Pre-ordered the Geeksphone Peak+ with Firefox OS

A few weeks ago I pre-ordered the Geeksphone Peak+ with Firefox OS. This will be my first smartphone, I waited for so long because I think all other smartphone operating systems are inadequate. Why, you might ask? Because Firefox OS is the only smartphone operating system which respects my freedom and privacy.

Freedom versus vendor lock-in

If you buy an iPhone or iPad, you can only download apps from Apple’s App Store. Apple decides which apps get approved, but their policy is enforced inconsistently at best. I don’t care about their hypocritical policy however, but about principles. I despise Apple for it’s paternalistic behavior, I demand to have the freedom to decide which apps I want and where I get them.

Microsoft, the third player on the smartphone market after Apple and Google, doesn’t allow competing app stores either. Regular readers of this blog know that I hate Microsoft for it’s unethical business practices anyway and that I’d never buy anything from them.

The issues with Google’s Android

Google’s Android on the other hand does allow competing app stores. Android is also open source, so third parties other than Google can produce derivatives such as CyanogenMod. So far so good, but there are also two crucial issues for me.

Would I trust Google with my privacy? Certainly not, even though I don’t think Apple or Microsoft are any better. Yes, you can still use an Android phone without a Google account, but it’s not as convenient. My smartphone shouldn’t spy on me by default. And yes, I do use Google’s search engine and I’m not so naive to think that my privacy is still immaculate. But that’s not a reason to further the breakdown of my privacy with an Android smartphone.

What’s a more serious issue for me is that Microsoft is extorting producers of Android smartphones. It coerces them to pay royalties for its patents at the threat of lawsuits. This practice has been more profitable for Microsoft than its own Windows Phone OS, with HTC and Samsung paying $10 or more to Microsoft for every Android device they sell. Microsoft defends itself as follows:

Much of the current litigation in the so called “smartphone patent wars” could be avoided if companies were willing to recognize the value of others’ creations in a way that is fair. At Microsoft, experience has taught us that respect for intellectual property rights is a two-way street, and we have always been prepared to respect the rights of others just as we seek respect for our rights. This is why we have paid others more than $4 billion over the last decade to secure intellectual property rights for the products we provide our customers.

They seem reasonable, but in reality Microsoft’s intellectual property amounts to trivial patents. Microsoft is nothing more than a patent troll (see here for the long version of the story). Because I don’t want Microsoft to profit when I buy a smartphone, buying a smartphone with Android is out of the question for me. The situation might change for me when Google grows a spine and sues Microsoft to hell.

The joys of Firefox OS

Firefox OS doesn’t suffer from these disadvantages. I trust its developer, Mozilla, doesn’t spy on me. At least I don’t need an account of some kind to make optimal use of my phone. As far as I know Geeksphone hasn’t signed a patent license agreement with Microsoft and doesn’t pay royalties. It’s not mandatory to use Mozilla’s app store. And Firefox OS has an important innovation: all the apps are web apps.

So there is no need for “native code” anymore which is only suited to a specific smartphone OS, like Android or Apple’s iOS. This makes life much easier for developers, who can easily make their web apps available for Firefox OS or any other platform which is built on web technology. Finally, this attempt to breaki the Android/iOS duopoly is good thing. Especially Google is getting too powerful for my taste.

The Peak+ will ship in late September, hopefully it will arrive before I depart on holiday. More about that later.

Bugs in Evolution 3.6.2

I mentioned in the previous post that I have encountered quite a few bugs in the Evolution personal information manager, which I use daily for reading my e-mail. I think Evolution works nicely for me, but there is a lot to fix and improve before I’ll consider it the ultimate Microsoft Outlook killer.

I don’t expect the improvements I’m hoping for will arrive soon because Evolutions suffers from a shortage of developers. But at least I’ve filed bug reports for everything which bothers me now. You can’t criticize free software without bug reports.

I haven’t reported all bugs I have experienced: bug #687360 for example has already been fixed for 3.6.3 apparently, but that version hasn’t landed in Fedora 18’s updates yet. I noticed some nasty bugs with editing contacts in address books too. In some cases the name in the “File As” entry would change without my input upon saving a contact when using the older Evolution version in Fedora 16. But I haven’t been able to reproduce this in Fedora 18.

