Use Foresight Linux? Add Some Spice to Your Life!

Hot on the heels of the .4 beta release of Spicebird and a Lifehacker article previewing spicebird (with many screenshots and functionality tests) I bring you the Conary package available for your consumption. To install spicebird on Foresight:

sudo conary update spicebird=/foresight.rpath.org@fl:1-contrib

What is Spicebird? From the Spicebird.com homepage:

Spicebird is your one platform for many collaboration needs. It provides e-mail, calendaring and instant messaging with intuitive integration and unlimited extensibility.

  1. View the Demo
  2. See Screenshots
  3. Check the Roadmap

Please remember that Spicebird is beta software currently so use it at your own risk. Enjoy!

Thoughts on Package Management

The Change in Distro-Land

Distros have changed. In the past, they were made up of a small, tightly knit group collaborators working toward a common goal. With distributions today we now have an informal, large group of collaborators…some of which may not even be aware of the main goal of the distro. That informal collaborator may just want package foo version 2.2 included in his/her distribution so that he/she can use it on their desktop. How does that informal collaborator become empowered? How can the developers reap what that collaborator sows and harness the collective collaboration of thousands of informal contributors? The answer for many software projects is version control. But how can this system benefit package management?

What If?

What if you could combine SVN/CVS/git behavior and packages? What if when you build the package properly, it is checked into the software development tree. You’d be eliminating an entire step in the process (i.e. working more efficiently) and you’d reap all the benefits of version control (diff, merge, shadow, exports, rollbacks, tags, logs) with the actual software packages without losing the benefit of working with source or binaries. Thousands of contributions could be made in the form of ready to install packages that are CERTIFIED (see how this is possible later in this post) to work on the distribution. The contributions would come in on a version control branch designed by the distribution developers…say 1-contribs (much like a contribs rpm server would be)…but unlike most distributions, they would be certified to run on your distro before they even hit the contribs server/branch. Imagine the impact that this would have for bug testing alone.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s Conary and it is getting ready to go to version 2.0. Let’s take a look at some advantages that conary has over traditional package management and how it can empower the end user.

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Alltray in Foresight

I’ve recently packaged up Alltray, a handy tool for keeping items minimized to the gnome task bar, in Foresight Linux. For those of you who new to my blog…I’ve recently switched jobs to from the state of Virginia (project management) to work for rPath, Inc. rPath is responsible for some innovative software development tools centered around the Conary package manager and also creates a minimalistic linux distribution that serves as source for Foresight Linux. I’ve recently become active in helping develop the KDE Version of Foresight Linux.

I’m by no means a programmer. I’ve been hired on as a documentation specialist. Yet, Conary is simplistic enough that I can roll my own packages. I’m quite impressed by it’s simplicity and power. If you’d like to help out or are curious about KDE Foresight or the Conary package manager, visit us on freenode #foresight-kde

For those of you wanting alltray goodness…update via Packagekit by searching for alltray OR:

sudo conary update alltray

PCLinuxOS – 30 Days to #1

PCLinuxOS has continued its upward climb on the distrowatch page hit meter. It is #1 over the span of 30 days…most likely due to the recent release of 2007 Final. Is it really that good? I think it is. It’s powerful enough to satisfy my nerdiest inclination to program and yet soft enough to pad my wife’s computing needs as well. I’ve found it suitable for all my computing needs. Does this mean I’m done looking for the perfect desktop? Far from it! I’ll continue that hunt until I can’t continue it at all.

For now, PCLinuxOS is my #1 desktop choice for my main computer…with other computers in my household rotating distros at quite a good pace. This blog often focuses on items of interest to the desktop Linux user…and it’s updated quite infrequently. This should change after June as I’ll begin a new job in a new city working with Linux on a daily basis 😀

Look for more frequent updates and more robust content. I’m also going to be moving away from a KDE Centric blog and experimenting around quite a bit with the Gnome desktop as well by way of Foresight Linux. Quite a bit on the horizon so please stay tuned.

Going Fishing for a WinSCP Replacement?

So you’ve got insert_linux_distro_name_here installed and you’re ready to get started with your standard computing day. You’ve only recently converted to this Linux thing. You know enough about Linux to install it and have it up and running for your main desktop. You’ve slowly begun easing yourself into this new Linux role by replacing the applications you used in Windows with free and open source ones installed or installable on Linux.

