Last week you asked questions of Ubuntu Unleashed author Matthew Helmke, about everything from system D to the future of Ubuntu and Canonical; he's responded, at length. Read on for Matthew's answers.Books?
The Unleashed books are still going? Correction: Books are still going?
Do you use Free software writing tools?
by Anonymous Coward
Publishing is notorious (well, semi-notorious -- based on the rants of a few friends who have had books published, technical as well as non-technical) for requiring authors to submit their work in formats friendly for their internal systems, which is understandable from their perspective but I imagine could be annoying to authors. (Not all publishing is the same, I know --- math journals for instance seem to go in for LaTex and similar.) But for you as an author writing for a mainstream publisher about open source and Free software, how do you find the tools that are available out of the box on a Linux system (Ubuntu specifically, since that's your bailliwick)? Are there any tasks you find are complicated by that, such that you have to keep a Windows or OS X system up? Does Pearson want you to use Word, for tracking / editing purposes, say?
MH: For Ubuntu Unleashed and The Official Ubuntu Book, the publisher uses DOC files. This is fine because LibreOffice reads and writes them well. I used LibreOffice on Ubuntu for the last several editions (and before that OpenOffice on Ubuntu) and have had no problems at all doing so. I do not have any computer systems at home that run anything other than Ubuntu. I'm not a purist, I just prefer it and haven't needed anything different.
A book I coauthored for another company, VMware Cookbook which was published several years ago by O'Reilly, was written using DocBook. That was really cool because the files were all text files and we used a version control system to check in each chapter, changes, edits, and it worked the whole way through the process. Their tool chain processed that DocBook out to all of the various output formats. Again, I did all of this on Ubuntu, frequently from the command line and my favorite text editor (I won't mention which because I don't want to start a VIM vs Emacs flame war).
Your compliance with systemd
by Anonymous Coward
Why do you support a distro that ships with such a lousy piece of garbage software?
Another one on systemd:
by Anonymous Coward
Is there a way to get systemd to not throw away... stderr? This is driving us nuts when we have about six hundred Ubuntu servers, and simple problems are harder to solve because stderr is not displayed in the terminal or saved in the journal.
MH: First question first: regardless of what anyone thinks about systemd, it is becoming the ex officio standard. I used to complain loudly when windowed desktops became the norm and I was "forced" to use them. That was a losing battle. I learned something from that. Pick your battles.
Regarding systemd and stderr, I haven't had any cause to look into this. However, a quick Google search brought up this page from StackOverflow that might help you: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/32968506/how-to-pipe-output-to-a-file-when-running-as-a-systemd-service . Even if it isn't the exact same problem, it might help you direct your thinking and find a creative, hopefully simple, solution.
Future of Linux on the Desktop
by Anonymous Coward
I'm curious as to your thoughts on the future of Linux on the desktop. With SecureBoot and UEFI, the formerly simple process of trying out distros like Ubuntu has become something of a PITA. Do you think we have a future for Linux on the desktop, or are PC's going the way of locked-down bootloaders like many cell phones?
MH: I think the only way any Linux distro becomes viable on the desktop beyond us computer geeks and technology lovers is to see more OEMs offering it pre-installed. There are several companies out there doing this. I have personal experience buying Ubuntu preinstalled on systems from Dell www.dell.com, System76 www.system76.com, and ZaReason www.zareason.com and have had a very good experience with each one. I know there are others out there and I prefer to encourage as many as possible to buy from companies willing to do this. I always think of someone like an uncle or aunt who only needs a computer to read and write email, browse the web, and maybe write a letter. Steering people like this to machines with Linux preinstalled is the only way I expect they would be willing to use it...well, then there is my friend's mother who allowed me to install Ubuntu on her laptop after a Windows virus required either a reinstall or a new operating system. Then again, she didn't perform the installation. I did.
