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Open Hardware License released by CERN!

July 9th, 2011 by

A very nice complement to the Open Source Hardware Definition that the Open Hardware Summit team has been curating for the past year is the Open Hardware Initiative announced by CERN, including the Open Hardware Repository recently launched there.

A bit of a legalistic focus when there are real hardware specs to peruse (who knows, maybe even some of Cornelius’ work is in there 🙂 ), but I think it is cool that after the Definition we now have the CERNOHL License.  Now, let the BSD vs GPL vs Apache vs MIT-with-crumpets discussion begin 🙂

openSUSE 11.4: Built to Rule Gnome

May 6th, 2011 by

Six years ago, when I joined the Novell team’s office in Cambridge, some of my cohorts in what used to be the Ximian Red Carpet team had an expression: “Red Hat 7.3 + Ximian Desktop” – they sometimes used it to indicate what had been a quantum leap in the Linux Desktop experience of the Gnome Lineage.  Having been personally a vi+terminal kind of guy, and the Konsole being a great terminal multiplexer since times ancient, I had some precise idea of what KDE releases I had particularly appreciated as smoothly integrated (SuSE 6.2 comes to mind), so the expression stuck in my mind as the ultimate paragon of a Gnome setup.  Sure, great things happened since, but the first time you did not have to grease the wheels of every detail for hours to have a smooth environment certainly sticks in your head in a certain indelible way.

openSUSE has been a pretty good Gnome distribution for a long time now, but 11.4 really gave me a different feeling: I found only 1 bug I care to solve in my laptop support, and the defaults I had out of the box were all more than good, they were pleasing.  It is not just functioning well, it is smooth, it has a quality that is hard to describe but we all know it when we see it.  Which is just so damn awesome 🙂

Usually I tinker for days to get an environment I am comfortable with (I am a clinical case, I do this on OS-X, Windows and Linux irrespective), but in this case, I had to do very few things to get a very nice setup for my work laptops, both esthetically and functionally. So here comes my ultimative Gnome quick setup guide to a rocking openSUSE 11.4 Gnome experience.

F2’s Quick-Yet-Awesome Gnome Environment Recipe
In no particular order, proceed through the following steps

  1. Pidgin
    zypper in pidgin
    Make it a Gnome startup application
    Control Center | Startup Applications | /usr/bin/pidgin
  2. Flash Player
    Yes, you still need it. Yes, we do love HTML 5 nonetheless.
    zypper in flash-player
  3. Glipper
    A clipboard manager, to keep multiple recent cut&paste targets simultaneously at hand.
    Head to the buildservice and help yourself to a one-click install.
    Logout. Log back in. (suggestion of a smarter way to do this would be appreciated)
    right click | add to panel | clipboard manager
  4. Gnome Do
    Setup Gnome Do to run at login (it is now in the default install)
    preferences | general | start Gnome Do at login
    fixing hotkey to ctrl-enter
    Select the Glass theme – matches the openSUSE default theme better on 11.4
    I really wish there was a way to have Gnome Do autoclear its buffer after 1 second (or even better when one retypes a similar string), typos are rather defeating in its default mode (“pidxpidgin”, anyone?)
  5. Firefox
    Fix Firefox’s backspace key behavior to match non-Linux platforms (page back) rather than the do-nothing default:
    navigate to About:config | browser.backspace_action = 0
  6. Hostname
    Set a hostname if DHCP does not do it for you.  No self-respecting terminal monkey would have a random hostname!
    YaST | Network Settings | Hostname/DNS
  7. Tilda
    You just cannot overestimate how helpful Quake Terminals are.
    One click install
    tilda -C
    fix hotkey (keybindings | grab keybinding) to <ctrl>grave
    increase buffer (scrolling | Scrollback | 1000)
    Now fix the appearance (the defaults work anywhere but they are ghastly-lookin’ 🙂
    general | enable Double Buffering [x]
    appearance | height | 66%;  width 100%
    enable transparency [x] ; Level of transparency 30
    enable pulldown [x] ; Delay 15000 usec
    use image for background [x]
    I use a Gimp-scaled version of the desktop wallpaper there (defaults are in /usr/share/wallpapers)
    Make it a Gnome startup application
    Control Center | Startup Applications | /usr/bin/tilda

    Tilda is the crankier bit (even with all that tuning, it is not yet as smooth as Visor at pulldown, there is still some flickering left).  I am not going to go all-out and say that 2011 is the year of the Linux Desktop, but it sure feels pretty nice an environment to work in, and configuring was quite fast, which means most defaults are better than good.

