Rich0's Gentoo Blog

Archive for the ‘linux’ Category

First Experiences with the Chrome OS Netbook

leave a comment »

Just got a nice surprise in the mail on Thurs – a CR-48 Google Chrome Netbook! Here are some of my first impressions from it.

I have given Chrome OS a test drive or two over the last year, either in virtual machines or using USB drive packages of it. My impression at that time was that this had some potential, but my experience was fairly marred by the low performance of USB flash or virtual machines, and of course the touted benefits like battery life and fast boot don’t really work out well in that kind of environment.

With the Netbook, those particular features stand out – and they do make a big difference. Granted, perhaps my experience with laptops in general has been marred by my employer’s tendency to load their standard image up with junk, but I’ve never found laptops to be “instant-on” in real life, and they struggle with battery life. With Chrome OS I tend to just let it sleep most of the time and I get real instant-on, and if I do power it down the 10 second boot time is VERY realistic – perhaps even pessimistic. Login time – oh, about two seconds. I haven’t tested the full battery life though others have – in my heavy use in the last few days I haven’t gotten the thing under about 85%.

Since I use Chrome as my day-to-day browser I basically was up and running about two minutes after turning the thing on. This is touted as another benefit of Chrome – any device is basically interchangeable with all the cloud syncing. I could see this being useful for an employer – just have a pool of laptops and let employees grab one and use it, rather than having a 1:1 assignment. Provisioning new units of course would be a snap as well.

Performance of the unit is fine – a few webpages that run slowly in Chrome on my desktops run slow on the netbook, but really I see nothing to complain about here.

So, let’s talk about the downsides to the hardware. I’ve always struggled with trackpads. This one doesn’t have hardware buttons, it is purely gestures, and it has two levels of sensitivity (though I’d appreciate if the hard-press required SLIGHTLY less force). I’ve disabled tap-to-click, as perhaps I’m ham-handed, but I find that I constantly bump it and mess up whatever I am typing. Perhaps some intelligence would help here – ramp down the sensitivity when I’ve just typed 500 consecutive characters with no mouse use (hmm, maybe this is a good use for that send-feedback button). Without a hardware button to hold, click-and-drag is difficult except for very short drags, and that complicates things. Also, I’ve found the right-click and middle-click gestures to be unreliable, sometimes causing navigation I don’t want to happen which of course tends to slow me down and possibly lose work.

Click-and-drag is a problem for me, because of the way I manage email. I am a big Thunderbird user, and I used to use SquirrelMail for those times I needed remote access via the web. I just switched to Roundcube which is a little nicer if you have to live with nothing but web, but that app is short on keyboard shortcuts (sounds like another feature request coming on – n for next would be nice, and a delete shortcut as this thing has no DELETE key). I have been browse over search kind of guy with emails for years, and I’m finding that sorting mail into folders with this netbook is pretty painful. I suspect that I’ll need to change over to more of a search mentality to cut down on my need to browse. Gmail really is a better model for limited UI experiences, and I’m wondering if much of that time I spend micro-managing my email is a value-add.

I’m still on the fence about drinking the cool-aid and switching to Gmail entirely, at least as my primary mail interface (perhaps with an archive being sent to my server for safety). Right now I’m hosting my own email, and I really like not having to deal with quotas/etc, and the security of not having it all out on the cloud. I guess if I want to be really trusting I may be able to just have Gmail be an IMAP client to my server. It would be really nice if I could figure out a way to easily just have an IMAP-only password for my account – I’m sure with a little hacking I could get that working, and my email is backed up daily so not too much could go wrong there.

Right now the number of apps that work offline is fairly limited – mainly just notepads/etc. For the most part I’m using my Cr-48 around the house, which doesn’t make that a big problem. In fact, it is pretty rare for me to be completely without network, and my android phone really covers those kinds of remote situations well already. The Cr-48 does have 3G with Verizon, with 100MB free per month for two years. I’m not sure how much I’d even need to use that, but this really would be all I need for the rare email check on the road.

