Here are the results to date with some thoughts to follow
The first thing that I noticed was that Linux Mint ended up in a surprisingly competitive race. It was by no means a nail biter but this was the champion from last year and Void linux took 3 votes from it while other distros such as Debian, Ubuntu, Manjaro, Zorin and Pop OS all had “perfect” rounds.
Round #1 rarely gives many upsets because of our seeding process however there were a few upsets based on the initial rankings. Deepin took down Endeavour OS in a mild surprise, Red Hat fell to Linux Lite by 4 votes and Ubuntu Studio slipped past Kali Linux in two 8 vs 9 matchups. Scientific Linux defeating CentOS (residual hard feelings from the switch to CentOS Stream last year? and Nitrux defeating KDE Neon were both upsets but the most shocking result was Arco Linux defeating Kubuntu (handily). It seems that our voters are not big fans of Plasma.
On to round 2 where the feature matchup is Lubuntu vs Ubuntu Mate.
If you are new to Distro Madness or just want a refresher on how it works then please see below.
What is Distro Madness?
DistroMadness is an effort to understand the Linux community’s distribution preferences that is modelled off of the NCAA college basketball tournament held in March of each year in the United States. That tournament, affectionately called “March Madness” determines the top basketball team in the country through a series of single elimination matchups.
How does it work?
For “Distro Madness” we have selected the most common distributions available and will work through a series of choices between two distributions. Votes will decide which distribution they personally prefer based on whatever criteria they choose. At the end of each round I will tabulate the votes and the distributions with the most votes will advance to the next round and so on for a total of 6 rounds before deciding on the champion distribution.
To avoid having the top basketball teams in the country facing each other early, the basketball tournament divides the teams into 4 regions (East, South, Midwest and West) and then further seeds within the regions from 1-16 based on the estimated quality of the team. Similarly, we have divided the Linux distributions into 4 groups with seeding from 1-16. This has been done based on last years voting results.
Full Circle Magazine is a monthly online publication which has just published its 177th issue. FCM is about anything regarding computers and open source, with an emphasis on Ubuntu Linux and other Linux distros which are based on it.
Ronnie writes: “Excerpt from my Editorial: Probably for the ﬁrst time in FCM history we only have enough for two HowTo articles. […] As stated last month: we DESPERATELY need articles. I’ve got nothing spare. So, PLEASE, spend a few moments to write SOMETHING about what you know. It can be ANYTHING as long as it has something to do with Linux; hardware/software reviews, a how-to on something, even your story of how you found Ubuntu/Linux (of any ﬂavor). Send whatever to: firstname.lastname@example.org”
It’s MOSS’s own Dale Miracle has the cover article in this issue. Moss Bliss does a weekly Full Circle Weekly News podcast. We support this magazine. We hope that you can too.
Are you ready for our second season of Distro Madness? We have not exactly built up our user levels, but I’m back on mintCast so we might have some traction… We did better research after the last version, which admittedly was a trial run. So we won’t have ExLight going up against Ubuntu or some similar travesty, unless the David has already slain a Goliath or two in earlier rounds.
The sides are being taken. The seedings are being made. Get ready for … DISTRO MADNESS!
Favorite FOSS project in 2021: I finally got around to installing and configuring OpenRGB. It works well controlling my Corsair LED fans, Razer Cynosa V2 keyboard, and G.Skill Trident RGB memory. Though you do need to install OpenRazer to support Razer products.
Favorite closed source project (if any): I don’t have any.
FOSS projects that I have contributed to in 2021 (financial or otherwise): ProtonMail and Bitwarden.
Project/Product release that I am most looking forward to in 2022: I am following the development of System76’s Pop!_OS and the Solus project moving away from Gnome. It is not likely they will be released in 2022, but I am hoping for some Beta versions.
Best News in 2021: The Wayland project gaining some much-needed ground with Gnome and distro’s using it by default. A big surprise was NVIDIA providing support.
Worst News in 2021: Redhat ending support early for CentOS. In my opinion, It was the most botched announcement. I’ve heard in some podcasts that Redhat is now saying as they look back, that they could have done much better.
Positive Prediction for 2022: Intel will (supply chain issues withstanding) offer graphics cards to compete with NVIDIA and AMD.
