Friday, February 8, 2008

For the last few days, I have been in a totally grumpy mood. First, I see an article in a computer magazine Digit comparing the security of Linux with Vista and come to the conclusion that both are equally secure but if things go wrong, they will go more wrong in Vista. Hello Digit, can you get off the fence please? On one hand, you give reasons why Linux is more secure, explain the reasons, and then say in a round about way that Linux is more secure, but do not spell it out directly, as if afraid that you will lose popularity,(or perhaps will not get permission to distribute free trials of MS Office).

Then, trying to install Fedora from the DVD of that same computer magazine, my entire hard disk becomes unreadable, as a result I lose all the partitions and data (Ubuntu, Mandriva, SUSE, XP). Well Fedora, here you have lost a well wisher. The majority of the fault was mine, ( I pressed one Ok button by mistake, but Ubuntu, Mepis , and all the other distros I have tried give multiple opportunities to go back, and do not begin formatting at the first step. And I kicked the XP habit because it got corrupted during installation of updates due to a power cut. And now I have kicked the Fedora habit before even starting. Luckily , my first experience was with Mepis and Ubuntu, otherwise I might have clubbed all distros in the same basket. Ok, I had backups of most of my important files but stll....

Then, I reinstalled Mandriva. There is a reason behind this, my ISP Sify Broadband, gives only a rpm client for installation. Its files from source does not work. So, I had to choose a rpm based distro as the first choice. Then, that client is really crappy. It automatically stops after a few minutes. Therefore, as you can imagine, my distro was not getting updated. Furthermore, an enterprising open sourcer has made an alternative client, Supersify, but that needs Java to work. I got down to downloading Java, but the broadband client had a mind of its own, the transmission stopping periodically, and then when I go to restart the client, I get a message saying that the one version of the client is already running. Way to go, Sify, you are making great efforts to ensure people get tired of Linux. (BTW, this is the new better version of the client, the earlier version did not work at all). And they have the cheek to ask if my "software" is good! Time to leave Sify for good, I guess, but I may change my residence and go for a job elsewhere in India, so I have decided to change my ISP after that). Seriously, this is the difficulty of using Linux in India, not Linux itself, but stupid service providers.

And I miss posting, and checking out my mail and everything! So now you know why I have not been posting these last few days!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The eyeOS: A Review

The eyeOS has been making ripples among enthusiasts of “cloud” computing. It intends to serve as an Operating System which can be accessed anywhere through a web browser. One just has to install the eyeOS on to one's web server or use the web hosting solution provided by the vendors themselves. On top of that, it is one of the first open source offerings on the cloud (Google, even though running on open source components, is in itself proprietary). How good is it, though? To answer this question, I took the option of trying out the software on the vendors hosting service. This has the disadvantage of not being extendable, i.e you cannot install any additional applications, but this serves as a good starting point for evaluating the platform.

The registration was really fast and the I logged in. The service really looked like a desktop in the browser. It was user friendly and after reading the user manual, I was on my way.

The applications: Since the service intends to be a desktop in a browser, there were applications for Office work(Calender, Contacts,Calculator,Word processor, an experimental spreadsheet, Slide presentation software), for games(Flash version of Sonic the hedgehog, Prince of Persia, Solitaire, Chess), Networking(A browser, mail client, RSS reader, FTP client,messenger for users of the same system and notes) and for entertainment (mp3player, video player, image viewer and Flash Earth). The choice of software was really stunning, and I must admit I did not expect so much. But how good were they really?

The Calender and contacts were satisfactory. They were quite full featured. The e-mail client also worked well, as did the notes. On these counts,there should not be any major complaints. The word processor was skimpy when compared to a desktop office suite, but it was adequate for most purposes, and could handle both MS Office (.doc) as well as ODF files. For some sorts of special formatting, one has to use the desktop browser, or a more powerful online office suite like the Zoho Office (By the way, one can easily access the Zoho Office suite through EyeOS's own browser. So that would be an office suite inside a browser inside an Operating system inside a browser inside an operating system: Cool for geeks, may sound crazy to others).The spreadsheet component was experimental and good just for viewing and minor editing.No calculations can be done. The lack of features of document
and spreadsheet creation and editing are, I think, the greatest
drawback of eyeOS at present. It should be noted here that documents and spreadsheets are opened for viewing by an app called eyeVisor. This application satisfactorily opened the files I threw at it. The Word processing and spreadsheet applications are opened only when editing files or creating a new file.

