A Debian victory for the $15 Laptop

I’ve been toying with removing Debian Etch from the $15 Laptop — the 1999 Compaq Armada 7770dmt with a 233 MHz Pentium II MMX processor and 64 MB of RAM. When most computer users — even those partial to Linux — talk about “old” hardware, they mean either things in the 1 GHz range, even 3 GHz single-core CPU computers with 512 MB of RAM.

For me, a 1.2 GHz Celeron laptop with 1 GB of RAM is good enough to run just about any Linux distribution out there. And my main Windows machine at the office — a 3 GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM is way more than adequate for desktop use.

As far as the 233 MHz Compaq laptop goes, I’m probably going to bump up the RAM from the current 64 MB to the maximum of 144 MB, but that’s pretty much besides the point.

When I first got this laptop (yep, it cost me $15, though I had to shell out $10 for the CD-ROM drive on eBay) I ran into a lot of luck, because it wasonly supposed to have 32 MB of RAM but had double that. It wasn’t supposed to have a hard drive, but not only was the hard-drive casing intact, but there was a 3 GB drive inside it. It was loaded with Windows 98 but wouldn’t boot. Once I had the CD drive (the incoluded floppy drive doesn’t work, and I could get another one for $10, but I really don’t need it), I was able to run Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux from live CDs.

At first I loaded Windows 2000 just to see how it ran. Win 2K ran alright, but I’m not in this to run Windows. I had pretty good luck with both Puppy and DSL, but Damn Small Linux is really the more suited of the two for a computer with 64 MB of RAM.

Anyhow, I eventually wanted to try Debian Etch on the Compaq. I’ve done at least four installs of Debian on this computer, but my first began was the “standard” install, which means no X. After that, I added X and Fluxbox, plus all the apps I though I’d need. ROX-filer, AbiWord, Leafpad, Dillo, Lynx, Elinks, Sylpheed (which didn’t work), MtPaint for image editing, and eventually even Iceweasel (aka Debian’s renamed Firefox).

I was able to actually get work done on the laptop, which can connect to the outside world only through the Orinoco WaveLAN Silver 802.11b wireless PCMCIA card I had previously bought for This Old Mac (aka my 1996 Powerbook 1400cs). And since the PCMCIA slot in the much-better $0 Laptop (Gateway Solo 1450) is inoperable (“busted” is the technical term), the wireless card has remained in the Compaq, which has no Ethernet port or USB capability (though it does have a serial port, parallel printer port, built-in telephone modem and a power supply fully enclosed in the case — yes, a 120-volt power cord plugs right into the back). They made these Compaq’s well — this one still runs great.

Anyhow, my “roll-your-own-X” Debian install did OK. The display was a bit slow in Abiword, but I had everything running fairly well. Just not well enough.

Since then, I spent quite a bit of time testing DSL 4.0 on the Compaq. Damn Small Linux runs great on this thing, that much I can tell you. And I even ran Puppy 2.13 for a couple of days this week.

But I always had Debian on the hard drive. Just not the original Debian. I had wiped the drive and experimented with Debian Etch and the Xfce desktop install (desktop=xfce as a boot parameter in the installer) as well as Slackware 12.0 without KDE (Xfce and Fluxbox).

Well, Slackware without KDE means you don’t even get an office suite, and I still had barely any disk space on the 3 GB drive. (I know, I just need to get a bigger drive … I know.)

So I went back to Debian Etch, again the Xfce desktop. Surprisingly, this install includes the full OpenOffice suite and I still have about a full GB of space left on the hard drive. I have a separate /home partition with 800 MB in it, and a root partition with 2 GB, with about 150 MB left. The rest of the space is swap — about 120 MB.

And while on the Gateway laptop (1.2 GHz Celeron CPU) I cannot detect a performance difference between the Xfce and Fluxbox window managers, on this 233 MHz CPU, there’s quite a difference. I was about to give up on Etch altogether when I decided to again install AbiWord (I tried Ted … again … but the RTF word processor still doesn’t work, at least in any Etch install I’ve had), as well as Fluxbox.

Fluxbox makes it a lot snappier. I still have all the Xfce apps, including Thunar, Mousepad and the great Xfmedia.

