Blog Fiasco

October 26, 2009

2009: The Year of Linux on the Desktop

Filed under: Linux — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — bcotton @ 6:45 am

It’s been a joke for nearly a decade (maybe longer) to refer to the current year as “the year of Linux on the desktop.”  For me, it’s been a reality for several years, at least at home.  With my change in jobs last week, I had only a limited equipment budget, and since I needed a new laptop, that didn’t leave much money for a new desktop.  Most of my coworkers have opted for iMacs or Mac Pros, but I opted for a surplus lab machine running Fedora 11.  With the two widescreen monitors and 1 TB RAID 1 that I set up, it clearly makes sense to use it primarily.

Having used Linux in both server and desktop settings over the past 8 years, I’ve grown very comfortable with it, but my first week was not without issues.  The first was that the video card in the machine was made by ATI.  I’m not passing judgment on the quality of ATI’s hardware, but their Linux drivers are problematic.  Fortunately, my officemate had a spare NVIDIA card that I could put in.  A quick run of the NVIDIA setup program, and I had my monitors working perfectly.

The real fun came getting my e-mail set up.  My employer has a Microsoft Exchange server, which I’m required to keep an account on.  I first tried to use the Evolution groupware client, which has some rough support for Exchange.  For the life of me, though, I couldn’t get it connected. So I tried to use IMAP, which also didn’t work.  Of course, that didn’t bother me too much, since an IMAP connection wouldn’t work for calendaring or contacts, just e-mail.

Most of the admins in my group use Google accounts for e-mail and calendaring, so I decided to go down that route.  I set my directory entry to forward my work e-mail to my Google account and set up Google to POP my Exchange e-mail (since mail sent from an Exchange user doesn’t leave the Exchange server).  Evolution has excellent support for Google accounts, including e-mail, calendars, and contacts.  At least, I thought it did.  It turns out Evolution has a fun bug that causes recurring calendar events to not display when the account is added as a Google account.  Apparently, it works if you add it as a CalDAV account, but if the calendar is the primary calendar for an account, the @ symbol in the URL breaks things.

I finally gave up on Evolution and tried Mozilla Thunderbird.  Thunderbird has a calendar extension called Lightning.  With the gContactSync add-in, I can synchronize my contacts as well.  The  account setup was really easy, and I’ve been happy using it.  I just wish I could have arrived at it sooner.

Most of this post has focused on problems I’ve encountered in desktop Linux, but the truth is, most of it has gone pretty well for me.  I’ve used Fedora on my primary desktop at home for years, and most things just work.  Many of the reasons people give for Linux not being ready for the desktop are based on things that have been fixed years ago, or the fact that the problems are different.  All OSes have problems, but when you’re used to the problems of one, the problems of another stand out.

It’s 2009, the year of Linux on the desktop.

August 6, 2009

I could never get the hang of Thursdays

Filed under: Linux,The Internet — Tags: , , , , , , — bcotton @ 9:51 am

The e-pocalypse seems to be upon us. This morning I tried to upgrade my MacBook to 10.5.8 and it’s been “booting” for the past 45 minutes or so. The evolution-exchange backend keeps failing on my Linux box so I can’t get to my e-mail (interesting side note, it also crashes Pidgin). Twitter and Facebook were down, although Facebook seems to be back now. I feel so isolated!

July 6, 2009

Microsoft’s Mac products

Filed under: mac — Tags: , , , , , , , — bcotton @ 9:17 am

There’s a lot of hate out there for Microsoft.  Some of it is deserved, some is mere fanboyism.  For my own part, I generally avoid Microsoft products where I can.  It’s not that I absolutely refuse to touch anything that comes out of Redmond, but there are generally free-er and better tools available to accomplish the same ends.  Still, there are some things Mircosoft does very well.  Apple support is not one of them.

Now, I understand that Microsoft and Apple are competitors in some sense.  (I would argue that Microsoft is a software vendor and Apple is a hardware/ecosystem vendor, but that’s another discussion).  To some, it might be surprising that Microsoft has any Apple offerings at all, but the reality is that it is in their best interests.  Macs, especially the laptops, are becoming more prevalent in enterprise settings (especially in education, where Apple has long enjoyed a higher-than-average market share).  In order for Microsoft to keep their death grip on the lucrative enterprise environment, they need to make sure their products can continue to be used.

Unfortunately for the user, Microsoft does not seem to have put much effort into their Apple offerings.  Whether this is by choice or by circumstance, the end result is the same: people can’t get work done.  At the risk of sounding like a cynical anti-Microsoft zealot, I’m going to guess that this is an intentional move.  It does make short-term sense, after all.  By making gestures, Microsoft can be seen as playing nicely, but when things don’t work as well as they do on Windows, people will have no choice but to abandon Apple.

Now, I can’t speak to the Office products very much.  Outside of Access, I’ve barely touched Office 2007, so I don’t know to what degree it is crippled compared to the Windows versions.  I do know that VBScript is not supported in Office 2008, which causes all kinds of problems for some Serious Business(tm) in Excel.  Check boxes in Excel sheets also seem to not print, which is a bit of a hassle when I go to turn in an absence form.  Of course, Access doesn’t even have a Mac counterpart, which wouldn’t bother me except I have yet to find the time to migrate our inventory database out of Access and into something more platform-independent.  This leaves me stuck with running a virtual machine or keeping a Windows box on my desktop any time I want to do something with the inventory.

My big gripe today, and in general, is with Entourage.  It is a pretty lousy e-mail client, although 2008 is an improvement over 2004.  Entourage is a little bit on the clunky side.   For IMAP accounts, Apple Mail would be my choice.  Exchange support is the one feature that give Entourage a raison d’etre in the first place, and it is lacking in a few key areas.  The worst failing is the lack of support for Exchange tasks and notes.  Because my Blackberry has great Exchange support, it would be really nice if I could make notes on my to-do list and have them show up in Entourage.  I can’t.  Since I’m primarily at my desk all day, I primarily use Entourage for my to-do list.  This means I’m stuck without it if I don’t have my laptop with me.  (Or I have to switch to a third-party app, which isn’t that appealing either).

The other complaint is the lack of support for Outlook .pst files.  I’m not that big a fan of .pst files in Outlook either, but I accept they’re a necessary evil.  Regardless of my feelings on .pst in general, it seems silly that Entourage only supports a different (non-Outlook compatible) file format.  Mail storage is a tricky business anyway, and I just prefer to use an IMAP account when I need extra storage space.  That way it is compatible with any modern mail client.

So now that I’ve complained about Entourage, here’s the whole point: the Evolution groupware client supports Microsoft Exchange better than some Microsoft products do.  Imagine my surprise when I was setting up Evolution on my Linux box only to discover that not only did my e-mail and calendar synch, but my to-do list did, too!  I about keeled over from the shock.  This is where Microsoft needs to pay close attention to what others are doing.  If other vendors support your products better than you do, that is a Bad Thing(tm).

Fortunately for Microsoft, getting Entourage working on the Mac isn’t as simple as the Linux side.  Using fink gets you caught in a web of dependencies that don’t seem to be resolvable as of this writing.  Novell issued a Mac build that installs okay, but I’ve had problems getting it to enable an Exchange account.  I’m not the only one with this problem, as the bug report indicates, but the solution that worked for others so far has not worked for me.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep hoping that Microsoft improves the next version of office, or that better competitiors will come forth.

Powered by WordPress