antergos: simple, straightforward Linux desktop

Installed antergos Linux on my everyday working laptop yesterday after quite a while running ubuntuGNOME. After upgrading 14.10 to 15.04, some things on my installation became somewhat messy (in example system losing connectivity when switching between WiFi and LAN); I was pondering a clean re-installation after all but so far hesitated as these problems weren’t too annoying and I got other things to do most of my days.

However, few days ago I eventually stumbled across antergos, played a bit with it in a virtual machine and pretty much enjoyed what I saw. Talking about desktop computing, I’ve become pretty neutral throughout the last couple of years and aren’t really much emotionally involved anymore – I want a tool that just works out of the box, has a sane set of easily available configuration options and does provide a reasonable amount of “consistency” in look-and-feel with most of the applications I use in my day-to-day work. That’s why I still do not use “just some window manager on X11”. That’s why I still end up not just liking but also using Linux and GNOME as my main working vehicle: It offers everything I need in an unobtrusive way, works well using mouse and keyboard (touch input is not an option on my device so far), feels intuitive and well-crafted talking about its Human Interface Guidelines, seamlessly fits into my current workflow (which has changed a bit in the last years) and offers applications fitting into the look and feel for everything I need.

From an end user point of view I guess nothing’s generally wrong with Apple/MacOS or even recent Windows versions. They all possibly work, and each of them most likely will have a sweet spot – they’re just not my first choice (while on Linux, I still love KDE, but these days I tend to stay away from it in my everyday work for reasons outlined earlier, even though Skype fortunately ain’t an issue anymore). I do still have other issues with both platforms, but on a productivity (or comfort-of-use) level, it’s just a matter of individual taste I guess.

antergos-login

So just starting here, antergos is interesting because it provides a pretty good GNOME experience out of the box. The visual appearance based upon numix feels familiar if you look at some general common styles appearing in current web pages / applications or smartphone operating systems. It looks and feels good, however, and (another good point) runs recent GNOME 3.16; the last couple of years I learnt that GNOME 3.x has made substantial progress with each and every version so being with the latest release is desirable. Knowing that antergos is built on Arch Linux and thus a rolling release (opposing Ubuntu that comes with major releases twice a year) also is a good thing here, assuming that this might make newer versions available faster than following down the Ubuntu or even Debian release roadmap.

antergos-empty

So I decided to give it a chance in everyday work. That might sound a step bigger than it actually is – even though of course it’s about installing and to some point tweaking the installation, but in the end most of the environment I need for my everyday work either lives isolated in my $HOME folder after all or comes with default installations of virtually every Linux distribution to date (talking browser, mail client, some imaging tools and few other system utilities), so I got productive on this new installation in less than one hour (this works on Ubuntu too, by the way).

Impressions after the first day of working with it:

  • A bunch of things obviously are different especially when it comes to low-level stuff. Tried to debug a failed VPN configuration and stumbled across the fact that antergos obviously ships systemd and journald and comes without the usual plain-text log files in /var/log, see the arch wiki page on that topic. Interesting. systemd in its history has quite a controversy of people harshly blaming and bashing each other in very disputable ways for various reasons (some being more, some way less valid); personally I don’t really care much. It seems at least journalctl provides a bunch of features I’ve so far either been missing or manually scripted in other installations, so it feels like something not completely pointless.
  • Package management, obviously, differs pretty much. I found out that antergos provides the pamac package management GUI out of the box which is usable. They say that compared to Ubuntu or Debian the package repository is smaller, but so far I found everything I needed in there. My working installation seems to consume more space which is not much of a problem (despite my quite limited SSD). Then again, so far I haven’t bothered much cleaning the base installation as I gradually got to figure out which packages are installed and why they are necessary (or whether they can be removed without too much ado).
  • Not too surprising, most packages I have installed seem way more up-to-date than in recent Ubuntu stable, starting with the Linux kernel (4.0.5 right now). Just noticed, however – not really important in most cases except for GNOME (see above).
  • Community seems pretty friendly as far as I can tell by now. And at the core of course it’s Arch Linux (even though I still got to learn how much is Arch and how much is antergos), so most of the documentation in example on the Arch Linux Wiki applies as well, which is quite a plenty.

So far, antergos seems to be a friendly, visually appealing desktop Linux distribution, easing some of the difficulties of plain Arch to those who either don’t know or don’t want to spend time on immediately having to deal with them – and just want a good-looking, polished Linux desktop to do work. This is somewhere near what the elementaryOS folks also seem to be trying. And even while I prefer antergos (a few thoughts on elementaryOS can be found here), I am generally pretty happy with the tendency of people wanting to not just do technically “advanced”, stable, robust Linux distributions but also Linux distributions that also look good without being slavish imitations of any of the other platforms. Even just this very point makes antergos very much worth supporting…

In the beginning there was the … command line?

