What A Long Strange Trip (To Linux) It’s Been

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Another (of many) reasons that GNU/Linux and free software matter!

Dances With Penguins

To say that my history with Linux has always been something of an ambivalent relationship would be a bit of an understatement; In fact I’ve been flirting with the penguin crowd off and on for two decades, yet always managing to keep at least one foot still on the fence at all times. My first non-Microsoft computing experience could be described as a short, sad fling with a console-only Slackware release way back in early 1997. Having just stepped off the porch of the house Bill Gates built (or did he?), I was native to the world of MS-DOS and Windows 3.11 (my PC wasn’t powerful enough to even run Win 95 at the time), and I barely had even the shallowest notion of how either of those systems actually worked under the hood. You can probably imagine how little slack Slackware gave me; back to Windows it…

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Round Two: A Technophobe Tries SalixOS Again


I didn’t even mean to do it! All I wanted was to try it on a Live USB stick, just to see what’s new with Salix since Slackware 14.2 came out. Slackware is the oldest Linux distro there is, and is known to be rock-solid stable, but not for newbies to Linux – and certainly not for technophobic sidekicks who just want a ready-out-of-the-box distro that doesn’t require a bunch of setup and tweaking to make it functional. It has some big advantages though:

No systemd being one of the big ones, although opinions on that vary greatly of course. “Do one thing and do it well” is a Linux philosophy that has made Linux awesome, and systemd runs completely counter to it, and many users of the major distros that depend on systemd have found it to be a resource-hogging daemon that imposes itself on every process from boot-up to launching applications. “One ring to rule them all” doesn’t agree with not conform to the keep-it-simple rule that even the geekiest and nerdiest of Slackware users (hereafter called “Slackers”) try to stick to.

Another advantage (again, in my opinion) is ultra-long-term support. Much earlier editions of Slackware are still supported. It’s rock-stable and reliable for many years. In the case of an ancient relic of a computer that isn’t even upgradable anymore hardware-wise, Slackware won’t become obsolete and require an upgrade or reinstall to keep a perfectly good old computer out of the landfill for hopefully (but by no means guaranteed) 3 to 5 years. Even my beloved Xubuntu and LXLE are outrunning this old heap. I still recommend them for newbies and people with newer hardware than mine (it’s an abacus compared to anything built in the last 10 years). But I’m all about making this old relic last as long as I possibly can, just for fun, and I don’t want to limit myself to Debian and Ubuntu-based distros.

But this isn’t a review of Slackware. This is SalixOS – a Slackware spin-off that remains fully compatible with it’s parent distro, which is why I wrote all that stuff. Other Slackware derivatives like Vector Linux and Zenwalk are meant more for newbies and users that want that out-of-the-box readiness where everything “just works.” But to get there they need to distance themselves from their parent, kinda like Ubuntu has done from Debian. If I was to describe SalixOS in a single sentence, it might be “SalixOS is Slackware with automated dependency resolution and some cool tools for compiling and installing software from source.” The developer calls it as a distro “for lazy Slackers.” Sounds perfect!

Anyway, I didn’t start out intending to install it, just revisit it in a Live environment to see what has changed. I really liked it before, and only quit using it because one day it just refused to boot at all and even a reinstallation didn’t fix it. Anyway I accidentally downloaded an installation iso instead of a “LiveCD” of Salix. But once I loaded I figured, “what the heck, this should only take about 30 minutes anyway.” WRONG. It took less than half that time! Badda-bing badda boom, done in under 15 minutes. And that’s including the time it took to figure out that graphical-but-not-for-new-users installer.

Three modes of installation are available. Being a technophobe, I installed “everything,” which really isn’t very much. That’s because the one-application-per-task philosophy doesn’t double up on a bunch of applications that do the same job. SalixOS is available in multiple flavors, but being an Xfce fanboy I installed the Xfce flavor and “full” install. You can download a minimal version with just a CLI to completely customize it. But that’s a really geeky option, certainly scary for a technophobe. My gosh, y’all, it’s Slackware and that’s scary enough! But I might have chosen “Basic,” and had Xfce and some GUI tools. So even with “Full” installation and that not-so-newbie-friendly installer, it still took mere minutes to completely install. That’s the fastest install in the history of ever, I think.

