Ubuntu Mate 17.10

Just spent some time trying various Linux distros. With this release (17.10) I have become a real fan of Mate. https://ubuntu-mate.org/

Solus is not far behind. https://solus-project.com/

Both projects are led by people that I respect.

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Canonical Shift

I have to say that I was/am disappointed by the move away from convergence and mobile devices by Canonical. I was very hopeful that we would have options to the stock ones from MS, Apple, and Google.

Having said that, I appreciate the effort expended in what I think was a righteous cause, I understand the realities of markets and finances, and I wish Canonical great success with the new focus.

(I have also tried the existing Ubuntu Gnome distro, and I look forward to the contributions and improvements that will be made to it.)

All Linux, all the time.

After years of wanting to, I have finally converted all of my home computing environments to Linux (Ubuntu 16.04 LTS). This includes one fairly new desktop machine, one old desktop, and one “middle-aged” laptop. It actually was not that hard to do. Networks work, printers and scanners work, and I have found open source software to do everything that I need to do (other than taxes, which are handled via the web).

So, I am not a spokesperson for Canonical, but I do find it liberating to be shed of Windows. It is also clear that the hardware is more efficiently used and performs much better.

I use the machines for . . . basic office documents, financial tracking and planning, email, genealogy, printing/scanning, music, photos, exploring other Linux distributions using virtualization, etc. Nothing complicated. This encourages me that this type of home computing solution could work for others. In many cases it would likely simplify their lives.

For others wanting to try this as well, there are a number of references that might help. – the main Ubuntu website, the international communities that have formed around Ubuntu and other Linux distributions, webcasts such as you can find at Jupiter Broadcasting and twit.tv, companies like System76 that provide hardware (and contribute software), etc.

I really do believe that Linux has matured to the point of being viable for home computing use. Thanks to all those people that have worked and do work in an open source community to make this all possible.

Regards.

GRAMPS Genealogy Software under Linux

Updated 1/12/2017 to include more detail that I have found (and missed). Also updated 1/15/2017 to explain how to fix Solus installation. And finally updated (3/10/2017) to describe use of GRAMPS in Elementary OS.–

This article is a summary of some recent research I have done to answer questions that I have had about the operating systems in which GRAMPS works best. I have one Windows 10 environment on a laptop that I plan to “convert” to a Linux environment. Currently, I use GRAMPS in this Windows 10 environment to build up my genealogy information. So, my goal was to find the best Linux distribution to support use of GRAMPS and the other email and web browsing software.

Here’s some high level information about my windows test environment. – The machine is an Asus N53SV laptop (not new!), 64-bit Intel i7-2630QM architecture , 8 GB of memory, and a conventional disk drive with a nominal capacity of 500 GB. I tested the Linux distributions inside of VMware Workstation 12 Player. Each VM was configured to use two processors, 2 GB of memory, and 30 GB of storage.

I tested Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, Ubuntu Mate 16.10, Solus, Antergos, and Elementary OS.  The test was simple – install GRAMPS 4.2.4 or 4.2.5 from a repository, and then import a GRAMPS backup from the windows 10 system. Here are the results.

Ubuntu 16.04: Installation succeeded without incident.  However, when the application was invoked there were numerous warnings about missing software components that would affect reports. These look like GTK library issues.  This means to me that the software dependencies were not handled properly/completely. Import worked fine. (Note added later: I have installed missing libraries, but that did not completely fix the problems found at startup.)

Solus: Everything worked as you would hope, except for trouble with one missing GTK library (gexiv2) that is reported at startup.  Import worked just fine. – I have subsequently installed the gexiv2  – 0.10.3-4 library using the software center and that eliminated the complaint at startup.

Antergos: Everything went well. Dependencies/addons were called out explicitly, and I installed each one using the interface provided.

Ubuntu Mate 16.10: Once again, everything went well.

Elementary OS (0.4): In this case I installed Elementary OS using QEMU/KVM virtual machine manager. After creating the VM, I found the GRAMPS package using the synaptic package manager, which I installed from the Elementary apps repository. Synaptics installed GRAMPS and picked up all of the dependencies. Success!

