Tag Archive for ubuntu

Lemur Review

Coder Radio listeners will know that I have been agonizing over replacing my three-old MacBook Pro and with the recent Apple announcement of their new MacBook, I ended up ordering a System 76 Lemur laptop with Ubuntu 16.10 Linux pre-installed. If you’re interested in the specific specs of the system, you can see them here. My thoughts in the future of computing (or the next “big thing” if you prefer) being AI powered by Linux on the cloud. My crazy predictions about the future of AI and the stages it will go in are a post for another day – for today, let’s go over the Lemur itself as it compares to the MacBook Pro it’s replacing.

The general hardware is good but a little more plastic feeling than I am familiar with. I like the inclusion of a USB-C port but do wonder who is still using VGA and if that space on the body would not have been better used for another USB port. I was pleased that my high-res Dell monitor and peripherals all worked out of the box with the Lemur – that’s a big win for System 76, as device compatibility concerns (real or imagined) tends to be a main thing that keeps would-be-switchers from going Linux. The general “just works” quality of the Lemur with Ubuntu 16.10 is by far the most impressive aspect of my experience with it.

On average, I am getting about 4-5 hours of battery life with the screen just about all the way turned up and playing / streaming music or podcasts basically constantly. That’s less than ideal, but I am confident, I could bleed an hour so more out of it if I did less streaming and dimmed the screen some.

The matte screen on the device is surprisingly good and has helped to bring me around on matte screens in general. I might have liked a more “retina” screen but the 1080 resolution is more than fine for my needs.

The keyboard is a bit of step down from the MacBook Pro keyboard that I am used to. There is far less key travel and at times it feels a bit too insubstantial to type on, however, it’s about on par with most non-Apple keyboards on windows laptops with the possible exception of the current Dell XPS 13 and is by no means the worst laptop keyboard that I’ve used.

The track-pad is just bad. Even compared to other non-Apple laptops, the track-pad doesn’t cut the mustard. It at times feels “jumpy” and at other times feels slow and unresponsive. It’s also awkward feeling on my fingers but that’s probably a bit too subjective to worry about for most. I’ve taken to keeping a USB mouse in my bag with the Lemur.

The sound from the on-board speakers is adequate but leaves a bit to be desired when compared to the MacBook Pro speakers. Neither is very good, so there’s not a lot to worry about here – in general, if you care about audio like I do you’re probably always disappointed with laptop speakers. The most glaring issue here is that at high volumes the sound becomes tinny.

All in all, I think the Lemur is a good choice for someone looking for a Linux laptop that could be great if just a little more care was taken with the track-pad and keyboard, as the other minor points I’ve made here are probably specific to my tastes / expectations.

Comments? Questions? Forest burning FOSS rage? Hit me up on Twitter.

Linux Adventure Pt 2: Ubuntu Apps

UbuntuMy Linux adventure continues on my modest Dell workstation. I’m pleased to say that so far things are going very well and Ubuntu continues to bring new life to my otherwise underpowered workstation. After getting over a few hurdles, what’s really impressive about my experience working on Ubuntu daily is how uneventful it is. Still, there’s always some room for improvement and the most glaring pain point is the lack of decent apps available for the operating system. Ubuntu just doesn’t have a good app ecosystem compared to MacOS and the Software Center is little more than an embarrassment.

Developer Interest: The simple and most basic cause of this is that there just aren’t many apps available, since developers don’t see Ubuntu as a platform worth developing for. Unfortunately, that’s probably true to a point. A simple Google search for developers considering moving their app project over from MacOS or Windows to Ubuntu, doesn’t yielding very heartening results. There also is something of (what I believe to be a misconception) among some developers where they believe that Ubuntu users are unlikely to purchase software.

App Distribution: Canonical, the developer of Ubuntu, released the Software Center several years ago with the hopes that it would become the equivalent of the App Store on MacOS. Unfortunately, the Software Center was poorly implemented and little to no effort was made to draw developers to the platform. Failing the Software Center, developers are left to their own devices for delivering their apps and there’s little standardization on Ubuntu or Linux as a whole for that matter when it comes to the easy distribution and installation of GUI apps.

The advantage of Ubuntu and Linux operating systems in general is that there are steps that the community can take to resolve issues on the platform. For instance, the community could develop an open-source alternative to the Software Center and encourage its adoption. Of course, Canonical could accelerate the process by throwing their development and financial weight behind such an effort and making a clearer statement about where the platform is headed.

