Ubuntu Rebranded

Ubuntu has revealed its new brand identity, and apparently it’s driven by the theme “light”. My initial thoughts are that while almost any step is likely a good one, I’m not overly enthusiastic about it. Maybe, and hopefully, that will change.

Perhaps the first point I’d make is that while Ubuntu has never really committed to a specific audience (other than ‘everyone’), at least the “Linux for Human Beings” tagline gave a shred of something to shoot for. With the new identity apparently being inspired by the theme “light”, I’m even less confident they’re looking for a specific audience. We’ve steered away from humans and turned toward the abstract concept of light. I’d be glad for someone to spell out exactly what this means in terms of audience.

Onto one man’s brief appraisal of the work:

The new wordmark:

The typeface is significantly nicer than in the original noodlefont wordmark.  It’s modern, with a nice big x-height, I can’t help but think it’s in the netherworld between something lightweight and something heavy. I think a thinner, lighter font would have served it better. It’s not unattractive, but not inspiring or committed either. People who know much more than me about type seem to cautiously approve.

The logo – ahh.. the logo. I feel that the encasing circle weakens it. At that size I can understand why they would need to circle in order to make the placement next to the wordmark work better. But it’s a bit player now. It gives off the smell of  ’afterthought’ to me.

Like the aforementioned Jay, I think the spreadubuntu image unfortunately hits home illustrating exactly how bad the initial typeface actually was:

It’s almost as if they wanted to spell out what a big improvement this was. If nothing else, the spreadubuntu logo does just that.

The Colours:

While the colours on the branding identity page are inconsistent (Jay does a great job of showcasing this btw), I think they’re still unique and likely to be ridiculed en masse by the same people who ridiculed the brown. This is not a bad thing. I think the new colours could be used to good effect. I’m sincerely glad it’s not blue – not because I personally hate blue, but because the new tones are unique and provide a far easier avenue to differentiate the identity.

The Window Decorations:

Moving the window decorations to the top left will undoubtedly (and not entirely unjustly) make people scream Apple Copycats!

But they will quickly see that it’s a poorly executed copy at that. Besides the spacing issue, the button trough and buttons themselves are heavy handed and something reminiscent of a theme you’d see on wincustomize.com. The buttons are inconsistent in look as well, which is hard to understand. And where is the lightness? Perhaps if losing the trough is a no-go, then scalloping it between buttons would be a band aid. Still, the uniqueness and execution of the decorations in the current Karmic Dust theme is miles ahead in my mind:

The Bootsplash:

The bootsplash screen is in my mind, no better or worse than the current one. However for me, it’s all in the transition to the desktop. The bootsplash does however reinforce my belief that the logo treatment (circled superscript) doesn’t work well. Again there’s nothing that says ‘lightness’ to me. Maybe the actual bootsplash in action will change my tune. I still think the progress bar motif is uninspired. Troy’s wonderful boot animatic shows a completely unique and inventive alternative to the standard horizontal progress bar. Are finger’s getting cut off for reaching too far afield here?

The Web Identity:

As others have noted, perhaps the new look website is the biggest positive to be had out of this whole thing:

It’s not all positive, but if ‘lightness’ is somehow your mantra, then the site mockup serves it better than anything else I’ve covered here. It’s far from unique, but it’s a big improvement. It’s a lot more ‘serious’ feeling whatever that means.

You’ve got to wonder though that if you’re consistently told what you’ve done is a huge improvement over your current work, you walk away thinking you’ve either made big strides, or your initial work was tremendously shit. Personally I think it’s a bit of both. It’s an improvement, but there is a long long way to go.

Assorted Gripes and Pessimism:

Other than the window decorations, I’ve steered away from commenting on the Gtk related stuff itself. I’m becoming more and more worried about the rounded-rectangle, grey gradient, tango-esque, big-ass padding and even bigger-ass button style that is predominating our little end of UI design lately. That’s a whole series of blog posts unto itself. As the weeks and months roll by, I can’t help but think sometimes that we’re standing here patting ourselves on the back [**], cranking out cartoonish window decorations, and even more cartoonish icons when the big lumbering giant is doing completely different things with UI design. While we’re busy re-working what we already have with no clear goal, I’m afraid we’ll wake up next year with our hands full of all this stuff while the others have simply moved onward and upward.

Sorry to end in a flurry of pessimism, but we need inspiring design to beat the big boys. This re-branding doesn’t show much sign of that.