  • Bug #692531: dialog appearing for invalid SSL certificates isn’t pretty
  • Bug #692533: Edit Rule dialog has drop down menus with a lot of blank space
  • Bug #692535: option to have filters active on an account should be enabled by default
  • Bug #692541: tab widget in Preferences dialog looks wrong
  • Bug #692542: never loading images in HTML e-mails is a bad default setting
  • Bug #692555: “Personal” address book does not appear in birthdays calendar by default
  • Bug #692557: sorting by date descending disrupts thread view of messages
  • Bug #692558: language detection for spelling checker
  • Bug #692572: “Messages” column should use space more efficiently
  • Bug #692573: use vertical view as default instead of classic view
  • Bug #692574: remove status bar
  • Bug #692576: use list view as default instead of address cards
  • Bug #692577: list view shouldn’t have columns for faxes by default
  • Bug #692578: display “File As” column by default in list view
  • Bug #692579: make view settings apply to all address books
  • Bug #692636: doesn’t delete certain contacts
  • Bug #692713: calendar widget arrows don’t look correct
  • Bug #692716: all calendar items of an icalendar file disappeared
  • Bug #692743: e-mail shows preformatted lines which do not word wrap if replying

Post-installation guide and experiences with Fedora 18 and GNOME 3.6

Until yesterday my computer still used Fedora 16, today it uses Fedora 18. Just like I did with 16, I’m going to give a guide on steps to take after the installation and which bugs I’ve encountered. So far I really like 18: finally LibreOffice is included by default, it starts up a lot faster (16 became really slow for me after all the updates) and you don’t loose the graphical splash screen at start up as soon as you install the proprietary AMD (no idea if this also applies to NVIDIA) display drivers.

Fedora 18 hasn’t been received well by some. A review of the KDE spin of Fedora 18 has been quite negative and the same reviewer is also very critical of GNOME 3.6, I didn’t try the KDE spin but I’m quite positive about the GNOME spin. I did a fresh installation, not do an upgrade.


This release was postponed multiple times because the redesign of the Anaconda installer wasn’t ready yet. It is still problematic in the final release: as soon the live desktop had started up and I chose to install to the hard drive to start Anaconda, it crashed. I suspect this happened because a connection to my router was established just while Anaconda was starting up. I had already witnessed a similar crash when trying the alpha versions on my laptop.

It wouldn’t start again so I had to reboot, after which I waited for the network connection to come up before starting Anaconda. This time everything went fine. Maybe I’ll try to reproduce this later so I can file a bug report. I agree with those who think Anaconda still needs a lot of work. But I also think the new design is a step in the right direction, it’s a diamond which still needs polishing.

Post-installation guide

First of all let Fedora download the latest updates and then add the RPM Fusion repositories. I wanted to get the proprietary AMD drivers first, there are instructions for that here. Take notice of what I wrote there in the comments. You need to follow the instructions here and add another repository because RPM Fusion apparently doesn’t have the package for the Flash plugin anymore. However, only install flash-plugin, the rest is not necessary and nspluginwrapper – while necessary if you want Flash working with GNOME Web – drives SELinux crazy. Also read these instructions to get the FreeType patches so you get better font rendering, this involves adding one more repository.

After all this I use one more command to download all the remaining stuff. This command downloads the GStreamer packages you need for proprietary audio and video formats, the GNOME Tweak Tool, the GNOME Web web browser, the GIMP and the Google Droid fonts (with GNOME Tweak Tool I change my default, document and monospace fonts from the default Cantarell, Sans and Monospace to Droid Sans and Droid Sans Mono, I also the font size of all fonts from 11 to 10):

yum install gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-bad-nonfree gstreamer-plugins-ugly gnome-tweak-tool epiphany epiphany-extensions gimp google-droid-sans-fonts google-droid-sans-mono-fonts google-droid-serif-fonts

To download the XeLaTeX packages I need (which include support for the Dutch language, the APA style and the Linux Libertine font) I give the following command:

yum install texlive-xetex texlive-collection-langdutch texlive-memoir texlive-biblatex-apa texlive-libertine


Here’s a list of bugs in either the Red Hat or GNOME bugzilla, for which I found an existing report or filed a new one:

  • Bug #893218: Anaconda crashes when it starts
  • Bug #854201: Ask users for Country / Language / City to determine the correct locale settings
  • Bug #690750: System Settings doesn’t change locale completely
  • Bug #904000: free ati driver not enabled with HD7850 after installation, uses LLVMpipe instead
  • Bug #692518: processes can use more than 100% CPU according to System Monitor
  • Bug #904014: Anaconda doesn’t ask for host name
  • Bug #878433: Removing default English keyboard layout doesn’t have effect in the installed system
  • Bug #904052: Shotwell should not be the default application for viewing images
  • Bug #904055: only root can mount an external hard disk connected through eSATA
  • Bug #692519: hidden drop down menus for keyboard shortcuts difficult to discover
  • Bug #692520: graphical corruption if taking screenshot of single window
  • Bug #905103: Firefox occasionally freezes unpredictably and takes out X with it
  • Bug #692923: no unlock button for hostname in “Details” (System Settings)
  • Bug #693057: implement options to change font and font size
  • Bug #693058: option to suspend a desktop computer should be visible without Alt key

There are more bug reports I have to file for Evolution, but that would make this post too long.

