The window of opportunity for iPad rivals is shrinking

For months leading up to Steve Jobs’ demonstration of the iPad, tech blogs and so-called “news” sites had been hyping up the new touchscreen Apple tablet. After the announcement, many people (not just tech blogs and “news” sites) were disappointed. Where was the webcam? Where was Flash? No 1080p video? Isn’t it just a giant iPod Touch? Nevertheless, it’s sold almost half a million, and within months probably millions more… all in the first generation (and smart Apple fans always wait until at least second generation to buy new products).

Meanwhile, I keep seeing all these tech blogs and so-called “news” sites talking about “iPad killers” (you know, the same way they talked about iPod killers and iPhone killers). Oh, this tablet is going to be the iPad killer. We got a hold of some secret demo pre-release of this tablet that’s going to be the iPad killer. Tell you what—I don’t know when these supposed iPad killers are supposed to come out, but they’d better come out soon if they’re even going to maim or scratch up the iPad, let alone kill it! I read about how some tablet was going to come out by the end of summer or another by the end of the year. It’s April. By May or June, Apple will have sold millions of iPads. Once that happens, the iPad will be the definitive touchscreen tablet device that all other touchscreen tablet devices will be compared to. And, even relatively rich (i.e., not filthy rich but still well off) people have only so much disposable income. If they have a choice between buying an iPad now and buying a non-existent iPad competitor later, they’re probably going to go with the iPad now. And once that that competitor shows up later, the money will have already been spent on the iPad, more applications will have been developed for the iPad, more movies will have featured Hollywood actors using the iPad, and the rest will be history.

Why are Apple’s competitors moving so slowly? Don’t they remember what happened with the iPhone? Right after it came out, other companies were scrambling to make similar smartphones. But the Instinct and Storm got bad reviews. WebOS was marketed badly. (I personally didn’t get a WebOS phone, because I knew Google’s Android would be bigger.) Meanwhile, Google seemed to be just twiddling its thumbs while millions of people bought iPhones. The first iPhone came out in the middle of 2007. The first Android phone didn’t appear until the end of 2008… and the G1 was kind of weak—be honest. Almost a full year later, the MyTouch 3G (also known as the HTC Magic) appeared on the scene. I bought that phone. It sucks compared to the iPhone 3GS. It’s sluggish. It’s bulky. The touchscreen requires you to press harder to get any kind of response. It wasn’t until the end of 2009 that Droid made a big splash for Android, and then the beginning of 2010 that the Nexus One appeared. That’s nearly three years after the first iPhone appeared. Already there is quite an iPhone ecosystem: iPhone covers, iPhone adapters, iPhone apps, iPhone users. I can’t tell you how many friends and acquaintances I have who own iPhones. I can count my Android-using friends on one hand. It doesn’t matter how cool Android 2.1 is. People who have iPhones and have had them for years already own the product and are used to using it. It’ll take a lot more than a product just being better to get them to switch to something else.

If iPad rivals want to upset Apple, they have to release their products now. I’m not kidding. If people right now see a touchscreen tablet with no webcam, no Flash, 720p video, no USB ports for $499 and then see another touchscreen tablet with a webcam, Flash, 1080p video, and USB ports for $499, a lot of them will opt to buy the latter. But that’s right now. By August or December, it’s too late. And certainly by 2011 it’s too late. The Apple brand is strong, and its marketing deadlier. Once people start associating “touchscreen tablet” with “iPad,” the iPad won’t be one tablet among many tablets; it will be the tablet, and everything else will just be laughable “iPad killers.” Yeah, ICD Gemini and Notion Ink Adam, I’m talking to you. Eric Schmidt, if Google has an Android tablet, better unveil it soon.


Why I might switch to Mac from Ubuntu

Who am I?
I’ve been using Ubuntu for almost five years now. I’ve offered some technical support on the Ubuntu Forums and been a moderator there off and on. I’ve maintained a new-user-targeted documentation site for every release of Ubuntu except the very first (4.10). I’ve also contributed to a few official Wiki pages. Even though nanotube did all the heavy lifting, I did help out a fair bit in at least the beginning stage of UbuntuZilla. I’ve filed bug reports at Launchpad. I’m not a programmer, but I feel I’ve contributed a fair bit to Ubuntu.

Why I was drawn to Ubuntu
I admire a lot of what Mark Shuttleworth has done. He has an enormous amount of wealth. A lot of people who don’t have a lot of wealth always think if they did that they would undoubtedly give away most of that money. It’s easy to give away other people’s money. It is not so easy to give away your own. My parents aren’t nearly as rich as Shuttleworth. Somehow, they managed to give a large percentage of their money away to church and to various charities, and still maintain a very comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle. My wife and I are struggling to make ends meet while also trying to give away to causes we deem worthy. To sink millions of pounds into what could have been a dead-end project is a risk that I admire Mark Shuttleworth taking. He could have been ridiculed. He could have lost a lot of money on nothing.

He had a vision, though. I liked that original vision. I liked the free CDs shipped anywhere. I liked the idea of one CD with one application per task, not a lot of confusing options, and sensible defaults. More importantly, I liked the idea of Ubuntu—humanity toward others, which showed quite well in the Ubuntu Forums. And Ubuntu was one of the few distros to try to strike a reasonable balance between the lofty ideals of Free software zealotry and the pragmatism of proprietarily-licensed software.