Ultimately, I think the answer lies with us. If we can vote with our wallets and make Linux machines financially viable for OEMs, I think we will see more of them. I know many people who use Android tablets and Chromebooks, so it isn't the fear of learning something new that keeps people away, it is the non-existence of the easy option. Most people don't want to do what we do: open up their operating system and play with it until we accidentally break something and then learn how to fix it. They want to buy something something that works off of the shelf for a good price and use it for simple purposes. Let's solve that and I think we may actually someday see the mythical "Year of the Linux Desktop" happen.
Oh, I nearly forgot. The Ubuntu help site has some pretty good information about UEFI that you may appreciate: https://help.Ubuntu.com/community/UEFI .
3D graphics fanciness for the new now?
by Anonymous Coward
When they were brand new, I laughed at things like Compiz as silly eye-candy. Then I watched a lot of the demos anyhow, and eventually installed it (slightly painful at first -- had to wait until I had a graphics card that would work) and came to really like the feeling of wobbly windows that moved with some interesting physics that made them feel more like "real" objects rather than just rectangles on a screen. My mind was changed, and I always enjoyed showing people the famous rotating cube desktop. Some people like the command line, and that's fine -- terminals are still around! -- but I liked windows that moved in a way that seemed more intuitive to me.
Fast forward almost 10 years (sheesh!), and after a lot of platform switching for school, for work, or just because, I realize that I've been back for a few years on boring old 2-D desktops. Looking at Wikipedia, it seems like Compiz itself (speaking generically, and not wanting to get into a nomenclature war) doesn't seem to be a good match for Ubuntu these days [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compiz].
So: what's your advice if I want to have a modern, supported, open-source, 3D desktop that plays well with the rest of an Ubuntu system? Ease of install is just as important as ease of use -- without the first, I might not get to the second. Bonus points it if works with Ubuntu derivatives like Mint and Elementary.
MH: Sadly, Compiz never really seemed to get enough traction among developers and contributors. As a result, for a long time there were few to no updates. While that has changed a bit, there still doesn't seem to be enough activity with the project for it to continue to be a viable option. I'm sure someone will argue that and I sincerely hope to be proved wrong in the comments.
I don't know of a great replacement for the flash and flair the Compiz brought to Ubuntu. I am still using it on 14.04LTS (LOVE me some wobbly windows), but I know its days are numbered. So, here is something else that I hope to be proved wrong about in the comments.
Support channels for new users?
by rgbe (310525)
I have been using Linux since the good old days of the late '90s. I was using Debian until Ubuntu came around in 2004 and switched. Ubuntu was amazing in terms of how it made Linux more usable. However, as time went along Ubuntu was no longer so cutting edge and no longer resonated with me, so I have switched back to Debian. Anyway, all this time as a Linux user it's been a rough ride, every laptop I have purchased (I haven't had a desktop for 15 years) has had issues with Linux. Most common issues for me are that wi-fi drivers don't work and graphics card drivers are unstable. I choose Laptops that are going to give me the least problems by researching them thoroughly beforehand. The most recent laptop (HP ProBook) came with the option of having SUSE Linux installed by default, I thought this would be perfect, but the wi-fi did not work unless you had the correct version of SUSE installed. I am experienced at debugging and resolving issues, a new user would require a lot of patience, technical no-how just to get Linux functioning before they can use their PC. Although you can use Linux without the console, it is difficult to never have to go to the console. The console requires a paradigm shift for many users. In a nutshell the first hurdle for Linux is a massive jump, and only few are brave/curious enough to take it.
So my question is: What support channels would you recommend for new Linux users?
Are there solutions out there that simplify Linux?
And are there any solutions / techniques out there that simplify driver installation and configuration in Linux / Ubuntu? I am ask just in-case I am missing it.
MH: I agree with you. The reason I ended up using Ubuntu back in April 2005 was because it was the first Linux distro that would actually boot on a laptop I owned at the time. I still had to compile an Intel ipw2200 driver for the kernel because it had only been released as a 0.19 release and was not yet considered stable enough to be included in the 2.6.10 Linux kernel. Not for the faint of heart. LOL.