** For those that may have trouble following along. This is a link to a post that has a series of photos about Gnome UX Hackfest 2010. (It is not the official page for the event – which is here). Indeed there are a series of blog posts there describing the happenings at Gnome UX Hackfest. Please go there and read the series of posts if you’re interested. Make up your own mind about how you think Gnome UI design is going. If you disagree with me, please PLEASE post about it. You can even link back to me and call me an idiot. I really don’t care. I’m pretty sure the people who read my blog can follow links and have their own opinion. Several people in the comments to this post apparently do not, so I added this little note to spell things out.

I’m no MBA graduate, but…

Amongst a mailing list thread about Ubuntu’s alpha/beta wallpaper design, there was some lamenting about how it takes too long to agree on a wallpaper. And while I admittedly know absurdly little about the inner workings of the distro and its administration, I found the following comment quite funny:

“I do agree that it takes waay too long to choose a wallpaper.  We should organize a third-level subcommittee to fix this.”

Hopefully, a third level subcommittee consists of one guy alone in a room choosing the wallpaper. :)

The One Word You Need to Think About Today

Are you creating something?

Maybe it’s a blog post like this one. Maybe it’s a logo, or a desktop wallpaper. Are you writing a piece of software? Maybe you’re helping to create the next great Linux distro (HA!). Maybe you’re busy crafting an email to a prospective client or developing your own video podcast. Heck, are you busy writing a tutorial on how to best prepare a grilled cheese sandwich? (if you are, I recommend this method).

If you’re doing almost anything creative – and it’s hard to find people on the net who are not – I implore you to consider the following term:

Audience.

Write it down. Stick it on the side of your monitor, or write it at the top of your page. And if you’re not sure who your audience is, stick a big fat question mark beside it and make it your goal to erase that question mark.

Once you do, once you define exactly, and succinctly, who it is, you’ll arrive at a better, more rewarding result when the proverbial day is done.

And that exactly and succinctly part ain’t easy. If the word “everyone” appears anywhere near your audience definition, double back and redefine it – you’ve obviously done it wrong.

I’m not here to preach. I’m here to learn. And as I do, I intend to share what I manage to soak up. Sure, there is a lot more to creativity and design than just audience (a LOT more), but I can’t think of anything more important. If you’re looking for a starting point for your creative endeavour, audience is it.

Who is the audience for this post (and hopefully others that will expand on this subject)? People of the Free Software ilk who are interested in discussing and learning about the concepts behind creative design.

You honestly didn’t think I’d arrive at this point completely unprepared did you? :)

The impetus for this post comes from a good friend who very recently pointed me to a three (yes three) year old mailing list reply from Havoc Pennington. Do yourself a favour, get a beverage and head over to his posting. It’s definitely required reading.

