August 26, 2013

Why GNU/Linux distros are still not rivals for Windows and OSX on desktops

Some time ago I wrote a post about my job where also said that GNU/Linux distros are still not rivals for MS Windows and Apple MacOS X on desktops. One thing should be mentioned here: this is true if we speak only about usability and not "ideology". It is time to answer for my words. So, let's speak about this.

At the beginning I had plans to write one document, but later I understood that this document will be very big and I will write it very long time (having regard my current load). So I decided to write a several posts on this theme. This is the first post from the series. In this post I will concentrate on shortcomings of current GNU/Linux distros, in the second post I will try to write what should be done, to create a really usable GNU/Linux distro which can be a rival for proprietary systems.

1. “Usability" vs "user friendly"

First of all let's agree what do we understand under the "usability" word. This is very important to understand, because everything which I will say later will be based on this definition.

If we will look at Wikipedia we will see the next definition: "Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object". The central point in this phrase "ease of use". Unfortunately, many people do not really understand what does it mean. They are thinking that "ease of use" phrase is an analog of a phrase "user friendly". And of course any user thinks that the "user" in "user friendly" phrase is he. And there is the root of the problem. In fact these phrases are not equal.

Let me explain this. Some time ago, when we were working on Mandriva 2011 we have lost many our users because of simple thing: in beta version of the our OS we removed an item - "Create text file" from the context menu of Dolphin file manager. I do not want to discuss about necessity of this item here (we will return to this fact later) just take into account, that millions of users of MacOS X even do not know that it can be a problem. Do you really think that an item "Create text file" in file manager's context menu is part of "usability" having regard the fact above? No, this is just matter of habit.

This is a difference between "user friendly" and "usability": "user friendly" it is always "personal" characteristic (how operating system is satisfies to the your requirements) when "usability" is a common word which means how easy people can use an operating system. Please look at this difference. If you will look at it carefully you will see an obvious corollary: having regard the fact that we have several billions of users it is practically impossible to create an "user friendly" operating system for all of them (maximum that you can do here - to make an OS for some group of people, for example - for system administrators), but we can create an "usable" operating system (operating system which all of them could use).

Moreover, "usability" encloses not only UI of operating system but hardware support, applications, etc. So, this is a complex definition.

2. The most beautiful opportunity and the biggest problem of Free Software

Now that we are know what difference between "usability" and "user friendly" in case operating systems, let's speak about free software. The most cool thing in free software is freedom. Freedom of choice. Do you want to use Emacs? No? OK you can use Vim. If you do not want to use Emacs and Vim you can use Geany, for instance. But even if you do not want to use all of them, you can use any other text editor at your choice. This is normal situation for any operating systems. But only free software allows you to do one thing that is not allowed for proprietary software: you can use your version of Emacs, Vim, Geany, etc. You can do a fork or can patch the code of software which you want to use, rebuild a package and use it, without any claims from third-side. It is beautiful. Isn't?

Apparently, yes. Unfortunately this is only the obverse the medal. The reverse of the medal is segmentation of a market. The more popularity of a product - the more risk of segmentation. To avoid this, developers of many products are trying to take into account all wishes of their users. Some teams do this  intelligently, some teams not. A good example of a team of the first type - GNOME Team, a good example of a team of the second type - KDE Team.

As a result of this politic of KDE Team I can cite one very significant example: some time ago (in 2010) we had experiment in Russian schools - we tried to migrate all schools in one very big Russian town (more than million of people) to a distro based on Plasma Desktop (KDE). The project had to be abandoned because students and teachers were confused by its various settings.

Btw, that is why simplification of Plasma Desktop was the first thing which we did in Mandriva 2011.

3. Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility...

There is one difference between MS Windows and Mac OS X and (practically) all GNU/Linux distros - first two are trying to be "usable" but GNU/Linux distros are trying to be "user friendly". Yes, they trying to be "flexible". 

Just look at Fedora, for instance. What will you see? Many desktop environments and window managers: Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE, Mate, etc and many more stuff. Most of them are incompatible to each other, so to install an application I should be sure that this application will be compatible with my DE. Otherwise it can be very hard (or practically impossible) to unify this application with DE. For example, just try to unify Empathy and KMail or Nautilus and Nepomuk. We have many applications, but most of them live their own live, thus, sometimes is very hard to find a really qualitative application.