Windows 8 sucks

We have a shared desktop PC in our house, to be used by us all. Because I, my brother and my sister all have our own PC’s or notebook, it’s primarily used by our parents. Recently my parents decided to replace it with a new notebook. Not because the old desktop was no longer up to the task, but because it is more aesthetically pleasing and saves much space and wires. And of course a notebook is more mobile. I decided a 17 inch notebook would be a good idea as they primarily needed a desktop replacement which isn’t moved often.

The new laptop

My choice fell on the Dell Inspiron 17R. It has a monitor with a resolution of 1600 by 900 pixels, which is a huge benefit. Unfortunately many 17 inch notebooks still ship with lower resolutions. Another advantage was that it had the latest hardware, the Intel Core i3-3110M CPU of the Ivy Bridge generation. Its very reasonable price of € 530 sealed the deal, as the budget was important.

Having used it for a while now, I like the looks, but it’s not very sturdy as is to be expected for this price. Maybe more on the notebook itself later, because the reason I’m writing this is that it ships with Windows 8.

Bad usability and a push for the Microsoft account in Windows 8

Windows 8 is an absolute disaster, worse than Windows ME. Windows 7 was good for a Microsoft product, but its successor is the opposite. A more extensive argument against Windows 8 has already been written by a usability expert, so I’ll be brief here. I think they tried to design an OS for both tablets and desktop use, which proved to be detrimental to desktop use. Jack of all trades, master of none as they say. Tasks which were done quickly in Windows 7 are much more tedious now.

After starting up and getting rid of all the bloatware shipped by Dell such as trials of McAfee and Microsoft Word, I noticed that you need a Microsoft account for the Mail app and many others! Had this been optional this would have been okay, but all I want to do is to retrieve e-mails from the IMAP server of our Internet service provider. Requiring users to use a Microsoft account for that is ridiculous! Microsoft doesn’t care about privacy, it’s either their way or the highway. I immediately downloaded Thunderbird along with Firefox and LibreOffice.

Bugs in Windows 8

Even worse is the fact that Windows 8 is affected by some serious bugs. The connection with the WiFi router would often go down for no reason. I’m sure it’s either the laptop or Windows 8, because my own laptop with Fedora Linux and my sister’s laptop with Windows 7 don’t have this issue.

Dell technical support advised me to use an UTP cable, which was no problem and gave a reliable connection. They advised to check if the problem also occurred on other wireless networks, but without opportunity and willingness to test that I guess we’ll stick with the cable.

Another issue is that even if the printer connected to the Windows 8 laptop has been set to be shared on the network, the printer still can’t be found on the Windows 7 laptop of my sister! Previously on the old desktop with Windows 7 this hadn’t been a problem. Right now my sister is forced to copy documents over to a USB flash drive and take those to the Windows 8 laptop to print them there.

the comparison with Linux

The Windows 8 designers were fools and I hope the discontent of the their users will bite Microsoft in the ass. I hope this will lead more people to try Linux, but I’m not optimistic here. The reason Windows 8 is installed on this laptop is because my mother asked for it, after using Fedora with GNOME 3 for a year or so.

This was decided because other family members complained that they can’t help my mother if she encounters problems because they are not familiar with Linux. They are very reluctant to try something new, which is why their addiction to Windows is difficult to break.

While my mother was reasonably capable of using GNOME 3, she had some problems with using the Evolution e-mail client and especially the Shotwell photo management software. The Evolution issues are relatively minor and should pose no difficulty for family members not familiar with it, but Shotwell has a greater need for improvement.

Shotwell versus the Windows 8 Pictures app

My mother often receives photos over the e-mail and doesn’t keep track of where she saves them so that they get lost. Arguably this is more a matter of adapting to the right workflow as a user, but it’s also an issue which might be fixed by improving usability.

The issue has two aspects: First, Evolution doesn’t have a clear option to import photos with the default photo management application, you can only open attached photos with the Shotwell Viewer. Second, Shotwell has an option to import photos and by default stores them in the Pictures directory in the year/month/day subdirectory format.

