Monday, December 28, 2009

Ubuntu as an Internet Client

The Bughugger project is indicative of an essential bias of mine, that most tasks are more enjoyable and can be done more easily from a local "thick client" than from a web-based thin client.

In general, what I think people like about web based clients are that they:
  1. Are easy to access, requiring minimal installation steps and such
  2. Can be installed with no risk, and do not require "un-install" steps if usage is abandoned
  3. Are free as in bear, at least initially
Ubuntu actually does all right by these criteria, so perhaps to some degree the conflation of "Internet" and "Web" is driven by the complexities of installing third party apps on Windows, and all of the problems this can cause one's computer as different versions of shared libraries and such are copied in.

So today I decided to move one of my key web-based activities, reading and writing blogs, into Ubuntu itself. Note that I am already a heavy Gwibber user and I rarely use a browser to access micro-blogging features.

My experience with the Software center shows how Ubuntu does fairly well with points 1-3 above. There is lots of blog related software to try, and it's all free in every meaning of the word. It was really easy to install software:

Reading Blogs
Reading my feeds from Ubuntu using LifeArea was easy to set up, and is working perfectly for me. Also, the UI can fit into my netbook rather well. Yeah for LifeArea!
Writing Blogs
I am writing this posting form my browser, as I haven't found a posting tool that I like yet.

Blog Entry Poster made it very easy to connect to my blog. I also like the overall simplicity of the design. However, the editor itself lacked the formatting features that I use heavily, so I'm not quite able to adopt it.
BloGtk has the editor options I need, but it doesn't quite fit into my netbook screen size. This doesn't really matter as I couldn't figure out how to get it to connect to my blog anyway.
Ultimately, I suppose that I would love it if LifeArea had the Gwibber-like ability to post. There are still other posting tools to try in any case, so I may find one yet. I'm installing Drivel atm.


  1. Totally agree. I actually much prefer local clients over web-based ones mainly because the data is there when I'm offline and it is also a LOT more responsive.

    Just a note: it's "liferea" with 1 a, not 2. It stands for "Linux Feed Reader".

  2. ... and that's why I use web apps almost exclusively these days. Ubuntu makes 1,2, and 3 no problem. What *is* a problem is that for every task there are usually a number of half-baked, outdated, and utterly useless FLOSS apps and often very nice web equivalents. It's no fun chasing the latest version (even if via PPAs) just to ensure that an app is reasonably bug-free and functional.

    I ended up ditching Gwibber because it rarely worked and isn't being fixed. I ditched Evolution/Thunderbird because Gmail is faster and easier to use. Ditto for Google Reader. I'm not a Google fanboy but their stuff seems to "Just Work".

    In the end, on my notebook I fire up Chrome and Gnome Terminal and I'm pretty much set. I'd rather use local apps but when web apps work just as good if not better, why bother?

  3. on the blog editor front, I will just throw in that the forthcoming version is getting immensely good.

    I just wish Ubuntu would update to the latest python gdata so that blogger tags etc would work.

  4. > Ubuntu actually does all right by these criteria,
    > so perhaps to some degree the conflation
    > of "Internet" and "Web" is driven by
    > the complexities of installing
    > third party apps on Windows,

    For a non-technically minded user installation of a typical desktop application is usually simpler under Windows. Installing a third-party application on Windows is usually a case of search -> visit website -> download -> double click installer -> click next a few times -> done.

    In the best case, where you have the latest version of Ubuntu which has an up-to-date version of the software packaged and a clear entry in Software Centre then the steps are also quite straightforward - except that going to the application's website and clicking the download button is probably faster then starting the package manager because of the large amount of disk IO that currently involves. In the case where the Ubuntu version is not current, then you either wait six months for an update, or you go searching for a PPA build for your version of Ubuntu and the repository setup that involves.

    For sysadmins managing many systems and techies who need a whole bunch of tools and libraries for various purposes the repository system has many advantages. It just doesn't work so well for the common use case of 'non technical user wanting the latest version of Acme Messenger/Music Player/Movie Editor'.

    Contrast this with the web where you have instant access to the latest version from any platform, the software runs in a sandboxed environment and is protected from many of the variations in the underlying system which can cause desktop software to not 'just work'. Performance can also be better than desktop applications for a variety of reasons, especially when large amounts of data is involved. Finally, the web version can take advantage of the combined activity of many users to create social features. For example, Google Reader has the ability to see recommendations based (presumably) on your reading history and also see what your friends are reading.

    Obviously many of these web service based features can be exposed to a desktop client (via APIs etc.) but taken far enough that ends up with the the desktop client becoming, in essence, a browser and all the interesting work is done on the web.

  5. > In general, what I think people like about web based clients are that they

    Web applications are also nice in that they generally have consistent interfaces since the browser is usually left to handle the "look & feel" of the controls and ideas like links are the same everywhere.

  6. For my part, I just happen to use web feed readers because I often have to open links from my feeds or bookmark pages.
    It is much more convenient to open a new tab in the same app (the browser) than to switch from an app to the browser.

  7. try logjam. Im using it for a couple years and it have everything i need. Simple design, formatting support and a lot of options.