Some Quick Hits: openSUSE Strategy, WordPress Upgrades, and Some Pointers

It’s summer in Milwaukee, and I haven’t been spending too much time in front of a keyboard lately. You’re surprised?

Anyway, I do have a lot of things on my mind, and here are some of them:

  • openSUSE Strategy Vote: This is directed at the 267 formal Members of the openSUSE Community who have not yet voted on the proposed strategy document: As I write this, you’ve got less than 24 hours to cast your ballot.  The proposal has a 90% approval rating right now (and I voted Yes, if you care what I think); but unless at least 35 more members vote, bumping turnout over 50%, the strategy won’t be adopted! The statement doesn’t take long to read, you can vote No, or even abstain if you like, but please make your voice heard!
  • WordPress v3.2: In the offhand chance you haven’t heard: WordPress released v3.2 (aka Gershwin) over a week ago! There’s even been an update already! Much more to say about this soon, but goodness knows if you haven’t upgraded yet, what are you waiting for?
  • Some Personal History: If you’ve read my About page, or checked out my main website, you know that I’m a technical writer by profession. I wrote a brief account of my “Adventures in Publishing: Finding a Gig as a Computer-Book Author” for the webzine associated with the venerable Technical Writing mailing list (TechWr-L). You may find it interesting.
  • Getting Yet More Social: You may have heard about this new little social network called Google+. It’s really been flying under the radar, don’t you think? I’ve been playing around there this week. If you’re there, connect with me here. If you’re not there, and are anxious to learn more, my Invite button is still showing. Drop a line with your name and email address to gplus-at-michaelmccallister.com. I’ll see what I can do.
That’s all for now. Expect to be hearing more from me on these and other riveting topics as the summer presses onward.

The Future of openSUSE: Looks pretty bright to me

SuSE logo

Image via Wikipedia

I’ll be the first to tell you I am close to clueless about business trends. Anyone who’s ever read my reaction to the Novell-Microsoft agreement can figure that out pretty quickly. That said, it’s been a week since Attachmate “agreed to acquire” (amazing phrase, that) Novell, the parent company of the SUSE Linux products, and unquestionably a major sponsor of the openSUSE community.

Since then, there’s been a fair amount of activity among the openSUSE faithful:

  • The community board released this statement declaring (among other things) that “it’s business as usual and we are continuing to work on, rather than predicting, the future of this project and have a lot of fun!
  • Last Saturday was Zombie Bug Squashing Day, where 10-15 volunteers combed through bugs for v10.2, 10.3 and 11.0 still marked Open in the Bugzilla database, and disposed of something close to half of them, as reported to the opensuse-project mailing list. This project may continue soon.
  • Both the openFATE feature request process and the openSUSE News page are becoming a bit more professional, with the help of still more volunteers.
  • And maybe I’m a little too excited about this, but Greg Kroah-Hartman announced on Tuesday the beginning of a new “Tumbleweeds” project. Greg describes it like this:

    a repo that is a rolling updated version of openSUSE containing the latest “stable” versions of packages for people to use.

    I’d describe it like this: An “in-between” version of openSUSE that offers packages that are a little bit more current than the most recent release, but not as buggy as the cutting-edge Factory repository. For those of us who like stability, but don’t want to miss out on the latest.

So what does this have to do with the Attachmate-Novell hookup? It tells me that regardless of what happens at the corporate level, there is energy in our community. There’s reason to believe that energy can sustain this distribution for a long time.

Got any thoughts about the future of openSUSE, and other community distributions with a major corporate sponsor? Add a comment here.

Truly “Adventures with Geeko”

Had a great time with the Madison Linux User Group Saturday. About a dozen folks skipped the second half of the Badger game (and a really nice fall day), and joined us at ITT Technical Institute for my Introduction to openSUSE presentation.

As most folks there use Ubuntu, I focused on the things that make openSUSE stand out, which was mainly YaST (the installer and system administration tool). I also spent a great deal of time showing off KDE SC 4.5—actually more time than I wanted to, as I managed to hang up my system!

A backup laptop appeared (thanks, Doug!) to permit a brief demo of the openSUSE Build Service. That part was certainly not as polished as the one Joos describes here, but was helpful, I think. I finished with a short summary of the community strategy discussion.

The group was amazingly patient through all the software issues and projection miscues that seemed to plague me from the get-go. Questions were good and the general comments were smart and useful. As noted, a great time!

Here are the slides (even the ones I didn’t show!):

Thanks to Doug Whitfield, who invited me; Brad Stone, who kept me informed and otherwise took care of me; the openSUSE Marketing team for the slide templates; and those who participated.

Quick Reminder: “Adventures with Geeko: Intro to openSUSE” in Madison, WI Tomorrow!