My primary recommendation is what I said earlier: buy preinstalled, especially from a vendor who specializes in Linux machines and offers real support. The two who have been best at that for me personally are ZaReason and System76. Others may recommend still other vendors.
For online help, I like both the Ubuntu Forums Ubuntuforums.org (disclosure: I was the head admin on the forums for some time) as well as AskUbuntu askUbuntu.com. The latter tends to be preferred by more technical users, the former by newer users. Honestly, I use Google for most questions.
[Regarding drivers:] It depends on the driver. For example, the Linux drivers for my Brother DCP-L2540DW printer are available from the manufacturer's website and downloadable as DEB files, which means all I needed to do was use my software package manager. (Side note: all of them were available already in Ubuntu, I only sought them out because there is one additional driver/step that allows me to push a button on the printer and have it scan a document and send it to my computer directly.)
Some manufacturers provide lovely packages like these or RPMs that you can install using your package manager. I salute and appreciate these companies. Others provide binary files you must install/run from the command line, which isn't terrible. Some only provide source code that you must compile yourself, although these are becoming less common.
The truth is, ultimately, drivers should be provided by the original equipment manufacturer and it is up to them to make our lives as simple or complex as they think is appropriate for their users who run Linux. Some care very deeply about us as customers, others do not. My way of simplifying my life is by voting with my wallet and buying from companies that value Linux users' time by making what we must do as simple as possible. I don't do that because I must, but because I want to thank them and encourage them to continue.
I'm not upgrading Windows beyond 7...
by Anonymous Coward
Since I'm not upgrading Windows beyond 7, due exclusively to Microsoft's new explicit policy of tracking every little thing I do on my computer, what distribution would you recommend? I am a long-time Linux user and enthusiast admin, but the problems I have encountered using Ubuntu Desktop have been simply silly, including my AMD Radeon HD 4
card completely losing driver support (believe me when I say the card is completely unsupported by all projects), a Linksys Wi-Fi card completely losing driver support (these last two happened after an update, not version upgrade), monitors not being recognized and having to manually configure Ubuntu to support the resolution settings, plus Wine being a crazy-klunky glob of instability for running MS Office, which is still far superior to Office alternatives for my usage.
Windows 7 expires in 2020 and I'm still unclear as to which direction I am going to end up going. And, omg, I'm even looking at Apple.
MH: I'm partial to Ubuntu, but really, most distros are very much the same underneath. The majority of differences fall into these categories: package management (such as DEB vs RPM), the desktop, and software installed by default.
I completely understand the frustration you are describing. I have had very poor success with ATI/AMD video cards, even as I have had friends who swore by them (not lately, though; I'm not sure why). I have had excellent experiences with Intel video, but not for gaming or serious 3D video stuff. I have an nVidia card in the two machines I use most these days, both a desktop and a laptop, and most of the time things are smooth. Occasionally, I have had a driver flip out on me and need to be reinstalled. Now, I know what to do from the command line to deal with it, so a boot to a flashing cursor is a frustration, but not a terror to me. For many, that is not the case.
The only good solution I have found is research. I research the hell out of everything before I buy any new piece of hardware. That is annoying.
The only other solution I recommend is to buy a system with Linux preinstalled, hopefully with a release that will be supported throughout the lifespan of the hardware. That, or start reading and learning.
by frovingslosh (582462)
I'm a life long computer user and have been considered very knowledgeable in some operating systems, but so far I can't claim to be knowledgeable or even comfortable with Linux, although I would like to gain that knowledge. I'm leaning towards Debian. Is there any reason that I should try to learn and use Ubuntu over Debian? If something has been dumbed down at the loss of flexibility or usefulness I would not consider that a "feature".
MH: Nothing has been dumbed down and no flexibility or usefulness has been lost. Those are not concerns. I love Debian! Truly. The only reasons I would and do choose Ubuntu over Debian is ease of installation and set up, especially when using hardware that requires non-open-source binary drivers, and because outsiders tend to make their Linux software available in two package forms: RPM and DEB, and the DEBs are without fail packaged for and tested on Ubuntu.
