EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Keeping the Desktop Dream Alive: Q&A With Linux Foundation’s Jim Zemlin, Part 2

Keeping the Desktop Dream Alive: Q&A With Linux Foundation’s Jim Zemlin, Part 1

Where is Linux going? For Part 2 of this interview, LinuxInsider continued speaking with Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin to discuss Linux in a wider variety of technologies, new programs intended to make it easier for businesses to switch to open source computing, and open source’s ability to compete in the consumer mobile space.

LinuxInsider: During your speech at the Open Source Business Conference, you said that one of the reasons Linux is growing is that it saves money. But from your examples — companies that make and sell products such as Samsung, LG and Sony, and your mentioning the ability to monetize product in ever-decreasing time spans — you’re talking about manufacturers and high-tech businesses. What about non-high-tech businesses, like medical devices, for instance? Apple is pushing hard there with the iPad.

Jim Zemlin:

In general, Linux has the No. 1 market share in the embedded systems world, whether it’s MRI scanners or any other type of high-end medical device.

In terms of medical solutions that require tablet computing, the IT infrastructure in hospitals in most cases can’t be described as cutting-edge, and we’ll have to first see that type of technology really mature.

What I will say about the medical industry is, if you look at what has created large productivity gains in many segments of the economy, it’s things like knowledge sharing, the ability to access your data from anywhere and at any time. In that case, Linux has done pretty darn well because it powers the severs and allows software companies to own their own intellectual property.

Let’s take a non-high-tech marketplace like power production — let’s use power companies. They’re basically setting up smart grid technology to meter people’s [electricity] consumption on a 15-minute incremental basis so they can manage power patterns and make sure the grid is allocating energy effectively.

If you’re polling 12 million customers’ power usage every 15 minutes, you’re polling millions of transactions that have to be centralized, stored and analyzed, then have the data pushed out. You have power meters, servers that store and analyze the data, high-performance computers to crunch the data. In all those categories, Linux is either the No. 1 operating system or the fastest-growing operating system.

We’ve seen Linux do something unheard of in other operating systems in that it moves from one segment to another, and as it does, it dominates those segments. In high-performance computing, Linux went from zero percent market share to over 90 percent in less than 10 years.

LIN: Let’s look at what the problems are in the Linux space. One, the need for a universal application and media warehouse that companies can tap when they want to bundle their applications with media, video, carriers and billing. A white-label iTunes App Store, if you like. What would this require? Some kind of template that companies can purchase and adapt to their requirements with a few lines of code, similar to the way Internet entrepreneurs customize generic shopping carts for their websites?

Zemlin:

There’s a number of things. One is that different firms — carriers or manufacturers or PC makers — want to participate in the app store economy in some way. When you have a closed platform like Microsoft or Apple or any of the proprietary platforms where the app store is controlled by a single entity, the on-ramp and off-ramp for that store will be monetized by that single entity.

Right now, Apple is in a massive way that entity, so what firms are looking it is, how can I have my own app store? And they find that the components that make up an app store — testing apps for compatibility with the device the app will run on, or integrating with a carrier billing system, or setting up the credit card process — are complicated things to do.

A third-party provider could set that up as a service and allow a turnkey approach to creating white-label app stores for all kinds of different devices.

There’s an example of this from Intel — it’s called “AppUp,” and that’s a decent example of where you have somewhat of a turnkey app store solution where developers can upload their apps to the AppUp infrastructure that can push out the apps to the white label stores it supports.

That may be better characterized as the app warehouse approach. There’s a lot of opportunity there, and I think it’s something people should be exploring.

LIN: A second problem is license compliance. The problem isn’t a legal one, it’s a process issue, you said at OSBC. The Linux Foundation is providing a host of tools and processes to help people comply with licensing requirements. What tools and processes? Are you talking about the Linux Foundation and FossBazaar‘s Software Package Data Exchange?

Zemlin:

Yeah. When you have open source components within a product — let me back up — today if you have a dedicated supply chain, you use a product data management product or some sort of supply chain management product to have data about your bill of materials across your supply chain. You get different components from different suppliers, they’re getting integrated into a factory somewhere, and so on and so forth.

Currently there are no tools or standards for passing a bill of materials about software data packages. Software products now are made up of thousands of different components from various projects, and they all come together in an innovative solution.

