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Over the past year, I’ve spent more time than ever using rolling release Linux distributions. My experiences have been positive and negative, depending on the distribution and system updates applied.

Having tried a number of different rolling release distros, I’ll be speaking frankly in this article about a solid case against rolling release distributions. But before you jump to any conclusions, it’s worth reading the entire piece to better understand where I’m going with this.

I know for a fact that newer feels better, especially with regard to software. Updates usually come with new features, bug fixes, and even performance improvements! There are some reasonable benefits to updating one’s software on a regular basis, and lucky for us, Linux packaging repositories make this practically automatic. But what happens when the updates come in too quickly, and perhaps are untested?

For example, while most distribution specific repos offer well tested software updates, sometimes the user repos can end up pushing software that might need a little more time in the debugging department. Whether it’s a rolling release or a fixed release, the software offered by your distribution is generally considered to be safe and stable.

Unfortunately there are occasions with desktop environments or kernel related updates where bugs do crop up. On two of my rolling release PCs, a kernel update completely froze out my network cards – wired networking even, nothing uncommon at all. This network card issue affected two completely separate systems because of a kernel bug.

Clearly, I was free to roll back to a working kernel, which was easy enough for me as an experienced user. For a newer user, well, it would have left many feeling pretty disenfranchised.

With a fixed release distribution, this isn’t even an issue. You could burn a CD of Ubuntu’s latest 14.10 release running kernel 3.16, while still using Ubuntu 14.04 with kernel 3.13 and try out the newest release. When you discover that on the live image, networking is a bust – it’s no big deal. Thankfully, you were merely testing things out on a CD and can simply remove it, file a bug report and go on with your day.

I’ll be the first to admit I tend to be a big fan of the dedicated home directory. By the same token, there is something to be said for a clean installation of an operating system vs upgrading an existing one. All the cruft and other unused data can be easily removed by treating yourself to a clean installation of your Linux installation.

Considering the upgrade tool for your fixed release distro is bound to fail eventually, you’re eventually going to end up doing a clean installation. Rolling distributions will have to wait until things become so messed up that rolling back packages or config file editing isn’t going to fix the problem at hand. Point being, nothing runs better than a fresh Linux installation – not even a 5 year old rolling release install.

I accept that I will end up with grief for making this statement, but without question, if you want stability, you want a fixed release distribution of Linux. Rolling releases can be more convenient, but they also open up doors to challenges that might not otherwise be introduced. Taking the time to allow others to test out updates made to desktop environments and kernel updates are something I believe many Linux users overlook.

Granted, distributions such as Arch do a very good job at making sure any “surprises” are mentioned ahead of time in their awesome mailing list. But let’s be honest, unless you’re a super-geek, you’re not going to read a mailing list very frequently. Unless you’re working in IT or you have the discipline to think about it, odds are you’re just as forgetful as I am when it comes to this sort of thing. Stability through self-research before updating is a skill in itself and one that most of us lack.

With a fixed release of Linux, on the other hand, you’re free to be pretty forgetful. Forgot to update for two weeks? No big deal, just install the updates and get on with your day. Even though there are occasions where a bug “could” be introduced, it’s rarely going to break something critical at the desktop or kernel level.

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Rebellion And The Rolling Stones

Rebellion and the Rolling Stones Huntington play captures love, music, dissent

Esme (René Augesen) and Jan (Manoel Felciano) stand in front of Prague’s famous Lennon Wall in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, playing through December 13.

Like the protagonist of Rock ’n’ Roll, the current production of BU’s Huntington Theatre Company, British playwright Tom Stoppard was born to Jewish parents who fled Czechoslovakia when he was a child. After his father was killed during the family’s displacement in the Far East, his mother married an English colonel, who later adopted him. Stoppard never returned to his native country; his fictional counterpart, however, makes the return trip that gives Rock ’n’ Roll its drama.

“I think there is great wisdom in the script,” says Carly Cioffi (CFA’05), the play’s assistant director. “There’s a huge debate over head versus heart, and reason versus gut instinct.”

Rock ’n’ Roll opens in 1968, during an era of civil unrest in the Czech Republic. Jan, a young Czech graduate student and philosopher who is studying in England, begins a romance with Esme, the 16-year-old daughter of Max, Jan’s mentor. But when the Soviets invade the former Czechoslovakia, Jan returns to defend his homeland, leaving behind a brokenhearted Esme.

