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Pantheon Desktop Makes Linux Elementary | Reviews


By Jack M. Germain

Dec 12, 2018 12:39 PM PT

Pantheon Desktop Makes Linux Elementary

Elementary OS is an easy-to-use operating system that offers a fresh approach to running Linux.

Developers of U.S.-based Elementary OS recently released the community’s annual major update, Juno 5. What makes this distro so nontraditional is its own desktop interface, called “Pantheon.”

This desktop interface is somewhat of a hybrid, inspired by Apple’s Debian Ubuntu-based OS X. The Pantheon desktop’s design is very deliberate and extremely functional. It combines some similarities of the GNOME 3 Shell with the visual finesse of the OS X dock.

Its Ubuntu underpinnings are anchored under the hood. What you see and use on the screen gives Elementary OS a distinct look and feel. Even the software center app, which in typical Ubuntu-based distros has the same appearance as the Ubuntu package manager, is part of the community’s well-maintained software distribution system..

AppCenter is a built-in app store for downloading both free and paid apps that are specifically designed for Elementary OS. In fact, the developers seem to stretch the concept of offering “free” open source applications.

For instance, a website statement maintains that “every single app in AppCenter is open source because we firmly believe in the world-changing power of freely-licensed code and open source software.” The developers also have apps offered with a price.

What’s the catch? Ultimately, there is no catch. You can pay what you want — if you want to pay anything at all.

No-Cost Download

Keep that pay-what-you-want strategy in mind if you decide to go to the download page to get the live session/installation ISO file. You will see an e-commerce transaction window. You have to select a payment amount in order to activate the download process. Or not!

Just enter a zero in the custom payment window. You do not have to fill in any payment card information. You can download the ISO file for free.

Of course, the real benefit to open source software distribution is not the idea that you can get Linux distros — or applications from the AppCenter — for free. It’s that the developers do not have to cover costly software licenses for using open source code.

They still have legitimate research and development costs, however, as well as website hosting and maintenance expenses. So consider making payment to keep Elementary OS developers solvent, and to keep patches and improved future releases in the pipeline.

Elementary Background

Elementary OS first appeared in 2011. It introduced a fresh new look and a simplified approach to desktop management.

I was mildly impressed with early editions of the Elementary OS platform. They worked reliably and there was no learning curve. The Pantheon desktop added a pretty new face and had just enough functionality to satisfy Linux newcomers.

I wanted more system configuration options, though. I was less concerned about ease-of-use issues than eager for more power-user features.


Elementary OS' multitasking controls

Elementary OS’ multitasking controls provide a convenient alternative to the keyboard shortcuts and traditional workspace switcher applets that other Linux distros use.


Over time, Elementary OS matured into a fairly useful new desktop environment that blended some of the better characteristics of other Linux distros. Its unique, simple, clean design acquired more productivity to satisfy experienced users’ needs.

The developers learned to temper oversimplifications of the Pantheon desktop. It became less limited. More advanced Linux users, however, might miss some of the functionality provided in more heavyweight environments such as Cinnamon or KDE.

Liking This Linux Flavor

Often, reviewers describe a particular Linux distro as being suitable for newcomers. That statement implies that the distro is easy to use because it resembles Microsoft Windows.

Software reviewers sometimes confuse the Linux of yesteryear with today’s typical Debian-style distros. Yes, Linux distros used to be hard to configure. They used to require advanced command line interface (CLI) skills.

A few Linux families must plead guilty to both accusations today. Think Arch Linux or enterprise class Linux offerings, for example. However, those design features are deliberate and welcomed by more seasoned Linux users who want total system control.

Elementary OS has no resemblance to Microsoft Windows or other more challenging Linux offerings. Using Elementary OS is more like running the Android OS on a desktop with the added functionality of virtual workspaces for multitasking.

The default settings work without fiddling. If you decide to venture into system settings, the experience is no more challenging than the settings on your cellphone.

The only difference is the limited categories. The Pantheon desktop has just five settings categories: Personal, Hardware, Network & Wireless, and Administration. Even better, the live session ISO lets you go from trying it out to installing it hassle-free.

That is what makes Elementary OS easy to use. It does not require decisions such as which desktop environment to use. It is elementary! This OS only has one choice — the Pantheon desktop.

The Pantheon Pathway

The Pantheon desktop is written using Vala and the GTK3 toolkit. That makes it modern and fast. It has a similarity to the GNOME 3 Shell but does not fully mimic it.

