lunes, 24 de septiembre de 2012

(Corrected) Unbelievable: launchpad removes bug report #1054776 suggesting to fix AdWare feature.

Update: Seems this thread was a too quick reaction to the bug thread disappearing. The thread is back and further verification indicates that a user without affiliation to Canonical or any project hid the bug thread until someone with higher rank restored it.

Bug #1054776, the one suggesting simply not to do remote searches on the home lens has been removed. It reached a high heat value (and thus there was a lot of interest) and plenty of support. But is now gone.



This is probably not the most open move. But it gives us a clear message. The shopping lens and its invasion of the home lens will stay in 12.10.

Thankfully, we can trust in google cache to at least preserve some of the discussion. Some highlights of what was removed:

The bug is a proposal for a specific technical change (to have shopping-lens not included in the home lens in 12.10). I suppose it's an opinion whether that change is an improvement over the current plan, but there are certainly many facts that support the proposal:

1) It's a contentious feature, evidenced by this bug.
2) It's proposed for a default-on state in a widely used component (home lens).
3) It has privacy implications when compared to the previous state of home lens in 12.04. Home lens in 12.04 doesn't send queries to remote servers, shopping-lens does.
4) Those privacy implications aren't addressed by the privacy policy: Bug #1054741
5) And the privacy implications aren't disclosed upon use of home lens: Bug #1054782
6) Also the feature itself results in a lousy user experience due to poor results (Bug #1053678) and inappropriate adult results that aren't tied to any age assertation (Bug #1054282)
7) Despite all of the above, the feature was introduced ***post-freeze*** with little community review: Bug 1053470
8) It appears that it was fast-tracked through freeze exception in spite of all the above issues because of executive support at Canonical:, which creates the appearance that community input isn't valued and that the privacy objections aren't respected.

There are just too many concerns in relation to this bug. I still think the sanest approach would be to at least postpone it to 13.04.

In addition to the privacy concerns stated above, I'd just like to add that this causes a *huge* hit to usability. There is already a lot of information presented in the dash home, and adding a stream of information that is probably totally irrelevant to a given search goes against the whole point of having the dash - namely to find stuff more easily.

Example: I keep a journal on my computer. It is a file named journal.odt. If I type in journal, I just want to see that journal (and maybe some relevant programs, like Gnome Activity Journal). I don't want to see icons for: "Hand - Deadroom Journal [2008] $7.77"; "Taylor Dupree - Journal [2011] $2.79"; "Bridge 61 - Journal [2006] $8.99"; "Jully - Journal Intime [2008] $9.99"; "Arabica - Journal [2010] $9.99"; "Dday One - Journal [2011] $2.79... and that's just one line.

That this turns every desktop search in to an advertisement threatens to make Ubuntu seem like adware itself, as vexorian mentions above, but even if one finds these options useful, the amount of clutter added to the dash home is a problem.

Making this a separate lens would solve both these issues to an extent, since if the user went specifically to the shopping lens there would at least be the assumption that the user wants to actually buy something. Integrating it with the home lens makes no sense since the vast, vast majority of times a user types something into the dash they don't want to buy something new, but rather want find something that is already on their computer.

This, coupled with the privacy concerns mentioned above (which are really, really serious), ultimately means that even a separate lens should be an *opt-in* feature - especially considering the vast majority of users will have no clue how to disable it.

Update: False alarm. It was hid by a contributor and then brought back by another contributor.

5 defenses of Ubuntu 12.10 Shopping Lens (That miss the point)

A 12.10 feature was fast-tracked and after the feature freeze of Ubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal. The shopping lens (via OMGbuntu). Which effectively adds what can be perceived as ads by most users to searches in the home lens. There were many reactions, including bug report #1054776 which got full heat and a lot of "affected users" in a couple of users.

It called Mark Shuttleworth to make a blog post in defense of it I think this post made more harm than good. In fact, I was on the site that looked at it as a minor annoyance (but with potential to ruin PR) until Shuttleworth's post made it clear that this was, in fact , driven by money-making purposes.

I really think that in its current state the feature has no place in 12.10. It needs to be at least tweaked (removing the shopping adverts from Home searches is a decent fix). Let us explore some of the attempts to defend this feature.

#5. You can just remove it

Sure, we can remove it. This defense misses a big point though. Ubuntu is all about reasonable defaults. While other distributions put more emphasis on you building your environment, ubuntu puts emphasis in giving something well-tweaked and well-thought for the user.