Where did Ubuntu go wrong?
For a while, I had high hopes for Ubuntu. Every release seemed to make Ubuntu more polished, every additional feature seemed to make Ubuntu more accessible for the Linux novice. A few things that have come up recently have made me a bit disillusioned with Ubuntu, though:

  • These days, decisions and “improvements” seem more like arbitrary changes instead of actual user experience improvements. Grub suddenly became less configurable, as did GDM. Notifications would appear and randomly disappear at odd times (for example, if my wireless reconnected, the notification would still say I was disconnected and then change to connected only about ten seconds after I’d actually reconnected).
  • My bug reports have really come to naught. A few years ago, if someone had complained on the Ubuntu Forums about a problem with Ubuntu, I would have been first in line to say “Complaining here won’t do any good. If you want to tell the developers, file a bug report.” After seeing that most of my bug reports have been unanswered or unfixed, sometimes for years, I don’t know that filing a bug report is really the best thing to do.
  • Brainstorm is a mess. Really, there isn’t an efficient way for developers to get proper feedback from users. If I, as a user, can’t make sense of Brainstorm’s thousands of ideas, how can the developers, who are busy developing?
  • I’ve seen too many hardware regressions. A lot of this isn’t Ubuntu’s fault. A lot of this is upstream. Regardless, upstream affects the Ubuntu experience. The real problem is that the Linux kernel tries to support everything well. There isn’t enough focus. So something that is in theory supposed to be Linux compatible (say, an Intel Pro Wireless 2200bg card) can work perfectly in one release, and then have random disconnects in the next two releases and then work perfectly again in the next release. Personally, I’ve had a Broadcom card that works and doesn’t work in alternating Ubuntu releases, and that makes no sense to me. If the problem is that hardware manufacturers aren’t making it easy for Linux developers to make drivers, then that hardware should never work. If, however, the hardware works in one Ubuntu release and doesn’t work in the next release, that is definitely the fault of Linux, whether it is the kernel team upstream or the Ubuntu team… or both.
  • Recent decisions have seemed to focus on whim or business more than user experience, particularly the change to Yahoo! as the default search engine in Firefox and the random moving of the window control buttons from right to left. I have no problem with change. I also have no problem with Ubuntu making money. But there seems to be an utter disregard for how changes affect users. A little more communication would help. More details here.
  • The most important thing is there doesn’t seem to be a real strategy in place for fixing Bug #1. Yes, there are power users who like to install their own operating systems and troubleshoot hardware compatibility issues. In order for your product to take off, though, it can’t be just an operating system. It has to be a product. It has to be something people can purchase. And the limited options from Dell (which recommends Windows, even on the Linux parts of its website) don’t cut it. They also aren’t created by Ubuntu. They just use Ubuntu. Recently, Google released the Nexus One as its idea of hardware matching perfectly the software in Android. There is no Ubuntu equivalent. There isn’t hardware designed to be the ultimate Ubuntu experience. I’ve heard various Ubuntu advocates propose making a Ubuntu commercial. What’s the point, though? If someone saw a Ubuntu commercial, she couldn’t just go and buy Ubuntu, especially in certain countries. The options are limited or non-existent. And hardware compatibility is iffy (Dell still uses Broadcom cards… I have a Broadcom card in my Ubuntu preinstalled HP Mini, which HP no longer makes, by the way).

The straw that broke my camel back
This window button move in Ubuntu 10.04 is really indicative of a bad way Ubuntu is headed. Defaults matter. One of the things I liked about Ubuntu, as I stated before, is its sensible defaults. I don’t have to agree with everything the Ubuntu teams decide or that Mark Shuttleworth decides. That’s fine. You want GIMP out… I don’t agree with it, but I at least understand the rationale behind the decision (it takes up a lot of space on the disk, and most people do not need the crazy power-user features GIMP offers as a photo editor). This decision about the window controls came out of nowhere and had no apparent rationale. Instead of getting good reasons for the change, all we got was… nothing for a while. We got some people saying “Hey, it’s different” or “Just get used to it” or “You can change it back easily if you want.” These aren’t reasons for a change. These are coping strategies. If a change happens, there should be good reason for it. Look, I get Shuttleworth saying Ubuntu is not a democracy. It doesn’t have to be a democracy, though. How about, as self-appointed benevolent dictator for life, just explaining why you made a decision? People don’t have to agree with your decision, but at least if they have a reason for it, they are more likely to accept it. How about, even though you have the power and right to not listen to people, just soliciting feedback?

It took a lot of pressing from users to get Shuttleworth to talk a bit more about what kind of “feedback” and “data” he was looking for. He said at least that the decision wasn’t final, and he wanted genuine data. Based on his remarks in this bug report, it really does seem, though, that he has made up his mind that this is what is going to happen, regardless of what data and feedback people present him with—especially when people present a lot of legitimate points against the move, and then he just replies “And the major argument against it appears solely to be ‘we’re used to it here.'” For more details on those legitimate points, take a look at this and this.

Democracy v. Dictatorship = false dichotomy
In case anyone’s wondering, there are more than two options out there. You don’t have to put every decision to a vote. And you don’t have to totally disregard community input. You don’t have to try to please everyone or please no one. And you don’t have to be subject to mob rule if you offer a little transparency.

My advice to Shuttleworth for the future would be if you want to make a unilateral change, just be open about what your reasons are for it. You can be a strong leader without pissing off large segments of your user base. Just say “I want to change this a bit, because I think it offers X, Y, and Z usability improvements. I realize a change is difficult for everyone, and I also concede there are A, B, and C tradeoffs in making the change. The tradeoffs are worth it, though. Ultimately, the decision rests with me and the desktop experience team. Nevertheless, I would like to hear your concerns about the change, and the best way for you to communicate your concerns is through methods D and E.” Would that be so difficult? Any time you make a change, there will always be some people unhappy about it. You can still make the process a little less heated with just some communication and openness. After all, on your webpage, you say “Ubuntu is a community developed operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers.” Your millions of pounds help make Ubuntu happen. We all know that. Keep in mind that it would behoove you to not piss off your user base, as the success of Ubuntu can’t be bought with pounds alone. Millions of users contribute to Ubuntu in many ways as well.

