Online Accounts in GNOME settings.

Linux is a never ending work in progress, and sometimes that is noticeable. If you go through the menu of your GNOME installation, say in a standard Ubuntu or Linux Mint installation, you can find under Menu-> Preferences or in the System Settings dialog box something called “Online Accounts”.

Online-accounts

The only thing so far you can fill out there is your Google account. But if you do, chances are that nothing happens afterwards. One could hope that it would install a Google Contacts, Docs, Gmail or YouTube app, or at least give options to do so, but so far, it might work with calenders in Evolution, and chat in Empathy.
It is clear that “Online Accounts” is something for the future, and it waits for developers to make use of it.

The “Online Accounts” option is written by David Zeuthen in the beginning of 2011. As he states in a comment on his blog on April 2011:

In fact, my main motivation for working on this is that I wanted the calendar drop-down to work (which I wrote) with my Google account out of the box … without any magic URLs etc etc

(note: Is he referring to something like this?)

So far nothing really happened with his work, although, a year later, there are some hints of movement: GNOME Contacts, with its new release included in Ubuntu 12.04, apparently uses it, and the very latest Calender Indicator does seem to use it in GNOME-Shell.

But that is all there is. We – end users – just have to be patient to see if more applications show up, and if Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn etc. will be included at some point.

If you are a developer and wonder about it too:  – here is the reference manual.

DuckDuckGo – Search without leaving personal information.

After announcing a partnership in November 2011, DuckDuckGo is the default search engine in Linux Mint 12. The revenue that comes from Mint users clicking on adds will be shared, so, as a Mint user, I willingly had a look at it.

DuckDuckGo_Screenshot
DuckDuckGo – Source: Wikimedia

It is first of all refreshing to see a new model and possibility in the search-field area. Google search is excellent, but not prefect, and since Google is growing its influence rapidly, it is nice to see an alternative.

DuckDuckGo is different because it claims not to track searches, or, as a consequence, not to adapt search results to the user. They explained these two concepts rather convincingly on those two pages:

http://donttrack.us/

http://dontbubble.us/

It takes a little time to get used to DuckDuckGo, with its main strongpoint the “!bang” syntax. This is a kind of shortcut to another page and can be pretty convenient. Especially to get away from DuckDuckGo. The search “Linux” will give you the best results DuckDuckGo could find on the internet, “!g Linux” will lead you straight to Google, showing the results Google found.

Since DuckDuckGo is not a finished project yet, users of this search engine will often use these !bang shortcuts to get good results. DuckDuckGo can’t show a image- or videosearch result for example, and their map functions, which is working well and is useful in Google, is almost non existing. “!n”, which stands for “news”, also goes straight to Google News.
(Side note: The same kind of “!Bang” shortcut can also be made for the Firefox-addressbar when using the right mouse-click “Add a Keyword for this Search” in a search field of a page).

DuckDuckGo hardly produces its own search results, but its merely using the results of other search engines, like Google, Bing, Yahoo an many (>50) more sites.

It then tries to put those results in the order it thinks is most relevant, but this isn’t always a success. DuckDuckGo also states that “there is usually a vertical search engine out there that does a better job at answering it than a general search engine. Our long-term goal is to get you information from that best source, ideally in instant answer form.”

Those “instant answer forms” are indeed quite nice, and often work well. This is a little info box at the top of the search results, giving links and information to searches it is sure to know the answer of.  However, such a box appears when I search “Linux” or even “GoHome” (a search company from Zagreb), but not when I type “Linux Mint” (though it shows up, in between other results, when searching for “Mint”).

Conclusion:

DuckDuckGo‘s strongpoint, which is arguably its only strongpoint, is the fact that it doesn’t track search result.
The results are usable for simple queries like finding a homepage, but it is by no means near the results and possibilities Google offers. I have now used it for a while, but at this present point of development, I think one has to be an ideologist, or someone very concerned with privacy, to keep using it.

It is nice to try something different and, in my case, the revenue from advertisement clicks will be shared with Linux Mint. Though as I only click on advertisements I am truly interested in, I have yet to click my first.

Running Linux from a USB key – Lubuntu

In order to be able to use Linux on a computer I have to use, I had a look at running a full operating system from a USB key.

After duckduckgo’ing it I quickly came to pendrivelinux.com, which describes various ways of doing this. It is easy to run Linux from any live-cd of course, but this means that no updates, downloads or saved files will be saved after logging out. If you want that, then it needs to be a so-called “persistent live USB”.