In the end I have decided to swap out Windows 10 for Ubuntu Mate – because my tests were  successful and also because I have a familiarity with this distro. My secondary choices, just based on personal preference would be  Antergos and then Solus (in that order) and then Elementary OS. I still run Ubuntu 16.04 LTS on a desktop system from System76, but this version of the operating system has been disappointing in ways mostly associated with how the “Ubuntu Software” application operates. I think that the software made available by the other distributions is better curated and made available for installation. In the end, however, the GRAMPS developers need to fix GTK issues, and I believe that they are in fact doing this.  I expect that by year’s end the problem with missing components will be fixed.  Meanwhile, GRAMPS is still usable at 4.2.4 and 4.2.5.

Perhaps this information will help someone else considering running GRAMPS in a Linux operating system environment.

References:

  1. https://gramps-project.org/wiki/index.php?title=Main_page
  2. https://solus-project.com/
  3. https://antergos.com/
  4. https://ubuntu-mate.org/
  5. https://elementary.io/

Computer Solutions that Work!

I volunteer every week to help people deal with their computer problems – laptops, tablets, phones, etc. I am struck by how poorly much of the standard commercial off the shelf stuff performs for normal, not very technical people. Based on personal experience, I wish that more people knew of the option of buying a laptop or desktop machine that just works and is well supported. That option is buying a machine from System76. These devices come loaded with Ubuntu Linux.  I have recently bought one and am quite pleased. There are other sources for such devices, and I am not paid to promote System76 products. I just wish that more people knew that they have an option other than the type of stuff seen in typical big box stores.

https://system76.com/

Changing Technology

I like to try to keep up with developments in areas that might affect use of computing technology by individuals. Here are two items that I found interesting.  From “PC World” there is a link to an article about Google adding Android app availability to Chromebooks. I think that this is important since the Chromebook/Chrome OS option seems like a useful and inexpensive one for quite a lot of people. Then there is a link to an article about the current work of Tim Berners-Lee. His work is aimed at changing the way that personal data is managed. His direction is quite different from that of Google in terms of use of personal data. This exemplifies the struggle between big organizations that want access to data about you in order to monetize it and others like Berners-Lee, who is more interested in the rights and controls available to individuals. So, the two links actually pertains to opposing factions in the struggle.

http://www.pcworld.com/article/3124525/chromebooks/chromebooks-get-stable-android-apps-as-andromeda-rumors-swirl.html#tk.rss_worldbeyondwindows

http://www.digitaltrends.com/web/ways-to-decentralize-the-web/

 

Helping Someone Choose a Computing Device

Two things motivated me to write what follows. – (1) experiences at a public library helping people with their computing devices and (2) a very positive experience that I had with the purchase of a machine from System76. In general, I am finding that most people, including myself, do not need the complexity and intrusiveness provided by devices powered by the Windows 10 operating system. There are many fine options.  Here is a copy of a document that I recently wrote. –>


Choosing Computing Devices

After months of helping seniors with computing and phone technology, I have come to some conclusions about what products are most appropriate in various common contexts. I believe that many of the observations that follow apply to younger people as well.

The following discussion ignores topics of virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, gaming, wearables, the “Internet of Things,” etc. The discussion does focus on laptops and to a lesser extent tablets and phones.

Table of Contents

Ecosystems 2

Determining What is Best for You 4

Other Opinions and Information 6

Tables to Help You Organize Your Thoughts 7

Hardware Considerations – Laptops & Desktops 7

Software Considerations – Laptops & Desktops 8

Hardware Considerations – Tablets & Phones 9

Software Considerations – Tablets & Phones 10

Ecosystems

In our largely capitalist world, there are so-called technology ecosystems. Most of these are designed to draw you in and lock you in, so as to have access to your money or information about how you use the web or both. Here they are.

  • Microsoft
  • Apple
  • Google
  • Amazon
  • Barnes and Noble
  • the world of Linux and open software

Microsoft offers an assortment of products for home and business use. They have a large vested interest in business computing facilities, and most people in the workforce have used their products at one time or another. Their most recent product release to affect home users is the release of the Windows 10 operating system. With this release they have become much more controlling, and the release has not been particularly well-received. The Microsoft world is a closed world in which interoperability is not a primary goal.

Microsoft has an on-line software store, but its bread and butter desktop/laptop software is MS Office.

Apple also offers an assortment of products. However, their focus seems to be on phones (and tablet products) that use the iOS operating system. Apple should be seen as a hardware manufacturing company as well as a software company. (This differentiates it from Microsoft.) I believe that the majority of their income is from hardware sales, especially iPhones. Apple also offers laptops that run another operating system, but these products have not been updated in quite some time. There are rumors that there will be updates in the Fall of 2016, however. Apple operates retail outlets. The Apple world is also a very closed one in which interoperability with non-Apple products is not a goal.