Negative Prediction for 2022: NVIDIA will continue to support Linux in the least way possible.
Favorite Linux/FOSS Podcast: Linux Unplugged.
Favorite Linux/FOSS News Source: Linux Action News and Full Circle Magazine.
Ambitious goal for 2022: I am not sure about ambition but I’ve been wanting to learn more about GRUB and its UEFI support.
I just got a new (refurb) model of this incredibly tiny machine, to replace my giant HP Z800 Workstation for both room, newness, and power consumption. So I set down to install Linux on it, not Windoze 10 as comes installed. And I ran into a brick wall. With help from friends, chiefly Leo Chavez of Linux User Space podcast, I got it working. This assumes you already have your distro burned to a USB stick (I use a Ventoy stick with multiple distros). Here are the steps.
1. Boot & wait for Lenovo screen 2. Hit Enter and wait for BIOS screen 3. Insert USB (in my case, Ventoy) stick quickly enough that the machine has time to read it without moving on to the next menu (if you miss this, you’re going to need to start over) 4. Hit F12 to tell it to boot from an alternate source 5. Select USB (Ventoy) stick (& choose your distro)
Favourite FOSS project in 2021: Krita. This answer was tough. I feel like so many projects deserve recognition. I picked one that I haven’t had a chance to support just yet.
Favourite closed source project (if any): Master PDF Editor. Going in to 2021 the lack of a decent pdf editor was my last barrier to switching to Linux. Master PDF is so good that is now my go-to editor for Windows 10 systems too. I’ll write a review on this soon.
One of the more challenging choices I face as I move further into open source is what to do for hardware needs. I always start with the goal of supporting community driven companies that work together with the linux and open source community. However often this goal often encounters obstacles and I have to admit that I’m not always successful. For one thing, such companies are often small or regional so they don’t necessarily ship to all locations and if they do shipping costs can be prohibitive. The cost of the hardware can also be a barrier: I quite like the idea of the Librem phone but can’t bring myself to pay that much for what might not be a daily driver. Finally, even if you can overcome these barriers, availability can become an issue.
That’s not to say that there aren’t success stories: The Raspberry Pi is undoubtedly one such hardware success. Pine64 is arguably another success story and a company that I have been particularly engaged with. Their products are generally available, they ship everywhere, and they sell their products at very reasonable prices in an effort to increase uptake and promote development. That being said, “development” is an important point to stress because Pine64 products are developmental and not intended as production-ready. So there can be (to varying degrees) some extra effort compared to more expensive, closed commercially available counterparts.
So how do these products stack up? Well most reviews out there are overwhelmingly positive online. In my experience,it depends on the item. In this series I am going to take a look at Pine64 products, providing my personal experiences with the hardware that I own. We will finish with an overview of upcoming products.
I am going to start with the least expensive Pine64 product that I own, the Pinetime watch. You can find the product and purchase info here: https://www.pine64.org/pinetime/
Below is an image of my Pinetime with a 20 mm replacement watch band that I got off Amazon. For what it is worth, the watch ships with a decent rubber band that is on-par with the default Fitbit bands, I just prefer an elastic band. As you can see the Pinetime is a square watch with a 240 x 240 touchscreen colour display and a single button on the left. On the back are the charging contacts (the pinetime charges using a tray which you can see in the second picture), and the heart rate sensor.
For a $27 watch, I was very surprised by the build quality. This will be a recurring theme in discussing Pine64 products: their products always have a premium look and feel which belies their price point. In the case of the Pinetime, the watch is much closer in quality to my Fitbit Versa 3 than one of those low cost watches that you find on Amazon in the under $50 range (my wife has owned several). In terms of features, the Pine64 store notes “a heart rate monitor, a week-long battery, and a capacitive touch IPS display that is legible in direct sunlight”. There is lift to wake, step counting, and push notifications via Bluetooth as well. Most features that one would expect out of a low to medium end smartwatch are present.
In terms of firmware/OS, there are really two options to consider at the moment.
