Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Happy birthday, GNOME!

The GNOME desktop turns 20 today, and I'm so excited! Twenty years is a major milestone for any open source software project, especially a graphical desktop environment like GNOME that has to appeal to many different users. The 20th anniversary is definitely something to celebrate!

I wrote an article on OpenSource.com about "GNOME at 20: Four reasons it's still my favorite GUI." I encourage you to read it!

In summary: GNOME was a big deal to me because when GNOME first appeared, we really didn't have a free software "desktop" system. The most common desktop environments at the time included FVWM, FVWM95, and their variants like WindowMaker or XFCE, but GNOME was the first complete, integrated "desktop" environment for Linux.

And over time, GNOME has evolved as technology has matured and Linux users demand more from their desktop than simply a system to manage files. GNOME 3 is modern yet familiar, striking that difficult balance between features and utility.

So, why do I still enjoy GNOME today?

  1. It's easy to get to work
  2. Open windows are easy to find
  3. No wasted screen space
  4. The desktop of the future

The article expands on these ideas, and provides a brief history of GNOME throughout the major milestones of GNOME 1, 2, and 3.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Allan Day on The GNOME Way

If you don't read Allan Day's blog, I encourage you to do so. Allan is one of the designers on the GNOME Design team, and is also a great guy in person. Allan recently presented at GUADEC, the GNOME Users And Developers European Conference, about several key principles in GNOME design concepts. Allan's has turned his talk into a blog post: "The GNOME Way." You should read it.

Allan writes in the introduction: "In what follows, I’m going to summarise what I think are GNOME’s most important principles. It’s a personal list, but it’s also one that I’ve developed after years of working within the GNOME project, as well as talking to other members of the community. If you know the GNOME project, it should be familiar. If you don’t know it so well, it will hopefully help you understand why GNOME is important."

A quick summary of those key principles:

1: GNOME is principled
"Members of the GNOME project don’t just make things up as they go along and they don’t always take the easiest path."

2: software freedom
"GNOME was born out of a concern with software freedom: the desire to create a Free Software desktop. That commitment exists to this day. "

3: inclusive software
"GNOME is committed to making its software usable by as many people as possible. This principle emerged during the project’s early years."

4: high-quality engineering
"GNOME has high standards when it comes to engineering. We expect our software to be well-designed, reliable and performant. We expect our code to be well-written and easy to maintain."

5: we care about the stack
"GNOME cares about the entire system: how it performs, its architecture, its security."

6: take responsibility for the user’s experience
"Taking responsibility means taking quality seriously, and rejecting the “works for me” culture that is so common in open source. It requires testing and QA."

Allan's article is a terrific read for anyone interested in why GNOME is the way it is, and how it came to be. Thanks, Allan!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Simplify, Standardize, and Automate

On my Coaching Buttons blog, I sometimes write about "Simplify, Standardize, and Automate." I have reiterated this mantra in my professional career since 2008, when I worked in higher ed. A challenge that constantly faces higher ed is limited budgets; we often had to "do more with less." One way to respond to shrinking budgets was to become more efficient, which we did through a three-pronged approach of simplifying our environment, standardizing our systems, and automating tasks.

The concept of automation was always very important to me. Automation is very powerful. It can remove drudgery work from the shoulders of our staff. By allowing a machine to do repetitive tasks, we free up our staff to do more valuable tasks.

What common tasks do you do every day that could be automated, and turned into a script or program? When I worked in higher ed, I shared this comment about automation:
"If you need a report from the Data Warehouse every month, documenting the steps is certainly a good first step. But it's much better to create a script to generate it for you automatically. The file just appears when you need it, without having to repeat the steps to create it manually. That's less time to manage an individual thing, leaving you more time to work on other tasks."
Kyle Rankin recently wrote at Linux Journal about the importance of automation, part of "Sysadmin 101." Kyle identifies several types of tasks you should automate, including routine and repeatable tasks, then goes on to discuss when you should automate and how you should automate.

If you are a systems administrator, and especially if you are new to systems administration, I encourage you to read Kyle's article. Then, learn about the automation available on your system. I leverage cron and (mostly) Bash scripts on my own Linux systems. I don't have very complex tasks that have dependencies on other jobs, so that works well for me. If you have such a need for more complex automation, you can find them.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A new GNOME Board

After my Board term expired, I had planned to stay involved with the GNOME Foundation Board of Directors until the official hand-off to the new Board at GUADEC. Since GUADEC is happening right now, this marks the end of my time on the GNOME Board of Directors.

It was great to serve on the GNOME Board this year! I know we accomplished a lot of great things. Among other things, we hired a new Executive Director, who I believe will provide strong leadership for GNOME. The GNOME Board is an important part of governance too, and the Board demonstrated that by keeping GNOME moving forward in the absence of an Executive Director.

I may run for GNOME Board again in a few years, when things settle down for me. It's been a busy time lately, but as things reach a new normal, I'll be able to take on new activities in GNOME.

