Saturday, June 25, 2011

More software freedom of choice!

When you work every day during the week as I am doing now, it is not as easy to find moments to collect thoughts that are worthy to share on a technical blog, and so that is why it has been a week or two between my writings and musings. But I have a break today, so I will take some time to collect a few thoughts about systems that I have been investigating and testing.

I have three of them to write about today; one that I tested last night, and two more that I tested today, one of which I am using right now; it's called Webconverger, or webc-8.0. I will mention more about it in a little while.

The first system I worked with to begin the weekend was Sabayon 6.0. I had Sabayon 5.5 previously installed, liked it a lot, had added quite a bit of software to it, and during a recent upgrade it ran out of space. I unsuccessfully tried to clear the cache of enough space to make it worthwhile to keep, but the disk stayed 100% full, so it was an excellent candidate for a replacement. Too bad: it had worked well, and it also only recently started offering rolling release upgrades as an alternative to fresh installations. But I needed a fresh installation, plus installing a new system always shows off the new features - and sometimes the limitations as well. That, at least initially, proved to be the case here. Sabayon is in the middle of making some infrastructure and packaging improvements. Chances are that in the long run these will work very well. In the meantime, though, I ran into problems. When I went to update the system, it told me that there were eight new packages available, but none of them would install for me, and I started getting error messages about something wrong with the package management system. I sent one of them along to Sabayon; hopefully it reaches them, they are aware of whatever issue it was that cropped up, get it fixed soon, and maybe even drop me a note to let me know about the change; I hope that happens!

Until then, Sabayon 6.0 is not quite ready for me to spend much, if any, time with it. So I went looking for others. I had downloaded a version of Fedora 15 Xfce Live, and still had the ISO image on one of my systems, so I checked to see if I had tested it yet. I had downloaded a Beta test version of the same thing back in May, but this was a June 17 download of the released version, so I tried it out. I was very happy with the result, possibly enough so to give the release a try installed; I only ran it live. One thing with Xfce I was able to do was mount my hard disk file systems. I found my main Debian Sid partition, mounted it, then ran Firefox Nightly out of my personal copy in my home directory and it ran well. That gave this Fedora release extra points; I could run software on it from other systems, and at least what I tried out actually worked. That's good.

The system had its usual fine appearance, and Xfce is a well kept secret from most people. I feel it is the most mature (1996 origins, same time frame as KDE) and well developed desktop available. KDE had real growing pains earlier in Version 4 and has finally pretty much recovered; GNOME 3 is currently going through similar pains; Xfce has had only short periods of instability in comparison to KDE and GNOME, has a bit of a more classic appearance and function, tends to be as flexible as KDE, though not quite as full featured, and definitely easier to master than the richness of KDE. It is also lighter and more flexible than GNOME, and though it shares the Gtk+ toolkit with GNOME, it is easily - at least in my opinion, the more wisely designed system. Both KDE and GNOME take leaps in new directions, but it's unclear whether or not they get the ideas for their directions from their user base, whereas it is pretty clear that Xfce develops out of dialog with its user and development base. So Fedora 15 Xfce definitely benefits from that. Fedora 15, also taking steps to provide more spins and to provide more stability, has appeared to have succeeded in both of these areas if my short spin with Xfce is any indication of the possibilities and capabilities of Fedora 15.

I mentioned Webconverger 8.0 to whet your appetite, and though this is not your every day kind of a system, it is great for using as a Kiosk type of system. You run this one without loading anything to disk. I ran it off CD, but I think it would be ultra cool to run it off a quiet USB or SSD technology. It would really be not only quiet then, but fast as well.

I added the cheat codes toram and copy2ram to the boot line, pressing tab as soon as the boot screen appeared, hoping that I could not only run this live, but quietly load it completely into RAM. I did this on not one, not two, but three laptop systems of different vintages: a large, 17" portable Gateway 2000 Series Model PA6A, a similar vintage 15" Lenovo 2000 Series Y410 laptop, and an older, traditional 14" Dell Latitude D620 laptop. All three work well, and once loaded, perform with similar skills and ability because the system speed becomes a minor player; the memory and network access rate become the driving components of performance. Fortunately, all three systems are similar enough in those areas to provide similar performance. The Gateway may still have had a slight edge, being the largest and fastest, but only by a very slight margin. The Dell was probably slowest; again, any difference, if there even was any, was minimal; all three platforms worked virtually the same.

If you are going to be doing all web browsing or you want to create either a home or a business kiosk, then this is a good distribution to evaluate; I like it.

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