Oh, well, old stuff…

December 23rd, 2011

Wow! I just stumbled upon my old post on GUIdebook about Linux desktop environments - http://www.guidebookgallery.org/articles/exclusive/thexfiles - maybe of some use…?

Android native development

July 7th, 2009

Google Android team finally released (beta, of course, but it’s Google after all) Android NDK (for Native Development Kit). Thanks to this you can write Android applications in non-managed languages (such as C, or C++) and get your own native ARM code running on Android phone.

This is not a “real” native toolkit - you still need Dalvik, as NDK allows you to create only libraries, but this is still very significant - for two reasons actually. First one is of course speed - marketing efforts aside, even such clever VM as Dalvik cannot match native code in many scenarios. There is however another, much more important in my (humble) opinion, reason - and it’s software porting. Most of the interesting mobile software had been written in C, or C++ - and rewriting all that stuff in Java, especially in the case of open source projects, was simply too costly or time consuming. Now it will be much easier - so expect a sudden surge in number of interesting and usefull Android applications in coming months. Me? Well, I want Android version of VICE. Or perhaps we should do it, hmmm…?

Android workshop

June 25th, 2009

Android is a magic word after all. I was afraid that there almost no one would be interested in attending the MOPS workshop that we (means - we, Polidea - www.polidea.pl) co-organized last Monday and Tuesday at the BRAMA Laboratory of the Warsaw University of Technology. Academic semester ended just last week, so all students were naturally (or so I thought) interested only in getting their exams right. Well, it seems that there are more important things in life and our workshop was one of them. Perhaps because it was about Android application development, or maybe because one could meet Google engineers face to face, or just because Kuba Lipi??ski was overseeing entire affair and he is really good. Well, people might have flocked also hoping to see a glimpse of Android G2 phone ‚?? but we had not advertised that… Anyway, there were more participants than places we had prepared :-)

The first day of MOPS was definitely less popular ‚?? probably due to the more dull and businesslike title. ‚??Benchmarking mobile platform‚?Ě does not sound sexy. But it was cool actually ‚?? we organized a usability competition (between iPhone, Symbian, Android and OpenMoko) with live video for the audience. And guess what? OpenMoko lost… I have an itch to actually repeat entire exercise in more controlled environment (including also Windows Mobile). In fact it might even deserve describing in a more official report or a scientific paper. Hmmm… Right, time to get to work.

Kuba Lipi??ski and Android disciples
Kuba Lipinski and Android disciples

What? Dark iPhone screen?
What? Dark iPhone screen?

Oh, and we had discussion panel too. Moderated by yours truly…
Oh, and we had discussion panel too. Moderated by yours truly...

Five Vista tricks you cannot teach Ubuntu. Or Gnome. Or both.

August 5th, 2008

Just my 2 cents for growing repository of flames inspired by Linux Haters blog (btw - highly recommended!!!). You see - I was trying to convert my old notebook into a photos/movies machine, that would sit on my coffee table. Being a secondary notebook, it would be also a good machine to be taken with me on business trips and the like (quite an old Thinkpad T42, almost expendable, ya see). Of course (of course!!!) I installed Ubuntu on it - after all Ubuntu (or Linux in general) should be ideal for this task (which is - digital media storage, playback, light web browsing etc.). And you know what? It sucks! Especially when compared with Windows. For example - compared with Windows Vista (this, you know, buggy, useless Windows version, sure…). Just a few (5) quick examples of simple things that Vista can do - and Ubuntu is not capable of even dreaming about :)

1. View photo EXIF data in file manager
Open a folder containing photos in windows explorer and you can sort them by exif data. So - for example - it’s easy to find photos shot on a given date (and copy them to usb flash drive…). Or sort photos by their resolution. Etc. Gnome’s nautilus does not know anything about Exif. Hell, it does not know anything about metadata at all. And F-Spot compared with Windows Photo Gallery… well, let’s say that it is so bad, that such comparison almost seems to be unfair :-) (speed, stability - tried exporting more than 100 photos from F-Spot? Good luck!, even sanity - do not even try to see what are your photos filenames, it’s almost forbidden - but we have tags, don’t we?)

2. View MP3 metadata in file explorer
Heck. Try above with MP3 files (not free format? no problem - it does not work with OGG either). Same story…

To be fair one should mention that there is a plugin (Info list view) for file metadata for Konqueror (complex software this - some freetards do not even understand how this thing works..). Or rather was - I have not seen it yet in KDE4 snapshots. Ah, and BTW, Dolphin seems not to care about metadata as well.

