Adventures in desktop linux

I’ve had such a good experience using Fedora on several of bdg’s enterprise systems (SugarCRM, Subversion, Bugzilla, Vetrics, Connotea, etc.) that I thought I would give desktop linux a shot.

What a mistake.

Actually, it was a good learning experience. But still, a mistake.

First I download Fedora Core 5 (Bordeaux) using BitTorrent. My first problem was mastering the ISO files to CD. Windows has no native support for this (surprise) and for the life of me I couldn’t find a free product without filesize restrictions or other issues. Finally I remembered that I had a purchased a license for Sateira DropToCD some time ago, so I attempted to use that miserable excuse for a program. I tried to burn the five CDs at 24x (~10 minutes each) and my computer would not recognize them. The CD-Rs, once burned, were useless, yet Windows did not show any data on them nor a volume label.

I did a little Googling and then remembered that I needed to burn at 4x in order to get Fedora Core 4 (and Solaris x86 — another mistake) to work. So I tried that (at ~30 minutes per CD) and again, total failure. Finally I used a real operating system, OS X, running on my wife’s Mac laptop, to create the ISOs. (Of course OS X has built in support for ISO burning that works like a charm.)

After all this nonsense, I was finally ready to install FC5. So I backed up all my company files, music, photos and other stuff to my Western Digital 250 Gb external firewire drive and off I went.

I must say, there are some nice things about FC5. Unfortunately, it’s a short list:

  1. The installer, Anaconda, is awesome.
  2. The graphic design is beautiful.
  3. Wireless networking just works.
  4. Firewire just works.

So I was off to a running start. But here is where my problems began. At the top of my shit list is CodeWeavers‘ CrossOver Office. What a complete piece of garbage. From all their press releases, I was led to believe that they actually supported some useful Windows programs such as Office and, more recently, iTunes on various flavors of Linux. Don’t believe what you read. It’s all lies. Damn lies.

I started with Office 2003. That just failed utterly and completely. I wasn’t about to go back to Office XP, so I gave up on running M$ Office. FC5 comes with OpenOffice, which claims to support Word, Excel, etc. so I figured I would just use that.

Next I moved to iTunes. First off, installing it is a series of hacks and kludges. Upon following these ridiculous instructions, iTunes actually launched! But:

  1. All my playlists were gone, even though I repeatedly pointed iTunes to my backed up iTunes Music folder.
  2. The best feature in iTunes, search, didn’t work — the search box was grayed out.
  3. A basic feature — scrolling — was inconsistent and buggy.
  4. It crashed about 10 times before I completely gave up on it.

So now I had limited options. I decided that I would give up on purchasing DRM music through the iTunes store (and save about $500/yr in the process) and switch to Banshee, which claimed to be everything that iTunes was minus the music store.

Okay, so music is just music. But what about e-mail? I’m totally addicted to Outlook — the proof is my 1.5+ Gb .pst saved mail file. Without CrossOver Office running Outlook, I had to fall back on Evolution or Thunderbird. Access to saved mail, however, was a showstopper. To use my gi-normous .pst file in a non-M$ program, I needed to convert it to MBOX format. That proved impossible. Or at least not possible within my own personal constraints of time, patience and most importantly, sanity.

First I tried Thunderbird, because I remembered using its Outlook .pst conversion program. After struggling for a long time with compilation issues, linking issues/missing dependencies (including the wrong version of libstdc++) and segfaults, I finally got the ol’ T-bird working on FC5. But to my disbelief, the option to import a .pst was missing. After some Googling, I found out that Mozilla’s hairbrained implementation actually relies on MAPI, so you need to have Outlook installed and configured on the machine with Thunderbird in order to convert from .pst to MBOX.

I tried various other programs, including a useless dungheap called MailNavigator. I also tried hand-compiling a C program called libpst that was supposed to work and didn’t. I was beginning to think that my .pst file had been corrupted, but that was impossible because it was running fine in Outlook.

After all this nonsense, I used my wife’s laptop to download a DOS book disk with fdisk, deleted all my partition info, and now here I am back on Windows XP.

Lessons learned:

  1. Linux is not ready for the desktop, even if you’re a hardcore developer.
  2. Don’t believe anything CodeWeavers say about CrossOver Office. It just doesn’t work. Period.
  3. Windows, for all its faults, is actually not that bad. I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true. 😉

The Plumtree founding fathers — where are they now?

The short answer: one is retired, two are involved in real estate (one as a business and one as a hobby) and one is seeking his next adventure while investing in promising Web 2.0 start-ups.

