GNOME Opera 1.0

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In the previous story I mentioned that the Opera web browser, made free (as in beer) last week, lacked a good GNOME skin to provide Linux users with a native look and feel. That is no longer the case.

Opera has the ability to use custom skins to change the UI, and there is a vibrant community of modders that make all kinds of skins. Now, I could sit around whining about the lack of a GNOME native skin, or do something to rectify the situation. So last week I created a skin that provides a consistent, familiar, usable, and clean GNOME UI for Opera. Last night I posted it to the official Opera skins repository. You may preview it here, or, if you are using Opera, you may use this install link.

Due to a PEBKAC problem the skin is currently named incorrently on the site, but Opera staff will be recifying that this week. And my thanks to Brian, Jorunn, and others at Opera ASA for providing feedback and guidance.

And wow, more than 1.5K downloads in the first 24 hours. Awesome.

Opera Becomes Free, Microsoft Becomes Desperate

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Two big announcements in the world of computer technology today. First, Opera Software has made their Opera desktop web browser free (as in beer). Second, Microsoft has splintered … sorry, “reorganized” their corporation. One is a very smart move, the other is not. Read on …

First, the Opera announcement. I used to use Opera back in my BeOS days. While their BeOS product at the time was not a paragon of stability, it was still eminently usable and a far better browser for late 90’s surfing than Be Inc.’s NetPositive. Opera, until today, had always been a commercial or adware product. You could download it for free, but ad banners were displayed unless you paid. With today’s announcement Opera makes itself as free to the casual user as is Firefox or other Mozilla products. Safari and Internet Explorer are only free if you pay for the OS, and both are platform specific.

Now I say “as free to the casual user as …” because Opera did not open the source to their browser. But really, how many people are going to download Firefox and immediately start making significant contributions to the codebase? Not many. I will not deny that open source means more eyes on the playpen, but even that has not stopped Firefox from having some pretty bad security bugs recently. I think that time will tell whether a closed, paid developer staff can keep pace with, or outpace, a larger volunteer staff. It will be interesting to watch.

In any event, this was a smart move for Opera. People these days are not willing to pay for browsers, as so many free and viable alternatives exist. It will also act as a tractor for their embedded browser products, which means more revenue. Some might see this as a last ditch effort by Opera, and they may well be right. I don’t sit in board meetings. But I think it’s merely a recognition that they aren’t going to get rich selling a desktop browser, they need more press, interest, and therefore users, and that the more people that embrace the desktop browser the better it is for their more commercially viable embedded solutions.

I have downloaded and installed Opera, have the Flash and Java plugins working well, and am giving it a test drive. Here are my initial reactions:

  • It is fast. Faster than Firefox by a good margin. Very nice.
  • The rendering engine adheres to standards nicely. Well coded sites work. Broken ones are usually broken in Firefox as well.
  • I actually enjoy having a mail, IRC, and NNTP client in my browser. Opera does this well. Mozilla does not.
  • Much of the Opera online documentation needs to be updated. The instructions for installing Java just simply do not work. The UI has changed.
  • Speaking of the UI, while I’m aware that Opera is written in QT, Opera needs to make a serious effort to provide their own skins to mimic the look and feel of the platforms they support. There is an Opera-supplied Windows skin, I’d like to see the company provide top-shelf skins for GTK+, KDE, and MacOS X users.
  • Tabs should be the last toolbar before page content.
  • Toolbar bookmarks should not have to be stored in the main bookmark repository as well as the toolbar.

I must say, on the whole my Opera 8.5 experience has been very positive. I may well switch from Firefox if Opera shows themselves willing and capable of delivering bug fixes, UI tweaks, and general quality updates and support. Try Opera. If it’s not your cup of tea you’ll know pretty quickly. If it is, you’ll love it, not just for the speed alone.