A fervent newspaper reporter — and an even more avid rock ’n’ roll enthusiast — Jan quickly becomes embroiled with the dissident movement, which is represented by underground bands such as Prague’s Plastic People of the Universe. He spends a year in a Czech prison, and upon release, works for more than 10 years in a bakery. Only when the Berlin Wall falls in 1989 and Czech freedom is restored does he return to England to rekindle his friendship with Max and resolve his romance with Esme.

“More than anything else, Rock ’n’ Roll is a love story,” Cioffi says. “And it isn’t just a love story between Jan and Esme. It’s a love story between Jan and music, Jan and Max, and Jan and his country.”

True to its name, Rock ’n’ Roll incorporates music by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and the Doors into its script. But the songs provide more than just transitions between scenes. “Tom took a great deal of care to weave the lyrics into the script,” Cioffi says. “And they’re very specific. They explain what is happening on stage at that very moment, and they also foreshadow what will happen in the future.”

Despite heavy doses of Czech and Russian history and philosophical debates over Communism and Marxist theory, Cioffi says, audiences haven’t been intimidated by Rock ‘n’ Roll — in fact, the Huntington extended the show’s run after selling out the original performance dates.

“This play offers a tiny olive branch from our deep past that says, ‘There are rich things that are part of our collective histories, our very souls,’” Cioffi says. “Just because we live in an age of reason doesn’t mean we should turn away from the mysterious. We shouldn’t reduce ourselves to nothing more than biological machines.

“I hope that the audience will come away with a deeper understanding of things that serve us purely,” she adds, “and that’s love and music.”

Rock ’n’ Roll has been extended at the BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., through Saturday, December 13. Tickets range from $20 to $82.50 and may be purchased online, by phone at 617-266-0800, or in person at the BU Theatre box office or at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion box office, 527 Tremont St., Boston. Patrons age 35 and younger may purchase $25 tickets (ID is required), and $5 discounts are available for seniors and military personnel. Student rush tickets are available for $15 at the box office two hours before each performance, and members of the BU community get $10 off (ID is required).

Vicky Waltz can be reached at [email protected].

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The Case For Electives In Schools

A vibrant elective program in middle and secondary schools should be considered just as precious as the core classes—after all, electives are the one or two periods a day that students have had a say in selecting. In a nationwide survey I conducted of sixth through 12th graders (for my most recent book), I asked what engaged them the most as learners. Across the nation, student choice ranked high in results. And according to education researcher Robert Marzano, choice “has also been linked to increases in student effort, task performance, and subsequent learning.”

Yet this very quality—student choice—seems to be one of the factors that make electives vulnerable.

For many schools, budget cuts and an ebb and flow of educational funding are par for the course. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “As of the current 2023–18 school year, at least 12 states have cut ‘general’ or ‘formula’ funding—the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools—by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade.” In many cases, schools look to the classes they deem extras to be the first to fall.

For many, that means electives. However, I want to push back on this notion that electives are somehow expendable. In fact, some might argue they are just as vital as core content classes.

The Power of Connection

Students also reported in the nationwide survey I conducted that they need to be more connected to the adults on campus. We talk so much about differentiating students, but we need to differentiate teachers and schools too. It helps our students to connect with school if they learn that there are many diverse personalities on hand for them to learn from. Electives, many times, reflect the interests of the teachers that teach them as well as the students that choose them. This permits a student to automatically have a self-selected connection to the adult in the room.

The Journal of Educational Psychology recently reported that in a study of almost 400 students and their 25 teachers, researchers found that when teachers and students were given information about five similarities they shared, the knowledge helped improve student-teacher relationships and academic achievement.

Electives Support Core Classes

Electives can also do double duty as vehicles for core content standards. And teachers can help ensure that electives are not thought of as inferior to core classes by guaranteeing that they help carry the weight of teaching literacy along with core classes. Elective teachers can provide evidence of the learning happening by doing three key things:

Encourage annotation when students read texts related to the elective topic.

Utilize pre- and post-assessments to show growth in related informational reading comprehension.

Fold in writing and oral presentations to help students communicate the elective’s content.

Yearbook, robotics, film society, photography, world languages, theater, speech and debate, music appreciation, and current events—all of these classes can tap into reading, writing, listening, and speaking. And all of them attract a variety of students while adding a self-selected layer of engagement to those students’ learning of core standards.

I’d also like to make the push for electives to be more inclusive. I think it would help eradicate the myth of electives being nonessential if we dropped the grade-point average prerequisite and other requirements that grant students access. Student choice, after all, must be about the student, not the process of selection.