If the main role of this feature is going to be to tip and trick posts explaining how to remove it. Is it a good thing?

It also misses that the method to remove it is not transparent at all. You need to now a bit about ubuntu packages. There is no easy GUI option to just disable the ads.

And it can work both ways. It is as easy to install the feature on a desktop that does not have it as it is to uninstall from one that does not have it. Then why not remove it from the default and make users that want to do Amazon shopping opt-in by installing it?

There is also another issue . What if, as a user, I might give the shopping lens a try every once in a while. If I am forced to remove the lens so that unwanted adverts stop appearing on the home tab, I will not be able to give the shopping lens a try when I want to. Forcing the shopping suggestions on the home tab might as well be discouraging the installation of these lenses and decrease Canonical's profits from it.

#4. They are not ads because...

As seen with Shuttleworth's comment a common approach is to say that they are not ads. That this feature does not mean ubuntu is turning into adware.

Let us assume we are all being honest and that Canonical does not intend them to be ads. But for all practical matters, they can at least be perceived as ads by a good chunk of the community.

In my case, I am not able to accumulate enough willing suspension of disbelief about the claim that they are not ads. If I go to the Unity's main menu and do a search for Shotwell, starting with "Sho", and I am shown "suggestions" to buy Shoes from Amazon. It sounds like adverts.

There is also the little bit about Mark admitting that Canonical will receive money for the hits and that it is indeed the reason they are starting with Amazon. These things are intrusive like ads. Suggest a commercial service like ads and provide money to the entity delivering these searches (just like ads).

But we can spend ages talking about what is an ad and what it is not. What is clear is that there is at least a portion of the user-base who sees them as ads. And the perception of the users is important. If Canonical does not intend them to be perceived ads, then something has to be changed.

#3. People are just complaining about change like always!

Is it so? Is this change just the same as (And I quote a ubuntuforums moderator) "moving the clock applet a bit"? I think that as opposed to layout changes this change brings plenty of issues. It raises privacy and ethical and legal questions. And it threatens to make the public's perception of ubuntu as AdWare.

#2. Do not want the home lens to show results for this? Just move to another scope!

It is true. We could manually click the video tab when looking for our videos or the app tab when looking for applications. But isn't it an extra annoyance?

The current use case of the home lens is to save you time as you search for something that will obviously not have scope issues. I need Libre Office, just type Libre Office and most likely the first results will be app links to Libre Office. I type "Thank you" and the first result will be the Thank you hater video.

Why can't it be the other way around. I suspect that most of the times, when I look for things in my {Home} tab I am going to be looking for local content. The number of times I will need to manually move to a specific tab would be much lower if the shopping results were kept separate.

And an inconsistency. Many of the lenses included in 12.04 are capable of doing remote searches. But none of them appear in the Home lens. If the intention is truly to make the Home lens do everything and anything, why is it that it is only the Amazon shop offers that appear in those searches and not youtube search suggestions (Which appear in the video tab)?

#1. It will be so much better in 14.04 LTS

In addition to all the concerns, there are also concerns about how the shopping lens is not even doing its job correctly. Bug reports about it providing adult content results (and parental controls are inexistent). Or it suggesting you to buy applications that do not run in Ubuntu. Are these are all just [kinks that will be unkinked] in the future?

If the future will be so bright. Can't we just wait for the future? It is true that Ubuntu is usually an early adopter. But there is a difference between rushing to adopt an early version that is not completely polished and rushing to adopt a version that is completely dysfunctional. I think that given the circumstances, it is better to postpone this feature till 13.04 when it will hopefully be more polished and basic GUI options to disable it will be present (and the community can make up their mind about whether it should show up in home or not).

domingo, 23 de septiembre de 2012

Why and how I use a single terminal sesion to play full screen games in Ubuntu 12.04

An artist rendition of playing video games in Unity. via Wikipedia commons

I am still a gamer at heart. You know. Video games taught me how to be a better perform through cartoony violence. They made me want to become a programmer so I could make my own video games (It is not working greatly).

Using ubuntu, I have to resort to using WINE (not an emulator) to play some of my favorite games. Thus performance is not estelar to begin with, specially in latest games such as Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3.

