April 2007

Seems like every other week someone is posting an article about the Death of the Command Line, or how Linux Distributions are Headed in the Wrong Direction, or mourning how we’ve all become so graphically oriented we’re losing our command line skills.

Jem Matzan of the Jem Report opines that XGL and twirly-spinny cubes are distracting and slow down games etc. I agree, it can be distracting and seemingly slow things down, that’s why they are packages that you have to install and enable, not the default install. No one is forcing anyone to use the XGL/Compiz cube, it’s an option for those who think they’ll use it and get something out of it.

I have a different perspective from all the “Whither goeth the Command Line?” sorts out there, the historical view of Operating Systems shows that we started out with the CLI on just about every OS that has come out, even Windows NT had a solely CLI interface in it’s first few incarnations. It was to Dave Cutler’s great sorrow (and rage, he was known to punch a wall or two…) that they forced the WFW GUI onto his project, the result being the ever-stellar Windows NT.

I usually explain (and have for over a decade in classes and presentations) that you can coexist with the CLI and GUI, just use the right one for the task at hand. The CLI is fast, it’s able to auto-complete commands and directories, and most of all, it’s very scriptable, aka you can do something over and over again manually, or you can just script the steps and execute it on demand.

The GUI, on the other hand is excellent for beginners, to walk people through sets of steps that would be mind-numbingly difficult or repetitive on the CLI, and essentially for one-off, every-now-and-then types of tasks that you won’t remember the steps for or it would be a waste of time to script. Adding users with a GUI is fine if it happens a couple of times a day or week, but adding in a couple of hundred or several thousand users requires a command line interface, or bulk importing tools.

I have found that the SUSE products are designed to have 3 methods of doing just about any task:

  • CLI – Typing commands and editing files manually, fun, thought-provoking and often leads to troubleshooting
  • TUI – Characterized by the /sbin/yast text-based UI, often using the NCurses library, it’s a text version of a GUI, as it were, and YaST in the TUI mode matches screen for screen with the GUI mode
  • GUI – Characterized by the /sbin/yast2 X11 GUI interface, it’s run in X, is visually pleasing and very easy for people to understand and use

Usually when I hear someone complaining about CLI vs. TUI vs. GUI it’s because something they used to be able to do is not immediately obvious to them on a new distribution or they haven’t taken the time to figure it out, so they complain. If we ever want to achieve the amount of mass-market appeal that Novell once enjoyed, this time based on and running Linux, we have to provide tools that provide for a safe, sane and doable path for the various types of methods that people want to use. I think SUSE does this well, and not many others do.

How do you feel about CLI vs. GUI? Should we feature more articles about tools and the CLI? Comment and let me know.



Live CD/DVD’s are incredibly useful for so many different things, I use Live distro’s all the time, mostly for system recovery and for handing out to people who want to try out Linux. Gone are the days when trying out Linux meant a significant portion of commitment through partitioning to make room, figuring out how to dual boot, then hoping that Windows doesn’t blog away LILO or GRUB when you update or Service Pack it.

For me, the openSUSE Live CD/DVD distribution is like an ambassador from Linux -Land, showing people who want to know more about SUSE how nicely done, friendly and attractive Linux on the Desktop can be, all without having to undergo significant investment in time and energy and troubleshooting.

I have to also give a shout-out to the grand-daddy of all Live CD’s, my all-time favorite: Knoppix. I used to use Knoppix in the classroom to teach Debian/Linux skills, but also as a quick way of having people try an alternative to the then-dominant Red Hat. One of our labs was to convert their live cd booted machine to a dual-boot Debian and Red Hat or SUSE machine, and it never failed to impress folks.

Distros have come a VERY long way since those days, the SUSE Linux Enterprise line automatically asks you if you want to make room by resizing your Windows partition (if you have one, that is!) and so does openSUSE.

You really should check out the LiveCD List, it’s got a huge number of Live CD’s for you to choose and experiment from.



P.S. My vote for best name for a Live CD goes to DSL (Damn Small Linux).

Take a few minutes and look at the following list to see what’s advisable before you just plunk that box down and hook up the cable to the outside subnet.