This is not useful as subdirectories with names of months and days are not descriptive enough for me, so I’ve enabled the option to watch the Pictures directory for new photos copied there manually, without Shotwell’s importer. This way I can copy the directory Sicily to Pictures/2012 and have Shotwell detect those new photos automatically. I tried teaching this workflow to my mother, but it didn’t stick. Shotwell should help the user to adopt this second workflow by default.

I regret that I’ve never systematically noted down the issues encountered by my mother so that I could file bug reports for them, but I doubt Windows 8 will do better. Thunderbird is a little bit more user friendly than Evolution, but this has nothing to do with Microsoft.

The Pictures app used for browsing photo’s on Windows 8 simply presents directories in the My Pictures directory with huge thumbnails containing a slide show of photos, so in effect that’s similar to the second workflow for Shotwell I described, even if the Windows 8 app is grossly inefficient compared to Shotwell. I simply copied over the directories of the years from Shotwell’s Pictures directory to My Pictures on Windows 8. This seems to work for now, but I wonder what will happen if my mother needs to add new photos to the My Pictures directory.

And you can say about GNOME 3 what you want, but it is a fact that getting familiar with Windows 8 was a lot more confusing for my mother, myself and my other family members who only used the previous versions of Windows.

Master thesis done with R and tikzDevice

My master thesis is finished now and can be downloaded, along with the LaTeX source for it. I will elaborate on the content of my thesis on my Dutch blog and will discuss the technical aspect of producing the document with LaTeX here. Do note that the master thesis is entirely in English because the Public Administration master program at Leiden University is an English language program, so if you want to know more about the content of the thesis just read it.

This is the first time I’ve ever done quantitative research and used statistics. I thought the statistics part was going to be challenging. While I did read a lot on the subject to understand it and learned a lot in the process, I did not need to make calculations or complex formulas myself at all. All that is done with software. Leiden University uses the proprietary SPSS, but I preferred using a free software solution which I could use on my own PC. That’s one reason how I got to use R, with the second reason being that I had chosen a very good thesis supervisor who had knowledge of it. He taught me just what I needed to get started with it in a very short amount of time. While there are GUI’s available for R, I use it from the command line just like LaTeX.

R can be used not only to do statistical analysis of data, it can also draw visual representations of the data, such as the histogram, scatter plots and correlation matrix in my thesis document. R can write graphics output to many formats, but for PDF documents vector graphics which scale nicely should have your preference. PGF/TiKZ is often used to produce vector graphics for LaTeX and I learned that R can use the tikzDevice package to create TiKZ figures. It took some time to figure out how to get everything done properly and to get some problems fixed, but I’m very satisfied with the result right now. The combination of R with tikzDevice rocks! The only thing I could have possibly improved is using the ggplot2 package. It can handle the overplotting in some of my scatter plots better than the standard scatter plots.

When I started working with tikzDevice I missed a basic tutorial explaining how to specify width and height for TiKZ images drawn by R, among other issues. Especially getting the histogram right was very annoying to figure out, because R’s default way to draw one didn’t make sense. For one scatter plot I had to find a fix to avoid the scientific notation appearing with large numbers. Others who begin using it should find that my R scripts which are attached to the PDF document of my thesis are very good examples to get started with. According to the statistics of my weblog I get a lot of visitors who come for info on LaTeX, so I assume this will be very helpful to many people who find this post through search engines.

Regarding LaTeX itself, all the important stuff is noted in comments in the source document for the PDF. I’m satisfied that I have the surname prefixes done right in the bibliography now. The biblatex package shouldn’t need an obscure fix to get it right however, it should work like that out of the box. On the other hand the URL line and page breaks in the bibliography are still awful, and I don’t know how to fix it. I’m not so content with the section names which appear in the header on right pages either. In some cases they work because sections are long, but in most cases they are useless because a new section starts on almost every page. But after all, I think that I would score high marks for layout if that were scored separately for theses.

Edit 21/08/2012: I’ve uploaded the latest revision of my master thesis. It has data on several more respondents but this did not lead to notable changes in the conclusions. More importantly, in this version the ggplot2 package was used to do the histogram and scatter plots, they look a lot better now. The scatter plots no longer suffer from overplotting. I also had the thesis defense today, my thesis was graded with a 9 and my supervisor complimented me for the layout of the thesis. But I’m a perfectionist: the legends of three scatter plots contain numbers with decimals even though the data has only rounded numbers. I’ve asked for help on solving this already and will upload another version when I have fixed that.

Edit 04/09/2012: Now the final revision is uploaded with 64 respondents and fixed scatter plots.

News summary, May 2012

This is a summary of various news which caught my attention during the last month.


