I Dodged a Bullet

I have been heartily recommending Linux Lite for newcomers to, but even this awesome beginner’s distro (and not just for beginners, by the way) was susceptible to buggy from “upstream” (Ubuntu). A beta version of the Grub bootloader was included in updates from Linux Lite following the “recommended procedure” for updating the distro. It also affected those users who use the old Synaptic -→ Refresh -→ Mark All Upgrades -→ Apply procedure.

The buggy Grub version – and it’s bug-free replacement – are Beta (experimental) software.

What the heck is beta software doing in a LTS version of a “beginner’s distro?”

Save that experimental stuff for the in-between releases for cry’n out loud. Beginners should not be beta testers!

One of the best things about Linux Mint, when I was using it (no longer – very bloated compared to Linux Lite), is the wonderful Mint Updater! It allows the user to select updates and avoid the risky stuff.

I’m pleased to report that the wonderful Mint Updater has been adapted for Linux Lite!

It’s “unofficial,” not the “recommended procedure” for updating Linux Lite (although it may be in the future, I hope), but it saved me from the Grub Bug!

Read more about using the wonderful Mint Updater on Linux Lite at
https://unlockforus.com/update-manager-linux-lite-3-x-series/

Better Mozilla Replacements

Last month I wrote about replacing all the Mozilla stuff on my computer, as a kinda-sorta protest against their stupid, purely political decision to fire their CEO because he dared to hold and dared to express a politically incorrect opinion about gay “marriage.” I love the Mozilla products, especially Seamonkey – the wonderful Internet Suite risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the Netscape project. I was hoping to find an equal replacement for Seamonkey that is entirely free and open-source. I tried out a few and settled on two awesome applications that not only give me everything Seamonkey did, but with less demand on system resources.

My browser is Xfce’s own wonderful ultralight browser, Midori. It can “identify” as any browser you wish, has built-in and customizable “add-on” options like Ad Blocker (which I don’t use, by the way, perhaps more on that later). It used to crash inexplicably all the time. Now it’s rock-stable on Linux Lite, Xubuntu, and SalixOS.

KMail

KMail is a sweet little KDE application that does almost everything quickly and simply, but it doesn’t allow for embedding images while composing HTML messages. That’s it’s only drawback – that and, of course, all the KDE dependencies that come with it when trying to install it in Linux Lite (Xfce desktop environment). Very nice, but not as full-featured as Thunderbird or Seamonkey just because of the Composer.

Geary / Pantheon-Mail

Pantheon-Mail is ElementaryOS’ own fork of the little Gnome e-mail client called Geary. I found absolutely no difference between the two at all, installing Geary from the Ubuntu repositories and Pantheon-Mail from ElementaryOS’ PPA. Both seem identical to me. The only difference was the default icon for the Xfce Panel, and the absence of any icons for certain options in Pantheon-Mail. Why fork a good project just to change it’s name? I found no difference whatsoever in my week-long comparison of the two. Neither has a proper Address Book, but depend on gathered addresses from incoming and outgoing e-mail. Rich Text is available but without any choice of font – just the default font and size, and the only rich-text options are color, Bold, Italics, Strikethrough, and Underline.

I didn’t even bother with the very popular and supposedly “full-featured” email clients Claws-Mail and Slypheed. I didn’t bother because neither has a mail composer that offers anything but plain text. It’s possible to write HTML messages, but you have to add a whole ‘nother application, an external editor. Hey I’m just a simple little sidekick, still scared of “complicated” software, and I prefer to keep things simple. For those who are aware of HTML’s “risks” and prefer only plain text, these two are very popular in the Linux world.

Evolution

I guess I have avoided this one for so long because of it’s association with Novell, a big office software company. But it’s FOSS, released under the GPL license, officially a Gnome project distributed by Novell (whatever that means, I got my copy from the repository, lol). Not available in Slackware or Salix because there’s just no Gnome stuff available for Slackware users, it is absolutely awesome. Full HTML composing using a Thunderbird-like WYSIWYG editor (oh, that’s “What You See Is What You Get”) and a truly super-cool interface, friendly enough for a little, mildly technophobic sidekick.

That’s the options available in the Composer window. Actually more options than Seamonkey offers, believe it or not. This post is being composed and published entirely via email, which is simply the way I prefer to do it when I can. Perhaps a leftover habit from back when we were on dial-up Internet and I did all my reading and writing offline anyway using an e-mail client (Eudora on Windows, then Thunderbird on Linux, and now Evolution (on Linux but not available as a Slackware package or Slack-build). When I’m ready I’ll test them out on Void Linux and write about it!