Why Mac?
When I voiced opposition to this latest change in Ubuntu, I got a lot of “Ubuntu is not a democracy” and “You can always use something else.” Well, as I just explained, you can very well have a non-democracy that is still community-focused. I hope Mark Shuttleworth will reconsider for the future his approach to communicating (or not communicating, in this instance) with the larger Ubuntu communities. Really, though, if I’m going to be using an operating system maintained by a dictator, I might as well go for one who understands that 1) hardware and software planned together make for a better user experience and 2) even if users don’t agree with his design decisions, he should still have rationales for those decisions.

I can’t even tell you how many design decisions I disagree with Apple about (resize only from bottom right corner, zoom instead of maximize, disk image mounting for software installation, dock icons in poof of smoke when dragged off dock, etc.). You know what, though? Each one of those decisions I disagree with I also understand the rationale for. More importantly, I like how Apple doesn’t like to tackle too much at once. Instead of trying to support all hardware and then having regressions on various theoretically “supported” devices, Apple realizes it’s better to have a great experience on a limited number of devices.

And the attention to detail is impressive. The magnetic cord I love. I am a total klutz and can’t tell you how many cords I’ve ruined by tripping on them or tugging them the wrong way. In fact, I just broke my HP Mini cord this weekend and had to order a replacement cord. Not so with the magnetic cord on my wife’s Macbook Pro. When the Macbook is sleeping, the power light fades slowly in and out instead of doing a hard off and on blink. The power button is flush with the frame of the laptop and not jutting out. The sound quality is always good on Mac laptop speakers. There’s a lot to admire about Apple approach. It is one great way to present an integrated hardware-software computer experience. My hope was that someone would present another great way. We’ll see if that ever happens.

Am I abandoning Free software?
Not really. First of all, I don’t know that I’m going Mac. Macs are expensive, so I’d have to save up for one. Even if I do go Mac, though, my Mac experience would be very different from my wife’s Mac experience. For one thing, I might dual-boot with Linux Mint. And even if I stick with Mac OS X, I will use Thunderbird instead of Mail, Firefox instead of Safari, OpenOffice instead of iWork, and my Android phone instead of an iPhone (Cyanogen’s rooted rom has made me really appreciate the Android platform even though the iPhone has its advantages too). No change has to be permanent, though. If Ubuntu comes around or changes the way it does business, or if some other Linux distro focuses its energy on preinstallation and proper marketing/distribution, and thorough hardware compatibility testing on a few select models, I might make my way back. In the meantime, if I go Mac, don’t worry—I’ll still be making my Ubuntu tutorials. A bad decision though the window control switch is, it’s probably not bad enough for most Ubuntu users to actually abandon Ubuntu at this point. For me, it was a tipping point. It’s been a good five years.


What if women weren’t judged primarily by their beauty?

When I was in middle school and high school, there were (as I’m sure is the case in a lot of schools, both then and now) so-called “cool” or “popular” kids. And there were less-than-cool or even “loser” kids. I was definitely in one of the latter two categories, depending on whom you asked. I think a lot of teenagers waste a lot of time trying to either become cool new selves or to re-label their current selves as cool. For most people, once you go to college or the working world (and beyond), you realize that “cool” just doesn’t matter as much as you thought it did back in your adolescent years.

The fight to have different kinds of teenagers considered “cool” is, I think, a worthy one, as long as these uncool teens don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a temporary time of the cool and uncool, and that better times are on their way.

But sociological problems do tend to come in complementary pairs. For example, if someone tries to insult you by calling you (or worse yet, insinuating that you are) gay when you are straight, there are two problems. Problem #1 is using “gay” as an insult. Problem #2 is insulting you. But by calling you gay as an insult, that person is perpetuating both of those problems. Likewise, if you create yet another movie in which a good straight white man saves the poor abused Asian woman from the evil Asian man, you are perpetuating both (#1) that white men are more desirable than Asian men are and (#2) that women are just pawns in a racial game of winning-losing decided by men.

Right now, as far as beauty and women goes, there are two problems that are intertwined. Problem #1 is that the media and those of us the media affects (almost 100% of us in varying degrees) continue to have a very narrow view of what defines a beautiful woman. Problem #2, which is less talked about, is that women are primarily (or at the very least secondarily) judged by their beauty.

So when I see Pretty ugly: Can we please stop pretending that beautiful women aren’t beautiful? talking about how sitcoms should stop pretending conventionally beautiful women are ugly and should show more less–conventionally beautiful women as beautiful, or when I see Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty; I applaud those efforts. Yes, we do need to redefine beauty. There are diverse kinds of beauty. Beauty isn’t just a tall, skinny, blonde (or maybe light brunette), white, straight woman with narrow cheekbones, and tiny nose. Lots of women are beautiful. That’s important for us to get straight.

Let’s not lose sight of the big picture, though. There is still a second problem. Why do we care how beautiful women are or aren’t? Why do newspapers always have to mention how female political candidates looked or comment on how fashionable or unfashionable their dress is? They’re politicians, not runway models! Kathryn Bigelow looks great. Sure! She’s beautiful and her arms are buff. I agree. Uh, but why does that matter? I thought we were awarding her for best director, not best-looking director.

I will, like many other feminists, continue to celebrate and appreciate different kinds of beauty. Still, I cling to the hope that one day we will all graduate from the high school of life, and we’ll see that beauty isn’t what it’s all about.


What’s the best Android web browser?