In fact, I finally got sound working tonight. I don’t think it’ll survive a reoot, so I’ll have to run this line on startup, but for today it did work:

# modprobe sb io=0x220 irq=5 dma=1 mpu_io=0x330

I can’t run alsamixer, but I can play an MP3 in Xfmedia, and it sounds great even on the built-in speakers on this 9-year-old laptop.

I didn’t think I could get sound working in Debian Etch, but since I did, Etch will definitely live to fight another day on this laptop.

Before I close out this entry, let men emphasize that the Xfce install of Debian is a quirky distro, to be sure. It’s nowhere near as complete as Ubuntu’s Xfce variant, Xubuntu.

Etch in its Xfce incarnation includes the full OpenOffice suite, but not Abiword or Gnumeric (which would be good substitutes). There’s no Synaptic or Update Manager, so I’ve been doing what Debian aficionados always tell me to do: use Aptitude. I was running aptitude in a terminal for awhile, but it’s much easier to just run it at the command line:

# aptitude update
# aptitude upgrade
# aptitude install abiword

Yep, just like apt-get and apt-get install, but Aptitude is supposed to do an even better job with dependencies and it keeps track of your changes to the system, should there be any problem.

And if this entry appears on this Blogger blog, it means that the lightweight Dillo browser actually works with the blogging interface — a great thing because Dillo is very, very fast.

Note: I did save a copy of this as text in case Dillo and Blogger aren’t exactly cooperating.

Further note: Dillo and Blogger weren’t exactly getting along, so I completed this post with Iceweasel.

Final note: The fact that Debian Etch — a modern, up-to-date Linux distribution — can run so well in 233 MHz of CPU and 64 MB of RAM is something truly to behold. Again, my thanks to everybody at the Debian Project, past and present, for all they’ve done for the rest of us.

Post-final note: If Debian continues to perform so well, I just might blog the SCALE 6x convention with this 1999-vintage laptop.

Positively the last note: I’ve had trouble with Iceweasel and anything on Google for which I have to log in, so I just cut the fat and posted this to Click. And in case I only mentioned it once above, Fluxbox is really flying on this setup. And since the 1999 Compaq with Debian Etch and Movable Type 4.0 are playing nicely, I think this laptop is definitely going to SCALE 6x.

Sorry, just one more note: Look for a SCALE 6x feature on Click in the days ahead.

A Debian victory for the $15 Laptop

I’ve been toying with removing Debian Etch from the $15 Laptop — the 1999 Compaq Armada 7770dmt with a 233 MHz Pentium II MMX processor and 64 MB of RAM. When most computer users — even those partial to Linux — talk about “old” hardware, they mean either things in the 1 GHz range, even 3 GHz single-core CPU computers with 512 MB of RAM.

For me, a 1.2 GHz Celeron laptop with 1 GB of RAM is good enough to run just about any Linux distribution out there. And my main Windows machine at the office — a 3 GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM is way more than adequate for desktop use.

As far as the 233 MHz Compaq laptop goes, I’m probably going to bump up the RAM from the current 64 MB to the maximum of 144 MB, but that’s pretty much besides the point.

When I first got this laptop (yep, it cost me $15, though I had to shell out $10 for the CD-ROM drive on eBay) I ran into a lot of luck, because it wasonly supposed to have 32 MB of RAM but had double that. It wasn’t supposed to have a hard drive, but not only was the hard-drive casing intact, but there was a 3 GB drive inside it. It was loaded with Windows 98 but wouldn’t boot. Once I had the CD drive (the incoluded floppy drive doesn’t work, and I could get another one for $10, but I really don’t need it), I was able to run Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux from live CDs.

At first I loaded Windows 2000 just to see how it ran. Win 2K ran alright, but I’m not in this to run Windows. I had pretty good luck with both Puppy and DSL, but Damn Small Linux is really the more suited of the two for a computer with 64 MB of RAM.