Apple has an extensive software store, with highly curated and controlled applications.

Google earns its money partly from hardware sales but mostly from advertising sales based on access to your web usage patterns. Google fundamentally wants to know how you use the web so that they can direct ads to you most effectively. Google is not unique in this, they are just “the biggest and best” in this area. Google offers phones and tablets that are based on the Android operating system, which it licenses to other manufacturers of other phone and tablet devices. Google also has produced a laptop operating system (Chrome OS) that is deployed on an assortment of Chromebooks (Google laptops) that can be purchased directly from Google or from a variety of retail outlets. Chromebooks are rather unique in that they are inexpensive platforms on which Google applications run, keeping close contact with cloud storage facilities. It appears that Google will be making some Android applications available to run on Chromebooks in the near future.

Google has a very extensive software store in which many common/useful applications are free.

Amazon offers Kindle tablet devices on which books and music and videos from the Amazon store can be read/played. These are relatively inexpensive devices, but they are less capable when it comes to accessing web facilities. They are closed, proprietary devices.

Barnes and Noble still offers their Nook tablets. These serve the same purpose as the Amazon Kindle devices, only directed to products sold by Barnes and Noble. Again these are not very capable, inexpensive devices that are closed and proprietary.

The world of Linux is by far the least intrusive in terms of wanting your money and/or usage information. The others lust for your money and information about you in many different ways. Linux, however, is an operating system that comes in assorted versions, all supported by world-wide communities of developers that are committed to providing software that is open to scrutiny and in most cases free of charge. Ubuntu Linux is a well-known Linux “distribution.” Linux distributions will run on an assortment of hardware and can be downloaded freely from the web. Laptops and tablets with Ubuntu Linux already loaded can be found at Dell, System76, BQ Systems, and others. Phones employing Linux are available in other parts of the world, but not currently in the US.

Typical distributions like Ubuntu offer extensive libraries of applications. Non-proprietary browsers, email clients, suites of software of “office” applications, photography applications, genealogy applications, etc. are readily available.

Linux is widely used in commercial “server” settings, but it is not so well known by the general public. This is probably because there are no marketing and sales organizations (because the software is free).

Years ago, Linux was in the realm of computer geeks, but it is offered now with user interfaces that make it as easy to use as any of the other proprietary products. It is interesting to note that Apple and Google based their proprietary products on Linux.

Determining What is Best for You

The key in selecting which computer product is for you is to understand how you want to use the device. Do you want a large display, a keyboard, touch control, etc.? What are your software needs – a browser (like Firefox or Chrome), an email client or webmail, storage and access to photos, a calendar, storage and access to music, a way to create documents and spreadsheets, etc.? Make a list of your criteria in terms of hardware and software! Then, shop on-line or at a store.

Also, please consider who will help you with your choice if you run into trouble.

From what I have seen, there are a few common classes of users. The most common type actually has limited needs that include web browsing, emailing, photo storage and display, music storage and playback, limited document creation, video chatting, etc., but no need for complex programs (like professional photo editing, genealogy, etc.) For these people, I strongly suggest that a Chromebook be considered. Consider ones with touch sensitive screens and at least 2 GB of RAM (memory) and 32 GB of storage. The cost of this option should be less than $300.

Next most common type of user. – If you need a general purpose environment that will support complex programs/applications, then I encourage you to investigate a device that runs Ubuntu Linux. Costs for this option can range from $0 (if you already have the hardware) to $1000 (if you buy high end laptop hardware).

If you want a general purpose but highly constrained environment that will support complex programs that is implemented on designer hardware, look at Apple products. Expect to spend $500-$1000 on this option.

If you just want to have a tablet with which to read books, I recommend Android tablets. I suggest that you consider those devices with at least 2 GB of memory (RAM) and 32 GB of storage. This will ensure that you experience good performance as well as the ability to accept future operating system releases, which tend to grow in size and demand more of the hardware. Kindle and Nook tablets are kind of “peculiar beasts.” I would only consider these if you are sure that you only want to access books from one source (and possibly the library). Apple has a line of tablets as well. Apple products offer designer hardware and a constrained environment and a commercial store to pop into. Costs for tablets range from as little as $100 to several hundred dollars.

