26 April 2012

A history of Mozilla browsers design

Writing the piece on FOSS design, it made me think about past experiences in various communities and brought back memories to the point when I decided to put down some thoughts on Mozilla browsers (won't cover other apps today) design history as I saw it, both as an user and from my involvement with its community. Even if the screenshots below are taken mostly from Wikipedia (try to run 10-15 years old binaries on a current Linux desktop), all the experiences are mine.

As Mozilla has its roots in the old Netscape, a history of its design must start with Netscape, which in its time was very popular, the most used web browser, but was not very good on the "looks" chapter. It was using its own widgets set, allowing the application to run on multiple platforms, but in none of them looked very good. When Internet Explorer came, it dethroned Netscape on many ways: it was already installed (the monopoly lawsuit on the matter has its own history) and it was "good enough". But it also had a better design, it used native widgets and it looked "native" (on Windows, of course), simple and familiar, while Netscape remained with the antiquated look and feel.

mozilla design history
Late Netscape 4.x look

You maybe know the story of Netscape going Open Source as Mozilla after its management read The Cathedral and the Bazaar and also as the only chance they saw against the Internet Explorer assault.
It debatable if their move to rewrite the entire suite from scratch was a good thing or not (on one hand it was a chance to get rid of the old cruft, on the other it was a huge delay), but here I talk only about the design, so the rewrite brought also a new interface and new widgets. At the time there were "milestone release" from the development tree, working to various degrees. It also has a new interface with a "futuristic", non-native, look, to show the power of XUL and allowed for a new feature: theming - at the time making the interface themeable was the rage of the industry, I don't know who invented it, but Winamp (by then also an AOL property, as Netscape) made it really popular.

mozilla design history
Early Mozilla suite look (M3)

During the "milestones" stage the interface didn't change very much:

mozilla design history
Early Mozilla Suite look (M8)

Then it moved to numbered, pre-1.0, releases. Those releases saw many changes who led to the 1.0 like tabbed-browsing, which at the time was not adopted for their friendliness (they are NOT better for usability), but for pragmatic reasons: it was painfully slow to open a new window, but a new tab was faster. Also the new pair of themes, "Classic" and "Modern". It was also the start of Netscape's "design sabotage" of Mozilla.
Netscape moved to Open Source, but they tried a "hybrid" model, while having the Mozilla suite as Free software, they kept the Netscape suite derivative (just a rebuild) the old proprietary way. And they used they engineers, placed in strategic positions, to keep this reality. One example is the default look: the suite included by default two themes, "Classic" was a direct copy of the old Netscape 4.x look and was the default for the Mozilla Suite, with the intentions to keep the end-users away, while Netscape had "Modern" as default, to attract users:

mozilla design history
Mozilla Suite with the Classic theme

mozilla design history
Netscape Suite with the Modern theme

Of course the community routed against it, then were sites providing tons free themes. And Open Source developers did even better: the "Classic" theme was made to use native widgets which, despite the still ugly icons, it made it work way better.
Another Netscape idiocy happened around then (while not directly design-related, it links with the following step): annoyed by the prolonged development delay, they released a "stable" Netscape Suite release based on an early Mozilla Suite beta, which was slow and ridden by bugs, a bad impression for users.

With the mantra "Mozilla is for developers, Netscape is for users", the Mozilla Suite was shipped with a completely unprofessional splash screen, designed to scare end-users away:

mozilla design history
Mozilla splash screen

The community tried to fight-back, the Bugzilla item for about the splash screen was the most active, some submitted new and beautiful images as patches, nothing worked, the issue was controlled by Netscape engineers (and the application has a slow start, needing the splash screen).
Of course, the Open Source development made it customizable, after a while it became possible to use your own splash by just dropping a PNG file in the same directory with the main binary, there were sites and forums offering alternate splashes and so. But the default matters, and after huge wars the image was "upgraded" to an orange rectangle with black "Mozilla" text:

mozilla design history
"Improved" Mozilla splash

In the meantime, the splash screen for the "user-oriented" Netscape was more polished:

mozilla design history
Early Netscape splash

And it really evolved in time:

mozilla design history
Improved Netscape splash

Yet another example was the design of the mozilla.org website, it was also kept "scary" for end-users and with a lot of disorganized information, even the experienced FOSS hackers had troubles finding it:

mozilla design history
Mozilla.org website

Of course the strategy backfired and both the Mozilla Suite and the Netscape Suite were almost wiped out of the map, reaching, IIRC, a marketshare low of about 2%.