A configurable Mac-like app doc sits at the bottom of the screen in place of a traditional Linux panel. Basic system tools and a few frequently used application icons are displayed on this bar. Right-click on each icon for content-specific actions, including an option to remove it from the dock.

Much like the tool bar in Chrome OS or the task bar on an Android device, this bottom app dock displays icons for running applications. You can right-click on any of the icons to keep them or add them to the dock. Depending on the icon, you can close the app window or execute other functions in the right-click menu.

A transparent panel bar crosses the top of the screen. You can not add any applets there or dock any running applications. The right end holds a few essential system notifications. These include the Language emblem, Internet connection status, Bluetooth and battery status markers, and the Power Off icon to access the shutdown menu.

The far left end of the panel has an applications menu. The date and time are visible in the center of the panel space.

Applications and Hot Corners

The applications menu is nice and different. The default setting opens a grid display of installed applications. Click the two buttons at the top of the applications window left of the search field to switch views to categories.

Depending on the type of app involved, right-clicking on an app icon in the menu gives you an option to add the item to the dock bar at the bottom of the screen. Some of the apps give you the option to execute other actions without first having to launch the app. This is handy.


Elementary OS Pantheon desktop settings for wallpaper, appdock, hot corners

The Pantheon desktop provides a few choices for background images, AppDock behavior, and hot corners all under the Desktop portion of the Settings control.


With the Applications window open, start typing the name of an app to launch. A list of possible matches displays, and it instantly updates as you continue to type. If you change your mind, click on the desktop to close the Applications menu window. Otherwise, the windows self closes when you click on an icon to launch an app.

In the settings panel you can designate actions for each of the four hot corners. This is a convenient way to execute frequently used navigation actions.

The developers have a minimalist view in mind for the preinstalled software. You literally get a bare minimum of applications and tools to let you set up the rest of the system your way. while a bit inconvenient, this approach ensures that you do not have to deal with removing bloat.

Installed Inventory

The developers created applications built specifically for Elementary OS’ custom-made desktop environment. You get a few of these in the installed software bundle. The rest you must install from the AppCenter.

Applications include Calculator, Calendar, a files manager, Photos, Music and Videos. The Epiphany Web browser also is preinstalled. The Applications menu provides access to GParted Partition Editor, an email client, a WebCam app, a screenshot app and System Settings.

The Applications menu includes launchers for the AppCenter and Multitasking View. Many of these core apps and system tools are pinned to the bottom dock.


Elementary OS Pantheon Applications menu

The Applications menu contributes greatly to the user interface of the Pantheon desktop, but the Epiphany browser and sparse collection of preinstalled apps are not enough to provide out-of-the-box functionality.


Multitasking Flow

Access to virtual workplaces is handled differently than with the more traditional applets for virtual workplaces other Linux desktops employ. Elementary OS does not use the term “workspaces.” Instead, the desktop design is built around a multitasking layout, which is really what using virtual workspaces is all about.

It took me a while to adjust to this new approach. My muscle memory had to unlearn clicking on a space in a workplace switcher applet in the bottom panel or using a keyboard shortcut or Alt-Tab to bounce around virtual workspaces.

Elementary OS’ design is a big improvement over the slide-out panels found in GNOME 3. The Multitasking button changes the screen display to a mini Expo view. In place of the Dock bar, an application icon appears for each open application at the bottom of a reduced view of the current desktop.

A Plus button lets you add another workspace. A vertical slice of the background image appears at one or both screen side edges depending on how many workspaces you create.

To navigate among the workspaces, either click the icon in the multitasking bar or click one of the side panels. When you get to the desired workspace view, click on the visible reduced desktop image in the center of the screen, or the app icon in the multitasking bar at the bottom of the screen.

This is where the hot corners come in handy. I set up two hot corners. The bottom left opens the multitasking view. The bottom right corner displays a mini view of all workspaces. Then I click the one I want as the full-screen display.

What’s New Inside

The latest version of elementary OS has some worthwhile improvements. Updates to the desktop environment, file manager and software center add nice touches.

This release is the culmination of numerous updates and enhancements that focus on providing a more refined user experience with improved productivity for new and seasoned users.

Night Light is one example. It has both a manual timer and an automatic Sunrise to Sunset option. Night Light reduces the blue light output of the display. This can help reduce eye strain and sleeplessness.

A new Night Light indicator appears in the Panel for easy access to adjusting the display temperature or snoozing Night Light until the next day. It also provides a quick way to jump straight into the relevant screen in System Settings.