Update (16 April 2010):
The best web browser is xScope.
Read more at xScope web browser for Android

Opera Mini
Final Verdict


I’ve heard from some Nexus users that they’re perfectly fine with the default Android web browser (called plainly Browser) because 1) their phones are so fast anyway they aren’t looking for another web browser and 2) the latest updates have brought multi-touch (or pinch-to-zoom) to the Browser on Android 2.1.

What about the rest of us Android users? Well, I use a T-Mobile MyTouch 3G (also known as HTC Magic 32b, which has 192 MB of RAM and a 528 MHz processor when it’s clocked to the max), and I can definitely tell you the default Browser on my phone (and probably also the T-Mobile G1) is slow both in terms of general interface responsiveness and in terms of loading pages.

So if you’re fine with Browser, stick with it. Glad it works for you. If, however, you’re looking for an alternative, here are some you may want to explore or avoid.


Before we begin with the alternatives, actually, let’s take a look at Browser and what you should appreciate in it.

Part of the appeal for me about Browser, at least in theory, is that it doesn’t have too many bells and whistles, and there’s absolutely nothing confusing about the interface. Long-pressing a link brings up a sensible context menu, which allows you to open the link in a new window. Pressing the menu button brings up… the menu, though it’s annoying that you have to click one more time (More) to get to the actual settings.

My favorite option in the settings for Browser is the option to have new windows open in the background, especially since I have experienced Browser to load pages slowly. Unfortunately, Google has recently changed its mobile News site so that long-pressing a link will do absolutely nothing (no context menu), so you have to press the link normally, and it’ll launch a foreground window even if you have specified for new links to open in the background normally.

I use Cyanogen’s rooted Android rom, so this may be something specific to the version of Browser I’m using now. I can’t say I’m a fan of this overview of the currently open windows, mainly because I like to use my left hand to do pretty much all my Android navigation (as opposed to using one hand to hold my phone and the other to push buttons). So it’s a bit of a stretch to get my thumb over to the right to press the close button if I want to close a window.

Coco Browser

I really like the basic interface for Coco, allowing you to see tabs instead of windows and easily select a tab by clicking on it or close a tab by clicking on the close button on a tab. That means fewer steps to manage different webpages (as opposed to clicking Menu, Windows, and then the window’s close button to close a window in Browser). Of course, if you want to manage (well, at least select) the tabs as windows that way, Coco does give you that option, too.

As you can see, most of the settings for Coco are very basic and similar to the stock Browser ones. The one really annoying thing about Coco is that you can’t ever access the address bar. So if you want to go directly to a new page (as opposed to clicking a link to go to a page linked off the old page), you have to open a new tab for that page and then close the old page’s tab. That, for me, was a dealbreaker on Coco. I like tabs as much as the next person, but sometimes I do want to just keep reusing the same tab.

The Android Market is flooded with a ton of task killers and application process managers because most applications don’t actually quit unless (and this I learned only recently) you keep hitting the Back button back to the home screen instead of hitting the Home button to get to home. Coco, when you hit the Back button, prompts you to exit the application. I thought that was nice… not nice enough to keep me on Coco, though.


I don’t really want to include screenshots to cover everything Dolphin does. While Browser and Coco focus on simplicity, Dolphin focuses on including every feature it possibly can into the web browsing experience. You can create little finger gesture shortcuts for closing windows or opening new windows. You have access to various social networking and bookmark management tools. You have tabs. No matter what version of Android you’re using, you have (what I consider the overhyped) pinch-to-zoom.

You can tell even from this screenshot of the menu that Dolphin is packed with a lot of what could be confusing or heaven-sent options, depending on what kind of user you are. Incidentally, pressing the actual Menu button doesn’t bring up the menu. You have to press Dolphin’s own virtual menu button to get that menu up.

If things aren’t confusing enough, the Settings part of Dolphin has two sections. You scroll all the way through the first set of settings, and then click the last link and you get another long second list of settings to scroll through. It’s in that second list that you can find how to change the home webpage.

Even though Dolphin has visible (but better-looking than Coco) tabs, it also has a nice way to manage windows. You can also easily switch between windows by swiping really hard to the left or right. That is very handy.

Some people complain about the ads, but the ads aren’t too intrusive. You see little tiny text-based ads when you bring up the start page, and the default home page (which you can change) also has ads on it. Clearly a lot of work went into this browser, so it makes sense they’d need some funding to keep this project going. There’s also a pay-for version in the Android Market that removes the ads.

Ultimately, though Dolphin is a good browser, I just found its interface too clunky for my tastes. I can understand how a power user (particularly one who uses mouse gestures on a desktop web browser, or one who’s really attached to pinch-to-zoom) would love this web browser, though.

Opera Mini

I tried Opera Mini 4.2 when that was around, and it was pretty much unusable on my phone, since mine is a touchscreen-driven phone (no hard QWERTY keyboard). Opera Mini 5 (in beta as of this writing but still available in the Android Market) is a huge improvement over 4.2. It does have its drawbacks, though.

Here’s one major one—it doesn’t really seem to be integrated with Android… at all.

  1. The app needs at least a few seconds to load, and it’s slow enough that I had time to take this screenshot while it was loading… and, yes, that progress bar appears every time you load Opera Mini.
  2. When you’re in Opera, if you press the Dialer button, nothing happens. It’s like you’re trapped in Opera unless you decide to leave. Want to make a phone call? You’ve got to press the Back or Home button first. There’s no temporary vacation away from Opera.
  3. Here’s the worst part: there isn’t a way to make Opera your default browser. Usually, after you install a new browser, when you click on a link or do a search from the search widget, Android will prompt you about which browser to choose and then allow you the option to make that the default. Opera doesn’t do that, even if you go to Settings > Applications > Manage Applications and clear defaults from the current default browser. So if you really like Opera Mini, tough luck. It can’t be your default browser. You’ll have to explicitly launch it every time you want to use it.

