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!

Re-learning Reason

I’ve decided to go with Reason and Record for my audio work. While Logic Express has some things that I liked, I felt that Reason was the best choice for my needs. I will likely use Record for the time being for final mixes of Reason songs, but I would like to eventually get an Apogee One to do some recording of guitar and bass. Drums? I would need a proper room and too many mics, so that seems unlikely for quite a while. I have to read up on using line-level signals vs. hi-z signals on audio interfaces, as my bass uses active pickups. Right now I have a Fender Stratocaster, but for the type of playing I want to do it may be sold for a Gibson Explorer. Only time will tell…

Sticking With Apple

Since my last post I’ve tried out a few more Linux distros and such, but then finally decided to pack up the PC tower and just use my MacBook for writing and music.  It’s been nice trying out Linux, but with working in IT and such I just don’t have time to experiment and mess with things anymore; I just want a fully working system, and for me the MacBook has always been that.

So, all future tech-related entries on here will always pertain to Apple.  As for music, I’m currently deciding on Reason/Record or Logic Express for my work.  I’m also working on getting a plug-in configured so that I can share the music I create on here.

The inspiration and encouragement came from Mons, who I originally met on Shacknews.  I highly recommend you check out his site and purchase his CD!

http://www.monstunes.com/

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: ****

Ubuntu 9.10 vs. Mandriva 2010 and openSUSE 11.2

Intro

Since my last review of Ubuntu 7.04 I have used each new release of Ubuntu, along with Windows XP and occasionally trying out Mandriva, Fedora and openSUSE.  Each time I find some things improved, some things worse and mostly things that haven’t changed a whole lot.  In the end I always find some reason I have to go back to Windows XP, even as that OS slowly reaches its end with the release of Windows 7.  Unlike the release of Vista, 7 has truly heralded Microsoft’s return to form as well as making Linux developers work that much harder to offer a viable alternative.  While this article will focus on Ubuntu, I will also include my impressions of the latest releases of Mandriva and openSUSE.

Installation

Unfortunately installation is an area that Ubuntu has not improved since my last review.  The last few releases I’ve been able to use the graphical installer, but with the release of 9.10 I wasn’t able to get it to start at all.  The image file was fine as well as the burned disc, but every time I tried to start the installer the screen would flash rapidly and the system would freeze.  I had no choice but to use the text-based installer, which worked fine.  I had no qualms with using it since I knew I was going to be installing instead of just trying it out.  I hope Ubuntu continues to offer this option in the future.  In comparison both Mandriva and openSUSE’s graphical installers worked just fine and would be very easy for anyone to understand.

Initial boot-up and login

The new release of Ubuntu has a very slick startup screen as well as log-in interface.  Most releases of Ubuntu have seen new graphics in this area, but I will give them a tip of the hat for their work in this release.  The darker colors with the glowing white icons and text are very easy on the eyes and are a nice change from past designs.

Default setup and packages

Just like all past releases, the user logs into Ubuntu and is greeted with a very clean desktop with top and bottom bars.  The default background is as always nice but pretty unremarkable.  I will say the new icons are much improved and not as glossy which was nice.

Ubuntu continues to offer Firefox, OpenOffice and Rhythmbox, although there had been talk of replacing the latter with Banshee.  Since Ubuntu already uses Mono for the Tomboy application, it wouldn’t be as big a deal for this change, although die-hard Linux users don’t like Mono due to its ties to Microsoft.

One big change GNOME in general and Ubuntu has followed is to offer Empathy instead of Pidgin for instant messaging.  While I like the simple interface, typical of GNOME applications, the options were very slim, and I couldn’t even get MSN nor Yahoo accounts to connect.   Once I installed and ran Pidgin, the past default application, I was able to use any protocol just fine.  This was also a problem in Mandriva and openSUSE, so it’s definitely a GNOME 2.28 problem.

When I tried to play MP3 and AAC (iTunes) files in Rhythmbox in Ubuntu, it immediately notified me which plug-ins I would need and automatically set it up for me.  Both Mandriva and openSUSE had problems with this.  openSUSE does include MP3 support, but for anything else it’s up to the user to find 3rd-party repositories.  The Mandriva utility, Codeina, was extremely slow and would often become non-responsive.  I was never able to play AAC files in Mandriva, which was a crucial requirement for me.

