Crowd movements: the OSR and Linux

On October 5, 1991 Linus Torvalds released the code for a little operating system called Linux.  Under the license, it allowed others to take that code, make any changes they wished and release it as their own, provided they release their source code as well.

Over ten years later Wizards of the Coast released the 3.5 SRD documents under the OGL license; it was originally intended for module/adventure writers to have easy access to the rules needed to create new encounters, etc.  But instead the first-wave of retroclones used it to legally simulate early editions of D&D.

With Linus’ release of the Linux code, we saw the early debuts of a few distros, namely Debian and Slackware.  A few others came along, and eventually the ball got rolling and now there are dozens if not hundreds of “different” distros (that’s quoted for a reason I’ll dive into in a moment).  In the same way, the OSR first saw the release of Hackmaster and Castles and Crusades (not clones per-se), and after awhile we now have dozens of rule-sets.

With Linux, we now see distros released that are nothing more than taking an existing distro, like Ubuntu, and changing the default look and maybe some of the apps.  In the OSR, there are now releases that are nothing more than a GM’s house-rules integrated into the rules.  The big question for both of these is: are they really needed?

Granted, anyone has the freedom to take the Linux source or the SRD and to make their own releases.  Or they can take an existing distro or game, alter it, and release that.  They’re free to do this, they can market it, create a website, sell it on DriveThruRPG and/or Lulu, etc.  But because we can, should we?

First let’s take a look at working in an existing distro or rule-set.  Anyone is free to contribute ideas, bug fixes, rules or typo fixes, etc.  Some may advertise they’re more open to this, such as Basic Fantasy RPG and Debian.  However, at the end of the day it’s the decision of a small group or even a single person whether a change is made or not.  In Basic Fantasy, that’s Chris Gonnerman.  Now, he may say the game is open-source and is open to suggestions, but as I’ve seen on the forums many things are either immediately shot down or permanently put into the “hmm let’s think on that” category.  Now, that’s not a bad thing, as I’ll get to in a sec.  In the Linux realm, the usual response is either “that’s how it’s intended to work and we’re not changing it” or “submit it as a suggestion for the next release and we’ll see”.

Of course, if there wasn’t a group or person over-seeing things, the projects would turn into chaos and eventual “mush”.  If Chris took in every suggestion made to him, we wouldn’t end up with anything anywhere near Basic Fantasy.  Many have made suggestions of additional classes, combat options, etc.  These people would be better off going to Pathfinder or 4E (for example), while others who don’t like the ascending armor class can go to Labyrinth Lord.  Of course other games have made even more changes, such as Dungeon Crawl Classics.

But what happens in the OSR is what happens in Linux: when someone or a group of people dis-agree with the leaders, they simply grab the work and go off to do their own thing; they fork it.  Again, the license and spirit of both the OSR and Linux allow and maybe even encourage it.  But on the flip-side, if everyone went off on their own tangent, we end up with even more distros and rule-sets, with so many barely different from the others.  Why have all these different rule-sets when it’s known each GM will have their own small set of house-rules anyways?  And for Linux, just like Windows or OS X, each user is going to change the settings, the theme, installed and default apps, etc.  Do we really need such a wide variant to pick from, rather than a few good foundations to start from?

Well, in a way that’s what we do have.  While there are hundreds of distros and rule-sets, most aren’t well-known (let alone known that well at all), and the most popular will be easy to find from certain sites and word-of-mouth.  I just think some projects/sites need to be a little clearer about their intentions and what will or won’t likely be changed.  For example, from Swords and Wizardry I know it’s Matt’s game and rules, above all else.  He’s certainly drawn ire from plenty; the single-save is loathed by some, while others don’t like the inclusion of both descending and ascending armor class (I’m among those).  But it’s clear that that’s what Matt likes, and he’s sticking to it.  Of course, he provides a text document of both Core and Whitebox so I’m free to change what I don’t like (that’s for my own use, the S&W license requires certain things like the 2 armor values for any released items using the S&W rules and name).  Chris may encourage collaboration for Basic Fantasy, but I think he could be clearer that he has the final say.  Now that he’s announced a more “advanced” version in the works, I feel he’s going to be getting A LOT more suggestions and criticism.