The Opera interface is really easy to use. You have an address bar you can type into, a Google search bar you can type into, back/forward buttons, tab management, and settings. Long-pressing on a link gives you two simple options—to open in a new tab or select the text.

The settings are very visually oriented and not confusing at all. Opera Link, if you choose to use it, allows you to sync your bookmarks to a desktop Opera installation.

Instead of bringing you to a separate screen to manage tabs, Opera just pops up a tiny thumbnail gallery at the bottom. Apart from the simple and easy-to-use interface, Opera’s main advantage is speed. It is way faster than any of the other browsers, because Opera actually loads the pages on its own servers and then compresses the images and text before sending it to your phone. So even if I’m on the Edge network instead of 3G, and I have only one or two bars on my phone’s signal, I can browse webpages speedily in Opera Mini 5. Loading windows in the background (as I do with Browser) is wholly unnecessary.

Opera starts off with a larger view of the webpage. The tap-to-zoom is inelegant (no animation whatsoever) but is extremely practical. It gets you to exactly what you need to see. As I’ve mentioned before, I think pinch-to-zoom is overrated.

Opera has some weird problems that I hope get worked out in future versions:

  • The font rendering is terrible.
  • The Google search icon is pixelated.
  • You have to double-tap the close button on tabs to get them to close.
  • So-called Fullscreen mode just drops the address bar at the top and menu bar at the bottom. The notification bar at the top is still there. And Opera without the menu bar at the bottom is crippled (you have to press Menu to get it to appear again).


Steel would be my absolutely favorite web browser on Android, if it just worked the way it was supposed to. First, let me describe how it works in theory.

What I’m showing here is what an actual webpage looks like when it’s loaded. However, when you first launch Steel, all you’ll see is a blank page. You can press Menu to get to the settings, though.

The settings in Steel are quite nice. You can have Steel load a blank page, your home page, or the last page you were looking at. You can easily change the user agent from Android to desktop or iPhone. Fullscreen mode is actually fullscreen (unlike Opera’s fake fullscreen). You can also have the controls (the dark gray bars on the top and bottom) disappear into a little bubble in the bottom-right corner after five seconds. (Tap the bubble to get the controls to reappear.)

Steel is a browser that is fully designed for touchscreens. As with Dolphin, you can swipe hard left or hard right to switch to the window to the left or to the window to the right. If you want to open a link in a new window, you long-press and right after the context menu comes up, instead of selecting one of the options, you just let go of the screen immediately.

Okay. That’s at least how it’s supposed to work. In actual practice, though, I had to give up on Steel because it kept crashing (force closing) every time I closed the left-most window, it was too sensitive to touch (if I was holding down a blank space for even two moments, the zoom controls would come up), it would forget my cookies for various sites or not prompt me to remember passwords for them (so I’d have to log in with username and password all over again), and it would slow down considerably if I had four or five windows open at once.

Final Verdict

Well, I can’t make a final verdict for you, but what I ended up doing was keeping Browser as the default for the search widget, and then using Opera Mini if I want to browse for anything else.

I hope you’ve found this helpful!

Screenshots for this were taken using Ubuntu and the Android SDK as per the instructions in this tutorial


Celibacy doesn’t lead to pedophilia

As someone who seriously planned on a lifelong celibacy (before eventually getting married to another adult), I have to say I’m completely baffled by the discussion in the press right now about questioning priesthood celibacy in connection to child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church:
Austrian Priests Suggest Celibacy May Be a Problem
Celibacy vows to stay despite sex abuse scandal
Celibacy debate re-emerges amid Church abuse scandal

Get it through your thick skulls, people. Even if you accept the premise that forcing priests into a celibate lifestyle might make some of them (the ones who actually were forced instead of actively choosing the lifestyle) sexually frustrated, why should sexual frustration mean child abuse? Seriously. If you’re sexually frustrated, break your celibacy vow… with a consenting adult. If you have that much of a problem with being celibate, why not just take off your priest outfit and go have sex with a fully grown adult woman or man? As Paul says in I Corinthians 7:8-9:

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. [NIV]

Celibacy’s cool. Or, as Jesus says in Matthew 19:11-12:

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word [that it is better not to marry], but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” [NIV]

I don’t see anything about people who can’t handle being celibate thus being okay’ed to molest little children. Look, if you’re a priest reading this, and you don’t dig the whole swearing to be celibate, I would highly recommend A) quitting the priesthood and marrying B) masturbating extensively or C) having a consensual sexual encounter (or two or three) with someone 18 or older, male or female. Yes, I realize as a die-hard Catholic, you probably consider B and C to be sinful, but would you rather be sinful and hurting nobody or sinful and traumatizing lots of people for the rest of their lives?

If you really want to cut down on priests molesting children, how about making sure they’re never alone with children behind closed doors? How about not allowing priests who have molested children to simply be transferred to another parish? How about just convicting molesting priests and sending them to prison? Stop blaming celibacy. Celibacy isn’t for everyone. I’m certainly a proponent of ridding the celibacy requirement for priests, but please stop pretending celibacy has anything to do with pedophilia.


Ten Brainstorm ideas I wish more people would vote up

Ubuntu Brainstorm is a mess. There are literally tens of thousands of ideas posted up there. How can you make any sense of it? Well, you can’t. I thought I’d just draw some attention to some ideas I think are worthwhile in the hopes that people will vote them up or at least discuss them.