The most common choice (and the one that ships on the watch) is Infinitime. This is a feature-rich OS with an intuitive interface that I am very much a fan of. If offers some basic styling options (3 choices of watchface), a stopwatch and timer which work quite well. There are also media controls for your phone (which in my hands could use some work), and a navigation interface (paired with the companion app- I have not really tested this). Infinitime also ships with two games: a Pong clone and a 2048 clone. The best part about Infinitime is that development is highly active and the OS is constantly improving. Since I bought my watch in June there have been 6 updates and each of these has been meaningful. For example, the addition of an alarm clock or improvements to touchscreen sensitivity. There still are small things that could use improvement (one particular issue I have right now is that call notifications don’t cancel when handled by the phone) but this is logged and the developers have been incredibly responsive to feedback. I expect this will be addressed soon and in the meantime I find things to be quite functional for daily use.
The other OS that is advanced in its development is Wasp-OS. This is also a feature-rich option that is well developed and I have to say that it is a worthy option. For quite a while it was my OS of choice, as it was initially more responsive and offered an alarm feature first. The documentation is also really excellent. While I have since switched to Infinitime, Wasp-OS does still offer some appealing unique features including a calculator and the ability to choose which applications are enabled and visible on the screen. When I used Wasp-OS, my only complaint was that it had a habit of crashing once every couple of days. When the watch did crash then it would desynchronize and I would have to re-pair the watch. I will stress that I haven’t used this in quite some time, so things may have improved, but as best I can tell there hasn’t been any developmental progress in quite some time.
The good news, of course, is that things are open and you are free to switch between these OS’s and decide for yourself. There is a decent guide to switching between Wasp-OS and Infinitime on the Pine64 Wiki
Like other smart watches, syncing of the time and date and updating is done through a companion app that you run on either your phone or your desktop. Unlike other smartwatches though, the companion doesn’t need to be tied into an ecosystem controlled by the manufacturer. There is something freeing about being able to sync your watch with open source software that doesn’t force you to create a new account just to view the time. For Pinetime there are several companion apps that are listed in the Wiki. These include: Gadgetbridge (Android), Amazfish (Linux) Siglo (Linux), PinetimeFlasher (Windows) nRFConnect (iOS and android) InfiniLink (iOS).
I personally use Gadgetbridge and am able to easily load the software and updates, update the time/date, and enable push notifications with it. I find it quite functional. There were initially issues with loss of bluetooth connection over time, but these have been fixed with the most recent updates to Infinitime.
I have also tried nRFConnect (was able to load the software easily and update time/date with some difficulty) as well as Siglo (I wasn’t able to get this to work when I tried 6 months ago). The best instructions I have found for using the companion apps with Pinetime are on the Infinitime Github page.
So I have used this watch daily for about 6 months now and I am extremely happy with it. The watch is a good size and a comfortable fit with the stock band. With my after-market band I barely even notice it on my arm. The screen of very good quality and is visible outdoors even in direct sunlight. I can confirm that the watch is water resistant as well, although I do not regularly push this. In terms of basic functions, the watch is fantastic. The touchscreen is really responsive with very little lag. The stopwatch and timer functions in Infinitime are intuitive and easy to use and the step counter is quite accurate. Battery life is not quite as good as Pine64 claims, but still excellent in my opinion. I consistently get about 2-3 days per charge on high brightness and ~4 days on low. The lift to wake gesture is just the right sensitivity in my opinion. The watch doesn’t wake spontaneously, nor do I have to repeat the gesture due to lack of sensitivity. Using gadgetbridge the push notifications are nearly immediate and extremely convenient.
All-in-all I am very happy with the watch and have gone on to buy additional watches for my children (who had been stealing mine).
The one issue at the moment is the heart rate monitor which is quite variable. Sometimes I get an accurate reading, but most of the time it skips around and gives unreasonable values (i.e. 10 bpm or 180 bpm at rest). I am not sure if this is a software issue (i.e. might improve over time) or a hardware issue (where it wouldn’t) but it was true for both Infinitime and Wasp-OS. For me this isn’t a major issue. If I wanted to track fitness then I’d get a blood pressure watch such as the Omron HeartGuide rather than a $25 smart watch. Nevertheless, if a heart rate monitor is important to you then Pinetime is probably not quite ready to meet your needs.
One of the best things about Pinetime is the fact that it is open. Not being tied down to Apple, Samsung, or Fitbit is the key reason why I purchased my Pinetime. It is the first usable smartwatch that I have owned that doesn’t require excessive personal data and with the open source model I don’t have to worry about cancelled updates or forced upgrades to incrementally better products 2 years on.