And from the “Dumb Business Decisions” desk we have the Microsoft reorganization. Do they really think chopping a turd into pieces makes it not a turd? Do they think this will positively impact their ability to deliver secure, standards-compliant, user liberating (as opposed to user emprisoning), and fault tolerant products? Do they think this will enhance creativity and innovation rather than add more layers of bureaucracy that stifle innovation? Does anyone think this? Granted, I do not like Microsoft. It’s hard for me to see much that they do in a positive light. But I think this reeks of desperation and corp-think to even the most unbiased person.

Today Opera Software executives acknowledged a change in business climate and moved the tiller to compensate. Microsoft desperately clutched at straws. Or, that’s my take on it. Time will tell.

Giant Disembowelled Bunny

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From WikiNews:

Gelitin, a group of artists from Vienna, has erected a pink bunny measuring 200 feet in length (about 60 metres) on the the side of a northern Italian mountain.

The soft rabbit is constructed out of pink wool, and is expected to remain on the mountain until 2025. Though it seems like a giant children’s toy at first glance, a closer look or an in-person exploration quickly leads to the realization that the rabbit’s side is split open, and its entrails pulled out.

Here’s the full story and here’s a a gallery of some pictures.

Christo meets Dali meets the PMRA.

Avast Me Hearties, Yarr!

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It be Talk Like A Pirate Day, arr! Scrub the barnacles off ye tongue an’ start talkin’ like ye be a true buccaneer o’ th’briny blue, gar!

Murphy’s Law Eats My Weekend

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This server has, for the past 8 months or so, been running off Fedora Core 3. When Fedora 4 shipped in June I added “upgrade server” to my to-do list. And there it languished.

Last month while visiting a friend the server locked up pretty hard and the drive just sat there spinning. Woo called me to tell me, and I had her hard reset the machine. I became worried about the status of the drive, but apparently not worried enough to actually do anything about it. Bad idea.

Saturday night as I sat in our home office room, the drive started grinding. Not the “death noise” but consistent read/write activity. I could not ssh in. So I ran to the other end of the house, grabbed the spare monitor, and had a look. Lots of errors concerning SELinux vs. ntp. Was it software, or the drive? Who knows!? It’s a crapshoot! Whee!

I reset the machine and waited for it to come back up, which it did. I ran some simple tasks, which all worked. I then asked rsync to sync my mp3 library (which is quite large) to the server. It has done this before, so it only needed to transfer a few songs. But rsync generates ls style file lists, so it is quite an intensive read process regardless of the amount of data that is out of sync.

Boom. Death. The machine … just … froze.

OK, so it wasn’t SELinux vs. ntp. It was the drive. I shut the machine down and powered it back up to ensure that the drive hadn’t died, but was just dying. Sure enough (and thank Jebus) the drive was only on its deathbed, not in the grave. Having travelled this road before I knew enough to shut it down, throw a placeholder page on an alternate apache installation and not touch that drive except to take data off it when a replacement was ready.

I have a spare 250GB parallel ATA drive in my arsenal. I resolved to install CentOS on it. First speedbump. My CentOS/i386 Install Disk 1 was damaged last month, and I had never burned a new copy. And in a fit of insanity I had tossed the ISOs I had downloaded. Duh. So Saturday night as I slept I curl‘ed that image. Again.

Second speedbump. Awake yesterday morning, burn the image, and find it is corrupt. Spent another 2 hours downloading it again (again). This image worked, and I installed CentOS onto the 250GB drive.

Third speedbump. Go to boot CentOS for the first time and only get a GRUB prompt. Try defining root and am presented with the lovely GRUB Error 18 message. The drive is too large for the BIOS in this PIII-550 to recognize, and CentOS has placed /boot outside the range of the BIOS’ view. CentOS can install fine, as Linux does not use the BIOS to get drive information … except during boot. Le sigh.

So now I have 4 options.