Office suite inside a browser inside an Operating system inside a browser inside an operating system. Sounds crazy, huh?

ames and entertainment: No complaints here. All the games played well. The Sonic Hedgehog and Solitaire games were flash based , but still entertaining. I also played a mp3 music file. The sound quality was good, even though there were no advanced options for playback. The Flash earth also played well(Of course, you will not get close up shots of your home from this app, unlike Google Earth). There are no complaints on this front.

Networking: A web browsing application has been added which does its work quite well as does the mail client, the feed reader and the instant messenger. All these have just the essential functionality, but that is enough for most users. No complaints on this front either. An application called the eyeBoard is present as well by which you can post messages to other eyeOS users.

All in all, the software works well. I personally am satisfied with most of the applications present by default. However, this satisfaction may have to do with the fact that my initial expectations were low. Users who want a complete desktop experience will be disappointed. Such an experience should not be expected. I wish to also point out that in my experience, eyeOS does not work well with all browsers. On Konqueror, it was slow, on Opera, I just could not log in.I do hope that these issues will be taken care of in the near future.

My (decidedly personal) conclusion:This is one cool platform. The idea of accessing files, pictures, videos and music files anywhere on any computer is appealing, especially to hardcore geeks. Just think of a combination of iPhone + eyeOS, or Archos + eyeOS , or Wii + eyeOS(provided the Opera support improves). There are individual web apps which do a better job than eyeOS for each function(e.g Zoho for Office, flickr or Google for photos), and therefore improvement is needed. Still, I think that this tool has great future potential, not only for the idea of an universal web desktop, but for a completely different reason.

You see, enterprises are moving towards greater networked collaboration. Some are also moving towards thin clients. If a proper collaboration framework is laid down on the EyeOS platform, with the possibility of editing documents, spreadsheets, modifying pictures for a slideshow, it may well become a killer application in the enterprise. The range of applications that EyeOS supports is much wider than that of most other online suites or individual services. It gives a very cheap, customizable option in such a case. And it is here, I feel that it should show its strength. However, it needs to improve its core Office software like Word processing, Spreadsheets etc and add good collaboration tools for this to actually happen.

Finally, congratulations are due to the Spanish teenagers who have been the main movers behind this software. If not anything, eyeOS may revolutionize our definition of what an Operating System actually is!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Popularizing Linux: Are Flash based Distros underutilized?

I have often thought why Linux is not more popular. Mostly, it is usable, more secure and less costly than Windows. Why, then, do more people not use Linux? Disregarding, for the time being, the general ignorance of the people,I think the following points are very relevant:

  1. It is a Windows world: Most of the applications that people use are Windows specific proprietary programs. The most commonly used applications are an e-mail client, web browser, office suite, instant messenger, multimedia programs and a photo organizer. Changing over to a completely new system is a great culture shock. I think this great change as well as questions as to whether Linux will actually provide an adequate replacement for the programs of their day to day use is a great deterrent for people who actually are interested in Linux
  2. Fear: Most people do not have enough technical knowhow. They are afraid of messing up their systems by opting for a dual-boot configuration. Even if they have backed up all their data, they are afraid of losing a working operating system.  They also are not confident enough of using virtualization as a means of testing different operating systems.
  3. Self –doubt: Linux has earned notoriety as an operating system for geeks. People are just put off by hearing that it is difficult.

How, then, to actually lessen the pain of changing operating systems? The first objective to be achieved is to see whether the persons concerned are actually interested in adopting a dual-boot configuration. In case they are even slightly afraid, I think the best option is to introduce the users to Live-CD and USB bootable distributions. Of these two options, I personally think that the latter is a better option.

Why? For starters, it adds something that Windows cannot give: A portable desktop in your pocket. It gives users the opportunity to access their personal files wherever possible without fear of them being seen by others. And this is a very big value. Windows just does not give this type of privacy. It is non-destructive for the hard disk, but can store additional files. With proper partitioning and formatting of the flash device, the user files can also be accessed from Windows. This option will remove the fear of destroying the system from the users (provided they are told at the beginning how to boot from an USB drive, or a volunteer adjusts the BIOS defaults), and users can try and get accustomed to the different Linux applications. A big advantage over Live-CD based systems will be its boot times and speed in general. I personally think that if, along with the widespread word-of mouth advertisement Ubuntu is getting, this unobtrusive and safe option is projected, Linux will actually gain more popularity. Which makes me wonder, are flash based distros like Puppy or Mandriva-flash underutilized and under-advertized?


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