Category Archives: linux

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MeeGo, Qt, and the new Nokia: developers express their doubts

What are the implications of the new partnership between Nokia and Microsoft for MeeGo, the device-oriented Linux project sponsored by Intel and Nokia? What about Qt, the application framework that unifies Symbian and MeeGo development?

Here is what Nokia says:

Under the new strategy, MeeGo becomes an open-source, mobile operating system project. MeeGo will place increased emphasis on longer-term market exploration of next-generation devices, platforms and user experiences. Nokia still plans to ship a MeeGo-related product later this year.

Nokia is retaining MeeGo but it has moved from centre-stage to become more niche and experimental.

The snag for developers is that there are no known plans to support Qt on Windows phone. According to the letter to developers, Qt developers can look forward to the targeting low-end Symbian devices and at least one solitary MeeGo phone:

Extending the scope of Qt further will be our first MeeGo-related open source device, which we plan to ship later this year. Though our plans for MeeGo have been adapted in light of our planned partnership with Microsoft, that device will be compatible with applications developed within the Qt framework and so give Qt developers a further device to target.

Reaction from developers so far is what you might expect:

By this announcement, I’m afraid you’ve lost many faithful people (developer and consumers) like myself, who’s been a Nokia user ever since I’ve started using cellphones..

and

Wow what can I say, nokia just flat out killed any enthusiasm I had to develop on nokia platforms, I never have and never will use a windows platform. You have just killed QT, even worse killed the most promising OS out there in Meego. Elop is the worst thing that has ever happened Nokia.

and

Weak on execution, you choose to flee. What a sad day in the history of a once proud and strong company.

Nokia could fix this by demanding Qt support for Windows Phone 7.

MeeGo NoGo: things look bad for the Intel/Nokia Linux project

A sad post yesterday from MeeGo contributor Andrew Wafaa suggests that MeeGo on netbooks may no longer happen:

Basically by all accounts MeeGo is stopping all work on the Netbook UX. Yup, all our hard work is now almost for nothing 🙁

This is remarkable. The original Moblin project, sponsored by Intel, was all about bringing an excellent user experience to Linux on netbooks. The first netbooks ran Linux, but met resistance from a general public familiar with Windows; yet Linux is more suitable for netbooks than Windows in its present form.

Moblin is different. It’s a friendly way to get the most out of your netbook. It doesn’t work like most other computers because it’s optimized for enjoying media, interacting with your social networks and the internet.

wrote Moblin Community Manager Paul Cooper back in 2009, when netbooks were hot.

The problem: tech trends sometimes outpace corporate planning. Moblin was a good idea in 2008, but nothing was delivered; and by the time it looked like it might be ready, the market seemed to want tablets – or Apple iPads – rather than netbooks; and whatever problem Moblin was addressing was already solved by Google Android.

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Two years later, in February 2010, Moblin merged with Nokia’s Maemo, creating a new project called MeeGo. The new focus would be tablets and smartphones:

The power and capability of handhelds has reached astounding levels – netbooks have been a runaway success – and connected TVs, tablets, in-vehicle infotainment, and media phones are fast growing new markets for devices with unheard of performance. Our goal is to develop the best software to go with these devices.

said Intel’s Imad Sousou.

So where are the MeeGo smartphones? Well, maybe we will see one at Mobile World Congress next week. But Nokia is in disarray. According to a leaked memo from new CEO Stephen Elop:

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

Perhaps Nokia will progress MeeGo smartphones with renewed vigour; but what looks more likely is that Nokia will embrace a rival platform, maybe Google Android or Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.

That might well be alongside MeeGo, rather than replacing it, but Nokia needs to focus its energy and I would guess that MeeGo will lose out.

It may be the beginning of the end for a promising project that has progressed too slowly.

