How Non-Geeks and Technophobes See Linux

In a Linux forum I read but haven’t joined, a “typical” desktop user replied to a geek who hoped to shame us “typical” users of “easy” desktop Linux. The reply to his point is classic! Too right-to-the-point not to share here, on behalf of us “typical” users and technophobes. Here is the original post and reply on Linux Mint forums:

“Typical users” don’t expect to type commands. Too complicated, that’s for experts, I’m no geek, I just want to use my computer the easy way so I can get in touch with Susan. And then Mr. Typical User will click (or — God forbid — “touch”) his way into Facebook somehow, and once there, he will type, he will type away all day long and make Susan happy. Go figure.

I am one of those “typical” users who doesn’t expect to type commands, but expects to use the keyboard for applications rather than for maintaining, tweaking, or fixing the OS. The times that I have used the dreaded terminal have been very few and far between. If not for Linux Mint’s simple GUI, I would have run right back to Windows!

But I don’t think it’s just us “typical” users that benefit from the GUI. I have read these forums enough to know that there are plenty of very tech-savvy geeks who prefer to click their way through things instead of using the terminal. I respect the power of the mysterious, foreboding terminal too much to mess around with it without knowing exactly what I’m doing! When I first learned to use a gun I felt exactly the same way. A gun is too powerful to use without knowing what you’re doing, potentially lethal to you and to others!

Overcoming my dread of guns took a lot of gentle coaching and patience. I’m glad I did though, and now I’m a pretty good shot with both my pistol and my shotgun. But without the gentle, patient, compassionate coaching of my dad and the instructor, I would have walked away from shooting even knowing that without those skills I would be more vulnerable to “bad guys.” The thing for us “typical users” is the lack of gentle, kind, patient coaching and instruction in the use of such a powerful tool as the terminal. OMG, even the name of it is scary: Terminal. As in “The End.” “That’s All, Folks.” “Game Over.” The Linux community – and Debian’s in particular – is famous for chasing away people who are scared of the terminal. In fact I wonder if we respect it’s power more than some geeky people do!

I can use the keyboard to “make Susan happy,” but you just have to forgive me if I don’t use a “GUN” to make you happy.

Xubuntu 14.01 LTS, 64-bit

Xubuntu has been a mainstay for most of my 4 years or so as a Linux user. In spite of numerous flirtations with other distros, Xubuntu has been the one I kept coming “home” to. Until now.

My desktop is too old and underpowered to run my old favorite anymore, so I switched to a delightful Lubuntu spin-off called LXLE. Featuring the LXDE desktop but wonderfully and luxuriously configured, it has been pure joy, and has given the old relic yet another new lease on life.

Now…

I recently acquired a refurbished Dell laptop, 64-bit, with Windows 7 and decided to dual-boot it with my old favorite distro. Xubuntu 14.04.1, 64-bit. It installed effortlessly as usual but would not recognize the built-in stupid Broadcom wifi network card. I ended up purchasing a wifi dongle from ThinkPenguin that doesn’t require special proprietary drivers. No big deal.

Boot up Xubuntu 14.01 with the wifi dongle in and wifi works perfectly. Update, no problem. Did my usual stuff that I always do with a fresh installation of an OS: Install favorite applications, wallpapers, fonts, etc. Now a reboot, since the update contained a new kernel. Please wait while Xubuntu reboots. Keep waiting. And waiting. Eat a sandwich, down a Dew, still waiting. Aw, heck with that. Hard shutdown using the power button. Reboot into Xubu, log in, launch my favorite Internet app, Seamonkey.

No go. “Seamonkey is already running. First end the current process or restart your computer.

Really?

Kill Seamonkey using the terminal, re-launch. “Seamonkey is already running…

FINE! Reboot. Please waaaaaaaiiiiiiit…. screw that, hard reset. Boot into Xubu. Launch Seamonkey. You guessed it, “already running.”

FINE! Opened Synaptic, selected “completely remove Seamonkey – including configuration files.” Done.

