Archive for September, 2006

Ubuntu humanity

Today, I sing the song of Ubuntu or perhaps it should be umtu? That’s what it should be in Kiswahili or rather Swahili but hey it is from South Africa and yes the concept behind it does apply in East Africa and pretty much much of Subsaharan Africa. But enough with the cultural feel good tour.

I have joined the Ubuntu community and my humanity is feeling good at the moment; granted, I am joining late in the game but generally the Ubuntu concept of community is working pretty well. I have been working with Fedora Core for a while now but Fedora Core had its moments or perhaps there is no challenge in getting in it to do what I want any more. Ubuntu is a brand new toy, shining and gleaming all over … back to reality.

I tried installing Ubuntu earlier but it refused; the installation would proceed as far as the 5 step, wherein the hard disk is partitioned but that is as far as it got. So I did a couple of things: increased my RAM and then pressed the red button that deleted Fedora Core’s partitions from my hard disk. There is a Windows fault in all these but I am not going to soil my thoughts by wondering down that path for we are gathered here in this writing to honor and welcome Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Installation

Anyhow, installation of Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (Dapper Drake) went on flawlessly and I had a desktop running in no time (I was not keeping track of how long it would take me). I ran updates, my first encounter with apt and its related GUI frontends Synaptic Package Manager. That update took a while as I must have gone over the edge clicking on the packages that I need to include on the base installation. A quick comparison with Fedora: all Fedora Core packages are contained in the 5 CDs it comes it. I was looking for aides to stir my dance loving persona and one in particular was of interest to me; I wanted to download and install Banshee, Beagle and any of the nice stuff that are part of any decent desktop Linux distro. Ok, so they are commonly found on SUSE Linux (and probably other distros that are not so popular) but it is only a matter of time before they are everywhere. I had Banshee installed and I got my groove pumped up, almost executing a rain dance of sorts.

Apt is a wonderful tool generally though I am not impressed by the GUI frontends to it. But then again there is something about working with Linux and interacting with GUI; I feel the GUIs get in the way so I have found my way to using apt commandline tools which frankly are a joy and delight to work with at the very least.

The installation procedures are not yet done and apt, my favorite sidekick is on the job as I type this out.

MythTV (http://www.mythtv.org)

I came across this really nice article about MythTV on Tom’s Hardware and it got me interested in merging my TV habit with my time on the computer. At the moment, there is not much I can do about the metamorphosis of my computer into a TV mainly because of the absence of appropriate hardware at this time. However, I think MythTV goes beyond TV watching (though that is the primary purpose for it) and as such I would like to make use of its other features such as DVD/CD playback as well as media distribution/sharing throughout a network. This seems to be a good opportunity to centralize access to all the music, movies, pictures etc.

With Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (Dapper Drake) installation of MythTV has become easier though I can’t really comment on that at the moment. I am in the middle of the installation process and I hope mine goes to completion without any flaws. Problems may arise if the installation requires the presence of a tuner card or any other hardware that I don’t have access to at the moment.

Xgl

Xgl is the eye candy for Linux distros though there exists variations but they essentially use the same concepts but with a twist. My Ubuntu installation was up and running and I installed a few utilities here and there but I needed a more gorgeous user interface, for that extra satisfaction. Pulled all the packages necessary to install xgl and all of them installed without problems. Unfortunately, I was not to be blessed with xgl fronted GUI :(. I don’t have a support graphics card and since xgl is still experimental software, supported hardware seems to be a requirement at this point.

The Desktop experience

I have been warming up to Ubuntu as a desktop for sometime now. At the moment, I mainly use it for web surfing though I am building the environment necessary to develop applications. I have MySQL installed as part of MythTV installation (mentioned above). Along with MySQL, Apache is running and the PHP components have been installed. Hmm, there is still that bit about linking PHP to MySQL.

I must admit, I have been using Windows for a while and the feel of a Linux text editor is just out of this world in a strange not Windows way. But hey, I went ahead to search for something that has crossed the Windows/Linux divide. That came in the name of Eclipse and after a while without checking on the status of Eclipse, I found out that they have an official PHP IDE for Eclipse.

I am yet to test JDK installation on Ubuntu but I expect it to work and if it doesn’t work and I couldn’t quite convince it to yield, then I will track down some salvation from the rest of the Ubuntu community. I came across EasyUbuntu (please google for it) a couple of days ago (may be already a week by now) and it seems to install some of the packages/software that are not installed by default on Ubuntu. It is a great piece of code which is responsible for my ability to play WMA files on Ubuntu.

