Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pricing - Windows vs Linux vs Apple

A very nice page about Windows vs. Ubuntu on the new Dell configurations can be found at - however the systems are pretty much the minimum usable configurations so it does not quite make sense to compare that 650 US$ notebook to the 2000 US$ MacBook Pro :)

However if you go a little on the higher end for a notebook that is basically as good as the minimal high-end Apple correctly configured, the Dell 1505 with Ubuntu preinstalled will take you to about 1700 US$ - with Core 2 Duo T7200, 2 GB DDR2 667, 160 GB SATA, DVD writer, 256 MB video card, modem and 3 years warranty (and the Vista Home Premium configuration is also in the same price range).

The 'bad Apple' of the race (pun intended) is the MacBook Pro - by the time you add the same configuration / functionality as the above you get to ... almost 2700 US$ ! But of course OSX 10.4 is obviously so worth the extra 1000 US$ - who cares that in 6 months (at most) it will be obsolete (and you will need another 150 US$ to upgrade), and who wants an operating system that is really free (Linux) or one that looks better (Vista) or which supports pretty much all of the existing games (XP, and many Apple fans will install at least that one anyway). Oh, and I forgot - the Dell will have all the keys that you will normally use (unlike the Mac) and a two-button touchpad :)

And a small update on Linux + suspend/resume - it seems that things are not 100% there yet :(

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Many updates ... and why desktop Linux is not here yet ...

First of all a small jab at "Why people really don't switch to Linux" - maybe it's also about the reasons from that post, but the fact that only in 2007 I am able to reliably do suspend / hibernate / resume in Linux is certainly part of the real reasons - yes, we all know that actually Windows itself took about 5 years from the very unsafe Win95 suspend to the usable level from Windows 2000 but we are now in 2007 and the most hyped Linux distributions (like Ubuntu) STILL can not do it 'by default' !!! And don't even get me started on WiFi and WPA ... I am still recovering after my previous post :)

Now some short updates to an older post - in "Geek tools ... for a pre-computer notepad" I was mentioning that in the Uniball 207 series I was considering the standard 207 gel pens not heavy enough for my taste - but I have now tested the (slightly more expensive) Premier 207 and that one has an amazing silicone grip (a friend joked about it and called it 'almost erotic') and has a much better weight - highly recommended!

Also a very pleasant surprise were the 'standard' Parker gel refills (black) - right now those hold two important records in my book - first for the most amazing and intense black color and second for the fastest drying gel ink - almost as fast as the one from the Uniball Jetstreams (but those are NOT gel inks)! It is also acceptable when you can not hold it in normal / vertical position - not as good as the PowerTanks but better than any other gel pen that I have used. The only drawback is the price of the Parker refills - but for how much I am handwriting today it is not a problem and as a result those are currently by favorite choice (together with the heavy metal pen mentioned in the above post).

And as a small bonus a link to a recent Apple convert that is starting to see what's behind the hype - Four Things He Hates About Apple - he also seems to be a fan on Uniball 207 :)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

About Ubuntu spinsters, mac-zealots and what the real Linux people use on their systems ...

For some time now I was hearing a lot of rumors about how amazing Ubuntu is - including some daring posts on how Microsoft should start having nightmares about it ... but surprisingly mostly from pathetic Apple losers that somehow managed to realize that Apple will never be a threat for Microsoft (or for Dell for that matter) - and can only survive by 'hopping' to the next thing that might (iPod) or might not (AppleTV) be 'hot' for the moment.

But since I was anyway going to redo my Linux installations (on both my dual-core Opteron primary desktop and my 1 kilo Dell X300 - twice lighter than the best Apple ever managed to get so far)
about one week ago I decided to also get the latest Ubuntu Live CD (7.04) and try to give it a shot - if it was going to be good I could keep at least one of the 2-3 installations ... if not ... the EXT3 partitions were anyway going to be erased so it was only a loss of some time ...

The Live CD was starting OK on both systems - but it was mostly in the default configuration mode - and I was also expecting a friend with a lot of Linux experience (and another distribution as a backup - see below) and the most important test was going to be how well could things go on the X300 (which was always VERY tricky in Linux) - so that's how I started the tests. While the installation went fine the final result was rather unimpressive - the CPU was not very well throttled,
also the wireless part was not working by default and most important of all - suspend and hibernate were not even close to working (which was always a huge problem in Linux on the X300, but with Ubuntu at least the crash on restore was looking spectacular, almost Apple-style - for 60 seconds we actually believed it was a desired visual effect and that's how it was supposed to work) - so on the subnotebook Ubuntu was voted out without even a single remorse ...

On the desktop the hardware was a lot more 'standard' - so most of the normal things were working by default - but again the new 3D part was not working, the CPU was always kept in the 'performance' (hot) mode
and again suspend/hibernate was not looking good - so again Ubuntu was a small disappointment ... and worse of all, it managed to seriously f*ck things on the (rather complex) Vista + OSX boot process from a PATA drive that I keep as a second drive after the SATA which is the 'default boot drive'. After 10 minutes of fixing the boot problems I finally managed to get things back to about the same point where I started - Ubuntu was not a keeper, but the best part of the story is yet to come!!!

The bottom line on Ubuntu - more hype than substance for the high-end user. It might not be a bad choice for somebody that knows nothing about computers and will get it fully pre-installed - since it is rather friendly and safe (actually even safer in the Live CD version) but once you have existing hardware where it must run, things can easily go wrong. I also first liked the 'African theme' but that is not so easy on the eyes after the initial contact and has to be changed, it was also nice that it automounted the OSX partition, but the main good thing that I got from Ubuntu was the curiosity to give GNOME another chance ... I might also take another look at Ubuntu on my iBook G4 but I don't expect too much on that
pathetic hardware either ... (update - it starts OK but enabling the 3D effects leaves 'noise' on screen and is not 100% usable; also power-management does not seem to work very well).

