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On The Desktop

Automated Installers. End users are not generally interested in updating system components, such as the kernel, windowing environments or basic tools like shells. Their prime concerns tend to be with installing higher level applications. The problem with users ignoring updates to low level software components lies mostly with the Internet, where security concerns are paramount and updating system components a necessity to keep the wolves at bay.

Automated update systems are the latest attempts by software makers (open or proprietary) to get end users to update low level software. Recently, Ximian released the first version of their Red Carpet system for doing automated updates of their GNOME environment distribution. The system works fairly well for Ximian sponsored components: it's easy to use, moderately quick (depending on the network connection speed that is available) and most importantly follows Rule #1: don't break what wasn't broke. Red Carpet appears to install the updates without doing damage to a working system. Ximian requires users to register for channels on their site, three of which exist at the time of this writing: Red Hat Linux 7.0, Ximian GNOME and Ximian Evolution. While users can examine each channel independently for updates and check previously installed packages on their system, Red Carpet also allows the user to view available updates in a summarized form.

Ximian isn't the first company to announce such a project, however. Red Hat has had their Red Hat Network in place since mid April. Red Hat's client side update tool, known as the Update Agent, searches for updates on Red Hat's servers applicable to the user's registered system.

The problem with systems like this on Linux is that some of the software that would be considered system components come from different places. The most notable example of this is the desktop, where an OS distribution can come from one of many vendors, while GNOME and KDE can come from either commercial organizations or the open source projects directly. So what automated installer do you use to get updates for these separate, but equally important, parts of the system? Are the updates compatible? So far, considering Red Hat Network and Ximian's Red Carpet, the installers appear to work well together. Both systems use the RPM package format. And so far they don't seem to be stepping on each other's toes.

Still, using two different installers to install different pieces of the system would seem prone to error. Red Carpet provides an interesting solution to this issue by providing different channels for important bits of software. By providing a Red Hat Linux 7.0 channel users can use Ximian's Red Carpet to upgrade their OS and their desktop software. The Red Hat Networks updates exist for that company's various distributions while Ximian's channel setup could potentially allow for updates to any OS distribution and even KDE updates.

But there is a catch: users will have to depend on Ximian to make updates available as quickly as possible. Users who need, for example, the latest version of Mozilla in order to run the Galeon web browser might be stuck waiting for someone at Ximian to do the packaging of both products. Such dependencies on a single company are not encouraged in the open source world. In real world use, I find myself using Red Hat's Network for security updates because Red Hat tends to have those updates first. Ximian, aside from a slew of initial package updates, has been fairly quiet since their Evolution 0.10 release.

As long as installers use the underlying client side databases for packages, such as the RPM database, these problems shouldn't amount to much. Ximian's naming schemes for packages which they deliver, however, don't match Red Hat's. We're still trying to determine whether this will cause dependency issues in the future.

One other note on automated installers: the Debian project has probably had this issue addressed longer than anyone with their set of "apt" tools. Use of apt to update just about any package is pretty painless. All that may be missing from this might be a graphical front end integrated into KDE and GNOME.

KDE Installer rumors.
A brief note posted on the KDE-Devel mailing list stated that while no Red Carpet-like installer currently exists specifically for KDE, a project of that nature has at least been started. In the mean time, Shawn Gordon from theKompany.com noted that using Red Carpet to install KDE files should be possible, if someone steps up to manage it. "The limiting factor is someone who will host the applications and data and get them packaged up as needed - a non-trivial thing." No details were given on the status of the installer project, unfortunately. However, a posting on KDE Dot News stated that the project may be in trouble. The 16 year old lead developer says all that is really needed is some coding help.

KDE Updates and corrections. The KDE FAQ is in need of a maintainer, according to a proposal posted to the KDE FAQ mailing list. The proposal recommends splitting the FAQ into pre- and post-KDE2 documents. The proposal states that "installation instructions are outdated and incorrect." One reply to the proposal points out the apparent need for a generic installer for KDE:

A problem here is that no one person can be familiar with all of the various systems and distros and the various hoops that you have to jump through when trying to install/update kde on them.

Last week's Desktop page carried a note on better page renderings coming from KDE's Konqueror than those rendered by Netscape Communicator. This improvement was mistakenly attribued to KDE itself, when in fact antialiased fonts come from the new Xft extension to the newest XFree86 server. Newer releases of KDE actually makes use of that extension, while tools like Netscape and Opera do not.

Icons on the Desktop. The request for help in removing icons from my desktop root window last week generated quite a bit of mail. A number of readers reported on multiple ways to get rid of the icons from both the GNOME and KDE desktops. In GNOME the easiest way to remove all the icons at once was to disable gmc (GNOME Midnight Commander). If you want to keep gmc running for your next session, just disable the desktop icons on startup. Be sure to save your sessions when you exit, though!

Disabling gmc works perfectly though mouse buttons may work differently, but the technique also removes all the icons. If you want to remove a single icon you can select it and delete it manually.

One KDE reader suggested moving the icons to the KDE Trashcan. However, a simpler method comes from dragging a selection box around the icons you want to remove to select them and then right mouse clicking to open the icon menu and choosing the Delete option. The icons will be removed from the desktop.

Dell: Linux too tech for the desktop (News.com). Apparently, no one in Dell sales or marketing has looked closely at either GNOME or KDE recently.

"It's still a fundamentally technical operating system," said Steve Smith, Dell's European market development manager for client systems. "It's very easy for someone who doesn't know what they're doing to break."

