30 November 2009

If you can't fix it, rebrand it

The reputation of the KDE ecosystem was tarnished by a crappy release process for KDE4. Essential desktop components simply weren't ready for release in 4.0 and 4.1 (some of them still are mostly vaporware) after a huge barrage of hype had massively raised expectations, and this generated a lot of (well deserved) bad publicity. The answer?

Go and rebrand it, so that the development process can be broken up more easily and people will be persuaded to blame the right developers for each component. And while we are at it, let's throw out KDE's well-earned reputation for deep integration, the idea of the DE as a complete platform for users and developers. Let's give users the idea that KDE is just a "compilation" of bits and bobs thrown together for no particular reason, on the way overlapping as much as possible with the concept of "distribution", making it fun for companies to explain the difference and for developers to understand what they can and cannot rely on for their apps. Now KDE is supposed to be just a "community", a "club" of like-minded (C++) people hanging out in Gran Canaria and the like.

Yeah, that will be fun.

Honestly, I've been a big KDE fan for ages, but the development process for KDE4 was clearly wrong on so many levels. Developers' reactions to user feedback in the last two years have been astonishingly patronizing, and this is just another instance of it. Just admit that errors were made and get to work, please, instead of wasting time jet-setting from one "conference" to another (preferably in remote islands with good nightclubs), talking about marketing b*llocks.

29 November 2009

Akonadi vs Plasma: a tale of disorganized, randomic development

The Akonadi::ItemView class, which should provide a default, out-of-the-box view of data stored by Akonadi (KDE 4 technology), depending on the type of resource it represents, cannot be included in a Plasma.Applet (KDE 4 technology) but only in a KXmlGuiClient or KXmlGuiWindow (KDE 3 technology).

Clearly dogfood isn't as tasty as apple pie.

25 November 2009

Passaporto obbligatorio per i bambini da oggi?!? Classico caso di cattivo giornalismo

(Apologies, this post is only in Italian)

Questa mattina il Corriere della Sera ha fatto risparmiare qualche litro di caffe' ai poveri genitori di bambini italiani all'estero. Il pezzo "Anche i bimbi avranno il loro passaporto", infatti, conteneva abbastanza allarmismo da provocare diversi casi di tachicardia acuta in adulti con prole, quasi tutti in fase di preparazione per l'inevitabile rientro natalizio sul Suolo Patrio.

Tutto grazie alla seguente affermazione (screenshot per i posteri):

"Dal 25 novembre, tutti i bambini in viaggio all'estero avranno in mano il loro documento con nome e foto, così come prevede la nuova disciplina comunitaria."

Panico. Fino a ieri per i minori bastava essere presenti sul passaporto dei genitori. Per avere un nuovo passaporto ci vuole piu' di un mese! Natale e' il 25 dicembre e il nostro aereo e' fra X giorni! Possibile che il Ministero degli Esteri si sia creato dal nulla una montagna di lavoro proprio sotto Natale?

La risposta e' no. Peccato che il giornalista/scribacchino/redattore che si e' preso la briga di riportare la notizia (probabilmente di agenzia) non abbia nemmeno provato a fare un minimo di verifica o integrazione, magari sul sito della Polizia di Stato (organismo preposto al rilascio dei passaporti), magari leggendo un aggiornamento dal titolo "Nuova disciplina in materia di passaporti":

"I passaporti contenenti l'iscrizione di minori rilasciati fino ad oggi rimangono comunque validi fino alla scadenza e tutte le richieste di iscrizione del figlio minore sul proprio passaporto pervenute fino a ieri saranno evase fino al 15 dicembre."

Ergo, l'affermazione che "dal 25 novembre, tutti i bambini in viaggio [...] avranno in mano il loro documento" e' palesemente falsa. E il preoccupato genitore puo' finalmente rilassarsi con una bella tazza di caffe' fumante, magari (per oggi) decaffeinato.

24 November 2009

How to Replace VmWare Server 2.0 Console with VNC

VmWare Server 2.0 ships with a web-based user-interface that is, to put it bluntly, an abomination. Supposedly, it is that way in order to simplify requirements: gone is the command-line API-based interface of 1.0 (which is now only available in the pricier products, what a coincidence), now the only thing you need is a web browser and a plugin that will display the consoles of virtualized instances.

This is all well and good when the plugin works. Which is, considering the constant flow of browser updates, not quite often. In particular, it seems that after upgrading to Firefox 3.5, the plugin stopped recognizing my arrow keys (of all things). I tried running it as a standalone client, which is surprisingly simple (just locate vmware-vmrc in your Firefox profile folder and use it to connect to the main server on port 8333), with no success. I've even followed some blog advice to add something to /etc/vmware/config, but that didn't do it for me.