Update: Reuters is reporting that “two industry sources close to the company” say Nokia has ended development of its first MeeGo smartphone

Accelerating PHP with the Alternative PHP Cache

I decided to install the open source Alternative PHP Cache on this server in order to improve performance. Interesting exercise. This server runs Debian Linux, and there are several ways to install APC:

1. Install the official package with apt-get install php-apc or similar

2. Install with the PHP Extension Community Library which goes something like:

apt-get install apache2
apt-get install libapache2-mod-php5
apt-get install php-pear
apt-get install php5-dev
apt-get install make
apt-get install apache2-prefork-dev
pecl install apc

The advantage over (1) is that you get the latest stable build, version 3.1.6, instead of the Debian package which is 3.0.19

3. Download the source and do something like this to install.

I started with option (2) though I came to regret it. The first problem is that the pecl installer will build with your currently-installed Apache, and if you later upgrade Apache it might break. Sticking with the official package is safer, even though it is very out of date.

I could live with the idea of re-installing APC every time Apache was updated if necessary, but I had another problem. I was up and running with APC 3.1.6 and pleased with the results, until after a while everything stopped working and my blog became a screen full of messages saying “Unable to allocate memory for pool”.

It looks like this bug, which was said to be fixed in version 3.1.5, but if you look to the end of the comments there is one from today with the same issue, and no suggestions about how to fix it.

The ancient version, on the other hand, has performed perfectly so far.

Another point of interest: I found it challenging to discover the best settings for APC. By default the install does no more than to enable the extension; but the default setting is unlikely to be the best one. The documentation tells you what each setting does, but not how to choose the best values for those settings. Should the cache be the default 32MB, or something much greater? Another thing to note: if you compile with MMAP support, which is the default, the value of apc.shm_segments is ignored, and the value in apc.shm_size will solely determine the size of the cache.

I found this Moodle article on installing APC in Windows helpful. What you do is first to find the file apc.php which the install put somewhere like /usr/share/doc/php-apc – in my case it was also compressed -  and put this on your website, preferably in a password-protected folder. This tells you the status of the cache. The aim is to have the cache just big enough that it does not become full and highly fragmented. Here is what I get after a short run with 128MB, which may be a little too much:

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Another tip is to set apc.stat to 0. This means APC will not check for changes in PHP files since they were last compiled and cached. The downside is that every time you change a file you have to restart the web server; but the benefit is better performance, which is the goal after all.

What chance for MeeGo in the age of the iPad?

Today is Apple iPad day in the UK; but the portable device I’ve been playing with is not from Apple. Rather, I downloaded the first release build of MeeGo, proudly labelled 1.0, and installed it on my Toshiba NB 300 netbook, which normally runs Windows. You can choose between the evil edition with Google Chrome; or the free edition with Chromium – I picked the Chrome version. I did not burn any bridges: I simply copied the image to a 2GB USB memory stick and booted from that. There was one oddity: the USB boot only worked when using the USB port on the right by the power socket, and not from the one on the left edge of the netbook. It is a common problem with USB, that not all ports are equal.

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MeeGo is a joint project from Intel and Nokia, formed by the merging of Intel Moblin and Nokie Maemo. It is a version of Linux designed for mobile devices, from smartphones to netbooks, though this first release is only for netbooks. Further releases are planned on a "six-month cadence", and a wider range of devices including handsets and touch-screen tables is promised for October.

First impressions are mixed. Starting with the good news: performance is great, the user interface is smooth and polished, and less child-like and cutesy than the last Moblin I looked at. The designers have really thought about how to make the OS netbook-friendly. Applications run full-screen, making the best use of the limited screen size. Navigation is via a toolbar which slides into view if you move the mouse to the top of the screen. From here, you can switch between "Zones" – in effect, each zone is a running  applications. Not difficult but laborious; I found myself using Alt-Tab for switching between applications. I also miss the Windows taskbar, despite the screen space it occupies, since it helps to have a visual reminder of the other apps you have running.