Given the price point, I would say that this watch is an absolute no brainer purchase. It is stylish, well made and the software is extremely functional now (and constantly improving). This really isn’t a developmental product at this point, it is just a watch that I put on and don’t have to think about.
We left off in the previous article with the groundbreaking “Mother of all Demos”. Once into the ’70s, NLS was mostly used internally at the Standford Research Institute. There were a few events and issues that prevented further adoption. The user input required remembering numerical codes via the Chorded Keyset shown below.
It worked like playing the piano, where you could press a combination of the 5 keys as if you were playing a chord.
Other issues were the restrictions of the time-sharing computer mainframe systems. The creation of the more powerful Minicomputer was also less expensive to buy and use (in regards to electrical power requirements). Even though there were successful ports of NLS to the Mini, there was still a steep learning curve. Due to some disagreements between Douglas and his team over plans for NLS, many left to join Xerox at their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
Xerox PARC is not just responsible for the advancement in the graphical user interface, they also created the Laser Printer, Computer generated Bitmap graphics, and Ethernet to name a few. They were founded in 1969 as the Research and Development division of Xerox. Using the knowledge gained from NLS and the new Minicomputer architecture. Xerox’s Special Programs Group built their Minicomputer called the Alto. It was the first computer designed for use with a graphical user interface on March 1st, 1973. Here is a picture of it shown below.
Some argue that Alto is the first personal computer, while others say it was a small Minicomputer. In either case, it was quite a machine for its day. It used a TTL-based CPU at 5.88 Mhz with 128 kilobytes of memory, 2.5 MB cartridge (like hard drive storage), 606 x 808 resolution monitor, keyboard, 3 button mouse, 5 key chorded keyset, and Ethernet. The Alto would boot using the Alto OS (the operating system) to a text command interface. You would need to type the command to load the program you are wanting to use. This new way of displaying text and graphics on the screen was called WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get). There is a dispute over the origin of that phrase. For our intent and purposes, I will use the 1974 release of Bravo mentioned below. It is believed to be the first use applied to computers.
Here is a list of some of the available programs (some dates and developer information could not be found) :
Bravo Bravo was the first WYSIWYG type setting program created by Butler Lampson and Charles Simonyi. It was a mode based editor, where you had the command input mode and text input mode. Type setting functions like cut, paste, delete, italic, bold, position justification and fonts were done in command mode. While typing text was done in insert mode. For example : To enter text you press the i key then type what you want to enter followed by the esc key. It will print what you typed and return to command mode. It was a bit cumbersome to use for the average person.
Gypsy Gypsy was the replacement for Bravo. It was based on Bravo and created by Larry Tesler, Timothy Mott and other colleagues in 1975. Gypsy did away with the modes, instead utilizing the mouse, keyboard and the chorded keyset. To enter text, just click the mouse pointer where you want to begin and start typing. Cut, paste, etc uses keys on the keyboard and chorded keyset. PARC made much better use of the keyset compared to how it was used on the NLS. I will include a video demonstrating someone using Gypsy on a Alto. It is very similar to how it works on modern computers.
Laurel and Hardy They were the Email programs, Laurel was first and Hardy was the replacement. Laurel was created by Doug Brotz in 1981. Side note, PARC didn’t create Email.
SIL A vector graphics program for creating technical drawings.
Markup A bitmap editor which was an early paint program
Draw A graphical editor using lines and splines
An integrated circuit editor which showed the design as it was being created, WYSIWYG. The editor was based on the work by Lynn Conway, Carver Mead and the Mead and Conway revolution. It helped advance future semicoductor chip designs.
SmallTalk programming language and development environment. It was an early Object Oriented programming language first released in 1972.
There wasn’t any spreadsheet or database software at that time. It wouldn’t be until 1979 that VisiCalc was created. It was the first spreadsheet program created by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston.
Listed below, I will link some YouTube videos to show how some of these applications looked and how the computer interfaces functioned on the Alto.
The Alto and the later Alto II, though never an official commercial product, sold 2,120 units (120 Alto and 2000 Alto II). In 1978 Xerox donated 50 units to MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Rochester. Once these Alto’s were out in the public, they drew great interest. Two years later in 1975, an update was created, but I can’t find any references to specific changes compared to the original.