Then a reborn happened: a couple of engineers started the Phoenix project, it was an alternate browser based on the Mozilla technology but free of the Netscape management and user-oriented.

mozilla design history
The Phoenix/Firebird logo

At first Phoenix was Windows-only, as there were the users, but later other FOSS developers ported it to Linux and other operating systems. The interface was heavily targeted at bringing back Internet Explorer emigrants, with changes in menu layout,shotcuts, icons and dropping features and components (it was only a browser, with no email composer or chat). The Internet Explorer targeting was aggressive, with bugs tracking the progress towards this goal.
Another characteristic of this project was its decisional structure, which was more "cathedral", with less developers being allowed to make changes (in the Suite, Netscape engineers had pretty much free reign).

mozilla design history
Phoenix 0.1

While the first release, Phoenix 0.1, was small and humble, its design took many cues from the existing competing browsers, Opera and (the infamous) Internet Explorer 6 (there may be influences from Safari, but I have no direct experience with it, so can't talk about that):

mozilla design history
Opera look at the time

mozilla design history
Internet Explorer at the time (version 6)

After two change in names (the Phoenix name was already used by a BIOS maker, they moved to Firebird, which was already used by a FOSS database so they had to change again to Firefox) and many intermediary release, Firefox 1.0 came to light. By the time it was governed by the Mozilla Foundation who took over Netscape and was targeting at last end-users (just as the browser). The increase in user-base followed.

mozilla design history
Firefox 1.0

The model of Firefox was followed by the email client, Thunderbird (which started as project Minotaur) and the HTML editor BlueGriffon (which followed KompoZer and Nvu).

For many of you the relatively recent design and development of Firefox may be familiar, it didn't get earthshaking advancements, it had small modification, new icons set and the most, and somewhat controversial feature (fortunately, it happened only on Windows, not touching yet us, Linux users) was the "keyhole" modification of the navigation buttons.

mozilla design history
Firefox "keyhole"

Then Chrome happened. Powered and heavily promoted by Google, fast, sporting a minimal and simple interface, it gained a lot of market share, overtaking Firefox and closing into Internet Explorer. Modern Firefox get its share of criticism for copying much of the Chrome design (and also the release numbering).

mozilla design history
Early Chrome release

Modern Internet Explorer design also has its influence on the Firefox design, which from the beginning was intended as a Internet Explorer replacement:

mozilla design history
Internet Explorer 8

This bring us back to the current Firefox, which had recently yet another release, Firefox 12:

mozilla design history
Current Firefox (version 12)

But I still didn't finish my story, Mozilla Suite has yet another child, a brother of Firefox: with the Netscape Suite demise, after being stagnant for a while, the code was reborn as the Seamoney suite, a direct follower, sharing the old look and feel of the suite but bringing also some new features from Firefox and Thunderbird. Even its "Classic" theme, despite the new and pretty icons, has cues of the old theme.

mozilla design history
Recent Seamonkey suite with the "Classic" theme

For nostalgics, it also has the "Modern" theme, just the same as the old "Modern" from the Mozilla/Netscape suite (grace to the advanced hardware of today, it not slow any more, just ugly).

mozilla design history
Recent Seamonkey suite with the "Modern" theme

24 April 2012

Release names: it's supposed to be fun

I see people campaigning hard on Planet Fedora against having release names, it heated now since the vote on this matter is closing in a few days. Time to bring balance in the force: why do we need release names?

Because is supposed to be fun!

Of course, there are many other arguments for it, ranging from identity to putting a warmer face on the project for the external actors (potential contributors?) to involving our community, but all those are trumped by the most important argument, this is a community, not a corporation, were we should be friends and have fun time together, not wear suits, be silent and serious and work like robots. No, no, no, is a place where we want people to come in their free time and feel good.

Some will pick on the F17 having a silly name as "Beefy Miracle"... guess what? This particular code name was voted by the community exactly for its silliness, don't be grumpy. Some others will pick on it for a perceived religious offence. Guess what? Anything on this world will find someone unhappy with it, don't be an extremist. Next time it may be your turn to propose a name. Some others will complain about the waste of resources for selecting the names. Guess what? I'm sure the benefits overweight the resource used and I guess all this campaign wastes a comparable amount of resources.

