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Hunkering Down, Linux Style

Well September is here, and the final days of summer are hard upon us. Autumn is around the corner here in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means it’s time to begin thinking ahead to the winter days to come.

It isn’t too surprising, then, that Linux bloggers have turned their attention in recent days to how they like to arrange things in the geeky counterpart of the proverbial nest — the home office.

“I used to keep everything in a single room and it was a nice setup,” began Linux Today’s Carla Schroder, who kicked off the conversation with a recent post on her blog. “Lots of shelves, lots of tables, lots of computers, and a big closet for storing the usual herds of parts and manuals that breed and multiply over time.”

Schroder goes on to describe the evolution of her geekdom at home, “progressing from enjoying the technology for its own self, to putting it to work in all kinds of creative and satisfying ways.”

‘I’m Down to a Single Linux Box’

The topic must have resounded with more than a few geeks, because a flurry of comments followed on the blog itself as well as elsewhere on Linux Today and on LXer.

“My most impressive setup was the Sinclair Spectrum and 286 sharing a desk, with both monitors on shelves and the printers, joysticks, manual scanner and all external storage within easy reach,” wrote Pastychomper, for example, following Schroder’s blog. “Now I’m down to a single Linux box beside a desk, and have trouble finding a CD amongst the mess. I have grand plans involving a second monitor with a dual seat config so I don’t have to time-share with my wife, but time will tell.”

And on LXer: “My girlfriend and I just bought a big house and in it I will finally have room for a proper office,” began Sander_Marechal. “It will house the server(s) and my main development machine… Spread throughout the house will be UTP sockets. Everything will be Cat5e and Cat6 into my office into a gigabit switch.”

‘As Paperless as I Can Make It’

Bloggers’ enthusiasm for the topic was evident in the length of their detailed responses, so Linux Girl couldn’t resist posing a similar question of her own.

“My home office is as paperless as I can make it,” blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. “I cannot find a single sheet of paper if it is not on the top of a pile, but I can find any of millions of documents in a second or two with Beagle and Swish-e.

“My office is a computer screen showing me the processes running on a GNU/Linux system with browser, word processor, desktop publishing and for serious work some terminals,” Pogson added. “I cannot relate to real humans dealing with a paper world.”

Alternatively: “My desktop has a dual monitor stand sporting two 23-inch LCD flat panels at just the right height ergonomically,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack said.

Sights Set on Solar

“I have a Linksys access point hacked with DD-WRT, although I plan to replace it with a Mikrotik Routerboard — cheaper and faster than PC Engines kit, although the two are very close,” Slashdot blogger drinkypoo began. “I have one pretty decent desktop system with two 22-inch LCDs and a bunch of small systems; DT Research DT168 and DT366, an Asus EEE Surf 4G, an Acer Aspire One D250. Everything runs some kind of Debian, sometimes Ubuntu, sometimes Jolicloud.”

Having more machines — even slow ones — “lets me keep working and, more importantly, experimenting with things that might mess up your OS, since if I nuke a machine, I can just reimage it while I’m doing something else on another one,” drinkypoo told LinuxInsider. “I intend to pick up the new 11-inch Acer Aspire One and keep that with Windows XP, just so I have a Windows system in the house. To that end, I just sold my big, goofy 17-inch HP EliteBook.”

All of drinkypoo’s computers — except the desktop box — “can be on and running full-tilt and still consume less power than just my old laptop,” he asserted. “Soon, I hope to be able to run my enterprise on a small solar system; I have 45W available so far. :)”

‘Why Is Battery Life So Poor?’

Speaking of power issues, a lively conversation arose on Slashdot recently when blogger Ganty asked, “Why is battery life on notebooks so poor when using Linux?”

“I recently purchased a Lenovo W500 notebook, and after ‘downgrading’ to XP and creating a dual partition, I found that I had a battery life of nearly three hours using the long-life battery,” Ganty explained. “At this point I was a happy camper because it means that I can watch a DVD during a flight. I then tried various Linux distributions and found the battery life under [FOSS] to be very disappointing, with an average of 45 minutes before a warning message.”