The original openSUSE Logo

Image via Wikipedia

Yes, I’ve been quiet the last couple weeks. Been preparing my first openSUSE talk in quite awhile. Speaking to the Madison Linux User Group (MadLUG) at 1PM Central Time (more info here). In the course of an hour or so, we’re going to cover YaST, KDE, the openSUSE Build Service (OBS) and if time permits, there will be discussion of the strategy process.

I’ll have a few openSUSE 11.3 DVDs to give away, and some really cheap copies of openSUSE Linux (10.3) Unleashed. Come on down if you’re in the neighborhood. If you’re not, watch this space for a summary. With some good fortune, I’ll get the slides posted too.

Welcome LibreOffice!

It’s been more than a week now since the Great OpenOffice Fork of 2010, and the dust is beginning to settle.

If you haven’t heard, last Monday a large chunk of the  OpenOffice.org (OOo) development community announced the formation of The Document Foundation (TDF), and would create a new office suite based on OOo, called LibreOffice. The announcement carried endorsements from many heavy hitters in the open source and corporate worlds, including Google, Novell, Red Hat, and Canonical. Even the GNOME Foundation (while noting the existence of its own small suite) had nice things to say at the launch.

Absent from the party were a pair of giants: IBM and Oracle. The latter was not surprising, as the database company put this train in motion by acquiring Sun Microsystems, the firm who had released OpenOffice into the wild some years back. TDF invited Oracle to participate in the effort, and expressed hope they would release the copyrights to the OpenOffice name. Yep, that was going to happen. Monday, Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols reported that Oracle has officially declined to participate in the Foundation.

With more than 100 million users, we believe OpenOffice.org is the most advanced, most feature-rich open-source implementation and will strongly encourage the OpenOffice community to continue to contribute through www.openoffice.org.

Today, Italo Vignoli of TDF reports, among many interesting numbers, that the LibreOffice beta has been downloaded some 80,000 times in its first week of existence. The beta consists of rebranded OpenOffice v3.3 code. There’s a support forum for those users now running too.

Here’s a sample of some of the best reporting and thinking I saw, outside of the mainstream tech press, on the announcement:

Now comes the fallout, as the rest of the OpenOffice community has to pick sides. Eric Bachard of the OOo Education project initially posted a skeptical article called “No LibreOffice for Me” to his blog, but apparently pulled it in the intervening time. Jean Hollis Weber of the Documentation Project (close to my heart, of course) wondered about the future: “At this point I’m not quite sure what this will mean for my role as Co-Lead of the OpenOffice.org Documentation Project, given my enthusiasm for the Foundation.”

While most of the coverage and blogging about LibreOffice and TDF was quite positive, Matt Asay of Canonical expressed a dissent that I saw a lot of in roaming around online in his essay for GigaOm: “LibreOffice: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (and Gone).”

It’s unclear what a web-light, client-heavy Microsoft Office clone can hope to achieve in terms of real innovation. And why are we worried about replicating Microsoft Office functionality, which has long been the aim of the OpenOffice community? While some Excel spreadsheet jocks may live in Microsoft Office, very few of the rest of us give it more than a cursory glance on a regular basis. It’s not that we’re not engaged in “office productivity,” either. We just work differently now.

While I don’t begrudge Asay’s ability to work with Google Docs and Zoho in his day job, I can tell you that there are millions of us still using word processors and the like installed on a desktop, safely behind a corporate firewall. Maybe that will change over time, but for now, I’d much prefer using LibreOffice than that other dominant suite.

I wish the LibreOffice team the best of luck building their new suite, and devising many new and effective ways of communicating. Keeping KOffice on their toes as well!

As we watch this community grow, I hope the openSUSE community can learn some lessons as well. One thought from this corner: Suddenly the idea of an independent foundation to manage the community doesn’t sound so out in left field. With the openSUSE Conference coming up, there’s a lot to discuss.

Outsmarting an aging router and other tales of regeneration

So after a week of preparation and a couple more weeks of frustration and perseverance, my somewhat ancient laptop has transformed from a dual-boot Kubuntu/Windows XP system to a dual-boot openSUSE 11.3/Windows XP system.

The whole process wasn’t really as bad as I’d feared, nor as bad as you might think after reading that lead paragraph. I pretty much thought I’d have to reformat my hard drive and start over and backed up all my data accordingly. Once I did that, I remembered to install Windows first, even though I never ran into any issues when I earlier installed Windows on what it considered the H: drive.

What I was not really expecting was having to fight my DSL router to get access to openSUSE’s software repositories! This is the story I want to share with you.

First, let me say that one of the great things about Linux is its ability to make old tech useful and productive (setting a great example for human society as a whole). Back in the day, folks made the case for people to try turning their old desktop PC into a Linux network server when they got some shiny new piece of hardware. You can still do that with your ancient Pentium processor, as long as you don’t need a graphical interface to run it.

