Window manager feature wishlist: Gluing windows!

Here are two things I like:

  • Tabs produced by window managers. For example, Fluxbox. This encourages applications to not do it themselves, forming consistency in the overall desktop experience.
  • The non-overlapping nature of Blender’s user interface. Really, it’s cool design and completely makes sense for any workflow.

However, I don’t like that applications keep implementing these two things themselves, in different ways. For example, The GIMP and Inkscape both have systems for docking / undocking windows. They both feel profoundly different. One nice thing about IDEs is docks, but many developers prefer working in a text editor with a terminal for the extra speed and flexibility.

How about we get the window manager to do this? Could be super simple. Drag a window to sit right beside another, press a magic button and they “glue” to each other. Now they share the same border, so resize operations influence both windows at once and when dragging both windows get moved. Perhaps the title bar of the glued window could change to reflect its new status as a child window, of sorts.
This could happen automatically (or semi-automatically, such as not requiring the magic button) for Utility windows and dialogs when they are dragged beside their parent window.

For extra points, the data about docked windows could be available to other software. For example, if we ever get a framework for applications to find and control what files (from a user perspective) they are working on, we can have a program set a group of docked windows to all jump to the same file.

This would be another nice step towards the Unix philosophy, allowing us to rid the world of redundant shells that dock windows :)

Got my N810 today…

I was originally planning to get an N800, but a combination of that being on backorder and a realization that the store I was buying from is charging below average for the N810 and way above average for the N800, led me to changing my order to an N810. The guy who helped me with that was even kind enough to give me an $8 discount! (Oh boy!).

Here is a huge, disorganized list of first impressions. Who knows? Maybe someone will actually find it useful…:

  • Holy crap, it’s small… and shiny, metal, and big-screened! Real metal. Mmmm…
  • Definitely pocket friendly. Even fits in my shirt’s pocket if I leave out the case it came with…
  • I seem to do better typing with the touch screen thumb keyboard than the real one. Seems it may grow on me, though. Even as it is, it’s nice to have for those numerous cases where virtual keyboards do not work.
  • This is the first device I have used where all space surrounding the screen is justified. If the screen was any larger, I would not have space to put my fingers. Perfect.
  • Comes out of the box with a removable screen protector attached. However, the thing has a huge white sticker over it that, when I removed it, left behind a horrible sticky mess. Prompted an emergency trip to find a new screen protwctor; went with a PSP one, which I cut to fit.
  • GPS has worked well for me. This may be because I am in a small suburb. Locked on with reasonable accuracy in about 30 seconds. Neat that I can set an alarm for when near certain types of places!
  • Media playback is smooth for me! Dropped some TV shows from my computer to the tablet, paying no attention to formats, and I could watch them happily in Canola. Large changes to the picture seemed to cause some lag with one of the videos, but I imagine some reformatting – or using different feeds – could solve the issue.
  • Microphone is really clear, yet also very sensitive!
  • This gadget begs to be used in portrait mode. It feels extremely comfortable that way.
  • I’m not allowed to use sudo, with a message appearing to tell me that I would break my system. Security-mindedness ends there, however, as the system will happily allow remote login as root. Instead of the relatively safe sudo, I have found myself creating a whole new session as root with ssh root@localhost. Seems a bit easier than finding this mystical “becomeroot” package.
  • Speaking of becomeroot, the package manager scares me. “Categories” are both repositories /and/ organization tools?! I seem to have ended up with a bunch of seemingly duplicate repositories (sorry, Categories) that are really just misspelled versions of others. For example, “repostory.maemo.org” is the URL for one. I guess the categories would make sense if application developers maintained a philosophy of “one sensibly named Category per project / application,” but that seems to have been thrown out the window already judging by all the permutations of Command Line Interface and Web there are in the categories list. I guess the best choice is to use the one-click install and completely ignore the installable applications list. To their credit, the Maemo folks seem to have built an invincible system. I have not broken it yet, even with this madenningly crazy package manager with which I have become obsessed. For that, I am willing to forgive them for making root access tricky to get.
  • Having said that, the omweather applet went crazy and made my system freeze on startup. Fortunately, it was not a kernel panic but a dreadful loss of performance. I had installed openssh-server previously, so logged in remotely via ssh to edit some config files. Nice to have a familiar command line interface! OMWeather is the only thing to have truly killed the system, however. Nokia: Look at your applet loading code; it seems to put too much trust in the things working. As for omweather screwing up, it was because I deleted all the weather stations. Neat feature, though: It can automatically select the nearest weather station based on GPS information.
  • I went on a mad frenzy of installing stuff, and almost immediately filled up rootfs. Okay, it makes sense to use that for applications and leave everything else to the 2GB internal memory, but why the heck is my home folder also there, wasting valuable space? Sure, I can put my own content on internal memory manually, but what about cache and configuration files?
  • The Curse of Monkey Island works! I never got around to playing that when it was new, so this is good…
  • Lots of wimpy writers claim the screen’s beauty to be indescribable, so I will describe what they failed to: No matter how closely I look, I can not discern individual pixels. I doubt that human eyes could find a difference between this screen’s clarity and the real world’s.