But even if you will find it is not a guarantee that you will be able to use it. Following the "user friendly" ideology many GNU applications have become very flexible. And this is has become a real problem for users and developers. For example, look at Chromium Browser - it does not use native GTK+/KDE window decorations. Do you know why? The answer from developers:

"That's because there are many different window decorators in Linux and it's impossible to implement tabs-in-window-title working everywhere, so we are using our own decorations."

Another example: try to use hotkeys in Eclipse in any GNU/Linux distro with, for example, Russian keyboard encoding - you won't be able to do this without touching the code. This is never happens in Windows or Mac OS X.

4. Flexibility everywhere

Another problem of flexibility is low quality of localization for many free applications. It does not matter for English speakers (or for people, who can use en_US localization for their desktops), but for many other people it is still a very big problem. To create some good localization for your application you should have a strong team of native speakers for a language on which you want to localize your application, because only this can guarantee more or less normal localization. Apparently, only very popular applications/teams can have this privilege, other are trying to work with practically everyone, who trying to help them. Unfortunately, very often these are people (students as a rule) who even do not know basic localization rules.

The worst part of this is that many applications have only partially localized interface. For example, 30% or 50%. From the quality side, partially localized interface - it is even worse than if you had no this localization at all. Unfortunately this is not a common practice in free software - to have a strong quality rules for localization teams. I know only the one team who does that - Mozilla.

Finally we still have many problems with hardware and accessibility of laptops/desktops with pre-installed GNU/Linix distros. It is practically impossible to find a good laptop without pre-installed operating system from Microsoft or Apple. So you have to pay a “Microsoft tax”. And even you will pay it, it is not guarantee that your GNU/Linux distro will work on your hardware. That is because of lack of users base. Only Ubuntu can boast of more or less good users base (~12-15 millions of users), any other distro even can’t dream about this. For example, OpenSuse has ~400 thousand of users

5. Community

But even if you will have a big community it will not guarantee that you will have a profit from it. Money? Yes, money. Here are should no be illusions: every developer and every commercial company should have enough money to do their work and later. This is a very big problem for companies/developers who are trying to work by free software model - in fact we have practically insolvent community (please don’t forget our theme - we speak only about desktops/laptops). Most people in this community are just "freebie lovers”. You will understand this if you will recall the example which is cited before. Can you show me at least 1 user who abandoned MS Windows or Apple Mac OS X because of an item in menu? It is practically impossible even to imagine, but in GNU/Linux world it is reality. Why? Because of freebie. If you do not like some distro and do not want to use it you can use another, another, another, another and so more than 300 times. So to attract attention of users, developers, as I already said, are trying to be “flexible”. This is really strange: to attract attention of users, you should do something that will satisfy them, but if you will be too flexible this can kill you.

6. The way we should go

There are many things to do. I will write about this in a next post. Stay tuned. :)


July 11, 2013

Long time no post. News from the front.

I have no posted to the my blog for several months. It is time to write something, all the more I have several important (as minimum for me :)) news. 

First of all, I should say here, that I do not plan to write special news about ROSA and OpenMandriva anymore, just because I do not work at ROSA already more than a month. Yes, I changed my job. Now I work at Mirantis and as a development manager in the Murano project.

Second, I worked with free software more than 10 years and ... got tired of it. No, no I do not mean that I will not work on free software anymore (btw, Murano is a free software), but I definitely need a 'vacation' from it. Thus, now my main laptop is - MacBook Pro 15 (retina) with MacOS X 10.8 on the board. 
My new working place
To be honest, I'm happy with this. Everything just works. Unfortunately and I can say this freely now: if we will speak about usability (and not ideology) GNU/Linux distros are still not rivals for the MacOS X and Microsoft Windows on desktops and laptops.

More than 20 years of development and any free distro can't be the rival of the proprietary operating systems? Unfortunately not. Even Ubuntu and ROSA. Why? I have plans to write an other post about this. Stay tuned. :)




March 21, 2013

rosa-devel@ mailing list is opened for all

As many of our users know, rosa-devel@ is the main mailing list for ROSA developers. This channel was opened for all, but history of the channel was accessible only for subscribers, and subscriptions were pre-moderated. Some time ago this was necessary, but now we want to interest more developers to develop ROSA or for/on ROSA. 