So I voted in favor of keeping the release names as I believe having them is a benefit.

PS: for every "Beefy Miracle" there is also a "Zod" or a "Werewolf".

Design in the FOSS world

As I told in a previous post, I came with the idea of a panel about design in the FOSS world at the upcoming Libre Graphics Meeting but then chickened-out and resumed to photography stuff, still the panel will happen anyway. I think is a good idea to write-down my thoughts on the matter, since the outcome of the panel is going to be a direct opposite of what I envisioned (that's what I expect, giving the panelists).

So, what's the problems? while proper Free and Open Source Software happens in the bazaar, traditionally design is done the opposite way, in the cathedral, an unavoidable conflict. On top of that, there is also the problem of the designers being primadonas, considering their work dark magic, voodoo, incomprehensive by mere mortals. It doesn't help a lot of volunteer developers participating in communities have big egos too, as they are doing the work for free, so they expect at least that.

I am not a designer (some people call me so, thinking is flattering, but is not the case), I do graphics and photography and I am not exactly a developer either (my amount of coding these days is minimal), which is a different matter, so let me say it straight: designers are poisonous for a FOSS project. And if they are on the payroll of a company company sponsoring the project, that is the kiss of death. Look around, all you favorite FOSS apps, once they start being "designed" they suffer a kind of inverted Midas touch.

There is no hope? No way to have a polished FOSS product? There are examples of nice piece of software in the FOSS world you will say... And this is right, is possible, the key is not to have the development driven by designers and avoid your community project transforming in a blackbox, where feedback in unwelcomed, only patting on the back is accepted and the style of work resembling the corporate structure.

I said I'm no designer, but I will use design tools to illustrate my point: when one design a software, he creates a number of personas, fictitious individuals fitting various use cases and then the software is optimized to fulfil use-scenarios around those personas. Based on my long time spent on multiple FOSS communities, I will make my own list of "designer personas" you can find in the FOSS world:

  • The kid who got a bit of fame for drawing a set of pretty icons for a widely-used communication tool. He then goes to believe he has design skills and start making usage assumption for interface design for an application. He lacks the life experience and he is only an occasional user of the app, his assumptions are flawed. But he think of himself as a star.;
  • The designer who is employed by a large company for various tasks. He makes pretty graphics and is generally a nice person, doing volunteering for various offline communities for such. But he has a background in the corporate and proprietary world and does not understand the mechanics of a FLOSS communities. Tries to interact with the community in the proprietary ways he knows;
  • The developer suffering badly of the NIH syndrome who rewrite every piece of software because he think he's smarter. He got known for uselessly rewriting a basic tool, then he gets employed by a major company to rewrite an important tool, which not even now has feature parity with the old version, then he leads the wrecking of a desktop system used by millions of people. He thinks reading a book makes him a designer;
  • The leader of a design community, he got in the place saying the right community things, have a good position inside the sponsoring company and the needed relations. The community is happy with the choice, having the "right" person in the "right" place. Later, when he get the corporate position of overseeing the community, he turn his back to the community, acting mainly for his own agenda and job security;
  • The designer from a corporation with a hybrid business model: they release a "lite" version for free and a "full" package commercially. The designer has to polish only the commercial version, while making sure the Free version is rough and unfriendly;
  • The developer who says "to hell with UNIX traditions, Windows do this thing nicely, let's copy it in Linux", users have to swallow it while moaning "if I wanted to run Windows, I had ran Windows in the first place";
  • The designer who takes a project aimed at a certain niche (let's say computer professionals), tries to tarket if at a niche that will never use it (let's say school kids), changing it in the process so it becomes painful to use for the initial category of users. They leave in droves, for alternative projects;
  • The designer who does everything to please his boss, mixing professional, familial and community things and leaving the community always on the last place;
  • And obviously the designer with an Apple envy trying to emulate the Apple look and feel everywhere, even, or mostly, where is not the case.

I am sure some of my readers will recognize themselves in the personas above and I am also sure many of my readers will recognize some of the personas and identify them with designers they know, the descriptions are not 100% work of fiction.