The N810 is incredible hardware, but I think the software end of things is still a little bit shakey. It’s definitely built for people who know what they are doing. Unlike a lot of “great hardware, unfinished software” situations, though, the N810’s software is going to be built on for a long time yet — and when that stops happening with the Maemo platform, I am still reasonably free to install another platform altogether. The N810 is unique because it is one of few devices where software and hardware are two different things, which is something I expect we will be seeing a lot of as Linux advances in the handheld computers arena.

My review of the Wacom Bamboo Small Drawing Tablet

The Wacom Bamboo tablet is, without a doubt, one of the best low priced tablets on the market today. It is great for someone new to drawing tablets to explore the idea with minimal risk to their wallet.

When I first unpacked this I was very impressed, first and foremost, by the packaging. This is an odd one to be impressed by, so I was already bracing myself for something amazing. The folks at Wacom are design geniuses, and their spot as the standard company for drawing tablets is well deserved!
The Bamboo’s box has a simple sliding cover, with no tearing required. I simply opened the box upwards and was greeted by a message in many different languages thanking me for my purchase and telling me that it will make my computer nicer to use. Upon lifting that, I was greeted by my tablet wrapped not in the usual plastic, foam and bubble wrap I have come to hate but in a simple layer of paper. This same trend continued throughout the entire package. Without a doubt the easiest packaging I have ever experienced. Opening it was actually enjoyable and I have kept the box as a souvenir. I have learned that the boxes for this product are even shipped within that same paper, so it must be a truly robust substance. Kudos to Wacom for using recyclable material instead of oily plastics.

I was at first concerned that the stylus may be too slippery and its large, rounded shape definitely did seem worrying. However, everything except for the eraser end has a soft rubbery material which absolutely does not slip. Unlike some pencil grips, this does not feel unnaturally warm or groggy after extended use; it is quite solid, but has the right fuzzy tone to feel comfortable.

There is a small rocker switch on the stylus, which can be mapped to two functions of your choosing. The Bamboo tablet’s stylus has the same pressure sensitivity functions and seperate “eraser” tip as people see on other, larger tablets. The pad itself also has four big, handy buttons on the top and a touch-sensitive scroll wheel. I appreciate that the function buttons are all kept at the top of the tablet, out of the way, instead of placed around the sides where I try to rest my hand. Many other tablets do not seem to grasp this.
Users of higher end tablets will have to forgo two less obvious things with the Bamboo: The eraser is not pressure sensitive, and there is no tilt sensitivity.

With a drawing tablet, each point on the tablet translates directly to a point on the screen. The result there is very easy image editing and hand writing. Combined with with pressure sensitivity, it also means that a lot of natural detail in one’s drawing can be captured, whereas “mouse drawing” tends to have a more mathematical, robotic feel.
However, the way the tablet works is also why size is such an issue. Experienced artists prefer large tablets because they allow larger movements from different joints, such as their elbows and shoulders. This leads to an ability to draw smoother curves, and reduces stress on one’s wrists. With a smaller tablet like the Bamboo Small, drawing is done entirely with wrist and finger movements.