Then I remembered what everyone in the VmWare world knows: these virtual consoles are VNC-based. So there must be a way of using a "proper" VNC client, bypassing the godawful plugin. And indeed there is, just drop the following lines in the .vmx file of the virtual machine you want to VNC-enable:

RemoteDisplay.vnc.port = "5900"
RemoteDisplay.vnc.enabled = "TRUE"
RemoteDisplay.vnc.password = "password"

Reboot the instance and voilà, you will be able to connect with a better client, like xTightVnc, where arrow keys do work properly. You can obviously change the port and password to suit your needs.

23 November 2009

Amarok 2 revisited

Considering the sort of negative person I am (I'm sure scientologists would classify me as "suppressive personality" in zero time), it doesn't come as a surprise that one of the most popular items on this blog is a rant about Amarok 2. Having recently upgraded my Linux laptop, however, I found that Amarok was also upgraded to release 2.2.1, and I decided to give it a go. The experience was, overall, a positive one, so I thought I owed to the developers a follow-up to my previous rap.

Amarok 2.2.1 finally addresses 99% of the problems and regressions that plagued 2.0. The terrible default layout is now highly customizable (click on View -> Lock Layout to unlock the widgets, then drag&drop them where you want), so you can recreate the much-saner 1.x disposition. You can also customize the top toolbar (which by default is wasting so much screen real-estate, you could probably display three different applications in the same amount of space) to be more compact, by selecting View -> Slim Toolbar. Support for radio and podcasting is now first-rate (I don't know about external disks/mediaplayers), and plugins for various Internet services are quite good. MySQL is back to being an optional back-end for the internal music catalog. In short, if you still are on 1.x and can upgrade to KDE4/Qt4, you should probably give it a go.

So, 18 months down the line, Amarok is basically back to where it was in release 1.4, plus some eyecandy and (we are told) a better, more modular infrastructure. In order to achieve this, developers endured a year of bad publicity and hate-mail from their own users, lost market share, and basically looked hapless at prioritizing features and designing interfaces.

Was it worth it? To me, it still looks like another proof that benefits of "big rewrites" are dubious at best, like Joel Spolsky said so many years ago. I suspect we will eventually come to say the same about the whole KDE4 process, but I guess the jury is still out on that one.

22 November 2009

Programming children

Children are to parents what Big Rewrites are to programmers: the occasion to start from scratch after taking into account all the hacks and bad decisions from previous versions, resulting in a superior implementation of a well-known solution. Or so parents (and programmers) like to think.

Except that children and programs tend to have a life of their own, and the most successful strategy is often to just get along doing whatever the little monsters are successful at, which may or may not be what the previous release intended to do.

20 November 2009

How to demotivate your workforce

  • tell them they are "high cost" compared to Egyptian, Indian or Rumanian counterparts.
  • tell them that, despite the company being afloat in cash, there's no money for pay increases for the N-th year running.
  • tell them that the money is "reserved to the mergers&acquisitions strategy". We don't reward our workforce, we reward our competitors; as soon as you can, please go and become one.
  • tell them that "promotions with no pay increase" are perfectly normal. Same for workload increases. Imply that you should count yourself lucky to still have a job. The beatings will continue until morale improves.
  • tell them that, if you don't like it, they have a choice (i.e. walking). But at the same time, "we have to get better at sharing knowledge". Sure, I'll get to that right away (not).
  • give them new internal systems that don't work. When workers complain, dismiss them as whiners. Make sure there is no plan-B after The Big Go-Live. Once TBGL results in complete customer-affecting disaster, panic.
Time to work on personal projects. Big time. Dear SUN employees in Europe, you really really should cheer for the EU. May you be spared a terrible fate.

17 November 2009

Kubuntu Karmic Koala and Radeon 9600 Mobility M10 (RV350) xorg.conf magic

The upgrade to Kubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala" threw me back to the glorious 90s, when installing Linux would invariably require long battles with the infamous XFree config files. Hours and hours wasted trying out magic incantations in order to escape the brutal world of command-line interfaces. !FUN

Anyway, here's a bit background: basically, ATI stopped releasing proprietary Linux drivers for their old cards. So you can either use the old drivers, or move to the open-source ones (a complete rewrite, which only recently got good enough for real use). But here's the problem: the version of (KDE window manager) KWin shipped with Karmic crashes horribly with the old ATI drivers, and recent Xorg releases don't really work well with them anyway. So you haven't much of a choice: move to the free drivers and thank Stallman for inventing the cure to the annoying problem of manufacturers dropping support for products after less than five years.