Another example is the tweaking added to the Tiling feature. You can now manage app windows with a blue feed-forward preview.

Bottom Line

The more I use the multitasking feature, the more I like its click-and-go navigational style. Getting rid of workspaces or running apps is simple. Hover the mouse pointer over the multitasking bar and click the icon’s circled X.

Elementary OS is a very solid Linux distro. Its uncluttered design is encouraged by not being able to place app icons on the desktop. There are no desklet programs to create distractions.

So far, the only real obstacle I’ve encountered in using Elementary OS is the need to adapt to having fewer power-user features. While basic installation was smooth and event free, not having preinstalled text editors, word processors or an alternative Web browser was an inconvenience.

New users who do not know what software they need to fill this void are at a big disadvantage.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please
email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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Debian Celebrates Its Birthday » Linux Magazine


The Debian GNU/Linux project celebrated its 25th birthday on August 16, 2018. Debian was created in 1993 by Ian Murdock. The name of the project came from the first three letters of his then girlfriend Debra and his own name – Deb Ian.

In the Debian manifesto, Murdock wrote, “Debian Linux is a brand-new kind of Linux distribution. Rather than being developed by one isolated individual or group, as other distributions of Linux have been developed in the past, Debian is being developed openly in the spirit of Linux and GNU. The primary purpose of the Debian project is to finally create a distribution that lives up to the Linux name. Debian is being carefully and conscientiously put together and will be maintained and supported with similar care.”

Debian has evolved to become one of the most popular distributions. Its stable branch dominates the Linux-powered web hosting services. The popularity of Debian also lead to an entire generation of Debian-based distributions, including Ubuntu and Knoppix.

Debian has three releases: stable, testing, and unstable. Stable is meant to be used on servers and by users who don’t want their systems to change frequently. Stable has packages that are very well tested; as a result, they can be old.

Testing has packages that are not part of stable yet but are in the queue. Most Debian-based distributions, such as Ubuntu, are based on testing. It’s also suitable for desktop use on home PCs.

Debian Unstable is the place where all development happens; it’s really bleeding edge and is meant only for developers.

Version 9 is the current version of Debian, and its code name is Stretch. Each version of Debian is code-named after a character from the movie Toy Story. The unstable branch is code-named Sid, because Sid is the character that breaks everything.



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Redis Labs Modules Forked » Linux Magazine


As expected, developers from the desktop projects Fedora and Debian have forked the modules that database vendor Redis Labs put under the Commons Clause.

The Commons Clause is an extra license rider that prohibits the user from “selling” the software, and “selling” is defined to include selling services such as hosting and consulting. According to Redis Labs and the creators of the Commons Clause, the rider was created to prevent huge hosting companies like Amazon from using the code without contributing to the project. Unfortunately, the license also has the effect of making the Redis Labs modules incompatible with the open source licenses used with Linux and other FOSS projects.

To fix the problem, Debian and Fedora came together to fork these modules. Nathan Scott, Principal Software Engineer at Red Hat, wrote on a Google Group, “…we have begun collaborating on a set of module repositories forked from prior to the license change. We will maintain changes to these modules under their original open source licenses, applying only free and open fixes and updates.”

It was an expected move. When license changes are made to any open source project, often some open source community jumps in and forks the project to keep a version fully compatible with the earlier open source license. The fork means commercial vendors like Amazon will still be able to use these modules without contributing anything to Redis Labs or the newly forked project. However, not all forks are successful. It’s not the license that matters. What matters is the expertise of the developers who write and maintain the codebase. Google once forked Linux for Android, but eventually ended up merging with the mainline kernel.

In a previous interview, Redis Labs told me that they were not sure whether adding the Commons Clause to these licenses would work or not; they already tried the Affero GPL (AGPL)  license, which is also designed to address the so-called application service provider loophole that allows cloud vendors to avoid contributing back their changes, but the move to the AGPL didn’t help them get vendors like Amazon to contribute.

Redis Labs added the Commons Clause to only those modules that their staff wrote; there is no change to the modules written by external parties.



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Debian Celebrates its Birthday » Linux Magazine


The Debian GNU/Linux project celebrated its 25th birthday on August 16, 2018. Debian was created in 1993 by Ian Murdock. The name of the project came from the first three letters of his then girlfriend Debra and his own name – Deb Ian.