    Suggestions, corrections and additional ideas are welcome. Ramble on, I am reading!

right click | add to panel | clipboard manager

Open Hardware Logo Selection Underway

March 27th, 2011 by

As previously reported, the Open Hardware Community is fast moving to define more precise rules, naming, and even iconography to go with the term “Open Hardware”. This morning, the chairs of the Open Hardware Summit have announced the 10 candidate logos selected for Community vote from the nearly 200 submitted by contributors.

The voting will close in 2 weeks, on April 5th.  Currently, the so-called “Copyleft Chip” design is leading by a wide margin.

Open Hardware Definition Goes 1.0!

February 11th, 2011 by

The Open Source Hardware Definition has reached a major milestone, hitting version 1.0 with this morning’s announcement by the Open Hardware Summit team.  This is remarkable news for all involved in the development of Open Source Hardware (OSHW), as this really exciting community had been growing by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years, but had no single, unified symbol that different development shops could rally under.

Now, with the Definition having reached 1.0, and a logo soon to be announced to stamp hardware and project websites, the hardware crowd will be able to rally under flags similar to Tux the penguin and Beastie the daemon — not to mention the Open Source Definition and the GPL.  As a Free/Open Source Software dude regularly cheerleading the Open Hardware crowd, I am impressed at how fast this young community came this far, as the 0.3 draft was circulated at the Open Hardware Summit last September in New York.

The Definition is not meant as a license, it rather mirrors the Open Source Definition that we are so familiar with — and indeed, a very energetic Bruce Perens was one of the opening speakers of the Summit last year, and has been actively commenting on the forums on the different drafts.  Similarly to the Open Source Definition, the Open hardware definition is an umbrella meant to cover a number of differing licenses, all requiring the “source” (in this case, unobfuscated designs) of the board to be made available with the hardware as a minimum precondition.

Community members are invited to spread the word by blogging, tweeting (#OSHW), endorsing the definition, contributing designs to the logo contest, and, of course, labeling their work as OSHW 1.0.

This is a very exciting moment for the open culture movement in general, as yet another field of knowledge comes organized in the copyleft / CC / Some Rights Reserved approach.

The Audience
F2 keeping an eye on Bruce Perens, who is keeping an eye on the keynote before his, at the New York Open Hardware Summit.

WebYaST – now for openSUSE

November 16th, 2010 by

We first released WebYaST in January this year, but while we did release it under Open Source licensing straight from the get-go, we were so busy working on the SUSE Appliance Program that we could not properly test it to also ship an openSUSE packaged version – yet.

That changed with our newest release, and those of you building openSUSE images in SUSE Studio can now add WebYaST to any build with just another click in the selections, as James Tan documented in exquisite snapshotting detail in his blog post.

Internally, we have been mostly focusing on Appliance use, albeit with increasingly frequent forays into the land of more general-purpose Enterprise system administration.  While the current release is quite complete for its Appliance Toolkit use case, it still has a way to go to match the completeness provided by “classic YaST” to openSUSE users.  While over time the array of modules will steadily grow, there are two remarks that I want to make today: for one, WebYaST is to me an extremely exciting bit of configuration and monitoring software, not just because of its elegant look and web-based interface, but particularly because of the cleverness of simplified interaction in some modules (take a spin of the Firewall module to see exactly what I mean).  The second bit is that, because of WebYaST’s newness, the space is ripe for Contributors with creative ideas to come in with Community modules: access to configuration and monitoring features over a Web UI is a powerful mixture, especially when combined with the rise of Smartphone and Tablet computing we are seeing… just a thought I wanted to leave your fertile minds with!