The ability to track that I wouldn’t characterize as a problem, but a learning curve that the industry is going through right now. So the best way to think about it is, there’s overwhelming advantage for cost and time to market in using open source, but that comes with the small price that the licensing process is complex across the software supply chain, and the Linux Foundation and FOSS are working to deal with that.

LIN: How about the Open Compliance Program? What’s the lowdown on that? SPDX is one of the six elements of the OPC; how far along is the OPC towards completion? After all, if SPDX won’t be released until August, it’s not likely that OPC is anywhere near completion.

Zemlin:

We run the OPC — the standard, SPDX, training that shows people how to comply with OS licenses, tools which allow people to manage their software bill of materials, a set of best practices we have on our websites, and knowledge sharing, which is the FossBazaar facility, and a sixth component …

LIN: Who will enforce OPC? Or is it essentially self-policing because companies don’t want to be caught in breach of license?

Zemlin:

The enforcement is making sure that people comply with their licenses; this is simply a set of processes, training and tools to deal with the tremendous shift from the old way of proprietary licensing to a new way of using software which is predominantly based on open source.

LIN: At the OSBC you said the Linux Foundation’s perspective, and you believe it’s also Microsoft’s perspective, is we would like to see changes. Where and how does Microsoft come into this picture vis-a-vis the Linux Foundation, given that it’s never looked very kindly upon Linux? Or are you referring to the patents Microsoft claims it holds on different processes in Linux?

Zemlin:

I think we were speaking around patent reform. I think everyone in the tech industry related specifically to software would like to see a higher bar in terms of quality for patents issued around software because the lack of quality leads to a lot of needless litigation.

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REVIEW

Linux Mint 21 Release Brings Reviewer a Welcome Reunion

Linux Review

Is your favorite Linux desktop Cinnamon, MATE, or Xfce? Or you are hankering for a change to something different and potentially better?

Then one of your best options is the upgrade to Linux Mint 21 “Vanessa” released on July 30. It comes in a choice of Ubuntu- or Debian-base flavors.

Making that recommendation is a significant step for me. Once my daily Linux driver, I had a major falling out several years ago with this distribution, when an upgrade delivered some nagging issues that led to unpleasant responses — and no solutions — from the Linux Mint tech support community.

I then jumped to a near-clone of Linux Mint, Feren OS, and was a happy user until that distro’s developers made a radical design change and moved away from the traditional Cinnamon desktop.

So I jumped distros again. I had reviewed a then-new Cinnamon remix distro released by an independent Linux developer. My go-to Linux distro became Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix, later renamed CinnaBuntu. I’ve been very happy with its performance and usability options ever since.

The ability to pick and choose operating systems and configuration options is one of the shiny pearls you can polish your way with Linux. Being able to quickly install replacement OSes with a similar look and feel is not possible with Windows or macOS.

My Linux reviewing wanderlust got the best of me with the release of Linux Mint 21, however. I was curious about what I might be missing.

I discovered quite a few features that my current Cinnamon edition does not offer. Those new features are in the MATE and Xfce editions as well. The LM 21 editions include the most recent versions of the three supported desktop environments: Cinnamon 5.4, Xfce 4.16, and MATE 1.26.

Read on to see what is pulling me back to Linux Mint. Since Cinnamon is my favorite desktop, I focused on that edition for this review.

Hello, Old Friend

The Vanessa release rekindled my appreciation for how tightly knit Linux Mint is as a computing platform. From the initial loading of the live session DVD to the flawless installation, I was up and running in under 30 minutes.

Welcome screens are becoming a standard setup routine for Linux installations. They all could take a lesson for how to do it right using Linux Mint as an example. Even for seasoned Linux users, Linux Mint’s approach is fast and convenient in doing all the first-run tasks.

The panel’s left column panel provides a great index for accessing general information, documentation, and first steps completion. This is especially useful for new users unfamiliar with Linux in general — and LM in particular.

The main window area walks you through each phase of updating system components and basic desktop configuration. Each segment briefly explains what’s covered. A green-themed Launch button sets each part of the process in motion.

The steps include desktop color selections, selecting traditional or modern panel layout, updating drivers and system components, setting up system settings, and the software manager. The process even includes activating the built-in firewall, which is an item many users overlook.

Linux Mint 21 Welcome Screen

The Linux Mint 21 Welcome screen guides you through all the setup steps after installation, and is also a handy reminder of what needs updating periodically.


Desktop Difference

The design and usability features are one of the reasons that I favor the Cinnamon desktop. It has one of the most detailed and organized configuration panels of any Linux distribution.

