Category: Reviews

A review of Linux desktop environments

Noah Petherbridge
kirsle
Posted by Noah Petherbridge on Friday, June 17 2016 @ 12:11:21 PM

The next version of Fedora (24) is coming out soon, so I decided a couple weeks ago that I'd take a tour of all the different desktop environments and see if I like any of them enough to switch from Xfce. My original desktop environment of choice was GNOME 2, and I had jumped ship to Xfce after GNOME 3 was released because I was no fan of the tablet-focused, feature-stripped interface of the new desktop and GNOME 2.32 was, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the desktop metaphor for Linux.

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Bing still isn't better than Windows Live search

Noah Petherbridge
kirsle
Posted by Noah Petherbridge on Thursday, June 18 2009 @ 05:36:42 PM
Checking my site's HTTP referrer logs to see what pages out there link to me, I occasionally saw links coming in from the Windows Live search engine...

Links for simple search terms, such as "picture", or "blog", or "Linux"...

From URLs that indicated the link came from the very first page of search results that Windows Live provided for those simple, generic, single-word search queries.

Thusly I concluded that Windows Live Search is complete crap, and is probably powered by a primitive SQL query that has no regard at all for relevance, no "page rank" technology, and otherwise nothing at all that determines what results are the "best" ones to show to the user. Google would never let such things fly. Getting a link to my site because you searched for the word "picture", and one or two pages on my site might've used the word in passing? That's a big FAIL.

So, now that Bing is out, and it's all over the news and Digg about how great it is and how it's (finally) a competitor for Google, I was hoping that if I got any links in from Bing searches, that they'd be from more useful search queries.

I was wrong!

I was just looking at my incoming referrers, and somebody who did an Images search for "Acer Aspire" linked to my site (this page, specifically)... from the first page of results. I had to check this out. Sure enough, the 10th image that comes up for that query is the picture of an Acer Aspire 5050 laptop that I included on that page.

The 10th result. Is my site about the Acer Aspire at all? About laptops period, even? Why, when there's SO many other sites out there that are more relevant, would my site come up in the top 10 results? It's broken. As usual.

Microsoft should just give up on the search scene altogether. MSN Search, Windows Live Search, Bing... no matter what they call it, it's the same exact failure of a search engine. Hopefully they'll learn their lesson after this and not try again with yet another search engine in the next couple years and just give up completely.

For the most relevant results for your search queries, Google is still the best.

Dell E176FP Monitor

Noah Petherbridge
kirsle
Posted by Noah Petherbridge on Thursday, May 07 2009 @ 10:33:38 AM
Update (1/5/12): At work now I have a Dell E198WFP (1440x900) monitor, and have discovered that it has exactly the same problem. I noticed that in my Thunderbird, I could barely see the alternating striped background in the inbox window, so I moved the window to the Hanns-G monitor and figured out that this monitor also has color and contrast issues (here is a picture I took a couple years ago that shows this).

I compared the settings between this monitor and the Hanns-G... the Hanns-G has 100 for brightness/contrast and for R/G/B; the Dell has 67 for brightness/contrast, and maxing them out whitewashes the entire image and makes the contrast even more horrible. So I'm at the conclusion that probably all Dell monitors have this issue, so I don't think I'll ever buy one for personal use.

Here is a new picture of an LCD monitor test page viewed on both monitors simultaneously. It very clearly shows the difference, and no, the Dell monitor can't be reconfigured to show the contrast correctly. dell-white.jpg (caution: 4000x3000 pixel resolution).

Now the original blog post follows.


Here's a rant I've been wanting to go on about the Dell E176FP LCD monitors.

These monitors suck!

My college used these monitors everywhere, because they bulk ordered cookie-cutter Dell machines to use as every workstation in every lab in the entire campus. And all of these monitors were just terrible.