Here’s my top ten along with quick blurbs as to why they’re important:

Not everyone has broadband internet access at home. So-called “Linux for Human Beings” should focus on accessibility.

One good SVG takes up less disk space than seven PNGs of various sizes, and it also looks great no matter how big you make it.

I don’t think this requires a justification. I’m using the latest Ubuntu 10.04 alpha, and the problem still requires a workaround (deleting and recreating the keyring password with “unsafe storage”).

Why ask a user to paste a command into the terminal when the program could just run the command by itself?

Privacy should be the default with sharing as an opt-in.

Why give new users the option through the GUI to accidentally remove admin access?

For the last time: if hiding asterisks or dots is “a security feature,” then you should be voting up Idea #11136: Remove visual feedback from GUI password dialogues. If it isn’t a security feature, though, then you should vote this up so as not to confuse users who are expecting visual feedback when they type passwords. This happens a lot.

Lots of widescreen monitors out these days. Why waste vertical screen space with a second panel? A lot of people seem to think moving the window buttons from right to left is no big deal, so why would it be a big deal to just remove one Gnome panel by default. And the defaults-don’t-matter crowd (which I am not a part of) can just add it back with a few clicks.

I take a lot of screenshots for tutorials. I know a lot of others folks do too. It’d be great if gnome-screenshot didn’t keep prompting for a file name. Just create the file… or allow an easy preference option to do so.

I understand why Ubuntu doesn’t include various codecs and software by default in Ubuntu, but apart from pasting in cryptic code, new users don’t have an easy way to access the Medibuntu repositories. It’d be great if they could check just one more box (as they can with the Partner repositories).


Am I the only Christian who wants “under God” taken out of the pledge?

This ruling makes me sad: Appeals Court says ‘Under God’ not a prayer

It doesn’t really matter if it’s a prayer or not. Why should people who don’t believe in God be forced to say it? I wouldn’t want to be forced to say “One nation without God.” I guess I could see a case for it if the pledge had always been that way, but the phrase was added in only a few decades ago. No reason we can’t just take it out.

Further reading:
The Pledge Under God


Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) first impressions

They say you’re not supposed to upgrade to alpha pre-releases of Ubuntu on your main computer. Unfortunately, I have only one computer (my HP Mini 1120nr netbook) to test on, and it has a 16 GB SSD, so dual-booting isn’t even really an option. I just took the plunge, downloaded the latest Lucid Alpha .iso, “burnt” it to USB using UNetBootIn, and then installed it over my Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala) installation.

I have to say I’m not impressed. Yes, I know it’s an alpha release, but I’ve done alpha releases of older versions of Ubuntu, and it’s usually not this bad so close to the beta release.

A few things I didn’t like

  1. Broadcom drivers can’t be fetched without an internet connection. Okay, so this was true with the last Ubuntu release also, but I know in previous versions Ubuntu would autodetect I had a Broadcom wireless card and then prompt me to activate the necessary drivers and then have it just work (which is what Ubuntu is supposed to do). What does Lucid do? It tells me there are drivers I need to install. When I click on the little green square icon to launch jockey-gtk and try to activate the driver, I get told that the driver can’t be fetched from the online repository. Why should you need an internet connection to get your internet connection working? That’s silly. I’ve filed a bug on it: 535824.
  2. Applications crashing left and right. I’m a bit more hopeful on this one. This does tend to happen in alpha releases. Nevertheless, it’s ridiculous with Lucid. It’s not even the application launches and then crashes. It crashes even before it launches. That happened for Gwibber, for Ubiquity, for Software Center.
  3. Wireless slow to reconnect after resuming from suspending. This bug was annoying and in Intrepid and Jaunty. It seemed to go away for Karmic, but now it’s back in Lucid. Look, the whole point of suspend-to-RAM (also known as sleep) is that you can put your computer into a battery-saving state that can be quickly used again without a long wait. If I wanted a long wait, I’d have shut down and then booted up again. It honestly would be quicker than waiting 30 seconds to a minute for wireless to reconnect. Same old bug: 274405.
  4. Internal mic settings not autodetected. Another thing that appeared in previous releases but you think they’d have fixed by now. Nope. The hardware detection isn’t the problem. It’s the settings configuration. By default, Ubuntu uses the microphone selection to use the microphone. Really, though, my internal mic is the line-in selection. Shouldn’t Ubuntu be able to tell that for certain models the internal mic is the line-in selection and just select that by default? Bug previously filed: 441480.
  5. General problems. To be honest, I just don’t have the motivation to file bugs on all these, since most of the bugs I file get ignored (or acknowledged and then not fixed). When I resume from suspend, in addition to wireless taking a long time to reconnect, the battery icon for gnome-power-manager appears and disappears from the taskbar like a blinking light. I also get an error message about the monitor configuration. Update manager is holding back certain updates, but the updates still appear. What’s up with that? I had to explicitly go to Edit Connections on Network Manager to get it to automatically reconnect to my wireless network. Shouldn’t it try to automatically reconnect by default? That’s what it did in previous versions.

Another worthy critique

Someone on the Ubuntu Forums linked to 16 things that could be improved in Ubuntu 10.04, and I have to say it’s brilliant and very thorough. I don’t agree 100% with it (for example, Control-Alt-Delete needing to launch gnome-system-monitor). I do, however, agree with most of it and the general sentiment, which is that a lot of the decisions the Ubuntu devs made seem to have absolutely no rationale. It’s not that it’s a rationale I or others disagree with. It appears to be a totally non-existent rationale.

I’d like to elaborate on a couple of points here.