Thus, today we opened rosa-devel@ for all users. You can read the history of the channel and  subscribe to it without pre-moderation. 

If you want to develop ROSA, or create an application for ROSA, or create any distro on the base of ROSA platform, you, probably, will be interested in the subscription to this mailing list. 


Please, read the our mailing lists policy before subscription. 

---
P.S For Russian developers:

Обращаю особое внимание русскоязычных разработчиков на то, что общение в списке рассылки rosa-devel@ с некоторого времени осуществляется только на английском языке. Пожалуйста, не пишите в список рассылки на русском! Если у вас проблемы с английским языком, пользуйтесь online-переводчиками.



February 12, 2013

ROSA Desktop Fresh 2012 GNOME final

Today I'm glad to announce the final version of ROSA Desktop Fresh 2012 GNOME (based on ROSA 2012.1 platform). This distro is intended for people who love GNOME 3 and want to use on the ROSA platform. What's new since beta release


Pic. 1: ROSA Desktop Fresh 2012 GNOME, Plymouth theme


Pic. 3ROSA Desktop Fresh 2012 GNOME


First of all, we decided (yes, again) to change name to ROSA Desktop Fresh 2012 GNOME in order not to confuse our users.  Also we fixed many bugs and made several improvements.

Fixed bugs:

  • Fixed bug with autologin in GDM (Bug #1479). Now you can use samba shares directly after installation. 
  • Fixed bug with Cheese (Bug #1385). 
  • Fixed bug with crashing gnome-documents at start (Bug #1419).
  • Fixed bug with crashing Orca at start. 
  • Fixed bug with crashing GDM when you use fingerprint for login.
  • Fixed bug with the sleep mode (when laptop going to 'sleep' 2 times if you close the lid). 
  • Added gtk3-modules package to work GNOME applications with the printer system.
  • Fontconfig was rebuilt with patches from Ubuntu for better fonts smoothing.
  • Removed printer setup module from gnome-control-center (Bug #1421) because it do not work with samba printers. For configuring printers we suggest system-config-samba application. 

Improvements:

  • Updated icons theme. 
  • Updated white (Elementary) theme for GNOME Shell, fixed many bugs in it. 
  • Added Seahorse and Transmission applications. 
Pic. 4: ROSA Desktop Fresh 2012 GNOME, applications 


Due to the huge number of requests of our users we created i586 image, but we tested it not as carefully as x86_64 image. Thus, we recommend to use x86_64 image, but if you want to use i586 image, you can do this now.  

Basesystem 

  • Kernel - 3.6.10 
  • Systemd 194
  • dracut 0.24 
  • GCC 4.7.3 
  • Pulseaudio 2.x 
  • Grub2 
  • rpm-5.4.10

Applications

  • GNOME 3.6.2;
  • Chromium Browser 24;
  • Evolution as email client;
  • LibreOffice 3.6; 
  • ROSA Media Player 1.5 as video player;
  • Audacious as audio player;
  • Transmission as a bit-torrent client;

Minimum system requirements: 

  • a PC with CPU Pentium 4 or higher; 
  • 1 GB RAM (2 GB and more is recommended); 
  • modern VGA video adapter with OpengGL support and display supporting 1024x768 resolution, 24-bit color depth; 
  • DVD drive or SSD of at least 4 GB in size for installation; 
  • minimum 15 GB of hard drive free space; 
  • keyboard and mouse.

Pic.5ROSA Desktop Fresh 2012 GNOME Shell

How to write ISO image file to a USB flash drive:

1. Windows and ROSA users can write the ISO image to USB using the ROSA Image Writer program; 

Linux users can burn the ISO image by means of 'dd' command: 
dd if=ROSA.iso of=/dev/sdb bs=1MB 
(where /dev/sdb is a device corresponding to your USB drive).


Download

You can download ROSA Desktop Fresh 2012 GNOME from here (mirror is here). PLEASEspend 5 minutes to read errata page before you will start installation

Submit all bugs (if you will find any) to our bugzilla, component: GNOME Edition, or to rosa-devel@ mailing list. 

Enjoy!