3. See thumbnails (sensible size) in file selector
Thanks to GVFS / GIO / Gwhatever transition we have now file thumbnails in Gnome file selector (BTW - which still sucks but it’s another story). Hurrraaaaayyyy… Pity Gnome is not bundled with a magnifying glass, so that these micro thumbnails could be even remotely useful (and do not get me even started on how the Gnome thumbnail machinery works… Or rather try for yourself, pointing your mighty Nautilus to folder storing your photo collection - patience is a virtue they say…).

4. Copy image from webpage (in Firefox) to Openoffice.org Impress

So I was trying to prepare a presentation in Impress and thought that it would be much nicer if it contained a picture taken from a webpage. Ctr-C - Ctrl-V you think? Buwahahahahahaha. Not between Firefox and Impress. Drag & drop? Hehehehehehehe. So, save to disk - insert from file. How pathetic, it’s 2008 and not 1988…

5. Sort (or do anything useful) with tracker results.
In Hardy Heron we have this shiny full text desktop search (a bit broken thanks to some freetards - see bug 150379, but I digress). Yes, Linux can do it, we do not need Google desktop or other evil spotlights (erm, vista indexer is built into the OS and I do not think it has a special codename… Live search perhaps?). So we use tracker search, get say 300 results, and we want to sort them by filename. Not possible, you say? OK, filter the result set then? Nope? OK, maybe we can use a boolean query at least? Shit, I give up… (ah, BTW - using tracker directly from file dialog still crashes Openofice.org - spit and polish for LTS release… Spit, indeed).

In fact I gave up completely. I installed Vista Business. Works like a charm even though this notebook has only small amount of ram (ok, aero glass is off - but compiz was blacklisted anyway, and rightly so as it’s highly unstable, you see this notebook has a radeon GPU on board).

Cyfrowa rewolucja

August 5th, 2008

Heh - a jednak ksiń???ka ju?? jest - dostń?pna np. w Empiku. Jest tak??e strona ksiń???ki (ju?? musia??em tam zamie??ciń? wstń?pnń? erratń?, a bń?dzie jeszcze wiń?cej, grrr…) tutaj - Cyfrowa rewolucja

Hotel Hetma??ski

June 10th, 2008

Whoa! I was recently in a new hotel in Rawa Mazowiecka near Warsaw (in Podlas to be precise, some 80 km south of Warsaw). Looks good, they named it Hotel Hetma??ski. I don’t plan on staying there (much too close to Warsaw), but restaurant is very good :-)

Bylem w nowym hotelu w Rawie Mazowieckiej (a dok??adniej w miejscowo??ci Podlas obok Rawy Mazowieckiej) - o nazwie Hotel Hetma??ski. Kuchnia naprawde niez??a, m.in. dzieki tradycjom gastronomicznym wlasciciela…

Book

April 4th, 2008

Less we forget - I just submitted draft text of my book to PWN publishing house. Should have its own website - www.cyfrowarewolucja.pl - but it would take some to set it up (the book should be published around September - October…),

Open Office imperfect

October 11th, 2006

Technical remarks: a) Perhaps I should have used the canonical form ‚?? OpenOffice.org - in this text. I prefer Open Office. It sounds better. b) English is not my mother tongue and I was not caring much about proper grammar while I typed this.

Open Office is important. Naturally, it is not important for someone not caring about free software. Nor is it important for someone not using a computer. However, it should be important to you. The chances are that if you are reading this, you are at least interested in Open Source and you are computer literate. Unless someone printed this page and started distributing it, what I find highly unlikely‚??

An office suite ‚?? and both Open Office and Microsoft Office call themselves office suites ‚?? is probably not an essential part of computer infrastructure anymore. Operating system is. Programming environment is too, for obvious reasons. Nowadays, as computers are treated more and more often as just terminals allowing access to ??ber-computer (well, the Internet), web browser is probably also one piece of software that is necessary for a computer to be useful at all.
However, when you consider application scenarios that concern business and school users, it becomes obvious that a main function of many computer systems is still content creation. This means ‚?? writing reports and essays, calculating spreadsheets, preparing presentations and so forth‚?? For all these tasks users need a good tool.