I first realized how terrible they are at campus because the brightness on every monitor was set very dark, and this annoyed me. But I couldn't do much about it. Yes, the brightness and contrast was only at 75%, but if I upped those, the screen would become "too" bright -- everything would be white-washed. Subtle changes in gray, such as the status bar on Firefox compared to the white background of a web page, would blend together and there would be no distinguishable separation at all. And, if the Windows machine happened to have the Classic skin, you couldn't tell where status bars ended and the task bar begins.

A white-washed monitor is not usable by any stretch of the imagination.

And then, the monitor I had at my workstation at the office was one of these terrible Dell monitors. Fortunately, I didn't have to deal with it for very long, because all the engineers soon got NVIDIA cards and second monitors, to make us work more efficiently. These new monitors were Hanns-G, 1440x900 pixel LCDs.

I run Linux at my workstation, and with the second monitor, I decided that I'd run a virtual Windows XP machine full-screen in one monitor, and keep the other monitor dedicated to Linux for development. I chose the new Hanns-G monitor to run the Linux half, and the Dell monitor to run the Windows half.

I still kept noticing the color quality differences in the monitors, though. I'd use Windows almost exclusively to test our front-end web product, but every now and then I'd also test it in Linux. On the Hanns-G monitor, the web pages were so bright and colorful, compared to on the Dell monitor. It was like taking off your sunglasses after wearing them for half the day and being amazed how bright the world is.

But this still wasn't too bad.

Some time later, I configured Linux in an interesting way on my laptop, having it run the GNOME desktop environment but use XFCE's window manager. I had all kinds of semi-transparency effects on it, like having the menus be see-through as well as the window decorations. I took a screenshot to send to one of my friends, and I previewed this screenshot in Windows on this crappy Dell monitor, and this is where I officially started to hate this monitor.

Screenshot comparing the monitors

The Dell monitor, being SO terrible with color quality, was NOT able to display the transparency in the popup menu there! The menu was probably 10% transparent. Now mind you, this is a screenshot. I wasn't asking the monitor to render semi-transparency. It only had to display what had already been rendered. And it failed!

The menu bar has a solid gray background, not transparent at all. The panel and window borders were still see-through, because I gave them higher transparency levels, but even then the panel looks a bit more milky-white on the Dell monitor.

So, I swapped the monitors; now Linux uses the crappy color-challenged Dell monitor, since I primarily use the Linux half for development in text-based terminals, and the Windows half gets the Hanns-G monitor where I can see everything in their full colors.

Since the monitor has nothing to do with how the colors actually are to the computer, I couldn't just take a screenshot to show you the difference. So, on the Hanns-G monitor, I opened the screenshot in Photoshop and applied +20 contrast to it, which made it look pretty darn close to the same screenshot viewed on the Dell monitor.

Here are links to the full-size PNG screenshots, so you can see all the differences yourself. Note that if you have such a Dell monitor, and these screenshots look pretty much exactly the same, you're verifying my point. These Dell monitors are crap!

  • Hanns-G - This is how it should look on every monitor that doesn't suck
  • Dell - This is how it looks on a crappy Dell monitor which has horrendous color quality and the contrast sucks too
These monitors are crap. You can't use them for anything. You can't design on them. Could you imagine trying to design on these things? When you finally get your design looking good on your monitor, every effect you applied to it turns out to be grossly overkill on any other monitor. For instance, 10% transparency is usually perfect for most designs... it's enough to see the transparency, but any more and it would make things unreadable. But on these Dell monitors, 10% is equal to 0%, and you need 20% or more transparency to see the same effect. 20%+ transparency on any good monitor is grossly overkill and makes things look terrible and unreadable.

</rant>

Fedora 10

Noah Petherbridge
kirsle
Posted by Noah Petherbridge on Tuesday, November 25 2008 @ 03:25:02 PM
Fedora 10 has finally been released. Thus I can finally get rid of the countdown script I had that was messing with my page's ability to validate as HTML 4.01 Strict.

The most exciting thing about Fedora 10 for me is that my wireless card works now, just automatically. I installed it on my laptop, logged in, and before my GNOME panels even slid into view, the balloon from the network applet was already visible telling me there were wireless networks nearby. :-D So no longer do I have to fsck with the kernel or use MadWifi patches to get the wireless to work.