It Sounds Kinda Like Slackware – But With Gnome Stuff!

…That is, if you like and want Gnome stuff, like Geary, one of my e-mail favorite clients.  Gnome stuff is unavailable in Slackware (and therefore unavailable in Salix).  I might have switched permanently to Salix from Xubuntu if not for that, because of the systemd thing.  I know, I know, before you jump all over me for having such great reservations about systemd, it’s simply this:  Systemd removes a lot of choice and control from the end-user, leaving it up to developers and maintainers.  So much stuff is dependent on systemd in Linux distros that have switched to it – including all the Big Ones like Debian, Ubuntu (and all it’s derivative distros like Xubu, Lubu, Kubu etc., Linux Mint), and Red Hat (Fedora and family).  Slackware and it’s derivatives remain systemd-free, as does PCLinuxOS and a shrinking number of others.

So what’s this new systemd-unencumbered distro?  It’s a virtual unknown called Void Linux.  Not a fork, not built or derived from any other Linux distro, Void is described as “the most BSD-like Linux distribution out there.”  Users describe it as superduperultramega lightning fast on even ancient hardware. It needs only 96 megabytes of RAM!  Available in “flavors” from KDE and Gnome to LXDE, Xfce, LXQt, and even Enlightenment, Void Linux is a rolling-release distro that uses runit instead of systemd.  It just sounds awesomely perfect for hopefully bringing my old “dead” relic back to life, if I can fix the hardware issue.

VoidLinux

So, naturally, I’ll have to try this thing out.  It’s not for beginners, probably not for technophobes either, but curiosity has got the better of me and I’ll at least experiment with the Live Xfce version, and if my hardware issue can be fixed on the old Dell, I’ll throw Void Linux on there and write about it here.  Stay tuned!

 

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

robinxsalixdesktop

Thanks for reading!

Trusty Tahr – The Hard Way

I waited a while to try Linux Mint 17 Xfce, and it looks like it may be quite a while longer – or never – before I do. After a full day of seeding the torrent (because I try to upload at least double whatever I download, to be nice, y’know), multiple kernel panics prevented me from installing it – and left my old Xubuntu 12.04 unable to boot up! Rawr!

Not a big deal, I did a full backup before trying it anyway, and I still have my tried-and-true Xubu Precise CD, so in it went, a fresh install of my old favorite. Just for lulz, I decided to try the upgrade process to the newest LTS, Xubuntu 14.04. I’m glad I did!

A fresh install from their DVD would have been much easier and faster, but I’ve never even tried the LTS-to-LTS upgrade process before, so I updated Precise and waited for the “a new LTS release is available” banner to appear in the Update Manager, but to my surprise, there was none! It usually appears after the first point-release, usually in July of the year it is released. But this time, nothing. But sly little sidekick that I am, I resorted to Linux’s Great Secret Weapon – the dreaded Terminal (cue the screeching violins)!

sudo update-manager -d

One little command. Bingo! Up pops the Update Manager with the new banner offering an upgrade to the newest Long-Term-Support release. One single click on the Upgrade button and the magic happens – albeit slowly and tediously even on a fast Internet connection. The whole process presented only one little bugaboo: A warning that two applications needed to be disabled in order for their newer counterparts to function in the upgraded OS: Screensaver (which I don’t use anyway), and one I had never heard of called xlockmore. So I clicked to disable the screensaver and used the terminal to kill xlockmore, whatever that is:

pkill xlockmore

and the rest went without a hitch, but took about an hour. I had formatted my /home partition along with everything else, so there were no special settings or preferences to guess which might apply in the new-and-improved Xfce 4.12 desktop, and not much to clean up after the upgrade. Reboot, done. And wow.

It’s a liiiiiiiitle bit slower than Precise so far. Most users with computers newer that 12 or 15 years probably wouldn’t even notice any difference. I applied my usual changes – replacing Abiword and Gnumeric with LibreOffice, but Xubu has most of my favorite applications already installed. Great minds think alike, what can I say? Being a college boy I need the heavy duty office suite now. Then I tossed in my little note-taking app (Xournal), multimedia codecs, and the fancy new Ubuntu icon set. I turned off startup stuff that I don’t use (power manager, screensaver, bluetooth) to speed things up a bit. I hate the Software Center, so away with that bloated monstrosity and in goes Synaptic Package Manager in it’s place. Standard Robin adaptations to a newly installed Xubu. Wanna see? I knoooooooow you can’t wait, so here:

That’s one of the spiffy new wallpapers that ships with Xubuntu 14.04. I got my nifty neato li’l desktop weather applet, a calculator, and a few of my most-often used applications on a sweet-looking bottom panel. The top panel is just the way I like it – nearly identical to the default settings that Xubuntu ships with. I got bragging rights now I guess, since I’ve never upgraded “the hard way” before. Not that this was hard or anything for goodnessakes. What, two terminal commands and a few mouse clicks is hard? Not for this delighted li’l sidekick.