Is Microsoft Office such a tool? No, it is not, just in the same way in which Internet Explorer is not a good web browser, even in its seventh (well, according to Microsoft reckoning) incarnation. The difference is that the free software community was able to create a better web browser (actually, several better web browsers, but let‚??s concentrate on the most popular for simplicity sake). Firefox might not be technically superior to IE7 (I don‚??t know for sure), but it looks leaner. It seems to be more capable. And I think it really is more secure. Not that all these things are great achievements in fact ‚?? any properly designed web browser should be like this, but it is another story.

This is exactly where Open Office fails. It falls flat on its face, actually. Microsoft Office users hate Microsoft Office. Sometimes they even hate Microsoft too (‚??how would you feel, when your life‚??s work ‚?? like your doctoral dissertation ‚?? was irreversibly destroyed?‚?Ě). There is an enormous market opportunity for an office productivity application that would be cleaner, faster, more intelligent and more secure than Microsoft Office. Simply, better. Alas, Open Office is not even near to being better. It is just ‚??good enough‚?Ě.

Please note that above observation applies only to these people who use Microsoft Windows, or MacOS. Linux users are out of luck ‚?? Open Office is the only sophisticated office productivity software that can run natively on Linux. Of course, they can use Wine or CrossOver to run Microsoft Office, but this is somewhat suboptimal solution. Well, they could use DosEmu/DosBox to run Word Perfect for DOS. You get the point‚??

One might argue that there is plenty of office software for Linux. This is true ‚?? in theory. In practice it looks like this (note ‚?? this is just a quick and rough list, you can surely do better):

  • Abiword ‚?? it‚??s just a text editor, and not a very sophisticated one. No collaboration tools. Limited formatting capabilities. No drawing tools, etc. Some would argue that it is just a part of Gnome Office. Well, for me there is no such thing as Gnome Office, it is just a collection of not very compatible (from ‚?? for example ‚?? GUI perspective) software, marketed together.
  • KOffice ‚?? this is actually quite promising. Some innovative features (like Frame Maker ‚?? like word processor). The problem is that it is very buggy, and incomplete. So buggy that some releases (and note, they officially are at 1.6 now, so this is treated as production and not alpha software) are simply unusable (try working with tables in KWord 1.4 if I am not mistaken; or experiment with spreadsheets embedded in a presentation and so on). Bugs and missing features would not be a problem if the development speed was rapid, but KOffice lacks developers and lacks widespread community attention ‚?? main programs remain practically unchanged for years! However, they are working now on version 2.0, and maybe ‚?? just maybe ‚?? it will represent a project revival. I will return to this.
  • Web tools ‚?? like Google spreadsheets, Writely, Ajaxsketch and so on. Nice proofs of concept. Sometimes useful for specific projects where collaboration is important (spreadsheets + calendar make especially good combination). But doing anything really serious (like writing a book, or even a marketing report) with these is simply out of the question.
  • Text Maker / Plan Maker ‚?? this is nice software. But it is not open, it is not free either, and while quite capable its functionality is still way behind that what both Microsoft and Open offices offer.
  • Siag Office, LaTeX, etc. ‚?? don‚??t event start‚??

I could go on. However, listing examples of software (sometimes fine software) that does not constitute a functional equivalent of Microsoft Office is not a point of this rant (well, it is a personal rant, in case you have not already noticed).

The first natural reaction of any Open Office devotee would a violent protest. Perhaps Open Office is a best office suite in existence ‚?? after all such feelings are matter of personal tastes and preferences. However, for me it is not, to the point of being unusable, and for a variety of reasons ‚?? some of which I summarize below:

  1. Collaboration tools.
    The modern world is a networked world, and this applies not only to machinery or people but also to processes. Most of the work that I do is highly collaborative, and this is reflected in the nature of documents that I work on. The documents I edit are usually compilations of other people‚??s work that I have to review, correct and augment. This means that collaboration (comments, tracking changes, comparing documents etc.) tools are crucial, and Open Office collaboration tools are simply abysmal. Take notes ‚?? you can add notes, sure, but they end up as tiny, yellow boxes without any text, almost impossible to spot. Try printing a document with notes ‚?? they get printed all together! Reviewing them is almost impossible. This is worse than what Microsoft Office 97 had to offer, and when compared to Word 2003 / 2007 it looks downright primitive.

    OpenOffice.org comment
    A comment in OpenOffice.org Writer. Yes, this small, yellow rectangle.

    Word 2007 comment
    A comment in Microsoft Office 2007 Word.

