Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Arduino - Open Source Initiative of 2009

For those who do not know, Arduino is an open-source, embedded prototyping platform. The single board microcontroller hardware with a bunch of sensors and embedded I/O controls. Hardware components contains an Atmel ATmega328 AVR microcontroller, a thermister, a crystal oscillator, etc, although it varies from board to board. It is an advanced RISC microcontroller with 32 x 8 registers and a 2-cycle multiplier. The Arduino programming language is an extension of C++ - easily learnable. The source code of the entire software suite which includes an IDE is released through GPL. The hardware design is also available through creative commons for non-commercial use. Those who cannot do hardware can purchase a board from Arduino for a low cost.

Arduino's target users are hobbyists and artists, interested in creating interactive objects. But something tells me that the user can do much more than that. I can even imagine potential enterprenuers who have an idea about commercial electronic components can prototype their idea using Arduino.

Arduino first came into picture March, last year. But this year it's fame has grown up very fast, especially after BBC had an article and video on it by its technology correspondent Mark Ward in May. Although this article focused on how Arduino helps in relating the real world to the web world (which is cool in itself), it's just a part of it. Kudos to all the developers. You have done a great job in developing Arduino and making it open to the world.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ubuntu's backward step

I have a laptop that runs Ubuntu Karmic (and OpenSolaris in multi-boot), and I recommend Ubuntu for all my friends who want to give Linux a shot. The most important reason is Ubuntu's ease of use. For the past several months, many people are shifting from Windows to open source OS because unlike past, Linux is as easy to use as Windows. I still remember those days of 9 CD Debian installation and now anyone can install Ubuntu with some basic knowledge of computers. Also there is a huge online help for Ubuntu.

One of my friends, who installed Ubuntu going by my advice, called me yesterday to tell that it gives an error about low graphics, wherein she has a NVIDIA GeForce in her laptop. Ah, that's easy, you just need to shutdown your GNOME, update /etc/X11/xorg.conf, download the driver and install, invoke runlevel 6. Simple! This is the typical problem of being a computer engineer - making assumption that the person at the other end understands the lingo of computers. Not surprisingly, my friend could not make a head or tail out of it.

Then I got this idea. xorg.conf is a part of debconf. Ubuntu is built on Debian. Therefore she should be able to run dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg. Even then she may need to shutdown GNOME, but that's OK. She hit back telling dpkg-reconfigure is not found. I was startled. I went back to my laptop and tried dpkg-reconfigure and it was not there.

Does anyone have any clue why it was removed, without providing an alternate option? Ubuntu was making everyone's life easy with using Linux. In that journey, suddenly a step backward. How many people who have a graphics card would know anything about xorg.conf and its significance? Let's hope Ubuntu does provide an alternative in its next release.