Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

A New Experience

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Today, after a fraction over 12 years, I bade farewell to the Solaris Desktop team to join Oracle’s Systems Experience Design team, a.k.a. sxDesign, which has a wider but still largely Solaris-focused usability remit.1

There’s been a good deal of overlap and collaboration between the two teams over the years anyway, so it’s not exactly a step into the unknown. The elders among you will remember the GNOME 1.4 usability study I presented at GUADEC in 2001, for example, which was primarily the handiwork of a previous incarnation of sxDesign… I pretty much just turned up at the end to steal the glory for the Desktop team. In your face, people I’m going to be working with now!2

While this pretty much brings an end to any ‘day job’ involvement I still had in the GNOME community (which has been basically ‘none’ for the past couple of years anyway), it certainly won’t be the end of my interest. If anything, I’ll probably be using GNOME more often again, albeit the trailing-edge enterprise-stable version we currently ship with Solaris 11. But I’ll certainly be keeping a keen eye on the GNOME 3 releases too, and continuing to call for its inclusion in Solaris as soon as is practical :)


1 A move I was first approached about making in about 2003, I think… who says I’m rubbish at making snap decisions?

2 I’m not really. They all left years ago.

I’m not going to GUADEC…

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Is there a badge for that? :)

This will only be the second time since 2001, when I revealed how many users in our study had asked what the fried egg on the GNOME menu bar meant, that I haven’t made the trip. Other than the very first GUADEC in Paris, which happened just before I joined Sun, the only other one I’ve missed is Stuttgart in 2005.

So it feels a bit weird not to be going this year, but only a bit. It’s been a while since I made a useful contribution to anything GNOMEish (unless you count the daily ritual of deleting spam from the usability list admin queue), GNOME 3 seems to be getting along just fine without any of my suggestions, and for the time being I’m not even working on any desktop projects in my day job. So this time, I suspect, I probably won’t be back at GUADEC for a while… unless it makes a return to Dublin of course :)

Y’all have fun now!

What’s new on the Solaris 11 desktop?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

This entry is cross-posted from my Oracle blog… clearly, seasoned GNOME blog readers will be less excited about GNOME 2.30, compiz and Firefox 6 than my audience over there, many of whom have been using GNOME 2.6 on Solaris 10 for the past 7 years :)

Much has been written today about the enterprise and cloud features of Oracle Solaris 11, which was launched today, but what’s new for those of us who just like to have the robustness and security of Solaris on our desktop machines? Here are a few of the Solaris 11 desktop highlights:

  • GNOME 2.30: It may not be the bleeding-edge GNOME 3, but GNOME 2.30 is the most stable version of GNOME ever released, and has many improvements over GNOME 2.6 as found in Solaris 10.
  • X.org 1.10.3: See Alan’s blog for details of this X server update.
  • Updated Firefox and Thunderbird: Solaris 11 ships with Firefox 6.0.2 and Thunderbird 6.0.2 from Mozilla.
  • Compiz: Solaris 11 uses this compositing window manager by default, enhancing the desktop experience with judicious use of customizable effects such as translucency, drop shadows and transition animations. (Not supported on all graphics cards, which will fall back automatically to the metacity window manager.)
  • Package Manager: IPS is the new package management system in Solaris 11, and it has a full-featured GUI that allows you to quickly browse and install new packages, or perform a live update of your entire OS in a couple of clicks, safe in the knowledge that it can be rolled back to a previous version just as quickly in the event of any problems.
  • Time Slider: Making its debut in OpenSolaris, the Time Slider feature that allows you take automatic, periodic ZFS snapshots and explore them in your file manager application now also allows you to make backups to removable media and network devices.
  • Network Auto Magic GUI: Allows configuration of the NWAM subsystem, including creation, editing and switching of network profiles and locations.
  • Visual Panels: A suite of GUI tools for system administration tasks, such as configuring firewall and SMF services.
  • GParted: The venerable Linux graphical disk partitioning tool, now ported to Solaris and included on the Live CD.
  • CUPS: The lp printing subsystem has been removed, and Solaris 11 now uses the open source *nix printing technology from Apple, with the same system-config-printer GUI found in several Linux distros.

Solaris 11 is free to download and use for most non-commercial purposes (but IANAL, so do check the OTN License Agreement on the download page first — it’s short and sweet, as these things go), and you can download various flavours, including a Live CD and a USB install image, right here.

Happy Solaris 11 Day!

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Nearly seven years after the launch of Sun Solaris 10, today sees the official launch of Oracle Solaris 11 at an event in NYC*.


Oracle Solaris 11 Launch
November 9, New York City
Register Now!

There’s a host of new enterprise-class features in Solaris 11, including a modern package management system, live upgrade with the ability to reboot to previous known good versions, network virtualization, ZFS encryption and reduplication, and many SMF, DTrace, zone and security improvements. On the desktop, CDE has taken its final curtain call, and now GNOME (currently 2.30) takes centre stage. Solaris 11 is fully supported on both SPARC and x86, and it still has the best binary compatibility guarantee in the business.

The road to Solaris 11 has been a particularly long and winding one, of course. Starting from the closed source base of Solaris 10, Solaris was gradually open-sourced, mostly under the CDDL license. The OpenSolaris project was founded, part of which was a Sun-built distro called Project Indiana, under the brief leadership of Debian founder Ian Murdock. Project Indiana was a Fedora-like concept, with its own release cycle and the eventual intention of being forked to produce Sun’s next commercial release of Solaris (which at that time was codenamed Nevada, and seemed unlikely to be called Solaris 11 at launch).