January 18, 2013

ROSA theme for the Chromium/Google Chrome


As you probably know, that Chromium/Google Chrome uses its own graphic theme for window decorations, toolbar, tabbar and scrollbars. And even if you will enable option "Use GTK theme" in the settings it will have several differences with the native theme. 

It looks not very good (even if you use a native windows decorations), so we tried to change this. 

Pic.1: Chromium before


First of all, we updated our GTK theme and added special block to it for work with Chromium. Now it looks much better.

Pic.2: Chromium with ROSA Theme

Unfortunately there is no way to change the tabbar look, but we tried to change scrollbars. And it seems we found a way how to do this. To change the look of the scrollbars for Chromium/Chrome you need to install this extension

After you will install it, restart the browser. The result should look like this: 

Pic.3: Chromium new look
Enjoy!


January 15, 2013

ROSA Desktop 2012 GNOME Edition Beta


Today I'm glad to announce a new development version of ROSA GNOME Editon - ROSA Desktop 2012 GNOME Edition Beta. ROSA Desktop 2012 GNOME Edition is fully community edition distro, that is not  officially supported by ROSA. This distro is intended for people who love GNOME 3 and want to use it instead of official desktop based on Plasma Desktop.

I already hear the question:  Whaaat?! Why 2012 when we have 2013 outside the window?!

Well, this is normal. Our distro is builded on the ROSA 2012.1 platform that is used for ROSA Desktop.Fresh 2012. But because ROSA Desktop 2012.1 later was named as ROSA Desktop.Fresh 2012 we decided do not break a logical connection for the our distros and solved to give name for the new distro ROSA Desktop 2012 GNOME (but because we use the same grub package as in official distro, after installation you will see "ROSA Desktop.Fresh" menu item in grub). The previous release was named as ROSA Marathon 2012 GNOME. I hope all this naming will not confuse our users. Anyway, we will be glad to see your comments about this.

Pic.1: ROSA Desktop 2012 GNOME Beta

Features:

  • Only 64-bit image will be available since this release. 
  • System components are the same as in ROSA Desktop.Fresh 2012;
  • GNOME 3.6;
  • ROSA Media Player as video player;
  • Audacious as audio player;
  • Chromium Browser as default browser for the Internet;
  • Evolution as email client;
  • ROSA icons (adopted for GNOME 3!);
  • GNOME Tweak Tool included by default;
  • Fixed bug https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=643111 

Pic.2: ROSA Desktop 2012 GNOME, applications

Known bugs:

  • Sharing files through SAMBA requires manual configuration of "net usershare" function before using (just add your user to the group users, to do this, run in console under root: gpasswd -a [your_user_name] users);
  • gnome-documents works unstable with the Google Docs (Drive); 
You can download ROSA Desktop 2012 GNOME from here.

Next release will be a final release and we plan to do this no later that the end of January. So, please, help us to test this beta version! Submit all bugs (if you will find any) to our bugzilla, component: GNOME Edition, or to rosa-devel@ mailing list. 

Enjoy!


December 20, 2012

ROSA Desktop.Fresh 2012 in round figures

As many of you probably know, ROSA Desktop.Fresh 2012 (aka 2012.1) already out (if not, you can read this post).

Development process for the new release was really short - only seven months have passed since the previous release - ROSA Marathon 2012.

It has become a good tradition to put some "news from the front" after release, so, here is some interesting statistic information about this release:
  • since first alpha (including it), we made 5 releases (alpha1, alpha2, beta, RC, release);
  • More than 50 developers from 15 towns and 7 countries (Russia, Ukraine, USA, Brazil, Italy, Romania, Germany);
  • More than 70 testers;
  • solved more than 700 issues; 
  • our testers downloaded more than 2 TB of data while tested new images;
  • more than 700 iso-images for testing have been builded (not all of them were in public access); 
  • more than 8500 messages have been sent by developers in different mailing lists;
  • our developers wrote more than 62 000 lines of new code (not including many patches!);
  • more than 7300 cups of tea and coffee have been drunk by our workers while we prepared our new distros;
  • more than 21 700 packages in the repositories;
  • more than 15 big changes/new functions in the new release.
I hope you will like ROSA Desktop.Fresh 2012.  

Enjoy! :)