Anyhow, I eventually wanted to try Debian Etch on the Compaq. I’ve done at least four installs of Debian on this computer, but my first began was the “standard” install, which means no X. After that, I added X and Fluxbox, plus all the apps I though I’d need. ROX-filer, AbiWord, Leafpad, Dillo, Lynx, Elinks, Sylpheed (which didn’t work), MtPaint for image editing, and eventually even Iceweasel (aka Debian’s renamed Firefox).

I was able to actually get work done on the laptop, which can connect to the outside world only through the Orinoco WaveLAN Silver 802.11b wireless PCMCIA card I had previously bought for This Old Mac (aka my 1996 Powerbook 1400cs). And since the PCMCIA slot in the much-better $0 Laptop (Gateway Solo 1450) is inoperable (“busted” is the technical term), the wireless card has remained in the Compaq, which has no Ethernet port or USB capability (though it does have a serial port, parallel printer port, built-in telephone modem and a power supply fully enclosed in the case — yes, a 120-volt power cord plugs right into the back). They made these Compaq’s well — this one still runs great.

Anyhow, my “roll-your-own-X” Debian install did OK. The display was a bit slow in Abiword, but I had everything running fairly well. Just not well enough.

Since then, I spent quite a bit of time testing DSL 4.0 on the Compaq. Damn Small Linux runs great on this thing, that much I can tell you. And I even ran Puppy 2.13 for a couple of days this week.

But I always had Debian on the hard drive. Just not the original Debian. I had wiped the drive and experimented with Debian Etch and the Xfce desktop install (desktop=xfce as a boot parameter in the installer) as well as Slackware 12.0 without KDE (Xfce and Fluxbox).

Well, Slackware without KDE means you don’t even get an office suite, and I still had barely any disk space on the 3 GB drive. (I know, I just need to get a bigger drive … I know.)

So I went back to Debian Etch, again the Xfce desktop. Surprisingly, this install includes the full OpenOffice suite and I still have about a full GB of space left on the hard drive. I have a separate /home partition with 800 MB in it, and a root partition with 2 GB, with about 150 MB left. The rest of the space is swap — about 120 MB.

And while on the Gateway laptop (1.2 GHz Celeron CPU) I cannot detect a performance difference between the Xfce and Fluxbox window managers, on this 233 MHz CPU, there’s quite a difference. I was about to give up on Etch altogether when I decided to again install AbiWord (I tried Ted … again … but the RTF word processor still doesn’t work, at least in any Etch install I’ve had), as well as Fluxbox.

Fluxbox makes it a lot snappier. I still have all the Xfce apps, including Thunar, Mousepad and the great Xfmedia.

In fact, I finally got sound working tonight. I don’t think it’ll survive a reoot, so I’ll have to run this line on startup, but for today it did work:

# modprobe sb io=0x220 irq=5 dma=1 mpu_io=0x330

I can’t run alsamixer, but I can play an MP3 in Xfmedia, and it sounds great even on the built-in speakers on this 9-year-old laptop.

I didn’t think I could get sound working in Debian Etch, but since I did, Etch will definitely live to fight another day on this laptop.

Before I close out this entry, let men emphasize that the Xfce install of Debian is a quirky distro, to be sure. It’s nowhere near as complete as Ubuntu’s Xfce variant, Xubuntu.

Etch in its Xfce incarnation includes the full OpenOffice suite, but not Abiword or Gnumeric (which would be good substitutes). There’s no Synaptic or Update Manager, so I’ve been doing what Debian aficionados always tell me to do: use Aptitude. I was running aptitude in a terminal for awhile, but it’s much easier to just run it at the command line:

# aptitude update
# aptitude upgrade
# aptitude install abiword

Yep, just like apt-get and apt-get install, but Aptitude is supposed to do an even better job with dependencies and it keeps track of your changes to the system, should there be any problem.

I also need to do a dist-upgrade — without moving away from Debian Etch — to get a couple of packages that have been held back, including a new kernel image, but I’m holding off until I repartition the drive somewhat to put more space in the root partition (taking it away from /home):

# aptitude dist-upgrade

Final note: The fact that Debian Etch — a modern, up-to-date Linux distribution — can run so well in 233 MHz of CPU and 64 MB of RAM is something truly to behold. Again, my thanks to everybody at the Debian Project, past and present, for all they’ve done for the rest of us.