Before its first milestone release, Project Indiana was somewhat confusingly renamed OpenSolaris, a fully-fledged, developer-focused distro that saw three releases, snappily called OpenSolaris 2008.05, 2008.11, and 2009.06. Then, of course, Sun was sold to Oracle, who (regrettably without any official announcement to the OpenSolaris community, just a leaked internal memo) closed it all up again**, and decided that the next version of Solaris was going to be called Solaris 11 after all.

Nearly two years of spit and polish, and an intermediate Solaris 11 Express release later, here we are at last. Enjoy!


* No, we’re not launching it on 11/11. Yes, it would be nice if US-based global corporations would hold their launch events in other parts of the world now and again, so some of the many thousands of non-US staff and customers could be there.

** Of course, once the open source cat is out of the bag, there’s no pushing it back in, and there are still some thriving OpenSolaris communities out there today, notably Illumos and OpenIndiana.

“That thing you burned up isn’t important to me.”

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Interesting announcement from the LibreOffice project about their online and tablet versions. Those of you who’ve been around as long as me will remember that Sun had the same vision for StarOffice almost from the moment they acquired StarDivision, announcing the StarPortal project for browsers and PDAs somewhere around the end of the last century.

In the end, like all too many Sun projects, it was delayed, then subsumed into the SunONE Webtop project in 2001, and died off before it could gain any traction. Just goes to show that from a business perspective, being a decade ahead of the curve isn’t necessarily much better than being a decade behind it…

(Now) running 3.2…

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Jasper and Florian pointed me in the right direction for getting my 3.2 jhbuild to run on F15, but the equally good news, as Pieter predicted, is that the F16 beta also runs perfectly well in VirtualBox 4.1.4 once you have the guest extensions installed. So in addition to the new 3.2 Live CDs, VirtualBox is also a viable way to experience 3.2 for yourself. (Although the F16 installer itself hung for several hours on a couple of occasions, but I decided to leave it alone anyway, and eventually it worked fine.)

iPad, meet GNOME

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Just been playing with the new Oracle Virtual Desktop Client for iPad, which to you and me means “the first Sun Ray client for a tablet”. Here I am playing with GIMP on a Solaris GNOME 2.30 desktop, which is running on one of the Sun Ray servers in the Dublin office:

Sun Ray client for iPad

There are a couple of rough edges — the main one, perhaps, being that you can’t scroll the content of windows on the remote desktop in the same way that you’d scroll any other content on the iPad. Right now you have to grab and move the scrollbars, which isn’t so easy on a touchscreen. But other than that, it’s pretty tidy for a first release.

If you have access to a Sun Ray desktop and want to join in the fun, the app is a free download from the iTunes App Store.

VirtualBox 4.0.10

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Today’s maintenance release of Oracle VirtualBox (4.0.10) spreads the GNOME 3 love a little further — following the fixes in 4.0.8 for GNOME 3 guests on Linux hosts, GNOME 3 now finally works glitch-free on OS X hosts in 4.0.10.

Small and fuzzy video evidence (.ogv file)

Guess this means I have fewer excuses than ever before for not knuckling down on the GNOME 3 HIG :)

Solaris 11 Express 2010.11

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Yesterday, Oracle released Solaris 11 Express 2010.11 (complete with GNOME 2.30.2 as its default, and indeed only desktop), the first interim step along the road to Solaris 11 since OpenSolaris 2009.06 was released almost 18 months ago.

The change in name reflects that, unlike its OpenSolaris predecessors, Solaris Express is not a freely-redistributable distro (check out the OpenIndiana project if you need one of those), and it remains free to use only for “the purpose of developing, testing, prototyping and demonstrating your applications”—business or commercial usage now requires a support contract. However, the download itself for x86 or SPARC remains free of charge, and it’s also possible to upgrade from an existing OpenSolaris installation (see the release notes for details).

As you’d expect, there are many new things to play with in this release—the one I’ve been most closely involved with is the new Network Auto-Magic GUI, which has many more features than the one that shipped in 2009.06.

I know a lot of GNOME folks won’t be delighted by this apparent step backwards in Solaris open-ness. On the other hand, things are really no different now from how they were for the first five years or so of Sun’s involvement in GNOME, when nobody could have imagined there would ever be an open source version of Solaris. And we all got along just fine then, so I hope we can continue to do so now :)

Feel free to take Solaris 11 Express 2010.11 for a spin in VirtualBox and let us know what you think.

A decade at Sun redux

Monday, October 4th, 2010

I felt a mild flutter of excitement when I finally received my 10 year Sun/Oracle service award notification on Friday, two months after my actual anniversary, because Sun had some nice gifts you could choose from (I chose a telescope for my five year award!).

Assuming Oracle would be much the same, I hastily logged in to see what I fancied, only to discover out that there was only one option: a ballpoint pen. A $200 ballpoint pen, certainly, but a ballpoint pen nonetheless.

How many people in the IT industry, I wonder, have a use for a $200 ballpoint pen? I certainly wouldn’t carry around a pen that expensive, as it’s the sort of thing I’d inevitably lose. Even as UI designer who does a fair bit of sketching, I just tend to use whatever pen or pencil comes to hand. And if I did want my own fancy, personal pen, it would be a fountain pen, not a ballpoint. (But you have to rack up 20 years at Oracle to earn one of those—even 15 just gets you a ‘rollerball’.)

Indeed, up until I left university, and for a while afterwards, I did carry around a fountain pen. But it wasn’t an expensive one, and it was in the days when I still wrote a lot more than I typed. I doubt there are many people in our line of work who do that nowadays.

So if you’re reading, corporate gift overlords, we minions do appreciate a choice. And if you’re not going to give us a choice, could you please at least give us something we can either put to good use without fear of losing or breaking it, or something that looks nice on a shelf? Or, if in doubt, just stick an extra few quid in our pay packet that month, and let us buy whatever we like :)