It was definitely not ready “out-of-the-box” for instant use though. But hey, cool, Seamonkey is in the Slackware repository! And installing it using the gslapt GUI is as easy as Synaptic Package Manager is in the Debian/Ubuntu-based distros. But the biggest deal and coolest feature of Salix is the automatic dependency resolution that Debian and Ubuntu users take for granted but which most Slackers don’t even want. But simple sidekicks and technophobes need it and depend on it! I’d rather be a “lazy Slacker” than forego the advantages of Slackware altogether. You can choose a repository mirror near you, anywhere in the entire universe. That is done during installation, which is pretty cool. I installed my favorite Internet suite effortlessly in mere seconds. No adding the Ubuntuzilla PPA and going through all that rigmarole to get a single application. Simplicity! That’s why I like Xfce. It’s why I like Xfce. And why Slackware appeals to me in spite of my moderate-to-severe technophobia.

Not in the repos? No problem. I bet Salix’s other cool tool can compile and install it right from the source code! This wonderful geeky application is another super awesome feature of SalixOS! I couldn’t find my old favorite icon themes in the repos, but Sourcery found them and installed them automagically!

So very cool. Again, no need to add a PPA just for an icon set to jazz up my Xfce desktop without adding “weight” to it. I was always warned about adding PPAs in Xubuntu, and LXLE is slap full of extra PPAs for everything from Mozilla stuff to the latest versions of LibreOffice. Probably not a good idea for brand-newbies who would have no idea what to with issues caused by all those extra PPAs. LXLE does get props for having a PPA Manager in LXLE, but I wouldn’t think a newbie would know what to do with it. In Salix there’s no need for PPAs, much less the need to manage an overabundance of them.

The only glitch this time was no sound at startup. Easily fixed by adding Pulseaudio and ALSA to the startup menu – again, and awesomely for a user scared of the terminal, graphically!

However, I did have to create a file a file using Leafpad in /home/user, named “asoundrc”. It simply reads:

pcm.!default {
type hw
card 1

ctl.!default {
type hw
card 1

Credit for that goes to “Jdemos” who posted it in the Salix forums here.

Here’s the system services menu.  Pulseaudio and ALSA were not ticked.

Maybe it should have been enabled by default at installation, but this is Slackware after all. Simple, not more than the user really needs. I just ticked the services I wanted enabled on startup and un-ticked stuff like Bluetooth and Wireless that I never use on this old relic.

It’s Xfce! Infinitely configurable and beautiful, and best of all, simple enough for a little technophobic sidekick.

Today is only Day Three since installation (during Hurricane Matthew, so I had enough time on my hands to play a little), but rebooting, suspension, and all that have been trouble-free so far. I haven’t decided whether or not to keep it, but unless I have an issue like last time, I’m likely to just leave it in place.

UPDATE:  This system is gorgeous, simple, and fast!  The Slackware repositories are vast, akin to Debian’s, and whatever you don’t find in there can probably be compiled and installed using Salix’s awesome Sourcery tool.  Day 7 and it’s effortless and trouble free after multiple reboots (thunderstorms and stuff around here, so I shut down to protect this old relic) and updates.

My simple, beautiful Xfce desktop with cool SalixOS wallpaper


Thanks for reading!

LXLE on an Ancient Spare Desktop

Her computer is even older than mine, with even less RAM. I thought Puppy Linux or AntiX would be the only choices, since my previous experience with SalixOS was so disappointing. But just for grins and giggles, I put LXLE’s newest 32-bit version, Electra (16.04) on it. It’s Dell Dimension with an ancient Celeron processor and 512 mb of RAM. WindowsXP was brand new when this computer was new (still the best Windows version ever in my opinion).

Maybe Lubuntu would have just as good as LXLE or better, but I have a special fondness for this spin-off, partly because it’s choice of default applications is better, but it offers a downright luxurious experience for most users.

