Friday, November 16, 2007

Dissention on the Menu

Much discussion and debate circles the use of Kickoff and other attempts at replacing KMenu. Hopefully some ideas will come out of the noise.

What I would like to do is ask a few questions that need to be answered by whatever solution is offered. I'll state up front that I like Kickoff, and until seeing it had grown to hate KMenu. The reasons why will become apparent in my questions.

How can easy access to commonly used items be provided? Browser, mail client, music player, file system, and maybe a few others.

The first question had two answers, one for a new user, or someone unfamiliar with the icons and application names, and a second answer possibly for an experienced user (which probably applies to those reading this blog).

How can easy access be provided to log out, shut down or switch users?

How can a list of the application history be provided?

How can a hierarchical list of applications be provided?

If I install new software, how can I find it to run it?

How can I have tens or hundreds of applications installed and have access to them?

With all these answered, estimate how often each of these actions occur. In percent. This would determine how easy access to each action should be.

Kickoff attempts to answer these issues. The most powerful and the most unpredictable feature of Kickoff is the search, but moving the mouse wrong can lose the results. I think a persistent search pane would help. Hopefully other attempts will be made to solve this difficult problem. But to be useful they need to provide answers real problems.

Mountains and Sun

November is a grey month, with low clouds, fog and rain. You can see the difference in people. Instead of smiling and talking, everyone is huddled in their coats and fighting a mild depression that will last until february.

I enjoyed getting above all that, literally. Across from Nelson there are well worn trails up the mountain. In an hour you can get to around 4500-5000 ft elevation. Above the low cloud that hangs in the valley. The wind is bracing, the air is clear. Whenever I stop to catch my breath, Olivia my dog turns around and looks at me, willing me further. It seems the elevation energizes her. The sun was shining through the high clouds painting the low clouds shades of pink. Watching the low clouds drift up the valley and run up through the trees as they hit the mountain makes me yearn for a camera, although the majesty would be lost on film.

I've been experimenting with virtualization in an attempt to retire an old Compaq laptop that runs Windows 98. We work on control systems with peculiar software interfaces, some that run on dos, some 16 bit windows. They communicate by serial port, hence the virtual machine. I purchased a USB to RS232 adapter, which is recognized in Linux. It creates a device equivalent to the RS232 port. I installed win95 in qemu, no problem, but for some reason it won't talk to the controller. The serial port works. I dug out from some dark and dusty corner a 2400 baud modem, plugged it in and talked to it with a terminal in windows running virually. But there seems to be some timing issue. So I did the same in VirtualBox, same problem. I tried VMWare, with the same result. Next is to install win98 with usb support, have it see the usb device directly, and see if I can use that to talk to the controller.

After a few hours doing that, I feel the need to get up some mountain to clear my head. I haven't installed windows for years. I haven't missed it at all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Case for Configuration Options

KDE is criticized for having too many configuration options. Too complex, confusing, and in the end unnecessary. I will make the case, from real experience that options are necessary, along with easy to access configuration.

The Eeepc has a small screen, clear and bright but small nonetheless. Opening a browser window, with a window bar at the top, menu bar and toolbar leaves little space for the content. With a panel at the bottom and the screen is full of everything except what you want to look at. Same with other applications. The default KOrganizer has many panes showing interesting information, much of it filling corners that are left, but again with a small screen there is too much.

A standard configuration doesn't work. Hiding the panel, having a full screen browser, being able to show only the desired panes make it possible to use.

I wondered why Asus didn't use KDE as desktop in the stock simple mode. The answer became apparent as soon as the thing was set up. KDE takes too long to start. On my desktop machine this isn't an issue since I rarely shut the thing off.

Monday, November 05, 2007

It's The Distribution Stupid

More distribution trashing. I think there is an inverse relationship between having a life and the number of distributions installed.

The Eee Pc runs a Xandros distribution, and in the easy mode it works well if you stay within it's confines. If you want something more, the advanced mode gets you an older KDE, and a very limited repository. Free software moves so quickly, and improves so quickly, especially the desktop.

Is is just possible that free software challenges everyone's assumptions? I'm sure manufacturers and distributors would like something constant, non changing, non-changeable in fact. It keeps life simple. How about starting from the point that everything is in flux, anything can be changed, in every aspect there is any number of viable alternatives, and it works. Let's push that further. How about a constantly improving set of packages, with undefined release points? In my years of using KDE from cvs/svn, release points were noteworthy by the sudden instability of the software. The gradual change and improvement caused few problems, fewer problems than the sudden changes and upgrades that characterized release events. Maybe Shuttleworth's goal of a 6 month release cycle is counter productive, and a better way would be to provide a constant upgrade stream, and instead of a forward looking release cycle, do a release from a backward looking perspective, ie. recognizing points of stability in the stream to produce an installation candidate. The user experience would be jumping onto a moving platform, which is a good description of the development process.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Eee Pc impressions

The first impression you get from this machine is how small it is. I can use it comfortably between my belly and the steering wheel. The keyboard is small. The keys are small, and my fat fingers have some trouble typing. Not uncomfortably though. I have used small keyboards where my hands hurt after a while. Not this one.

The hardware is nice. Tidy, well put together. It doesn't feel cheap, in fact it has a nice feel. It is a pretty basic configuration. An Intel Celeron M, 900 mhz although it is stepped down to extend battery life. Intel graphics, an Atheros wireless adapter that is currently not supported in MadWifi. It has a video camera above the screen. It has 3 usb ports, an SD card slot, ethernet jack. The batteries seem to last quite well.

The screen is small, 7" diagonal, running at 800x600. It is very bright and clear. Easy to look at and read in various ambient lighting conditions.

The truly interesting part is the software. It runs a Linux distribution from Xandros specially set up for this machine. There are two modes. The default has icewm running with large icons that are either applications or buttons that load another icon window. Firefox is set up with a number of links to Google applications, Wikipedia and the like. This mode works well, and for the strange among us a terminal is available with a Ctrl-Alt-T. All the hardware buttons work nicely. The wireless works very well, if you plug in an ethernet cable it gets an ip automatically. A usb card or SD card brings up a dialog asking what to do. Amarok loads as a music player. MPlayer is used as a video player. It all works quite nicely if somewhat limited. There isn't a menu for selecting applications. It is all nice and tidy and controlled.

With a bit of hacking the advanced mode is available. It requires that you install kicker and ksmserver, yes, sudo apt-get upgrade and install, as Xandros is debian based. Once those packages are installed, when you shut down there is an option of booting into advanced mode. This loads a nice KDE desktop. The only problem is that when you shut down, it deletes all your desktop settings and reverts back to the simple mode. The solution is to back up /usr/bin/ to something, and copy /usr/bin/startkde to /usr/bin/ Then the KDE desktop is the default, and it works as expected. Very nice. It is an older version of KDE 3.5 desktop. Here the 600x800 resolution bites. Most dialogs are larger than the screen requiring an alt-leftmousebutton-scroll circus act to move things around.

So far I've been impressed with this machine. My needs are small and portable first, and it definitely is that. Carrying it around is like carrying a book. It is very comfortable to use for the common uses. The Xandros repository is limited in content, so it may be necessary to install something else, or mix distribution repositories. How can we live without CMake, cpp, Qt4?

My favorite part is reading the User Guide and seeing a chapter on how to install Windows. One can almost hear the gnashing of teeth.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]