Nitpicking, Design and The Fact That It Ain’t Magic

A few weeks ago I decided to use the spare 50GB partition on my laptop to install Ubuntu Karmic. And while Crunchbang is still my main desktop at this point, I can say that Karmic is seductively gesturing me to switch. I like the look of my Karmic desktop. It’s pretty much bog standard although I have switched to the Dust theme and use the Humanity icon theme:
Thoughts? I like the warm feel of it. There are those who will forever hate the brown, but I think this is a strength to which Ubuntu could play should they ever really get focused, figure out who their audience is and design accordingly.. a little more on that in a minute.
But what about checking how the other half lives? What about KDE? Maybe I should have given 4.2 or 4.3 a chance? I’ve never been a KDE user, and frankly I’ve never liked what I’ve seen there. But hey, it’s been a while. So here’s a KDE screenshot from the kde.org site:
Impressions? Not good. It makes me feel uneasy. Not exactly run-screaming-from-the-room-uneasy. More like a not-in-a-million-years type of thing. Rather than just say “I think it’s ugly”.. I’ve decided to actually try to suss out exactly why I don’t like it – at least get that conversation started. And let’s not try to couch it, this is not a KDE-only discussion. Gnome has its fair share of problems too.
Here is a quick overview of some problems I see with that KDE desktop screenshot:
Attention to Detail
I don’t understand how the button text is supposed to work in KDE. The text on the buttons is not centred vertically. There is very little padding around the text, which means that the button label with hotkey underline *is* centred (see that Select button?) But the “To” fields have no underlined hotkey so they’re thrown visually off centre vertically.
The gap between the second recipient text field and the subject line is almost but not quite the same as the gap between the two recipient text fields. Is there supposed to be a visual separation between the the subject field and the recipient fields or not?
Look at the top right of the information panel in the Dolphin window. Is the home folder supposed to be up against it like that? And without much visual separation between functions (info panel/breadcrumbs/toolbar) it’s a mess.
The items in the toolbar along the bottom of the screen appear to be cramped. It looks very amateur. There is so little padding around the various items that it looks cartoonish. In fact the icons, clock, batter indicator.. heck everything looks like it was placed there and then scaled up 10% without scaling the toolbar itself. There is also very little visual separation of areas within the toolbar (kicker menu, virtual desktop pager, application launchers, active application panels etc.).
Visual Hierarchy
There is very little in the way of hierarchy. Look at the breadcrumb trail in the Dolphin window. The text in that breadcrumb trail is slightly (again indecisive) larger than the toolbar button text. Should it be larger and more important? Smaller and less significant? Or identical?
The icons and text in the places package are bigger and more distinguished. In fact to me they look like the dominant component in the Dolphin window. Is it supposed to be?
In the mail window is there some attempt being made at horizontal separation of various toolbar functions? It’s barely noticeable, but there are some vertical grooves. Whether they actually separate anything is debatable.
And looking at the entire desktop, the differentiation between what is active and what is inactive is weak. Other than that small piece of window title text, which is light grey, the Dolphin window looks every bit as active as the KMail compose dialog.
I think a lot of desktops put very little thought into visual hierarchy.. how to guide the eye so to speak. KDE is no better, probably worse.
Focus
The problem with any design discussion like this is that it invariably falls apart into a subjective argument between things like light vs dark, cleanliness vs features etc. I have deliberately tried to stay away from the actual style or character of the desktop, and only dealt with cold and calcuated design items like visual separation, alignment, and consistency.
But of course you could take all of the best design items and intentions, throw them together in a pot, but without defining your focus (and by prequisite your audience), whatever you come up with will invariably lack soul or conviction. I’ve done enough half baked graphics projects to know this full well.
Free Software developers have very little problem asking for, seeking, and using the knowledge of others to improve their work. It happens all the time, on the shoulders of giants and all that. Well what about art and design? Why is so little attention paid to the already well-developed knowledge base of art and design? Why do people have to consistently shout about finding an audience and why does it fall on deaf ears? Why do classic design principles take a back seat to almost everything else? I for one think it’s actually quite easy for Free Software to raise it’s game design wise. Even baby steps could yield big improvements once it’s really taken seriously.

A few weeks ago I decided to use the spare 50GB partition on my laptop to install Ubuntu Karmic. And while Crunchbang is still my main desktop at this point, I can say that Karmic is seductively gesturing at me to switch. I like the look of my Karmic desktop. It’s pretty much bog standard although I have switched to the Dust theme and also use the Humanity icon theme:

Karmic Dust Humanity Screenshot

Thoughts? I like the warm feel of it. There are those who will forever hate the brown, but I think this is a strength to which Ubuntu should play if they ever really get focused and figure out exactly who their audience is and design accordingly.. a little more on that in a minute.

But what about checking how the other half lives? What about KDE? Maybe I should have given 4.2 or 4.3 a chance? I’ve never been a KDE user, and frankly I’ve never liked what I’ve seen there in the past. But hey, it’s been a while. So here’s a KDE screenshot from the kde.org site:

KDE Screenshot

Impressions? Not good. It makes me feel uneasy. Not exactly run-screaming-from-the-room uneasy. More like a not-in-a-million-years type of thing. Rather than just say “Ugh, I think it’s ugly”.. I’ve decided to actually try to suss out at least some reasons why I don’t like it – at least get that conversation started. And let’s not try to couch it, this is really not a KDE-only discussion. Gnome has its fair share of problems too.

Here is a quick overview of some problems I see with that KDE desktop screenshot:

Attention to Detail

kde_buttonalignmentI don’t understand the thinking on alignment of the button text in KDE. The text on the buttons is not centred vertically. There is very little padding around the text, which means that the button label with hotkey underline is centred (see that Select button?) But the “To” fields have no underlined hotkey so they’re thrown visually off centre vertically. The small amount of padding only accentuates the centering problem.

kde_linegapsNote also that the gap between the second recipient text field and the subject line is almost but not quite the same as the gap between the two recipient text fields. Is there supposed to be a visual separation between the the subject field and the recipient fields or not? It’s wishy-washy which then results in a not-quite-polished feeling.

dolphin_windowLook at the top right of the information panel in the Dolphin window. Is the home folder icon in the breadcrumb trail supposed to be up tight against it like that? And without much visual separation between functions in that area (info panel/breadcrumbs/toolbar/application menu) it’s a mess.

toolbar1toolbar2The items in the toolbar along the bottom of the screen appear to be cramped. There is so little padding around the various items that it looks cartoonish. In fact the icons, clock, battery indicator.. heck everything looks like it was placed there and then scaled up 10% without scaling the toolbar itself. There is also very little visual separation of areas within the toolbar (kicker menu, virtual desktop pager, application launchers, active application panels etc.).

