November 28, 2002

Psyched Out

I have to admit that seven hours of poring through patchworked PHP code after having worked through the night is not the best first step towards acquiring a healthy lifestyle. But, that is what has been happening to me since Monday, when I finally got to lay my hands on the much talked about Psyche or known better as RedHat Linux version 8.

With Bluecurve, RedHat has gone a long way in giving the uniform look to both Gnome and KDE on Psyche. But that is where the problem ends or starts, depending on what sort of user you would happen to be. If you are moving from Windows to Linux, this is surely not the distro for you as the shift from "Geek Paradise" to "Linux for Dummies" paradigm is just about half cooked and even four days after slapping it on my system I still have not managed to make it look or feel as familiar as the Enigma (RedHat 7.2) install that was sitting there earlier. And please do not bother installing the distro if you are one of those poor souls with a godforsaken Winmodem, the existing drivers out there do not complie with GCC3 that is on Psyche.

Now to the experienced Linux user. The only reason to upgrade to Psyche for you would be Gnome 2. And that is where it ends if your life is oh-so-poor if you cannot use the Evolution client. Gnome 2 looks nothing short of sexy, yes there are the usual gripes about how the UI is inconsistent and the other caveats that the local chapter of the QT lovers association and XP lovers association would throw at you, but as far as I am concerned it is still very snappy, looks adorable with the anti-aliased fonts and once my favourite Aqua themes were up and running it felt somewhat familiar.

One reason why I dislike KDE is because it ends up looking silly trying to be a Windows clone [sic: heights of hypocrisy - Codey dissing Windows after running an XP theme on KDE!] and RedHat has added to the general Linux UI misery with the GDM looking suspiciously like a Windows XP login screen and a package manager looking and running pathetically slow like Install/Unistall on Windows. Looks, sadly, does not guarantee functionality and within three or four other RPM installs, the unsuspecting user is thrown into "package hell', leading to a couple of rounds of RPMfind.net before the much needed pieces of the puzzle fall and fit together.

Frankly, I do not know if hiding all the settings is the right approach taken by RedHat, towards making the so-called 'ultimate Windows killer application', after all that is the single major issue that most power users have with Windows -- that they cannot tweak or fiddle around with things beyond the invisible, yet very restrictive line that Microsoft has drawn around them.

But the one marked improvement as far as Psyche is concerned is fonts, with the default path being the .fonts under user's home directory. I dumped all of my lovely TrueTypes under /usr/share/fonts/truetype and symlinked .fonts to it. And yes, there is the display configuration utility that Mandrake has had for a while, so no more fiddling with the XF86Config-4 file. And last but not the least, do not install XMMS that comes with Psyche if you want to play MP3s because RedHat has not included the mp3 decoder in Psyche citing licensing issues. So, download the RPM or source from the XMMS site and install it. May the MP3 gods never forgive you for this omission RedHat.

So, what is the verdict? With Psyche, Redhat has gone a long way in bringing some much needed eye candy towards the Linux desktop, but this is most probably the last RedHat distro I will be using for my Linux needs. It is going to be Debian or FreeBSD as soon as their respective stable releases incorporate some of the new packages that I would want as a minimum. Maybe two more releases down the line RedHat would actually make a Windows clone that looks precisely like Windows XP, but then why would I bother using Linux if I have to make it work like Windows? I am much better off running Windows itself in that case. For a bit of money it would save me a lot of sweat. Kind of self-defeating don't you think?

Other than wrestling with psyche, I have been waging a running street battle with Blogger to let me import all my posts into MySql, so that I can take this blog off it and run it off my own scripts. The first half of that project is over after seven hours of struggle with PHP to parse the data from the template that I set up and write it to an XML file which I can parse again to be dumped into MySql. So, there does exist now an XML dump of this journal with me and what is left now is the tedious job of making sense of the XML parser in PHP to enter the data into MySql.

Did I hear someone say use an XSL style sheet and let the thing run off itself? That would be easy and very much possible, only that most hosts do not have Sablotron installed and I am also trying scratch up a script that would make a dump from the XML file which can be imported into another CMS like Nucleus or B2. Besides, I do not intend to use PHP other than to generate the flat HTML pages.

So, the long and short of it is, I am a long way from home [literally too!] and I better stop this rambling here if I am to get anywhere with it.

Screenshot here