Thursday, 22 February 2007

Yahoo! Mail Beta - Not on Linux

Update: The issue below has been resolved. I got another response from Yahoo! stating the following:

"Thank you for writing to Yahoo! Mail.

We're glad to have this opportunity to assist you with this issue. We
understand you are seeing an error that your browser is not compatible.
We apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.

To fix this issue please update your browser with the latest Firefox
Version "

Indeed, updating Firefox from 2.0 to fixed the problem. If you suffer from Yahoo! Mail beta not working on Linux, check that you are using Firefox

Original Text:
It seems that the new version of Yahoo! Mail is Operating System dependant. Yes, you read that right, Operating System dependant as well as browser dependant.

I've been using Yahoo! Mail for years. Some of the messages in my folders are from the year 2000. I applied for the Yahoo! Mail Beta as soon as I found out about it and have been using it now for several months. I'd log in from my Kubuntu machine at work, my Kubuntu machine at home and OS X from home. All of those machines are running Firefox 2.0 and I never had any issues. Two weeks ago that all changed.

After clearing my browser cache, I logged in to Yahoo! Mail from the Kubuntu Dapper work machine. I was greeted with a page informing me that my setup was not supported and was taken to the old static mail pages. I thought they had changed something, so I raised a bug. Here is part of the response I received from Yahoo Support:

"Yahoo! beta does not support both mac and linux which you are running.
We advice you to upgrade an another OS from the information provided

Operating Systems Supported

" Windows 2000, XP or later versions
" Mac OSX or later versions

Hope the above mentioned steps will help your concern and if not, then
please feel free to contact us again. We will be glad to assist you in
this purpose.
" [sic]

So, according to Yahoo!, I should "upgrade" from Kubuntu Dapper to Windows 2000 or Windows XP. I don't think so. I sent them another message telling them as much and have not received any response yet. I'm shocked and annoyed that Yahoo! would even suggest changing my OS just to use their service.

The real question is: Why does Yahoo! Mail have to be dependant on Windows or OS X? It's a web application after all. Interestingly, if you look at their browser support chart, Linux is not even mentioned.

I'll post updates as the matter progresses.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Why I Don't Buy Music From iTunes

I have two computers at home. A Linux box running Kubuntu Edgy and a Mac Mini. The sole reason for buying the Mac was for recording music in GarageBand. There just wasn't a good Linux alternative at the time (Jokosher looks really interesting now).

Inevitably, I began exploring most of what the Mac has to offer. As it turns out, OS X and iLife actually provide a really nice user experience and iTunes is a pretty decent application for managing my music. However, the iTunes Music Store is a different story. There are two main reasons why I won't buy music from iTunes:

  1. DRM. I simply do not want music that I download to be tied to one device. If I buy a CD, I can play it in any CD player. I expect the same from music I download. This subject has received a lot of publicity lately, with Steve Jobs sharing his thoughts in an open letter. Michael Robertson has written a follow up on his blog, which I agree with.
  2. PRICE. A song purchased from iTunes by a UK customer costs £0.79. That's roughly $1.50. Let's suppose a typical album has 12 songs. That works out at £9.48 or $18 per album. Can anyone see any value in this? There are a lot of costs involved in getting a physical CD to the customer. The cost of the CD itself, printing, artwork, hard cover, distribution, shelf space in the shop and likely many more. Distributing music over the Internet should slash the cost of music. Someone is being greedy.
I won't be using the iTunes Music Store until the above two obstacles are removed. For now, I'd rather buy the CD.

What's your thoughts? Have I got it totally wrong and iTunes is offering great value? Are Apple simply a victim of the large music labels?

Linux in the Workplace: It's Here, There and Everywhere

My first article discussed how easy it was to set up Linux on my work desktop. In this article, I'll explain how you can help colleagues switch to Linux.

I'd been using Linux at home since about 2001 and much preferred it to XP. So, when our company purchased new desktop machines for us just over a year ago, I couldn't resist the opportunity. As soon as my machine was ready, I downloaded the latest Kubuntu install disk and set to work.

I finished the installation as normal, rebooted and got ready for my KDE login. What I got was somewhat different. No UI, just thrown back to the command prompt. It turned out that the default ATI driver didn't work with the ATI graphics card in the machine. I updated the xorg configuration file to use the vesa driver and got the UI started. Shortly after that, I noticed the performance monitors were only recognising one CPU. The machines had a dual core AMD processor. Again, this was easy to fix. Simply install the latest SMP kernel and reboot. However, I was realising pretty quickly that none of my colleagues would ever switch to Linux if they had face these issues. Their setup had to be trivial.

