20 Years of Linux

I was reminded recently that Linux is 20 years old. This feels like a bit of a milestone, and as I read several articles on the topic I realized this: tech writers still don’t understand it. For instance, in this CNN article the writer states:

Torvalds initially conceived of Linux as a free alternative to Windows. But the collaborative-development, peace-loving ideologies of Linux were no match for the freewheeling, business-savvy, marketing power of Microsoft.

I can’t think of anything that is more false. Torvalds conceived of Linux as a free alternative to UNIX (as the name implies). Unix was never what we would consider a desktop operating system, but it ruled the server world. The second sentence is simply nonsensical. There was never any competition with Windows in the early years of Linux. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that there was a push to see Linux create a niche in the desktop market. That didn’t go too well, though we could talk about all the embedded devices (Andriod phones, etc) that rely on Linux or open-source software. Perhaps the largest way that everyone experiences Linux is when they browse the Internet. The majority of servers run Linux–it has handily displaced Unix.

So, consider this a plea to get your facts straight. Linux was never about beating Microsoft. It was about providing an amazing operating system based on free-software principles. It has accomplished this goal a thousand times over. Somehow it just seems proper that millions of people use Linux variants or Linux-derived software everyday without knowing it.

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Of Keymaps and Productivity

So, as I mentioned in a comment earlier, this evening I setup Mandy’s primary Windows machine to type Hebrew, right to left, with a decent keymap (by decent, I mean phonetic, more or less). In fairness, this was nearly as painless as setting up a new Hebrew keymap in Linux–largely mad so because of the SBL. They provide keymaps for Windows (and Mac!) which make things quite easy. Double click an install file and viola! In the process I learned a bit more about Hebrew and keymaps. Apparently Tiro is similar to a Modern Israeli keyboard, and its supposed to allow fast typing. That’s all fine, but since I don’t really want to learn a new keyboard layout (if I did, I’d obviously be using a dvorak keyboard instead of slow qwerty), its far easier just to use a phonetic keymap for Hebrew (ie, q=ק or v=ו or t=ת). Mandy feels the same way, and so the SIL keymap won out. Still, having options is always a good thing.

While I was reading up on keymaps and installing the proper one on Mandy’s computer, I found myself thinking about productivity generally. Specifically productivity on a computer. Ultimately, my computer needs to help me get things done. Some might term this “achieving your focal concerns,” but that’s entirely to erudite for me. Eyecandy and whatnot is cute, but if it doesn’t help me get things done it’s superfluous to any operation I might desire to undertake on a computer.

This is, consequently, one of the reasons I love Ubuntu so much. Especially with the new(ish) effects that one can achieve with compiz. There are assuredly plenty of useless effects that serve no purpose other than to say, “yes, we can do that.” However, some of the effects, such as Expo and various window switchers are quite helpful. I’ve actually removed my bottom panel in gnome, and find that with my new setup I am able to navigate between tasks/windows much more quickly than I could before (see some screenshots below, because at the end of the day, eyecandy is still eyecandy). Organizing my tasks on different sides of the cube, according to type is easy and helpful. Overall, I’m extremely pleased with my new setup in terms of productivity.

I know plenty of you use Macs, and at least a couple use Linux. What effects or tools do you find are most helpful at increasing your productivity? I’m not talking about individual programs such as a task manager or scheduler that might help you stay organized in life, but rather specific things that help you be more productive while using your computer.

Typing Hebrew

So, yesterday I upgraded from Ubuntu 7.04 to 8.04. When I was back on 7.04 I was able to type Hebrew characters as well as Greek characters with accents, breathing marks, etc. Given my status as a student and aspiring Biblical scholar, such abilities are a must for my operating system.

My only problems were that the keymaps for both Greek and Hebrew seemed a little…odd. So, when I installed 8.04, I wanted to at least attempt to find a more intuitive keymap. Ubuntu now comes standard with a Biblical Hebrew keymap (located under “Israel” in the keyboard selector). However, the keymap appears to be less than finished; or perhaps I just couldn’t figure it out. Regardless, it was not the intuitive keyboard for which I was hoping.

If I may digress a bit, intuitive, to me, has to do with sound. For instance, patach and kamets should be mapped to the A on my keyboard. Final letters should be, generally speaking, typed by using shift+.

After a bit of googling, I found exactly the thing I wanted. Even more amazingly, is the work of Vern Poythress! I didn’t even know the man used Linux, let alone made keymaps for it. Interestingly, the article linked above is new as of this month (Aug. 2008). Anyway, I had already installed SBL Hebrew, and so it was simply a matter of copying the keymap files to the correct places (a fairly easy operation, made even easier by the walkthrough provided), and selecting them using the Gnome keyboard selector. Now I can type in Biblical Hebrew (including accents and vowels) as well as Polytonic (ie, classical) Greek with ease.

Mandy is again jealous that I use Linux. Her response when I began typing Joshua 1.1 in Hebrew, with CTL enabled in OpenOffice; “What?! You don’t have to type backwards?” No. No I don’t.