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Beauty is broken

Perfection is always understood with reference to divine beings such as God and his angels. Generally nobody would accept an assertion that a human being is perfect and there is some sense in that though I would not be quick to rule out the significance of such a statement. I believe a person can accept himself/herself to be perfect within the confines of his/her imperfections. Yes, I still have a feeling that there is a perspective that I am not seeing in that assertion as it stands.

Look at it this way, the aforementioned imperfections are actually perfect: they are just in the right format and configuration to either balance out some other aspects of the person’s personality or being. Hollywood peddles this notion that people who meet a society’s/culture’s definition of beautiful/handsome are not necessarily the nicest people while those who are considered physically undesirable are willing to show amazing humanity towards others. That was just a generic example that most people may have encountered but on a personal level, most people (who are honest with themselves) would appreciate their “imperfections”.

From the trail of reasoning in the previous paragraph then the conclusion that a human being is perfect is acceptable. Perfection does not necessarily mean absence of imperfections but rather the wholeness and totality of being with reference to a person’s/object’s purpose for existing or simply put a person’s/object’s nature.

Then, how does human perfection relate to divinity?

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Windows vs Linux vs Web 2.0

There is a lot passion in any discussion that involves Microsoft and open source in general and Linux in particular. However remote a topic is from becoming a war of words between the supporters of these two camps, it always seems to end up about Microsoft vs Linux. A while back I read a publication that was written by two Harvard Business School professors. In summary the paper concluded that Linux would remain second best and that the OSS movement will not displace the traditional model of software development.

Yes, the research paper was published last year but what got me thinking was how the hype around Web 2.0 (and increasingly reality around it) affects the findings of the paper. In a world where software is accessible over the Internet using widely implemented standards as is the case with the internet, the underlying operating system becomes irrelevant in determining competition though it is still an important part of the infrastructure that makes everything work. When applications run on the internet, then it is likely that most users will not necessarily care which operating system their device is running.

I think the worry from Microsoft’s perspective has gone beyond Linux and open source generally but also about the emergence and relevance of the web as a platform for software development. The web has been turning into a platform for software development with major internet companies like Amazon, ebay, Yahoo, Google and (increasingly) Microsoft expose their online properties through web interfaces or more specifically APIs. Microsoft has been adding to its Windows Live brand of online services and has seemingly taken up a style of web development that is closely associated with Google wherein software remain in beta for what amounts to eternity (Gmail is still in beta testing). It goes without saying that Microsoft has not released a new consumer version of Windows for the last 5 years.

The shift towards mashups and internet based APIs (from web giants like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, ebay), could possibly be the first step in a long much of the operating system towards obscurity. Operating Systems will always be part of computing devices but their emphasis will be less as time passes and mashups take center stage as the new, proud center of application development and consumption. Google gets the props for popularizing the web as a development platform where third party developers and interested parties can take advantage of publicly available APIs. So far Google engineers have been hard at work churning out web based services, one after the other.

It has been said on countless occasions that Microsoft is competitive and it responds best to competition than its own initiatives for innovation. To site a few examples: Windows Live is a reaction to the threat that companies like Google pose to the long term survival of Microsoft. The .NET framework is a direct reaction to Java though it took them a while to come out with that one. The development and improvements of IE could be attributed to the popularity that Firefox has garnered though the improvements in IE could also be driven by Microsoft’s interest in Windows Live and its related services. After all, everything tied to Windows Live runs on a browser. It therefore makes sense for Microsoft to want a robust browser platform for Windows Live primarily.

Focusing on Internet Explorer will also allow Microsoft the leeway to implement its tried and true strategy of extending its dominance to new products/platforms. Think of it as building on previous strengths if you like: Microsoft was dominant with Windows but Netscape had the browser market so MS leveraged its advantageous position on the OS to take over leadership and control of the browser market. Now with the dominant position of IE and the DoJ’s anti-trust lawsuit behind Redmond, Microsoft can freely dislodge the browser from the rest of the OS and then leverage the dominant position of IE, so as to influence the evolution of the emergent Web 2.0 types of applications.