Elective programs can play a large role in our schools’ goals in preparing our students for college and career. Being able to select classes reflects the same process that they will see again in college.

When Teachers Are Engaged

The fact is, while many consider electives the B story in a school, they can, in fact, set the tone for a campus and play a huge role in engagement. And because they are highly engaging, electives play a role in keeping our students on campus—especially those reluctant learners and ones who struggle academically.

The power of engagement, however, is not limited to students alone. Elective classes can serve a purpose to continue teachers’ engagement as well. Feeling like you’re burning out? Pitch a class that you want to teach, that you’d love to teach. Teach one that helps fuel your teaching flame. Teachers are helping to create master schedules that reflect a variety of interests—from gardening to digital storytelling. Create a class that helps lure students to learning in a way that engages you as well.

Making The Case For Open Source Software

As budgets contract, it is becoming more and more important for schools to consider alternatives to expensive proprietary software. Open source software can provide a viable alternative to traditional software at a fraction of the cost. It is available for free, and is as stable as traditional commercial software (provided schools choose mature software packages). Furthermore, most open source software packages have large communities of developers and users who work towards the common goal of improving the software. This collaborative environment mirrors the style of work educators often seek to create in the classroom.

Open Source vs. Web 2.0

In the last several years educators have begun adopting Web 2.0 sites as alternatives to traditional installed software. The propagation of Web 2.0 sites has provided options not previously available for schools, however there are important distinctions that need to be drawn between Web 2.0 and open source to avoid conflating the terms. First, Web 2.0 sites are not open source. That is to say, the end user has no ability to view, edit, or change the source code of the application. The only permission typically given to the user of a given Web 2.0 site is use of the site. Open source software, on the other hand, affords you the ability to download the source code (the building blocks) of the software.

Web 2.0 sites are hosted on the creating company’s servers, meaning use of the site is dependant on sufficient bandwidth and the site’s servers must be running at a high rate of speed. However, the costs of running Web 2.0 sites can lead to sites shutting down or going to a pay model, leading to frustrated users. Open source software cannot move to a pay model due to inherent restrictions in open source licensing. With open source software, there is no fear that a favorite package will one day cost money. For example, I personally know of many educators who used chúng tôi as a podcast-hosting service. It worked well and was free, until Garageband (the parent company) decided to shut it down. This left many educators searching for a replacement tool.

Open Source Alternatives to Traditional Software

One of my favorite ways to find open source software that is an alternative to traditional software is using chúng tôi This site will offer free and open source substitutes to traditional software. For example, if a school wanted to find an open source alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop software, a visit to chúng tôi reveals an open source package called Gimpshop. This is just one example of many possible alternatives to traditional commercial software.

One way open source software can save schools money is by replacing Microsoft Office. Schools often spend large amounts of money on Microsoft licenses, propagating the dependence on commercial, proprietary software. One alternative to Microsoft Office is LibreOffice. LibreOffice is a free and open source software package that looks and feels much like Microsoft Office and can interact with Office documents.

In my classroom, we often use LibreOffice in place of Microsoft Office because our district has yet to upgrade past the 2003 version of Microsoft Office. LibreOffice gives us newer features and compatibility we did not have with Office 2003. We also use Audacity to record audio. We use Audacity to record podcasts, we create “radio commercials” as projects, and learn to edit audio. Without this free tool, we would have had to invest in a commercial software package for audio editing. This decision has saved us a significant amount.

The other open source software package we use frequently is called iTalc. iTalc is similar to SMART Sync (formerly called SynronEyes) and NetSupport. iTalc allows me to see student screens to provide remote support, demonstrations, and supervision while students are working on their computers. As in the other cases, the use of this software has saved us a significant amount of money.

Practical Advice for Implementing Open Source Software

A proper implementation plan can make the difference between users who thank you and users who get frustrated. There are several ways to ease the transition to an open source software package, especially when it is replacing a traditional commercial package. Here are some tips for planning your transition:

1. Involve key stakeholders. If you educate users ahead of time and prepare them, the transition will be easier. Help your users see the need, help them see the cost savings, and show them that the differences in the software are minimal.

2. Start with early adopters. Each district has an easily identifiable group of users who would be willing to try this out and report possible issues. These same users will become your “go to” folks when the switch goes live.

3. Create short how-to videos and/or screencasts addressing common transition issues. The time it takes to create these will save you help desk requests in the future.