Post-final note: If Debian continues to perform so well, I just might blog the SCALE 6x convention with this 1999-vintage laptop.

Positively the last note: Iin case I only mentioned it once above, Fluxbox is really flying on this setup … but the ROX-filer is only a bit faster than Thunar. And since the 1999 Compaq with Debian Etch and Movable Type 4.0 are playing nicely, I think this laptop is definitely going to SCALE 6x … unless I succeed in getting wireless working over USB on the $0 Laptop (more to come on that).

Sorry, just one more note:
Look for a SCALE 6x feature on Click in the days ahead.

Review: OliveBSD turns OpenBSD into very usable live CD

3305-olivebsd-thumb-500x374.jpg

Image of OliveBSD from the project’s Web site.

The blogroll at Denny’s blog — Denny being committed to running OpenBSD as a full desktop operating system — continues to point me toward interesting spins on the various flavors of BSD. Since OpenBSD is the only one of the three major BSD systems (which include NetBSD and FreeBSD) to run on my VIA C3 Samuel-based test box, I wanted to try one of the projects to which Denny linked right away. I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to run the three main BSD projects and their various offshoots — more trying than doing, actually, but I always want to try what’s new. And since I have not a prayer of managing my laptop’s noisy CPU fan in any BSD (I can do it in Linux), I pretty much want to use my converted Maxspeed Maxterm thin client. I have actually done a successful OpenBSD 4.2 install on this box in the recent past, but the idea of going from a minimal X install to a fully usable desktop was more than I felt I could do. I’m hopeful that O’Reilly’s recent PDF book on OpenBSD will be of help in this regard, but I’m loathe at the moment to part with the $9.95 for the book without a little a) proof that it will work or b) encouragement that OpenBSD is something I should pursue.

Anyhow, back to the matter at hand. OliveBSD — a live CD based on OpenBSD 3.8 — was created by France’s Gabriel Paderni in February 2006, and it seems that it has only had this one release. It does have a Distrowatch page, which confirms the 2/18/06 release date, and the only review of the project (I know BSD people hate using the word “distro” to refer to their systems, so I will substitute “project” throughout) was a “first looks” evaluation in Distrowatch on Feb. 20, 2006.

I’m happy to say that my experience with OliveBSD was much more positive than that of the Distrowatch reviewer. I downloaded the ISO, burned a CD on my XP box with ISO Recorder and then started booting the Maxspeed box. I got a few error messages about disk sectors (?), but the CD continued to boot. It tried to get an IP via DHCP, but since I have a static IP in the office, that was predictably unsuccessful. Before I forget to say it, it took a long time for the live CD to boot. But when it did, I had a working IceWM desktop, albeit at 640 x 480 resolution (this box and monitor can do 1024 x 768). I eventually tried to reconfigure X with the command xorgconfig at a prompt, but I didn’t get very far. I probably need to get the xorg.conf file from one of my “successful” Linux installs (or even OpenBSD, should I try it again) and work from there.

But I had X, so the next task was configuring my static IP. In OpenBSD, this was part of the installation, and it worked great then. Luckily there’s a script for it under the menu in OliveBSD. The script worked, I set my static IP, and I had networking. I started Firefox. It took awhile (just about every action results in the CD being accessed, but it’s nothing I didn’t expect). But Firefox did open — the home page is the French rendition of Google. That gave me a bit of a laugh, but I was able to open other pages in Firefox (version 1.0.6) with no trouble.

Another thing, which the Distrowatch review also noted. In OliveBSD, you are logged in as root. That’s a funny choice for a security-conscious project like OpenBSD, but it seems to work, so I won’t complain any more.

Generally, live CDs for BSD have fewer apps than their Linux counterparts — I don’t think they have the same compression (or any at all, but don’t quote me), but the application mix in OliveBSD is fairly good. As I already mentioned, the window manager is IceWM. The desktop isn’t as “snappy” as I wanted, but a lot of that was due to live CD issues. Since the hard drive connected to the machine is formatted for Linux, even if OliveBSD was able to access a BSD swap file, I don’t have one, so it was working entirely in RAM. And running top in a terminal, I learned that OliveBSD was only recognizing 143 MB of my 256 MB of RAM. That might have an effect on performance.

