Mast Kalandar

bandar's colander of random jamun aur aam

Fri, 26 Jun 2009

Linux! Linux! (dance)

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With regard to software I admit to certain strong preferences. So it is indeed a long while since I felt enthused by an OS which is not Debian. Now I have not one but three. I am reminded of Shruti at the age of six dancing around the living room singing "Linux! Linux!" --- I feel like doing the same.

Linux on a netbook is like a young penguin exploring the Antarctic on an ice floe!

Just recently, I have had a chance to play with (and to use) no less than three different OS's designed for a netbook --- Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Moblin v2 and Sugar on a Stick. One of these has already replaced1 the Linpus Lite that came pre-installed on this Acer Aspire One (acquired by IMSc six months ago). However, it could easily have been one of the others; they are all (to use a teen-phrase) "awesome".

In each case the "installation instructions" consist of the following steps:

  1. Download an image from the appropriate web site.
  2. Use Unetbootin to write this image to a USB stick.
  3. Boot from the USB stick, play and enjoy.
  4. If you like what you see, install to a partition on the hard disk.

All of them installed with ease (in the It Just Works(TM) fashion) on the AAOne.

I provide a short description of each below but to really experience them you have to use them! As the Sugar folks might say you need to enjoy them as a child would.

Ubuntu Netbook Remix will feel the most familiar to those who have already used computers before and have certain pre-conceived ideas about how to use them. It still deviates from the norm:

Other than that it is Ubuntu under the hood (which is Debian under another hood; all of which makes it a bit like the mask removal scene in Mission Impossible). In fact, but for some very minimal eye-candy, it is surprising how similar this interface is to the ratpoison-like interface that I have been using (under different window managers!) for quite a while now. In particular, it can be driven from the keyboard.

Moblin v2 is currently a beta version but it is fully usable as-is on the AAOne. Of the three, one feels the Moblin guys have the most talented graphic artist. The boot-up, the background and the interface are all quite beautiful. The interface will be "strange" to people with pre-conceived notions (read "adults") but is really quite intuitive. The buttons are similar to the Sugar interface and are based on simple pictograms instead of the usual elaborately drawn icons.

However, it is really Sugar on a Stick that is the most amazing OS. First of all it allows one to work completely off a 1GB USB stick including keeping some persistent data on the stick (the more stick there is, the more data you can "stick" to it!). The colors and graphics are minimal, yet intuitive and beautiful. What makes it superior to the other two is the "activities" (which roughly but not exactly replace "applications") that are immediately available. This is not an adult's toy --- it is a child's toy. Adults have a very definite idea of what makes them happy and they want immediate (if not instant) gratification. A child enjoys every bit of the journey --- exploring the box that the toy came in, tinkering with the toy in ways that the designer didn't imagine, and so on. Most importantly, a child knows that the toy is more than "just a toy".

If you are a parent who is mildly familiar with computers, I urge you to follow the simple steps above and provide your child with a computer interface that belongs their generation instead of ours. Or, if you are an adult or teenager and the child inside you still lives, then provide that child with some joy by doing the same.

There is an unfinished draft in my blog directory with the title "Simplicity doesn't mean Dumbing Down". I probably don't need to write that essay anymore, I can just point to the Sugar interface.

  1. Of course this does not affect my "work" platform which runs as a Debian stable chroot under any Linux-based OS; in particular, any of these will do.


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