There is also a home page which is a kind of local portal, showing showing current Twitter status (once I had added my Twitter account), application shortcuts, current appointments, recent web history, and other handy shortcuts.

Getting started was relatively quick. I soon figured out that the Network icon in the toolbar would let me configure wireless networking. It look me a little longer to find the system preferences, which are found by clicking the All Settings button in the Devices menu. Here I was able to change the keyboard layout from US to GB, though since it does not take effect until you logout, and I was using the live image which does not save changes, I was still stuck with the wrong layout.

A terminal – essential for serious Linux users – can be found in the System Tools section of the Application menu. I needed a password to obtain root access, which I discovered is set by default to "meego" in the live image. I presume this is a feature of the live image only, as this would otherwise be a serious security risk.

I soon found annoyances. This may be version 1.0, but it is described as a "core" release and seems mainly intended for software developers and I presume device manufacturers who are getting started. The selection of pre-installed applications is very limited, and does not include a word processor or spreadsheet.  There is a "Garage" utility for installing new apps, but although it seems to offer Abiword and Gnumeric, I could not get the links to resolve. I cannot find an image editor either. Without basic apps like this, MeeGo is not something I could rely on while out and about.

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I was surprised to find no link to the Intel AppUp store, which will offer applications for MeeGo, and when I tried to install the AppUp beta I got failed dependencies. I optimistically tried to install Adobe AIR; no go there either.

There must be other ways of getting apps installed – this is Linux after all – but I was looking for a quick and easy route.

Adobe Flash 10.1 is installed and works, though not on my first attempt. Trying to play a Youtube video made Chrome unresponsive, and I could not get Flash content to play on any site. Rebooted and all was well.

A big irritation for me is that you cannot disable tapping on the touchpad. There is a checkbox for it in settings, but it is both ticked and grayed so you cannot change it. I detest tapping since you inevitably tap by accident sometimes, on occasion losing work or just wasting time. No doubt there is some setting you can change though the terminal but I haven’t had time to investigate. It  is also possible that doing a full install to hard drive would fix it, as the live image does not save changes.

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Nevertheless, the progress is encouraging and if development continues at this pace I can see MeeGo becoming a strong alternative to Windows on netbooks: faster, cheaper, and better optimized for this kind of device. Even against the Apple iPad, I can see the attraction of something like a MeeGo netbook: freedom, Flash, value for money, and a keyboard.

The big question though: what chance has MeeGo got in the face of competition from Apple, Google with Android, and Microsoft with Windows? It seems to me that all these three are safe bets, in that they are not going away and already have momentum behind them. Will the public also make room for MeeGo? I like it well enough to hope it succeeds, but fear it may be crowded out by the competition, other than for Nokia Smartphones.

Linux users will need a Microsoft Office license to use Office Web Apps

I spoke to Jeff Teper, Microsoft’s Corporate VP of the Office Business Platform, who runs the SharePoint engineering group. I asked him to clarify something has puzzled me: the licensing for Office Web Apps. From a technical point of view, Office Web Apps is an add-on for SharePoint; it does not require the paid-for SharePoint Server (success to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server), but neither is it free – you may only install it if you have a volume license for Microsoft Office.

That much I understood; but what are the implications for businesses who have a volume license that does not cover everyone in the organisation? For example, I might purchase 100 volume licenses for the people who need to run Microsoft Office, but have another 50 who have OEM Office, or Open Office, or who don’t need to run Office at all. Some may be running Linux, on which Microsoft Office is not supported at all – though some have it working using WINE. Another scenario is where you have a SharePoint installation published to partners over the Internet. Is it OK to let them use Office Web Apps?

“The simple answer is that you do need a volume license for each user”, said Teper, though he added, “Our volume licensing is tailored to each customer, we will do specific things for each customer’s need. But the blanket statement is that its available for volume license customers per user.”

So would a Linux user need a license for Microsoft Office in order to access Office Web Apps, even though they couldn’t run the desktop version?

“Yes, that’s our default licensing.”