Back to the apps. Besides Firefox for Web browsing, there’s Thunderbird for mail, the GIMP for image processing, SciTE for text editing, Xmms for audio playback, Gaim for text messaging, ghostview and Xpdf, Axyftp, the Abs spreadsheet, the TightVNC viewer, CD-Rchive and a few more. There’s enough for me to get my work done, and that’s pretty much all I ask. Again, I really appreciate the Network Card Configuration script in the main menu — for those of us with static IPs, it’s nice to get a leg up in that regard, especially for those unfamiliar with OpenBSD (and if you’re running OliveBSD, chances are you are just dipping your toe in the BSD pond). I almost forgot to mention that OliveBSD uses one of my favorite file managers, the ROX-filer. ROX is quick, intuitive and powerful, and it’s a great fit for OliveBSD.

Like I said, the fact that OpenBSD runs at all on this box seems to be a minor miracle (and it raises my esteem for the project considerably). Ditto for OliveBSD, which I’d love to see updated (are you listening, Gabriel?).

Meanwhile, I just learned that Anonym.OS is also based on OpenBSD. Created by someone who goes by the name dr.kaos, Anonym.OS is designed to allow users to search the Internet with a higher degree of privacy than afforded by conventional systems.

I burned a CD of this back in February of last year, but I never even tried to boot it. That’s my next mission, which I have decided to accept. And yes, I am ready for the tape to destruct in five seconds … four, three, two, one … (cue Lalo Schifrin …)

PCLinuxOS interruptus

I was pleased to learn that the Los Angeles Daily News’ Rick Orlov — L.A.’s most esteemed City Hall reporter — recently boutht an ASUS eeePC, and in his quest to make it run as well as it can, has begun reading this blog. Well, if hundreds of rambling posts about my Linux and BSD highs and lows helps, I’m glad to be of service.

Anyway, Rick replaced the eee’s Xandros with the eee version of Xubuntu, and he’s now open to rolling just about anything onto the diminuitive laptop. While I suggested an eee-optimized Ubuntu (the hardware can handle it, and I’ve always found that Canonical pays way more attention to the standard Ubuntu than they do to Xubuntu or Kubuntu). He countered by asking me whether or not I’ve ever tried the No. 1 distro on Distrowatch, PCLinuxOS.

I haven’t.

But I had the standard PCLinux OS 2007 downloaded, and I got the GNOME and MiniMe versions, too. I also ran out of CD-R discs. Yesterday I walked over to Fry’s and got a stack of 50, so I’m back in the testing business.

I burned a PCLinuxOS disc … and it wouldn’t boot on my test box (the VIA C3 Samuel-based converted Maxspeed Maxterm thin client).

I’ll have to wait and try it on the Gateway laptop.

Notepad++ quick update — testing my latest Windows text editor … and a tribute to Jerry Pournelle and Byte magazine

Notepad++ is working out pretty well so far. The latest Windows text editor in my quest for a better, freer text-editing experience, Notepad++ is under the GPL license, so it’s free and open-source. It’s also not a port of a Linux/Unix editor like Geany, and the annoying Geany bug — in which extra linefeeds (or carriage returns?) are inserted in Windows (CR/LF) formatted text files — is thankfully not present in Notepad++.

In fact, Notepad++ allows you to set whether you want your text files to be in Windows (CR/LF), Unix (LF) or Mac (CR???) format. Since the files look the way I want (and cut/paste that way) in the default Windows format, I’m pretty happy. I like the way you can change the case of letters — ctrl-U for lower-case, ctrl-shift-U for upper. I’ll have to get used to it, because every other program I use does it a different way.

The search/replace function in Notepad++ is very good. It even keeps your previous search/replace words in a drop down so you can use them again in the session. I haven’t yet figured out how to search for text and replace it with a carriage return/linefeed, but if I figure that one out, Notepad++ will become a must-have editor on my Windows box.