  • Valve’s Steam, Left 4 Dead 2 and probably some of their other games will be ported to Linux. This is great news, I love you Valve!
  • CD Projekt RED released a free upgrade to the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher 2 which provides 10 GB (!) of new content. Other developers such as Electronic Arts are run by people who care most about making money, but this developer is run by true artists who want to deliver a great game besides making money.
  • The long-awaited Black Mesa: Source mod is still alive. I was disappointed in the lack of news but recently they have started communicating again. According to an interview (part one and two) the reason for the delay is that they have very high standards for their work and weren’t satisfied with the game yet. I’m looking so much forward to the final product.
  • Another free game made by volunteers is Wing Commander Saga. It has been released recently and looks quite impressive, I haven’t tried it yet.


Dell is working on Project Sputnik which aims to produce a laptop for developers. It’s based on Dell’s XPS 13 ultrabook and Ubuntu 12.04. This is great news, because the two companies that I know of which ship notebooks with Linux – System76 and ZaReason – don’t offer ultrabooks. The smallest they have to offer are 14 inch models weighing two kilos. Also, I appreciate the design of the XPS 13 more, the only disadvantages are the glossy screen and the lack of an Ethernet port.

As I wrote on this weblog earlier, under Linux my Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371 initially didn’t have suspend working. It still consumes more power and its fan turns noisy much more frequently than if Windows were used. It would be great if Dell’s laptop would have everything working out of the box. However, I have one important requirement: it should work just as well with other Linux distributions as it does with Ubuntu. That means there should be no special software or drivers tailored to make everything work with the Ubuntu version shipped with the laptop. If they can realize that, count me in.


We have a choice of two open source Linux-based operating systems for smartphones, Android and more recently Tizen (which has not been shipped with any smartphone yet). Fortunately Mozilla has introduced a new contender: Boot to Gecko (B2G). While Android is open source in name, I feel that Google exercises too much control over Android and has become too powerful. I don’t trust them with the personal data they gather from me.

Mozilla on the contrary is a party which I do trust. B2G has more credit for openness and has a great vision behind it which distinguishes it from the competition. Additionally, B2G is far less demanding on the hardware, so it could run on much cheaper smartphones. I can’t wait to get my hands on a smartphone which uses B2G.

Additionally, if you buy an Android phone you contribute to Microsoft’s profit because they are extorting manufacturers of Android smartphones with patent threats. I don’t want to pay for a smartphone if even one cent of the manufacturers income is spent on royalty payments to that immoral company. Motorola, which has been acquired by Google recently, is fighting back. In May Microsoft won a legal case against Motorola because Motorola infringed on one of Microsoft’s patents on generating meeting requests from a mobile phone. Read the parent’s description to see how ridiculous and trivial this patent is. Once again I’m glad we don’t have software patents in the EU.


  • The Netherlands is the second country in the world to adopt net neutrality. I consider this very important for freedom on the Internet and I praise our politicians who decided to impose it.
  • As I wrote in my second to last post, I was worried that the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy isn’t protective enough of freedom and privacy, especially on the net. Thankfully I’ve been proven wrong now that they voted in favor (article in Dutch) of canning ACTA.

My personal alternate style for Tarski

As you regular visitors might have noticed, I’ve finally decided to switch themes. As I wrote almost a year ago, the K2 theme I used previously is unmaintained. I didn’t want to keep using it in combination with all the new versions of WordPress because I feared might cause compatibility problems and not allow using certain new functionality. So I decided to start using the Tarski theme. However, I didn’t like the default looks of the Tarski theme, so I made my own alternate style for the theme. You can see the CSS code for my theme below, thanks to the SyntaxHighlighter Evolved plugin.

Alexander van Loon's style for the Tarski theme -
Designed by Alexander van Loon,

/* Tables */

table {
    background: none repeat scroll 0 0 #F9F9F9;
    border: 1px solid #AAAAAA;
    border-collapse: collapse;
    margin: 1em 1em 1em 0;

table th, table td {
    border: 1px solid #AAAAAA;
    padding: 0.2em;

table th {
    background: none repeat scroll 0 0 #F2F2F2;
    text-align: center;

/* Body */

body {
    background: #F7F6F5;

/* Wrapper */

#wrapper {
    box-shadow: 0 5px 18px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.3);
    background: white;

/* Header Image */

#header-image {
    margin: 0 0 -50px 0;

/* Title */

#title {
    border-bottom: medium none;
    margin: 0 0 0 40px;
    position: relative;
    top: -70px;

/* Blog title */

#blog-title {
    color: white;
    font-family: "Trebuchet MS",Verdana,Sans-Serif;
    font-size: 2em;
    font-weight: bold;
    text-shadow: 0.1em 0.1em 0.2em black;

