Point/Counterpoint - Bill and Kyle vs. <emphasis>LJ</emphasis> Readers
Readers: best Linux distribution: Ubuntu; honorable mention: PCLinuxOS.
Bill: I've got to give kudos to Ubuntu. These folks continue to be the one to beat, year after year. I've been using Ubuntu since it was no-name-yet.com, and it's just gotten better with each release.
Kyle: I have to agree with the readers on this one too. Despite the hype and anti-hype, Ubuntu still is a fine overall distribution both on the desktop and as a server, and it's the one I generally recommend.
Readers: best mobile OS: Google Android; honorable mention: MeeGo.
Bill: Android really is the heavy hitter in the Linux mobile space today. More and more phones are shipping with Android. I never thought I'd see the day when my sister used a Linux device daily—pretty cool stuff.
Kyle: Even though I'm not a huge fan of Android myself, I do have to agree with the readers here at least on the point that Android has gotten Linux into way more people's hands (and pockets) than just about anything else. That said, I still prefer the extra flexibility and power that Maemo (and hopefully MeeGo) brings to mobile devices.
Readers: best desktop environment: GNOME and KDE (tie).
Bill: GNOME wins here for me, hands down. Part of it is just sheer muscle memory, but the simplified elegant interface of GNOME appeals to me more than all the knobs and switches of KDE.
Kyle: I thought it was very interesting that this landed as a tie this year, and honestly I think I'm with the readers on this, except that to me, the actual desktop environment doesn't really matter very much anymore. I do use GNOME at the moment, but mostly because it was the default desktop environment on my system. I generally disable or just plain don't use most of the GNOME features on my desktop. I use terminals and a Web browser for everything I need, so if Ubuntu decided tomorrow it would default to KDE, I suppose I'd be a KDE user then.
Readers: best Web browser: Firefox; honorable mention: Chrome.
Bill: I've got to side with the crowd here, Firefox still beats Chrome and every other browser for me. The plethora of plugins, ubiquity and the fact that I've been using it forever make it my go-to browser.
Kyle: It turns out I agree with Bill here. I still prefer Firefox myself. I know that vimperator-like plugins do exist for Chrome; however, I not only like the wide variety of plugins that Firefox has, but I also think it's important for a company like Google to have a viable open-source competitor, especially when you consider all the valuable marketing data that can be had in a user's browser history.
Readers: best e-mail client: Thunderbird; honorable mention: Gmail Web client.
Bill: Thunderbird wins—awesome. I don't even see mutt on the list.
Kyle: I won't rehash our past column on mutt vs. Thunderbird, but I have to admit I was disappointed not to see mutt make the list. I mean, I don't even count Gmail as a Linux e-mail client any more than I would count Yahoo or Hotmail. It should be no surprise to anyone who has read my column that I think mutt beats all of these clients hands- (and mice-) down.
Readers: best IM client: Pidgin; honorable mention: Skype.
Bill: I'm glad to see Pidgin beat Skype. I've got an allergy to Skype—Kyle's seen it: hives, itching, the whole bit. Seriously though, Pidgin's open-source, cross-platform, modular approach to IM makes it a winner for most of us.
Kyle: Skype, the Sun—Bill has a lot of allergies it turns out. I understand why Pidgin got the win in this category, but I have to say I prefer BitlBee for all my IM needs. Really nothing compares to being able to treat IM like just another IRC channel inside my favorite IRC client (more on that next).
Readers: best IRC client: Pidgin; honorable mention: XChat.
Bill: Here's where I disagree with the crowd. Pidgin's IM-style interface really gives me fits when I try to use it as an IRC client. I'd much rather use XChat or Irssi, and I do, in fact, use both, although I spend more time on Irssi as I can leave it running in a screen session.