Notepad++ seems to remember the last directory I saved to, and all newly created files default to that directory. But I don’t think it remembers the directory from the last time the program ran. EditPad Lite does remember, and it’s a great help. I wouldn’t be opposed to setting my “home” directory manually, but I’m not sure this can be done. If using the Notepad++ directory for files causes it to open to the same directory every time, that’s a small sacrifice for me to make; I generally store all of my text files in one place, and it doesn’t matter where that place is (though it’s nice to be able to choose it in advance, though navigating to my text-file directory once per day isn’t an insurmountable hardship).

Notepad++ remembers the last eight files I’ve opened, and they’re available for reopening in the File menu. I think I can set it to remember more. For me, the more the better.

Why a text editor? I remember Jerry Pournelle, prolific science-fiction writer and long-winded columnist for Byte magazine way, way back in the day talking about the pre-IBM-PC machines he had set up for word processing in what he called (and still calls) Chaos Manor, and all the technical specs, trials and tribulations he went through. He’s definitely an inspiration for this blog and its style, although I’ve never quite thought of it that way until now. (I used to love Byte back in the ’80s.) Pournelle always talked about text editors, and at the time, I had no idea what a “text editor” was. I knew what a word processor was, but it took awhile for the concept of a text editor and what it can do to sink in.

And then came vi. Vi’s great when it’s the only game in town, as it was on the UC Santa Cruz timeshare Unix box I had an account on in the late ’80s. Today I can fake it in vi, but I’m no master.

I still use word processors occasionally — usually AbiWord, sometimes OpenOffice, occasionally MS Word on the Mac. But more and more — with all the Web work I do — text editors are quicker, more flexible, faster — and most importantly, they give you clean ASCII output that isn’t mucked up with extra crap.

End note: I Googled Jerry Pournelle to see if I was spelling his name right. I’m glad to see his Web site, which I’m going to explore at greater length at my earliest opportunity.

Debian Lenny, the Ted RTF word processor, and the fate of the $15 Laptop

I’ve complained numerous times in the past about the Ted word processor being broken in Debian. On my many Debian installs, I could neither create a new file in Ted nor open an old one.

But on my Gateway Solo 1450 (the $0 Laptop), after doing my big Debian Lenny update yesterday — which fixed an annoying Nautilus bug by updating to Nautilus 2.20 — I decided to give Ted another try.

It works.

I can create new files in Ted and open old ones. I tried Ted again on my Compaq Armada 7700dmt (the $15 Laptop), now a Debian Etch machine (with Xfce and, since last night, Fluxbox) that could really benefit from Ted working. No go.

I figured that it was maybe a Lenny-only thing — some other dependent package got updated and magically made Ted work. Here’s Ted’s bug status in Debian. I remember trying this “transcoded fonts” solution and having it not work.

So this morning, on my desktop Debian Lenny install, I tried Ted again, and it didn’t work. I even installed the transcoded fonts. Nothing.

Yes, I have three Debian installs (two Lenny, one Etch), and Ted works on one (Lenny) of them. That’s better than Ted working on none … but.

I’m wondering if I should even be running Debian on this 233 MHz Pentium II MMX, 64 MB RAM, 3 GB hard-drive laptop. The Compaq performs OK with Puppy Linux and a bit better with Damn Small Linux. And while on my faster, 1.2 GHz laptop I detect almost no difference in response time between Xfce and Fluxbox, on the 233 MHz box, Fluxbox is much snappier, so I take back my previous assertion that Fluxbox doesn’t give you much of a performance edge. When you’re running really old hardware, Fluxbox can really help.

The problem: I want to have a “full” command-line system in addition to X, and that’s harder to do in Puppy or DSL. And I like the fact that Debian and Slackware stay on top of security issues and frequently issue patched packages. And Debian (or Slackware, for that matter) makes it relatively easy to install any console app I want. However, I put a lot of stock in doing as little modification as possible; in my experience, things can get mucked up pretty quickly. And while both Puppy and DSL offer command-line features, neither is a full, modern, updated Debian or Slackware.

And just to provide a little background, Debian, Slackware, Puppy and Damn Small installed just fine on this old Compaq. I can’t say the same for Xubuntu, which I did try.

