X11 Remote Applications Responsiveness

As a developer, I use eclipse a lot… We have a powerful server that off which eclipse is run which allows us to keep the desktops at a much lower spec. In general, this works well for us.

However, recently, I have been niggled by the amount of time it takes to switch perspectives on eclipse. It takes a good 4 seconds to switch between perspectives.There is also a noticeable lag when performing some operations.

To resolve this, I spent a lot of time looking at the linux real-time and low-latency patches. I had expected that running X11 applications remotely would not cause a bottleneck over a gigabit link. Turns out that I was wrong.

To test this, I ran a vnc server on the application server and found that switching perspectives on there was super fast.

To be able to resolve this, the first thing to do was to remove any latency put on the X->X communication by ssh.

We use gdm, so I had to enable to TCP on there first. Do this using the following config line in /etc/gdm/gdm.com

DisallowTCP=false

Restart gdm

on the remote host, export DISPLAY

export DISPLAY=<yourhost>:0

and run your application.

I found the application to be a lot more responsive after this. I didn’t have to worry about X auth since we have nfs mounted home. If you don’t, check this mini howto

Foxy Web

Since Firefox 2.0, I have never felt a desire to use Internet Explorer. There have been times when I have used IE, either out of a need to test a website on the browser or purely as the first step to downloading Firefox.

According to W3C, as of November 2008, IE(6/7) dominate 46.6% of the market with Firefox at 44.2%. Compare this to November 2007 when IE (5/6/7) dominated 56% of the market and Firefox only had 36.3%

It is interesting to note that between Nov 2007 and Nov 2008, Linux adoption (as far as internet browsing is concerned) went up a meagre .5% from 3.3% to 3.8%.

This means that a very large proportion of the firefox users are from the Windows Platform. Why is this impressive? There is technically no reason for a user on Windows to download Firefox. Windows comes with Internet Explorer, which should be adequate for all the internet browsing needs.

If 44.2% of all windows users went to the effort to download, install and use firefox instead of Internet Explorer which comes pre-installed, let me ask the question – if Windows came pre-installed with Firefox instead of Internet Explorer – how many would go to the effort of downloading and installing Internet Explorer.

While it is possible to install Internet Explorer on Linux, it might be a little unfair to answer this question based on the number of Internet Explorer’s running off linux. People who run linux have proven to be biased against Microsoft anyway, so it would be a loaded statistic.

While I have no doubt in my mind that Firefox is better than Internet Explorer, I still don’t feel that Firefox is perfect. It still feels far too bulky, with disproportionate memory usage and it is still not as fast as Safari in terms of page display.

Sure, the addons and themes functionality is great and useful. However, it would be nice if it was faster to load, faster to use and just felt more lightweight… like Safari does….

Having said that, I am not going to switch to safari. I like the browser but it is still just not as good as firefox.

One of the points of open source software, should be to bring all the benefits of all the competing pieces of software into one but it just doesnt work like that. If Firefox had all the benefits of firefox as well as the benefits of Safari, I am sure the adoption rate would be far higher…

Lets take it one step at a time… I vote for firefox feeling a lot quicker and snappier for a wishlist… 🙂

Evil Linux

I received an interesting link in my email this morning. The story (which thinks that sauce and source are the same thing btw)  covers a school in the United States that has banned the use of Linux because “anything that wasn’t Windows was illegal and immoral.”

I could only ponder about the sheer stupidity of this teacher and wonder about the next generation of students brought up under this ignorance.

I grew up with Microsoft, with DOS 3 as my first Operating System and went through DOS 5, 6, Windows 3.1, 95, NT, 98, & ME.

I also played around with BeOS, and various versions of Mac.

I was then introduced to Linux turned into an open source zealot and wiped out my Windows installation in anger. Since then, while my primary operating system is Linux, I still have Windows running on my Laptop and have both Windows & Linux on my home computer.

I have since worked with Windows 2000, XP, 2003 & Vista. I love what Microsoft does with these products. They do innovative things, pick up features from other products that are useful and try to simplify things.

My Laptop came pre-installed with Windows and I never went to the effort of installing Linux and I use my home computer to play games, which (whether I like it or not) just handles games so much better.

As per the old joke, It is the software engineers job to make software as idiot proof as possible. It is the job of the universe to create bigger and bigger idiots. So far the universe is winning.

Linux & Open Source software (in general) takes a different approach to software. It should be easy to use and manage software but it also expects you to understand (or at least think about) what you are doing or trying to do.

Microsoft seems to be under the impression that this is not necessary. The user does not need to know what they are doing – they just need to know what is to happen. e.g.

Lets take a simple operation – deleting a file. Before Windows 95, this used to be a simple, difficult to undo operation. Windows 95 brings in the concept of the Recycle Bin (or Trash), a concept that was available on the Mac platform for quite some time.

After this point, you no longer delete a file on Windows – you move it to the Recycle Bin, which will delete them from the disk when the number of files in there exceeds the set capacity.

Now, from a users perspective, what they are doing is deleting a file – in fact, thats what the menu item says – Delete. But what happens is completely different. The file disappears from their folder. What they aimed to do – “make this file disappear” has happened. However, the file has not been deleted.

Windows has effectively lied to the user since it is “smarter”. If the user later discovers that they deleted the wrong file, it can be recovered easier. However, that is not the point.

Microsoft software, are in general rife with such miscommunications. I find this fairly insulting and this was one of the main reasons that I started using Linux.  If you ask it to delete a file – it deletes it. If you want to move something to recycle bin, it can do that too.

To go back to the original point, the ignorance shown by the teacher in this school is exactly the kind that Microsoft panders to. Microsoft allows (nay encourages)  its users to be as “simple” as possible and let Microsoft worry about the rest.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Microsoft do a fantastic job in making software accessible and easy to use but it should also help educate it users on what they are doing and help them think about what they are trying to do. Don’t pretend or try to do their thinking for them. Thats their job.

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish ; and you have fed him for a lifetime”