Also, Fedora 10 is just really pretty. I actually downloaded a leaked copy of the DVD image the day before it was officially released, to install it in a virtual machine and play around with it (I wanted to wait for it to be officially released so I could verify the sha1sum of the DVD image before installing it on any real PCs). On the virtual machine there was no graphical boot screen, only a text-mode one that had a text-mode progress bar at the bottom. But on my laptop the boot screen was pretty awesome. It had the supernova picture that's part of Fedora 10's theme and it had solar flare animations coming off it.

So, after installing it on my laptop, installing the OpenSolaris GTK+ theme, and tweaking some of my applets and panels the way I like 'em, here's a screenshot:

Fedora 10

Current Mood: Excited like omg.

Mandriva Linux

Noah Petherbridge
kirsle
Posted by Noah Petherbridge on Wednesday, October 08 2008 @ 05:55:24 PM
Last week in class I updated all the software on my laptop running Fedora 9 Linux. The Atheros wireless card in my laptop never did get along well with Fedora. There have been some unstable hacks to Madwifi that get the wireless card to work so that I didn't have to recompile the kernel, but these hacks were very kernel-specific and an update to the installed kernel would break the wireless and I'd be stuck waiting for another new Madwifi patch to come out.

Recently Atheros decided to make nice with Linux and contribute with driver support for Linux. That's cool, except Fedora 9 is all but almost expired and we still have nothing but a hacked Madwifi. In Fedora 10, a built-in kernel module should allegedly have the wireless card work out-of-the-box. But until Fedora 10 is released on the 28th, I'm in limbo.

On my Fedora 9 install I was reluctant to update the kernel knowing that it would break the wireless, especially while the Livna repository didn't have a matching upgrade to the Madwifi hack. But I updated it because there was a matching Madwifi this time, but that made my old (working) kernel 2 versions behind current. So, Fedora installed the new kernel and uninstalled the old one that worked. And, the wireless didn't work anymore with the new kernel.

So, I installed Mandriva Linux. Mandriva is used on the Acer Eee PCs and works heavily with Atheros hardware, and it was known that my particular wireless card works out-of-the-box with Mandriva. And it does. And Mandriva has a pretty default desktop theme. But, it's also a very annoying distro to use.

It's an RPM-based distro, but it doesn't use YUM for its front-end package manager. It uses something called URPMI, which doesn't have a very comparable interface at the command line. That's only an annoyance, but what I have a bigger issue with is how Mandriva replaces standard GNOME utilities with its own "control center" suite, which frankly sucks in comparison.

Mandriva's idea is that they wrapped all system administration tasks -- managing users, hardware, services, software -- into something similar to the Control Panel in Windows. Instead of using the already available, tested and stable GNOME programs, they reinvented the wheel. The most annoying part is that Mandriva's network manager applet really sucks. With GNOME's Network Manager, you can just click the icon on the panel and select the radio box for a wireless network that appears in the dropdown. The applet connects or it doesn't connect and it's really simple and straightforward. Mandriva's system has so much more complexity to it that of course it has bugs.

nm-applet

I can connect to my home network and the network at the office, but many other wireless networks, the applet just refuses to connect to. I click connect and it tells me it's making an effort to do so, but it doesn't, it just sits there forever and ever and doesn't go anywhere. The only way I found to connect is to go into some "Monitor Mode" (some advanced-looking packet monitoring thing that graphs out the network activity) and click some "Connect Wifi" button in there to get the wifi to even connect.

And, I couldn't get the GNOME Network Manager applet to install and work either. Mandriva's custom setup with the network means that the sysconfig scripts for the network devices are dynamically updated by Mandriva's own network program, so that, if I could get GNOME Network Manager to start, it wouldn't be able to find which devices to monitor because anytime I update the config scripts by hand, Mandriva overwrites them again.

Grrrr. I so can't wait for Fedora 10 to come out. >.<