If you are interested in phones (smart phones, not flip phones), very similar comments apply. As mentioned before, if you want designer hardware and a constrained environment and a commercial store to pop into, look at Apple products. If you want more flexibility, look at Android devices with at least 2 GB of memory and 32 GB of storage by manufacturers that keep the Android software up to date. Cell phones can be expensive, but unlocked Android phones with reasonable amounts of memory start at around $200. If you go nuts with designer, flagship phones, you can spend something like $800 (unlocked). Make sure that you understand any discounts that might be offered if you make long term commitments. Usually you are really paying off a loan by getting a phone inexpensively in exchange for a long term contract.

In general, I do not recommend devices with Microsoft Windows as the operating system unless there is some overriding consideration or the user is willing to become very technically involved in the computing environment.

Tables at the end of this document may help you organize your thoughts.

Other Opinions and Information

Certainly, you must make up your mind for yourself, and I don’t claim omniscience. Other current information and opinions can be had by listening to web casts and reading blogs like the following. The library also has lots of resources. Technical things change fast, so don’t think that what you knew a month ago still holds true today!

www.twit.tv (web casts – lots of general information, mostly hosted by Leo LaPorte)

www.jupiterbroadcasting.com (web casts – a more youthful view of Linux)

https://blog.eogn.com/2014/05/01/why-use-a-chromebook/ (a genealogist’s view in blog form)

https://arc.applause.com/2016/08/18/android-updates-marshmallow/ (a link to an article about Android software updates)

https://ting.com/ (an example site for acquiring unlocked phones and buying usage plans based on levels of usage)

Tables to Help You Organize Your Thoughts

In each case below you will find a table that lists things that might be important to you. Table entries for the various operating system providers can be used to fill in your feeling or rating. – Imagine entering a number between 1 and 5 to indicate that you rate the provider high (5) or low (1).

Hardware Considerations – Laptops & Desktops

Evaluation topic

Apple

Google (Chrome OS)

Linux

Microsoft (Windows)

Type of processor (speed, cores, etc.)
Amount of memory (RAM)
Size and type of mass storage (disk)
Wi-Fi protocols (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac)
Bluetooth protocol (4.0)
Communication ports (usb 2, 3, hdmi, etc.
Graphics support (integrated, separate GPU)
Camera(s) and microphone and speakers
Touchscreen
Keyboard availability
Expandability
Power consumption
Price
Other . . .

Software Considerations – Laptops & Desktops

Evaluation topic

Apple

Google (Chrome OS)

Linux

Microsoft (Windows)

Interoperates with things that I like
Virus protection
Firewall protection
Intrusiveness
Price
Office applications
Basic applications (browser, email, music, contacts, calendar)
Complex applications (genealogy, professional photography, etc.)
Social applications
Software store
Price
Other . . .

 

Hardware Considerations – Tablets & Phones

Evaluation topic

Apple

Google (Chromebook

Linux

Amazon (Kindle)

Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Microsoft

Type of processor (speed, cores, etc.)
Amount of memory (RAM)
Size and type of mass storage (disk)
Wi-Fi protocols (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac)
Bluetooth protocol (4.0)
Communication ports (usb 2, 3, hdmi, etc.)
Display size and resolution
Camera(s) and microphone and speaker
Weight
Keyboard
price
Form of interaction (mouse, pad, touch screen)
Power consumption
Other . . .

 

Software Considerations – Tablets & Phones

Evaluation topic

Apple

Google (Chrome OS)

Linux

Microsoft (Windows)

Interoperates with things that I like
Virus protection
Firewall protection
Intrusiveness
Price
Office applications
Basic applications (browser, email, music, contacts, calendar)
Read books, magazines, etc.
Social applications
VoIP communications (over the web rather than over the phone’s radio)
Software store
Other . . .

8/31/2016

Encrypted Email

Sometimes (for legal, financial, or other reasons) I need to send/receive encrypted email. There are free services for this, but they can be somewhat difficult to use and do not technically provide complete protection. Well, now there is a great (free) alternative that you might want to use. It is from some folks that used to work at CERN banging nuclear particles together. Their product is called ProtonMail.

https://protonmail.com/security-details

They have good credentials, having worked at CERN. I believe that their efforts were “crowd-funded,” and the product became available to everyone last week.

http://home.cern/about