This laptop I’m typing into was the first portable I ever bought, and it’s just three years old. One of the first Dell machines to ship with Ubuntu in the summer of 2007. I bought a copy of Windows XP to add to it another while back. But I’ve had this 2WIRE DSL router since I moved into my last apartment on New Year’s Day 2004, and it’s still going. Hardly ever caused me a lick of trouble, except when I installed openSUSE 11.1, and YaST Online Update wouldn’t update. I brought my problem to the openSUSE mailing list, and eventually discovered the problem was with Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). Disabling IPv6 in the YaST network manager solved the problem, presumably for all time, or at least till the engineers figured out why IPv6 wasn’t working.

Not quite two years later, with no update trouble either on Windows or Ubuntu, I proceeded to rebuild the laptop. The install(s) went quite smoothly—until we got to the update part. My old friend “cannot resolve download.opensuse.org” returned to my screen. Well, “download.opensuse.org” was a new thing, and a very cool item at that. For most of my (open)SuSE installs, I had to find and designate my own closest mirror, to ease the burden on the ‘net pipes. Now you connect to this one download URL, and a piece of software called MirrorBrain finds a nearby download site for you!

To make a long story a little shorter: It turns out the mirror selected for me has a problem with that aging router of mine. When you use the domain name, the router spits it out—”No packets from you!” But one of the search engines found me a piece of the puzzle. I tried using nslookup to get the IP address of download.opensuse.org. To my surprise, changing the address of the repositories in YaST from letters to numbers appeased my router!

A few problems remained, mainly that I couldn’t access the list of community repositories that house so many fine applications (apologies to those readers who aren’t using openSUSE; I know this is probably too detailed, but this is my way of helping the next person). Every time I’d try to get the list from YaST, it would dutifully go off to download.opensuse.org and come up empty. <sigh>

But now nslookup stopped being friendly! For some reason, when I’d try:

nslookup http://packman.unixheads.com/

I’d get in response:

** server can't find http://packman.unixheads.com/
.gateway.2wire.net: REFUSED

Just when I was about to cave in and buy a new router, I tried one more search on this error message. The results led me to a post on a Red Hat Linux forum (of all things), suggesting I try using the Host command (as root) instead of nslookup. Lo and behold, that got me real IP addresses.

While I still don’t have the complete list of community repositories, this page offers a good list that I was able to configure in YaST. So I’m happily back in openSUSE. Yes, I’ll probably be replacing the router soon, but I can get on with my work for now.

Thanks to all who helped, whether they knew it or not! This community is stellar! Now I just have to get my old KMail restored, and I’ll be even happier.

New KDE Desktop! Version 4.5 not perfect, but much better!

So of course, while I’m spending a glorious and relaxing week hanging out in Boulder, Colorado, the KDE community is working overtime fixing a few showstopper bugs. Version 4.5 of the KDE Software Collection (also known as KDE SC) was released Tuesday, a week late from the original release plan, but it looks like a pretty good one.

Tyler Ballance over at OMG! SUSE! has a good overall summary of the highlights of this release. I got my Kubuntu laptop upgraded with only a little fussing with APT repositories (semi-inevitable on launch day).  After just a day of playing around, I’m pretty happy.

This initial happiness is really centered on several small things:

  • Boot time seems faster than it’s been. Haven’t clocked it, but login-to-start-working may take half the time it did in v4.4.x
  • The external device notifier now appears by default in the main panel when there’s something in the USB port.
  • The infernal announcement that Akonadi is installing its front end on every boot has finally gone away!

Yet, it is still a dot-zero release, and some weirdness has been puzzling me:

  • Since I reset four of my virtual desktops with different wallpapers, an empty box appears in the upper left corner of the screen on boot. Clicking X makes the panel, and all the wallpapers, disappear. Logging out solves the problem, but I’m sure something short of that will fix it.
  • One time I rendered my mouse unusable by apparently activating a gesture (I think) that added a plus sign to the cursor. No combination of clicks restored mouse functioning, and a again I had to logout/login (thankfully I could get KRunner to run logout!) to get back to normal.

More research required, but if anyone has an idea, I’m all ears.

Meanwhile, if you want to try KDE 4.5, instructions for some of the leading distros can be found here (thanks  to Planet KDE):

openSUSE: http://lists.opensuse.org/opensuse-kde/2010-08/msg00057.html

Kubuntu: http://www.kubuntu.org/news/kde-sc-45

Mandriva: http://not403.blogspot.com/2010/08/kde-45-final-available-for-mandriva.html

I’ll have more on this release in the coming days. In the meantime, let me know what kind of experience you want or are having with KDE 4.5 in the comments.

openSUSE Strategy Discussion Takes Shape

A few weeks ago, I noted that the openSUSE Community Project was working on a new strategy. The purpose of the discussion is essentially to answer the question “Why openSUSE?”