Through the pendrivelinux.com site I found various ways of creating such a USB. Among other things I realized that Ubuntu and Mint already offer a program to create a persistent live Ubuntu or Mint USB. This is called the “Startup Disk Creator” and can be found under the “administration” section of the menu. It works pretty straightforward, as explained on, for example, this site.

A full Linux Mint 12, installed this way, did work on the 4 GB USB key I had, however, there was not enough room for all the updates available. So I went looking for something smaller.

Puppy linux 5.3.0 Slacko - Source: Wikipedia

Puppy linux 5.3.0 Slacko – Source: Wikipedia

By using UNetbootin I managed to put Damn Small Linux and later Puppy Linux on the USB key. They both worked fine, but Damn Small Linux seemed to be rather outdated (and not too good-looking in my opinion) and I couldn’t find out how to connect it to WiFi. Puppy Linux looked much better and provided a nice interface for connecting to WiFi, but after trying all the solutions offered, I did not succeed either in connecting it.

Ubuntu has the same “Startup Disk Creator” as Linux Mint, and also has more variations of the main Ubuntu distribution. I searched for the smallest of them, in the hope that it might fit, including updates, inside the 4 GB. This seemed to be Lubuntu, that uses the LXDE desktop environment.

Lubuntu 11.10 - Source: Wikipedia

Lubuntu 11.10 – Source: Wikipedia

Installing Lubuntu via the Startup Disk Creator in Ubuntu and running all the updates didn’t work the first time, but moving the slider of the Startup Disk Creator to 2GB (under the option “stored in reserved extra space”) gave apparently enough room for it all.

I now have Lubuntu running fine from my USB key, including all updates, with a persistent file system. The only thing that didn’t not work, was updating the Kernel, but I reckoned that I can live with that. I suppose it will be included in the next Lubuntu version.

I have to see what Lubuntu, installed on this 4 GB USB key can do. So far I like it, and today I could easily surf, write, mail and edit/save pictures with it.

 

Behind the scenes of Linux Mint

Who is actually making Linux Mint, how do they do it and where do they get their money from?

These where some of the questions I asked myself as a new user of Linux Mint. The answers might give some hints about the future and reliability of Mint. 

The Beginning

The domain name linuxmint.com was bought in 2006 by Clément Lefebvre. Clément, a Frenchman, had studied Computer Sciences in Paris and got a Masters Degree in IT. After his studies he worked for different companies and wrote for linuxforums.org (the articles are still available). He started publishing his articles and reviews on this own new site linuxmint.com and gathered a lot of ideas while researching and writing about Linux distributions. It inspired him to try to make one of his own distribution. As a base he used Ubuntu, as he considered it to be more user-friendly than Debian. On the 27th. of august 2006 he released his first product, Linux Mint 1.0, named “Ada”. This version never got really stable, but the next version, 2.0, named “Barbara”, caught attention and quickly got users who started to create a Linux Mint community. With the release of “Bea” in December, and “Bianca” in February, Linux Mint developed its own style and additions to the Ubuntu releases.

Linux Mint 2.2 Bianca (febr. 2007) - Source: Wikimedia

Linux Mint 2.2 Bianca (febr. 2007) – Source: Wikimedia

The Community

Clement Lefebvre, who moved to Ireland and lives there with his family, was keen on listening to the newly formed community, who got a voice on the Linux Mint Forums and a blog in 2007 to comment on news. New ideas where written down, bugs where discovered, patches proposed, improvements written, so people started helping out many different ways. Some people accepted the responsibility to take care of maintaining the different editions, some became testers or forum moderators.

At the present day there is a development team, a bug squad, a community moderation team and so on. Wikipedia names the following people as being part of the development team:

  • Clement Lefebvre – Founder, project leader, developer and maintainer of the Main, Universal and x64 editions
  • Don Cosner – Release manager and internal tester
  • Jamie Boo Birse – Maintainer of the KDE edition
  • merlwiz79 – Maintainer of the Xfce edition
  • Shane Joe Lazar – Maintainer of the Fluxbox edition (for versions 5 and 6 of Mint)
  • Kendall Weaver – Maintainer of the Fluxbox and LXDE editions (version 8 )

On linuxmint.com there is a page that lists the current teams and its  members.

Around the release of Linux Mint 10 “Julia” (Nov. 2011), a community site was published. This gives members more possibilities to interact with the technical aspects and development of Mint, as opposed to the more social role that the forums have.