  • Re-install CentOS making a dedicated /boot partition within the BIOS’ line of sight.
  • Pass funky kernel parameters at boot to overcome the problem.
  • Buy a drive less than 128GB. Or several if i want more storage and use LVM.
  • Get a controller card and bypass the BIOS completely.

Now really the only two sane options are the first and last. Passing kernel params is a major kludge. Buying (perhaps multiple) 120GB drives is cost-inefficient. So I sat contemplating the best approach. I soon realized that the 250GB drive I have is getting old, and has been used quite a bit. In fact, this is the drive that the Mac caused to poop itself a few months ago. I was setting myself up to be right back in this same position in weeks or months, knowing Murphy’s Law. And knowing my luck thus far on this issue …

So off I went to Fry’s. When looking at controller cards I realized I could get a Serial ATA card for the same price as a Parallel ATA card. And SATA is a LOT faster. Not only that, but factoring in a rebate I could get a Seagate 300GB SATA drive for US$119. At least one decision was simple. I came home with a SIIG SATA controller card and that Seagate.

Now, the SATA drive in my desktop is only 250GB. No way I’m getting a 300GB drive and not using it in my desktop. So after a dry run with CentOS and the 300GB drive to ensure the controller card works, I spent a couple hours migrating my desktop from the 250GB to the 300GB. Let me tell you, rsync’ing between 2 local 7200rpm SATA drives is a thing of beauty. Incredibly fast. Jizz-inducing fast. Yum-MY!

So, at around 11pm Sunday night I was where I thought I was going to be at 11pm Saturday night. 24 hours spent spinning my wheels. Great. I finally got CentOS installed, transfered data from the old 120GB drive and began configuration. The server is now about 90% done, and web services have (obviously) been restored. And we’re now traveling on a 250GB 7200rpm Western Digital SATA drive connected to a processor-independent controller card. Whoopee!

My apologies to those that waited for the server to come back online, and my thanks to those folks who are hosted here. Hopefully this will be the last such glitch for some time. And enjoy the speed improvement. I’m off to do that last 10% of configuration.

Back To Ubuntu

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When I first got my new x86-64 machine back in late April I decided to run Ubuntu Linux on it. It worked quite well, but I found that updates (especially critical updates like Firefox security patches) were slow in coming. As I run Fedora Core on my server, I ended up switching to that on my desktop as well. But, I have switched back. Click “Read More” to find out why.

One of my closest friends needed a new machine recently, and after I convinced him it would be a poor time to buy a new Mac if he could avoid it (as x86 Macs are around the corner) he opted for an x86-64 machine that dual boots Linux and WinXP. He decided he wanted to try CentOS, the free variant of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. A couple weeks ago I piled myself and a bunch of tools and CDs into the car and headed south to Ashland, OR.

Now, one thing that worked well for me in Ubuntu and has been nothing but a PITA in Fedora is AppleTalk printing. Like me, my friend has an AppleTalk laser printer. I spent (no joke) 6 hours trying to get CentOS to print to the thing. Getting Netatalk working on Red Hat variants is like pulling teeth. It was beyond frustrating.

I eventually installed Ubuntu for him and after re-reading Netatalk docs and sorting through which PAP backend I had actually worked, he could print. It felt … glorious … after the RH debacle.

When I got home last week I rsynced my home directory to a backup drive and installed the i386 variant of Ubuntu (as there is currently no Flash plugin or Sun Java plugin for x86-64). Installation went smoothly, and setting up my AppleTalk printer took … ready? … 2.5 minutes. Two and a half minutes. 150 seconds. Beats the crap out of six hours and no printing.

I’m not knocking Red Hat. They make a great product. But I think their interest in the desktop is minimal. For desktop Linux, I’m now solidly an Ubuntu devotee. It Just Works.

In the interest in giving back to the community I wrote up a step-by-step how-to on AppleTalk on the Ubuntu wiki. If you need AppleTalk services on Linux, check it out.

And hey … Macromedia and Sun. How about x86-64 plugins for Linux folks? Huh? Come on …