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I was walking around Fry's over the holidays. One of the numerous Linux magazines in the technical publications section had an interview with someone at Canonical, and the title on cover was something like "Unity is a Conversation We Must Win". There was so much wrong with that sentence I wonder now if it read that Unity was a Conversion that they must win. It does not work for me personally either way.


It's hard to know the future. I look at all the top 10 lists, and predictions and think that about 90% of them are probably just something a writer was told 'Hey: Go put together a top 10 list about why Android tablets are failing in the marketplace", and then three weeks later "Hey, same writer, go put together a top ten list of why Apple is slowly losing tablet market share", and of course eight of the ten reasons have something to do with Android tablets.


Over at Distrowatch I just looked at Linux Mint versus Ubuntu versus Fedora, and for the last thirty days, Mint has been nearly twice as referenced, and for the last six months Ubuntu has been running at about two thirds of Mint. Fedora is running very close to Ubuntu. Over the next year it will be interesting to watch how that works. The way the distrowatch tool works, the shorter in you pull the time frame (last 1 year, last 6 months, last 3 months, last 30 days), the wider Mint pulls out from Ubuntu, and the closer Ubuntu and Fedora get. Ubuntu stays ahead of Fedora, but only just.


[Update: Just found this: "Linux Mint Touches All Time High On DistroWatch, Will Ubuntu Recover?" and found it interesting, since it looked at Mint versus Ubuntu the way I just did.]


Maybe they turn it around. Maybe putting a tablet interface on a desktop or laptop computer is just so amazingly innovative that I just can't grok its glory. Maybe.


Ubuntu had been doing a good job attracting the technical users along with the non-technical ones, but it appears to me that the technical folks: The ones that form a pretty good part of the Linux desktop world, are voting with their feet, and that the non-technical ones are also voting with their feet but perhaps in a different direction. Clearly Mint is getting a lot of them. Over the holiday I upgraded my dad's laptop from Mint 8 to Mint 11, and he has been very happy with that. I was tempted to put him on Fedora 16, but since he already knew Mint 8, it was such a short leap to Mint 11 for him that for now that's where we went.


No Unity, but KDE, LXDE, and XFCE


One of the nice things about Fedora is that, at the same time more or less the base release goes out, the 'Spins' go out too. Not only the Gnome base (which I am not any more intrested in than Unity at the moment, and for the same reasons), but LXDE, KDE, and XFCE versions. Ubuntu and Mint have those too, but they usually lag the main release. I just looked and the LXDE version of Mint is still based off Mint 11 as of this writing.


After I posted about switching to the LXDE version, a comment to that post, plus some private email told of the virtues of the XFCE version as well. I decided a shoot out of sorts was in order. The LXDE version remained on my Dell 745. It is reliable and snappy. Has been for the entire month since the conversion, making it feel like new hardware was installed. It had been running Ubuntu before.


The 64 bit version of XFCE version went in on my Dell m4500. This is by far my fastest computer, with four cores and 8GB or RAM. It also boots over to RedHat when I am running the ADDM scanner. It screams, but oddly does not feel all that much faster than the much slower hardwared 745 dual core / 4GB desktop running LXDE. I credit LXDE's amazing light footprint with that. XFCE is far from heavy, but it is more feature rich. After a bit of getting used to the slightly different ways things like adding apps to panels works, I like it well. Since the faster M4500 can easily deal with it, it's staying put there.


The last system to get the Fedora 16 spin was my very tired Dell D620 with 2GB of RAM and dual core processor and much older processor. When I pulled it off the shelf, I thought it might be a goner. the spare battery in the CD ROM bay had expanded to 150% its normal size. The batteries inside the plastic case looking like the Incredible Hulk busting out of jail. I spent a few hours taking the Dell apart, extracting the bulked up battery, and putting it back together. It had bent the frame, the keyboard, and the screen, but all flexed back to shape once the pressure was removed, and it booted right up. The KDE version of Fedora 16 landed there.


It would be very easy to make the case that the KDE version should have gone on the M4500, but I had different things I was going to try. This was not really a speed comparison, but just seeing which one I subjectively liked to work with the best. I wanted to do virtualization on the M4500, and was curious how the lighter weight user interface would feel when running a Guest Windows 7 operating system.


The thing I was going to try with the KDE version was seeing if I could use Fedora 12 instructions to get the Juniper SSL VPN working. By having a task for each one I could use it. Get used to its user interface. Decide which one I liked best.