Let me know what you think? Do you see Ubuntu as a viable development platform? Reach out to me in the comments below or on Twitter.


UPDATE: I have been made aware that the Software Center launched before the Mac App Store. I appreciate the correction. This only makes Canonical’s failure deeper, since they’ve had more time to work this out. Maybe the GNOME store will be better but I don’t think being first is in any way valuable in terms of being a developer and considering developing commercial software on the platform.  

Linux Adventure pt 1: First Look

Coder Radio listeners will know that I started using an Ubuntu workstation a few weeks ago for over about half of my general development work. While it’s true that I can’t do any native iOS or MacOS development on my workstation the majority of my current work tends to fall into one of the following technologies: native Android (Java), Ruby on Rails development (Ruby), Ionic development (JavaScript). Due to the death of my Macbook last week, I’ve spent about a week 100% on Linux at work and it’s really given me some perspective into how much things have changed on desktop Linux since I last used it seriously sometime around 2009.

The machine I’m running is Ubuntu 15.10 on a slim Dell tower with no graphics card and 8GB of Ram – it should be noted that it started with 4GB but I found that I had a spare stick lying around, so I went ahead and pushed it to eight. Overall, the performance has been phenomenal and there have been no obvious speed or animation issues in the Unity desktop.

However, the general UX has been a little more problematic. Many applications have small visual bugs in Unity under the default theme and rounded corners in particular proved problematic, leaving a dark triangle near the edges of the application’s window. I ended up solving this problem by using the GTK Arc-Dark theme. There was also an issue where the cursor kept getting stuck on the loading icon that I had to solve using the GTK Tweak tool.

In terms of actually getting work done, things are going fairly well. Installing my Android and Rails development tool-chains was a breeze with the exception of Postgres, but Postgres tends to be terrible on MacOS as well, so I don’t hold that against Ubuntu. Once I really got down to coding, my JetBrains tools were just like their MacOS versions and Git was well Git.

On the whole, I like the workflow that I’m developing on Ubuntu and am going to stick with it for a while. Another striking aspect of the changeover was how much of my workflow is Chrome dependent rather than being operating system dependent – ie I find myself using a wide variety of web (and particularly Chrome) based software. I expect that my usage of it will evolve as time goes on and as I find more sophisticated Ubuntu applications that fit and expand my workflow.

If you’d like to follow my continued Linux usage and get other development / tech insights, please follow on Twitter.

Stepping Off the Edge

imagesUbuntu is my preferred flavor of desktop Linux by far. In fact, I consistently used it as my daily driver for over two years and only left because I was having trouble with Pulse Audio (who wasn’t back then) and I started to doing Apple development which required a Mac. Despite moving to OS X, I’ve kept a close eye on the development of Ubuntu and have run it on several machines and plenty of desktop VMs. Recently, however, it has been taken in a somewhat perplexing direction culminating in the absurd $32,000,000 Indie GoGo campaign for the Ubuntu Edge.

Before you get your knickers in a knot, no, I don’t have an issue with Unity or Mir; in fact, I think Canonical is doing the right thing by moving away from the aging and bloated X and it is haar to deny that the recent releases of the Ubuntu desktop have been the best looking ones they’ve had.

Usually, I’d be happy about a Linux-based operating system taking user experience seriously; after all, that’s pretty much the basis for Apple’s rise. Canonical, however, doesn’t seem to be acting in the interest of desktop Ubuntu and the gains in user experience feel like little more than side effects of the change in focus to mobile.

Not that I am against making a great mobile operating system! I’d love to see someone branch off the code and create Ubuntu Phone or something like that. My feelings regarding iOS conventions bleeding over into OS X apply here as well — basically, I believe that a desktop OS and a mobile OS should be two totally different products and, given the failure of the Surface, it seems the market agrees with me.

There may be an opportunity for Canonical in the mobile space and I could of course be wrong. In fact, given Canonical’s willingness to get in bed with the mobile operators and willingness to allow them to pervert and mar the system’s user experience, the carriers are somewhat likely to embrace Ubuntu on mobile.

Users, however, are likely to disagree. Sure a lot of people who don’t want to pay for a smartphone will take the carrier’s freebie and that’s great for Canonical if that freebie runs Ubuntu, assuming Canonical is getting some sort of financial remuneration per handset, but this group of people is pretty much worthless to developers, since, as the statistics on the low end Android phones show, these users are unlikely to even download many apps let alone pay for apps. These low value users are unlikely to warrant even passing attention from quality developers. If Canonical wants Ubuntu to be an app platform powerhouse, it ought to focus on the platform where it already has high value users — the desktop. The current state of the Software Center on Ubuntu is a disgrace and should never have been released to the public. Beyond being buggy, it is an insult to any developer that would publish any app on it.