So what to take from all this?  While there’s the ability and freedom to take previous work and make it our own, perhaps instead of releasing it as a whole new thing just simply say “Hey here’s what changes I’ve made to this existing thing to make it my own.  Try it out and maybe you’ll like it.  Then if enough people do perhaps we should think about doing a full new game”.  For OD&D it’s far more common to see text/PDF releases of house rules, rather than numerous retroclones (aside from S&W they don’t seem to be too popular anyways…).  It’s almost as common for B/X and BECMI, but there’s far more rule-sets based on or modeled after those editions of D&D.  For AD&D, the rules as written are pretty much a mess (this is known but forbidden to criticize the mighty Gygax on any D&D/OSR site) so house rules are a given for this edition.  There aren’t too many releases modelled after AD&D aside from OSRIC, which is criticized for it’s “soul-less prose without the Gygax flair” (even though I can actually read and follow along).  For me personally, I’m teetering on the edge between numerous house-rules for various rule-sets (namely Labyrinth Lord, BFRPG and DCC) and eventually wanting to combine all of my desired traits into one “master document” that would likely turn into its own game at that point.

Ubuntu 11.04

The biggest news I had heard about 11.04 was the debut of the Unity interface.  A refinement on the interface used on the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Unity is Canonical’s vision of what a desktop interface for the future should be.  With Ubuntu’s rapid release schedule, was enough time given to have Unity ready for a prime-time Linux distribution?

Similar to the release from 10.10, for 11.04 I was hoping for some pretty forward-facing features.  But once you can look past the new look of Unity, there isn’t very much else to get excited about.  As always Ubuntu continues to impress with its mix of stability and ease of use, but after so many releases it’s hard to not just shrug and go back to another OS.

This release does see LibreOffice replacing OpenOffice, but I can’t really tell much of a difference.  I didn’t use OpenOffice all that much, so I’m probably the last person to ask about this software.  Since I tend to stick with text editors I have paid less and less attention to these two fighting it out and against Microsoft Word.  I do hope that this forked software will see faster improvements, as it’s still evident that it is still slower than anything when trying to open, etc.

So how is Unity?  Honestly, it doesn’t bother me much, and also doesn’t really impress.  Yes, it’s quite different.  Yes, it does some things alot better than GNOME2 or other desktop environments do.  It also does alot of things that I don’t like, and in the spirit of GNOME it seems to have stripped out any and all user settings/preferences.  Now there’s some like KDE where there is user overload when trying to setup a desktop, but then there’s Windows and OS X that have a happy medium.  Of course this is Linux, so I can easily switch to GNOME classic or slap on another desktop environment.  Does it matter that I would have to?  I’m not sure.

Currently my PC is running Windows 7 so I can work on some music along with writing, and it’s working great.  I will keep an eye on future Ubuntu releases, but it’s unlikely I will be installing them for quite awhile.

Ubuntu 10.10

As the most current review I’ve written for a Linux OS, the first thing you may notice is that I’ve changed the title for this review.  Previous reviews have been titled “Linux Review:…”, while here I simply title it as an Ubuntu review.  Why the change?  I realized that it isn’t a really big deal that Ubuntu is running the Linux kernel.  It could run BSD, etc. and it would still be Ubuntu.  For most people, they’ll just want to know that it’s something different from Windows or OS X.  Like any other Linux distro, Ubuntu is its own ecosystem, as much as it borrows from the hard work of Debian, Red Hat, etc.  This is certainly not a slight against Ubuntu, as that as is the spirit of open-source software, and without that attitude and licenses to allow it, none of these distros would be around.

As the first release since the 10.04 LTS release, I was hoping for some cutting-edge features to grace 10.10.  While there are some refinements, overall there isn’t a whole lot of “new” in this release.  That’s certainly not a bad thing, but I was hoping for something a little more bold.

