I recently installed the Granola energy management software to my netbook just to see if it would eek out some extended battery life time. Initial results look good and battery time has indeed been increased with no apparent effect on perceived speed or response.
Granola is available for linux and Windows desktops. It can also be deployed on VMware ESXi. It is free for personal use but has a very small cost licence which makes available much more detailed energy controls and monitoring options when deployed across many computers at the same address. Power saving results can be tracked over time via an online account which records your power usage data.
Available desktop stats are displayed in a slightly generalised way with preferences available to show annual or cumulative energy savings.
I easily added the required Nvidia graphic card drivers and was able to add shortcuts to the desktop though found a familiar minor irritation in the shape of a missing Firefox shortcut icon which I have encountered before (some jigging about in the icons folder will fix that but it is a known bug).
The final release will be well worth downloading for extending the use of older computers (recycled or reused), together with laptops and netbooks. Linux Mint 8 ‘Helena’ LXDE is a free download.
Once in a blue moon you might just want to edit a PDF and not have access to the original document it was created from. Obviously if you need to do this a lot then purchasing the full version of Adobe acrobat is the best solution but free and low cost solutions do exist.
One of these is Sun’s PDF import plugin for OpenOffice. Originally native import of PDF’s was intended to be a standard feature in this free office suite but development did not keep pace with the release timetable. It’s still in beta but can be a useful solution with the right PDF file. For free it’s certainly worth trying.
Open Office is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
Windows users may also care to consider downloading a trial of the commercial NitroPDF program.
One of the great bug bears of anybody who demonstrates a modicum of technical ability with computers is the expectation of friends and family that you are automatically on hand to sort out any technical problems that they may encounter.
Sometimes this may go above and beyond what it is reasonable to expect and what may be practical to supply in any ongoing form particularly if the user seems adept at undoing your handiwork or resents attempts to educate them with regards to best usage to ensure a reliable and consistent desktop experience.
When your patience is tested you’ll often find the geeks of this world try to quell mounting support requests by installing linux as an alternative to their failing windows desktop.
This is not as easy as it sounds as users generally hate change. I saw Steve Rubel quoted recently as saying that technology and software easily scales but people do not. This is true of people who get used to a single desktop experience (inevitably Microsoft Windows). Just replacing Windows with Linux will not automatically make an instantly happy computer user or quell support requests unless a degree of familiarity with their previous Windows experience is not maintained.By familiarity I mean look and feel rather than any virus, spyware or reliability experiences.
And throwing the baby out with the dirty bathwater is, in my experience an absolute last resort after you’ve re installed windows umpteen times to clear infections or to regain a snappier desktop experience.
Moving such users in slow stages can ease the ‘shock of the new’.
This can involved standardising their windows experience with the same applications that they will likely encounter should a linux alternative be worth a try.These days that’s a lot easier as applications like firefox, open office,Thunderbird, picasa and google earth are easily available on linux.
Replacing Microsoft Office with Open Office or one of the various web offices can also be a challenge but if users cannot adapt and have a legal offering of office then it can continue to be used on linux with a little setup of wine or laying down a small fee (well worth the easing off of support calls in my humble opinion) to install crossover office.
I find that applying a theme with the familiar colours and icons (users can balk if they don’t se folders in a familiar colour) works best on a distribution that has a combined bottom panel that operates similar to windows. In my case I prefer either Linux Mint (Gnome edition) or OpenSuSe. You can stack the usual top and lower screen panels on top of each other but at the bottom of the screen with other distributions but users are likely to easily mess up this arrangement.
A quick word about google earth and picasa. These are essentially windows applications that operate under wine which can mean that the font rendering can need some severe tweaking especially when viewed via some modern graphic chips (Nvidia springs to mind). It puzzles me that picasa is installed with an additional menu to specifically adjust the menu fonts whereas google earth is not and launching the latter application can be a shock when the fonts are so small as to be unreadable. This means delving into the Google earth .conf files in order to adjust the menu fonts accordingly.
As a means of reducing friends and family support requests this approach can pay dividends but obviously depends on what software the user is wedded to.A slow wean off proprietary software may prepare the ground for a later linux desktop deployment.
In the business world it’s easier to keep legacy windows applications on a linux desktop via virtualization of a thin client server arrangement which can pay dividends for office desktop uptime in the right environment.
gOS – the Ubuntu derived alternative free linux desktop OS that caused a bit of a splash a while back has finally released version 2 of their E17 modified desktop which continues to be focused around Web applications from google and others. The release was slightly delayed today and currently iso downloads are via BitTorrent only.This edition refines the existing desktop experience by adding Google gears technology for offline work and online storage provided by Box.net. Webcam support has also been added.Like many Ubuntu derived operating systems it can initally be run entirely from CD for assesment before deciding if you want to install permanently to hard drive.
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As mentioned previously I decided to try the Ubuntu derivative gOS on some lower spec computers and have spent most of today using it to do most of the things I normally do . My impression was still quite good as gOS is still Ubuntu Gutsy underneath.
The default choice of Xine to handle multimedia rather than Mplayer meant that streamed content on the BBC news site (News 24 and real player content) had a greater chance of working without too much fiddling around ( I still had to add some non free codecs etc but while the world chooses proprietary formats that aren’t technically free then this kind of fiddling may always be necessary).
My reservation centred around how easy it was to delete the shelf application launcher which concerns me as handing out donated machines I would usually lock applications to bottom configured panel in a Gnome configured Ubuntu whilst a gOS modified E17 desktop seems to have no way to lock them in a similar way. Loosing the shelf could confuse many average users in the same way that suddenly squashing up or moving the taskbar in Windows can prove, for many, beyond their knowledge to put back to its original configuration.
Having said that putting the shelf back was quite easy though I’m not sure how obvious this would be to a less technically minded user (I don’t mean that to sound patronising) and I preferred a slightly different shelf set-up to the default as I felt the scrolling shelf might be a bit confusing and was not ideal (it’s a shame the shelf doesn’t expand and contract the app icons in a more OS X way).