Bugs, new ideas and translations can be reported to different launchpad pages, and art-work has gotten its own domain under linuxmint-art.org. Code can be found at github.com.

As mentioned before on this blog, Linux Mint also has a podcast, called Mintcast – “the podcast by the Linux Mint community for all users of Linux”.
In episode 54, the MintCast team had an interview (starting at 14:50 min.) with Jamie Boo Birse, the KDE edition maintainer living in Australia. This interview gives an excellent view upon the way some people contribute to Linux Mint.

Linux Mint 12 Lisa - (2012) Source: Wikimedia

Linux Mint 12 Lisa – (2012) Source: Wikimedia

The Money

Linux Mint gets its money from advertising on its sites, donations, partnership and sponsoring.

In a 2008 interview with distrowatch.com, Clement Lefebvre said that Mint hardly makes any money from supporting clients, as he wants to concentrate on developing Linux Mint. He did however mention a company created by him and ideas about future plans in another interview from 2008 on linuxmintusers.de, but seems to be more clear about his policy of letting development come before support in this interview from  June 2009 on tech-no-media.com.

So the above mentioned means of getting money are important. Donations can be made on this page, and are published on the blog. According to a blogpost, they received $7632.31from donations, and $1542.78 from sponsors in the month of November 2011. This brought about the following comment in the post:

“The donations we received this month were simply amazing. This is an all-time high since the creation of the project and the support we’ve been getting from the community during this release has been fantastic. The figures speak for themselves, $9,175 in total, 335 people offering help via donations, 150 sponsors, and this is just the visible tip of the iceberg, the tangible financial support! We’re also receiving patches, suggestions, ideas, bug fixes, and help in so many other ways. The IRC and forums are booming with people helping each others. There’s a lot to be proud of when you’re part of such a community. Many thanks for your support and to everyone out there in the community who help make Linux Mint better.”

A list of sponsors can be found here, and partners and vendors are listed here. Most partners are important for their offering of web-hosting, dedicated servers and bandwidth.

Since 2009 Clement Lefebvre could afford to work full-time on Linux Mint. According to his own words, about 10% of this time goes to the actual coding.

In January 2012 Linux Mint announced a partnership with Blue Systems, which included a cooperation with Netrunner, a KDE/GNU Linux distribution. This allowed Linux Mint to attract a second full-time developer for the whole year of 2012.

The Future

Although it is very hard to measure, if not impossible, it seems clear that Linux Mint is growing rapidly in number of users at the moment. Linux Mint is probably in the top 3 of the most used flavors of Linux and seems more vital than ever. This means that some form of reorganizing might be necessary.
In a long and recommendable interview with MintCast from January 2011, Clement Lefebvre expresses (around 1h.02 min. in the episode) his worries about having “too many users” for the number of developers working on Linux Mint. This number of users certainly has increased considerable since, but with the current success, the possibilities for funding and other help must have increased as well.

 

Sources:

http://www.linuxmint.com/

http://blog.linuxmint.com/

http://www.mintcast.org/

MintCast » Episode 50: Interview with Clem Lefebvre January 2011.

MintCast » Episode 54: Jamie Interview March 2011

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux_Mint

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Interview-Clement-Lefebvre-Linux-Mint-52754.shtml April 2007

http://www.fsdaily.com/Community/Interview_Clement_Lefebvre_of_Linux_Mint_by_Tony_Mobily-1/ Sept. 2007

http://www.linuxmintusers.de/index.php?topic=177.0 March 2008

http://www.tech-no-media.com/2009/06/interview-with-clem-from-linux-mint.html June 2009

http://distrowatch.com/weekly.php?issue=20100222 February 2010

http://www.com-sl.org/entrevista-a-clement-lefebvre-por-tuxinfo.html June 2011

 

A brief history of Free Software, Open Source and Linux.

When you set out to try to understand the Linux, Free Software and Open Source world, you are quickly hit by a feeling of being lost in a jungle. It is hard to know where to start, and what to concentrate on. This, I found out, is actually not surprising.

As far as I can tell now, there is actually no real ruling body, no world leader or company that truly controls what is happening.

There are communities though that try to protect, promote, gather and organize the works and efforts of people in their area of interest. Like there is the Linux Foundation, the Open Source Initiativ  and the Free Software Foundation.