I have to admit that, while I have a knee-jerk positive response to any democratic process that ends in a vote on something important, I wasn’t completely certain what the point of this exercise was. Today I’ve got a clue:

A strategy statement should answer the following questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What are the goals?
  • In which time frame?
  • By doing what?
  • Who is our target?

–openSUSE Strategy Process document

In the newly created openSUSE Wiki space, you can get a solid grasp of where this discussion started, how it has progressed, and what the next steps are: Portal:Strategy – openSUSE. If you’re interested in participating, be sure to visit these pages (in addition to the proposal links below):

Today marks the beginning of 16 days of focused discussion on the four main strategy documents developed by the openSUSE board (yeah, I’m late to the announcement on the community statement):

These discussions are taking place in the openSUSE Forums and the openSUSE-Project mailing list. They end on August 10, 2010 and the board will revise the proposals based on the discussion to date.

I may have some ideas to share here about the proposals, but I’m going to make my opinions known in the project first. You should too. If you want to say something about the process, though, feel free to comment here too.


By the way, regular readers may be noticing an uptick in frequency for “Notes from the Metaverse.” I’m trying to develop some consistency in posting (that is, at least one post per week) without diluting the quality of the posts. That said, it is summer in the northern hemisphere, and your humble scribe is heading out for a week with family and friends in Boulder, CO. Please forgive me if the posting takes a break too, unless something blogworthy happens, of course.

Following up on recent posts: Support and HTML5/CSS3

If you haven’t heard already, openSUSE 11.3 was released last week, to mostly rave reviews. I’ve been running some of the pre-release versions in VirtualBox, and am planning to convert my laptop Linux from Kubuntu to openSUSE 11.3 this weekend. Will let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, there are a few items to share with you:

In many many years on the internet, I’ve found people tend to prefer one or
the other.

Forums:
1-invariably mousetype (rude, tiny text; certainly applicable to forums.opensuse.org)
2-higher ratio of unanswered questions to answered questions
3-higher ratio of good answers to unhelpful answers
4-better moderation
5-subject miscategorization widespread (leads searches in wrong directions)
6-pulled (more work to get, but get no processing forced)

Mailing lists:
1-displays text legibly and comfortably at users preferred size
2-better ratio of questions asked to questions answered
3-better ratio of good answers to unhelpful answers
4-poorer moderation
5-topics lack categoration within particular lists (hard to narrow searches)
6-pushed (less work to get, more work to process)

This ties in somewhat with my post of a few weeks ago on learning about KDE, etc. My completely unscientific poll seems to indicate that forums are pretty popular, but did not address specifically the quality of answers you get from a particular venue (BTW, you can still vote in the related poll–Click the link at the top of this paragraph). What do you think? Comment below.

  • Let me give you a few more links related to HTML5 and CSS3, discovered this week:
    • I found the TinyMCE Advanced plugin, which adds some excellent standards-compliant features to the WordPress default Visual Editor. Unfortunately, some WordPress 3.0 users are complaining that it doesn’t install. See Comment 964 for a possible workaround. This plugin does not address HTML5 directly, but perhaps with a few persuasive notes, that can change.
    • The fine folks at SitePoint are offering cheap online classes for HTML5 and CSS3, starting next week. John Allsopp, one of the founders of the Web Standards Project is teaching them, and it sounds really interesting. The two-week HTML5 course begins July 26, and costs just $9.95, and the three-week CSS3 course that follows is just $14.95. Take ‘em both, and it’s just $19.90. Even though I will be on vacation for part of this time, I think I’m signing up.
    • Over at the About.com HTML site, they’re taking a poll on interest in CSS3, with a few links highlighting some of the features you can use now.

How Do You Learn About KDE?

A discussion has popped up on the KOffice-Devel list as to whether to discontinue the user-oriented KOffice mailing list. Some developers are wondering whether it’s worth it to keep this admittedly low-traffic list going. The main argument being that if people aren’t using the list now, the few questions that do get asked may not be getting the attention they deserve.

I have an opinion on the subject, but I’m not sure that’s all that important. As a technical communicator, what I’m interested in is how others learn about and solve problems with their software, particularly in the open source arena. KOffice doesn’t have the mind share and user base that other open source productivity suites (OK, I mean OpenOffice.org) have, but are there channels today’s Linux geek and her grandma use to get support for their software. There are lots of choices, and it would be interesting and helpful to me, the KOffice and KDE teams to learn those preferences.

I’m going to try to set up a poll here, but please use the Comments section as well. The official question is “How do you learn about or get help with KOffice and other KDE applications?” Here are the options I’ve thought of:

Share your journey in the comments. Choose as many options in the poll below as you like. Explain what you like and don’t like about getting help. Even if you don’t use KDE specifically, feel free to chime in.