Category Archives: Open Source Software

Linux Mint Aims to Take Gnome Beyond MGSE, Planning a New Desktop Environment Called Calls Cinnamon

Nowadays, it is a well known fact that everyone in the Linux world is parting ways with Gnome 3. Even Canonical has preferred Unity to Gnome 3 for the last two Ubuntu releases, believing its users will master the steep learning curve of Unity. Linus Torvalds himself has given up on Gnome 3 and clearly, Gnome 3 is not the desktop environment of the future. To clear this desktop environment confusion and save the world, Clement ClemLefebvre from the Linux Mint project has decided to create a usable Gnome Shell called Cinnamon.

Linux Mint 11 shipped with Gnome 2. However, this time, Linux Mint 12 featured Mint Gnome Shell Extensions (MGSE), which was the first step away from Gnome for Mint. Although MGSE used an underlying layer of Gnome 3, it was skinned heavily with extensions. MGSE was received well as it makes the desktop much more usable.

Clem writes on the Linux Mint forum saying,

I am not going to argue whether Gnome Shell is a good or a bad desktop. It’s just not what we’re looking for. The user experience the Gnome team is trying to create isn’t the one we’re interested in providing to our users. There are core features and components we absolutely need, and because they are not there in Gnome Shell, we had to add them using extensions with MGSE.

Cinnamon is still in alpha stage, but it carries the features that we saw in MGSE. It is based on the Gnome shell 3.2.1 and with Cinnamon, Linux Mint will bring something that competes with modern desktop environments like Unity, without compromising on usability. If everything goes well, Cinnamon will make its first appearance on Linux Mint 13.

XBMC 11.0 “Eden” Beta Appears Just in Time for the Holidays

XBMC is an excellent choice for a media player. It can be setup on your home-theater PC; it has support for a range of remotes and it is free and open source. XBMC was released back in 2003, and it has seen active development over the last eight years. The skinning engine of XBMC is state of the art, and XBMC supports audio files too. Overall, it is the perfect jukebox and home theater software, whether you are music or movie enthusiast.

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The current stable version of XBMC is “Dharma“. XBMC has recently released a beta version of their next major release XBMC 11 codenamed “Eden” for this holiday season. This release is still in testing and will reach the final release in a few months.

This Eden release has sparked a long discussion on the XBMC forum. It seems that Eden still does not have HD audio support, which can be disappointing for audiophiles. However, it is speculated that the next release Frodo has a better chance of including HD audio support.

XBMC is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Apple TV and as a live ISO. You can learn more about XBMC here. If you want to try out XBMC 11.0 Beta 1, links can be found at this download page. Ubuntu users have to use the XBMC Unstable PPA; Windows users can download the file “xbmc-11.0-Eden_beta1.exefrom this directory, iOS users can find upgrade instructions here. However, for live ISO users, there will not be a beta release.

Android Mainlining Project Takes Android Back to the Source

Just in case you didn’t know, Android is built atop the Linux kernel. A few patches here, a few branches there, pepper in some code, and Android was created. Unfortunately a lot of the patches were never sent upstream, this means some of the hard work done by the engineers at Google never made it out of the phones and into desktop or server hardware. The Android Mainlining Project aims to solve this.

Greg Kroah-Hartman, head of the Linux Driver Project, has created a new project with 3 major goals in mind.

  1.  To allow a developer to use the latest released version of the Linux kernel to run an Android system, without requiring patches to their kernel.
  2. To make it possible to develop drivers and board support features against either an Android kernel release or a kernel.org kernel release, with little or no modifications or conditional code.
  3. To reduce or eliminate the burden of maintaining independent patches from release to release for Android kernel developers.

This means all the Android-specific code that was purposely left out of kernel releases, will now be easier to implement and merge with the development branch of the 3.3 kernel. Systems like Android’s  logging, low memory kills  and wakelock power management will be branched-in, allowing for more hardware access to third party boards and systems with memory or power restraints.

In an e-mail to the Embedded Linux Kernel mailing-list, Tim Bird,  Architecture Group Chair, CE Workgroup of the Linux Foundation, states that the project was born after discussion and re-evaluation code from Android. With a current stable kernel of 3.19, mainline at 3.2-rc7, there are only a few dot-releases before the project aims to be completed.

Numerous volunteers have signed up for the project, and many have started to contribute patches and code for smooth integration. Without support from Google and AOSP, it’s highly unlikely that both kernels will ever reach parity, but this is quite an excellent start in order to bridge the gap and create a unified kernel that will benefit all users.

The GPL Family of Licenses Sees a Decline in Adoption

Richard M  Stallman, better known as RMS has been the lone crusader, in the world of Open Source for a long time. He is popular for his remarkable work with the GNU Project, and the GPL family of licenses. Although the GNU Project has failed to release a GNU build on time, but it has given the world a wonderful software  license-  the GPL. GPL is a unique free-software license, because it enforces freedom by ensuring that all software using GPL licenses are open-source themselves.