The biggest feature that I seemed to notice in this release is the inclusion of the new Ubuntu font (link).  Unlike Red Hat’s Liberation fonts, this font wasn’t meant to be a replacement for another font.  In fact, at first glance you can see it’s quite different from a normal font.   At first I didn’t think I would like it, but as I started to use it, I found I actually preferred it more often.  It hasn’t replaced my favorite font of all time (Courier New) but it’s pretty darn close.  They are even working on a Monospace variant, so I can use this gorgeous font while using a text editor.

Other than that, I honestly can’t see anything drastically different besides some bumped up version numbers on the software.  OpenOffice is still in, but the next release will use LibreOffice instead.  These days I find myself using Gedit and AbiWord more often, as I just don’t need many features.  I’m hoping for a big performance improvement as LibreOffice development ramps up.  GIMP is still not included by default, so I have to make sure to include that in my initial addition list in Synaptic Package Manager.

The main thing I’m happy with in this release is that simply everything works as-is.  My wireless card works, while a driver isn’t even available for Windows 7.  I can install Dropbox and Google Chrome just fine.  All of my music is added and can be played in Rhythmbox.  When I built my new PC, I knew it was going to be a work system and not for gaming, as I do plenty of that on consoles.  There are some games I’d like to download and try out (Nexuiz, Alien Arena, etc.) but otherwise my GTS450 will just be for providing a good-looking and snappy interface.  Eventually web browsers and perhaps the new Unity interface will put that card to better use.  I do hope that the next release of Ubuntu pushes forward a little more aggressively, but I do know that until it’s been out for awhile I’ll be quite happy with Ubuntu 10.10 as my OS of choice.

Speaking of the new Unity interface, the next version of Ubuntu that’s currently in development will definitely be bringing in some huge changes.  Will these be changes that I’ll like, or will I need to disable it or even look at a KDE-centered distro?  I look forward to testing it out once it hits Beta, but until then I have a very stable and useable PC with Ubuntu 10.10.

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you are celebrating this holiday, I wish you great memories and safe travels. As usual I haven’t updated this in forever. I think the main thing is I need to find a better way to write and upload new posts, as using the website isn’t as great as a dedicated app or such would be. So what all’s cooking on my mind?

Reason 5 review: lots of new features, primarily Kong

Record overview: I don’t record alot of audio, but I’ll post impressions of how well Record works compared to Audacity and others

Ubuntu 10.10 review: I run Ubuntu on my home PC and use it alot for programming and such, so it merits an in-depth look compared to Windows XP and 7, and to a few other recent Linux distro releases.

Music: I’ve been listening to a few new albums as well as long-time favorites, and it’s time to write some good reviews for those.  Also, I’ve been mulling over some thoughts about drum lessons and other things I’ve discovered, so I would like to share those.

Windows 7 review: My work computer has been on 7 for awhile, and I’ve also been able to deploy it on eligible systems, so my experience with this OS has grown enough that I feel ready to write up how well it works, compare it to XP and Vista, and see how it stacks up against OS X and Linux.

Book reviews: I’ve slowly started reading more, so I’d like to share my thoughts on some of those titles.  I’ll also write about the Kindle, as I’ve been thinking about getting one, and how I think it would do compared to paper copies.

I know I have alot more things to write, and I’ve covered some of those topics in previous posts.  Since WordPress has a Drafts feature I don’t have any excuse not to get those started!

Fedora 12

Intro
I’ve used Fedora off and on ever since the first release.  As a fan of Redhat 9 at the time, I was interested to see where this new project would go.  Fedora’s stated goal was to offer a desktop environment but also provide the latest technologies (even if they hadn’t been well-tested yet).  For the first few releases I stuck with Fedora, but with increasing instability, bleeding-edge features and the rising popularity of Ubuntu I decided to move on.
Since then I’ve tested the occasional release, but even when I could get it to install it was still just too unstable for day to day use.  However, with the release of Fedora 12 I think they’ve struck a fine balance.  Whether that will continue with future releases or a one-time thing I don’t know.