A big change in all current releases is the implementation of the ext4 filesystem.  Compared to ext3 there is a noticeable performance improvement, but I think it’s still a little early to be using this filesystem by default.  Several times I had problems opening certain folders, and only on a complete restart was I granted access.  Having a few problems is one thing, but problems with the filesystem simply are not tolerated and inexcusable in an official release.  Until further work and time have gone by I would highly recommend sticking with ext3.  Also, several tools have yet to be updated to support this filesystem.

Package Management and Updating

Ubuntu, based on Debian’s .deb packaging, is extremely fast, especially compared to .rpm-based systems.  Over the years I had hoped for this performance gap to be lessened or even eliminated, but unfortunately nothing has changed.  openSUSE’s utilities have improved a little bit in the last few releases, but it still takes awhile to update and search for specific packages.  Mandriva’s performance was even worse.  It took forever for the package list to update.  Also, Mandriva would never notify me of any updates, and yet when I search for updates in the main package manager there was always a few to come up.  Why so many distros continue to use .rpm instead of .deb is beyond me.

3D graphics Driver

Since my last review every Ubuntu release has been good about including an Nvidia driver that worked great with my 6600GT.  While I don’t play any games in Linux, I’ve had to install this driver in order to get the correct resolution for my monitor.  I used to be able to edit xorg.conf, but the past few releases have not used a config file at all.  The screen control panel only lists certain resolutions, and it’s not possible to add any more.  I don’t know if this is a limitation with the software driver installed by default, or not having my monitor’s info on-hand to know the native resolution.

When the Nvidia driver is installed Compiz is enabled by default.  This does improve performance a little bit, and the few effects I enable are nice and do actually improve productivity.  By this time most applications work well with Compiz.  Mandriva offers the Metisse compositor as another option, but it’s simply under-developed and I feel it’s un-needed.  I know KDE4 has its own, and from my limited time with it it’s a decent alternative to Compiz, but in GNOME I feel Compiz is just fine.

Community and Support

Ubuntu continues to have the best designed web-site and forums.  There are plenty of sub-sections, and I’ve never encountered a rude post.  Whether this is mostly the community or the hard work of the moderators I couldn’t tell you, but when help is needed when using Ubuntu, the forums are always the first place I go to.  I do think there should be a front page link to these forums; currently it takes 4(!) clicks to even get there if you didn’t know its address.

I have limited experience with Mandriva’s and openSUSE’s sites, but I have found the navigation of both to be a little confusing compared to Ubuntu’s.  While Ubuntu’s site is clearly designed primarily for home users, Mandriva’s seems to focus more on enterprise users, while openSUSE’s looks more like a developer’s site, with more links to documentation and wikis than anything else.  Again, as a new user I would definitely find Ubuntu’s site much easier to navigate.

Mandriva’s support is abysmal.  On their web-site I clicked Support, and then where listed by product I chose Mandriva Linux, which simply returned me to the overview page.  I finally found the Mandriva Expert page, but there’s hardly anything on that page and little help on where to start.  openSUSE’s is a little better, but again it seems to simply offer options for help instead of offering that help itself.

Summary

Ubuntu continues to be the most popular Linux distro, and for the most part it’s easy to see why.  They continue to have problems mostly stemming from their rapid 6-month release schedule, and new problems with the installer may stop potentials new users from even trying it out.  But its performance and ease of use is still top notch, and their website is almost better than Apple’s.  Mandriva has slowly improved with each release, but it needs to spend some more time working on their website.  openSUSE has improved quite a bit, but also needs to clean up and simplify their website.

Final Thoughts and Rating

For years people have been trying to say that Linux is ready for public use, and that it’s a great alternative to Windows.  In some ways it is: it has great hardware support and the software (included and to choose from) has something for everyone.  Ubuntu continues to lead the way, but its rapid pace has continued to hurt its reputation with more and more bugs, and recent installer and filesystem problems are serious enough to not use it at all.  Mandriva and openSUSE have slowly improved in most areas, and while their performance isn’t as great and there are still problems with some patent-encumbered formats, they are also great options for those wanting to start using Linux.  Hopefully after a few more release we’ll see even better results.

Ubuntu 9.10: **

Mandriva: ***

openSUSE: ***