By 1977 Xerox began developing their first commercially available GUI computer called the Xerox Star. All design and development were done on the Alto II. During the same time, to compete with existing computer systems available at the time, Xerox also developed the Xerox 820. It used the CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers) operating system, a predecessor to DOS; both were text-based interfaces. The 820 was sold with a smaller monitor using 24 lines of 80-characters, and a keyboard. None of the more advanced features in the Alto were used. Management inside Xerox didn’t see a market for the advanced features in the Alto and the only people that used the Alto was PARC. Most people inside the Xerox corporate offices requested the 820 over the Alto. The 820 was the first entry into the PC market for Xerox, but management was not sure of its marketability because of the company’s roots in laser printers. This unproven technology (by their assessment) made them wary of this business risk.
Once the 820 was released it was met with mixed reviews and acceptance. Many reviews of the 820 called it a ‘me too’ product which was more expensive than the competition. Though production of the 820 would continue until 1985. Xerox wanted to compete better in the market, accepted the risk, and created the Systems Development Department (SDD) in El Segundo, California to develop the Star. The Star was officially called the Xerox 8010 Star Information System.
SDD used what was learned from the Alto and Alto II with people from PARC to design the “Office of the future”. They upgraded the hardware to an AMD Am2900 CPU; 384 Kb of memory (3 times more than the Alto) expandable to 1.5 MB; 10, 29, or 40 MB hard drive; and an 8″ floppy drive. The monitor was upgraded to 17″ with a resolution of 1024 x 800 @ 38.7 Hz. They kept the 3 button mouse but opted to replace the 5 key keyset in favor of a redesigned keyboard. The new keyboard incorporated functions the keyset provided and added more. They found that the keyset was difficult to use by a wide group of people. The new keyboard included keys like delete, copy, and move that were previously performed with the keyset. Other keys were for typesetting functions like center, bold, italic, and underline.
Another advancement was called Pilot. It was a single-user multitasking operating system. Instead of booting to a command prompt like in Alto’s Alto OS, the Star loaded the graphic environment where you enter your username and password. This was the beginning of WYSIWYG (see discussion of the Alto, above) on the desktop. The key philosophy to this interface design was to mimic common office items already understood. For example, the filing cabinet holds documents, so there is a picture of a filing cabinet. Documents are displayed as file folders. Once logged in you would see the desktop which was another office metaphor. The GUI was much easier to use over previous designs. Clicking on a document would open the required application. The idea of cut and paste, though not invented by PARC or SDD, was used on the Star. An example of how you move one document to another folder: click the document and press the move key on the keyboard. locate the folder you want to move to, and click it with the mouse pointer. These same functions also worked in a document editor. Selecting text and pressing the delete key would delete that selected text. Sounds basic by today’s standards but in the late 1970s, this was a break thru in functionality.
Listed below are some videos showing how the Star evolved.
In 1979 Xerox reached out to Apple computer, which was located in the nearby city of Cupertino. Xerox had a lot of experience in manufacturing Laser Printers and producing them in volume but they were not sure they could handle the demand for their computers, since this was a new market for them. Apple already had its process down and was quite successful. Some deals were made between the two companies. Steve Jobs, the co-founder, and CEO of Apple Computer requested he be given some disclosure agreements on what Xerox PARC was working on. Xerox management agreed and was invited for multiple visits, to the surprise of the PARC researchers. I will post a video I found that explains the details from a first-hand account.
This is a very important part of history that changed the direction of the GUI. It has been misunderstood ever since. All of the computing systems at that time were text-based with some graphical applications. All input was via the keyboard. The use of the mouse was still non-existent. The light pens I mentioned in the previous article were used but not as commonly. Most interaction with a computer was done via the keyboard.
Apple had a successful run of their Apple I and Apple II series of computers using a text interface. In 1978 the Apple III was the next model using the text-based interface. Apple was also developing a new computer in the same year called the Lisa. It was also originally another text-based interface, but the goal was to make it more modern. This was a year after the initial development was when Steve was shown the Alto, mentioned above. After subsequent visits with members of his design team, the decision was made to re-think the design of the Lisa.
In the next article, I will bring us into the 1980s with a continuation of the development of Apple’s Lisa. The 1980s will be quite a formable decade for the GUI.