20 April 2012

Tandoori Chicken for F18

I weighted the alternatives in the F18 name voting and while some are just silly, I stopped on two:

  • Tandoori Chicken because we need to accept cultural diversity and have people from other parts of the world play;
  • Spherical Cow because I think it was ridiculous some people were offended by beef in Beefy Miracle and we should ridicule the ridiculous.
After I measured a while, I made my mind and voted for Tandoori Chicken (this was not an Indian influence, I never had this dish).
tandoori chicken
Image courtesy of Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA license

Update: I also voted YES to the keep the release names poll.

19 April 2012

Fedora 17 + Cinnamon

After playing with Xfce 4.10 for the desktop, it was a good time to give Cinnamon a play and see what is about. So on my netbook running Fedora 17 Beta I yummed Cinnamon from the repo and saw it in its full glory:


Very Apple like but totally useless. Sorry, I am redundant: very Apple like.

GIMP 2.8: Preview

I wrote the other day about me upgrading my system in order to be able to run the Preview Release of GIMP 2.8, I have it up and working, ready for real work: a preview of the new features to be expected.

So the new GIMP 2.8 release is currently in the Release Candidate stage, the final release may come any time now (wild guess: the Libre Graphics Meeting conference is taking place in a couple of weeks and it will bring together a number of its developers), previews and reviews are starting to appear, is a big deal since this release is about 1.5 years late - it was expected since December 2010 but got delayed again and again - probably it was not sexy enough for the developers, who are excited about the next release, 2.10, which is going to deliver more meaty stuff.

Major user interface change

What make titles for this release is the big interface change (I wrote about it before) which introduced optionally (not yet as default) a Single-Window Mode (activate it in the "Windows" menu). From what I see, newbies will like it, finding it less scary (my girlfriend is a good example, she saw me preparing the article, I showed her the differences, she "definitely" liked the single-window mode - she does photo editing, but with simpler apps, no GIMP, no Photoshop). Photoshop nay-sayers will hate it, they will hate anything but a total Photoshop interface cloning, which will never happen (and that is a good thing). For the rest of us, the opinion will be split, I find the single-window mode wasting more screen estate, especially on the netbook, and harder to use when working with multiple images at once. For those reasons I keep using the multi-window mode. But the single-window mode is cleaner. Here's a comparison, you decide:

gimp 2.8 preview
gimp 2.8 preview

Underlying library work

What's really important, but maybe less user-noticeable, is behind the scene: library work. GIMP 2.8 is an intermediary step in the progress for GEGL integration (GEGL is a graph based image processing framework that will provide the core for GIMP, allowing for much advanced features). This process started with GIMP 2.6, advanced with 2.8, will be finished in 2.10. Expect the real meaty features (like high depth color channels) in the release after 2.10 (is not know if it will be labelled 2.12 or 3.0). For now GEGL is used in some UI elements and some optional filters and tools:

gimp 2.8 preview
Another library work is cairoification, the UI make use of Cairo for some operation (more on this later) and also an important feature is Ghostscript integration, which will provide direct (and better) import/export features for various formats, for example the PDF export will retain text as text.
gimp 2.8 preview

Cage Transform Tool

Another feature that will make headlines is the introduction of a new tool: Cage Transform. It was developed as a GSOC project a couple of years ago and now is the time to appear in a first release. It allows do define an area (as a polygon) and then apply deformations of the parts of the image inside, by moving the nodes - while spectacular (expect a wave of digital breast enhancements), it is mostly a technology showcase for GEGL, used behind the scene, and cairofication, which allows for the on-canvas editing, expect something really useful later (2.10 or even later) in an on-canvas version of the iWarp filter which will hopefully be a worthy replacement for Photoshop's Liquify tool.

gimp 2.8 preview

On-canvas progress indicator

Grace to cairofication, some tools have now an on-canvas progress indicator, which make GIMP a little more pleasing to the eye:

gimp 2.8 preview

On-canvas text editing

Again with the help of Cairo, now the text editing is done on-canvas with instant preview and apply, not in a separate dialog window. Such a feature may sound trivial and expected long ago, but it needed something like Cairo for the infrastructure, is pretty and we finally have it. Is a plus.

gimp 2.8 preview

Layer groups

Yet another intermediary feature: now GIMP has layer groups which will help you better organize a complex work, but expect the feature to get more useful in a later release, when it will be possible to apply filters to an entire group. For now, simple operations are possible, like setting the layer mode for the entire group.

