sábado, 24 de marzo de 2012

Observations on the growth of Linux use

Ah, statistics! How we love to deceive ourselves with them! Sometimes we tend to forget they are numbers applied to measure a reality, but they are affected by many variables. Therefore, statistics become a useful prediction, but a prediction is, ultimately, a guess nonetheless.

I am saying this because, since I migrated to Linux in 2009, I have been listening to Windows fanboys chanting that "according to Netmarketshare and StatCounter, Linux accounts for a skimpy 1% of the total market". And the funny thing is that they believe it!

My eyes, however, show me a different picture. When I migrated, the only Linux computer I ever saw was mine; I never spotted another computer running the Penguin OS in public. During the last two years, however, I've run into students who have Linux computers... but Netmarketshare has kept saying that Linux usage is 1% in 2009, 2010, 2011 and, yes, you guessed it, the first two months of 2012, too!

W3counter.com is another source that is frequently quoted to say that Linux represents a 1% marketshare. Notoriously, in 2009 it said Linux was 2% and then declined. Right now, W3counter is showing a gradual increase (1,67%).

It seems that Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, did not believe those numbers. Back in 2009, as he was giving a presentation to investors, he showed a slide that tells a different story. Wisely, he did not include any numbers (not to disclose critical information and scare investors away, I presume), but the pie chart indicates that Microsoft either:

  1. Tried to minimize Apple (the shares of "Apple" and Linux are virtually identical)
  2. Believed Linux accounts for more than the never-changing 1% that Netmarketshare and StatCounter keep measuring since 2009.

Who would you believe, then? I would go for Ballmer in this case: one would expect him to have more reliable data as he was addressing investors, don't you think?

If we take Ballmer's pie chart as reference, then Microsoft believed Linux had a marketshare of around 5% in 2009, judging from the graph proportion.

W3schools.com throws numbers onto the table that match Ballmer's pie chart (and his statements that Linux was worrisome): When Windows 7 retail was released (October 2009), W3schools' Linux count showed 4.2% marketshare and that number has kept going up to 5% in February 2012.

Another interesting observation is the behavior of Distrowatch. Yes, yes, I know that you are going to say that those numbers cannot be taken as an accurate measuring. Point well taken. However, Distrowatch count shows that either:

  1. The same group of Linux users is keeping track of distros more closely (visiting distro pages crazily and bumping up the count), or
  2. More people are actually clicking on distro pages.

The latter scenario shows more interest in Linux which, in turn, suggests an increase in Linux use, especially when one pays attention to the last distro reported (#100). Let us see: in 2009 it was MOPSLinux (73 clicks). CD Linux took the spot in 2010 (86 clicks). For 2011, DreamStudio got the #100th position with 90 clicks. During the last three months of 2012, that same position belongs to LFS, with 131 visits.

That means that the last position in Distrowatch jumped from a two-digit number to a three-digit one. If we take that merely as an indication of interest in Linux, then it has increased in a 55.6%.

This matches the reality I see more accurately, the same one that Ballmer inadvertently described in 2009. One wonders what his numbers will show today.

sábado, 17 de marzo de 2012

Some reflections on Mageia 2 Beta 2

As a non-technical user of Linux, and after reading several posts about the battle between developers and users who feel neglected by them, I could not prevent myself from worrying a bit about the soon-to-come release of Mageia 2. You know, maybe Mageia also jumped on board that train that takes you to DumbOSland, where you "use-your-computer-as-if-it-were-a-cellphone".

So, I downloaded the beta2 to have a preview of what Mageia offers to users of Linux who are not computer gurus by any standard, but who like computers to behave as what they are.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a technical review, so I'm not getting into codecs, Flash, boot-time, and the like. As a simple computer user, I wanted to check on the progress made by Mageia and I saw both positive points and negative ones. This is what I found on the negative side:

1. The artwork needs some, er, work!

I am inclined into thinking that OSs must keep a balance between efficiency and beauty. While I do not find myself necessarily annoyed by the color scheme or login screens of Mageia, I do believe that lack of consistency might make potential users to refrain from using a system because simple users, when seeing an inconsistency in the booting process, tend to think of it as "a problem". The graphical screen of Mageia 2 Beta 2 overlaps the text screen and it looks strange. Of course, that is not going to make a computer blow up, but still...

