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'Extreme' Computing and Other Linux-World Problems

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Jul 7, 2014 10:06 AM PT

Well another Independence Day has come and gone here in the land of stars and stripes, causing at least some in the tech blogosphere to turn their thoughts toward freedom.

'Extreme' Computing and Other Linux-World Problems

"Digital independence day: Your guide to DIY, open-source, anonymous free computing" was the offering over at PCWorld, for example. "It's Time for IT Pros to Declare Their Technology Freedom" was the thought du jour at CIO.

Unfortunately, for those of us here in the Linux blogosphere -- where freedom has always been part of the plan -- other headlines have had, shall we say, a moderating effect on all that enthusiasm.

'NSA Classifies You as Extremist'

Linux Girl

"Use Tor? Read the Tails website? You're on the NSA's 'EXTREMIST' list" read one, for example -- mentioning respected publication Linux Journal, no less.

"NSA is now targeting people for bulking up their web security" read another.

"Value Online Privacy? NSA Classifies You as an 'Extremist,' Collects More Than Metadata" read another.

Perhaps using Linux -- or reading LinuxInsider, for that matter -- should be considered an extreme sport from now on, Linux Girl humbly suggests.

'7 Improvements the Linux Desktop Needs'

Well, at least we're still free to put Linux on our desktops -- though even that subject has been a contentious one lately.

"7 Improvements the Linux Desktop Needs" is the title of the article over at Datamation. Down at the blogosphere's Punchy Penguin Saloon, it stirred up quite a froth.

"The seven improvements are interesting, but at this point in the development of Linux, hardly required," Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone told Linux Girl over a fresh Freedom Foo Frappe, for example. "I would consider them 'nice-to-haves.'"

'The Push We've Been Waiting for'

Right now, "Linux only really needs that one big thing to push it into popular usage," Stone added. "Windows maintains its dominance because of laziness, really -- Windows is what comes on the computer, and for most people, it's not bad enough to change for something else."

Corporations, meanwhile, "are years behind where the actual industry is," he said. "My own only migrated to Windows 7 last year."

In short, "the Linux desktop doesn't really need the stuff that most people seem to think it needs," Stone concluded. "What it needs is a push, and Windows 8 along with SteamOS could very well be the push we've been waiting for."

'Gather and Find Some Standards'

Most of the requirements listed in the Datamation article are already met, Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. opined. "We have friendly distros -- not only for system administrators or geeks -- easy application centers and update managers."

What would help Linux spread is for the developers of distros and desktop environments to "gather and find some standards," he suggested -- "always keeping the flexibility to change everything, as usual in GNU/Linux and not in other OSes."

At the same time, "we need more critical mass and OEM support," he added.

"How about: Take a break from adding new features and make sure all apps use the existing features as well as modern APIs?" consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack suggested.

'I Keep Several Machines Around'

"For me, anything I want to do in a desktop can be done in one or another Linux desktop," Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien agreed.

"Where I can perhaps quibble is when one desktop does most of what I need, but is missing something I really like from another," he added. "For example, in general I love KDE, but for many things involving audio, I have to switch to a different desktop.

"I like Unity as an alternative, but I really miss the panels and widgets I am used to on KDE," O'Brien said. "So I keep several machines around, with different desktops, and use the one best suited to my needs at any given time."

'Some Seem Like Decent Ideas'

Compiz "already provides 'viewport' previews, which permits antialiased previews of virtual desktops," noted Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza, reacting to one of the items on Datamation's list.

"I used to use avant-window-navigator and compiz for a sort of like-OSX-but-better interface, with emerald for the eye candy," he said, noting that Emerald is now out of date.

"I find the existing menu system to work fine, but people having trouble navigating can use a tool like gnome-do," Espinoza suggested. 'This is the same method of navigation every other major desktop operating system has adopted to make it simpler to find what you are looking for."

As for the other items on Datamation's list, "some seem like decent ideas, but I have to wonder if they're not actually solved problems as well," he concluded.

'That Is in the Pipe'

"All of the latest and greatest features of graphical desktops are available to users of GNU/Linux," blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl. "I have a virtual workspace switcher in Xfce 4 that does show me a thumbnail of the desktop as it is. I can run multiple copies of applications with different themes by setting up virtual machines and using the amazingly versatile X window system to display an application from one virtual machine on the desktop of another real or virtual machine.

"I can set up bibliographic databases for documents using LibreOffice -- it is a suite, and one can have a database in one window and any document in another," Pogson added. "I can copy and paste to my heart's content. I have templates as well as styles in LibreOffice."

The only thing lacking for Pogson in LibreOffice are chart styles, and "that is in the pipe," he said. "Meanwhile, templates in Gnumeric are great for spreadsheets with charts."

Bottom line: "The grumbling that GNU/Linux is not ready for the desktop is made by people who don't know how to use the incredible versatility of GNU/Linux," Pogson asserted. "OEMs and others should invest the time to learn how to use the capabilities. Ordinary users should not have to figure this stuff out."

OEMs and retailers should also "be putting this stuff on retail shelves," he added. "What's holding them back is the dying carcass of Wintel that held all of IT back for more than a decade trying to shoehorn every user into the 'one true way' of doing IT at great expense."

'Demand Better'

Last but not least, SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet countered the Datamation article with seven suggestions of his own:

1. "A 'help me!' button: Too much assuming a user has skills to do tasks that are beyond them equals fail."

2. "GET RID OF CLI!!! You use it as a crutch -- learn to make REAL GUI (not screen scraping Bash) and then have the OPTION of using CLI. If ANY answer has only Bash as the solution? You are a failure, please go away."

3. "System Restore: Windows has had it for 14 bloody years now -- the user should NOT have to make backups of the system in case your patch smells or something goes wrong."

4. "Rollback drivers: Again, it's been 14 years and Linux is lacking features Win2K had. Really? that's just sad."

5. "Quit with the dependency crap: It ain't 1993, space isn't that big an issue anymore, just stop. I don't care WHERE you put it, just fix it so if two programs need different versions of the same files you don't get a mess."

6. "Ditto with packing some 'little' program because you are calling on 13GB worth of dependencies. Either pack your program so it can run by itself or please go away -- it's just too much like java applet mess."

7. "A real, functional driver subsystem: You don't want an ABI? Fine, dazzle me, show me how you can get a functional driver subsystem without one, because that duct-taped mess you have now? It's a joke. If drivers work on first install they should work for the life of that hardware AND the life of that distro. You'd laugh your behind off if Win 8 SP1 wiped out something as fundamental as Realtek sound or a major graphics chip, right? So why put up with it from your distro? DEMAND BETTER."

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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How do you feel about accidents that occur when self-driving vehicles are being tested?
Self-driving vehicles should be banned -- one death is one too many.
Autonomous vehicles could save thousands of lives -- the tests should continue.
Companies with bad safety records should have to stop testing.
Accidents happen -- we should investigate and learn from them.
The tests are pointless -- most people will never trust software and sensors.
Most injuries and fatalities in self-driving auto tests are due to human error.