The problem with the open-source drivers, however, is that running with default parameters will give you shockingly bad perfomance, especially for 2D (weird). I was forced to delve into xorg.conf and turn on all the "turbo-boost" switches I could find. At the moment, I'm getting decent result with the following parameters:

Section "Device"
Identifier      "Configured Video Device"
Driver  "radeon"
Option  "AccelDFS"              "on"
Option  "AccelMethod"           "XAA"
Option  "MigrationHeuristic"    "smart" # "greedy" works well also
Option  "EnablePageFlip"        "on"
Option  "EnableDepthMoves"      "on"
Option  "ColorTiling"           "on"
Option  "FBTexPercent"          "0"
Option  "AGPMode"               "4" # this is the real kicker
Option  "TripleBuffer"          "true"

Note AccelMethod being set to XAA. In the future that will probably be EXA (which apparently is a newer algorithm), but my experiments with it included too many crashes for my taste.

There are a few other parameters that I scavenged from Google and man radeon, but they mostly resulted in crashes on my machine (tbh, I'm not sure they were always the guilty party, but better safe than sorry):

  • "AGPSize" "128" -- from what I understand, this should just be the amount of video RAM you have.
  • "EXAOptimizeMigration" "on" -- relevant only if you use EXA
  • "XAANoOffscreenPixmaps" "on" -- no idea what this is, but my card doesn't like it
  • "BIOSHotkeys" "on" -- my screen-related Fn-* hotkeys work anyway, even without this parameter
  • "AGPFastWrite" "on" -- this hangs X on my laptop (Rock Pegasus Ti)

I put this here so I may remember to search my blog next time instead of wasting time going through random forum threads, but I hope it may be of help to fellow Radeon linuxers. All in all, KDE 4.3 is lovely, but it kinda reminded me that five years is quite a long lifespan for a laptop.

15 November 2009

Kubuntu 9.10 / KDE 4.3.3 first impressions

  • Upgrade installer choked on finding out that python2.6 was already installed. Had to fall back on hardcore dpkg commands to fix it. I understand most "upgraders" had similar issues. -1
  • Keeps complaining that it can't find my uid-identified partitions straight away (slow HAL?). Considering it eventually manages to mount them just fine (and that the uid scheme was forced upon me by a previous Kubuntu), it just seems stupid. Any idea how I could stop the nagging? Meanwhile, -1
  • Sluggish. Maybe because KWin would crash on ATI drivers and I had to switch back to the free ones. -5
  • Eyecandy is fabulous, and very consistent. Much better than Vista.+1
  • Managed to recreate my old desktop setup almost flawlessly. Most 4.0 regressions due to Plasma have finally been addressed. +1
  • Many (most?) widgets are useless. Only few of them "get" what Plasma is about. I guess this will be fixed in time. +0
  • The Widget Dashboard, once you "get it", is fantastic. Makes things like Quick Launcher absolutely redundant. +1
  • Configuration utilities have been somewhat cleaned up, in a long-overdue effort. +1, but for the love of God stop with the Gnome-like zealotry.
  • Looks like KNetworkManager won't properly manage my wifi. Somewhat balanced by forcing people (me) to rediscover the joys of full-speed cabled access. Still, -1 (and I'm being generous)
  • KPackageKit finally gives us a Qt-based alternative to Synaptic. +1
  • the gmail-plasmoid. Never found a decent counterpart for 3.5. +1
  • UI to Power Management features is finally as good as anything in the Windows world. Maybe better. +1
  • Shortcuts every-flipping-where. One day, I might even use them. +1
  • Lots of good repositories for fresh software, without having to jump through hoops. And the ppa/apt-add-repository combo is a winner. +1

Total: +1. So I guess it was all worth.

(posted with this newfangled Bilbo / Blogilo thing. Could this be the day I get a decent blog-writing application?)

12 November 2009

Berkeley hills

(on music from Weezer's "Beverley Hills")

Where I come from isn't all that great
My mailserver is a piece of crap
My admin scripts are a little whack
And my friends are just as screwy as me

I didn't go to any cool schools
tech startups never looked at me
Why should they?
I ain't nobody and got nothing in my webblog

Berkeley hills
That's where I want to be
Livin' round Berkeley hills
Berkeley hills
Coding like a celebrity
Livin' round Berkeley hills

Look at all those geeky stars
They're all so intelligent and smart
When their companies get floated
they get more buyers than Wal-Mart...