This sounds good in theory. However, there is a valid counter-argument against GPL. While GPL enforces freedom in essence, it restricts developers from using GPL licensed codes, because they fear losing their source codes to competitors. This steers them to other less restrictive licenses, or even worse, forces them to reinvent the wheel. Maybe GPL needs  to be  this aggressive to survive after all, but this restrictive nature has distanced GPL from the developer, and GPL has started seeing a decline in adoption.

According to a study conducted by The 451 Group,

The figures indicate that not only has the usage of the GNU GPL family of licenses (GPL2+3, LGPL2+3, AGPL) continued to decline since June, but that the decline has accelerated. The GPL family now accounts for about 57% of all open source software, compared to 61% in June.

Google itself uses many GPL licensed software, but does not release the source, because it does not redistribute those software. This makes GPL excellent for in-house development and ensures that the GPL code is only used for internal services, but not for developing commercial services or products.

If this decline in GPL’s share continues, GPL licenses will account for less than 50% of the total share of Open Source projects, a year from now. Perhaps GPL is too ambitious a license, given the fact that GNU itself could not release a build, which was fully GPL. GNU uses X Window System, a large part of which  is released  under the MIT license (less restrictive than GPL). Looking at  the  way the Linux kernel and the GNU Compiler Collection have survived the tides of time, it would be inappropriate to judge GPL based on the current scenario. Nonetheless, GPL adoption is declining and this fact cannot be ignored.

Ubuntu Software Center Adds PayPal Support to Payment Options

For any software center or app marketplace, integrating a payment mechanism involves managing fraud recognition and geographical tax constrains. Once these hurdles are crossed, it is merely a matter of technical integration. Ubuntu Software Center showcases some non-free games like Braid, that are extremely popular on other platforms. However, payment for purchase of paid games and apps has been a long-standing issue, for Ubuntu, because it supported only credit cards.

Following a discussion on AskUbuntu, I arrived at a page  on Ubuntu Brainstorm  a few months ago. It was a discussion on possible payment methods for Ubuntu Software Center with an ongoing voting. After almost six months, during which a tough battle ensued, support for PayPal payments beat third-party payment solutions by a small margin. PayPal support grabbed 127 votes, with bank plugins lagging behind at 120 votes. The idea has finally been implemented, and this brings in support for PayPal Payments in the Ubuntu Software Center, beside the regular Credit Card payment method.

All payments for app purchase are directed through “Ubuntu Pay”, a feature in the Ubuntu Software Center. After Ubuntu integrates  PayPal into the Software Center fully, users will be allowed to choose between Credit Card and PayPal payments before they proceed with the actual payment.

Canonical announced the integration saying,

It’s been a long time in development, but we’re finally drawing close to releasing Paypal support in Ubuntu Pay, the payment service behind Ubuntu Software Centre.  We’re aiming to launch this new feature before Christmas.

Not everyone might welcome this move, give the fact that it brings Ubuntu closer to closed-source and proprietary software. Moreover, PayPal’s shady business practices and steep exchange rates are not  appreciable  either. However, this PayPal integration will let Ubuntu application developers earn from worldwide app-sales in a hassle free way, and will attract new talents and developers to the Ubuntu app ecosystem.

KDE Brings More Eyecandy with Plasma Active 2

For years, KDE has delivered excellence in its Plasma desktop environment. The Plasma project is so big in itself, it has three parts- Plasma Desktop, Plasma Netbook and the new Plasma Active. Plasma Active turned some heads in October this year, when its first version appeared for tablets.

Plasma Active 2 claims that it adapts to the way you use your device. “Activities” in Plasma Active 2 group similar content like apps and contact together, and the “Peek&Launch” bar allows you to switch to another running app. Apparently,  Plasma Active 2  has a recommendation engine that learns usage patters and makes suggestions. Clearly, Plasma Active 2 has been built with care and will be received well by KDE fans.

This YouTube video describes the new features.

Plasma Active is intended for all types of tablets, smartphones and touch computing devices such as settop boxes, smart TVs, home automation or in-vehicle infotainment. Plasma Active is a joint project by the KDE community, basysKom and open-slx. The goals for this open source project are:

  • a fast embedded UX platform with minimal memory requirements
  • customizable and modular to support different form factors
  • an interface that adapts as users change Activities

KDE has suffered a lot because of a shortage of active developers. This resulted in a half-baked release of KDE Software Compilation 4. Plasma Active 2 is a success for the KDE Software Compilation 4, which is struggling hard to mend its damaged reputation.

For download and installation, of Plasma Active 2 on various x86 and ARM based devices,  visit this page.

US Patent and Trademark Office Rejects Oracle’s Patent Related to Android’s Java Infringement

In August last year, Oracle sued Google over its use of Java in Android. Oracle claimed that Google infringed upon Oracle’s Java patents, being fully aware of the infringement. A tough battle ensued, and Oracle and Google are battling it out in the court for one year now, without any results.
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While this battle was ongoing, Java founder James Gosling joined and left Google. The Lindholdm email revealed some important facts and Groklaw has presented  an analysis  of the entire matter. In addition to those events, Google appealed to the Patent and Trademark office (PTO) to re-check Oracle Java patents. The re-examination was favorable for Google, as now, the PTO has rejected some of Oracle’s Java patents.