gimp 2.8 preview

More stuff

Of curse, there are more smaller features to be found there, for example the new brushes pack and an improved brushes dialog window that provides filtering for categories. Useful for digital painting.

gimp 2.8 preview


Many things changed in the new release, including shortcuts, so you will have to do some re-training of your reflexes (or go in the preferences and adjust them to your liking). For example, wanting for their app to be seen as "serious" and not only a "JPEG editor", the developers went for some low-hanging fruits, until real features will come (post 2.10/GEGL), we have face-lifts: having "save as JPEG" was not considered a professional feature, now you can save only as XCF (GIMP's own layered file format), for everything else you have to use Export - annoying then most of the time you just want to save as JPEG or PNG (and I say this with my photographer hat on).

gimp 2.8 preview

As a conclusion, GIMP 2.8 is a worthy upgrade, but don't expect something earth-shattering. Have fun using it :)

18 April 2012

Fedora 17 + Xfce 4.10

We are restarting the monthly LUG meetings and I planned to deliver a presentation about the imminent GIMP 2.8 release (there is a lot of disinformation about it). But since GIMP 2.8 RC1 cannot be installed on older Fedora releases due to missing dependencies, I had to move with the times and upgrade the OS on the netbook. Following are my candid impressions, as a person who skipped the last two Fedora releases, so part of it may be really old and known.

The choice was Fedora 17 Beta with the Xfce spin, with the plan to update Xfce to 4.10, which is also in Release Candidate stage (to be included proper only in Fedora 18). So I downloaded a live image, put it on an USB stick and booted from it. But doing it "zero hour", I didn't use the real Beta release, but its Release Candidate, with the update to Beta to follow.

The first thing to notice booting the live image was the ugly Syslinux screen (sorry, I can't take a screenshot of that), text-only and black, but those are early stages and I don't know the design team plans about it, it may get better (or left black to fit the GNOME Shell theme?). The second thing was the almost unusable trackpad: the mouse cursor had acceleration and inertia, it made excessively hard to hit any target - icon, button, menu. So using mostly the keyboard I managed to install to hard drive.

The install is straightforward, in the Fedora style, with some refinements. I missed the package selection step, but this time was not needed (it will be for a desktop install). Still, at some point I panicked: I also missed the GRUB configuration dialog, it wrote the MBR without asking me about the other OSes on the machine, it made be wonder "is the first Fedora install to fuck-up the existing Windows install?". Fortunately, it was not the case, at the next boot everything was there, only with ugly labels. I'll have to manually edit the GRUB config later.

At the first post-install boot, the very first thing to notice was the ugly GRUB screen, just as ugly as the Syslinux described above: black and text only. And this despite the fact F17 is using GRUB 2, which has hi-quality graphic options (again, I don't know the design team plans regarding it).

Another thing I noticed was during the first boot the first user creation screen has a feature many people asked for: a checkbox to make that user an "administrator". "Wonderful, now legions of users will roam the internet with Linux desktops run by default with administrator privileges, just like Windows" screamed a voice in my head. Fortunately, it seems not that bad: I still need to su as root to install packages with yum from a terminal, but PackageKit will happily accept the "administrator" user password when doing the same.

I don't know how to take a screenshot of GDM on a running machine, but when the machine was ready to use, the GDM look was another negative thing to notice: of course its "G" stands for "GNOME Display Manager" so it looks like GNOME Shell, completely unfit to the Xfce desktop to follow. My understanding is GDM was a temporary solution and the Fedora Xfce team will replace it with a proper solution for the spin when it will reach feature parity.

Now it was the time to upgrade Xfce from 4.8 to 4.10 RC, thankfully, there is a repo for this, just download the .repo file to your /etc/yum.repos.d/ directory and then just yum update. The update has the additional benefit of bringing my Fedora install to Beta and suddenly my mouse issues disappeared, all good. For the Xfce update, it was not that smooth, a couple of conflicting packages had to be removed manually so the yum update can work (remmina-pugins-rdp and xfce4-time-out-plugin).