#blog-title > a {
    color: white;

/* Tagline */

#tagline {
    color: white;
    font-family: "Trebuchet MS",Verdana,Sans-Serif;
    font-size: 0.9em;
    font-style: normal;
    font-weight: bold;
    text-shadow: 0.1em 0.1em 0.2em black;

/* Navigation */

#navigation {
    border-top: 1px solid #CCCCCC;
    margin: 0;

/* Post title heading */

h2, h2 a, h2 a:visited {
    color: #444444 !important;
    font-family: "Trebuchet MS",Verdana,Sans-Serif !important;
    font-size: 20px !important;

Developing my own theme wasn’t easy, it took a lot of trial and error, searching and reading to figure out how CSS works. Because there were some things I didn’t understand I posted a topic at the forum, while it didn’t provide me with the help I expected I did get the very good advice to use Firebug. Fortunately a nice colleague at work helped me out.

Yet, I still have little idea of what I’m doing and if my code is any good or an ugly hack. Take the last paragraph of code for an example, it seems the !important is necessary to overrule some inheritance to make it work. I don’t think this is the right way and I’d like to know how to do it without using !important. Also the border above the navigation bar (with “Home” and “About”) is placed just below the header image in Firefox, but on Chrome (and other browsers using WebKit) the border is placed over the header image.

To make my theme I borrowed some CSS code of other websites I examined, to get an idea of how others do it. The table code is borrowed from Wikipedia and already features in the child theme (alternate style) I made for K2. The background color and the box shadow in the background were borrowed from OMG! Ubuntu.

I like what I have now, while my original goal was to mimic K2 as close as possible I’ve made some different changes which I like. And even if I’m still  a newbie, I like the fact that I know a bit more about CSS now. What I’m still missing is K2’s rolling archives slider bar, which also stays on top along with the search field as you scroll. Copying that to Tarski would probably involve quite some time and advanced skills, which I don’t have.

My opinion on GNOME 3

After working for a few months with GNOME 3.2 on Fedora 16, on both my desktop and notebook, I think it’s time to give my informed opinion about it. To summarize, I like GNOME 3. Unlike KDE 4, the GNOME developers decided to think outside the box and to live with the criticism they received for their unconventional choices. I don’t intend that as criticism of KDE 4, I still like using that too, but right now GNOME 3 impresses me more. Some of the most important changes include removing the taskbar and removing the minimize button for windows. My experience was that regardless of these fundamental changes, it was relatively easy to adapt. Not only for me, but also for my mother who used KDE 4 and Windows previously.

If you want to switch windows, it’s easy to move the mouse pointer over to the Activities menu in the top left corner. This is a relatively small change, but very smart: you don’t even need to click (but you still can if you want) and you require almost no accuracy to reach the top left corner. Of course, it’s even easier to use the Windows key to show the Activities menu instantly, or to use the Alt + Tab key combination to switch windows. This and more advice to make working with GNOME Shell more productive can be read in the GNOME Shell Cheat Sheet. With GNOME Shell I never use the minimize button because it makes no sense without a task bar, so I don’t miss it at all. I either have my windows maximized or tiled (see the Cheat Sheet) and in the rare case I do want to maximize or return windows to their previous size I double click the title bar.

The visual design of GNOME 3 is minimalistic yet beautiful. I guess GNOME 3 has also cut down on the amount of options and simplified them. When GNOME 3’s System Settings is compared to KDE’s System Settings you see they are as different as night is from day. KDE offers a lot more options which is nice if you want to control everything I guess, but there’s only very few options I miss in the GNOME System Settings. I only used GNOME Tweak Tool for two things: slightly decreasing the font size and changing the font. I didn’t install a different theme, but I imagine that if options for changing fonts and themes are added to System Settings nothing would be missing. As far as I know that is probably going to happen in the future because the designers didn’t have time for it yet.

Another interesting thing to note is that the designers and developers have a concept of core applications through which they intend to integrate important functionality into GNOME 3 itself. Most of these ideas are still work in progress, but we can already see how well instant messaging is integrated in GNOME 3. Personally I haven’t been using instant messaging for a long time because it doesn’t really interest me any more, but the impression I have of the design is that it’s very ingenious, something which hasn’t been done by other operating systems and desktop environments as far as I know. I especially look forward to the Music core application because Rhythmbox could use some improvement. It’s also very encouraging to see the amount of work going into Web, the former Epiphany. What is great that they intend to save as much vertical space as possible, so they moved the Application Menu and display the options contained in that menu through other means. This change is also on the menu for other applications. For me it’s essential to have as much vertical space as possible in this age of widescreen monitors.