The System Settings panel puts all the configuration options in one place. But unlike other desktop layouts with far fewer options, Linux Mint organizes all the systems controls into four general categories. Altogether, 40 icons keep related subcategories hidden from view until you click on an icon to open it.

The only other desktop that has close to this amount of configuration options is KDE Plasma. But that design is a series of separate settings panels that scatter controls and user options in too many menu places.

While the configuration options available in the MATE and Xfce editions are less extensive, they still provide the ability to create the look and feel that suits your computing needs.

Linux Mint does a better job than other desktops with how it handles screen design and usability aspects. It has a wide range of quick access tools called desklets that live on the desktop screen. Its use of applets that reside on the bottom panel add flexibility.

LM also offers a collection of extensions that provide even more usability options (similar to what is available in the KDE Plasma desktop). That combination of features is a solid reason for trying this distro.

Linux Mint 21 The desktop configuration options

The desktop configuration options available in the MATE and Xfce editions are less extensive than these in Cinnamon. They still provide the ability to create the look and feel that suits your computing needs.


Under the Hood

Linux Mint 21 is based on Ubuntu 22.04 and provides a full WIMP display, as in windows, icons, menus, pointer. It is a long-term support (LTS) release supported until 2027.

Vanessa, which continues LM’s fancy for naming all releases with female names ending in the letter “a” is loaded with notable improvements in performance, compatibility, and stability. It ships with the Linux kernel 5.15 LTS.

Other changes include a new NTFS file system driver which makes interacting with Windows partitions easier, improvements in the default EXT4 file system, plus better hardware support, security patches, and bug fixes.

A key Bluetooth change to the LM Blueman circuitry replaces the Blueberry app, which depended on GNOME-desktop plumbing. Like Blueberry, Blueman is desktop-agnostic and integrates well in all environments. It relies on the standard BlueZ stack and works universally including from the command line.

The Blueman manager and tray icon contain features not previously available in Blueberry. It handles more information to monitor connections or troubleshoot Bluetooth issues and brings better connectivity to headsets and audio profiles.

Linux Mint 21 Cinnamon desktop

The Linux Mint 21 classic Cinnamon desktop design sports a favorites column, application category list, and changing sublist of installed titles.


Pain Point Solutions

Welcome Thumbnails to Vanessa. Its lack in earlier releases was a usability issue. To address it, a new XApp (Linux Mint exclusive application) project called xapp-thumbnailers was developed for Linux Mint 21.

Process Monitor is a pain point solution for me. It places a special icon in the system tray when automated tasks are running in background. Such tasks can slow down system performance until completed. This new monitor is a silent alert that explains the computer’s slowdown.

Timeshift was an independent project for backing up and restoring OSes. The creator abandoned the application. LM took over the maintenance of Timeshift prior to the release of LM 21. Timeshift is now an XApp.

One immediate benefit is a change in how the rsync mode works. It now calculates the required space for the next OS snapshot storage. It skips proceeding if performing that snapshot leads to less than 1 GB of free space on the disk.

Another pain point remedy is how LM 21 now handles package removal. It prevents removal from the main menu (right-click, uninstall) if an evaluation detects other programs would be impacted. That triggers an error message and stops the operation.

If no harm to the system’s key components is detected, uninstalling an application from the main menu also removes dependencies of that application that were automatically installed and are no longer needed.

Linux Mint 21 Scale and Expo window views

Scale and Expo window views are triggered in Cinnamon by hot corners and applets on the bottom panel.


Bottom Line

Computer hardware requirements for Linux Mint 21 have not changed. You need a fairly-modern computer because LM is not as lightweight on system resources as it used to be. That means a box with a 64-bit processor, at least 2 GB RAM, and 15 GB free space.

The Linux Mint website has a comprehensive installation guide should you need assistance installing Linux Mint 21. But that should be unlikely. The installation engine is well polished. Most of my computers run multiple partitions, which typically force manual interventions.

LM 21 installer did not stumble. It simply asked where to put the OS. The installer handled all the partitioning and adjustments in the background.


Suggest a Review

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Email your ideas to me and I’ll consider them for a future column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

1 Comment

  • A longtime Ubuntu Mate user I switched to Mint because of snaps. Not a fan. I didn’t like the Mint themes though, but I found they still offer Mate Themes so I was able to install my favorite, TraditionalOK.

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