do even the slightest thing to your computer you have to re-register the product, and what if you buy the Mac version but later want to change to the Windows version? With open source you just download the software and install it, no registration, long serial numbers, or phone calls to tech support.

They also mentioned open standards and migrating services. Imagine the cost it would take to move 1000 users from Exchange to some other system or migrating from Active Directory to LDAP. And since both of the MS products are proprietary technology there would be no easy way to migrate users or email to either system. Open source does a good job at filling in the wholes, but if a user wanted to switch from Exim to Send Mail there would be no license or proprietary protocols to get in the way.

Which was another big thing the article brought up. Governments have all the resources they need to hire top notch professionals who could fix something should a problem occur. They mentioned that with open source they could freely change or adapt a program to meet their needs and not worry about licenses or patents. The article also mentioned some troubles they had with closed source software breaking and they weren’t able to fix it due to the closed nature.

To be fair open source has its problems. For instance, if closed source software goes down you usually, though not always, have someone to call that can eventually get the problem fixed, and with open source not all products offer such support, if any. However, I think from the article you will see a good balance and a realization that the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Hopefully we will see this come to be.

Phones, Phones and more Phones

February 18, 2009

I like to discuss phone technology. I believe we are at a point in time where the price for data plans is low enough and the need for phones to do more than just dial a phone call has been reached. I think the iPhone has played a significant role on both fronts. First they created a phone that allowed people to do all the things they could possibly dream of doing and secondly got, at least ATT, cell phone carriers to create data plans that were affordable and virtually unlimited. Now you know that I settled on the iPhone after seeing the G1. Deep down I really would rather have a more open/opensource phone, but wasn’t too pleased with the G1’s first offering. Now it seems that there are more competitors coming to the market.

First there is now a second Android smartphone announced. One of my problems with the G1 was that it was boxy and ugly, not that I require the sexiest phone out there, but hey wouldn’t it be nice? This Android phone looks to fix some of those problems. Beyond that details are sparse, but as far as the OS goes Google seems to be picking up the pace a little bit. Actually if you take the time to look there are some very cool apps for Android that won’t work on the iPhone, but so far nothing that would justify a switch.

The second phone is the Palm Pre. This phone has been the source of some major buzz, partly because it looks and works about as sexy as Apple’s iPhone, but also because it utilizes the touch interface Apple has been threatening lawsuits. Details are now emerging including the fact that the OS is based upon Linux. The application framework looks to be pretty sleek as well. All in all I look forward to the launch of this phone and hope that Palm’s app store will be a little more open than Apple’s.

Still no word about when the Palm Pre will be released or by what carrier, and the second Android looks to be in Europe right now, but it shouldn’t be too long before there are some very inspiring choices here in the states for smartphones. I’ll keep you posted on my findings. I am still hoping to get my hands on a G1 before too long.