2. A hideous bug crawls through Mageia Control Center/ RPMDrake

Although the installation was smooth, when I opened Mageia Control Center to start adding programs, it told me that RPMdrake had to be updated. That is normal, so I marked some packages for install and waited.

The installation was successful and so was the updating of RPMdrake. The latter was the problem: after the updating, RPMdrake became unusable, which prevents you from performing any further software install operations.

Now, this is what I really call a problem. I presently ignore if it is a localized issue or many users experienced it, but this is not good. I tried three different combinations and all of them led me to the same dead end:

a. Install Mageia, select no upgrades, refresh repos (leaving DVD), install software from MCC=locked RPM db

b. Install Mageia, select upgrades, refresh and select some additional repos, install software from MCC=locked RPM db

c. Install Mageia, select no upgrades, refresh repos (unselecting DVD and selecting some additional repos), install software from MCC=locked RPM db

However, this worked:
Install Mageia, select no upgrades, refresh repos (unselecting DVD and keeping the default active), install software from MCC. I suppose this problem is going to be taken care of with the RC.

3. Japanese IME with iBus: Dekiruka, dekinaika?

This is perhaps the most technical requirement I have for selecting an OS: I need a free and efficient way to write in Japanese. There are many functionalities I can live without (games included), but my computer has to accept Japanese character input.

Mageia 1 Beta2 astonished me when I saw that iBus worked flawlessly out of the box, something I could never achieve in Mandriva 2010 regardless of all my efforts (iBus works perfectly in Mandriva 2011, though).

Since Mageia 1 Live CD removed this functionality (I must use SCIM for Japanese IME with that version of Mageia), I was a bit concerned of whether or not iBus will work in Mageia 2. I tried the beta 1 and, to my disappointment, although iBus seemed to be activated, all the languages were shown in light gray, the "conventional" color for unavailable features in a menu.

iBus in Mageia 2 Beta 2 showed the same. However, I discovered that, although they were displayed in a lighter color, if you click on the arrow preceding each language, a tree opens and you see the possibilities... Wheeee! My bad, really. After my battle with MCC, I downloaded all the packages to get Japanese working (Anthy, ibus-anthy, Japanese font) and tried iBus. It works... sort of. Now, although you see the ibus keyboar in the taskbar, you must restart it to get Anthy running. And you must install the java packages for LibreOffice, too. Interestingly, iBus works in LibreOffice even if you do not uninstall the Libreoffice-kde package. Another issue: it does not seem to work with Firefox.

Mageia 2 beta 2 で、日本語のIME、できるか、できないか?できそう。

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On the other hand, Mageia 2 Beta 2 brings onto the table some tempting features for simple computer users like me:

1. New KDE
I really like the way in which Mageia 2 is working with KDE 4.8.1. Let me say this and, please, computer experts, do not feel offended. I simply do not care if KDE is a resource hog or not. I mean, KDE runs perfectly on my 2GB RAM, 500GB HD, even if I have several programs open (including Firefox with 6 tabs). It also looks beautiful with all the eye candy and plasma widgets. People can get systems with twice the horsepower of mine to run another OS that requires a ridiculous amount of resources and they are happy that way. So, to be honest, I find KDE's demands reasonable (again, I am a simple computer user, not a technical expert). Stability? Well, I haven't experienced a single KDE crash in a very long, long time. Yes, maybe it's because I do not use each and every KDE application, but I use the ones I find indispensable. That being said, I think that the prize KDE obtained was well deserved and using it is fun.

By the way, now the bottom panel marks with indicators the programs that are active and it also offers you an instant full-screen preview of the applications that are running. Some people I know are going to be crazy about these new features...