To make matters worse, ubuntu's default desktop environment, while very useful and good for my taste, is terrible for performance. For starters, it uses desktop compositing, and at least in 12.04 LTS, it lacks a feature to disable compositing while playing full screen video games. Worse, even compared with other Desktop environments that use compositing, it is really slow.

So, what to do? Change to another desktop environment? I actually like Unity, you know.

No one said you should use only one desktop environment

Actually, since heavy duty video games tend to run in full screen mode. And since most (if not all) of Unity's features are not accessible when a full screen game is running. What we can do is install a light desktop environment and just switch to it temporarily when playing video games!. After playing the game, you can close your session and once again return to unity for work and web browsing! This is a good compromise.

No one said you should always use a desktop environment

Though honestly, when a full screen game is running, you care a lot about those FPS, and even the lightest desktop environments still use some resources. How about an even more extreme measure? How about running a single terminal window? Without any other application (background or not) running? This will really ensure most of your resources go to the game.

The how to

Those selectable X desktop sessions work in a transparent way by using configuration files with extension .desktop in the system directory /usr/share/xsessions/. We can create one of our own that just runs the terminal program. Open a terminal and type the following command (Starts text editor gEdit with administrator rights) and creates a terminal.desktop file at the location we want).

sudo gedit /usr/share/xsessions/terminal.desktop

Type this:

[Desktop Entry]
Comment=This session logs you into Terminal

For further optimizations, you could try to create your own Icon (and complete the Icon= filed). You can also use a different terminal command, I use gnome-terminal because it is good enough and it comes preinstalled in ubuntu.

Save the file. Close your user sesion. In the login screen, find the option to change the desktop sesion. An option called Terminal should appear.


Your terminal sesion will probably look a little messed up. The window will be misplaced and there will not be a title bar. It does not matter, we are not doing this for the looks, just to be able to type commands.

You can customize the terminal a little. Create a new terminal profile that will be used for this desktop sesion. If you called the profile "DesktopTerminal" you can make the terminal sesion start with it by modifying the .desktop file and putting this in the Exec= field:
Exec=gnome-terminal  --window-with-profile=DesktopConsole

In order to exit from the terminal sesion. Just type the exit command and press enter.

You would need to know how to run your favorite games through a terminal. I use .sh scripts. Like this script that is conveniently saved in my ~/scripts/

#Change the CPU frequency model to "performance", it keeps the CPU in fast mode
cpufreq-selector -g "performance"
#This fixes some sound issues in WINE games:
rm -r ~/.pulse ~/.asound* ~/.pulse-cookie
# enter folder and run starcraft II without output
cd "/home/vx/gamestuff/StarCraft II"
WINEDEBUG=-all wine "StarCraft II.exe" > /dev/null

Even more

This is more advanced, but since games might be buggy in WINE, you might need some control of things whilst trying to play. You can press Alt+Control+F1 and a different kind of terminal sesion will appear. These terminal sesions, cannot run graphical applications but it can do everything command line. (To return to your screen press Alt+Control+F7 (or perhaps F8, F9 or F10 depending on the screen).

From the special terminal sesion, you can execute commands while your WINE game is possibly frozen. A useful command is: "pkill wine". Which will kill all instances of WINE and allow you to exit the game if it is locked.


Hello all. I am vexorian a.k.a. Victor Hugo Soliz Kuncar. A perpetual computer science student from Bolivia. I have been feeling like making a blog about free software. Free as in beer and -most importantly- as in freedom. Lately I switched to Ubuntu 12.04 and so far I liked it. But such a switch (I did not upgrade since 10.10) was a little tough to do and full of change. I think the FOSS world has been getting interesting and I have a lot of things to say. A blog was inevitable.

About me, well I have been using free software since the 2000s and switched from windows XP to Ubuntu around 2005. Since then it has been quite an adventure. Me, a former hard core gamer had to be used to Linux's things. Some of my experiences were good, some not that much. I enjoyed the gnome 2 days. Battled the mono pushers. Came to really understand what free software is about. And developed a free software game called Xye. Mind you, I think it is lacking in interface, but I will keep on improving it and the dream lives on. But I see myself more as a user and advocate than a developer.

Using Ubuntu Linux/GNU all this year was not easy in this locked-in world. I had to deal with issues in regards to hardware. Software requirements at college. And other hindrances. But I managed to become a full time user. Now I would like to share some stuff I learned.