4. Roll out the change over time. Consider running both packages side by side for a year so that users have the chance to try it out.

Open source software can save your school/district/community money while still providing the features users require. In today’s budget crisis, consider how using open source software can replace some of your commercial software.

The Carolinas Are Waging War Against Nickel

A crop-duster sprays a field with pesticides. Various counties in North Carolina are deploying similar strategies to control mosquito swarms. Depositphotos

Tornadoes may not bring sharks, but as North Carolinians are now discovering, hurricanes can bring giant insects. In the wake of Hurricane Florence, more than two dozen counties have been inundated with massive mosquitoes, creating what for many amounts to a nightmare scenario.

The scene was like “a bad science fiction movie,” according to Robert Phillips, a resident of the centrally located Cumberland county. ” I told my wife, ‘Gosh, look at the size of this thing.’ I told her that I guess I’m going to have to use a shotgun on these things if they get any bigger,” Phillips told The Fayetteville Observer.

But now North Carolina is fighting back against the invaders. Governor Roy Cooper dedicated $4 million in relief funds to combat the outbreak on Friday, and as of Monday morning anti-mosquito trucks were already rolling the streets of Cumberland, spraying the air with insecticide, The Fayetteville Observer reported. Health experts have labeled these particular insects as more of a nuisance than a threat, but are still encouraging people to wear long sleeves and mosquito repellant, as a small fraction of the bugs could carry diseases such as the West Nile virus.

Even among scientists who study mosquitoes for a living, Psorophora ciliata has a fearsome reputation. In addition to being one of the largest species in North America, the gallinipper, as it’s commonly called, also has an especially painful bite. It seems to know it too, with scientific literature recognizing its “legendary aggressiveness.” North Carolinians, understandably disturbed, have taken to social media to practice some amateur entomology.

Although they look like a subtropical nightmare, gallinippers actually live all over the eastern half of the U.S., their habitat stretching from Texas to New Hampshire. Females lay their eggs wherever they can find damp dirt, and the eggs lie in wait for a flood or heavy rain. Hurricane Florence provided both when it dumped dozens of inches of precipitation on North Carolina last month, triggering a hatching frenzy. After getting rehydrated, gallinippers reach adulthood in less than a week—bringing North Carolina to its current state.

Governor Roy Cooper moved quickly to combat the swarms, announcing that $4 million in relief funds were available to help more than half of the state’s counties control their booming mosquito populations on Friday. The first wave of counter-measures has already begun. Insecticide-spraying trucks started patrolling the streets of Cumberland County before 8 a.m. on Monday and will resume after the work day ends, The Fayetteville Observer reports. An aerial assault will follow in the upcoming weeks, with planes blanketing the affected areas. Individuals can also join the fight with items called “dunks,” small disks that release a mosquito-larva killing bacteria when dropped into pools of water such as birdbaths or small ponds.

Texas counties took similar actions last fall after mosquitoes erupted from the ground in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey, using U.S. Air Force reserve cargo planes to spray a nearly Rhode-Island sized area around Houston. This unusually strong response came because hurricanes hit the two states with a one-two entomological punch. First, the rains soaked the buried eggs and raised dormant species like the gallinippers. These insects activate only during times of flooding and rarely carry disease. But then, since most mosquitoes need open water such as ditches to lay their eggs, standing pools left by receding floodwaters increased the likelihood that other species would be able to breed too.

“Because of the flood there’s going to be more water. There are going to be more mosquitoes, and so we have to do the best we can,” the director of mosquito and vector control for Texas’s Harris County Public Health, Mustapha Debboun, told The Scientist at the time.

While aerial sprays and bacterial bombs represent cutting-edge anti-mosquito weapons, the U.S. has been targetting the winged scourge for more than half a century with decidedly low-tech methods. After The Great Depression, New Deal-era programs put more than 200,000 people to work digging ditches to literally drain the swamps of the south. Public health historians estimate that by 1945, workers had dug enough ditches to reach around the globe and then some, drying well over half a million acres of land (one acre can hatch one million mosquito eggs).

The Office of Malaria Control in War Areas, initially founded in Atlanta to stop soldiers from getting mosquito-borne malaria on southern army bases, delivered the final blow in the 1940s when it coordinated a mass spraying of nearly five million southern homes over the course of two years. The organization, which we know today as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), declared the country malaria free in 1949.

