Most of my readers know how technophobic I can be. I need my computer’s operating system and software to be rock-stable and trouble free as well as simple and unburdensome on my old, modest hardware. As a starving college student I can hardly afford to buy a new computer, and I’m finding that I have to use a few techno-tricks to get away with using Linux for school when they want Windows. So far saving Libre-Office work in Microsoft format (docx or rtf) has worked, as has changing my browser’s useragent string to make the school’s web site think I’m using Internet Explorer. So far so good.
An update to my Xubuntu 12.04 disabled my printer and sound last week and I fixed it by re-installing Linux-firmware, but it scared me enough to Google in search of lightweight Linux distros (preferably with the wonderful Xfce desktop) based on Debian Stable. Now before you go chiding me for not just using Debian, let me remind you that I’m a technophobe! I actually did successfully install and configure Debian once, but it took weeks to get it working and it was still wild and buggy. One of the reasons that Debian is “the granddaddy of distros” is that others have to “tame” it for ordinary casual users like me. Ubuntu does it, for example. Mint does it, Crunchbang kinda-sorta does it, and Mepis does it. Another reason that there are a zillion and twelve derivatives of Debian, is that Debian Linux is just awesome, period. Huge, vast, worldwide, and wonderful. Just still not quite tame enough for a technophobic sidekick, and too difficult to share with the other Teen Titans. But Debian’s snooty elitism pisses people off all the time. Another reason, perhaps, for it being forked all the time.
So Google came up with one I never heard of before: MX-14, “a special edition of AntiX” in collaboration with the Mepis community! Based on Debian Stable (not Testing, which is great, because as a true technophobe, the word “Testing” gives me pause), it’s an Xfce Linux distro that bills itself as “mid-weight” even though it’s lighter and faster than most of the Xfce distros I have tried. Also a huge plus for me, it still fits on a CD! Here’s what MX looks like from the LiveCD:
Ain’t it pretty? The panel appears on the left by default, but you can put it anywhere you like. On rectangular screens it’s a cool space-saving idea to have it on the left or right. My screen is a flat square so I moved the panel to the bottom and added my favorite little applets and most-used applications to it for quick one-click access. I removed the Notifications from the bottom panel and put them on a top panel which is only visible when I mouse over it. This Xfce desktop is wonderful because it is infinitely customizable and stays out of my way. And the new Whisker menu is similar enough to the old familiar one that it was no challenge to adapt to. The only little bug was that I couldn’t add Screenshooter (the screenshot applet) to the panel:
The trick is to treat it like an application instead of an applet. Create a launcher first and then specify Screenshooter. But on this desktop, I can bring up the screenshooter with the PrtScr button on the keyboard! So I just skipped the launcher thing after learning that little trick.
Installing MX is as easy as installing Xubuntu, but it is less familiar which is why it seemed more difficult for the first few minutes. Just slow down and take time to read the prompts and it’s effortless. The only bugaboo was trying to eliminate a 1.2 GB “unallocated” partition on my hard drive that appears right in between “/” and “/home.” I don’t even know how it got there for goodnessakes. I never did figure it out (I’ll do it later when I don’t have a lot of school work to do), but on an 80-GB hard drive I’m not too concerned about it. So after a complete back-up I installed MX on my existing partitions, overwriting Xubuntu. Yeah, I know. I’m still a Xubuntu fanboy, but:
It doesn’t get any more stable than Debian Stable. We technophobes need ultimate stability!
Mepis magic! Mepis has “tamed wild Debian” for years without all the high risk, and
Every Xubuntu user is a Xubuntu tester, like it or not. I never could get why the developers put Beta software in a distro intended for Linux novices. Many like me have just been lucky, but it’s still unforgivable in my opinion, to make Linux newbies unknowingly into unwitting guinea pigs.
Mepis has gained a reputation for making Debian usable by ordinary mortals, but without all the drama, the hype, and the unpredictability of the Ubuntu family. So as soon as I found MX in a Google search and learned it was from the same people who develop Mepis and AntiX, I was anxious to try it. The result:
High-contrast icon theme, and a wee bit of compositing enabled just enough to make the panel background invisible. Simple wallpaper and none of the busy screenlets I had before. They’re cool if you want them, but I’m looking to conserve resources. And Xfce has the “goodies” in the panel where I can see them at a glance instead of minimizing something just to read the weather or see the clock behind my school project. Pft.
Now let me tell you about the default browser, Qupzilla! This is pretty darn cool. It’s as fast as Midori but without the font-rendering issues and crashing. It looks and acts very much like a slightly older version of Firefox, but cleaner and much faster. And Ad-Block by default in MX. Ha! I can even do my useragent trick in Qupzilla. Oops… nice while it lasted, then CRASH! Re-installed, reworked, revamped, rewired, re-done and still CRASH. Oh well, back to Firefox.
This is Debian Stable with up-to-date applications from the Mepis repository. And remember what I wrote before about choosing distros? One of the things to consider is the repositories. Choose a distro and you’re also choosing it’s repositories. Y’wanna talk about huge, vast, ginormous, mondo-mucho gargantuan repos? Debian has the biggest and richest repositories in the entire universe! And installing software in MX is easy with the Synaptic Package Manager. I always used Synaptic anyway rather than that slow, bloated Software Center, so again, this has been an easy transition from Xubuntu so far.
And when I need support, Mepis has forums where lots of wonderful people make themselves available to technophobes like me. On my first day they helped me solve two minor problems (one just by browsing the topics and reading, and the other in reply to my screenshooter issue).
I’m a happy li’l sidekick today. My technophobia has not stopped me from trying out yet another Linux distro, and this one looks like it could well take Xubuntu’s place in my heart, becoming the distro I would always “run home to.”
And none of Canonical’s relentless, unpredictable drama.