Good luck to everyone on the Board for the coming year! I know everyone is highly engaged, and that's what really matters for a successful Board.

Friday, July 14, 2017

How I put Linux in the enterprise

I recently wrote an article for OpenSource.com that tells the story about How I introduced my organization to Linux. Here's the short version:

I used to work in higher ed. In the late 1990s, we moved to a new student records system. We created an "add-on" web registration system, so students could register on-line—still a new idea in 1998. But when we finally went live, the load crushed the web servers. No one could register. We tried to fix it, but nothing worked.

Instead, we just shifted everything to Linux, and it worked! No code changes, just a different platform. That was our first time using Linux in the enterprise. When I left the university some seventeen years later, I think about two-thirds of our enterprise servers ran on Linux.

There's a lot going on behind the scenes here, so I encourage you to read the full article. The key takeaways aren't really the move to Linux. Instead, I use this as an example for how to deploy a big change in any environment: Solve a problem, don't stroke an ego. Change as little as possible. Be honest about the risks and benefits. And communicate broadly. These are the keys to success.

Friday, June 30, 2017

FreeDOS is 23 years old

I have been involved in open source software for a long time, since before anyone coined the term "open source." My first introduction to Free software was GNU Emacs on our campus Unix system, when I was an undergraduate. Then I discovered other Free software tools. Through that exposure, I decided to installed Linux on my home computer in 1993. But as great as LInux was at the time, with few applications like word processors and spreadsheets, Linux was still limited—great for writing programs and analysis tools for my physics labs, but not (yet) for writing class papers or playing games.

So my primary system at the time was still MS-DOS. I loved DOS, and had since the 1980s. While the MS-DOS command line was under-powered compared to Unix, I found it very flexible. I wrote my own utilities and tools to expand the MS-DOS command line experience. And of course, I had a bunch of DOS applications and games. I was a DOS "power user." For me, DOS was a great mix of function and features, so that's what I used most of the time.

And while Microsoft Windows was also a thing in the 1990s, if you remember Windows 3.1, you should know that Windows wasn't a great system. Windows was ugly and difficult to use. I preferred to work at the DOS command line, rather than clicking around the primitive graphical user interface offered by Windows.

With this perspective, I was a little distraught to learn in 1994, through Microsoft's interviews with tech magazines, that the next version of Windows would do away with MS-DOS. It seemed MS-DOS was dead. Microsoft wanted everyone to move to Windows. But I thought "If Windows 3.2 or 4.0 is anything like Windows 3.1, I want nothing to do with that."

So in early 1994, I had an idea. Let's create our own version of DOS! And that's what I did.

On June 29, 1994, I made a little announcement to the comp.os.msdos.apps discussion group on Usenet. My post read, in part:
Announcing the first effort to produce a PD-DOS.  I have written up a
"manifest" describing the goals of such a project and an outline of
the work, as well as a "task list" that shows exactly what needs to be
written.  I'll post those here, and let discussion follow.
That announcement of "PD-DOS" or "Public Domain DOS" later grew into the FreeDOS Project that you know today. And today, FreeDOS is now 23 years old!

All this month, we've asked people to share their FreeDOS stories about how they use FreeDOS. You can find them on the FreeDOS blog, including stories from longtime FreeDOS contributors and new users. In addition, we've highlighted several interesting moments in FreeDOS history, including a history of the FreeDOS logo, a timeline of all FreeDOS distributions, an evolution of the FreeDOS website, and more. You can read everything on our celebration page at our blog: Happy 23rd birthday to FreeDOS.

Since we've received so many "FreeDOS story" contributions, I plan to collect them into a free ebook, which we'll make available via the FreeDOS website. We are still collecting FreeDOS stories for the ebook! If you use FreeDOS, and would like to contribute to the ebook, send me your FreeDOS story by Tuesday, July 18.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Help us celebrate 23 years of FreeDOS

This year on June 29, FreeDOS will turn 23 years old. That's pretty good for a legacy 16-bit operating system like DOS. It's interesting to note that we have been doing FreeDOS for longer than MS-DOS was a thing. And we're still going!

There's nothing special about "23 years old" but I thought it would be a good idea to mark this year's anniversary by having people contribute stories about how they use FreeDOS. So over at the FreeDOS Blog, I've started a FreeDOS blog challenge.

If you use FreeDOS, I'm asking you to write a blog post about it. Maybe your story is about how you found FreeDOS. Or about how you use FreeDOS to run certain programs. Or maybe you want to tell a story about how you installed FreeDOS to recover data that was locked away in an old program. There are lots of ways you could write your FreeDOS story. Tell us about how you use FreeDOS!

Your story can be short, or it can be long. Make it as long or short as you need to talk about how you use FreeDOS.

Write your story, post it on your blog, and email me so I can find it. Or if you don't have a blog of your own, email your story to me and I'll put it up as a "guest post" on the FreeDOS Blog.

I'm planning to post a special blog item on June 29 to collect all of these great stories. So you need to write your story by June 28.