Opened Thunderbird. “Would you like to import stuff from Seamonkey?”

So I guess it wasn’t completely removed after all. Prob’ly still running, somehow.

It’s not that I’m stupid or lazy. I’m just busy!
Too busy to take a lot of time for something that should be done in a single click! Yes, I’m a bit phobic when it comes to the terminal – or any tech stuff for that matter. But something as simple as launching a newly-installed application should not require me to Google for solutions and mess around with terminal commands and all that. I’m busy! I’ve got a bunch of school work to finish and work to do. So…

Goodbye, Xubuntu. It’s been wonderful until today. Maybe a corrupted install process, I dunno. Perhaps no reflection on Xubuntu at all if something went awry during installation. It could be I suppose, since I’ve never dual-booted before. But y’know what? Here’s why I won’t bother to reattempt it with Xubuntu:

  • Probably every single 64-bit computer ever built has more than enough RAM and processing power to run LibreOffice instead of Abiword and Gnumeric. So why bother with those old applications anymore? There’s as much old stuff for low-end hardware to remove in Xubuntu has there is to install in a more modern machine. It isn’t like I’m using Xfce in a modern 64-bit computer because I need a low-resource desktop environment, I just happen to really like like Xfce. This ain’t Lubuntu for crying out loud, installed on some ancient relic like my desktop. It’s 64-bit! 3 GB of RAM for goodnessakes.
  • The Xfce menu is weird in Xubuntu 14.01. I like the Whisker menu, but it’s too many clicks to find and launch an application from it. The default configuration could stand a little dressing up and simplifying.
  • Do I really need PulseAudio? I’ve always removed that abomination right after a fresh install unless I have some other application that depends on it, which I don’t. It’s still a buggy resource hog in my opinion, even though it’s the default in almost every major Linux distro anymore.

If it weren’t for the fact that I might still need Windows for future school work, and for some applications I think I’ll need as a new Aflac associate (my new job, just started this week), I wouldn’t bother dual-booting. But Windows gets in my way and won’t let me get any work done without a bunch of interruptions. If I can avoid using it at all, I will. But Xubuntu? Not on the new laptop, sorry. Too much for the old desktop, and not enough for the new laptop. Even if it would reboot properly and launch Seamonkey properly.

The End of an Awesome Distro

It’s the end of an era for an enthusiastic and loyal group of Linux users who benefited from Corenomial’s unique Debian mixture known as Crunchbang Linux (abbreviated #!). When Crunchbang was first started, it filled a much-needed gap for older computers by adopting for the desktop only the Openbox window manager without the other features of a “full” desktop environment. Originally using a minimal Ubuntu base and later switching to a Debian base, Crunchbang was – at first anyway – specifically targeted to users of old, modest hardware that would have been bogged down under the weight of the popular desktop environments of the time, Gnome and KDE. There was Xfce for older hardware too, a full desktop environment, kinda-sorta like “Gnome Lite” at the time. Using only a window manager was a rare and gutsy experiment to try when Corenomial first introduced Crunchbang, but it was Crunchbang that taught many users that – guess what – you don’t really need a full desktop environment to have an awesome point-and-click desktop experience! You can save your computer’s resources for applications instead of “eye candy.” Dark and almost sinister looking, the Crunchbang desktop allowed even beginners to adequately master basic desktop Linux while having an intimidating super-techno-geeky looking desktop to impress their technophobic, Ubuntu and Mepis using friends who were terrified to even gaze upon a terminal interface. Much more impressive than that old spinning cube trick that impressed so many kids for whom having a dazzling desktop was at least as important as what you might actually use the computer for.