North Carolina won’t require such a wide-scale intervention, however. Upcoming chilly temperatures should kill whatever gallinippers survive the sprayings, experts expect. And there’s another silver lining. Psorophora ciliata enjoys snacking on the mosquito larvae of other species, so much so that some entomologists have suggested intentionally cultivating them to keep other, more dangerous populations down. The notion of releasing big mosquitoes to eat the small mosquitoes hasn’t yet caught on, perhaps in fear of the sci-fi chain of unintended consequences it could unleash (now how are we going to get rid of the mutant swallows??), but North Carolinians are well-positioned to enjoy its benefits nonetheless.

2011: The Year Of Linux Disappointments

On August 15, LinuxCon celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Linux kernel with a Roaring Twenties party, complete with swing bands and tuxedos and flapper costumes. The milestone was one that conference attendees were happy to celebrate, despite the obvious embarrassment of Linus Torvalds himself.

Unfortunately, 2011 as a whole didn’t measure up to those few hours of partying. In fact, whether you are looking at business, the community, or the technology, for free and open source software (FOSS), 2011 was in many ways a disappointing year.

Not that any great disaster struck in the last twelve months. For many — even most — businesses and community projects, the year was routine, with new products and releases rolling out like any other year.

However, at the same time, opposition to free software continued to build in 2011. Nor was the year a lucky one for anyone taking a new direction. In fact, when you look back at 2011, most of the major events were disappointments, only occasionally softened by unexpected secondary results.

What made 2011 such an all-round downer? Here are some of the highlights (or should I say low points?) of the year.

Legal threats and the need for patent reform are problems that free software has lived with for over a decade. However, in 2011, the vultures seemed to circle a little closer.

Meanwhile, Oracle’s patent case against Google continued, with the court date postponed until 2012.

In addition, Microsoft began trolling for patent settlements with manufacturers of Android phones. Many manufacturers knuckled under.

At the same time, the legal threats continued, with the semi-secret Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA), which could criminalize many aspects of free software, has started to be signed by the nations who have worked upon it.

Within the United States, more general threats emerged in the form of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) (also known as the Internet Blacklist Bill), the Protect IP Act, and bill s.978 — all regressive pieces of legislation that could cripple the Internet as we currently know it. Given free software’s inter-dependency on the Internet, these pieces of legislation could affect the community even more than general Internet users.

Perhaps partly because of this increasingly ominous legal background, FOSS-related business was quiet in 2011. The one new company of note was Nat Friedman and Miguel de Icaza’s Xamarin, which resulted when Attachmate, in acquiring Novell, jettisoned the Mono assets. The same restructuring also resulted in making SUSE an independent business arm of Attachmate, although so far little has been heard from it.

Otherwise, major business news was scarce in 2011. Much of the rest was negative, such as Nokia dropping MeeGo in favor of Windows 7 and Hewlett-Packard dropping both its Touchpad tablet and the Linux-based WebOS that powered it.

The facts that MeeGo was absorbed into the Tizen project, or that WebOS’ source code was recently released can’t disguise that neither was really tested against the market before being cancelled.

Yet another failure was Google’s Chromebook laptops, whose productivity apps are almost entirely in the cloud. Announced as a sign of things to come, the Chromebook’s sales are estimated at no more than thirty thousand, and have recently been dismissed as an idea that nobody was really interested in.

Patents and the legal threats to business affect the FOSS community just as strongly. However, the community faced its own problems in 2011. In particular, two major sites — the Linux kernel server and the Linux Foundation — were compromised.

These attacks were not only a symbolic blow to FOSS’ claim to greater security, but a major inconvenience as well. The Linux Foundation took weeks to restore its community site chúng tôi and, three months later, has yet to restore the archives from the days that chúng tôi operated as a news site — an oversight that deprives the community of a valuable historical resource.

2011 also saw the rise and fall of Bitcoin, a peer-to-peer digitalized currency, an idea that resonated with many members of the community. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, briefly accepted donations in bitcoins. Soon, however, concerns about Bitcoin’s legality and stability as a currency forced the Electronic Frontier Foundation as well as many others to withdraw their support, or at least proceed cautiously.

Several long-established community projects saw a decline as well. As the Chrome browser continues to increase in popularity, Firefox saw a corresponding decline, until in November the two were within a few percentage points of one another. In response to Chrome’s popularity, Firefox has moved to releases every few months, but this move has been criticized as causing a decline in code quality.

The decline of chúng tôi in 2011 was even more catastrophic. Acquired by Oracle with the rest of Sun Microsystems’ assets, chúng tôi managed one mediocre release before being handed to The Apache Foundation. It is currently an incubator project, trying to organize itself to be accepted as an official Apache project.