Re-occuring read on my pile of (electronic) books, yet as far as I can tell I never so far wrote about it:

In the beginning there was the command line.

Neal Stephenson, most likely known at least to some as author of novels such as “Snow Crash” (which might be considered a later cyberpunk classic even though I am unsure whether he would like being placed in this category), “The Diamond Age” or “Cryptonomicon”, also provided a bunch of essays on different topics, and this is one of them.

Essentially, “In the beginning… ” is a write-up about technology. It’s a lengthy article about computer operating systems and some of their characteristics especially when it comes to how people interact with them – either in a command-line based fashion, as still the case on many Linux/Unix systems, or on a visual point-and-click/tap user interface (as, effectively, on most of the rest of the systems).

Feeling bored already?

No worries. Though, of course, having bit of a technical background (or let’s even just say “interest”) won’t hurt, this article’s also a worthy read if you’re not too much of a geek, as Stephenson is pretty good at looking at things from a “bigger picture” point of view. “Bigger picture” in this case, includes quite a bunch of different things. It includes aspects such as marketing and selling products and why people decide to buy certain things. It includes socio-cultural aspects of “communication” in terms of images vs. words, in terms of use and reception of various mass media or even some of the social implications arising from this kind of technological environment:

"[...]At first he had seemed like such an intelligent and interesting guy, she said, but then 'he started going all PC-versus-Mac on me.'[...]".

Needless to say: This is quite a worthy read, and, even assuming it has come to some age now (written in 1999), still an article I get back to then and now, start reading across it, spot some things I missed before or things that make more sense now than they made a few years ago. The full text can be downloaded here (very much suiting the topic being just an unformatted zipped text/plain file), so no reason to not give it a closer look. Stephenson has both an entertaining style of writing and a talent or enthusiasm to write well-founded books with a load of insights from a load of different fields and aspects of mostly culture and science, and this article is no exception here, leaving it with a lot of moments that are great to read and yet make one think:

"[...]There is massively promiscuous metaphor-mixing going on here, and I could deconstruct it 'til the cows come home, but I won't. Consider only one word: "document." When we document something in the real world, we make fixed, permanent, immutable records of it. But computer documents are volatile, ephemeral constellations of data. Sometimes (as when you've just opened or saved them) the document as portrayed in the window is identical to what is stored, under the same name, in a file on the disk, but other times (as when you have made changes without saving them) it is completely different. In any case, every time you hit "Save" you annihilate the previous version of the "document" and replace it with whatever happens to be in the window at the moment. So even the word "save" is being used in a sense that is grotesquely misleading---"destroy one version, save another" would be more accurate.[...]"

Food for thought, indeed. And in days in which we’re not even talking command-lines vs. GUI driven interfaces anymore but consider an omnipresent (ubiquitous) approach to “computing” with small, touch-driven, “always-online” devices available to and voluntarily used by an audience even larger, a lot of these aspects turn to be even more interesting and worth thinking about. Same, definitely, goes for some of the way less “techie” insights that also can be found all along these lines:

"[...]On the other hand, if you are raised within some specific culture, you end up with a basic set of tools that you can use to think about and understand the world. You might use those tools to reject the culture you were raised in, but at least you've got some tools.[...]"

Take yourself a few hours off to read this article. There definitely are wastes of time much worse…

KDE, Kubuntu, and a bit of rant.

So much for that. Again. A while ago and in quite a verbose way I announced my move to KDE 4.x, specifically in the Kubuntu 13.04 distribution which I adopted in early alpha, as most of the time. Finally. After fancying with this particular desktop environment for quite a while. Well guess I’ll better keep quiet about things like that by now, sitting in front of an XFCE machine again as I write this, not ending up with a desktop that is “lightweight” or “un-bloated” but, well, with a desktop that seems to just have a better balance between features and usability, at the moment. Not sure. Some more thoughts on that to follow, read on…

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SAP MaxDB with Python

By now it should be known we’re notorious users of SAP MaxDB in a “non-SAP environment”, and, for that matter, we have done rather well throughout the last seven years. By now, we gained quite some experience running, administering, working with that RDBMS in our environment, and we manage to get our production work done on top of it without thinking about it all too much which seems a good thing. However, there are several nuissances about that platform, both talking about political SAP product and licensing decisions and about overall technical issues, lack of support for most of the neat tools, toys and frameworks included.

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