Installation
Instead of using a live CD like usual, I decided to utilize BitTorrent to download the full install DVD for Fedora 12.  Luckily there were thousands of seeders, and in just a few hours I had the ISO burned to a DVD and ready to boot.  After booting up the DVD, the graphical menu lets you select whether to install, boot from the hard drive, etc.  Some of the letters had graphical errors, but at least it worked.  Like Mandriva and other rpm-based distros, I had to add the “edd=off” kernel option, otherwise it would stay on the “Probing for edd” part.  Once I disabled edd the installer immediately came up, and it did so at my monitor’s native resolution, something which never happened before at install-time.  The graphical installer for Fedora, Anaconda, looked even better at the native resolution.  Redhat/Fedora has always had a very good installer, even though with some of the Fedora releases I’ve had it crash.  For this release it worked great, and within a few screens the packages were installing to my drive.
By default Fedora 12 uses the ext4 filesystem like most other current distros, but Fedora also defaults to using LVM for the partitioning scheme.  Once the packages are installed, the computer re-boots, I entered some more info and after a very nice start-up graphics sequence I was at the log-in screen.
Initial boot-up and login
Like other GNOME-based distros, the default desktop layout is very clean.  There are the top and bottom panels, which I always immediately consolidate into one bottom panel ala Windows.  Fedora’s default icons haven’t changed much since the early releases, but they still look pretty good.  The new default wallpaper is very gorgeous, and it’s the only time I’ve ever decided to keep it.  The only negative here is that for some reason Network Manager will not automatically connect, so I have to manually select my ethernet interface each time, as well as adjusting the time.

Default set-up and packages

By using the install DVD instead of the live CD, OpenOffice is installed instead of AbiWord.  Although I also installed AbiWord, I find that OpenOffice seems to work better, and AbiWord had alot of grapic problems while typing and scrolling.
Rhythmbox, like in other distros, works pretty well.  I did have to add repositories from RPM Fusion in order to play MP3s and iTunes AAC files, but it wasn’t any more work that in other distros.
Gnote has replaced TomBoy for note-taking in order to remove the dependency on Mono.  Fedora has also decided to use Empathy for instant messaging instead of Pidgin, but I haven’t tested yet to see if it had similar connectivity problems like in other distros.

Package Management and Updating
Like openSUSE, Fedora has been constantly working to make their package manager and updater apps faster and more efficient.  Compared to Mandriva 2010, the package manager in Fedora 12 is fairly quick when browsing and searching.  It’s still slow compared to Debian and Ubuntu’s Synaptic, but it’s still miles ahead of any other rpm-based distro.  The updater app is also much improved.

3D graphics Driver
As the installer immediately recognized my monitor’s native resolution, as well as not having any desire to play games on a computer anymore, I decided not to try to install and test a 3D graphics driver.  While RPM Fusion offers an up-to-date Nvidia driver, I was already happy with the included driver.  It has the correct resolution and refresh rate, and there’s no apparent slowdown when scrolling or moving windows, so I decided not to fix what wasn’t broken.

Community and Support
While Red Hat uses Bugzilla for their bug-tracking and it isn’t as easy to navigate as Ubuntu’s Launchpad, I will defintely say that the Red Hat developers are much more pro-active addressing bugs and releasing updates, even when rapdily working on the next release.  There is a website with a forum similar to Ubuntu’s, and just like that one there are many helpful people.

Summary
Despite having a negative outlook when first booting up the DVD, I was quickly proven wrong with all of the improvements and refinements that have gone into this release.  While being in the fore-front of new technologies had always hurt Fedora’s image in my mind, for this release it has actually put it into the fore-front, primarily with using an open-source driver for Nvidia cards with 2D acceleration.  With having everything else up to date and already releasing a round of updates, I am very impressed with this release and I really hope that this trend continues with future releases from Fedora.

Final Thoughts and Rating
Without any major problems and only a few minor things I was able to fix or circumvent, this is without doubt the best release of Fedora that I’ve ever used, and is easily up to par with any release from Mandriva or Ubuntu.

Fedora 12: ****