What would you change about Canonical? (Or Ubuntu?)
by KGIII (973947)
If you could change any one thing about Canonical, the organization, what would it be? For me, I'd probably change the clique nature that we see in some of the mailing lists, on the forum, or even at live events. It's great that they've an official @Ubuntu.com email address but, really, they've not actually done much in the way of contributing - ever. It's seemingly more a pissing match and a popularity contest than it is about the benefit that some provide to the community.
If I could change anything, I'd change that. However, if you can snap your fingers and make any change to Canonical, what would that change be - and why? If that question is difficult to answer due to politics or any other reason, you can change Canonical to Ubuntu itself. I'm interested in both, if you want to go that far but I'm limited to one question per post.
MH: Over the last 11 years I have met many Canonical employees, both past and present. The people I have met have been reasonable, smart, and work hard to do the right thing to the best of their ability. The company exists because of one man's generosity, but really wants to be profitable on its own merits. That is an interesting task, especially if you want to do it without stealing anyone else's business. The belief among the Canonical employees I have met is that Linux is not a zero sum game and there is enough potential business out there for all the current players and others as well. How to do that is an interesting problem to solve. I like what they are pursuing with the idea of "convergence," where they envision computing and mobile devices being distilled down into one, where your mobile phone has the power to run as and replace your desktop or laptop and serve as both your information and media consumption device as well as your number crunching, content creation, main computing device. We have been "on the cusp" of this happening for several years and Canonical has put significant money and resources toward this task.
I think the one thing I would change is to help Canonical find a way to better, more clearly communicate to the wider community what the goals and vision are. If you read their press releases, website, listen to their developer discussion, you can learn this, but somehow there is a disconnect in the wider technology community. Sometimes, this has been or at least seemed warranted, as in the complaints about Ubuntu/Canonical creating their own rather than using existing software solutions (desktop, compositing system, etc.). There were technical explanations much of the time for the choices made, but sometimes it sounded like "well, we like this thing we have envisioned better than contributing to that thing we don't control." I don't know if there is an answer to that problem, though, because I can see both sides of the argument and in the end, sometimes we just have to do what we feel is best, and I think that is what Canonical is doing.
Do you think Canonical will get huge?
by LichtSpektren (4201985)
Do you foresee that one day Canonical will be up there with Google, Apple, and Microsoft in terms of being perceived as a software tech giant?
MH: In what field? I don't see Canonical competing with Amazon in cloud hosting, but they are winning the competition for the most used operating system in the cloud. I don't see Canonical growing into one of the world's two largest companies (Google and Apple), but I do see it being an industry leader in some powerful and interesting behind-the-scenes niche markets. I think Canonical is already seen as a leader in the nascent market for alternative OS options on mobile devices, a market that Microsoft has already conceded does not want their option. I guess my ultimate answer is a qualified "yes," but perhaps not in the most obvious ways to the non-tech-savvy.
by KGIII (973947)
As a second question, I've been tasked with writing a book about business management. I've actually been taking this project a little more serious than I'd expected. Yet, it comes down to actually doing the work, examining the structure, working on the layout, figuring out the goals, and deciding on things like verbiage - I end up getting stuck and just meandering off to do something else.
What motivates you to write? That's pretty much it. In my case, the result will be "open source" and free (as in beer) so finances aren't actually a concern. Money just isn't going to motivate me, I've got enough. It just reaches the point where it's somewhere between overwhelming and just a ton of work. It seems insurmountable at times and some method of motivation might help.
MH: Every writer struggles with what you describe. Every one of us. Ultimately, motivation gets us started, but discipline and habit are what enable us to finish. Sometimes I create little subtasks and goals that may motivate me for a day (write 1000 words today and I'll treat myself to a bit of dark chocolate and a dram of tasty scotch), but that only works occasionally. Most days while I am in the middle of a project and I know I have a looming deadline I wake up dreading "chapter 6" or whatever today's scheduled task is, but I just force myself to get up and do it. If you learn of something better or more effective, please tell the rest of us!