To finish, what are my most important problems with GNOME 3? The problem with the first priority to fix should be the omission of the Power Off option in the user menu. It took me a while to find it, but you can read all about it in bug #643457, which has over 100 comments. It surprises me that the developers and designers haven’t returned the Power Off option after all the outrage of the users. I’m not sure what their motivation is, maybe a desire to fix it properly? But all that doesn’t matter when the end result was that I had to use Google to figure out how I could shut down my PC with GNOME 3. Let alone my mother who wouldn’t have any clue without the extension to place the option back in the menu. Breaking with conventions can be a good idea, but breaking with this convention was a bridge too far. The fact that distributions such as openSUSE install such an extension by default shows there is a consensus against this decision. I hope this will be fixed in GNOME 3.4, the fact that it remains missing in GNOME 3.2 was something I didn’t expect. Another issue is that searching for applications after having opened the Activities menu gives a lag of a few seconds before it returns the search results, for example if I search for the Terminal application. As far as I know this has something to do with icon caching, but I can’t find a bug report or other explanations for this yet.

I’ll be using GNOME 3 as my primary desktop environment as much as possible from now on. I’m still having serious problems with Evolution, but I’ll save that for another post. At least Evolution does a better job than KMail at this moment. I’ll probably still check out KDE now and then. With all these upcoming improvements to GNOME 3 exciting times are ahead.

My post-installation guide for Fedora 16

Because problems with KMail and Plasma’s crashes were driving me mad I decided to kick Kubuntu off my desktop PC and install Fedora 16 after being impressed with F16 and GNOME 3.2 on my laptop. As I said earlier, I might not have experienced as much problems with Kubuntu 11.10 if I had chosen to do a clean install instead of a messy trajectory of updating from 11.04 (or 10.10?)  through development releases, but I like to distro hop once in a while.

However, a lot of work needs to be done to change the brand new installation of any Linux distribution from its state of tabula rasa into something which is customised to your own taste, has all the software you need and lets you work efficiently. A quick search with Google revealed to me that there are more of this kind of guides, like these. But I feel most of them contain too much unnecessary stuff or miss things and wanted to create my own, which I share with you.

Right after the installation I decided to download all 251 updates first, through Activities → Applications → System Tools → Software Update. Meanwhile I set Nautilus to use single click to open stuff, the default setting is to double click which I feel is unnecessary. Having worked with Dolphin for quite some time which also has single click as the default setting contributes to that. I’m also used to delete selected files in a file manager with the Delete key, but someone thought it was a good idea to change this and let the Delete key do nothing. Fortunately the behaviour is easily changed. I set search keywords in Mozilla Firefox for the Google and Wikipedia search engines, so that entering w <search term> in the location bar searches for that search term on Wikipedia. I added some extensions for GNOME Shell to address some issues I have with it. These include an extension to show the option to power off the computer in the status menu and an extension to hide the accessibility menu.

After the update I decided to download the proprietary drivers for my Nvidia GPU. Unlike Kubuntu, Fedora doesn’t want to ship certain proprietary stuff and it doesn’t provide any means to download them automatically. So you have to do it yourself, for which the RPM fusion repository can be used. There are easy instructions on how to add the repositories. Then the instructions here need to be followed. The free software nouveau driver doesn’t implement power management completely, so the fan on my GeForce 7800GT kept making noise like a vacuum cleaner. The proprietary drivers keep it quiet, so the this step is quite essential as nouveau is not an option for me. Of course you can also get the proprietary AMD drivers if you have one of their GPU’s.

After this I installed all the extra basic software I need. LibreOffice is probably too big to include on the GNOME Live CD. The missing GStreamer packages which are required to play non-free audio and video formats are proprietary so they’re not shipped by Fedora, but are included in the RPM fusion repository. Flash is also proprietary (free alternatives like Gnash aren’t good enough) and can be downloaded from a repository provided by Adobe, for which instructions can be found here (just installing the flash-plugin package sufficed, the other packages mentioned in the instructions were not necessary for me). The GNOME Tweak Tool is useful to change the font and decrease the font size used by GNOME, which is too big for me by default. I like the Google Droid fonts more than the default fonts used in GNOME. Because some websites need Java I need the IcedTea browser plugin. The mozplugger package is necessary for me because Blackboard, the VLE used by my university, wants to embed PDF documents in its pages. With mozplugger you get an option to download them instead of an error message complaining that a plugin is missing.

yum install libreoffice libreoffice-langpack-nl gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-bad-nonfree gstreamer-plugins-ugly gstreamer-ffmpeg flash-plugin gnome-tweak-tool google-droid-sans-fonts google-droid-sans-mono-fonts google-droid-serif-fonts icedtea-web mozplugger

Fedora’s default font rendering can be vastly improved by installing the patched freetype packages of Infinality. A Fedora package repository is provided with instructions on how to add it there.