Some 900 comments followed the post, as bloggers fairly tripped over themselves to get their two cents in.

‘Exactly What Is Wrong With Linux Advocates’

“I may sound like a jerkwad here, but why waste all that battery power watching a dvd when you could watch the divx version off local storage?” wrote SendBot, for example.

But then: “This post is exactly what is wrong with Linux advocates,” shot back Anonymous Coward. “Instead of answering the question — why does Linux die when watching DVDs where other OSes don’t — the GP blames the user and suggests another, harder way to do the same thing.”

It took just those two comments to tell Linux Girl that the topic warranted a closer look.

‘Microsoft Broke ACPI for Linux’

“This is because Microsoft deliberately broke ACPI for Linux,” drinkypoo asserted. “As per the article, if you make Linux claim to be Windows, it works more often. The ACPI compiler produced by Microsoft also produces some bogus entries which work on Windows and which confuse Linux.”

If those issues can be ironed out, “you can typically get quite good battery life,” drinkypoo added.

“My new Acer Aspire One D250 gets about two hours and 45 minutes under either Windows XP or Jolicloud Linux, a version of Ubuntu UNR,” he said. “I DID have to use powertop and tweak laptop_mode settings to get there, though, as well as removing gnome-screensaver, which obstinately refuses to use no screensaver even when you have told it never to blank the screen.”

Hardware Acceleration?

Alternatively: “My only possible explanation for this is that somehow [Ganty] doesn’t have hardware acceleration running,” Mack told LinuxInsider. “That would cut the battery life down considerably thanks to overuse of the CPU to concentrate.”

Ganty “should check ‘glxinfo’ to see if it’s working,” Mack suggested. “I could also suggest running ‘powertop’ to see if anything is set wrong.

“Personally, my laptop runs great with Linux + Battery,” he asserted. “Intel has put a lot of work into power-efficient Linux, and it shows.”

‘Welcome to Proprietary Land’

Hardware “does what it does,” Pogson said. “All the tricks that that other [OSes] can do can be done with GNU/Linux.”

It appears some producers of netbooks “have not bothered to configure the systems properly,” Pogson added. “Some of these have made agreements with M$ to recommend GNU/Linux and never to supply GNU/Linux and that other OS as head-to-head choices for consumers with identical hardware. Enough said.”

The problem can be summed up simply: “Welcome to proprietary land,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. “Laptops are notorious for proprietary everything — chips, wireless, etc.”

‘Linux Must Have a Stable .ABI’

Two laptops that should be identical — same make, same model — can include completely different wireless chips or sound chips, for example, he said — “it really looks like what they were able to get on sale that week.”

It also makes reverse engineering “pretty much impossible to do with any accuracy,” hairyfeet noted.

To avoid this problem, “Linux MUST have a stable .ABI,” he asserted.

‘Look for the Little Fat Penguin’

“If you say ‘source code or nothing!’ you get what you have now: absolutely nothing from the vast majority of manufacturers. It simply isn’t in their best interests to give up their code,” he explained.

“After all, if a patent troll hits them with a multimillion dollar lawsuit in East Texas, will RMS indemnify them and absorb all their potential costs and losses?” hairyfeet asked. “Didn’t think so. Why would they put themselves at risk for 1% of customers, who usually aren’t out buying the latest and greatest?”

What manufacturers will do, however — “and this would IMHO spur Linux adoption more than any other change you could possibly come up with — is put a nice ‘Linux 32/64’ folder on their driver CD, along with a nice little Tux logo right beside the Winflag and the Apple,” hairyfeet suggested. “THAT would be an instant game changer, because all the little shops like me could start selling Linux boxes beside the Windows ones.”

Then, “instead of having to tell the customer, ‘Go to some forum you don’t really understand and research’ every purchase,” he explained, “we could just say, ‘Look for the little fat penguin’ on the box and it will ‘just work.'”

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