Desktop Environments

Open Request to KDE and Gnome. Bynari, Inc. announced its initiative to assist in extending functionality in the KDE and GNOME teams' groupware products for messaging and collaboration. "Bynari's Insight client allows Linux and UNIX workstations to peer directly in an Exchange enterprize without the need for proxies. Bynari wrote modular componets [sic] which provide Outlook interoperabiliy in anticipation of working with OpenOffice and KDE's mail, addressbooks and calendars."

Introduction to KDE: An overview for newbies (IBM developerWorks). Another developerWorks article, this time with a bit more meat to it (and no registration required), introduces new users to the world of KDE. "The way the windows respond to the mouse can be customized in the "Window Behavior" entry in the Look and Feel menu. I always have a ton of windows around, so I have very specific settings I use for managing them. First, I set the focus policy to "Focus follows mouse". This allows me to change the window that I'm typing into just by moving the mouse over it."

GNOME Summary for May 13 - May 19 2001. This week's summary of the GNOME world is out. Topics include a discussion on starting new projects, the end of Eazel and the GNOME 2.0 release plan.

GNOME Board meeting, 15 May 2001. The minutes from the latest GNOME board meeting have been posted. Highlight for the meeting was the development of the preliminary GNOME 2.0 schedule.

Gnome 2.0 release schedule. The tentative release schedule for GNOME 2.0 has been posted to the GNOME 2.0 developers mailing list. In short, the team is planning for a very late (December) 2001 ship date.

Qt on Windows. The KDE Announce list carried the announcement that Qt is being ported to Windows via the Cygwin environment in an attempt to get KDE on Windows platforms.

GNUstep Weekly Update. This week's updates to the GNUstep project include updates to GNUstep-Guile, the Guile language interface, and the regression test suite.

Office Applications

KOffice 1.1Beta2. The KDE Project has announced the release of KOffice 1.1Beta2.

AbiWord Weekly News #42. The latest release of the semi-weekly AbiWord Weekly News is out. "This week we've seen at least three very interesting checkins: Martin added support for LaTeX style tables (simple outlining of your text) which is the closest we're likely to get for table support this side of 1.0. Dom checked in a first version of an AbiWord GTK widget, and also did some work on a module plugin architecture."

Gnumeric 0.65. A new edition of Gnumeric was released this past week. New features include a xls overwrite export option and improvied XL95 export. There were also numerous bug fixes. Note that dependencies have also been changed for this release: gnome-xml 1.8.12, GAL 0.8 and libole2 0.2.2 are now required.

Desktop Applications

Loki to ship MindRover: The Europa Project on May 23rd. Loki has announced that it will begin shipping MindRover: The Europa Project for Linux starting May 23rd. The new game will carry a suggested retail price of $29.95.

GNOME Pan newsreader update. An new release of the GNOME based news reader Pan hit the streets this week. Fixes include better handling for message threads, better handling of article headers and a fix for very large article decoding.

Dia 0.88.1 released. A new version of Dia, the GNOME diagramming tool has been released. Version 0.88.1 includes experimental unicode print support, new shape and export filter plug-ins and better SVG support.

Sodipodi 0.23. Another GNOME drawing program also got an update this week. Sodipodi was rev'd to version 0.23 with various bug fixes and internal architecture updates. Sodipodi has a low version number but appears to have some serious features that may make it worth examining if you're looking for vector drawing tool along the lines of Corel Draw (though not yet as sophisticated).

And in other news...

Life after Eazel (Salon). Andrew Leonard asks if the era of free software is already over in the Salon.com article. "Free software may truly never go away, but will it stay relevant to the contemporary software marketplace? The collapse of Eazel, combined with the difficulties faced by many other companies with open-source/free software dependent business plans, raises some serious questions about the future (and past) of free software. Namely: Just what role did the bubble economy of the '90s play in free software's march to prominence?"

KDE accessibility issues. Posted to the KDE Development mailing list was a note on adding accessibility features to KDE, much like the GNOME Accessibility project.

The Agenda VR3: Real Linux in a PDA (O'Reilly Network). In this 2nd part of a series on Linux-based handheld systems, O'Reilly examines the Agenda VR3. "The VR3's display has the lowest resolution of the three, at only 160 by 240 pixels, 16-bit gray-scale. Think of the display as the same size, physically as well as in resolution, as the new Palm m100/m105 models, except with renderable space on the VR3 where the fixed Graffiti writing area exists on the Palm."

Linux looks good on server (ZDNet). While server benchmarks are keeping Linux looking good as a server, this eWeek article thinks the Eazel demise is a bad sign for Linux on the desktop. "The imbalance has less to do with the quality of the open-source desktop technology and far more to do with the fact that investors do not see a sustainable business model for commercial desktop open-source companies."

Linux takes Hollywood by storm (ZDNet). Linux is no stranger to serving up digital renderings, but now companies like Pixar are moving the OS onto the desktop to make their movies. "Alias/Wavefront, an animation software unit of SGI, in March adapted its flagship Maya program to run on Linux. It estimates that at least one-quarter of the major studios have begun switching to Linux. Softimage Co., whose animation software helped create a colosseum in "Gladiator," expects to ship Linux versions of its two leading products in September. The Montreal firm expects the Linux market to account for 15% of sales shortly."

Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel

May 24, 2001

Note: An asterisk (*) denotes a proprietary product, (w) denotes WINE based tools.

Desktop Environments

Window Managers (WM's)

Minimalist Environments

Widget Sets

Desktop Graphics
CorelDRAW (*)(w)
Photogenics (*)

Windows on Linux

Kids S/W
Linux For Kids

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