The .NET platform is another interesting direction towards which Microsoft is headed. Being a web developer, familiar with a wide range of the popular web development platforms, ASP.NET is a unique solution in itself and this solution is being extended to accommodated Web 2.0 through the project code named “Atlas”. The tools support in ASP.NET is quite good and the way it integrated with other .NET technologies such as ADO.NET is quite good as well.

Essentially Microsoft is quite well poised to take advantage of the shift towards the web as an application development platform from a developers perspective. At the same time though companies like Google are quite good in their relationships to consumers generally.

The OSS movement has a unique format and structure to it. There is no center of focus to it in the sense that good ideas do not emanate from a single source though well established projects such as Linux and Apache do influence the general direction of things. On the other hand any developer with a good idea can just as well raise in prominence as has happened with Ruby on Rails most recently and the same situation applies to PHP, at least from its inception. The OSS movement presents a wide range of choices as far as development platforms are concerned. Proprietary platforms are not out of the question for OSS camp; they have open source Java products (including servers and a JDK could be on its way though Sun Microsystems is in the process of open sourcing Java as well). They have an open source implementation of the .Net framework in the name of Mono which surprisingly is being used in creative ways as demonstrated by applications like Beagle, F-Spot and Tomboy (amongst others).

Mono is making its way into various Linux distros because of the applications that have been implemented using the technology. The use of Mono (an implementation of Microsoft’s .NET platform) in Linux or any other open source project is a topic that is worthy of a book in itself even though some of the opinions could largely be driven by passions as opposed to sound logical reasoning. That is not to say that there are no good reasons for and against the use of Mono in open source.

PHP is increasingly moving closer to the enterprise and with new each version improvements are being made to it so that it can better handle the requirements for the development and maintenance of enterprise applications. As a side note perhaps, it is also worth while to note that the prominence of PHP has also encouraged other platforms (Java and .NET primarily) to recognize the need to support scripting languages on their respective platforms.

Let me conclude this post like this: Microsoft is well positioned to influence the so called Web 2.0 but at the same time the OSS movement already has most of the plumbing in place to compete as well as Microsoft or any other proprietary company in the industry. The efforts of the open source community demonstrates its very nature of having a wide variety of choices and at the end of the day the best wins.

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Upgrades

Ok, ok so I have not been giving some TLC to my blog lately but the whole idea is still kind of strange to me to say the least. Plus I could run through a list of such excuses for the rest of eternity. So, first of all Nairobi weather is being totally out of season: it is almost the middle of September and it feel like July. Well, thanks to mother nature’s mood swings I have been cozying up with the common cold. I have just been practicing the variations of sounds that I can produce to accompany a sneeze; I got to have some fun while I am ailing, don’t I?

I have been planning an upgrade to my desktop for a while now and this week I finally took the plunge. I bought I GB of RAM and have them installed. It is not secret that I bored at the thought of dealing with hardware; the installation of the new RAM was not much of a problem though I must admit I had someone who is comfortable with hardware to help along with the process. Anyhow, the chips were installed without incident but after a couple of minutes of running the infamous BSoD would show up. During the few minutes that it was running, my face lit up in delight at the improved performance of my aging desktop.

My buddy left me to deal with the BSoD since it was now a software problem and hence rationally my domain. Of course, I totally forgot to mention that deal with software that are closely associated with hardware (such as drivers) is not that different from the hardware themselves but hey software is software. They will crash and a reboot or two later, they are back to square one ready to crash all over again. Initially, I figured that I need to reinstall Windows to fix the BSoD but I was not in any position to start a Windows re-installation: I have not backed up my data yet and besides I need to experience the current state of my hard disk with the increased RAM.

Like all computer users plagued by BSoD and similar calamities, I conferred with Google. I visited a number of forums where people experience similar problems to mine and I was beginning to get a number of ideas of what was going on. Eventually, I resolved to have a look at the computer’s hardware. It turned out that there is a S3 Graphics ProSavageDDR display driver that’s not starting properly. I updated the display driver and the computer has been performing well since then. I left it running for a while expecting the return of the BSoD but it didn’t show up so I shutdown normally. On start up the next time around, I checked on the aforementioned driver and it was acting up again. Well, I decide to chuck the driver all together and everything has been hanky dory since then.

The other simpler installation was that of a DVD drive. Well, there is not much there to relay other than the fact that it was installed without much trouble.

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