First of all, I don’t have a problem with the window buttons being on the left, as opposed to on the right. I’ve used both Windows and Mac OS X extensively, and I can use both just fine. Here’s the real issue, though. On Mac OS X, the window buttons are the left but the close window button is on the absolute left. On Lucid Lynx, the button group is on the left, but the close button is on the right of the group. That means if you want to close a window with your mouse, you have to move the mouse over to the middle-left of the window instead of the absolutely left corner of the window. Believe it or not, for most users, closing the window is the most common action used with the mouse (not maximizing/restoring or minimizing). Whereas you have easy key combinations to switch windows (Alt-Tab or Cmd-Tab) or minimize windows (Control-Alt-D, Windows-D, or Cmd-H), there isn’t really an easy and consistent way to close windows. Sometimes in Ubuntu it’s Control-W. Sometimes it’s Control-Q. Sometimes you have to do the awkward Alt-F4. Also, it’s safer to use the mouse to close a window since you’re less likely to close the wrong window. I’ve more than once Alt-F4’ed (in both Windows and Linux) the wrong window (thinking it was in focus when it wasn’t).

Someone brought up in the comments that a smaller font may be better for netbooks but isn’t great for larger desktop monitors. Well, Ubuntu seems to be able to autodetect my screen resolution is 1024×576. I’m sure for a lot of large desktop monitors it can autodetect your screen resolution as 1600×1200 or whatever. Would it be that difficult to have the defaults auto-adjusted to your screen resolution? So if you’re using a netbook, the default font would be 8pt or 9pt, and if you’re using a large monitor the default font would be 12pt or 14pt. Hey, there’s an idea.

The Future of Ubuntu

Pretty soon, I’m almost finishing up my fifth year with Ubuntu. I started Ubuntu in May 2005 with Ubuntu 5.04 (Hoary Hedgehog). I’ve used every release since then: Breezy Badger, Dapper Drake, Edgy Eft, Feisty Fawn, Gutsy Gibbon, Hardy Heron, Intrepid Ibex, Jaunty Jackalope, and Karmic Koala. I’ve posted literally tens of thousands of times on the forums to help new users with their problems. I’ve filed bug reports. I’ve written documentation (both official and unofficial). Over the years, I’ve seen Ubuntu improve a lot. In the old days, there were separate live and installer CDs. The installer CD didn’t even have a point-and-click interface. You couldn’t enable the extra repositories without manually editing the /etc/apt/sources.list file. You couldn’t safely write to NTFS. There was no bootsplash. There was no Wubi to allow a 99.9999% safe dual-boot setup with Windows. I like the recent logo rebranding, too.

With all that vast improvement, though, Ubuntu still hasn’t come significantly closer to fixing Bug #1. There are a few good reasons for this, the main one being that Ubuntu still hopes people will download, burn, install, and configure Ubuntu on their own. This isn’t the way to penetrate the market. And the preinstalled Ubuntu options are not appealing to the general public for various reasons. Dell doesn’t advertise Ubuntu well or price it competitively to Windows. Dell also does not sell Ubuntu on higher-end models… or even in very many countries. You cannot find the Ubuntu-preinstalled Dell models in a physical store to try out. You have to buy it sight-unseen. Same deal with System76 and ZaReason for that last part. If I’m going to be shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars on a laptop, I want to be able to try it out and see how it looks and feels. With my last two purchases, I had to do it sight unseen (Xandros-preinstalled Asus Eee PC 701 and Ubuntu-preinstalled HP Mini 1120nr). It wasn’t fun having to scour the internet for various reviews and then realizing there were always one or two quirks that no one mentioned that I later discovered.

I don’t know if Jane Silber or Mark Shuttleworth will ever stumble upon my blog, but I wrote two years ago what I believe their best strategy would be, and I still believe that to be true: Ubuntu: The Open Source Apple Challenger? You need a store. You need a physical store with well-designed custom fully Linux-compatible laptops. It has to be as sleek as the Apple Store but with Ubuntu’s unique branding and, more importantly, a more open philosophy. Yes, we highly recommend you use this Ubuntu laptop and this Ubuntu phone and this Ubuntu MP3 player and this Ubuntu printer, but you may also find Ubuntu works well with many other devices. These are the ones we guarantee will work. No kernel regressions. Lots of extra testing.

When you file a bug report for Ubuntu, you’ll have to post lspci and other stuff only if you’re using a non-sanctioned model. Otherwise, Launchpad will automatically know exactly what model you have.

I can hear the Ubuntu zealot backlash in my head now. “How can you complain about something that’s free?” “Why don’t you just get a Mac?” “Ubuntu just needs more polish.” No. No. No. That’s not it. See, as I’ve pointed out before, you can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to say that which is free is not worthless, you have to stand by the quality of that which is free, which means you have to accept that there can be criticism of that which is free. Otherwise, you have to say free is necessarily inferior to that which is non-free. Besides, I have devoted hundreds of hours to helping Ubuntu. Maybe I didn’t pay money for it (except that one time I donated to the forums), but I certainly have donated enough of my time and energy to the project to be able to voice a criticism or two. I’ve certainly filed my fair share of bug reports and posted my fair share of brainstorms. And, sure, Ubuntu could use some more polish, but polish won’t save the day if people are still supposed to download and install Ubuntu themselves. For more details on that, see Linux-for-the-masses narratives.

Should I get a Mac, though? I don’t know. I have a lot of problems with Macs. I don’t like how you can resize windows from only the lower-right corner. I don’t like how there is a universal taskbar. I don’t like how accidentally dragging an icon off the dock makes it vanish in a poof of smoke. I don’t like how you can’t get a new finder window by pressing Cmd-N. I don’t like how Enter renames and Cmd-O opens. I don’t like how minimized applications don’t restore when you Cmd-Tab to them. I don’t like how closing the last window of an application doesn’t quit the application.