Ubuntu Phone OS: Initial Thoughts

ubuntu-logoLooks like Canonical is serious about making 2013 a big year for the Ubuntu project. As I am sure you are aware, Canonical revealed the Ubuntu Phone OS earlier this week. Unfortunately, like most Linux enthusiast, I have not been able get my dirty little mitts on a device running the new operating system but have been reading everything that Canonical and other sources have written about it. I really would love an Ubuntu-based phone, but have some serious misgivings about the OS: Canonical  doesn’t have carrier relationships, the mobile market is maturing, and you can’t buy an Ubuntu Phone today.

Carriers are incredibly powerful in the mobile space and it is more than a little difficult to release a product without their approval and cooperation. To date, Canonical has no public relationship with any carrier and has never released any sort of device that uses cellular technology*. If you know the history of the iPhone and Apple’s interactions with the major US carriers to get the original iPhone on the market, then you know how difficult dealing with them can be. The telcos are old companies and they run their business in a very old school manner, basing a lot of what they do on relationships.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that Canonical can get a good carrier relationship to the point where the carrier actually promotes and pushes the Ubuntu Phone; make no mistake here — the carriers do push certain phones over others in the stores via ‘sales incentives’. The last time a carrier really stood behind one platform was a huge success for the platform — the platform was Android and the campaign was Verizon’s ‘Droid’ campaign. It’s fair to say that Verizon made Android a household name and can be credited with a lot of the platforms early success, but would they do it again? Would any carrier when they can just work with any of the hundreds of Android manufactures and get a platform they know they can sell? It is widely held that the ‘Droid’ campaign was designed to compete directly with the iPhone, an AT&T exclusive at the time. The market today is different, however, and if the carriers want to push handsets other than the iPhone (perhaps because they can strike a better financial arrangement with a different manufacturer than Apple), they already have the Android powerhouse and the Windows 8 darkhouse. The market is matured and there isn’t just one platform anymore. Worse still for Canonical (and Microsoft but more on that later), a lot of everyday users have spent a lot of money on apps for Android and iOS. I believe that this creates something of a platform lock in scenario that most consumers would be unwilling to move from one platform to another, because they have purchased apps and other content that cannot be moved between platforms.

It’s 2013. You can’t make a huge mobile announcement and not actually have anything consumers can buy, but that’s just what Canonical did. Of course, they will get a lot of Ubuntu fans (myself included) installing the OS on a spare Nexus but, for the mass market, they have just squandered the excitement that the market displays around a new platform launch. Worse still, they have not announced any retail partners. The sad truth is ‘normals’ (non-geeks) buy their devices in carrier retail stores or other outlets. If the Ubuntu Phone does not have a retail presence, then, for a huge market segment, it might as well not exist.

This article has been focussed on showing the issues with an Ubuntu Phone. That does not mean that I am not an Ubuntu fan. In fact, I would it to do well, since more competition in the space is good for developers and the market as a whole. Questions? Comments? Find me on Twitter and Google+. This post was brought to you by Code Journal and Fingertip Tech, INC.


*UPDATE: Thanks to Arthur for pointing out that they did in fact release a netbook running Ubuntu in cooperation with Vodafone. However, they have never released a phone with carrier support.

Dell XPS 13 Review pt2: Software Side

If you haven’t read it already, please take a look at my last post for a quick review of the Dell XPS 13’s hardware; this review will take a look at Ubuntu 12.04 on the laptop. A few things of note: Ubuntu was installed via the standard ISO, Dell’s Sputnik PPAs were added via apt-get after the installation was completed, and any and all proprietary drivers are being used on my machine.

The Good: Ubuntu, as always, installs cleanly and easily. The system promptly notified me of a number of updates and provided me with a helpful GUI for installing them. Ubuntu runs stable on the XPS and Dell has done a good job of providing any extra software for the XPS’s hardware via its PPAs. Unity, Ubuntu’s relatively new and somewhat controversial desktop environment, performs almost flawlessly on the XPS 13 and is a welcome update to the somewhat retro GNOME 2 desktop environment that preceded it.