In the Debian manifesto, Murdock wrote, “Debian Linux is a brand-new kind of Linux distribution. Rather than being developed by one isolated individual or group, as other distributions of Linux have been developed in the past, Debian is being developed openly in the spirit of Linux and GNU. The primary purpose of the Debian project is to finally create a distribution that lives up to the Linux name. Debian is being carefully and conscientiously put together and will be maintained and supported with similar care.”

Debian has evolved to become one of the most popular distributions. It’s stable branch dominates the Linux powered web hosting services. The popularity of Debian also lead to the entire generation of Debian-based distributions, including Ubuntu and Knoppix.

Debian has three releases: stable, testing, and unstable. Stable is meant to be used on servers and by users who don’t want their systems to change frequently. Stable has packages that are very well tested and as a result they could be old.

Testing has packages that are not part of stable yet but are in the queue. Most Debian-based distributions, such as Ubuntu, are based on testing. It’s also suitable for desktop on home PCs.

Debian Unstable is the place where all development happens; it’s really bleeding edge and is meant only for developers.

The current version of Debian is 9 and its code name is Stretch. Each version of Debian is code-named after a character from the movie Toy Story. The unstable branch is code-named Sid, because Sid is the character that breaks everything.



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What Microsoft’s GitHub Deal Promises to Programmers | Business


By Jack M. Germain

Jun 11, 2018 11:00 AM PT

Microsoft sent tremors through the open source world last week, when it announced that it would acquire the popular developer platform
GitHub for US$7.5 billion in company stock.

Microsoft will acquire GitHub subject to closing conditions and completion of regulatory review. The acquisition is expected to close by the end of the calendar year.

GitHub, one of the world’s largest computer code repositories, is home to more than 28 million developers for collaboration and distribution of projects. In recent years, Microsoft has stepped up its activity through several partnerships with GitHub.

The two companies will empower developers to achieve more at every stage of the development lifecycle, accelerate enterprise use of GitHub, and bring Microsoft’s developer tools and services to new audiences, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during a global phone conference.

“GitHub is the destination for developers to learn, share and work together to create software. It’s a destination for Microsoft too. We are the most active organization on GitHub, with more than 2 million commits or updates made to projects,” Nadella said.

GitHub will remain independent, he promised. Once the acquisition closes, Nat Friedman will become GitHub’s CEO and will report to Microsoft Cloud and AI Group Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie. Current GitHub CEO and cofounder Chris Wanstrath will be a technical fellow at Microsoft and also will report to Wanstrath.

“When it comes to our commitment to open source, judge us by the actions we have taken in the recent past, our actions today and in the future,” said Nadella at last week’s conference. “Microsoft is all-in on open source.”

Why GitHub?

Microsoft has been a developer-focused company from its start in creating the platforms and tools it offers today, noted Nadella. The company’s core mission is building technology so that others can build technology.

Microsoft sees three clear opportunities ahead with the GitHub acquisition. First, it will empower developers at every stage of the development lifecycle — from ideation to collaboration to deployment to the cloud, Nadella said.

“Going forward, GitHub will remain an open platform, which any developer can plug into and extend,” he promised. “Developers will continue to be able to use the programming languages, tools and operating systems of their choice for their projects and will still be able to deploy their code on any cloud and any device.”

Second, Microsoft will accelerate enterprise developers’ use of GitHub with direct sales and partner channels, as well as access to Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure and services.

Third, Microsoft’s developer tools and services will be available to new audiences.

Microsoft recognizes its responsibility with this agreement and is committed to being stewards of the GitHub community, which will “retain its developer-first ethos, operate independently, and remain an open platform,” Nadella said.

Open Source Enthusiasm

While many open source insiders responded to Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub with high praise, others expressed concerns about unexpected consequences for open source independence.

The acquisition will give Microsoft deeper penetration into the developer mindset, said Nakul Aggarwal, CTO of
BrowserStack.

“I hope this acquisition creates a real win-win situation for all three parties — developers, Github and Microsoft — in this order,” he told LinuxInsider, “but the acquisition will not create that positive impact on the developer community.”

Microsoft as a brand needs to innovate within and solve a genuine developer problem to receive empathy and love from developers, Aggarwal explained. Only then will it reflect that developers really care.

“Currently it looks like a business problem to solve and an acquisition as a way to do it,” he pointed out. “Microsoft gains a deeper Integration with all their developer tools — Visual Studio / Xamarin / Azure, etc. — and more penetration into open source and hence can be known as developer-friendly.”