Some documentation to oil your synapses 🙂 Happy Hacking! -F2

Systems Management Zeitgeist

September 14th, 2010 by

Dear Lizards,
This recent release from IT World on the best Linux distributions out there caught my eye last weekend, as it declares “The package’s administration utility, YaST, is widely acknowledged as one of the best” in its entry on openSUSE and SLE (the documentation also drew praise, distinguishing itself as “some of the best printed documentation you’ll find for any distro“), and reminded me I wanted to share some of the positive feedback I collected during our 11.x development and after final release.  Ready? Here we go.

Some of the initial ‘Net commentary was all centered on performance and memory footprint, from Snorp’sI don’t think it’s possible to overstate just how much of an improvement it really is” to Duncan’s benchmarks providing interesting numerical comparisons like  “Yum uses about 9 times more memory” (and takes several times longer).  This was refreshing given that at the same time Yum’s less-than-nimble footprint was drawing some interesting comments from Zed and Zbr.

Eventually, the improvements rolled over to the press, with Jason Perlow proclaiming 11 RC1 the Mercedes-Benz to Ubuntu’s Wolkswagen. Jason had plenty of praise in his review, but I am singling out “the most beautiful installer program I have ever seen” and “quite impressed with how fast the package repository management works” since this is the Systems Management team’s ticker-tape parade, after all.  Our then Community Ambassador Zonker followed up with his Package Keeper piece on the special that Linux Pro Magazine issued for the 11.0 release, focusing on package management as “one of the most impressive advances” in the release (link sadly missing as article still paywalled).   Linux Format retorted with “One of our favorite features of SUSE is the one-click install system” and “faster than any other package manager we’ve seen, and on top of that it looks great, too” in their What SUSE Does Best review (no link, as LXF requires subscription).

Finally, with the release of our Enterprise distribution, the commentary rolled over to our corporate customers, as I previously reported when one customer I like to track personally as particularly representative reported a 300% speed improvement in rolling updates to production.

Afterwards, we have moved up live distro upgrade (more famously known as zypper dup) to fully supported status, quickly receiving loud praise from a Linux Journal editor with clearly too many Debian-using friends.  We do relate to his plight, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and are happy to help.  Indeed, other distributions have started adopting Zypper as well, with Ark leading the way.

So what is next for us? Well, with Btrfs around the corner, integrating snapshot and rollback into the update system stands clearly out from the crowd: an undo button to painlessly bring back the system to where it was before your last upgrade. Stay tuned!

The package’s administration utility, YaST, is widely acknowledged as one of the best,The package’s administration utility, YaST, is widely acknowledged as one of the best,

News from the Zypper Revolution

April 5th, 2010 by

Maybe revolution is a bit strong, but at this hour in the night I can probably be excused for using a bit of hyperbole – besides, nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion as Hegel would have it, so I am on solid ground here.

I have been going over customer feedback from Novell’s Brainshare conference for my internal “Systems Management Zeitgeist” report, and there are a couple of points I just had to share with you all as they are plain simply inspirational.

Our update stack is, well, zippy.  Like greased lightning, according to this happy SUSE Linux Enterprise customer:

Zypper updates a Linux system across major versions in 5 minutes, full Oracle server update done in 15 minutes

We of course appreciate speed in of itself, as a technical achievement powered by enhancements like libsat and DeltaRPM, and Community users share this point of view with us.  But Enterprise users have a different and equally valid point of view: administrator time is costly, and while many management consoles exist, industry data shows that tools do help, but not nearly enough: administrators are still involved, personally, in most Systems Management tasks —  I could quote analyst data, but not at this wee hour, so just trust me on this point.

