New laptop - Lenovo U310 (i7 version)

After fighting many battles with the help of my faithful Toshiba R630 over the past years, I've now placed it to rest and got a new machine.

Before getting into details of the new machine, I have to say that Toshiba has really lived up to my expectations. It has been exactly three years using the laptop nearly on daily basis for most of my day-time work:
  • Battery holds a full charge and I can work some four hours without an electricity plug
  • Original Windows installation that came with the computer is still working great. Updates and normal usage over these years haven't made me need to remove it away
  • DVD drive got broken, no longer works
  • From the outside, still looks as a modern machine

So, why have I got a new machine then?

As part of my work I need to run some very specific tools. One of them has a database of over 450Gb and requires (at minimum) some 8Gb of RAM to be able of functioning. It is a software intended for server machines. However, I wanted to have something portable and independent of network connectivity. Initially I just bought an 8Gb memory card and a new SSD upgrade for my old laptop but unfortunately this was still not enough to make the software perform as necessary, so a new machine seemed like a reasonable approach.

I wanted to keep costs at minimum, I wanted an i7 CPU processor, some 8Gb of RAM and I wanted the new machine needed to look "nice". Please don't burn me for wanting laptops to look nice, just remember that I will work with the same machine on daily basis for several years in a row. When possible to decide which machine to use then I will give some selection points to aesthetics.. :-)

After consideration of the machines available right now, I've found the option from Lenovo as the most interesting one for my case.

The specs were nice:
  • i7 CPU
  • 8Gb RAM
  • 500GB HDD
  • 26Gb SSD
  • Touch screen
  • Windows 8
  • Compact machine (not a bulky laptop)
  • Stylish look (dark-blue metal)
  • Under 900 Euros

I couldn't find many reviews online about this specific model. It seems that all the reviews that I could find discussed only the i5 CPU with 4Gb of RAM from an older model. So, it was kind of a "leap of faith" to trust fully on the specifications from the manufacturer. In either case, not much risk was involved since I am allowed to return the equipment in case it doesn't perform to what was needed.

So, I've got this machine and my first reaction when unpacking was "wow, it is small". Over these years I should already got used to how fast technology packs such a hefty power into smaller and smaller devices but quite honestly this is something that I enjoy getting surprised about.

The initial boot went ok, Windows worked. This is my first machine with Windows 8 and I've got to say that I find the lack of a start menu disturbing. I've read that with Windows 8.1 there is some kind of alternative being added, let's see. My goal wasn't having a Windows 8 machine, what I required was a Linux operating system to be up and running as fast as possible to test the software.

My weapon of choice was Linux Mint. Optical drive is not available on this laptop but typically you can install Ubuntu/Mint straight from Windows. I did a mistake here. On my desk table was already available an ISOstick with Mint available as ISO and I decided to install it from there to save some time. The big problem is that later during the reboot it launched the CD installer and from there I decided (on my own will) to ignore the Windows installer, causing later to have two entries on the boot menu. Lesson learned, next time I will just use the ISOstick with Mint to permit running Linux in full speed.

On newer laptops, I should note that it might help to try disabling the "Fast boot" and "secure boot" services from the BIOS setup in case you're not getting the boot up to happen.

With an SSD equipped on this laptop, I decided to use this disk as default location for the Mint install. Also my first time running a Linux install under SSD. Under an hour I had my basic Linux setup running amazingly fast from SSD on a machine with an i7 core and 8Gb RAM. All basic drivers worked out of the box (WIFI, sound, screen and even shortcut keys). Didn't tested the web camera or other details, might also be working. My only complaint is that the mouse pad is very sensitive and quite often the mouse tracker moves (and changes the text cursor position) while writing text because of your wrists touching it. The Windows driver is ignoring this kind of design quirk but the Ubuntu driver was not handling this quirk by default (will later try to find how to get this point addressed).

From there, got the older versions of MySQL 5.1 and the Oracle JDK 1.6 working. Copied over the database and then the software functioned as intended. I was happy, problem solved.

I like this machine. It is more silent than my older Toshiba laptop and still strong enough to act like an enterprise machine when needed. I didn't had much contact with Lenovo before, only knew them after the acquisition of the ThinkPad product line from IBM and was quite impressed to see such a nice ensemble available on this equipment. Let's see if it will last long on my hands. :-)

Testing Windows 8

After a while, I went back to the Windows 8 install to see what I was missing with the new OS. There are some things I like about the metro design. It is great to use touch for displaying pictures and talking about them with others. I found the Windows market place quite poor in comparison to Android's. The worst thing for me was not knowing how to "search" for apps. Had to look around the web to discover that I needed to press "Windows-key + Q" to call the search box or use swipe the finger to bring about the right-side menu with the search bar. Lesson learned, I just wish there was some kind of visual hint or button for this action.

The lack of a start menu was indeed a bother. Took me quite a while to rebuild some of my often used shortcuts for Windows utils. What I hated most is the fact that I can't quickly type from the start menu to find a program like before. I've ended finding "Start 8" from IOBit as alternative, this software impressed me because it addresses exactly what I wanted. The problem: it seems to be powered by infamous "push ads" and has already asked me to install some "system cleaners" that I would gladly live without. I'm still keeping it installed, hope it doesn't get worse or another option needs to be found.