From the whispers of ApacheCon, chúng tôi may never leave the incubator project. The intention may be to do a thorough code audit and produce one last, clean release that the rival LibreOffice can absorb. Since LibreOffice’s growth and development was one of the few bright spots in the FOSS community this year, this might be the most fitting conclusion to OpenOffice.org’s troubled history.

Unfortunately, despite having spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 in six months — much of that apparently in salaries and travel — The Ada Initiative has accomplished little that a volunteer group could not.

In fact, its founder’s greatest success, the encouragement of conferences to adopt a model anti-harassment policy, was accomplished before the organization was founded. With its current fundraising campaign going so poorly that the progress bar was removed a few days ago from the home page, the non-profit seems to have failed to create the community support it needs to survive.

Being a new organization, The Ada Initiative might yet turn itself around or reinvent itself, especially if it finally manages to register as a charity. However its debut is distinctly lackluster, especially in contrast to the GNOME Outreach Program for Women which returned in 2011 with several successful rounds of internship, and in the process demonstrated how a well-organized program increases participants’ chances of success.

Another largely unnoticed reinvention is the Debian distribution. Long dethroned by its derivative Ubuntu in popularity, Debian spent much of 2011 reinventing itself. In the past few twelve months, it has — among other things — tried to encourage cooperation among its derivatives, revamped its new member process, and experimented with IRC training sessions.

In short, Debian spent the year adjusting at last to its current role as an indirect influence rather than the major distribution. In the process, it provides one of the few upbeat stories in the FOSS community for 2011.

For a few weeks in September and October, FOSS technical news was dominated by concerns that the new Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), the upcoming replacement for the computer BIOS, would prevent Linux and other operating systems being installed instead of Windows. The concern was sparked by Microsoft’s intention to promote the use of UEFI with Windows 8, and was not subdued by Microsoft’s sometimes ambiguous statements on the subject. However, Matthew Garrett’s assurance that getting Linux to work with UEFI was relatively trivial did much to calm the concern.

At any rate, UEFI was only a brief diversion from the largest stories in FOSS technology in 2011: the release of GNOME 3 and Ubuntu’s decision to default to the Unity shell on top of GNOME. Both GNOME 3 and Unity show the influence of mobile devices on desktop design. Both, too, are attempts to simplify the interface, and change the way that users work. Unsurprisingly, both have also received both intense defenses and criticisms, and became a major topic for 2011.

Just as important as the interfaces themselves are the issues that they raise. For instance, Unity seems to owe its existence largely to Canonical and Ubuntu’s inability to work with the mainstream GNOME project. How decisions were made about Unity also raises issues about the relationship between the community-based Ubuntu and the commercially-oriented Canonical.

Both GNOME 3.x and Unity also raise the question of whether the FOSS desktop is at the stage where video drivers with 3-D hardware acceleration can be assumed.

Other issues raised include the relationship between usability theory and user’s practice, and GNOME’s and Unity’s developers and their lack of communication with everyday users. All these issues extend the technical issues beyond the technical details and apply to FOSS in general.

However, reactions to Unity and GNOME do have at least two benefits. First, they encourage users to examine alternatives like Xfce for their desktops. Second, they have encouraged other developers to build extensions to both Unity and GNOME that make each of them look more like their common ancestor GNOME 2. In other words, many of the first extensions to these interfaces undo most of their changes.

From one perspective, these extensions are a waste of time. However, from another, they demonstrate the community’s determination to get what its members want. If the core developers at a project won’t listen, then others will.

No question — the issues centering around Unity and GNOME 2 dominated Linux news in 2011. To suggest that things were otherwise would be false. Still, the complications did mean that other technical developments, such as KDE’s Plasma Active interface for tablets, passed almost unnoticed, despite their ingenuity.

Among such gloomy stories, members of the FOSS community can take pride one thing: despite all the discouragements, work still got done. Releases still came, and improvements were still made. Although FOSS may not be so large that it endure any number of setbacks, if nothing else 2011 proves how robust FOSS is.

All the same, reviewing the year, I am reminded of how George Macdonald Fraser, the creator of the Flashman series, claims that his terror of a grandmother summed up a mediocre first nine holes of golf. That is (with the Scottish dialect cleaned up): “This and better will do; this and worse will never do.”

Here’s hoping for a more upbeat year for everyone in FOSS in 2012.

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