I also asked about how the licensing works. Is it enforced technically, so that the server refuses connections if they exceed the licensed number, or is it on a trust basis? Teper answered somewhat mysteriously:

“We provide volume license customers the tools to track that.”

My guess is that it is essentially done on trust (though perhaps subject to audit) but I couldn’t get Teper to confirm that.

Still, it seems to me that this licensing requirement will inhibit organisations from taking full advantage of what the Office Web Apps can do. The advantage of a web-based solution is that anyone can access it, both within an organisation, and beyond it if you choose to publish it on the Internet. I doubt there will be much enthusiasm for buying Office licenses for Linux users, though maybe the kind of organisation that has a full Microsoft-platform deployment does not have internal Linux users anyway.

In mitigation, it’s worth mentioning that Microsoft is also making Office Web Apps available for free, through Live Skydrive and Office Live Workspace. If you use those services, anyone with a Live ID can be given access to your Office Web App documents.

Office Web Apps better then Open Office for .docx on Linux

I’ve been reviewing Office and SharePoint 2010, and trying out Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, so I thought I would put the two together with a small experiment.

I borrowed a document from Microsoft’s press materials for Office 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, they are in .doc format, not the Open XML .docx that was introduced in Office 2007. That didn’t suit my purposes, so I converted it to .docx using Save As in Office 2010.

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Then I stuck it on SharePoint 2010.

Next, I downloaded it to Ubuntu and opened it in Open Office. It was not a complete disaster, but the formatting was badly messed up.

Finally, still in Ubuntu, I navigated to SharePoint and viewed the same document there. It looked fine.

Even better, I was able to click Edit in Browser, make changes, and save. The appearance is not quite WYSIWYG in edit mode, but is the same as in IE on Windows.

The exercise illustrates two points. One is that Open Office is not a good choice for working with Open XML – incidentally, the document looked fine when opened in the old binary .doc format. The other is that SharePoint 2010 and Office Web Apps will have real value on mixed networks suffering from document compatibility issues with Office and its newer formats.

Ubuntu Lucid Lynx great as ever, no game changer

I’ve upgraded my laptop to Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, and I’m using it to type this post. Ubuntu Lucid Lynx is a “long term support” edition,  making it suitable for businesses. The upgrade from Karmic, the previous version, went relatively smoothly. I say relatively because my laptop is dual boot and has two hard drives. For some reason Grub, the Ubuntu boot utility, always detects the partitioning incorrectly, so when I first start up after an upgrade it cannot find the drive. I have to hit “e” for edit, correct the reference to the boot partition, and then fix Grub’s menu.lst once I am back in.

That aside, all went well, Compiz didn’t break and I still have wobbly windows – a fun graphic effect that I have only seen on Linux.

I would recommend Ubuntu to anyone, provided that they can cope with occasional forays into menu.lst and the like. I cannot think of everyday tasks which are not easily accomplished on Ubuntu. Performance is excellent, and it feels a little faster than Windows 7 on this oldish Toshiba laptop. Considering the cost, it is a fantastic bargain for both home and business users. No Windows tax, no Apple tax, no Microsoft Office tax.

There are a couple of other issues though that continue to hold it back. One is what I can best describe as lack of polish. Part of the reason is that less money is spent on design; Linux looks less home-made that it once did, but put Ubuntu’s new Music Store (an extension to Rhythmbox) alongside Apple’s iTunes and the difference is obvious. Personally I prefer Rhythmbox, but for looks there is no contest.

Another problem is application availability. Many major Window applications such Microsoft Office can be made to work on Ubuntu via the Wine non-emulator, but it is not ideal. It’s certainly a problem for the work I do. I’m about to spend some time with Adobe’s Creative Suite, for example, which I could not do in Ubuntu.