This one medium-sized customer actually took the time to calculate what the time savings meant to his business:

The faster update stack is resulting in 56,000 dollars in [operational budget] savings

It is not everyday a customer gives you a precise dollar number in describing what a technology’s impact is on his expenses — So I just had to share it with you all, it is such a nice commentary on our effort’s tangible impact.

I can hear some of you wonder why I blogged this on my Lizard’s Community account, rather than on Novell’s Corporate site, since I am talking up Enterprise distro data and as the Systems Management guy I really have either option.  Good question!  I could say it is because I was not in the mood to dig up analyst quotes, and this setting allows me to be more cavalier and just waltz over those references, but there is a more important reason, read on.

We in the Systems Management team happen to think sleep is for the weak, and have been cooking up our next scheme for improvement — but we need your help to get there.

As the keenest observers among you have long ago noticed, with the 11.2 release we declared “zypper dup” a supported migration path, and received some accolades for it already.  But we all know that live distro upgrade migration across major version changes is a big endeavor, and we would like to solicit your help in improving it: if you have the time and inclination to test zypper dup and provide a properly filed bug report of any kinks you might discover, we would be delighted to use your feedback to improve the 11.3 implementation of this process.

Just a word of caution: comments to this entry, or bugs filed without sufficient data to be analyzed, are not going to further the result we all seek.  If you report something, make sure enough data to reproduce the issue is included, and that you are able to provide additional data upon request of the developer handling your report: if we cannot reproduce a problem, we cannot fix it.

Thanks in advance to those among you joining us in this effort!

Time to Stand and Be Counted

March 4th, 2010 by

Lizards, it is time to head to the polls for your favorite Linux distribution! Linux Journal is running a poll to gauge the popularity of major distributions today, and needless to say it is imperative for all Geekos out there to do their patriotic clicking duty.

That’s what the prehensile tail is for, in case you had wondered — efficient multi-tasking 🙂

Be advised that the Journal is going to run a feature on the results in the coming months, and that your comments may be quoted for inclusion – just be extra-witty and doubly insightful as always.

Note: I did take notice that SUSE is spelled in the old-school way (cool!), and that they are conglomerating our Community and Enterprise distros under the same entry, and have notified the editors over at LJ for future reference, but of course the entries of a running poll are no longer editable.

Writing man pages

February 7th, 2010 by

Here are a few resources for those among you thinking of writing proper documentation for your new project, or to contribute writings or translations to your favorite Community.

Man pages are written in Troff, the original UNIX typesetting system. Nowadays, few people (most notably man page writers and IETF RFC authors) regularly use this markup, but it is rather simple and elegant once you get to know it. For writing man pages, the learning curve is very good, as you only need to know a few macros and, just as if you were working on html and pilfering the sources of an existing  page doing just what you need, you have a wealth of examples to teach you right there on your trusty *NIX box. As the Wikipedia points out:

Troff features commands to designate fonts, spacing, paragraphs, margins, footnotes and more. Unlike many other text formatters, troff can position characters arbitrarily on a page, even overlapping them, and has a fully programmable input language. Separate preprocessors are used for more convenient production of tables, diagrams, and mathematics.

But you don’t need to master all that! For man pages, what you need is knowledge of the man macro package, originally written by James Clark and documented in man(7) or groff_man(7) depending on your distro. Troff input is processed from text files, so you just need your favorite text editor, and a bit of time to play with the markup to learn it in the process.

Here is a way to get started quickly: Linux Journal published a great tutorial a few years back, and the Linux Manual contains the ever-important style guidelines in man-pages(7). Start from scratch, or make a copy of an existing manual page and start editing. One more tip for you:

man ./foo.1

is your friend, to see what you just wrote and marked up in all its glory — and bugs.

Linux Journal: Writing man Pages Using groff
The Linux Manual:
The Linux Manual:

Arnold Robbins, Nelson Beebe, Classic Shell Scripting (O’Reilly – 9780596005955) – Appendix A “Writing Man Pages” is for you.
Dale Dougherty, Tim O’Reilly, Unix Text Processing (out of print, released in the public domain) – all the Troff you could ever want, but not the man macros.