Heartfelt thanks to Canonical and the Xubuntu development team for this wonderful, long-term-support edition of the best desktop Linux distro ever!

Ubuntu Help?

Ubuntu Forums is one of the the official places that users of Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Voyager Linux, and others can go for help, to help others, or just to chitchat about Linux and Ubuntu.

 

But they do have one continuing issue:  They frequently have to add new moderators in this busy online community, and when they do, all too often the new moderators have to assert their authority.  I was censured in one thread because a moderator simply didn’t like what I said (his words, not mine).  Now today I got a private message from another moderator regarding a link to this blog in my signature.  The link has been there since I created my account there, but today all of a sudden it’s “against the rules.”  He writes:

 

*Links:* You may post links to sites with content that is  acceptable 
according to this code of conduct. This is most useful when  giving 
tech support and explaining a topic and then linking to a wiki  page 
or Linux site with more information. 
You may also link to your  personal site."

The link to your site introduces a religious element to all 
of your posts and violates the second quote 
in that it links to a subject forbidden on the forum.

Please remove the link immediately.

Emphasis mine on the links to a personal site, which is all the link was.  Am I not allowed to write about what I wish on my own blog now? Or can UF users no longer link to personal blogs that don’t comply with the rules of Ubuntu Forums?  Fine, I removed the link and told the idiot to delete my account. Fortunately there are other better places for users of the Ubuntu family to go where the moderators are not so heavy-handed and anxious to assert their authority. For chitchat as well as tech help, there’s discourse.ubuntu.com, a friendly place with a new and attractive interface. And there is Ask Ubuntu, and some great personal blogs like OMG Ubuntu. That one hasn’t been outlawed yet by an overbearing jerk, but because it may not fully comply with the rules of some other completely different web site, it could be.

Ubuntu Forums remains an official help forum for Ubuntu family users, and a lot of them have been helped there.  But it’s good to know there are alternatives, since many of us who used to go there to help others are abandoning the site because of the overbearing, drunk-with-new-power moderators who interpret the “code of conduct” according to their own personal preferences. Judging by a look at other Linux forums like LinuxQuestions.org, Linux.com, and LinuxForums.org, it looks like many more users are looking elsewhere for the support we used to be able to count on UF for. 

 

 

Linux Vs Windows

Most of you know I’m finally going back to school after more than 30 years. I don’t mind telling y’all that I’m not a little scared about it. My first class is Freshman English Composition 1. It made sense to me to take that one first so I’ll know how to write papers for all my other classes.

This is my second essay, a “comparison & contrast” essay. It’s probably not hard for my readers to guess what I wanted to compare and contrast, since I think the majority of my posts here have been about my desktop operating system. Borrrrrinnnnnng for most people, I know. And for this essay we were instructed “to inform and entertain,” which means I really couldn’t write a boring, technical comparison. I think I succeeded – a little late in the essay though – in making it “entertaining.” We’ll do peer reviews of each other’s work next week, but I’d like to start mine early, so please, offer some feedback as to how I can make this essay better, and especially more entertaining!

Desktop Operating Systems

Linux vs. Microsoft Windows®

Most computer users are content to use whatever operating system “comes with the computer” when they buy it, never giving their operating system a second thought – until it slows to a crawl, gets a virus, or freezes. They think about the operating system when the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) appears in Microsoft Windows®. Then the only operating systems most people are aware of are Windows and Apple’s Macintosh system. Now with support for Windows XP ending next month, many users have resigned themselves to buying a new computer that can support the new versions of Windows. That, however, is not actually necessary, because most Linux desktop and laptop operating systems support older, modest hardware and are available to most PC users free of charge. For most users Linux does everything that Windows can.

