On Pi, Paper Penguins and FOSS’ Regal Potential

It’s been a relatively quiet few days on the Linux blogs, and it seems safe to assume that at least part of that lull is due to the mind-numbing cold affecting many of us here in the Northern Hemisphere.

The jollidays are at least behind us once more, but now there’s the prospect of day after day of this dark, unrelenting chill.

Some tempers have heated up, to be sure, following news of the hapless netbook shopper who got kicked out of Best Buy. Luckily, that’s not all the blogosphere has on hand — like a seemingly empty tube of toothpaste, there’s always more to be squeezed out of the Linux blogs!

Feeling frosty? Read on, then, for some toe-warming, mind-tingling and hand-wringing fun.

2.7 Trillion Decimal Places!

Longtime readers of the Linux Blog Safari here on LinuxInsider may remember our mention of Pi Approximation Day last July. Well, celebrants of that momentous day will surely be particularly interested to learn that Pi has recently been calculated more precisely than ever before.

It’s true! Fabrice Bellard, a computer scientist in France, has left all previous records in the dust by calculating the elusive constant to 2.7 trillion decimal places. Not only that, but he did it with just a personal computer!

Best part of all? Said computer runs Red Hat’s Fedora.

Woo, Linux!

A Paper Tux

Those in search of less cerebral fun, meanwhile, can find what they’re looking for over at the DigitalKamera blog, where a printable image and instructions are available for making your very own paper Tux penguin!

It may take only 15 minutes, according to the blog, but the smiles will just go on and on!

So inspired was one Linux Today reader, in fact, that he or she couldn’t resist posting directions for an entirely nonproprietary origami penguin.

Where but on the Linux blogs can you find this much free fun?

‘What Will It Take to Dethrone Microsoft?’

For those still feeling dreary, a visit to The Linux Blog will surely take care of that with the post, “Best iPhone Error Message Ever.”

Ah, error messages. They just never stop entertaining.

Of course, this is not to say there haven’t also been more substantive conversations in the Linux blogosphere recently.

One, for example, stood out in Linux Girl’s mind for the way it gets right to the heart of the matter. “What will it take for Linux and open source to dethrone Microsoft” is the title of the Systems Engineer’s Blog post that started the conversation, which soon extended to LXer and beyond.

‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’

“We are currently in one of the best situations ever to think about moving to Linux on the desktop,” wrote the blogger in question earlier this month. “I am currently reviewing a list of hundreds of applications for compatibility with Windows 7 to decide what will have to be upgraded or replaced.

“What is missing or needs improvement on Linux from an I.T. perspective?” the blogger wondered — then went on to share some ideas, including “a desktop management framework” and “easy to understand server management tools.”

Linux geeks didn’t hesitate to share their own views.

“Lawyers, guns and money” was tuxchick’s retort on LXer, for example, to which close to 90 responses quickly followed.

Linux Girl knew she had found just the topic to get bloggers’ blood flowing again.

‘Is This a Riddle?’

“What, is this a riddle?” asked Slashdot blogger drinkypoo. “The answer is ‘TIME.’

“Next,” drinkypoo added, “what has it got in its pocketses?”

People have been “whining about the fragmentation of the Linux market for a long time, but that’s really not an issue when there’s only two distributions which are seriously supported by third-party software: SuSE and RHEL,” drinkypoo told LinuxInsider.

Wine is “not ready for professional-grade anything,” he added, but “the quality of management tools COULD improve considerably. If there’s meat in this article, that’s what it looks like.”

Nevertheless, the author of the article is asking for something that essentially already exists, drinkypoo said — “it’s called Mac OS X.

“There he can get supported Windows compatibility; it’s called VMware Fusion,” drinkypoo opined. “There he can get management tools, albeit not fantastic ones. In the mean time, we can get a lot done with bash, ssh, and rsync … And many shops seem to do fine that way.”

‘More Consistency’

“We need a tad more consistency,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. “We’re great at adding new features but horrible at making sure all of the older software supports them.”

In the world of movie players, for example, “I have one player that supports the features I want, but it’s not the one that knows how to disable the screensaver while a movie is playing.”

There are many things the Linux community could do to make Linux “easier for Joe normal, but IMHO the biggest two are the death of CLI and ending ‘paperweight roulette,'” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet began.

“If you want to keep CLI that is fine and dandy, but the average user should never see it,” he asserted. “Perhaps place a ‘help me!’ button on the desktop or start menu so a Linux Guru (LUG volunteers, maybe?) can initiate a chat session and help the new users with their problems — preferably have a VNC-style way to take over and do the work if there is a lot of CLI involved.”

‘A Linux Store’

Most users are “scared of the control panel because they are afraid of messing things up; with CLI you are talking about a dumb terminal where there is no autocomplete or spellcheck,” hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. “It is a recipe for disaster to expect Joe average to master that much power and complexity.”

Regarding what hairyfeet calls “paperweight roulette,” meanwhile, “I have found that maybe 35 percent of the devices being sold at Wal-Mart are supported in Linux,” he said. “Can you tell me or my customers without trawling forums which ones? You can’t, I can’t, and the kid behind the counter sure as heck can’t either, and that is a big big problem,” he opined.

One solution might be a “Linux store,” where “a Linux user can go online and type in their distro and be shown ONLY devices that will ‘just work’ out of the box,” hairyfeet suggested.

‘The Desktop’

An alternative view came from Slashdot blogger Barbara Hudson, who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“The article has it dead wrong,” Hudson told LinuxInsider. “If you saw David Letterman when he was riding John McCain for lying, Letterman said, ‘You know the road to the White House goes through me.’ Same with dethroning Microsoft.”

The road to overthrowing Microsoft is the desktop, Hudson said, “and ruling the desktop has nothing to do with a desktop management framework, or easy-to-understand server tools — Microsoft came to dominate the desktop without either.”

The real question to ask is, “what happens if Microsoft is dethroned?” Hudson asserted. “Linux will not be the replacement — at least not the way we think of it. You won’t have ‘a million points of Linux’ — you’ll have another monolith.”

‘Google Is Making Its Move’

There are multiple Linux distros, Hudson pointed out; meanwhile, “Google is making its move, and it looks to be even more controlling in the long term than Microsoft,” she said.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to brand name, most people — including those signing the checks — are familiar with Google, but they know nothing about Linux,” she said. “Who are they going to pick if they DO make the switch from Microsoft?”

One company with a quasi-monopoly on the desktop and another with a quasi-monopoly on search “is better than one company with a quasi-monopoly on both, able to leverage both even further,” Hudson added.

‘Just a Bit More Time’

Then again, returning to drinkypoo’s original theme: “Just a bit more time” is what blogger Robert Pogson believes FOSS needs to dethrone Microsoft.

“M$ is already beginning to compete on price with the netbooks and XP,” he told LinuxInsider. “In another year or two they will be competing on price for any PC, and their prices and share of units sold will be drastically reduced.”

The share of GNU/Linux reached the tipping point in 2009, Pogson asserted.

“The avalanche has started to move slowly down the mountain, and it will pick up speed by the end of 2010 with thin clients and netbooks/smartbooks taking over the landscape,” he predicted. “M$ has made a billion dollars a quarter less than is their ‘natural right of a monopolist’ in the client lately. Let us watch that continue as GNU/Linux grows share.”

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