LaTeX with XeTeX support, the Memoir document class, the biblatex package for bibliographic facilities with support for the APA style and the Linux Libertine font is a must have for me. However, again it is better to add a separate repository to get a more recent version of TeX Live 2011 with the most up-to-date packages instead of TeX Live 2007 which ships with Fedora 16. Take a look at the info here on how the repository can be added. I installed the whole texlive-collection-xetex package, which downloads 251 packages worth 90 MB. That way you probably won’t miss any useful packages, but you also get a lot of useless stuff like Thai fonts for example (unless you need support for Thai fonts, but I don’t). Installing just the package texlive-xetex and texlive-memoir would have probably pulled in all necessary dependencies without the bloat. After having installed all this my LaTeX documents compile without problems, so no need to install packages manually because that package is not packaged for Fedora 16 or because the packaged version is to old. This is not like Kubuntu where I did have to hunt for the latest version of specific packages. Jindrich Novy who is working on packaging TeX Live 2011 and wants to introduce it to Fedora 17 rocks!

yum install texlive-xetex texlive-collection-langdutch texlive-memoir texlive-biblatex-apa texlive-libertine

I have taken a look at other GTK 3.x and GNOME Shell themes on but none of them were better than the default in my opinion. At the moment installing themes is troublesome not only because there’s no option for it in GNOME 3.2 (yet), but also because some key applications still use GTK 2.x and have not been ported yet. These include LibreOffice, Mozilla Firefox and GIMP. This means that if you want to install the popular Zukitwo theme for example, which has matching GTK 2.x. themes, you need to install additional theme engines. This is an extra hassle. Yet after doing all this, I’m not entirely satisfied because GNOME needs more work in general (in bringing back certain options) and Evolution is frustrating to use, but more about that later.

My issues with Fedora 16

After testing the beta of Fedora 16 a while I decided to do a fresh install of F16 on my laptop instead of simply updating everything because I wanted to keep it ‘clean’. It is my experience that bugs from the alpha or beta versions can spill over into the stable version if you update to that. This in turn would make reporting bugs more difficult because you might encounter bugs which might not have occurred if you would have done a clean installation instead. The extent to which it can make a system dysfunctional is illustrated well by the Kubuntu 11.10 installation on my main PC for production use, I was inpatient while 10.10 was still in alpha status and upgraded months before the stable version of 10.10 saw the light of day. As a consequence Plasma throws error messages when I want to shut down my PC more often than not. These error messages prevent the execution of the shutdown, so every time I shut down I have to watch and verify it gets turned off, or else click the ‘OK’ buttons on the error messages to make them go away.

That aside, the fresh installation of F16 gave me a motivation to get bug hunting and reporting. It seems that F16 is plagued by some minor but very annoying issues which are easy to notice, which makes me wonder how the issues were not noticed by Fedora’s QA. And Epiphany is still not usable as an alternative to Firefox, which is a pity considering all the good work that has gone into it. I’m not very confident in the developer’s attention for bugs because a bug report I filed a few months ago during the alpha stage of F16 about the corruption of the Yum database (doesn’t occur anymore) was never even triaged. Yes, that happens often with some other free software projects too, but it still bothers me. One more thing I don’t get is why they can’t fit LibreOffice on their GNOME Live CD, if Ubuntu can do it why not Fedora?

  • Bug #757487: the grub menu shows up even if Fedora is the only OS which is present, which is unnecessary.
  • Bug #732058: after pulling in a new kernel through the updates, grub kept booting the old kernel which came with the installation.
  • Bug #742584: a minor feature request because it would make more sense to encrypt the entire system, but it would be nice if the /home partition could be decrypted when the user logs in. I.e. without an extra passphrase if that’s the only encrypted partition, which is how Ubuntu does it AFAIK.
  • Bug #742584: the Java plugin doesn’t work with Epiphany.
  • Bug #664285: thanks to Adobe the Flash plugin doesn’t work in Epiphany because they haven’t ported it to GTK+3 yet.
  • Bug #664915: Epiphany uses wrong fonts to display websites, but I’m not sure if this is a bug in Epiphany or in Fedora.
  • Bug #638117: I constantly have to turn off the Bluetooth hardware in my notebook because it’s enabled by default as soon as I log in to F16, unlike other distributions I’ve used on my notebook.