Once Xfce 4.10 is up, you can see the difference: the widgets are a bit cleaner, the menu a simpler structure, documents have thumbnails on the desktop. It was the time to teak the layout: I changed the wallpaper (I find the F17 default kind of cheesy), put two full panels at the top and bottom (GNOME 2 - style)

, populated the panels with applets and so on - made it a home, the result is like the screenshot below (I bet everyone got bored reading until here with only text, no screenshots) - the only thing I miss is a bit of alpha transparency for the panels, didn't figure how to enable the compositor:
fedora 17 xfce 4.10

As you can see, a very familiar traditional no-nonsense desktop that will help you get your work done. Yes, there are some problems, I am unhappy the most with spacing: too much space around the items on the panel and too little space around the item in the menus, a grid too big for the desktop items with no way to override it and very small thumbnails. It can use some more polish.

Speaking of visual glitches and polish,the screen unlocker looks very old, xscreensaver has plain-old widgets (sorry, I don't know how to make a screenshot of that) and Nodoka theme, that used to be Fedora's signature looks a bit dated (its developer was pretty much alienated from the community):

fedora 17 xfce 4.10

Application wise, I didn't have to to much, installed GIMP and Inkscape for my work needs and the multimedia stack, which is also a must for any desktop oriented computer. Didn't explore much the default apps, I can only say I didn't like the note taking app and replaced it with Gnote, which unfortunately has poor panel integration.

While installing, I hit another glitch, which I remember from the past: the PackageKit GUI was unable to accept signatures from repos, you kit the "Yes" button and it does nothing, so after configuring RPM Fusion I had to open a terminal, su and then manually install a random package and accept the signature. After that, the GUI was usable.

In the following days I will use it more, will end my piece now with a thought about ending the Xfce session: I miss the shut-down dialog being fired when pressing the power off button.

13 April 2012

Libre Graphics Meeting 2012

2-5 May 2012, Vienna: Libre Graphics Meeting is taking place. Is the 7th edition of the conference for people involved in Free graphics, you will find there software developers, designers, artists and users. Many great people already announced their presence and probably many other will come too. If you are into Free software and doing anything graphic related, this is the place to be at the start of next week.

Personally I missed the last year edition, it happened far-away in Canada (alternating locations, so everybody can attend once in a while is a LGM tradition), but now I am looking forward to meet old friends, colleagues and make new aquitances.

But I want to be actively involved, not only as a consumer, so I won't just watch the conference, but be part of the program, so I submitted, and it was accepted, a talk about Wiki Loves Monuments, the Wikipedia Free photography contest, which was the most important project I was involved in the past year - it will be a different thing, about usage and community work, in the middle of many software development talks.

I also had another idea for a talk submission - a panel about design in the FOSS world and design in the community - a debate about its possibility (design is a cathedral, FOSS is a bazaar), the traps and examples from the real world. But I was a coward: figured is a very controversial topic on which I may get very acid, chickened-out of this flamewar. But while still considering it, I pitched the idea to a friend and the panel will happen. With a different team and a completely different outcome. I may troll it from the audience :D

So long story short: come to LGM, it will be tons of fun.


12 April 2012

Sakura wallpaper

Long time no new Free wallpaper? Then is time to correct that. And being the hanami time, when people go out and watch sakura, a proper picture has to be about Japanese cherry trees in full blossom (most of the pics I took here have also people in them, which makes them unsuitable as wallpapers so just only one today):

sakura wallpaper

How it's made

If a single pic is a bit on the little side, then I have to add something... maybe a "making of" picture, taken when I was struggling to catch the proper back light for the photo above. Complete with the black CC T-shirt:

making of

03 April 2012

CentOS Desktop

I may be (half) joking sometime, but it happens to be serious too: encountered an old laptop (in bad shape, lot of dead pixels and such, it was a workhorse back in its time) which refuses to play along with Windows: bluescreen at startup, bluescreen at fresh install, hardware problems. The first thought: memory problems but memtest96 running from a Fedora live CD disagrees... but if I booted the device from that CD, just for the kicks I booted the distro (F14): works correctly, no lock-up, even WiFi is supported OOTB (so I suspect the hardware problem lies with the video card and is triggered by real use, not by the VESA driver).

The laptop won't go for repair, so I have to do something... then I was struck: if Linux seems to work on it, let me put Linux as a full install: is going to be used a few days until the main laptop returns from the repair shop and then occasionally by a kindergarden kid (rarely and under his mother's supervision). Then... which flavor? At first I wanted a recent Fedora (F16) with Xfce but then it struck me: there is something better for the task, CentOS 6.2 with a full GNOME install, a sane desktop, working close of what they know and expect and relatively recent software (they don't need bleeding edge stuff like me).