  2. Zoom problems.
    I have an exercise for you to do. Open Open Office Writer. Now, zoom out ‚?? say, to 10%. What do you see?
    Yes, you see a large grey box and your document in the left upper corner of the screen. If you happen to have a widescreen laptop ‚?? and these are becoming quite popular, you see even larger grey box. Why the document is not displayed in the center of the screen is beyond my understanding! Obviously, the proper multipage display ‚?? in rows and columns - would be even better, but it seems to be something very difficult to implement. Microsoft Office can do it since, I think, version 97‚??

    OpenOffice.org zoom
    OpenOffice.org zoom.

    Word 2007 zoom
    Office 2007 zoom.

  3. Language tools.
    This is perhaps not that important, but it is worth mentioning for completeness. The quality of Open Office language tools ‚?? even English language tools ‚?? is very poor, especially compared to that what Microsoft provides. I am not talking about grammar, as this is difficult (however I do not believe that all talented NLP researchers work now for Microsoft Research; I think those who were sucked into Google should be quite bright too and could spare some of their Fridays to improve open source language libraries). I am talking about simpler things ‚?? spelling correction, in place translation etc.
  4. Community ‚?? clipart, templates etc.
    Free Software is about communities, right? Another exercise, then ‚?? please compare the number of community provided content for Microsoft Office and Open Office. Things like clipart, themes, sample documents etc. I know of course that the user base is important here ‚?? but it is much easier to retrieve this content right from Microsoft Office, and it seems that the MS Office web pages are *gasp* more inviting to potential content providers than that what Sun managed to create.
  5. Community ‚?? development.
    So you know now that I would like to have page centering added to Open Office. I know, I know, I should file a bug report in their bug tracking system. In fact I did it. Several years ago ‚?? this is bug number 1761. Other people voted for it, quite a number in fact. Five years passed by. OpenOffice.org jumped from 1.0 to 2.0. And‚?? nothing happened. The same for such seemingly trivial requests as antialiasing drawing objects, properly aligning mathematical expressions, displaying notes in a better way and so on.
    The problem that manifests here is related to the nature of Open Office community. This software is so old, and so complex and moreover so poorly documented that there are practically no freelance developers working on it. Most code submissions come from Sun employees and sometimes from people working for other, heavyweight companies like Novell. In my personal opinion this means, that there is simply no developer community around Open Office. It is free software perhaps, but only barely open source.
    The next version of Open Office is supposed to support an entirely new extensions system. Maybe this will improve the situation a bit. However, Open Office is not Firefox, and the trick that worked for web browser might not work here. But maybe‚??
  6. GUI.
    Last thing, but very important one. User interface, or rather looks. Open Office is not sexy. Microsoft Office prior to 2007 was not sexy either, but at least it was much faster. MS Office 2007 boasts however a completely redesigned user interface. I find it much more useful and well thought out ‚?? except for few rough edges, for example in Powerpoint. Some people think that it is counterproductive, yet almost everyone agrees that it looks very, very good. Open Office should look better. With compiz/beryl (whatever your religion is ;-) it has a potential to look much better on Linux ‚?? but I have not seen even any proposals for a new GUI‚??

Some final remarks. Note that I have not mentioned Office compatibility at all. This does not mean that it is not an important issue, but I would rather not treat it as a primary one. The killer application is a killer application even if it is not able to import the data created in an application that it supersedes. Oversimplification, I know‚??

The list above is a highly personal one. Other people would probably complain about other flaws ‚?? but if above problems were corrected, I would be able to use Open Office for my daily work. I mention only Writer issues, as it is probably the most often used part of Open Office, other components also have their problems. Like Calc not being able to cope with bigger spreadsheets‚??

What can we do? I do not know. Perhaps a next version of KOffice‚?? after rejuvenating community interest with Krita ‚?? will be so good, that it could be used as a replacement. However, considering the entire progress that so far was done towards KDE 4.0 (as next KOffice release is quite related to it), I highly doubt it. However, KDE development has a tradition of being somewhat ‚??behind the scenes‚?Ě affair, so it could surprise me pleasantly.
Perhaps Open Office itself can be transformed into something better. After all Firefox is transformed Netscape browser. In the latter case the transformation was somewhat drastic. I do not see Sun doing any kind of ‚??Open Office reborn‚?Ě project anytime soon. It is simply too strong a company (feeble as it may be) to have to do it. The situation for Netscape was completely different.