And while I’m mentioning Xubuntu and Debian with Xfce in the same post, let me just say that of the two, Xubuntu is way more ready for prime time. Debian’s default Xfce install is missing too many things; I stick by my assertion that Debian is great with the default GNOME, less so in the Xfce and KDE installs that you can do with the Xfce and KDE Debian disks (or desktop= boot parameter in the netinstaller).

Back to the Compaq. Both Puppy and DSL are way better at recognizing and configuring the hardware of this old Compaq laptop. At this point, I’m considering running both Puppy and DSL as live CDs with no OS on the puny hard drive, which would only be used for swap and storage (I could even replace the spinning hard drive with a Compact Flash chip or disk-on-module).

I hate to give up running Debian or Slackware on this laptop — I’ve tried both. But when I try to build up the apps on my own, I can never do as well as Puppy and Damn Small Linux — both of which I’ve used extensively over the past year and which I value very highly. The people behind Puppy and DSL really know what they’re doing.

And while I’m grateful to get Ted running on my Lenny laptop (where I don’t really need it), can’t Debian just make Ted work everywhere, all the time? Like I’ve said before, there’s probably a good reason that Ubuntu doesn’t have Ted in its repository, and I’d say the package not working is a pretty good reason.

I haven’t even complained about Ted not showing up where it should in the menus and my not being able to figure out how to put Ted where I want it in GNOME (yes, I used alacarte (here’s the Debian bug situation), and no, it didn’t let me add menu items (another Lenny bug, perhaps?) — it almost makes me want to run straight toward Xfce and Fluxbox … or Ubuntu).

Moral: Debian giveth and taketh away, but it remains damn good.

Debian Lenny fixes Nautilus bug — order is restored to my world … and more Debian news

First of all, thanks to all of you who explained to me how the Debian Project works, how bugs are handled in Debian and GNOME, and how to do minor surgery on Debian, if needed, to get things working right.

But I’m happy to report that today the bug from which I had been suffering has now been fixed. Among the many updates I installed on my Debian Lenny (Testing) box was Nautilus 2.20.0. Now I can use Nautilus to get the properties of a file without the file manager crashing. In case you’re really, really interested, here’s the GNOME bug report.

Again, I really want to thank everybody along the way who helped me figure out how to determine the status of packages in the various Debian distributions (stable, testing, unstable …). The Debian Web site is quite a repository of information, if you know where to look and what it means. I’m still working on it.

Penultimate note: When I ran Update Manager today, it told me that I had to go to Synaptic and Mark All Updates, then install them from there, to properly update the installation. I did so, and that’s how I got the new Nautilus, as well as many other packages new to Lenny.

Final note: The Debian Project is, indeed, a great thing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again soon.

More on Debian: You didn’t think that was it, did you? Via one of the best Debian blogs, the Debian User, I just found a) that Planet Debian — an amalgamation of blog posts from Debian developers — now has a search function. I also learned about a blog written by Debian package maintainer Miriam Ruiz. Half the entries are in Spanish (she’s from Spain, after all), half in English, but in any case it’s nice to see what Debian people are thinking, and it’s very nice to see someone encouraging more women to get involved in open-source development in general — and Debian in particular. Here’s her bio.
Among other things, she’s involved in the Debian-Women project and Planet Ubuntu Women.

I want to close out this entry by thanking the thousands of people all over the world who work on open-source software for all they do and for all they’ve given and continue to give all of us. At the risk of extraneous hyperbole, I’ll just say that the technological world would be a much poorer, darker place without Debian, Ubuntu, Slackware and the many thousands of applications that go into these and other distributions of Linux, BSD and other computing environments. This non-coder salutes you.

Windows does something right

I’ve been changing text editors in Windows like some people change underwear — clean people that is.

And every time I try a new one, I open a text file and choose the new application. Windows remembers what I chose the last time, and that is presented as the first choice when I open a new text file. I’ve gone from EdiPad Lite to Geany to Notepad++, and I appreciate Windows remembering the last text editor I’ve used. I get the same treatment with .doc files, which I sometimes open with OpenOffice but usually go quick-and-dirty with AbiWord.

Anyhow, it’s a nice feature in Windows, this remembering the last app I used in a given category. Nice to hear me say something nice about Windows, don’t you think?

