Saturday, October 30, 2010

UDS-N Complete!

Today was the last day of UDS for the Natty Narwhal cycle. It's hard to believe this is my 4th UDS already. So what's new in the world of Ubuntu? As always, too much to name! By now, everyone's heard the major announcements I'm sure. We saw a slick demo of Ubuntu Light - coming soon to a Dell computer near you, Unity on the desktop, etc. For the proceedings, take a look HERE.

Also, I highly recommend taking a look at the video if you haven't seen it already.

One of the highlights of the week was getting a Genesi Smartbook. This neat little ARM netbook is extremely thin and lightweight. And thanks to the imx51 ARM processor, consumes very little energy. My laptop battery died earlier in the week, so it was really nice to have this. There are a few issues that need sorting out. Suspend works, resume... doesn't. A few other nagging things, but now that quite a few more developers have these in their hands, I have no doubt these issues will get sorted quickly. Also, the fact they already had the latest Ubuntu release (10.10) installed on them was a really nice touch. One point of frustration I've had for a long time is that we've been working on making Ubuntu run on these ARM development boards, but until you really see it in a final product, doing more realistic testing is really difficult. Having a real device provides that opportunity, and also gives a certain satisfaction that I was on the team that helped make this possible.

So what's next? QA, Linaro, and lots more ARM. I have ideas for some automated testing on ARM I'd like to work on. Now I just need to get my hands on some hardware to test it out and put it into production. Lots of new opportunities, lots of new ideas. After UDS I always seem to have more ideas for things I'd like to do than I possibly have time for, but it keeps things interesting.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Unity part 2

So I've had pretty much a full week now of dogfooding on Unity, and no major problems. Overall, I think it's a step in the right direction for a netbook interface, which it was intended for. It makes good use of the limited space on these screens, has enough eye-candy to keep up with the alternatives out there, and has buttons on the side that are potentially large enough to be finger friendly. I think things like that will become increasingly important as more devices become available with touch screens. It's been inevitable for years now, as people get more and more used to things like touch and gestures on their smartphones. This would need to come quite a ways more for a touchscreen-only interface, but for a netbook it's just about right.

One thing I did find interesting was a few days ago when my wife looked at it, having never seen unity before. She had something she needed to figure out quickly on a calculator, and said "how do I get to a calculator on this thing?" It was a good question, as it's probably not immediately obvious to someone who's never used this interface before. Getting to common apps like a web browser, email, etc are easy. They are right there on the bar with easily identifiable icons. Anything else? For that you have to know which one of those icons is for applications. Then you have to search for it. The easiest way seems to be to use the search box and start typing, but I've had it still not find certain things that way (gnome-display-properties for example). I think having an obvious, easy to use, place to click to get to those applications that are not on the dock would be a big win here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Next stop: Unity

Unity isn't fully cooked yet, but as we're approaching Ubuntu 10.10 beta, it seems like a good time to jump in and start taking a hard look at it. Also, I've been hearing a lot of good things about it so I can't resist the urge to go check it out for myself.

First impressions: shiny. Yes, it neat and modern looking. Unfortunately, I've seen enough things like that only to later realize how completely non-useful they are after trying to actually use them, that I'm now mistrusting of "shiny" things. But to be fair, I see a lot of things that make sense. The "dock" for lack of a better term, that stores default application launchers and icons for currently active applications is on the left side of the screen, which makes good use of horizontal screen space that is normally plentiful. On netbooks, for which this was primarily designed, vertical screen space is often at a premium, so elimination of the bottom bar is a good thing there.

The top bar is still around, but sadly has become very mac-like. Application menus, for most applications at least, seem to be on the top bar rather than in the application. I hate this, but to be fair, that's because I think it's too mac-like. I've never been able to "get" Apple's philosophy on UI design. However, I understand that doing this accomplishes a similar goal as above - to make better use of vertical screen space.

There are a few rough edges that I suspect will be worked out before release, but all in all it's not to bad. The virtual desktop switcher is just cool. There's also an application menu with search. I'm kind of undecided on that one. I miss being able to press alt-f2 and launch an application. Perhaps a hotkey could be assigned to automatically bring up this application menu, or maybe it has and I just haven't found it yet.

I'll keep it as my default desktop for the week, and see how it shakes out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Xubuntu... what day is it?

It's been a little over a full week now, and I'm still on Xubuntu for my primary desktop. I like to try out all the latest stuff, so I likely won't stay on it forever. But for now, it's looking like a good default. A few observations to wrap this up:

The default media player seems to be parole rather than totem. It seems to be nice an lightweight, but had problems opening some sound files that I received in an email. Possibly a bit of work to be done here, but looking ok. Fortunately, it's easy to reset that default for now.

Exaile seems to be the default music player for Xubuntu. I love Exaile, and have for quite some time. This makes me happy. :)

Xubuntu lives up to the hype of being a good balance between lightweight, but also good looking and easy to use. A few defaults seem to need some tweaking IMHO, but that's subjective. All in all, I recommend checking it out, especially if you don't have the latest/greatest hardware and don't care about compositing and other such eye candy. I've found it to be stable, functional, and an all around good experience to use.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Xubuntu - Day 2,3

Two more days with Xubuntu, and still very pleased. I did run into one odd thing yesterday. I clicked on a link in an email (Apparently I had a rich uncle in Nigeria, who died and left me all his money, who knew?) and the browser opened the link properly. However, instead of moving me to the virtual terminal where I normally keep my browser, it moved the browser to me. A quick skim through the XFCE settings menu and I found the option to change it back to what I'm used to. So far, my biggest annoyance with Xubuntu has been just been a few defaults that don't suit me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A week with Xubuntu

Time to give Xubuntu a try.
apt-get install xubuntu-desktop
As long as I've been using Ubuntu, it never fails to impress me how simple it is to make such a significant change. A few minutes later, and several new packages installed, I logged out and logged back into Xubuntu for the first time in a while.