Joe McVeigh

I heard through the grapevine that Joe has invested part of his personal fortune in Skobee (web site, blog), a Web 2.0 online community where you can organize events, sort of like evite meets MySpace, I guess. Honestly, I still haven’t quite figured out a use for it, but to its credit, it has a nice UI, well-written copy and a very cool intelligent e-mail integration that gromms out keywords from e-mails and uses them to create events.

Joe and his wife Julia recently had a baby girl (Jacqueline). Joe and his family still reside in the San Francisco Bay Area and Joe claims to be seeking out the next big thing. If anyone can find it, he certainly can.

Glenn Kelman

Glenn moved to the Seattle, WA area and recently got married. He’s now the CEO of Redfin, a real estate company that focuses on San Francisco and Seattle. They’ve been getting some pretty good press lately — I’ll be keeping my eye on them for sure. According to his bio on the Redfin site, Glenn also serves on the board of Naviance, a hosted service for schools and colleges.

Kirill Sheynkman

Far and away the most enigmatic of the three founders, Kirill is officially in retirement, although I suspect he’s also looking for something to keep him busy (as people with his IQ probably don’t much enjoy watching the grass grow). He currently lives in NYC and as a hobby, seems to have put together a real estate calculator of sorts called House Math. He also smokes a pack a day, blogs (although somewhat infrequently) and rants about various topics from Bali and Saddam to the financial outlook for MSFT and GOOG.

Integrate your iPod with your car — the right way

I normally restrict myself to writing about ALUI (Plumtree) topics, but I just can’t resist sharing my thoughts on a recent purchase I made that has changed my life (no kidding).

Up until Monday of this week, I’ve been a happy iPod user (3G, 20 Gb) who enjoys using his iPod in the car but who has never been completely happy with the available options for iPod automobile integration. I started with Griffin’s iTrip, a little cylindrical module that plugs into the top of an iPod and broadcasts the amplified sound to an FM frequency of your choosing. There are several problems with this approach:

  1. The sound is amplified — it would be better to start with a flat signal.
  2. You have to change frequencies when you travel because of interference from other stations.
  3. It’s incredibly difficult to change broadcast frequencies and there’s no way to tell which frequency you’re on.
  4. You have to operate the iPod while driving, which can be dangerous.
  5. You need to purchase separate accessories (such as a cigarette lighter charger) in order to keep the iPod juiced.
  6. You have to deal with messy cables and other electronica in your car that you need to remove and hide in the trunk when you park and leave the car.

Recently I purchased a better integration kit (also from Griffin) called the Road Trip. This unit addresses several of the problems, but not all of them.

  1. The sound is flat — it connects to the dock rather than the audio out.
  2. You still have to change frequencies when you travel.
  3. It’s super easy to change frequencies (and there are even presets) and there’s an LCD that tells you what frequency you’re on.
  4. You still have to operate the iPod in the car, but at least there’s a nice support structure that holds the iPod in a comfortable position for the driver.
  5. It automatically charges the iPod with the included cigarette lighter adapter.
  6. You still have to have the iPod in the car, although it’s more contained because the charger, FM modulator and holder are all part of the same unit.

So as you can see, I was getting closer to the ultimate iPod/car integration solution, but I still hadn’t arrived at it fully.

Until Monday.

After some extensive searching and several calls to the local BMW dealership, I found a product called the USA Spec iPod Adapter that solves all of my iPod/car integration woes, was easy to install, and well priced at around $130 (including tax and shipping) from Bavarian Autosport.

It works with most BMWs (as long as there is no navigation system installed) and it installs in literally 15 minutes.

To install it, I simply removed my car’s factory-installed, trunk-mounted 6-disc CD changer (which I’ve never used) and pulled out the two cables that power the unit and connect it to my Harmon Kardon audio system. I then attached these two cables to a cable (included with the adaptor) which plugs into the adapter. From there, there’s another cable that connects the adapter to the iPod. The whole unit (adaptor + cables + iPod) is safely concealed in the trunk.

I can now operate the iPod from my audio console, which sees the iPod as a CD changer. Playlists BMW1 through BMW4 are mapped to CDs 1-4, CD 5 plays all tracks on the iPod and CD 6 activates the auxillary RCA input jack into which I could plug satellite radio or any other component. The USA Spec adapter also charges the iPod, but is smart enough to shut off one hour after the car gets turned off to prevent drain on the battery.

So I’ve finally found it — the ultimate iPod/car integration kit. No more FM modulation, great sound, easy installation, easy and safe operation and the iPod is where it belongs: in the trunk!