11 December 2012

A Puppy (linux) is not just for Christmas

At last work is beginning to settle down again, although this is likely to be the calm before the storm (that is our next technical review). I've finally found the time to catch up with recent releases from a few linux distributions, just to see how far they've come since last time I looked. I have to say the results have been impressive.

I've been wondering for a while what I will do when Windows XP finally loses support from Microsoft. It's been pretty good once you figured out how to turn off all the designer-appeal smooth scrolling crud. In fact underneath you have an operating system which is quite industrial in look and feel. You plug a device in, it shows up (maybe after some driver installation) but the whole experience has become a sort of defacto standard of how operating systems should behave (if they want mass appeal that is).

None of MS's more recent offerings have really appealed to me though. I look at Windows 7 and at various points I can say "oh yeah - that's the XP interface". That shouldn't really happen for a total re-write. Likewise with Windows 7, I don't like the way MS change things just for the sake of it. Why rename important features and then hide them in new menus? This reason alone has stopped me from upgrading my home PC. Just because MS want me to buy their new O/S doesn't mean I will, especially if I can't see any improvements.

This leads me nicely on to Debian. I have been quite impressed with their latest release and what's more I have discovered that some of my home software actually runs on it thanks to something called "Play on Linux". The possibility of still using my favourite bits of Windows software (ok some games) on Debian is a real selling point (or would be, but Debian is free anyway). Add in the fact that anything you learn about using Debian can also be useful for learning to use a Raspberry Pi and the future becomes more interesting - after all the Pi hardware is actually cheaper than a copy of Windows 8.

As a result I have become aware of a few other changes in the linux world too. Although the Raspberry foundation seem to be promoting Java and Python, I came across a post mentioning a basic-like programming language called BaCon (which is actually a basic-to-C convertor). This lead me back to good old Puppy linux which is still my absolute favourite linux version. I was also suitably impressed to discover Squeezed-Arm-Puppy which actually runs on the Pi. So there in a nutshell is my new preferential upgrade path. Debian for home (with a puppy live disk as backup); Raspbian and Sap-Puppy for my Pi and an old netbook which will continue to run XP. I will enjoy finding out how BaCon compares with Visual Basic when I get around to rewriting some of my work utilities with it.

The really strange bit is that now things have calmed down at work, the games machine has seen a lot less use in the same time-frame. I even went out and bought a Google Nexus as part of an energy-efficiency drive. I've found this to be a lot quicker than waiting for XP to boot-up so it stops me from using the big-old-desktop just to check email. I was most impressed last week when I was able to drag & drop a few files onto a browser and then access the documents on my Nexus while in a meeting. That's one of those features that you know you're going to use again and again until you're taking it for granted.

In another post I mention a solar charger I picked up from Maplins earlier this year (for £20) which I've discovered is capable of powering the Pi (sadly not the monitor too). Results are out on whether or not I'll make any savings with this lot after our energy tracker showed a 16% usage increase last month. I have however put this down to our greater reliance on the tumble dryer at this time of year and possibly bad usage monitoring on my part last year (at least I ruled out the big-old-desktop by hardly using it for a month). I have an idea that maybe Solar-Pi will become juniors new favourite media player (running XBMC which is also fantastic) which will help reduce our usage even further next year.

Social commentators may start to see a theme here: our requirements are changing from slow bloated code on big desktops to compact code that does the job and runs from cheaper power sources. Maybe the next generation of computing devices will come with solar panels as standard?