The Bad: The system is for the most part fine, however, there are a few small but noticeable issues. If when the laptop comes out of sleep, adjusting the screen’s brightness does not function until the system is restarted. By default, the user is forced to enter his root password each time the system starts to connect to wifi; this is relatively easy to change for an Ubuntu power user, but the ‘out of the box’ experience is not ideal.

The Ugly: Canonical has done a great job with this latest long term release of Ubuntu and there really isn’t anything ugly about it; though, it is likely that Unity detractors would disagree.

The Verdict: Despite the XPS 13’s abysmal screen and finicky trackpad, it still runs Ubuntu (with the help of Dell’s Sputnik project) quite well.

Dell XPS 13 Review pt 1

Listeners of Coder Radio will probably know that my primary mobile production machine is no longer a Macbook Pro but rather a Dell XPS 13 running Ubuntu Linux. I’ve received a lot of emails and questions over social networks asking how the machine is to work in for a full time software developer, so I’ve written up this review of the hardware. To be clear, I will be publishing a second piece on working (more or less) full time in Ubuntu that focuses on the software in the next week or so.

The Good: The Dell XPS 13 is a great looking machine in terms of industrial design. In a lot of ways, it looks a bit more modern than even the Macbook Air which it clearly attempts to emulate. In terms of weight, it comes in just under three pounds. The battery life is more than acceptable and the machine boots and resumes from sleep almost instantly due to its SSD hard-drive.  In both Windows and Ubuntu, the XPS feels peppy even with its relatively diminutive four gigabytes of RAM.

The Bad: The trackpad is one of the worst laptop trackpads I’ve worked with in years. On both Windows and Ubuntu, modifications to system settings had to be made in response to the trackpad’s general clumsiness; out of the box the pad seems far too sensitive to accidental swipes and taps from the user’s palm. Another pain point is the fan — it’s loud. Worse still, the fan starts even while doing the most mundane of computing tasks; for example, I currently have this Google Chrome tab with three others and the XChat IRC client open and the fan sounds like the small aircraft of an amature pilot.                       

The Ugly: The screen is so bad it’s offensive. Where Dell has managed to match or even surpass Apple’s attention to detail in terms of the industrial design of the case, they quickly revert back to the subpar quality we have come to expect from PC manufacturers pinched between the demand for low prices and razor thin profit margins.

The Verdict: The XPS 13 is by  no means a bad machine. In fact, it is more than serviceable for most users, however, it would be advisable to wait to see what the next model in the series is like if you do not need a machine today. Does it stack up against the Macbook Air? Sadly, no. Dell’s failings in the screen and trackpad only further highlight the quality of the Air’s screen and elegance of it’s trackpad. If you don’t mind Mac OS X, you’ll be much happier with the Air.

Thanks JB Community

If you listened to Coder Radio this week you would have heard toward the end that I have been working on a project targeted for the Ubuntu App Store. You will have also heard that I ended up choosing Mono as the development stack for the project; I plan on writing a post in a few weeks on my overall experience with Mono on Ubuntu and plan to mention it on a future episode of the show.

Needless to say I had some problems, but that’s not really the point of this particular post. The point of this post is to thank all the Jupiter Broadcasting community members for all their help. I have received countless e-mails and messages on Google+ regarding the issue. All of them offered suggestions of how I might solve my issue. Some even offered to either help me write a solution or offered to share how they had solved similar issues.

I’m floored. I wish I could write you all back individually but there are simply too many of you. So, please take this post as a thank you letter. Furthermore, in the spirit of community, I am going to open-source whatever solution I end using and will be posting it on Github as a more substantial way to say “thank you.”

Dell’s Project Sputnik

Been to a developer conference or meetup recently? If you have, you might have noticed something odd. A large portion of the attendees using Macs. Now if that conference was an iOS or OS X developer event, then it probably makes  a lot of sense, but what about web and backend developers? Is there are reason for all those Macs? Well, that’s a question that Dell has set out to answer with their Project Sputnik.

Sputnik is an initiative to design a custom spin of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS for the Dell XPS 13. If you don’t know the XPS 13 is one of Dell’s ultrabooks. Dell wants to address the web developer market that is so fond of Apple.

I am really excited about this. Ubuntu was at one time my dev OS of choice thanks to apt-get. Currently, dell is not offering a pre-configured machine with the 12.04 image, but you can download it here and they claim that if there is enough interest they may start offering XPS’s preconfigured with Ubuntu, so if you are interested in one of these machines or just a Linux fan, let them know.