But today Xfce is so much more than “Gnome Lite.” And some wonderful new players have joined the game now. LXDE, RazorQt, Enlightenment, and others. These are full desktop environments rich with features that in some instances rival the “big old dogs” that have dominated the Linux desktop for years. For a little while Corenomial included several Xfce features in Crunchbang that gave it pizazz without adding the “bloat” that brought so many users to Crunchbang from other distros. His improvements and default settings taught the Linux community to focus on what matters – performance, good stewardship of resources, and making the most of what our computers offer. There have been other distros built on window managers without a “full desktop environment,” like Puppy and AntiX, but it was Crunchbang more than any of the others that provided an example of just what can be done with “just” a window manager.

Loyal users and admirers of Crunchbang will maintain the forums and community spirit of the distro, but the chief of the project, who I would call “Cap’n Crunch” if I had earned the right to be so informal with such a great developer, has come to feel that with the incredible advances of the ultralight desktop environments and other great Debian mixtures, the gap that Crunchbang used to fill no longer exists. I never used Crunchbang beyond installing it and playing with it intermittently on an ancient old relic, and never took part in it’s community. Now that this landmark distro is disappearing, I’m getting a sense that I missed out on something really wonderful. Long live Corenomial and long live the loyalty of the Crunchbang community. Read Corenomial’s announcement here.

More Eye Candy for the Linux Desktop

It’s called Mascopix, and it can be downloaded from this web site or if you are using Ubuntu or an Ubuntu derivative you can find it in the Universe repository. At the moment I’m using the ultralight LXDE desktop on a Lubuntu re-spin called LXLE. It’s minimal and plenty fast, but it needs a little eye candy to make it nice looking and – I admit it – a little bit playful for the kid in me. So besides the screenlets I described in a prior post, I’ve added this cutesy little animated “window sitter:”

The big picture:

She blinks her eyes, sips a drink, or folds and unfolds her arms while looking out at me from her perch atop an open application window. Installed from the Ubuntu Universe repositories, Macopix is still incomplete. In addition to installing the package, the user has to download the “mascots” and configuration options from the web site in the form of a tarball. The good news is that the user doesn’t have to unpack the tarball, only “point to it” and let Mascopix automagically unpack and install them. There are dozens of mascots to choose from too!

I removed the Conky applet that ships with LXLE because it was too small for my old eyes to see without glasses and a couple of attempts to change the font size and other settings – even with directions from a forum thread – fell frustratingly short of expectations. And if I want a conky-like screenlet to tell me about RAM and CPU useage and stuff I can add it to my other screenlets without having to figure out Conky. But I sincerely doubt that my little “window sitter” uses much in the way of system resources. There has been absolutely no loss of speed or system responsiveness with this playful addition to my Linux desktop.

Xfce is At it Again

This has happened before with Xfce4’s desktop weather applet, and now here it is again:

No forecast, no information to display. The last time it happened I was using Xubuntu – still a favorite of mine prior to 14.04 – and the fix was to remove the weather applet (not just from the panel, but remove the software from the computer), then add a PPA, and from that source, install a maintained version. Or, alternately, just be patient until an update fixes it – which it did the last time, and pretty quickly.

Most ordinary desktop users seldom give a thought to the fact that someone has to maintain every single application we use, in our distro’s repositories and in the project’s own servers. These invisible people make it possible for the rest of us to use software and keep it updated. When one of them fumbles for whatever reason, then instead of being grateful for what we have and enjoy for free, we gripe and complain. Hey, FOSS user, it ain’t like you’re not getting your money’s worth! So just quit your bitchin’ and do a little reading. My favorite distros all have Wikis and helpful documentation all over the place, and forums to help us non-geeky types interpret some of that hard-to-decipher techno-jargon. This fix for this (at least in Debian / MX) did not instantly appear in the forums. But no one is especially worried about it, because again, we’re certainly getting our money’s worth!

Try desklets! And/or gdesklets (old but pretty cool). The Xfce4 panel app is not the only source of desktop weather info for goodnessakes. Even a technophobe can easily and quickly install and configure any of the fine alternatives. And people who use free software need to gain some appreciation for the unsung, under-appreciated heroes who make it all possible.

Still lovin’ my Xfce, waiting for an update to fix it, no big deal.