The solution was clear. Everything would have to be documented. We run an excellent internal Wiki that contains lots of useful information. This was an ideal place to set up a Linux section. Every single step that was needed to have a fully functional Linux desktop would be documented here. I started with details of how to set up the correct graphic drivers and kernel. This information was to be used by I.S. Anyone who wanted a Linux desktop would leave it with our I.S. department. I.S. would install Kubuntu and follow the instructions on the Wiki to have it functioning properly.

After that, it was a matter of setting up the applications correctly. Each user would do this themselves. I wrote sections on the Wiki about:

  1. How to use Kontact with MS Exchange for email, calendaring and contacts.
  2. How to install applications and tools.
  3. How to connect remotely using FreeNx.
  4. How to set up printers
  5. How to use Samba
and much more. Everything was in place for anyone who wanted to use Linux.

A few months went by before the first brave soul took the plunge. He got his machine up and running fairly quickly and has been using it ever since. Then, another few months and another convert. This one was really interesting. He was using XP on his T43 laptop. After installing wireless drivers, his machine ground to a halt. It was taking 10 minutes just to boot and became totally unusable. He installed Kubuntu, which detected his wireless card properly and the machine now runs smoothly. Two others are thinking of installing Kubuntu as well.

Colleagues who have made the switch have started contributing their own articles to the Wiki e.g. Installing JBoss, Oracle, GNOME, etc. Our office has approximately 15 people. In the space of one year, we have gone from zero Linux desktops to 20%. The people who are using Linux now are very happy with it.

In summary, if you want people to use Linux in the workplace, you have to make it easy for them to get started. Follow these steps to ease the pain for them and you:
  1. Do it yourself first. It's up to you to prove that Linux can be successful on the work desktop. Install it and work through any issues before you get others involved.
  2. Document Everything. It doesn't have to be on a Wiki. It could simply be a plain text document that you share on a server.
  3. Be patient. Take time to answer questions and solve problems.
Finally and most importantly: ENJOY IT!

Friday, 2 February 2007

Linux in the Workplace: The Perfect Setup in One Day

Recently, I read an article by Jim Sampson about him trying to use Linux on his work desktop. To summarize, Jim tried to use Linux over an extended period of time, kept hitting problems with MS Exchange and MS Office documents and finally gave up. According to Jim:

"I was trying to use Linux on my laptop in Dell's corporate environment... For the next ten years, I would go off and on back to this thought: I wanted to support the Open Source community, and to use Linux, but every time, the reality was that Linux just was not ready."

Well, I was in a similar position about a year ago. Having used Linux at home for several years, I became tired of the limitations of Windows XP as a development machine. I knew how useful it would be to have virtual desktops, multiple tabs in Konsole, access to some great developer tools like Quanta and Umbrello and all the other benefits that come with running a Linux desktop. I really wanted to make the switch.

The first step was to get approval from my manager to run Linux instead of XP. Fortunately, our company develops cross platform software, mostly in Java, so getting permission wasn't too much of a problem. However, the company also uses the MS Outlook/Exchange combination and produces quite a lot of MS Office documents. Clearly, I was going to face some of the same issues as Jim. I decided to use Kubuntu (Dapper now) because that's what I used at home. I was pretty confident it would perform all the tasks I needed.

My basic requirements were as follows:

  1. Access to company email, calendar and contacts. I use Kontact which is an integrated environment. Email is retrieved using IMAP and calendar and contact information can be got by configuring Kontact with the Outlook web urls.
  2. The ability to create, view and edit MS Office documents. OpenOffice 2.x is excellent for this task. I've never had a problem with any of our Word documents or spreadsheets. Admittedly, we don't use many macros.
  3. Access to the source code repository. We use Perforce and they do an excellent job of providing Linux versions of all their tools.
  4. Access to shared printers and other machines on the network. Again, there were no issues. SAMBA performs very well.
  5. Access to application servers e.g. JBoss
  6. Firefox
  7. Eclipse.
  8. JDK 1.4 and 1.5
  9. The ability to IM with work colleagues. I use Kopete.
It took me one day to get Linux installed and the above requirements met. It did involve a little effort on my part, like Googling on how to set up Kontact properly and I won't pretend everything is perfect. Printer setup in Dapper can be a pain sometimes. However, I'm extremely happy with my current setup and probably won't upgrade again until KDE 4 is released.

I have absolutely no desire or reason to use Windows again. XP is simply not ready for my desktop.