Today, your mission is to replace WinSCP. You scan through your distro repositories and ask questions in various forums looking for that WinSCP replacement. Sound familiar? It should. I’ve seen this question in many forums and have also seen in it many mailing lists. In fact, I’ve asked this very question myself. WinSCP was a program I had been using for years in Windows. I found it to be one of the best free programs available for the Windows platform for SFTP and SSH connections and file transfers.

The interesting part is that I didn’t need to ask these question. Had I searched for the right terms like “SCP Client Linux” (instead of googling “winscp replacement linux”) I would have found that Linux has a very good replacement in FISH. So if you are searching for a WinSCP replacement after converting into this Linux thing…please read on. You’ll be shocked and amazed that Windows doesn’t have some new fandangled technology like this :p Not only has fish simplified my server administration tasks…it’s revolutionized the way I manage my information on the 5 websites I have. To top it off, it’s built into the Konqueror file manager in KDE which is my primary desktop.

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You're applying a patch for the web based software you run there. So you upload the patches by dragging and dropping them into place (or

Debian Moves in, Servlets, and Usability

I’ve moved the server here at work to Debian Stable with Tomcat Jakarta installed. I’m currently experimenting with servlets from various corners of the web. I have only one problem with many CMS’s though….there is a hugely steep learning curve.

I count myself as pretty experienced when it comes to content management systems. I picked up on Zope/Plone within a few weeks. I picked up joomla! in days. I work pretty well inside wiki’s and have no trouble with forge software. So I find it completely baffling that some content management systems (even the free ones) do things so odd.

One of the CMSs I’m working with currently is Mesh CMS. They’re better than others I’ve looked at (Alfresco, Contenido) but why, oh why, does every single java servlet CMS have to have a directory tree with collapseable trees? This is so annoying! Take this for example…when someone opens ‘My Computer’ in Linux OR Windows…they’re presented with a list of folders. Now unless you set it up to show you the directory tree in your viewing options…you’re seeing folders on the top level. That’s not the way many servlet CMS’s do business. It may be good to see how deep things go and it may be good for admins who control ALL their content…but when you want to setup 10 users with write access and have to train them on how to use the CMS…IT’S NOT GOOD.

Most users have never seen the folder tree style menu and get confused quickly. Perhaps there is a setting that can remedy this that I’m not aware of. Please be advised that I’m taking a high level look at these things and I’m not diving in so deep that I’m examining the code yet…so I could be overlooking something. I just figure that things make more sense if you do things in the comfort zone of the standard user.

It’s odd how software companies, programmers, and coders try to re-invent the wheel on many projects. They toss out simple usability to do things more complex. The problem is that with each successive version of their software, things normally get harder and harder to operate. This is fine for someone who has used the previous version and is comfortable with its operation…but not so fine for new users.

This is often my point when discussing Linux as well. Usability should be key when a distro is popular…and Ubuntu has made VAST strides in making Linux usable for new users…but it’s not the best out there which is a complete mystery to me as to why it is THE most popular on the planet.

All of this talk on usability in software systems puts me in the mind of an article I read a few years ago: Ronco Spray-on Usability. It was a funny article about ESR not being able to configure his printer in Linux…which is kinda laughable when you think about it. But the author brings up a valid point…that is, that Joe Schmoe (referred to in the article as Aunt Tillie or A.T.) who is a common user can’t be the intended target for usable systems until the ESR’s are able to accomplish the task. You can’t spray on Usability with a handy spray can…it has to be reached successively. Not to mention that the UI for a program should be the last part developed after the program is in place…but seldom is. Hence all the usability problems.

Although I don’t agree with EVERYTHING the author of that article states, I do agree with many of the parts on usability. I definately don’t think you have to have proprietary, paid software to have good usability…because usability is an art form as the author states…and if it is, some of the best artwork comes from starving artists right? So money is irrelevant…it matters not. What matters is that not everyone who is a programmer is a UI developer and UI developers can’t always be the best programmers. The idea is to marry both into something. That’s what I’m looking for in a CMS. Something that has usability for standard users and something that can do the whiz bang things I need it to. It’s probably a pipe dream…but its a good dream to have. Not just in CMS software…in all software. Maybe someday right?