Business Over Religion

Microsoft’s move to acquire GitHub is a smart business decision, said Jyoti Bansal, CEO of
Big Labs.

It speaks to the massive strategic value of developer platforms and solutions, he told LinuxInsider.

“Satya Nadella has so far done a great job dropping the Windows religion to embrace the reality of the iOS, Android, Linux and the multicloud world, which he will hopefully continue with the GitHub community,” Bansal said.

“By putting [former Xamarin CEO] Nat Friedman in place as a technical CEO, Microsoft is sending a clear message that they’re committed to GitHub and the larger developer ecosystem,” he noted.

The acquisition is a big win for Microsoft, according to Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.

It puts the company ahead in the Web hosting market against fierce competitors Amazon Web Services and Google, he told LinuxInsider.

It creates an incentive for many more app developers to host on Azure, especially in the commercial space where MSFT recently has been less competitive than in the enterprise space.

“That is a win-win for Microsoft, and it doesn’t hurt the developer community either, as they will gain some additional incentives, albeit MSFT-centric, Gold said.

Shifting Focus

GitHub and Microsoft make a perfect fit, as both strive to serve developers of all kinds, said Stefano Maffulli, community director at
Scality.

“I’m surprised that this hasn’t happened before — Microsoft has clearly shifted its focus to developers many years ago,” he told LinuxInsider. “They’ve always claimed to be about developers, and today they put more money where their mouth is. I’m glad the corporation made such a visible U-turn.”

The issue of GitHub’s real commitment to open source also may come into play, he suggested. GitHub has not always been synonymous with open source.

“GitHub has never been open source. Not all code hosted on GitHub is open source at all,” Maffulli said.

Despite its popularity with software developers, GitHub initially did not do enough to educate them about the importance of copyright and licenses for open source, he suggested.

However, both GitHub and Microsoft have greatly improved, Maffulli added.

“They are still proprietary software companies. But at least they now understand, respect and promote open source ideas and practices,” Maffulli said.

Open Source Marketplace

GitHub’s acquisition is good news for open source and perhaps the single most significant validation conceivable that open source *is* the mainstream resource for software development, according to Patrick Carey, director of product strategy at Black Duck by Synopsys.

“Microsoft has always been focused on the needs of the developer, and this acquisition is consistent with that focus,” he told LinuxInsider. “It may seem remarkable that Microsoft, once considered the archenemy of both Linux and open source, would acquire GitHub — perhaps the most prominent piece of open source infrastructure today. But it shows just how much Satya Nadella has changed the game at Microsoft.”

The acquisition makes possible better focus on open source security, Carey added. Microsoft likely will make further strides to embrace open source by providing community developers with new tools to help improve the quality and security of their projects.

Potential for Business Trojan Horse

Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub makes perfect sense, given the company’s direction under Satya Nadella, said Blair Hanley Frank, principal analyst at
Information Services Group. GitHub is central to the modern developer workflow.

“This acquisition brings Microsoft deeper into that conversation,” he told LinuxInsider. “It shows the company’s embrace of open source and its willingness to evolve to meet the changing needs of its customer base.”

The biggest question is how Microsoft plans to integrate GitHub Enterprise with its other developer offerings, including Visual Studio Team Services. Microsoft does not appear to be integrating the GitHub Marketplace into the Azure Marketplace, Frank said.

Rather, the company sees the GitHub marketplace as a place for it to promote its own software and services to developers. It is important to avoid merging the two at this point, he cautioned, since GitHub’s independence — perceived or otherwise — is key to maintaining goodwill with developers.

“Overall, this is a boost to Azure all-up, since it builds stronger ties between where developers go to build their code and where they can deploy that code in the cloud,” Frank said.

The Edge Factor

Microsoft’s GitHub acquisition is the clearest signal yet of the importance of the cloud-native edge, according to Said Ouissal, CEO of
Zededa.

As cloud developers shift their focus toward taking advantage of Internet of Things data in real time at the “intelligent edge,” they need an on-ramp to the edge — a platform that allows the embedded systems of the world operate like the cloud, he told LinuxInsider.

“Embedded systems today were not even designed for network or optimized for Internet connectivity. They were built for a time when embedded computers were simply ‘set it and forget it’ for years at a time,” Quisssal pointed out.

The developer workflows that Microsoft wants to see drive and influence business processes could spell the end of embedded computing as we know it, he cautioned, if we want to enable those 28 million developers to thrive at the edge.


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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