Question: Can we trust Google with our data?

It’s not just Gmail, but Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and even more data in Google’s cloud. Can individuals and even corporations trust Google with their information?

I know they have the whole “don’t be evil” thing going on, but isn’t “evil” in the eye of the beholder.

On the other hand, is Google technically competent enough to keep the data from being damaged or destroyed? And on the other, other hand, maybe Google (or Amazon, IBM or what have you) is way, way better-equipped to be in charge of your data than you are.

The big question: Will Google roll over on you when the goverment comes a-callin’. I don’t know what Google’s record is on this, and the whole thing is a legal quagmire in the making.

From a purely technical standpoint, it might be a good idea to keep local backups, even if all your data is in Google, Amazon/Red Hat, IBM or whoever’s cloud.

But considering how poor most of us (myself included) are at making and keeping backups, cloud computing and data storage is probably a pretty good idea.

But I throw it to you: Do you trust Google?

Tired of Vista? Start the countdown to the next version of Windows

Whether Windows Vista is a success, failure, bump in the road or GUI revolution — and the answer varies depending on who you talk to — those who keep an eye on Microsoft are already abuzz about the next Windows OS release, which is now going by the name Windows 7.

As the link above might already be telling you, I think ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley does very well when it comes to reporting on Microsoft, and she has this to say:

Because Microsoft wont talk about Windows 7, I cant quote any Microsoft representatives on what they are planning, thinking and hoping regarding Windows 7.

My opinion? The Softies want Windows 7 to be the anti-Vista. That is not a put-down of Vista, which may not be selling at two times the rate XP did but which still is selling strongly enough to boost Microsofts Q2 FY 2008 client-division revenues by more almost 70 percent.

But Microsofts brass do want to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that it encountered with Windows Vista and who can blame them? They want Windows 7 to be on-time, not polluted by feature-bloat and not overly ambitious. They want the Windows 7 betas to be near-feature-complete the first time that the majority of testers get builds. And most of all, they want Windows 7 to be a predictable, familiar, relatively minor upgrade. Should that take four years (counting from the fall 2006 Vista release-to-manufacturing date) to Microsofts stated 2010 Windows 7 ship target to deliver? Probably not; Windows 7 in 2009 looks like a realistic possibility.

So if you love or hate Vista … a 2009 release of a whole new version of Windows will make today’s edition of the OS seem pretty bump-in-the-roadish. … and a full year from now the hardware will be that much better (quad-core everything, 3 GB standard in laptops, more in desktops … ) that a release from Microsoft that doesn’t further task computing resources would be mighty welcome by Windows users, both home and corporate.

More from Mary Jo:

… Microsoft is in a tricky spot. Apple can put consumers front and center when it designs a new operating system. But Microsoft needs to strike a balance between creating an operating system that appeals to both business users and consumers. If Microsoft only had to appease business users with Windows 7, a minor, no frills point-release update would be perfect. But it also has to fend off Mac OS X with Windows 7 on the retail front.

Another writer I respect, Microsoft-Watch’s Joe Wilcox, things all this Windows 7 talk is too much hype:

Microsoft hasn’t yet released Windows Vista Service Pack 1, and there are so-called leaks galore about Vista successor Windows Seven. There have been supposed screenshots of Milestone 1 and even a pirated movie-like video. I won’t link to any of the stuff, as it would only feed the frenzy.

But he does offer this:

The real work on Windows Seven isn’t the shell but the kernel. It’s my understanding that the primary Windows Seven development focus, at least for now, is the operating system’s plumbing. That’s absolutely the right priority, and it is a huge departure from Windows XP and Vista development. Seven’s predecessors got wish-listed to death. Previously, the early process was more about compiling huge lists of features the people inside and outside Microsoft wanted in the operating system.

And Wilcox provides a link to his own story about the Shipping Seven blog, presumably by an anonymous Microsoftie, which can be found here.

Having taken a look, Shipping Seven is a pretty good blog, with tips on using Windows now, plus a good bit of opinion. Wilcox smells guerrilla marketing from Microsoft, and I’m inclined to agree.