Less Mealymouth Than Average


Ever read a shootout and the reviewer concludes something like "Which one is better? I can't say. They all have their good points" and you just want to tell them to go write a "top ten reasons not to read anything they review" kind of list? This isn't that. I admitted up front that this is subjective, and the hardware hardly matches for capabilities.


Here is my mealymouthed thing about these three. Any of them suit me better than Unity/Gnome-Shell/tablet interfaces on desktop / laptop computers.


KDE has come a long way since the first version of release 4. I still find it coated in eye candy, and spend half the time I am setting it up turning off special effects. Really: Just give me a decently kerned font, windows, slider bars, and good system configuration tools. I dislike the KDE start menu as well. At least is has a working search tool to find things, but it took me a while to find "Apper' when I wanted to apply updates. Really: Apper? I had to google to find that name. It works well, if a little too eye-candyish, but whatever. It works once you know not to be looking for something silly like "Update Tool" or "Software Installer" or any of a dozen other things I tried before I hit the google. KDE has lots of config tools, lots of widgets, is easy to set up for remote desktop, and such. KDE is useable, and for all its GUIfications, and even though it was running on the slowest hardware, it was plenty fast.


XFCE does not appear to have a native way to get VNC remote access up and running any more than LXDE did, so I assume I will have to load up the same x11VNC server I did for LXDE to get that working. It more panel apps that are easier and more intuitive to install and configure, and it manages the desktop real estate of the M4500 dual monitors better. I tried LXDE on the M4500 and it really freaked out about the dual screen, even though it handles them nicely on the 745.


XFCE would be my choice of these three unless the hardware target was very constrained, and then I would use the LXDE. There is no getting around how fast the 745 runs with it on there. Fast enough I'll leave it be for now. Its just not that hard to jump back and forth between XFCE and LXDE.


A Month of Evolution 3.2.2


Evolution has run in EWS mode all during the holidays, and never had a problem. In the old days it would have lasted about a week and then crashed for some reason or another. I use the 745 as sort of a service machine. When I am home, it is my Linux jump box. It filters my email into handy folders. Things of that nature. That is why remote access has to work, and X11VNC seems to do that well. Harder to install than Vino in Gnome, but once in, it works.


One thing crashes, but it crashes fast, and in isolation. The addressbook from the MS Exchange GAL is busted, It core dumps on the first try, every time. According to the bug reports, this issue is fixed upstream, but that means waiting six months for Fedora 17.


I tried to not wait. I gathered up the Rawhide Evolution packages, worked through all the co-reqs, and laid down Evolution 3.3.3, but it crashes on startup. It was a wild try anyway, since pulling upstream things down to earlier releases is almost always fraught with problems.


Dropping back to 3.2.2, I just told it to not use the GAL, and instead do LDAP lookups on the Active Directory Domain Controller. That is working extremely well. SO I have full access to email, calendar, task list, and address book, and I don't need MS Windows for any of that. Nice.


IM, Pidgin, SIPE and the One


The one reason I still have to run a VM is if I want to use our MS sourced IM. The MS Exchange IM is based off a Microsoft extended version of SIPE, and that is not working on Fedora. It did work on Mint 11 and Ubuntu. I do not know what to think about that, as no googling about turned up an references to what the differences might be. It could be as simple as they changed something in out server room between the two times I tried it.


Whatever the case, I have no native IM client. Seems silly, but the main reason to run a VM is to IM people.


What Conversation?


Magical thinking, denial and spin. I have to think that, when it comes to Ubuntu right now, they are just so sure that they are right about the desktop user interface that they are willing to burn down the market share house to prove how right they are. One month in, the conversation goes like this: Fedora is working just fine. Evolution is working better than it ever has in my whole history of using it (and that is a while).


I get that there is a reason to have a tablet interface. On a tablet computer. I get that maintaining two code trees is harder than one, so a desktop and a laptop user interface are harder than just having one. See Android 2,3, and 4 for details on what Google went through with that (except theirs was a phone and a tablet setup). I get that there are enough proof points around of people that use Unity and Gnome-shell of Gnome 3 to think that maybe this is the right direction.


I also get that I can leave for other Distros, and that I am hardly unique in doing so. Its easy to win the conversation if everyone left in the room are the ones that agree with you. Maybe that is enough people. Maybe the ones left dislike mints and cool hats.