Kyle: Wow, Bill agrees with me on a console application over a GUI one! Like with mutt, once you get over the initial learning curve, Irssi really is the best IRC client. Like Bill, I leave Irssi running inside a screen session, so I can reconnect to it from wherever I happen to be. The fact that an IM client like Pidgin can connect to IRC is neat, I guess, but I think all the other straight IRC clients do it better.
Readers: best audio player: Amarok; honorable mention: RhythmBox.
Bill: Where's the love for XMMS? Seriously, the last time I actually listened to music on the computer instead of a mobile MP3 player, I was using XMMS. I guess I'm becoming a greybeard in some things.
Kyle: I'll be honest, I don't really listen to music from apps on my computer anymore. For years, I've used either a portable media player (which is now my N900) or possibly my home XBMC machine to play music. That being said, despite its complexity, I still prefer Amarok over RhythmBox. I keep a very tidy nested directory structure for my music, and I like it when it's simple to browse an actual directory structure instead of relying on fickle ID3 tags.
Readers: best media player: VLC; honorable mention: MPlayer.
Bill: I side with the MPlayer crowd here. I've traditionally just had better success with it, and it's kind of the Swiss Army knife of media.
Kyle: VLC always has seemed needlessly complex when you want to do more than play an .avi. It's nice to have around as a sanity check if a video doesn't play on something else, but to me, it's hard to beat the power and speed of MPlayer. It plays just about anything I've thrown at it and always seems to make the most of my resources.
Readers: best on-line collaboration tool: Google Docs; honorable mention: wikis.
Bill: I'm torn here. I like the cloud-based stuff, but I'd never dream of putting my business' documentation on Google Docs. I'd have to make this a split decision: Google Docs for personal documentation, and wikis for business documentation.
Kyle: Wow, this category made Bill question his long-held love affair with the cloud. I suppose I prefer wikis over Google Docs. I just don't use a lot of cloud offerings, Google or otherwise, so I'd prefer to use tools that I can conceivably run and control 100% myself.
Readers: best cloud-based file storage: Dropbox; honorable mention: Ubuntu One.
Bill: I'm a huge fan of Dropbox and use it daily. So for personal use, I'd definitely say it's the best solution. However, if I were running a business and needed cloud storage, I'd look at Amazon's S3.
Kyle: My favorite cloud-based file storage is my own file server. If you have Linux and a few disks, it's trivial to rsync files around to whatever machine you are in front of. Granted, some of these other offerings might have more automated features, but I'd like to see the Open Source community provide something that made it easy for people to have these same capabilities on their own machines without relying on some third-party outside their control.
Readers: best game: Frozen Bubble; honorable mention: Doom and Battle for Wesnoth (tie).
Bill: This is a tough one, as I don't play many games, but I'd have to side with Doom, simply because of nostalgia.
Kyle: This is a tough one for me too, because I'm torn between Frozen Bubble and Quake 3. Doom is fun, but these days, it's become the game version of Hello World that everyone ports to a new Linux device. I guess I'll go with Quake 3. Yes, it's an old FPS, but it's still my favorite.
Readers: best database: MySQL; honorable mention: PostgreSQL.
Bill: MySQL wins for me. It's just too easy to get a database up and running with it.
Kyle: Although MySQL is nice, I prefer PostgreSQL both for its power and the fact that it's still nice to have some sort of alternative to Oracle. These days, it really isn't any more difficult to manage MySQL than PostgreSQL
Readers: best backup solution: rsync; honorable mention: tar.
Bill: I have to go with tar on this one, because when I hear “backup”, I think “tape”, and tar stands for Tape Archive. rsync's got its place, and I use it a lot to copy data from point A to B, but it feels like more of a copy utility rather than a backup solution.
Kyle: I'm going to have to go with BackupPC here. It's relatively easy to set up, easy to manage and works well. Plus, you have the option to use either rsync or tar for your backups. It seems like a win-win to me.
Readers: best virtualization solution: VirtualBox; honorable mention: VMware.