Home users use their computers for writing, spreadsheets, web browsing, e-mail, sharing music and pictures, and keeping up with Facebook. Since many Windows users are heavy gamers, Linux may not fully satisfy their needs, because the majority of people who write computer games have Windows users in mind when they write them. Yet players of many popular Massively Multi-Player Role Playing Games (MMPRPGs) are able to play World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy on Linux machines. Non-gamers are likely to have an even more satisfying experience on Linux than they had on Windows.

Almost all Linux desktop operating systems are available at no charge! Released under the General Public License, Linux and most of the software it uses are Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Thousands of coders from all over the world collaborate continually to maintain Linux and keep it updated. This is in stark contrast with Microsoft Windows®, which is proprietary and closed-source, and lavishly expensive; as is the “bloatware” needed to maintain it.

The term “bloatware” refers to software that is not intended for the user, but just for the operating system (OS). Anti-virus / security software, registry cleaners, and other optimization software is considered “bloatware.” Linux, by contrast, has no registry to clean and has virtual immunity from known viruses, spyware, and other forms of malware. One of the reasons for this difference is simply the fact that Windows users ordinarily operate with “Administrator” privileges, while Linux users have to enter a password and log in as “root” (Administrator) to access the vulnerable bits of the system. No need for “bloatware” whatsoever. It is an easy choice: Pay lavishly for an expensive, resource-hogging system, and for expensive “bloatware” to keep Windows happy and cooperative, or pay nothing for a virtually virus-proof system, saving your hard drive space for your pictures, videos, documents, and favorite miscellaneous digital treasures.

FOSS offers free (as in cost) alternatives to most applications that Windows users pay big money for: Evince does what Adobe Reader does; Firefox, Chromium, Opera, and Midori do what Internet Exlporer does. Thunderbird and Evolution do what Outlook does; and Open Office and Libre Office do almost everything that Microsoft Office® does. GIMP does what Adobe Photoshop® does. Pidgin is an all-in-one FOSS application that replaces AOL’s Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Instant Messaging, and Skype®. Most of the 300-plus free Linux distributions include all this software on their free and downloadable installation CDs and DVDs.

Linux users are able to keep their older hardware out of the landfills and lend their computers years of new life simply by switching from Microsoft Windows® to one of the completely free distributions of a Linux operating system. It makes good ecological sense to use Linux rather than to discard a perfectly good computer simply because the operating system has become obsolete. Linux is also more energy efficient, making full use of the computer’s resources without needing to run a half-dozen instances of “bloatware” in the background, robbing the user of the use of those resources for applications. Computer users want to run applications, not the operating system! Linux lets users do that, staying out of the way; while Windows is a resource hog that reserves vast resources for itself, keeping them unavailable to the user. In an interview with PC Magazine, the inventor of Linux, Linus Torvaldes, put it better than anyone before or since: “Computers are like air conditioners,” he said. “Once you open Windows, they’re useless!”

In the blockbuster film The Matrix, one if it’s major characters, Morpheus, describes the Matrix’ grip on the minds of its victims in terms that exactly and perfectly describe the majority of computer users victimized by Windows:

“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” Microsoft counts on that sense of dependency and fosters it by discounting their system to original equipment manufacturers who agree to sell Windows and other Microsoft products on their new computers. Windows has become an institution in itself: The default format for most documents is .doc and .docx, used in Microsoft Office®. Drivers for printers, monitors, and other peripherals are written overwhelmingly to operate on Windows. The grip of Microsoft, both on manufacturers and users is almost palpable. Yet as the most-used operating system worldwide, Windows XP, reaches the end of its life, more and more people, institutions, and governments are switching to Linux and saving millions by doing so. Among the most notable of these, according to Wikipedia, are the city government of Munich, Germany, which chose in 2003 to migrate its 14,000 desktops to Linux. The United States Department of Defense has switched all the servers for the US Army to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the Federal Aviation Administration is currently making the switch, and the National Nuclear Security Administration is using it. The city of Vienna, Italy scrapped Windows for Linux. The French Parliament has switched its desktop computers to Ubuntu Linux, as has their police force, the National Gendaremie, and France’s Ministry of Agriculture as well. The federal employment office of Germany has switched to OpenSUSE Linux. Several school systems in the United States and abroad are saving thousands by switching to Linux, and Daytona State College / University of Central Florida’s Writing Center is promoting Libre Office in place of Microsoft Office.

Put side by side, the two operating systems are so unevenly matched for cost, security, availability, support, and ability to function speedily on modest hardware that in the years to come, the Microsoft Matrix-like grip on the desktop computer may be loosened. One computer and one user at a time, a new standard may emerge to dominate the desktop.