Four things disappointed me this time around. The installer took forever to successfully install this distro, much longer than I’m used to. Notification windows refused to close, slowing it down even more. Whatever, I chalk that up to the computer’s age and lack of resources. But the other three things that bother me this time around are:

Adding a new panel to the bottom is not possible. The panel has to go on the right or left side, period. I don’t think that’s an LXDE thing, since it has always been possible to put a panel anywhere I wished before now. My desktop has a wicked-kewl Xfce panel on the bottom with just launchers, analog clock (unavailable in LXDE) and weather applet (also unavailable in LXDE).

The weather applet is LXLE is unsupported and doesn’t work. I think I read somewhere that it has been forked, and the new one might work, but it isn’t included or listed among available applets for the panel. Not a deal breaker, as the user doesn’t even care about that since she goes to the web for weather and stuff anyway.

Whatever they did to Seamonkey – in my opinion the best web browser – on LXLE rendered it impossible to use on this ancient relic. The visible browser screen takes only a third of the screen and won’t expand to a viewable area. It’s faster than Chromium, which is what I installed after experimenting with Epiphany for a bit. Midori is still buggy and crashy, and Epiphany is just okay. Soooooo… I dropped all the extensive and abundant modifications and reset Seamonkey to the ordinary defaults from Mozilla, and bingo! Zips along faster than Chromium or Firefox, and it’s more reliable than crashy Midori and just-okay Epiphany.

Seamonkey is still the bestest, most wonderfulest and awesomeful internet suite in the history of ever!

I completely disabled screen-blanking, since when it “wakes up from a nap,” it’s all oversized and pixelated. Graphics driver issue, I think. Now set up to auto-detect and never blank the screen.

So LXLE – with modifications and un-doing some of the “improvements,” will probably keep her old relic going for months to come!

Elementary OS: A Surprise

It’s really a surprise to me that a desktop environment with almost no configurability and with so few features could be such a drain on older hardware! The Pantheon desktop is so stylish and good looking, nice and simple and clean, uncluttered, just the way I like it to be. But it’s so very slow!

The file manager is so sparse that in order to actually manage any files, like moving collected images to the directory that stores wallpapers, I had to install an alternate file manager. I guess the eOS file manager is good for finding and opening files, but not so much for actually managing them.

It claims to be lightweight, but it doesn’t compare even to Xfce for speed and demand on CPU and RAM. Even KDE – at least the way PCLinuxOS does it in their awesome light implementation of it, was quicker and more nimble than the Pantheon desktop, which offers so much fewer features and options than any other desktop environment I’ve tried.

I would still recommend ElementaryOS for newcomers to Linux, whether coming from Mac or Windows – in fact, even those new to desktop computing would benefit from it’s simple, beautiful, and very intuitive design. But it sure ain’t for older computers with less than 3 or 4 GB of RAM. And for that kind of demand on resources, it ought to offer a lot more options than it does.

But y’know what… any desktop can be made to look like Elementary’s beautiful Mac-like desktop. I’ve been doing it for years in Xfce and LXDE.

Xubuntu is still the coolest Linux distro ever, for this sidekick who likes things simple, nimble, beautiful, and unobtrusive.


So I had two days off in a row, and after I got all the important stuff done I decided to tinker with a new Linux operating system I had heard a lot of cool things about. I’ve messed around with several different desktops, from minimal Openbox with no “real” desktop environment at all, to the big major popular ones like KDE, Gnome, Xfce, LXDE, and Enlightenment. One I never tried is the newest one, called Pantheon, created especially for ElementaryOS, a wicked cool Ubuntu respin. It’s available for Arch Linux too! It doesn’t mix well added to the Ubuntu family (Kubu, Xubu, Lubu, etc), even though ElementaryOS is an Ubuntu-based distro. This ain’t just Ubuntu with a PPA tied on, it’s Ubuntu with a bunch of bloat and junk removed to make it nimble and fast, and a special wonderful desktop that is the most intuitive I’ve ever seen! Users coming from Mac or Windows will navigate around this system effortlessly. In fact, I’d bet that new computer users who may never have even used a desktop or laptop computer would find this system has a very gentle learning curve.