App selection for Chrome is still pretty limited. I’d really like to see:

  • Offline Email Client
  • NX Client
  • SSH Client (better than the crosh one which works in a pinch)
  • Offline Google Docs (ok, now I’m dreaming)
  • Decent Media Player and File Browsers for external storage

One thing I have found is that you really need to use it for a day or two before passing judgment. Some of the things that drove me craziest passed as I got used to doing things differently. However, I’m still not sure I’m ready to do away with home/end/pgup/pgdown/delete (I never use insert).

I’m sure there will be more to follow. I’d be interested in the impressions of others as well.

Written by rich0

December 18, 2010 at 8:41 am

Posted in chrome, linux

Control Over Application Distribution

leave a comment »

I was giving some thought to something that flameeyes wrote regarding quality control and application distribution, and rather than a condensed comment I thought I’d elaborate a little on my thoughts.

Before reading on, I’d encourage you to read what he wrote, as I think he gets a lot of things right.

However, where I’d like to add something is where we get into providing a complete platform vs providing a particular user experience built on a platform. What is the difference? Well, let’s take android as an easy example.

Android is a platform, which is open source, although developed arguably in a less than open manner. The Google branded phones are a particular user experience built on the Android platform. There is a certain tendency for users to confuse the two, which is what leads to shouts of “foul” when Google does something to their Market.

The Google Market is not part of Android, so in a sense their control over the Market is part of improving the user experience, and doesn’t reflect a lack of openness on the platform.

The problem with this is that if you look at the platform as ONLY being Android, then the platform turns out to be fairly lacking. Android actually has no package distribution and management system at all. That means that absent the Market all you have is some odd 3rd party clones of the market or the ability to do a one-time install of apks from a website/etc, none of which are really filling the need for a package manager.

How do other platforms handle this? Well, let’s look at Ubuntu, which delivers both a platform, and a default user experience built upon it. In their case, the user experience is really nothing more than a particular default configuration of the platform. In Ubuntu (and most popular linux distros, certainly including Gentoo) the package manager is part of the platform – not the experience. The package manager is open source, and while Ubuntu controls access to their repository, they do not control the package manager. If users want to use another repository (or create their own) they need only add a URL to their package manager, and the new repository gets seamlessly merged into the package database – perhaps with even greater priority than Ubuntu’s official repository if so configured.

If Google’s market operated in the same manner, then it would be part of the platform, and the experience is the quality assurance they provide to it. I think we’d see fewer complaints in this case. The problem is that Google does not allow users to configure their market to include apps published from alternate sources, which means that since Android doesn’t provide a package manager that users effectively have no way to address this capability gap.

Then if you look at the fact that many phone distributors disable parts of the platform, such as the ability to install apps via sources other than the market, you compound the issue.

I see the situation with mozilla in the same way. As long as a mozilla product user can install an extension from any number of sources and receive automatic updates of this extension, then I have no issue with mozzila providing a default experience that has a level of QA. If, on the other hand, mozilla designs their products so that you can only install extensions from their site, or only extensions from their site receive automatic updates/etc, then they’re essentially limiting their platform to intentionally constrain users to have a particular experience.

This is a debate that has also raged on the Gentoo mailing lists. Different people have different attitudes towards QA, and as a result we have a plethora of overlays in Gentoo that provide levels of QA that are different from the official policy. This has the downside of fragmenting development work, and the upside of taking advantage of the flexibility of the platform.

What do you think? What is the best way to provide the best of both worlds? How can a platform provide a “just right” level of QA filtering appropriate for every end user?

Written by rich0

July 20, 2010 at 10:57 am

Posted in linux

A Random Btrfs Experience

with 8 comments

After all the buzz about btrfs and Ubuntu I figured I’d try experimenting with it a little. Aside: I think the hype over Ubuntu is a bit overblown – more power to them if they can pull it off but I suspect that it won’t be more than an option in the end.

I’m really looking forward to btrfs maturing enough for everyday use. I’ve been battling with md and lvm for ages and btrfs has a lot of promise. Some of the things I’m looking forward to are:

  • The resizeability and reshapeability of linux md.
  • The ability to create subvolumes as in lvm.
  • The potential performance boost of COW.
  • The snapshot ability and performance as compared to lvm.
  • Full barrier support down to the metal. Right now I can’t do that as md doesn’t support barriers.

So, how did it go?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by rich0

May 16, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Posted in linux