The first two words that come to mind are "beautiful" and "simple". I really enjoy Xubuntu and right now I can't think of why I haven't been using it all this time. Network manager is used, so I don't expect any odd problems like I saw with KDE and attaching to various wireless networks. A simple change in preferences lets me change the functionality of the bottom panel to show me all open applications and not just the ones for this desktop, and another preference change to give me 4 virtual desktops instead of 2. Although on that last one, I was a bit surprised that I couldn't right click on the desktop switcher and change it in those preferences. Xubuntu papercut anyone? So far, I'm looking forward to this week. :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

A (partial) week with KDE

I've failed to keep this updated over the past week as intended because I was busy with a sprint. The short story is that I made it through about 3.5 days before finally having to give it up. The breaking point for me was when I was trying to switch back and forth between 2 different wireless access points. I found setting up a new WAP in KDE to be a bit cumbersome, but switching to a new one after already being connected to one got pretty painful. Definitely an area that could stand some improvement. Since I had a busy week ahead and this was a feature that I needed to work right and quickly, I opted to put my experiment on hold for now. The good news is that there really weren't too many things preventing me from using this as a default interface. It worked well for most things, and I appreciate the compromise that KDE makes when it comes to how the desktop should be used. Traditionally this has been a dumping ground for "Files I'm currently working on." While somewhat useful, this can quickly become a mess. Macs go to the other extreme and seem to just waste the space and keep it empty. I think that's a bit boring. Having the space available for widgets (including one that let's you see the files under ~/Desktop) seems to be a much better use.

I will be upgrading my main dogfooding machine to Maverick today, so after that I have plans to try this again with KDE, and probably Unity and Xubuntu as well. :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A week with KDE - Day 2

I've got the theme, fonts, background, etc. at least a little more tolerable for now. I have a few major complaints though from spending the last 24+ hours with it.
  1. Screen artifacts - lots of them. I even have a fresh login now and about 60% of my bottom panel is black. The buttons draw over the foreground ok, but half of it is dark, the other half is grey. Could be video driver related I suppose, but I don't get this in gnome.
  2. Unmounting media doesn't seem to work in dolphin. I have many occasions where I mount my phone as a usb drive, work with SD cards, and USB sticks. Unmounting from dolphin is less intuitive than gnome, but also just doesn't work. It says something is using them, but nothing seems to be. Open a shell and unmount manually seems to be the best bet for now. (yes I know I should go make sure bugs are filed for all these, and will try to get to that as soon as I have time and I'm a bit more convinced that this isn't just me doing something newbie-ish).
  3. Konsole, which I used to love, doesn't deal with tabs nicely. I tend to have a lot of tabs open in a console session, but Konsole does not seem to have an option to resize them automatically. Or at least I haven't found it if it does have such an option. Instead it gives you arrows you can use to scroll through the available tabs.
That being said, I'm still finding it to be pretty usable. Mostly just nitpicks right now, nothing that's really keeping me from getting work done.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A week with KDE

It's been a long time since I've given KDE a chance. I used to really appreciate things like extensive configurability that existed in KDE, especially in contrast to Gnome where the user is pretty much told "this is how it's going to work, take it or leave it." I've launched into Kubuntu a few times, and kept it installed on my machine, but never really forced myself to use it for more than a few minutes. So I'm going to give it a go for the next week or so and see how it goes. Here are some initial observations.
  • The recent notifications isn't exactly pretty, but I like that they at least try to preserve some history in it. I think that's a useful feature
  • Every time I've tried widgets, I thought they were terrible... yep, still terrible, luckily it's easy to just kill them all off and ignore it
  • Default theme needs to change, now that I have my usual set of apps launched and ready to go, that will be happening SOON
  • Odd, I can change to 4 virtual desktops, but the switcher doesn't seem to want to let me align them horizontally
That's enough for now. I'll try to update later. I should be roaming with my laptop quite a bit next week, so it will be good to give that a workout.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Automated Testing Frameworks

A good friend of mine asked me today, how many test harnesses, or automated testing frameworks I've either written, or participated in the creation of now. Honestly, I had never really stopped to think about it, but it's been more than a few. I've had a lot of people suggest over the years that it shouldn't be necessary to start over and create a new one, when there are lots of good ones already out there. There's some common sense in that, however in reality it doesn't necessarily work out that way.

The question "How many testing frameworks have you built?", to me, seems a bit like asking "how many different pairs of shoes have you worn?" I'm not big on shoes or anything, but I do have different ones for different purposes. I have tennis shoes that I typically wear, dress shoes for church or other occasions where sneakers would be too informal, and motorcycle boots. They each have a very different purpose, and for the most part, need to be completely different. Sure, in theory someone could design a dressy, tough, boot that's comfortable to run in. I'll give you a second to try to picture that... Ok, I think you get my point now.

Testing frameworks are kinda like that too. They are often built with a specific purpose in mind, because the existing solutions don't quite do what they wanted, or don't do it in a way that they like. So, rather than try to force themselves upon an existing project, which was created with different goals in mind, developers often start over. This allows both projects the freedom to explore what they want to do, in the way they want to do it, without interfering with one another. Some would call this fragmentation, but I look at it as specialization with opportunities later for collaboration where it makes sense to do so!