One thing that will help drive Ubuntu and Linux adoption on the desktop is cloud computing. I have a separate blog post coming on this; but Microsoft’s new Office Web Apps could help considerably in mixed Linux/Windows networks. Specifically, I noticed that a Word Open XML document (.docx) which lost its formatting in Open Office, the suite supplied with Ubuntu, worked fine in Word Web App accessed with Firefox. Cloud and web-based computing goes a long way towards solving the application problem.

I like Ubuntu very much, but I don’t expect it to dent Windows or Mac sales any time soon.

Microsoft – make up your mind about Moonlight

I’ve been trying out Microsoft’s Office Web Apps, as provided for the release version of SharePoint 2010. The cross platform story is uneven, whether across Mac/Windows/Linux, or across different browsers, or even across different versions of Windows and Office. So far it does mostly work though, even if there are problems with certain tasks like printing or opening an online document in a desktop application.

The biggest problem I’ve had is on Linux. Supposedly Firefox 3.5 on Linux is supported. I ran up Ubuntu and Firefox 3.5, and went to look at a document in Word Web App. When I selected the document, Firefox quit. Every time.

After checking that Firefox was up-to-date it occurred to me that the problem might be related to Moonlight, the Linux implementation of Silverlight done by the Mono team. I disabled it. Suddenly, everything worked, even Edit in browser.

Moonlight is not just an open source project like the original Mono. It has a certain amount of official blessing from Microsoft. Here’s what VP Scott Guthrie said back in September 2007:

Over the last few months we’ve been working to enable Silverlight support on Linux, and today we are announcing a formal partnership with Novell to provide a great Silverlight implementation for Linux.  Microsoft will be delivering Silverlight Media Codecs for Linux, and Novell will be building a 100% compatible Silverlight runtime implementation called “Moonlight”.

Moonlight will run on all Linux distributions, and support FireFox, Konqueror, and Opera browsers.  Moonlight will support both the JavaScript programming model available in Silverlight 1.0, as well as the full .NET programming model we will enable in Silverlight 1.1.

You would think therefore that Microsoft would test the Firefox/Linux/Moonlight combination with its shiny new Office Web Apps. Apparently not. Here’s what the user experience is like for Office Word App. I figured that the solution might be to upgrade Moonlight to the latest version, so I did, installing what is now called Novell Moonlight 2.2. I went back to Word Web App. Firefox no longer crashes, but I now get a blank area where the Word document should be shown, and an error if I resize the browser window:

Now let’s see what happens if I disable Moonlight:

Everything is fine – except now there is a banner inviting me to “Improve my experience” by installing Silverlight. If I follow the link I eventually get back to the same Moonlight install that I have just enabled, which would actually break rather than improve Word Web App.

It is obvious that if users have to disable Moonlight to work with Office Web Apps, this will not help Moonlight adoption on Linux.

Office Web Apps are new and I’d hope this is something that Microsoft, Novell and the Mono team can soon fix between them. One reason for highlighting it now is the hope that something could be done before the full roll-out of Office and SharePoint 2010 on May 12th.

The real point though is what this says about the extent to which Microsoft cares about Moonlight and Linux users, and how much or little communication takes place between Microsoft and Novell. Silverlight isn’t required for Office Web Apps – as you can see from the above – but it is used to good effect where available, and this Office release is therefore an important release for Silverlight as well.

Microsoft should make up its mind. Is Novell really a trusted partner for Silverlight on Linux? Or a third-party product that has to take its chances?

Ubuntu Linux: the agony and the ecstasy

Just after writing a positive review of Ubuntu Karmic Koala I noticed this piece on The Register: Early adopters bloodied by Ubuntu’s Karmic Koala:

Blank and flickering screens, failure to recognize hard drives, defaulting to the old 2.6.28 Linux kernel, and failure to get encryption running are taking their toll, as early adopters turn to the web for answers and log fresh bug reports in Ubuntu forums.

Did I get it wrong? Should I be warning users away from an operating system and upgrade that will only bring them grief?