  1. Determine It’s Purpose
  2. Do the Installation Right
  3. Setup an Adequate Firewall
  4. Configure TCP Wrappers
  5. Turn Off Non-Essential Services
  6. Secure Your Required Services
  7. Tune Kernel and Networking
  8. Connect to a Router
  9. Update the OS and Apps
  10. Additional Hardening

Additionally, you might want to look at the Tripwire, AppArmor, Bastille and Smoothwall (turns it into a router/firewall) projects for step 10, there are a lot of good ways to increase your security for not much more trouble.  The inspiration for this list came from this article, which goes further in to the explanations for all of these.

The folks over at GravityZoo have posted about their project to wrap the GravityZoo framework around OpenOffice.org, effectively making it possible to run OO.o completely in an online mode, no installation or updates needed on a local client.

The mind reels at the possible implications of a totally free and accessible online version of OpenOffice.org! (Oh, and I do know about Thinkfree Office, we even blogged about it recently.) What will happen if you can simply connect from any machine in a cyber-cafe or public terminal and continue work on your Great Trans-Continental Novel or Expose of The Great Harm whenever and wherever you want?

The possibility of use in emerging markets is another very interesting concept, with the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) program about to distribute a large number of Linux-based machines to the rest of the world.   Having an online version of an Office-like suite would make backing up, data-retention and disaster-recovery scenarios much less complex, at least from a local user point of view.

What uses can you come up with for an online version of OO.o? Would you use it more or less than a local version? What information would you make available to get a free account and a certain amount of storage on someone’s server so you could access this everywhere? (I assume that is how it would work).

From the Novell press release:

Novell’s Linux took home top honors for Best Open Source Solution at the 2007 CODiE awards, the annual program led by the Software Industry and Information Association (SIIA) to recognize innovation in the software industry. …

The Best Open Source Solution category, won by SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, honors the best software solution developed from source code in either the public domain or licensed according to an open source license, including operating systems, databases, applications and infrastructure. SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, already a winner of “Best of Show” and “Best Desktop Solution” at LinuxWorld San Francisco in August 2006, is a key component of Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise desktop-to-data center strategy that makes managing and supporting Linux across the enterprise easier and more cost effective.

From the Novell press release:

Novell recently announced that Sumitomo Electric Industries is using SUSE Linux Enterprise Server from Novell(R) with integrated Xen virtualization software to extend the useful life of its platforms, minimize additional hardware investment through more efficient use of resources, and operate an effective disaster recovery site. By running SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Xen on hardware containing Dual-Core Intel* Xeon* processors with Intel Virtualization Technology, Sumitomo Electric Industries is extending the life of valued applications on virtual servers, thus optimizing data center resources and running a more efficient business.

“This virtualization-based environment lets us keep systems in use for the long term, regardless of the external hardware configuration,” said Nobuhiro Nakamura of the Systems Technology Group in the Information System Department at Sumitomo Electric Industries. “We have a strong commitment to open source software with the aim of ensuring reliability and minimizing platform investment, and we selected Novell and Xen to reinforce this policy in the area of virtualization technology. Intel’s Virtualization Technology also gave us confidence to implement virtualization in a way that works for our company.”

Know someone who prefers Photoshop over the GIMP?  Or even worse, do they think the GIMP is a method actor in a Quentin Tarentino film?  Photoshop is a great tool, the default for graphic designers and webmasters who do thier own images, but it’s not Open Source.  Don’t already own a license for for PS?  If you’re looking at having a completely Open Source desktop and have image creation/processing needs, the GIMP deserves a chance to earn your business.  Note:  Codeweavers.com has support for various versions of Photoshop on Linux, check out what they have to offer if you have a Windows License for PS.  While you’re there, check out the other applications in the compatibility database so you know where you stand for a Linux Desktop deployment.

One of the awesome features that the GIMP allows is the ability to perform things such as image-resizing, touchups and many other tasks in an automated or scripted fashion. Nothing like having to resize an entire site’s worth of graphics one by one to make you want to have a graphics program that supports automation.  Heck, even the GNOME project owes it’s existence to the GIMP,  the GTK toolkit was the underlying toolkit that helped Miguel de Icaza create what we know as GNOME (GNU Object Modeling Environment) in the first place.

In this light, to find more out about the GIMP, check out this roundup of tutorials from the Tutorials Blog.  I need the GIMP now and then, but some of these walkthroughs go way beyond casual use, you can become an Open Source Graphics Powerhouse if you work your way through a significant portion of these tutorials.

Prediction:  Skip (Desktop and Thin Client GOD) is going to throw a bolt at my fanboy-ism of the GIMP, let’s see if he can keep from commenting on this post…..


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