And now to the actual pleasant surprise - my friend is a long-time fan of Mandriva Linux - back from the days when it was called Mandrake - so we started with two DVD versions of the Mandriva 2007 Spring PowerPack - one for 32 bits and one for 64 bits. The HUGE surprise was that after the problems with Ubuntu on the Dell X300 ACPI / power management part, Mandriva installed and started just perfectly !!! I could not believe my eyes - after almost 4 years I was now able to suspend / hibernate in Linux on the X300 - and successfully resume :) The CPU was also using by default a dynamic policy - generating far less heat - so Mandriva was the clear winner on the X300. Even the new '3D desktop' part was starting OK - so during the next days I took Mandriva for a real-life test in the 3 installations that we did - 64 bit on the desktop, 32 bit on the desktop and 32 bit on the laptop, with almost half of the tests on the notebook!

I will not get into full details - but generally things were working quite well - actually most normal things were working OK since more than two Mandriva version ago, but now having low power mode and suspend / hibernate / resume I could really use the X300 as a notebook in Linux 'full time'!

The first part where things got tricky was the wireless connection - simple unprotected WiFi was working OK for years in Linux, in recent years even the number of native drivers was decent, but anything involving some security was very tricky. More than one year ago I gave up on having wireless on Mandriva since it was only working as far as WEP, and that only with ndiswrapper and with some strange bug where it was leaking memory to the point where it was only usable for 15 minutes :( With the latest Mandriva
2007 Spring the wireless was detected OK with the native drivers, but for some reason WPA was never actually working (which still is a big problem in some configurations, see below). After a few hours I was very close to give up again, but then I decided to try with the latest Dell 2000/XP drivers and ndiswrapper ... and huge surprise - things work just fine even with WPA !!! I still suspect that by using this convoluted approach the power-saving mode is not optimal for the wireless part, but it works and actually even in Windows the Dell driver was not optimal by default, so ... WPA still remains a problems with the native driver, and it is also a problem with the VERY old orinoco-based 802.11b-only (no g) card from the even older Dell X200 - and unfortunately on that one the Windows drivers are not recognized by ndiswrapper :(

The other tricky thing is the new '3D desktop' part - the really impressive
option (actually better eye-candy than OSX - or Vista for that matter) is Beryl - however that one is not (yet) integrated very well with KDE (which previously was always my choice on Mandriva) - it is still highly usable with two-three problems - one is that the 'virtual desktops' are not perfectly integrated, the second is that KDE is not 100% ready to see the <Win> key as a <Super> modifier (and instead will see it somehow as the <F13> standard key) and the third is that in some conditions (and pretty much always on LogOff) the '3D interceptions' can go wrong ...

I was anyway happy using KDE without the '3D desktop' when I also decided to take a look at how things are in GNOME with 3D - and again a very nice surprise - in GNOME things are A LOT better by default!!! The virtual desktops are slightly better (and the taskbar knows when not to show applications that are from a different '3D virtual desktop'), the
<Super> key is a modifier and can be configured as it should be, and the '3D interceptions' go wrong a lot less (but are not 100% OK yet); <Alt>+Tab will go to the new 'preview task switcher', <Win>+Tab will activate the '3D ring task switcher' and on my system <Win>+Escape will activate the 'all desktops window picker' - which is virtual desktops + OSX Expose in one - too bad that one is not very keyboard-friendly (yet). You can also assign commands to different corners and in my case I have also defined the "`" key as the 'reverse Tab' for both Alt and Win - the X86 name of that key is 'grave' (from grave accent) - and all are being set from "Beryl settings manager" (under Applications / System / Configuration / Other). That being said KDE is still the more mature option that I use on the desktop, but GNOME remained for the moment the default on the notebook...

So in the end I now have 3 new Mandriva installations that work surprisingly well, that will get their updates in a very friendly way and that indeed
some day might be a nightmare for BillG but LONG before that it will be a HUGE problem for SteveJ - however right now it is a very powerful tool in the hand of the more technical people that would like to keep their freedoms away from the convicted monopolist (MS) and also from the company not (yet) convicted but a LOT worse in regards to freedom - Apple of course.

PS - the post was 100% written on the Dell X300 under the above Linux in Firefox over wireless with WPA and a few 'suspend to RAM' and one 'hibernate' before finishing it :)


a) it might not be very clear for a newcomer - Mandriva has both KDE and GNOME (and they have obviously worked a lot to have certain things working in a common way), while Ubuntu is only GNOME and for KDE you need Kubuntu (which I have now tested - looks slightly more usable than the plain Ubuntu but still less interesting than Mandriva);

b) with KDE + 3D Aquamarine (the window decorator) will crash a lot and there will also be problems from time to time when trying to log-off;

c) however in Mandriva KDE is a LOT better on sessions, log-off and many other 'shortcuts', and also has very good keyboard usability (especially once you get Win to be Super_L - see some of the comments); GNOME is sometimes very poor on keyboard shortcuts and in Mandriva there is far less session control :(

d) still things can go HORRIBLY WRONG with Beryl + certain focus combinations (for instance a protected screen saver can start but the focus can never get there - which means you can no longer get back to your programs);

e) enough about 3D eye candy - the real huge step forward with this version was power-management - things work very reliable on that - but suspend / hibernate / resume is still slower than in XP; the same can be said about boot time - even if Mandriva is already using a 'parallel boot' optimization that according to them can get 20% improvements in some conditions!

f) and a final link (very little, but related to the new 3D desktops) about another Linux (SUSE) used by somebody that is a top-level FOSS contributor - Fear and Loathing in Cupertino :) And here another one about something that is not even Linux ...

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