Visual Hierarchy

breadcrumbThere is very little in the way of hierarchy. Look at the breadcrumb trail in the Dolphin window. The text in that breadcrumb trail is slightly (again indecisive) larger than the toolbar button text. Should it be larger and more important? Smaller and less significant? Or identical? I’m not sure whether that question was ever asked.

Look at the overall KDE screenshot once again. The icons and text in the places panel are larger than just about any other components in the window. It looks like the dominant component in the Dolphin window. Is it supposed to be?

In the mail window is there some attempt being made at horizontal separation of various toolbar functions? There are some vertical grooves, but they are barely noticeable. Whether they actually serve to separate anything is debatable.

And looking at the entire desktop, the differentiation between what is active and what is inactive is weak. Other than that small piece of window title text, which is light grey, the Dolphin window looks every bit as active as the KMail compose dialog.

I think a lot of desktops put very little if any thought into visual hierarchy, on how to guide the eye. KDE looks to be no better, probably worse.

Focus

The problem with any design discussion like this is that it invariably falls apart into a subjective argument between things like light vs dark, cleanliness vs features etc. (I fully expect to be called a hater of some sort or another). But I have deliberately tried to stay away from the actual style or character of the desktop, and only dealt with cold and calcuated design items like visual separation, alignment, and consistency. The discussion should be about design. Not personal preference, taste or style, but design. All that other stuff can only come with a defined audience.

But of course you could take all of the best design items and intentions, throw them together in a pot, but without defining your focus (and by prequisite your audience), whatever you come up with will invariably lack soul or conviction. I’ve done enough half baked graphics projects to know this full well. To really start down the road of really improving the visual design, the first step is to define the audience.

What next?

Free Software programmers have very little problem asking for, seeking, and using the knowledge of others to improve their work. It happens all the time, “on the shoulders of giants” and all that. Well what about graphic design? Why is so little attention paid to the already well-developed knowledge base of graphic design? Why do people have to consistently shout about finding an audience when it is so intrinsic in all other areas of design, graphic and otherwise? And why do those cries seem to fall on deaf ears? Why do classic design principles take a back seat to almost everything else? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect Free Software to raise its game design wise. Even baby steps could yield big improvements once graphic design is taken seriously.

Clearly good graphic design is not trivial. I should know, I’ve created plenty of bad design myself. But it ain’t magic either. There are rules, theories, and concepts that govern it. We should learn them.

Snowflake USB Microphone on Linux – with sample files

Today I picked up something called a Snowflake USB microphone by Blue in hopes of improving the sound quality of my screencasts. And while I haven’t had a chance to fully test it, I can say two things: First, it’s a very significant improvement on the sound I was getting from my Logitech USB headset. Second, it is not going to be without its challenges, at least for now. Let me explain.

Let’s hit the problems first. As I’ve seen on several posts on ubuntuforums.org, I seem to be having this weird behaviour where the microphone captures sound fine, but when the audio is played back, it’s at half-speed. That’s only a click or two away from fixing in Audacity. I post-process my screencast audio in Audacity anyway so that’s not a deal-breaker for me. I’m not sure what the problem is, but I know I’m not the only one experiencing it. Unfortunately I have yet to find a fix for it (granted I haven’t really done much of a search yet). I’m running Crunchbang 8.10 and love it, so moving to a newer kernel isn’t an option, at least not immediately.

The other problem I have is that RecordMyDesktop (run either from the gui or commandline) does not play well with this mic. I get a repeated ‘broken pipe’ message when recording and the audio is choppy and almost indecipherable (and at half-speed as noted above). Definitely unusable. I am thinking of recording the audio separately (but at the same time) using the Gnome Sound Recorder. It seems to record the audio perfectly well (despite the half-speed problem). I’m hoping I can just launch the audio recording alongside a video-only recording by RecordMyDesktop. I always end up splitting the audio from the video anyway during my post-processing. The only additional challenge here is making sure everything is in sync in the final product.