2. A satisfactory assortment of programs

Mageia 2 Beta2 packs LibreOffice 3.5.1.2, KOrganizer (I cannot live without it!) Okular (another gem), Scribus, Amarok 2.5.0, which nows incorporates the Amazon Store... I don't care because it works in some countries and mine is not included), Kdenlive, the players Dragon and Totem, and Gimp 2.7.4 with its new "export as" instead of "save as" dialog and image transformation tools.

3. Solid translations

As a Linux user, I cannot emphasize this point enough. Linux distros that provide only a couple of languages or inconsistent translations might not realize it, but they are reducing their possibility of adoption. Not all computer users speak English.


I believe that Mageia wants to offer a nice usability/freedom blend. Yes, I know that many Linux distros use the same motto, but they do not deliver; some say "We are the easiest computer experience", but then they switch your desktop for something you had never seen before and you are stuck with a desktop that that you simply don't understand. Mageia developers seem to understand that non-technical computer users need an OS that works with them, not against them. Thus, instead of "dumbifying" the user interface to the maximum, which is rather popular lately, they are following KDE's progress while keeping the same installation process. For computer users who lack technical training, that is certainly the right approach: I can follow the same steps and obtain a familiar, more polished desktop in the end. I can use it in my own language; it has the appropriate tools, and it requires little effort to use as I am not expected to relearn everything.
...A desktop that tells me I'm using a computer, not a gigantic cellphone. Thank you, Mageia!

miércoles, 7 de marzo de 2012

Not everything is happiness in the world of Linux

Before you start reading this post, let me say upfront that you will not find any complaints about technical flaws of Linux here. I want to write about events related to the human side of distributions, OK?

For people who enjoy tinkering with their computers, or those who like to see their systems perform actions that they never thought were possible, the freedom of Linux provides satisfactions, amazement, and joy. For example, KDE developers have a legitimate reason to celebrate because their efforts were acknowledged with the award of Best Desktop of 2011.

However, not everything is happiness in the world of Linux. Preceding KDE's award, the first trimester of this year was hit by three sad incidents concerning some notorious KDE distros: PCLinuxOS, Pardus, and Mandriva.


PCLinuxOS

Although you can use other DEs with PCLOS, it is eminently a KDE system that you can rely on. I have been using it both in a desktop and a laptop computer since version 2011.6 and I am completely satisfied by its performance.

User satisfaction is not a coincidence. Texstar, the founder of PCLinuxOS, puts a lot of effort in addressing bugs, polishing the distribution and, in short, making a Linux distro that you can count on for every possible task you want a computer to perform. In fact, he has worked so passionately that right now he is on a sick leave: he posted an announcement saying that doctors told him to rest.

This sad news, however, is not stopping PCLinuxOS. Wisely, while Texstar recovers, other prominent members of the community have taken the wheel.

Let us all wish Texstar a speedy recovery and a good ride to Old-Polack, Neal, and the others who are now in charge.


Pardus

It seems that Pardus was also hit during the first months of the year. Apparently, some developers are no longer with the project and Pardus 2011.2 was the last desktop version of the distribution. It is hard to confirm the information because the posts come in languages other than English.

So far, we know that there will be a Pardus workshop (March 23 &24) to decide on a roadmap. I hope everything goes well.


Mandriva

Mandriva's woes have not been new: the distro's year opened with a short post on Jan 17th stating the grim future of the Mandriva S.A. (the company), which was followed by a shorter post 10 days later.

There was a third post on the 30th promising more news to come in mid-February. Unfortunately, it is March 7th already and the company has not disclosed any information about its immediate future.


The common denominator here is that, in the world of Linux, developers and communities become more visible as they are: humans and groups of people who laugh, sweat, suffer, fight, succeed, and fail sometimes. Somehow, I feel honored to use an OS that reminds me of the people behind it instead of being used simply as a market good.

Let us see what news March brings...