You know what, though? Even though I don’t agree with how Apple set up the interface, I understand the rationale behind each and every one of those decisions. I don’t have to agree with the rationale to understand it. For some of the Ubuntu or Gnome teams’ decisions, I cannot see the rationale at all. They just seem like bugs or arbitrary decisions. They don’t all follow a consistent paradigm or vision. More importantly, Apple does have some great innovative things. Love the multi-touch implementation on the new Macbooks. Love the magnetic power cords.

I guess we’ll see what happens when I’m next in a position to buy a new computer. If, by the time I buy a new computer, Ubuntu has physical stores with well-polished and properly marketed preinstalled laptops, I’ll probably get one of those. If, by the time I buy a new computer, Google Chrome OS netbooks are actually a good option, I’ll probably get one of those. If, however, we’re still in the same place we are now with Linux preinstalled, I may be getting a Mac. Don’t let me down, Jane and Mark. I admire so much of what you do, but Ubuntu really has so much more and different to do to get across that Bug #1 threshold. It isn’t just about improving software. It’s about an entirely new business approach.

P.S. I’m not threatening to leave Ubuntu. I’m simply stating what I believe to be a practical approach. If it’s been two years and I go to Google Chrome OS or Mac OS X, I’ll probably still be doing Ubuntu tutorials to help new users. They’ll just still be primarily for Windows ex-power users and not the so-called masses (aka “jane six-pack,” aka “average user”).


Don’t worry, Feministing; she got another part

For some reason, Feministing won’t actually send me the email that helps me activate an account there, so I can’t comment on any of their posts (believe me, I’ve whitelisted both their domain and Movable Type’s domains, to no avail).

Just wanted to say a quick thing about Howard Stern, professional asshole, mocks Gabourey Sidibe: Sidibe is going to be in the ShowTime series The C Word alongside Laura Linney. So no worries on her not getting another part. Also, Howard Stern’s schtick is to shock people. He has strong opinions and likes to offend people, so it’s really no surprise he wants to attack Sidibe. What I don’t understand is why Robin Quivers has stayed with him so long. I guess he gives her a pretty good job, but with all the racist and sexist crap Howard says, I often wonder what goes through Robin’s mind. Does she ever think “Why do I do this show? They don’t pay me enough… oh, wait… they do”?

I hope he does pay her a lot. I hope it’s an s-load.


The extension that makes Google Chrome bearable

I’ve heard a lot of people extolling the virtues of the Google Chrome browser. I tried it a few times. I even tried to make it my default browser for a couple of months. It didn’t last long, even though there are a lot of good things about it.

Here’s what I like about Google Chrome:

  1. Like Firefox and Opera, it’s cross-platform (works on Windows, Mac, and Linux).
  2. It loads pages quickly.
  3. Tab switching is fast. Sometimes in Firefox if you have too many tabs open, there is a slight delay before the page will show up after you switch to an even already-loaded page.
  4. The status bar (well, at least to show you what URL you’re hovering over) pops up only on hover. This is great for netbooks, which have scant vertical screen real estate.
  5. Extension installation or theme changing doesn’t require a browser restart.
  6. Private browsing can be opened in a new window that operates simultaneously with the regular browsing session. This is very handy for testing what your Google profile or Amazon wishlist looks like to the outside world without having to disrupt your workflow.

Ah, but here is what I don’t like:

  1. Even though it generally loads pages up quickly, every now and then the loading just hangs in the middle. This has happened to me in both Windows and Linux, on two separate computers with two separate internet connections.
  2. If you download a file, a little download progress bar pops up at the bottom of the browser. When the download is finished, though, the bar doesn’t disappear.
  3. Theoretically, Flash crashing one tab shouldn’t affect any of the other tabs, but I’ve experienced Flash suddenly turning into a frowny face, and having that happen in every single Chrome window (apparently, it’s the Flash plugin itself that’s failing and not any particular page, but this has happened to me in only Chrome, not Firefox).
  4. The address bar will recognize URLs if I start typing the beginning of the URL, but if I start typing the middle of it or some other key phrase, sometimes it’ll bring up the URL I’m looking for, and sometimes it won’t.
  5. Some sites do not behave well with the middle-click on Chrome (WordPress tag surfing, for example… sometimes Google News). Instead of opening in a new tab, the site will insist on opening the link in the same tab.
  6. I don’t have enough money to buy a proper site certificate for my websites, so when I use https for certain things on my own websites, I get a security warning. In Firefox, I can just install the Mismatched Domains extension to avoid this warning. In Chrome, I have no choice but to just put up with the extra click to get through the warning.
  7. The tab behavior in Chrome doesn’t work with the way I browse websites.

This last point was really my biggest pet peeve. I realize I’m in the minority here, but even if that is the default behavior, I should have the option to switch it. Now that the Modified Tab Ordering Chrome extension has come out, Chrome is finally bearable for me. I understand the reasoning behind opening tabs next to the current tab instead of at the very right. Supposedly it helps you not to lose track of tabs when you have too many. Whatever. If you don’t want to lose track of a tab you just opened, open it in the foreground instead of the background (Control-Shift-Click).

This is the way I surf: I have a bunch of root links I visit every day. I open them all at once from my bookmarks. Then I middle-click or Control-click the sublinks I’m interested in. Those sublinks all appear on the far right. Once I’m done closing all the root links, I can finally read all the sublinks. With the Chrome default behavior, I would have to either read all of the first root link’s sublinks and then go to the next root link, or deliberately skip over all those sublinks to get over to the next root link. That’s not the way I do things.

Thanks to Brad Dwyer for making this extension available!