At the end of the day the biggest surprise was something unexpected. I was in bed with my better half, she wanted to see something nice on the PC before falling asleep. Out of her own initiative she clicked on the "bing travels" icon to see some holiday pictures. Inside this metro app came the option of looking at some 360 degree pictures from famous locations. I was impressed. The touch screen was so responsive and you could use the fingers just like in "Minority report" to explore the given detail of a location. What an unexpected surprise, the future is arriving at quick pace indeed. In the end, we both enjoyed doing some tourism without leaving the house. Definitively a plus point there for the nice surprise.

The aftermath?

New machine, plenty of work. Let's move. :-)

Ubuntu and Richard Stallman

Typically, I enjoy participating around the web in forum sites, mailing lists and just any other normal social activities.

It is a good experience for the most part, can say that I've learned so much from plain interaction with other folks around the web. However, the current situation with Ubuntu turned into a distribution that automatically logs your activity and sells this information to other parties is something that deeply upsets me, mostly because I really hoped that the Ubuntu project would not turn evil.

This just gets worse with Unity. A user interface that goes against any comfort for the end user and that on the most recent editions of Ubuntu reveals the reasons why it was so oddly designed: mixing advertisements with the tools that people are looking for.

Very sad, very disappointing. The border line of this situation was looking on the announcement of an article at ZDnet entitled "Ubuntu 13.10 Review: A great Linux desktop gets better".

Using the term "review" and "better" as head line for the article is a shame for ZDnet, should be better called "marketing" with the author minimizing the critics to the Unity interface or selling of data to Amazon while going as far as praising the install procedure to bring users into the Ubuntu One cloud storage with "5GBs of no-cost storage. The commercial version, at $39.95, gives you 20GBs" .

Seriously. On a time when governments around the world are exposed for obvious enticing of people to place more of their data in the "clouds" where everyone can bypass the basic privacy rights of end-users, this kind of thing really brings me to disappointment.

Even worse to see normal people making the work easier for these marketeers and to support them completely. I was frustrated. Like a religious person in Brazil (Padre António Vieira) once said back in the 16th century when criticizing the slavery practice: "If nobody cares about what I preach, I will preach to the fish but will not stay silent". Reminded me of what Richard Stallman once wrote about Ubuntu some time ago and how it still made sense today. I understood better the motivation of Stallman and Vieira to write such words, it is disappointment.

So, feeling overwhelmed with people replying on the forum topic where Unity is great, where the loss of privacy is not true despite recent leaks. I felt quite alone on this question and wrote a message to Richard Stallman. To my surprise, he replied with calming words of advice.
When people say, "Nobody cares", you can respond, "Quit exaggerating.
Lots of people do care.  Neither of us can speak for others.  The
question is, do YOU care?"
It was a pacifying answer. At that point I just wanted to go back into the discussion, talk loud, do noise and bring to surface that these kind of things are simply not right. His answer is much less conflicting, indeed there is a lot to learned from RMS.

So. Lesson learned. I stopped arguing with those folks on the forum topic after feeling that there was nothing more of productive to be added from my participation. I will nevertheless preach to the fishes with the hope that some day in the future we can have Ubuntu as a "good-guy" again.

Com! magazine article, progress on wb

It has been exactly a month since the new winbuilder generation was released and I already see a screenshot of the software on the most recent edition of the Com! magazine.

Kudos for the editorial team that works so fast! :-)

The next step already in progress is to add support for visually impaired users, following the feedback from users it was possible for me and Peter to make sure that the next editions of winbuilder can be used by users who cannot see.

The choice of using Java has really helped out to make this possible with minimal effort on our side, there was already available a bridge for Windows workstations that allows to tie up directly with the accessibility features. To test, I have installed NVDA on my own computer and simply closed my eyes to get into the skin of those who cannot rely on vision to use a computer. It is not easy, users that struggle with this problem every day have my utmost respect and admiration.

The NVDA software reads out loud what is happening on the screen to the end-user. Since wb is distributing its own version of Java, it was possible for us to slipstream the files required to make the bridge connection work. This way we make winbuilder easier to be interpreted by NVDA.

Things have been so busy recently that I haven't had as much time as desired to do all the things that are needed. Over the past month I've changed the default theme of official website to a MSDOS theme: and then updated some of the content. There is still the need for a big overhaul and to write proper documentation. It is kind of convenient to publish no documentation for the moment since it helped to refrain the motivation of developers to write plugins for a not-yet stable platform, allowing us to make the needed changes/corrections with minimal impact to both developers and end-users.

Packed inside winbuilder is also the phenomenal support for creating VHD archives out-of-the-box, but I've got really no time to go ahead and write projects that demonstrate this feature to create VHD based boot disks. Anyone available to volunteer for the task?

On a side note, UBCD4win has no longer a forum. This was kind of sad to see. Anyone knows what happened?

Lots of work, let's move my friends! :-)