Friday, September 28, 2007

Why Walt Mossberg discredited himself

Recently in a chat with an acquaintance talk turned to Dell's Ubuntu efforts. The subject of Walt Mossberg, writer for the Wall Street Journal came up, and the "kiss of death" article was mentioned. I shocked my associate by simply stating the article was invalid and that Walt Mossberg had proven in that article that he didn't have a clue about technology, and certainly didn't deserve to be writing for any newspaper or in any journalistic fashion relating to technology.

Shock, gasp, and recoil in horror. Why do I have such a low opinion of Mr. Mossberg?

Because he didn't use Mepis Linux or mention it at all.

Lets put this in baseball terms so that the impact is a little clearly felt. If you ask a self proclaimed baseball expert to talk about the top baseball franchises, you would be shocked if the expert did not mention the Atlanta Braves in a run-down of the all time greatest franchises. Sure, the Atlanta Braves won the World Series only once, but outside of the 1994 baseball strike the Braves won their division title every single time between 1991-2005. The Braves have one of the best farm team systems in the entire league and it's not often to hear about how some rising star or returning player was given a chance by the Braves. In a recent game against Houston it was mentioned that one of the Houston pictures who had started in the Detroit Tigers organizations had his career ended due to a surgery. It was because of the Atlanta Braves giving the guy a chance in the AA-Class league that the pitcher was back in the majors.

The Braves also gave John Smoltz a chance after his surgery, running the legend as a finisher, then bringing Smoltz back as a starter. In baseball, that is frankly unheard of.

There is no way around it, the Atlanta Braves are one of the greatest Franchises in the history of Baseball, and any expert would quickly discredit themselves for saying otherwise.

So... Mepis Linux... It's the same as the Atlanta Braves... Mepis Linux hasn't hit the ball out of the park that often... It hasn't retained a #1 position on Distrowatch for any significant length of time. It isn't reported on by, or any other IT journal on a regular basis.

Yet... what a lot of people don't realize is that Mepis Linux is one of the oldest LiveCD base distributions around, and that many of the features that are creeping into other LiveCD versions now have been in Mepis Linux since 2003.

For example, automatic driver configuration. One of the strong points of Mepis Linux back in 2003 is that it enabled quick and painless installation of Nvidia and ATi drivers through a GUI front end. Some versions of the Mepis Linux 3.x series shipped with both Nvidia and ATi drivers already on the disc, and could be installed as an option during the main installation of the Operating System.

Another example is resolution changing. Back in 2003 Mepis Linux allowed setting a resolution FROM the LiveCD itself on Boot. Mepis Linux also enabled changing of the resolution by the LiveCD with an integrated tool.

More examples included the Mepis OS Center's User Tweaks which enabled easy cleanup of log files and cache files.

The list goes on and on. All of the major features that other Distributions are only now just offering... Mepis Linux had literal years ago.

Even the "new" news about automatic driver updates coming. Just out of wondering, what is APT? Swiss Cheese? Debian has had "automatic" and "userfriendly" driver upgrades for far longer than any other distribution. That isn't news, that is stating the obvious.

The fact is, Mepis Linux was focused on making a userfriendly desktop before the market was even there. When Mepis came on the scene you had... Knoppix... and that was about it.

Now a lot of people get confused about Mepis's changing of the repositories from Debian to Ubuntu, then back to Debian. What a lot of users don't understand is that using Debian or Ubuntu repositories was an offshoot factor to what Mepis Linux was doing, with a lot of users mistakenly referring or treating Mepis as a development offshoot like Kubuntu.

Mepis Linux not only uses a different kernel, it uses a reconfigured monolithic kernel with additional device drivers and kernel modules in order to support a wide range of hardware. Mepis Linux also uses the Tool Chain and sources from one distribution in order to provide the bulk of a usable Operating System while focusing on tuning specific portions of the Operating System.

The hoped for result in using a particular tool chain is that anything else built with that tool chain will be compatible. When Mepis was built using sources provided by Ubuntu's Dapper Drake project and the Dapper Drake tool chain the hope was that all programs compiled using the Dapper Drake tool chain would be compatible with both Dapper Drake an the Mepis 6.x series. That... isn't what happened.

With Mepis 7 Series the Debian Etch tool chain is now in use, which should enable all packages compiled against the Etch tool chain to be binary compatible with both Debian Etch and Mepis Linux. So far... that is what is happening.

By maintaining binary compatibility with custom optimizations on top Mepis Linux offers a best of breed distribution. That's why Mepis Linux was offering all of these "new" features years ago. Back in 2003 Warren wasn't worried about providing Apache, Python, or other tools. As long as Mepis was binary compatible with the sourced distro, the sourced distro could take care of items like those. What Warren and the current Mepis Development team worries about is this:

How to make a userfriendly Linux Desktop.

And it shows. The most common comment seen on the Ubuntu forums was "It works in Mepis!" The constant flood of reports coming in about "I tried such and such hardware and it worked" was certainly encouraging. The support of Intel's IDE-lacking chipsets was another milestone for Mepis Linux that placed it ahead of the crowd.

It also shows in the Community. Mepis Linux was the first Linux Distribution to create an entirely community based forum separate from the Main Distribution, MepisLovers. Mepis Linux is also the only Distribution with a site dedicated to visual guides, Mepis Linux also has seen the creation of International sites for Italy, France, and a site called Mepisimo (I think it's spanish?).

So, the end result is, any tech expert who takes it upon themselves to try, test, or judge a user friendly Linux and does NOT cover Mepis Linux... discredits themselves.

So, whether or not the Wall Street Journal or Walt Mossberg likes it, by skipping Mepis, his writings carry no credibility what-so-ever.

Now, I am purposely trying to avoid stating the obvious. Gnome developers have no business designing a Desktop Interface. That's my opinion. It is also my opinion that it doesn't matter who reviews it, Ubuntu is always going to fail on being user friendly because it uses Gnome. Quite frankly, I think Dell did make a mistake in not choosing a KDE based distribution.

Personally, yes, I would have liked to have seen Dell pick up PCLinuxOS or Mepis Linux, which are both excellent user friendly distributions. It is also my opinion that isn't too late for HP to avoid making the same mistake by going with a Gnome based distribution.
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