It isn’t especially configurable like Xfce or even LXDE, but the cool thing is that it doesn’t have to be! It’s not really for tinkerers anyway, just people with modest to modern hardware who just want to load up and go to work (or play). Very Mac-like in appearance, with basically two desktop features – a top panel for accessing the menu and setting the volume and stuff like that, and a dock at the bottom that looks like Docky, kinda sorta. It’s set up very much the way Xubuntu is by default, with a few differences: None of the resource-hogging “goodies” run in the background, the cool icons “leap” when you click on them, and open apps have a “reflection” under them on the launcher. Screenshots are easy to find by just Googling “ElementaryOS screenshots,” but you know I can’t resist posting my own anyway, even though I’ve done very little to make my own desktop especially unique. But it’s just so simple and pretty!

The current stable version, based on Ubuntu 14.04 (Trusty), ships with Midori as the web browser (nice easy browser from the Xfce project), Geary as the e-mail client (no longer active, but being forked and developed by the ElementaryOS team), and none of the usual bloat. It has it’s own simple file manager with would probably suit most casual users and not scare them away with “options” that just confuse and frustrate newbies and technophobes. I reluctantly added Thunar after fiddling with the default one a little bit, and worried that adding Xfce stuff would mess something up, but it didn’t.

I added Seamonkey after trying Geary and finding it comparable to Kmail, kinda broken and lacking some features that matter to me. Midori has a history of crashing a lot when I’ve used it before, so I just ran home to my default favorite. But I just love this desktop to bits, and it’s every bit as nimble and lightweight as LXDE, and stays out of my way. If you like icons on the desktop itself, this Pantheon desktop is not for you. I don’t think it’s even an option! But I like my desktop clean, and I’d rather open apps and stuff from the dock or the menu anyway. The only thing I might add to the desktop is a Conky display, which is easy, but I probably won’t bother. Conky is just more extra noise to me.

This is a totally cool desktop, preconfigured almost exactly the way I always customized my LXDE and Xfce desktops anyway. People who judge only by screenshots say the Pantheon desktop is “a Mac clone,” but it’s not at all. It just looks super cool like Mac, but it’s lean and simple and fast. I’m really enjoying it!

SalixOS Does it Again

The first time I used SalixOS, I was delighted for the first few days, then it began to slow way down and lock up. No input was accepted from mouse or keyboard, and I had to reboot using the power button. I searched their forums for info on that, but apparently no one else suffered from that problem. I ended up dumping SalixOS when it refused to boot at all one day. Re-installs are just too easy, and actually take less time than trying to figure out why the damned thing won’t boot up… and certainly easier than Googling without a computer!

Trying it again last week, I hoped for a better result, but the same thing happened. Hard drive spinning like mad, screen frozen, mouse frozen, keyboard useless, power-off and on again. This time I didn’t want to give up so easily, so I tried to join the SalixOS forums for help. I was able to register but couldn’t use the account until an Administrator approved my registration. Days went by without any approval. “If you need help, contact an Administrator,” it says, but offers no way to contact an administrator. So I posted to the SalixOS mailing list (supposedly non-members can post there, but posts from non-members are moderated, as they should be). I wrote that I was trying to register for the forums, and that there is no link or info on how to contact an administrator. Several days later, my post is still awaiting moderation. What that tells me is that the little distro is largely unsupported, except for those who were lucky enough to get “in” before the “administrator” went on hiatus.

After another dozen or so times hitting the power button on the CPU cabinet to reboot and get anything done, and in light of the fact that I can’t even ask for help, much less get any, I’m saying goodbye and good riddance to SalixOS. “For Lazy Slackers,” the description on their web site says. And I have to agree. Too lazy to fix it, too lazy to check their own forums and mailing list. Unless there is only one person who is responsible for those things and he or she is laid up sick or something, new users can expect no support for this distro other than Googling and trial-and-error.