Finally, I might be just wrong. However I have a feeling ‚?? just a feeling ‚?? that these thoughts written haphazardly above express the sentiments of more people. So‚?? think about it. Think about solutions. Discuss it.

Piotr Gawrysiak

Armenia - Second visit

September 26th, 2006

Another trip to Armenia, this time direct flight to Yerevan. Not much to write home about (ok, Yerevan in summer and Yerevan in winter are two quite different cities (especially if in winter you experienced dense fog - I finally understood that this is really not a flat city :-) . Some photos are available here , alas very low quality, I did not have my camera so these were captured with my cellphone.

Dapper Drake on T42

June 28th, 2006

I just finished Dapper installation on my notebook (IBM, ops, Lenovo T42), or rather I finished a first part of it. So far I was busy mostly with getting the bootloader right - which is not a trivial task on recent Thinkpads due to Rapid Restore & Recovery partition.

More to come then. For now I just post this quick info regarding Linux installation with R&R functionality intact.

1. Getting right installation disk & making backup
Ubuntu Dapper Drake has a new super flashy LiveCD installer, which is convenient, nice, cool etc. - but not very user friendly. Hmmm, or rather power-user friendly. In short, it assumes that the GRUB installer should be installed on HDD MBR (master boot record). It just deletes contents of MBR and writes its own bootloader there, without asking (or even informing) the user.

Too bad the MBR on recent Thinkpads is rather special - it contains IBM’s own bootloader, which is capable of trapping “Access IBM” keypress event. So if you delete original MBR the Rapid Restore functionality is lost - while the “hidden” partition, containing Windows XP recovery image, might be still there on the disk, the computer cannot boot it (note - it can be booted manually, with special GRUB configuration, but it is not very pretty…). Therefore you should not install anything on the MBR.

Fortunately it is possible to install Dapper Drake in an old fashioned way, via text installer, which does ask if you want to have bootloader on MBR or not. For this you should use “Alternate” install CD, also available from Ubuntu homepage.

Aha… back up your data. Just in case.

2. Setting R&R partition mode
First important thing - before making any changes to HDD layout you should protect the recovery partition. Enter BIOS setup and in “Security” set the recovery partition mode to “Secure“.

3. Installation
In theory (and this is usually suggested by people in the forums) it should be possible to make a small /boot partition and install GRUB there instead of installing it in MBR. This way the original MBR can load recovery (when Access IBM button is pressed), and it can also load our GRUB which in turn loads Linux or Windows. In practice :-) it turns out, that the IBM’s bootloader is rather dumb and can boot the first partition on the disk only . And unless you do some heavy partition/disk layout modifications the first partition on your HDD would be an original Windows XP partition (of course shrunk) and not other, Linux partition, where GRUB could be installed :(
Fortunately GRUB is not the only boot loader that you have - the other one is Windows XP boot loader (NTLDR) and it can be persuaded to boot Linux. Here’s how:

a) Start “Alternate” CD installation.
b) Shrink Windows partition with installer tool (probably it is even better to shrink it, abort installation, check that Windows is still working, and restart installation, this time “using free space” on the disk).
c) Install Ubuntu, when asked about boot loader refuse to install it to MBR, install it to your Linux partition (it probably will be /dev/hda3 as /dev/hda1 is original IBM_PRELOAD that you just shrunk and /dev/hda2 is recovery partition).
d) Reboot - Windows XP should start again.

e) Now you need to transfer the contents of /dev/hda3 boot sector to Windows partition, for NTLDR usage. Probably the simplest way is to use some Linux LiveCD distro (for example normal Ubuntu CD should be OK, or something smaller like Linux Rescue CD). Boot it, open console, become root if necessary:
sudo -i
and use dd to write contents of first sector of /dev/hda3 to a file.
dd if=/dev/hda3 of=ubuntu.img bs=512 count=1

Now you should transfer this small ubuntu.img file (should be 512 bytes long) to your Windows partition. I just used a flash USB drive.

f) Reboot again into Windows. Put ubuntu.img in c:\ and modify contents of c:\boot.ini (this file controls NTLDR behaviour, its hidden, read only etc. so change attributes apropriately) appending to it a line:
c:\ubuntu.img="Ubuntu Linux Dapper Drake"

g) Reboot - now you should have boot menu with Windows XP and “Ubuntu Linux Dapper Drake” options. The later should boot GRUB, with standard Ubuntu boot options. Uffff‚??

Note - there are also Windows clones of dd, but I have not tested them.