The sound quality improvement over my Logitech USB microphone is remarkable. While there is still some background noise, when I remove it in Audacity I don’t get that underwater, over-processed effect. The sound is also much warmer and fuller than what the headset was giving me. Not a big surprise I guess. I think it will be a significant improvement to my screencasts. The microphone comes mounted to a bracket which sits on top of my laptop screen (with protective rubber pads to prevent any marking of the laptop). I was wondering about how the distance vs sound relationship would work, but I have to say that at normal speaking volume, having the mic at that distance seems to sound pretty good. The levels are a little low, so I may have to rig up an impromptu mic stand using my mini Manfrotto tripod or something if I’m not happy with the placement. The build quality is good and it comes with a nice little case that can hold the usb cable along with the microphone itself.

Now I’m just hoping that recording the audio separately comes off as easy as it sounds. Time will tell, but I will definitely try a dry-run in the next few days to see how much harder the workflow is.

The only other major issue I have with my screencasting (besides coming up with good ideas and finding time to do them) is this dang mini-sized MS mouse that I use. It works fine, but the clicks seem terribly loud. Damn you Microsoft! Maybe a Logitech would be quieter. I’m either going to have to hunt down a new mouse with much more silent clicking or take this little baby apart and see if I can quiet down the switches somehow – if I don’t break it first. ;)

I’ve linked to two sample audio files I recorded. Both files were recorded using the Snowflake microphone mounted on my laptop screen about 16 inches away from my face directly in front of me. Both files were amplified slightly to raise the levels using Audacity (and sped up to eliminate the half-speed problem). The first file is the raw file, the second file is the one where I’ve removed some of the background noise.

http://rfquerin.org/misc/snowflakesample_raw.mp3

http://rfquerin.org/misc/snowflakesample.mp3

Blender Video Editing Screencast No. 3

Okay so it’s been about 5 months since I last posted a Blender screencast. Guilty as charged. Let’s move on.

I’ve posted my third screencast about editing video using Blender. This one is a quickie at about 9 minutes in length. It covers a few very useful keyboard commands along with an introduction to using the proxy feature to really start boosting your editing efficiency into high gear.

Also worthy of note is that I did the post processing in Blender as well. I wasn’t 100% happy with the flash video rendering output I got from Blender on this one, but this will just take some further tweaking, mostly to limit filesize and maintain quality. So for this screencast, the last step involved rendering to avi from Blender and then falling back to my mencoder script for the final conversion to Flash.

You can find this third screencast right here.

Here are the links to my previous Blender screencasts No.1 and No.2.

Expect more in the way of Blender screencasts and Blender video editing info. Troy Sobotka and I have been discussing where to go with this. Of course I’m going to try and drag Heathenx in as well so I can share the blame around. ;)

ps. For some weird reason, I had a helluva time trying to get the flash version to work properly for this episode. Kudos to Heathenx for doing an OGV version (for those with Firefox3.5) with a Flash fallback for those with other browsers. Heathenx, you da man! :)

Doing fun things for a couple of great projects

I’ve had some fun the past night or two helping out a couple of guys on a couple of cool projects. I’m not much of a cartoonist (wish I was) but it was great fun sketching some ideas up and making them come to life in Inkscape. It’s never been something I’ve been really interested in, but after the great fun I had doing these I think I’ll spend more time on stuff like this. You can probably see lots of places where my skills need work.. but if you don’t try you’ll never improve.

First, I came up with a fun little logo/mascot to help out rowinggolfer, who is trying to solve his proprietary (aka Crap) software problem at his dental practice. He (along with many other dentists apparently) are stuck with poor quality and poor service when it comes to their expensive dental database management software. After trying to help them solve the problem with constructive feedback and getting nowhere, rowinggolfer has decided to bite the bullet and create his own open source solution. Check out the OpenMolar project to see what he’s up to. Here’s what I came up with for him:

Another fine project I’ve recently helped out on is the newly created freelinuxbox.org site. Created by Linc Fessenden, one of the original hosts of TLLTS,  freelinuxbox.org is a great site that tries to connect up people who want to give away fully functional computers running open source software to individuals who need a computer, free of cost. Absolutely awesome idea. I had fun creating this one too.

Stop Recommending (Quality) Free Software with a Proviso

Just noticed this post about “35 Tutorials to create amazing Vector Graphics using Inkscape” come across Twitter. And while I was quite happy to see a post aggregating some great tutorials on Inkscape, I was a little bothered by the blurb at the top of the post itself:

“Inkscape is a free vector graphic design alternative software similar to Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw, only it doesn’t cost you a penny. It is maybe not as powerful as its higher priced rivals, but certainly powerful enough to design high quality vector graphics.
If you are looking to venture into vector design, I recommend using Inkscape first, learn as much as you can and then if you need something with more kick splash out on Illustrator.”