Google claims  that,

The reexaminations of five of the six patents-in-suit remain ongoing, with roughly two-thirds of the currently asserted claims having been rejected. Eighty percent of the asserted claims as to which the PTO has issued an office action currently stand rejected.

Although Oracle is allowed to claim infringement on the invalidated patents, this rejection complicates the case even further. Google has created an empire and a new business line over Android, and it is not willing to give up so easily. At the same time, Oracle is not ready to let go of the jackpot it can earn from this infringement case.

Most of the patents mentioned in the Google vs. Oracle case are related to codes that improve Java performance in Android’s Dalvik virtual machine. However, the PTO has invalidated a patent that was supposed to expire in 2025, making it the youngest of the lot, and the most profitable one for Oracle. This case is costing Oracle more in monetary (or patent) and reputation damages, and more than it can profit from the infringement claims.

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, Codename Precise Pangolin Releases Its First Alpha

This quarter of the year has been very busy for Ubuntu lovers.  Ubuntu 11.10 was released  a few months ago,  Linux Mint 12  saw its release last month and Distrowatch placed Linux Mint above Ubuntu in popularity ranking. There are two distinct schools of thought on Ubuntu’s new desktop experience. While one believes in adapting to the new Unity desktop, the other just cannot get enough of Gnome.
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In the midst of this geek war, Ubuntu has released  Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 1, only seven weeks into the release cycle. The release is meant to be a sneak-peek into the upcoming LTS release. Extensive work was done in this version, to include Intel’s  Sandy Bridge  support. Do not intend to use it on your regular work machine, but do give it a trial run.

New Features

  • Ubuntu 12.04 includes the new Linux kernel  3.2 instead of the earlier kernel version 3.0. Although this new Linux kernel is a release candidate 3, its final version will be included in the final release of Ubuntu 12.04. The new kernel includes support for Nvidia Fermi chipsets and a brand new  Samsung Exynos DRM driver for ARM devices.
  • The default music player reverted to Rythmbox from Banshee.
  • Changes in software packages include Firefox 9 and Thunderbird 9, both in beta stage.
  • Tomboy is missing from the software collection.

Ubuntu 12.04 will see a final release in April. Until then, you can  download and try Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Alpha 1.

Quick Link:  Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Alpha 1 for Intel x86  [Direct file-download link]

Ambitious Decentralized Projects That Aim to Create a Better Internet

The Internet is an interesting place. It started out as a network intended for file-sharing and has turned into a storehouse of information. It is a dynamic and  profit making industry, and generates enormous revenue. While providing an open platform for free expression, it gives everyone a chance to reach out to thousands of people, at an extremely low cost. This makes the Internet the most powerful media of this age.
network
The Internet is governed by a set of standards, that bind it and prevent it from falling apart. Furthermore, there are services that have an expertise in certain domains (Google in search, Facebook in social networking). These direct and indirect controls limit the capabilities of the Internet and can be a cause of discontent at times. There are a lot of variables in an ideal Internet, but when we rely on these services solely, most of those variables are locked. Once a user gets on the Internet and puts his personal data, everyone wants a piece of the pie.  Both Facebook and Google use out browsing behavior and personal data to serve personalized ads, and it is extremely hard to make oneself tracking-free.  Governments ask for private user data all the time and demand user-generated content to be censored.

This, has brought the need for services that are not under the control of a central authority. Currently, there are three such ongoing projects, and if they succeed, they have a chance of changing the Internet and the world.

Linux Mint 12 with GNOME 3 and MGSE Released

After beta testing for three weeks, the Linux Mint team has released the final stable build of Mint 12 (codenamed Lisa). Mint initially gained popularity thanks to its clever mixture of beauty and productivity. With Lisa, the Mint team is trying to pull off another delicate balancing act. Mint 12 adopts the new GNOME 3 desktop environment, but slaps its own MGSE (Mint Gnome Shell Extensions) layer on top of it to retain the familiarity and power of the GNOME 2 desktop environment.

Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, which uses its own Unity desktop environment that, in some ways, differs radically from the traditional desktop paradigm. Both GNOME 3 and Unity has proved to be controversial as they often break the traditional task based workflow. In fact, the backlash against GNOME 3 and Unity has helped boost Mint’s popularity in a big way. According to Distrowatch, Mint is now the most popular desktop Linux distribution, ahead of Fedora, OpenSUSE, and Ubuntu.

Linux-Mint-12

Lisa also includes MATE, which is a fork of GNOME 2 that is compatible with GNOME 3. However, MATE is still a work in progress and isn’t entirely stable.

Mint 12 features DuckDuckGo, which is my favorite search engine, as the default search provider. The Mint team has decided to exclude search engines with which it couldn’t reach a revenue sharing agreement. However, it has also made installation of additional search engines easier than ever before, in case you are not comfortable with default providers. Other changes to Mint include new artwork and theme.

You can grab Linux Mint 12 from any of the mirrors listed here.