That’s not to say a small tablet is a bad thing, though! The Bamboo takes the rather unusual route of also being very compact, making its small drawable area entirely justified. The USB cable can be detached, wrapped up and stuck in a bag for easy carrying without risk of damaging connections. The tablet itself is perfectly thin, and there is hardly any border around the drawable area, so again it is not a problem to pop this into a spare pocket. Finally, (though this is a given if you have pondered drawing tablets before) the stylus does not require batteries.

Indeed, I have communicated with a quite a number of experienced computer artists who own and often use Bamboo tablets. While they do not serve their needs for all the goodies we see in higher end models like the Intuos, these tablets are unusually easy to carry around and can be quickly pulled out on a whim. It is also worth noting that sane people tend to use laptops when travelling, with screen sizes ranging from 12 to 15 inches. Personally, I use mine with a 14 inch laptop. On a larger size screen, a small tablet like this can be almost unusable since even the slightest twitch can translate to an enormous movement on screen! This makes it rather obvious to me that the Bamboo is intended for smaller, portable setups. A flaw there I feel I should point out, though, is that the USB cable protrudes quite a way from the back of the tablet, while it appears that it could have easily been nested. This can be problematic when the tablet is being used on a smaller table, and seems more suited to a desktop computer where the cable usually goes straight back. The design there is, unfortunately, a bit less friendly with a laptop where it is likely that the tablet will be off to one side; the cable then becomes a very noticeable presence.

That one issue aside, I think the Bamboo is an excellent tablet for anyone who uses a laptop or who wants a tablet but does not want to devote their desk. Its slim dimensions may mean a smaller drawable area, but for me, that is a small price to pay for the convenience of carrying this thing around with my laptop. For anyone new to drawing tablets, the Bamboo is not quite the cheapest on the market, but I think it is one that will last even if you decide to pursue bigger and fancier tablets. Like any drawing tablet, it is without a doubt more comfortable than a mouse. Writing with a pencil became the standard method over writing with a big rock on sand stone (eerily similar to a computer mouse) for a number of very good reasons, and I am sure ergonomics are near the top of the list.
While I must admit to having little exposure to the higher end drawing tablets, this one here does not feel too trimmed down or compromisey compared to its bigger brothers; just different. It is definitely not merely a cheaper Wacom tablet. Unlike many other small and cheap tablets, Bamboo found its niche and settled into it almost perfectly.

OMG stickers!

Well, I never thought I would be doing a post like this. Then again, I never thought I would be bothering with a web log to begin with. (Come to think of it; why the heck am I?). Oh well, here goes!

I received a bunch of Powered by Ubuntu stickers in the mail today, courtesy of System76 and the Ubuntu Canada team. About ten seconds after opening the envelope and looking at the stickers, I accidentally dropped the things. They were disappeared for a full six hours (and I counted!) before I finally found the strip of stickers somehow stuck to the wall directly above where I was first looking. Given the significant personal loss, I must now use these stickers very wisely in order to make up for it. That’s one sticker per hour of intense anxiety.

So far, the one on my laptop is quite satisfying! I wasn’t completely sure given how thin the sticker is (and that it’s plastic as opposed to metal), but in the end it seems to be sticking quite well. A nice contrast between the sleek / slender Ubuntu sticker and the old Vista sticker!

 

Ubuntu Linux 6.06, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, fixed most security flaws in first year: Microsoft

A recent security analysis by Microsoft’s Jeffrey Jones shows that Ubuntu 6.06, in its first year, solved 92.6% of known security issues, leaving 7.4% unresolved.

The same analysis compares this to Windows Vista, showing that 45.5% of its known security issues have been left unresolved after one year, with only 54.5% patched thus far. This closely resembles the pattern from Windows XP, which resolved 54.6% of known security issues in its first year.

Windows Vista’s known and unresolved security issues also outnumber those of Ubuntu 6.06 in total: Vista has 30 unfixed after its first year, while Ubuntu had 18 still waiting to be fixed. Indeed, if we consider only the red bars in the chart, Microsoft’s analysis makes it clear that Ubuntu 6.06 is the best maintained and most secure operating system in this group, followed by Windows Vista and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

It is a testament to the power of open source that Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux have the highest rates for discovery of new issues, and that these issues are so quickly resolved with continual small updates. No doubt this efficiency can be attributed to the transparency of their development community, allowing anybody to find issues from the source rather than reverse engineering binaries.