Why does there have to be an immediate proviso that somehow it’s not as powerful? The last sentence is even a little more bothersome to me. I can see someone saying, ‘hey, learn all about vector illustration with Inkscape, it will help you if you ever have to use Illustrator or CorelDraw’ or something like that.. but I really don’t see how using Illustrator is going to somehow give my work more ‘kick’.

If you need something with more kick.. then obviously you should sit in front of whatever you’ve created and give it more kick. I can’t stand the insinuation that somehow if you need higher quality artwork, you’d obviously have to go with the paid option.

While recommendations for free software alternatives are increasing daily (or it seems to me that they are), it bugs me that they always seem to come with a proviso. And sure, while in many cases those cautionary notes are completely valid, in other cases they are not.

Rant over. ;)

I got published in Linux Journal… well sort of… :)

About 6 or 7 months ago I was invited to submit some logo concepts for the SouthEast LinuxFest. I was absolutely thrilled that they chose one of my submissions. Since then, I’ve done a few ancillary things with the logo such as a flyer design and some web site badges.

The venerable Dave Yates of the LottaLinuxLinks podcast is one of the organizers of the event. Several weeks back he asked if I could provide a couple of print ads for the event and I was thrilled (and to be honest, quite nervous) about accepting. There was something a little nerve-wracking about creating something that will actually appear in a publication. It’s one thing to create some web site graphics or desktop wallpaper, but it’s another to actually create a print ad… at least for me. I’ve never created an ad before but it actually turned out to be quite easy.

I created a half-page ad for Linux Journal (which you will find on page 55 of the May 2009 issue of LJ) and it turned out quite well I think. I created the graphic for the ad in Inkscape (of course!), exported the PNG file and then made a CMYK TIFF version using the Separate+ plugin for the GIMP. From there I used Eckhard M. Jager’s fantastically useful CMYK Tiff 2 PDF plugin to create a PDF in CMYK. Like most things I try, it was a real seat-of-the-pants sort of process for me.

Eckhard by the way, has a really fantastic blog called appropriately enough Linux For Designers. I’ve been subscribed to it for ages and I encourage anyone interested in design on Linux to check it out. There’s lots of great stuff over there.

The fact that I know absolutely nothing about CMYK or creating print ads is a testament to how useful those two plugins really were to me. It was satisfying to know that I could really create an honest to gosh print ad using free software tools and come up with what looks like a decent result.

There is another full page SouthEast LinuxFest ad I created that is supposed to run in the next two upcoming issues of LinuxPro Magazine too, so keep an eye out for them. Hopefully my sparse knowledge of CMYK will not fail me in those ones either. :|

While to most people they’ll just be another (hopefully attractive) magazine ad, to me they’re definitely getting stored safely away so I can brag to my grandkids about them someday. :)

Portable Ubuntu

A few days ago at the suggestion of my trusty pal Heathenx, I downloaded and installed Portable Ubuntu. I must say, I’m quite impressed.

I’ve used Cygwin for quite a while now to get a bit of my Linux fix while working on my XP-Pro box at work. I use it mostly to run a proper bash terminal so that in concert with Dropbox, I can use the fantastic Task command line todo list management tool ubiquitously between computers at work and home. But I’ve always wanted to run things like Gedit, or other Linux based stuff here at work. I once tried getting Cygwin/X running here to achieve some of that but could never seem to put the pieces together and get it working.

I also run #! in a VM for more heavy duty Linux needs (and incidentally I’m now running #! full time on the new laptop and I’m loving it!), but I don’t always want to have to fire up Virtual Box whenever I want to use Gedit.

In steps Portable Ubuntu. With it I get a nice standard Ubuntu menu with a smattering of basic apps, but I now get access to Synaptic, the repos, and who knows what else. I would be surprised if there weren’t some limitations, but so far it seems pretty darn good. I’ve taken a full size screenshot of my desktop at work (1920×1200) showing things like synaptic and gedit working side by side with AutoCad and Chrome. I’ve got the Ubuntu menu over on the left with Auto-Hide turned on so you can’t really see it there.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Anyways, if you’re stuck in a Windows world at work, but want a nice way to mix in some Ubuntu goodness, then give it a shot. The whole shebang actually uses the Xming X Server which I believe is the thing I could never get working with Cygwin/X. But Portable Ubuntu seems to have done the trick.