I doubt it, though I see both sides of this story. I’ve been there: hours spent trying to get Bluetooth working on the Toshiba laptop on which I’m typing; or persuading an Asus Eee PC to connect to my wi-fi; or running dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg to try to get Compiz working or to escape basic VGA; or running Super Grub to fix an Ubuntu PC that will not boot; or trying to fix a failed migration from Lilo to Grub 2 on my Ubuntu server.

That said, I noticed that the same laptop which gave me Ubuntu Bluetooth grief a couple of years ago now works fine with a clean install, Bluetooth included. It’s even possible that my own contribution helped – that’s how Linux works – though I doubt it in this case.

I also noticed how Ubuntu 9.10 has moved ahead of Windows in several areas. Here are three:

  1. Cloud storage and synchronization

    Microsoft has Live Mesh. Typical Microsoft: some great ideas, I suspect over-engineered, requires complex runtime to be downloaded and installed, not clear where it fits into Microsoft’s overall strategy, still in beta long after it was first trumpeted as a big new thing. So is this thing built into Windows 7? No way.

    By contrast Ubuntu turns up with what looks like a dead simple cloud storage and synchronization piece, web access, file system access, optional sharing, syncs files over multiple computers. Ubuntu One. I’ve not checked how it handles conflicts; but then Mesh was pretty poor at that too, last time I looked. All built-in to Karmic Koala, click, register, done.

  2. Multiple workspaces

    Apple and Linux have had this for years; I have no idea why it isn’t in Windows 7, or Vista for that matter. Incredibly useful – if the screen is busy but you don’t fancy closing all those windows, just switch to a new desktop.

  3. Application install

    This is so much better on Linux than on Windows or Mac; the only platform I know of that is equally user-friendly is the iPhone. OK, iPhone is better, because it has user ratings and so on; but Ubuntu is pretty good: Software Centre – browse – install.

I could go on. Shift-Alt-UpArrow, Ubuntu’s version of Exposé, very nice, not on Windows. And the fact that I can connect a file explorer over SSL using Places – Connect to server, where on Windows I have to download and install WinScp or the like.

Plus, let’s not forget that Ubuntu is free.

Of course you can make a case for Windows too. It’s more polished, it’s ubiquitous, app availability is beyond compare. It is a safe choice. I’m typing this on Ubuntu in BlogGTK but missing Windows Live Writer.

Still, Ubuntu is a fantastic deal, especially with Ubuntu One included. I don’t understand the economics by which Canonical can give everyone in the world 2GB of free cloud storage; if it is hoping that enough people will upgrade to the 50GB paid-for version that it will pay for the freeloaders, I fear it will be disappointed.

My point: overall, there is far more right than wrong with Ubuntu in general and Karmic Koala in particular; and I am still happy to recommend it.

Ubuntu Karmic Koala breaks Squeezeboxserver

I have an Ubuntu server performing various important duties including serving music for Squeezebox. It was humming along with version 9.04 of Ubuntu and the latest Logitech Squeezeboxserver; but a new version of Ubuntu, 9.10 or Karmic Koala, was released today and I hastened to install it.

All went well – aside from a problem with Grub 2 which is related to my slightly unusual setup – except that Squeezebox Server failed after the upgrade completed. When I tried to use aptitude to correct the problem, I saw an error message:

The following packages have unmet dependencies.

squeezeboxserver: Depends: mysql-server-4.1 but it is not installable or

mysql-server-5.0 but it is not going to be installed

Frustrating, particularly as this thread indicates that squeezebox server runs fine with MySQL 5.1, which is installed.

I messed around trying to get apt-get to force the install but it would not play. I therefore downloaded the .deb directly and ran the following command:

dpkg –i –-force-all squeezeboxserver_7.4.1_all.deb

This tells dpkg to install the package come what may. It did so; and everything works fine.

Update: Andy Grundman tells me that the problem is fixed in Squeezebox Server 7.4.2, currently in beta.