200px-Kernel_Layout.svg_

Source: Wikipedia user Bobbo

And of course there are the people who created the Free Software, Open Source or Linux movement and the initial software itself. Therefore they can be seen as key-persons for finding structure in the jungle. There is for example Richard Stallman, the pioneer who started to create his own Free Software version of the UNIX system he was working with in the 1980ties, and evolved it into the GNU project with all its Free Software programs and its philosophy behind it. At one point he was only one vital part away from creating his own operation system, namely the program that communicates between the hardware and the programs that you want to run on your computer. That program is called the kernel.

At that time there was a person in Finland who set out to create a computer resembling the one he was using at the university, and who created a kernel to make this possible. As soon as he got that working, he looked around to see which programs he could use with his kernel, and found all the GNU programs readily available. That person is Linus Torvalds, who, unaware of the future of his work, playfully called it Linux – Linus’ own version of UNIX.

He adopted the philosophy of Richard Stallman’s GNU project and made his new Linux software freely available to the world.

So, the result is that everybody who wants can use, modify, sell, give away or whatever they want, the GNU- and Linux software. They just have to follow the licenses (for example this one) that follow with it, that basically prevent people from turning the software into a closed project with no access to the source or possibilities to share it. You may sell Free Software if you can, but you are not allowed to prevent your costumers to copy it, give it away, change it or whatever.

That’s where this jungle feeling comes in again. There are many versions of Linux, just because there is nothing preventing people from making their own version. Just as, basically, everybody can clone an OpenSource or FreeSoftware program and adapt it to their needs.

 
The UNIX family - source: Wikipedia

The UNIX family – source: Wikipedia

Eric Steven Raymond wrote a book (a first version was published in 1997), called “The Cathedral and the Bazaar“, where he tries to explain why we might have this jungle feeling. He compares the traditional way of building and leading a company or product with a cathedral, where there is a leader at the top, and from there the hierarchy spreads out all the way to the base of the church. The Open Source, Free Software and Linux world however, is compared with a Bazaar, where people are free to choose, contribute, negotiate, complain, refuse or offer their products. It is a horizontal structure, hard to create an overview of, where many people are active and create the Bazaar itself.

Even the core product of Linux, the kernel, is at the moment being developed by more than a thousand developers, some independent, some working for companies like Nokia, Google, Corel, who all together produce improvements practically every day. And they all make it available to the people at the bazaar.  The Linux Foundation published an interesting, and easy readable PDF-article about it.

The Open Source movement is derived from the Free Software movement, and was founded in 1983. The two movements share a lot, but the name “Open Source” was thought to be more clear than Free Software. That soon became the name for software that is free as in Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation, but Open Source software is less rigid in its political philosophy behind it.

If you want to learn more, or see and hear the people involved, the movie Revolution OS is a good start.

 

Mintcast – a podcast – not just about Linux Mint

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Edit Jan. 21. 2012: Thank you MintCast team, for a very nice and sympathetic mention of this post and my email (at 1.13:36) in MintCast episode 98!
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mintheadphonesleaves

One of my favourite podcasts is MintCast, a podcast about Linux Mint. Or, more precise, as they say themselves: “A podcast by the Linux Mint community for all users of Linux”. Most topics are indeed about Linux in general, or even about other Linux flavours.The latest podcast (as I write this – episode 97) is for example titled: “Which Linux is right for you?”

It is another weekly talk show, like there are a few around in the Linux world. MintCast is different because they have a young host and some less younger hosts, who all have different backgrounds, providing a nice mixture of opinions. I think it is fair to say that the hosts are ” slightly above average Linux-users” and not Super-geeks, so they use an easy to follow language and explain things if they don’t. Their reasoning in the discussions is one of the strong points of the current three hosts. They manage to look at subjects from different angles, and as a team, they don’t jump to conclusions.

In episode 96 they announced that they are working on live-streaming their show, making it possible for listeners to react, and possibly interact, while the show is being recorded. This might start from episode 100 onwards.

MintCast on the internet.

The appearance of MintCast on the internet is a bit scattered, and possible confusing. It can be found on Google+, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook (where it seems to be sporadically updated), an IRC-channel (irc.spotchat.org – #mintcast – which seems to be uninhabited most of the time), the Linux Mint forums and it has its own webpage, which merely lists their podcasts with shownotes. In the sidebar of mintcast.org you can find ways of subscribing to the podcasts, and links to others sites with information.

With live-streaming there might be blown some new life into some of these channels.