Bill: I did a virtualization shootout last year, and VMware came out on top at the time. Now, I'm not so sure. VirtualBox has come a long way. I'm split on this one.
Kyle: I think the main thing VirtualBox has going for it is the ease at which it installs within distributions like Ubuntu. I just hope Oracle doesn't kill it. On the enterprise end, I favor VMware's enterprise products first and probably KVM second.
Readers: best content management system: WordPress; honorable mention: Drupal.
Bill: WordPress: it's ubiquitous, easy to install and maintain, and it gets out of your way and lets you create content. What can be better than that?
Kyle: I'm with Bill on this one. Drupal is powerful but has a significant learning curve. It's dead simple to set up a site on WordPress, and plenty of support and packages are available to make it easy to maintain long-term.
Readers: best Linux laptop vendor: Dell; honorable mention: Lenovo.
Bill: I own quite a few laptops, both Dell and Lenovo, but when I spec a new machine, it's always a Lenovo system. The build quality still is a cut above Dell, despite the leaps and bounds that Dell has improved in the past few years. Besides, how many laptops have holes in the lower case to allow Mountain Dew to drain out?
Kyle: This is tough, because although Lenovo doesn't do the best job of championing Linux as a pre-installed option like some of the other vendors, I've found its Linux support (especially for the ThinkPad series) is very solid. I've said for a while now that if you want good Linux support, you should get the same hardware the developers use, and it seems there are plenty of Linux developers on ThinkPads.
Readers: best brand of video chipset: NVIDIA; honorable mention: ATI.
Bill: It's rare that I do any 3-D at all, so graphics simply need to be there, have stable drivers and not use a lot of power. That's why I like the Intel graphics chipsets.
Kyle: Although like Bill, I can handle my 3-D acceleration needs with my onboard Intel graphics card, the VDPAU support in the NVIDIA cards that allows you to offload decoding of HD video content to your graphics card pushes NVIDIA to the top of my list.
Readers: best Linux smartphone: Nokia N900; honorable mention: HTC Nexus One.
Bill: I've spent time with the Motorola Droid, and it was a very pleasant experience. I don't run a Droid as my daily phone, but if I were stuck with one, I wouldn't mind terribly. It's a nice unit.
Kyle: The readers are right on with this one. The N900 is the phone I carry with me, and I'd argue is definitely the best Linux smartphone out there. Sure, some phones have more processing power these days, but it's hard to beat the openness and variety of development languages that the Maemo platform has on the N900.
Readers: best Linux-based gadget: Amazon Kindle; honorable mention: TomTom Navigation System.
Bill: The Kindle is the gadget to beat in this space. They're very nice, though the unmentioned Barnes & Noble's Nook is a good alternative (see my review of the Nook on page 48).
Kyle: This is tough for me, as I look at all the Linux-based gadgets around my house. I think the Spykee, the Pogoplug, the N900 and the Parrot AR drone are all very interesting Linux-based gadgets. But, I still think I'm going to have to go with my N900.
Readers: product of the year: Android; honorable mention: KDE.
Bill: I have to agree with the readers: Android deserves product of the year. Not only are countless people now running Linux, but also Android's technical achievements can make their way back into mainline Linux over time and improve the entire Linux ecosystem. I'm looking forward to seeing ARM-based, Android-powered Netbooks in the next year.
Kyle: As I mentioned previously, I'm not a big Android fan, but I do agree that it should be product of the year. It has dramatically increased the number of people using Linux, even if they don't know it, and it has great potential to increase Linux's reach in the future.
Kyle Rankin is a Systems Architect in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of a number of books, including The Official Ubuntu Server Book, Knoppix Hacks and Ubuntu Hacks. He is currently the president of the North Bay Linux Users' Group.
Bill Childers is an IT Manager in Silicon Valley, where he lives with his wife and two children. He enjoys Linux far too much, and he probably should get more sun from time to time. In his spare time, he does work with the Gilroy Garlic Festival, but he does not smell like garlic.