Revisiting SalixOS

I’ve gotta say I have absolutely loved Xubuntu – up until anything after 12.04, and LXLE, the brilliantly mixed respin of Lubuntu – up until 14.04. Precise, 12.04, was rock-stable and fairly nimble on this ancient relic I’m still using. I could continue using it through April of next year, but it’s largely unsupported now except for security updates. So I upgraded to Trusty, 14.04. Xubuntu Trusty was too much for this aging dinosaur, halting and slow. So again, LXLE to the rescue. Gorgeous, full-featured, and much faster than Xubu. All was well. Until updates cumulatively made it increasingly buggy. I did a little research and found this interesting article on some changes to 14.04 that were um, unorthodox at least. Among other things, Trusty isn’t using an LTS kernel for an LTS release. They’ve opted for “greater hardware compatibility” by using a more recent kernel, which was updated two or three times on LXLE during my sojourn with it. They’ve got some apps that depend on systemd to work, but systemd isn’t the default init application / process manager. Maybe that’s one of the things that contributed to LXLE’s bugginess after some updates. It became slow, reluctant to boot, and themes got glitchy. Other users of Ubuntu Trusty and derivatives have reported frequent loss of networking (both wired and wireless) after updates. Borked after updating is a frequent complaint, and it always had me walking on eggshells with Ubuntu, and even more so with LXLE’s all-or-nothing way of updating (open Synaptic > Mark all upgrades > Apply).

I wondered if systemd, especially in an updated distro that didn’t ship with it but has a bunch of stuff that depends on it, was part of the problem. I never took a position on the whole systemd debate because as a self-confessed technophobe I never dabbled in that “advanced coder stuff.” Suffice it to say that the debate ignited a bloody war among Linux geeks which has kinda died down a little but still rages in spots, even though all the Big Players (Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, SUSE, Gnome, etc) have adopted it. It’s more than just a “initiating” daemon, it’s a process manager also. So it sort of goes against the traditional “do one thing and do it well” rule of GNU/Linux. It’s not “mature” yet, to borrow another Linux cliche, yet it got widely adopted with such speed that bugs are still showing up, and developers are being forced to “fix someone else’ mistakes” by adapting their own projects for systemd. Uncool. So, I looked around for a “systemd-free” Linux distro that might be less buggy with all the changes being forced on users and developers and maintainers. One of them is PCLinuxOS, which I have played with before. I downloaded two of the community remixes, LXDE and Xfce. I made bootable USB keys of each, but both refused to boot. I spent a few hours retrying, but with the same result. Okay, chide me for giving up to easily, but I remind you – I’m a technophobe anyway, remember?

Enter my second choice from the systemd-free list of Linux distros: SalixOS. I’ve played with this one before too, and fled back to Xubuntu when SalixOS suddenly refused to boot one day. But a few things are different this time out. One of them is this cool LiloSetup utility that works in whether in Live mode or installed SalixOS. So I’m prepared now in case the bootloader ever balks again.

SalixOS 14.1 ships with Xfce4.10 (yeah I know, the new one is 4.12 but y’know what? I don’t care. New isn’t always better) and Linux Kernel 3.10.17 (yep, the LTS kernel, yay!) This superb and simple little distro is based on and fully compatible with Slackware, which is known for it’s rock-solid stability even though some of the software in Slackware-Current is “older.” I guess using Slackware Current is kinda like using Debian Stable. Older, perhaps, but stable. Certainly more stable than Ubuntu or cutting-edge Fedora, except not polluted with systemd. Gnome3 users take note: The Gnome people have decided to make Gnome3 with a bunch of systemd dependencies. Xfce is still good, if you’re trying to avoid systemd.

The repositories are chock full of awesome stuff, including Seamonkey! It’s nice not to have to add a PPA just to get one particular favorite application and keep it updated. There are all kinda of installation options, from bare-bones to full-on ready-to-play; and multiple desktops to choose from (Xfce is the default in the main edition). Software installation is nice and graphical for us technophobic users coming from the Ubuntu family, using GSlapt Package Manager. It looks and acts a lot like Synaptic! And if it ain’t in the repositories, there’s Sourcery, which works for a lot of users but was troublesome for me during my previous flirtation with SalixOS. Perhaps it’s better now. Sourcery compiles packages listed from source code – all from a sweet graphical interface that also looks and acts kinda sorta like Synaptic.

Rather than post screenshots just yet, I would encourage readers who are interested to look into this little-known gem for themselves. I think it’s a great choice for timid technophobic users like me as a “next step” beyond the Ubuntu family and it’s derivatives.