A friend of mine asked: why not Sugar? and my only reply was "hahaha!" those people already used computers, they expect a panel, a Firefox icon, file icons, multiple windows... something that won't look alien. And even the kid will use it with the mother next to him, and she needs to understand it.

So the CentOS install went smoothly, starting from a live image, installed it to the hard drive, updating the software (you can get even Firefox 10, so is quite new) and then completing the install with some multimedia packages (repoforge filled the bill for this) and a bit of customization of the layout, to be more Windows-like.


As a conclusion, CentOS is a good option if you want a solid, classic desktop that works the way you are used with. The packages are (yet) relatively recent and will stay the same for the life of the current Fedora release, so you don't lose much. The looks of the distro are somewhat split: while the boot animation is beautiful, when you get to the desktop, there are still some Bluecurve icons (for LibreOffice). I would use that for myself? no. I would recommend it for others? yes.

02 April 2012

Earth Hour

Last Saturday from 20:30 to 21:30 it was the Earth Hour, celebrated worldwide, including in my city. Last year it was quite weak, so I could very well stay home and play some PC games, but a group of friends had plans to go to the Izvor park and take photos of a fire show organized for the event and my girlfriend learned about an Earth Hour themed photo contest and persuaded me to participate. Ok, here we go.

The contest was a bit fishy (in the end I concluded I won't send any photos, but that's a different matter): at the last moment, instead sending a list of places where thing happens, they said "nothing happens in Bucharest, so you can shoot anywhere you want, even at home" - but things happened, the above-mentioned fire show and two other symphonic concerts in a couple of other parks. But they were advertised on a competing website, one with and another without a "-"... fishy as said.

Fast forward to the show place, the first thing I saw there was the URL of the organizers in huge letters on the ground, covered by many candles and I wondered: is not about saving the planet? All the candles will send CO2 in the atmosphere... good thing we have some forests left to break it again. I guess is not about saving planet but about feeling ourselves better. Fake.

Fast forward again, shutting the lights off time... a number of buildings, from administrative ones to cultural institution to even hotels, were supposed to close the lights, including the Palace of Parliament, in the background of our location. Guess what? They closed a few lights and dropped a lot of curtains, so you think the lights are off. And it was Saturday evening... nobody working there, no Parliament, no other governmental institutions, at that hour probably not even the cleaning personnel.

Once the lights were "off" the fire show started, it was spectacular but as ecological as... see the illustration below:


So let me count:

  • lights on on the background building, which were supposed to be off;
  • live music on the stage (drums) with lights on (they were LED, but still using electric power);
  • the sound system on, using electric power;
  • a lot of cameras, some with lights and flashes in the audience, all using electric power;
  • fire makes smoke, of course
A friend told me: maybe they use a generator - as if that would be better, still consuming fossil fuel, still polluting, probably eve more, due to poor efficiency of a small generator.

But enough with the negativism, as I said the show was spectacular and I, as many others, took a lot of pics. As a reward with the audience putting-up with my rant so far, here are a couple of those pics optimized as wallpapers and freely licensed (CC-BY-SA).

01 April 2012

W8 for desktop

It was a long needed upgrade, so we finally replaced my girlfriend's laptop: it has a 17" display, since is going to be used mostly for photo management and editing (her favorite for this task is a Windows app, ACDSee with the plan to move to Lightroom "at some point", in the rare case photo surgery is needed, I keep my line: "GIMP is what I know and what I can teach you") ant it is a n-SERIES Dell which I suggested as I wanted to play with different distros (my other computers are a 5years old desktop and a netbook), get outside my comfort area (GNOME 2/Xfce on Fedora), see what works for me and what don't: is Mint usable, what's the deal with Cinnamon, can I live with Debian, how KDE evolved and such.

I can't really say how it happened, but at some point I installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview - something I always avoided, as it comes from the same moronic design as GNOME Shell and Unity and... guess what? I kind of dig it, is not at horrifying as expected, I think I found my new desktop and will use it for a while. With Windows builds of GIMP, Inkscape, Pidgin, VLC, Thunderbird and Firefox on top, of course. Not sure what about video editing, but will cross that bridge when I will get there.