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The venerable Linux Foundation just this morning announced the schedule for LinuxCon, which happens in Boston, MA, August 10-12. The lineup looks pretty fantastic, with talks by Joe Brockmeier, Scott Remnant and Matt Asay of Canonical, Karen Copenhaver talking legal, my old workmate John Hawley on the state of, Karlie Robinson on business (looks very interesting), plus the usual cast of awesome kernel maintainers—over 60 talks, plus bowling and rubbing elbows with luminaries. I just love these things. The sense of community and camaraderie is overwhelming, and the Linux Foundation does a great job of keeping things professional, intimate, and fun.

The day before, on August 9, I will also be helping to run the day-long Teaching Open Source mini-summit on education. This is a chance for professors, teachers, trainers, and others involved in educating people to get some pointers from industry on best practices for educating. If you are a teacher thinking about open source, or if you know one, consider joining this vibrant and important discussion.

At LinuxCon, I will be giving a talk entitled Desktop Linux Showdown, in which I will compare and contrast the various popular desktop offerings and find out just where the Year of the Linux Desktop went (hint: look in your pocket). This talk will take place Tuesday, August 10, in the Mediterranean room. Here’s the abstract:

Every year for the past five or six has been called the Year of the Linux Desktop by some number of pundits. Certainly Desktop Linux has become much more user-friendly. But just how friendly is it? In this presentation, we will examine several different normal, everyday activities on each of the three major Linux desktop distributions, and perhaps a few non-normal activities (e.g. configuring hardware) that we all endure from time to time. Who has the best overall user experience? Come find out & share your experiences. Distributions examined: Ubuntu 10.04, Fedora 13, OpenSuSE 11.2, all using the Gnome window manager. As time permits, we’ll look at key activities using KDE as well. Activities will include, but are not limited to the following: “time to live” (startup time comparison, power-on to usable desktop); installing applications from repository or from download; system configuration tools; online help; setting up new hardware (example: Epson scanner using xsane); setting up network services (Wi-Fi, Samba, NFS); one live activity at audience’s request.

That “audience request” thing is going to be tough given that I’ll have to reboot each time! My weenie little ThinkPad T43 does about as well with virtualization as I do at math skills before morning coffee. Anyone want to loan me a good fast machine?

I will also be hosting an embedded Linux BoF, although BoFs have not yet been announced on the schedule. More on that soon.

The Linux Foundation’s second annual fall all-Linux conference, LinuxCon, is set this year for Boston, MA, August 10-12. There are some excellent keynote speakers who have just been announced, and it is ultra cheap – only $300 for three days of rubbing shoulders with Linux luminaries like Ted T’so and Stormy Peters. If you are a student it is only $100, but remember that early bird registration ends tomorrow (Friday May 6) so go do it!

I will also be speaking at LinuxCon this year on two subjects: Embedded Linux (of course) in the form of an Embedded Linux BoF, and Desktop Linux in the form of a usability showdown among the top desktop distros, including Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSuSE (hi Zonker!). I’ll post a link here as soon as the official schedule is announced, and I hope to see you there.

Some links for Friday:

The saga of transitioning to desktop Linux continues.

I now officially quad-boot my laptop, a trusty old Thinkpad T43. It isn’t a superhero of a laptop, but it does the job well, is virtually bulletproof, and can be found on eBay for about $300. (Or free from the IT guys at work.) I added a modern 80gb Seagate drive to the existing 40gb Toshiba drive, and the layout looks like this:

40GB Toshiba (in place of the CD-ROM):
Windows XP in its own dedicated NTFS partition

80GB Seagate (default drive in main slot):
Ubuntu 9.04 (default boot partition—grub also lives here): 60GB partition
Fedora 10: 10GB partition
OpenSUSE 11.1: 10GB partition

I chose those three Linux distributions because they are the most popular individual major desktop distros available, where “individual” indicates a choice between, say, Ubuntu and Linux Mint, a close derivative. I also chose to “centralize”, for lack of a better term, around Ubuntu, because frankly I like Ubuntu, its package management, its philosophy, its community, and its tendency to Just Work. I honestly think of the others as experiments, although I feel very comfortable with Fedora’s philosophy as well, having documented derivatives of it at various companies.

The biggest toss-up was between Fedora and CentOS. Both of these distros are derived from RedHat’s offering, I am intimately familiar with both. I actually have a stronger business reason to install CentOS, and I may yet, but to be honest I chose Fedora because I like the community.

All of the Linux distros are set up to use Firefox and Thunderbird profiles from the Windows XP disk. This means they will break if I ever pop out the XP disk in order to use the CD-ROM, which goes in the same slot. I could not think of a situation in which this really mattered. I do have ext2ifs installed in read-only mode so I can access all that data if necessary.

From untested experience, all of the Linux distros run circles around XP when running a web browser, compiling code, or doing pretty much anything else. Fedora and OpenSUSE load at about the same rate as XP (2-3 minutes). Ubuntu 9.04 goes from power-on to a login prompt in about 45 seconds, and to a usable desktop in another 15-20 seconds.

Little things that work well under XP still need help in Linux. For example, suspend and resume are fine in all distros EXCEPT when using the docking station, where XP works every time with one exception—none of the operating systems installed can reliably sense the resolution of the external monitor on the dock when resuming from suspend (which I assume is ACPI S3, suspend-to-RAM). I haven’t tried them from hibernation (ACPI S4, suspend-to-disk) yet based on a personal fear of hibernation.

Since I also use Ubuntu (8.10) on my “main” work desktop, I find that I keep the laptop booted into XP in order to access the applications that have no equivalents in Linux. You don’t need to tell me about similar programs in Linux, I already know—there are simply some apps in Windows that I can’t live without, either for work or for strong personal preference:

Regarding Photoshop—I really, really want to love Gimp, and I force myself to use it whenever possible. But my fingers know Photoshop. Perhaps I am simply getting old. As for that last one, I am trying very hard to like kdenlive and will continue to try.

More notes soon.