Gee That Didn’t Work Out Very Well…

…But it was easy, even for this technophobe.

As you know I always keep “running home” to Xubuntu when things get squirrelly on other distros and the first few attempts to fix it fail. It’s not because I’m lazy and immature, but because I’m practical and busy with other stuff. Now a true Linux distro-hopper is always looking for something “better” (a relative and subjective term – better for me, better on my hardware, etc), but almost every distro-hopper has a default; a “safe-place” to run home to. My safe place is Xubuntu. Because:

  • Xubu has always been almost entirely trouble-free for me since I first discovered it.
  • Xubu still runs awesomely on my aging, modest hardware in spite of the fact that it’s no longer intended for older hardware.
  • Xubu has an awesome support community, arguable the best and most cordial of support forums for any operating system.
  • Xubu is a community-developed distro. Ideas are received, debated, tested, and implemented if they work well.
  • Xubu is good for technophobic users and much less “bloated” than most of the other “user friendly” desktop distros I have tested.

So it’s no wonder I want to help in it’s development, right? Yes, even a technically challenged scardycat like me can help in some small ways to develop his or her favorite Linux distro! Not just by writing enthusiastically about it like I would do anyway here on my blog, but also with testing when I’m feeling brave and have a little time on my hands. So yesterday I was feeling brave again.

Following a complete backup and update, I volunteered to test the upgrade path from one LTS version to the next. The current LTS version is 12.04, “Precise.” I tested the upgrade process to the upcoming 14.04 LTS release, “Trusty.” My interest in this is personal and practical, since my old relic hardware doesn’t have a DVD burner and the new Xubuntu iso images won’t fit on a CD anymore. I ordinarily upgrade with a fresh new installation rather than upgrading an existing system. I still recommend that, and I think most Linux users who don’t run “rolling release” distros do as well.

Running the command

update-manager -d -c

after fully updating my system opened the Update Manager, which now offered the upgrade to 14.04! Upgrading would be as easy as clicking on the Upgrade button, right? That would be awesome.

A new window opened to explain that many packages would be removed and new ones installed, and how much disk space would be required. I clicked “Yeah let’s do this!” (not treally, I think it was just an “OK” button) and off it went, fetching 700+ new packages from the Internet. The entire download took less than 7 minutes on my Cox Internet connection. And then:

After downloading the packages it got stuck on installation, “configuring apt.” I let it go for hours just to see if it would unlock itself and get going, but it was just frozen solid. And on top of that, everything else was frozen too. Rawr. So I tried a “hard reboot” (pressing and holding the Power button to turn off the computer, then restarting). It failed to bring up anything beyond the splash screen. The dreaded “partial upgrade” nightmare scenario. Pft. Heck with that. I simply reinstalled and updated 12.04 with no trouble at all. Then did my usual little tweaks like setting swappiness to 5 (I’ve only got a half-gig of RAM) and enabling cntrl-alt-backspace, uninstalling the Software Center and putting Synaptic Package Manager in it’s place, etc. My unformatted /home partition was fully intact, none the worse for the dreaded “partial upgrade.” All that took about 40 minutes from start to finish.

Still feeling brave, and finding that the weather applet still didn’t work, I installed screenlets (in place of the gdesklets I had used before) from Synaptic. Guess what?! It has a weather applet! It actually offered three different ones! I picked the prettiest one and added a clock, a calendar, and a wicked-cool looking CPU and RAM usage monitor for the desktop. It looks awesome on my green graphic wallpaper. I’m using the High-Contrast icon set in the lower panel:

Ain’t it gorgeous!? Best ever. EVVVERRRRRR. Now I don’t want to change anything! Maybe I’ll just leave this alone until Precise reaches the end of it’s support life (April, 2015!). Unless I get to feeling brave again…

More Joining Soon

With the introduction of Unity in Ubuntu Linux, Xubuntu gained a lot of new users. And soon, Xubuntu will gain many more users as support for Windows XP ends on April 8th next year.

The Xfce desktop in Linux lends itself perfectly to this influx of new users coming from Windows for two reasons:

  1. Most users of Windows XP likely have older computers that came with Windows XP pre-installed. Xfce was designed for older hardware, to operate with low resource requirements.
  2. Most users of Windows XP will find the Xfce interface easy to adapt to. In fact the Xubuntu-based Linux Lite bills itself as especially well suited to Linux novices, and Windows users in particular:

The goal of Linux Lite is to introduce Windows users to an intuitively simple, alternative operating system. Linux Lite is a showcase for just how easy it can be to use linux. From familiar software like Firefox and Thunderbird, to simply named menu items, to one click updates and software installs we hope that you will find Linux Lite an enjoyable computing experience.

I dare say, Xubuntu is very well suited to that task as well. Linux Lite has tweaked Xubuntu further and edited the menus with simplified names and categorized menu entries that make things easier yet for Windows users to make the transition. It’s quite brilliant, actually.

Hopefully my favorite Linux distro won’t forget that it was originally intended for older hardware, especially now with the impending influx of new users coming from Windows XP! If Xubuntu becomes to big for its britches (it won’t fit on a CD anymore, bad news for those of us with old CD burners that can’t burn DVDs), I’ll be sending my Windows XP friends to this newcomer distro – and pleading with the Xubuntu Team to keep these new WinXP users in mind when they work their wonderful magic in making Xubuntu – still the most splendid Xfce distro ever made.

Minimal, Simple, Fast

So I’ve had some time to play with desktops and Linux distros over the past few weeks because I’m always up early in the morning and can’t make a lot of noise in the house that would wake anyone else. People who know me are like, “Make up your mind already for goodnessakes, dude!”

Really, my mind has been made up all along. I just like to explore sometimes. But until and unless I find anything to rival the speed, simplicity, and sheer awesomeness of Xubuntu Linux – and for as long as it works on this ancient-by-today’s-standards Dell desktop – I’m sticking with what works flawlessly and elegantly for me. I’m really not the Linux distro-whore I appear to be. It’s just that there’s a lot of new innovations and stuff I hear about and want to try out. For instance, Conky has a GUI (graphical user interface) now! Frankly I never bothered with Conky but when I get around to it maybe I’ll try it now that they’ve made it simpler (supposedly).

So this morning’s post is just a quick summary to defend my argument that I’m not a distro-whore!

My flirtation with the Enlightenment desktop (on PCLinuxOS and on Bodhi Linux) is over. To put it in bluntly, it’s experimental and beta-quality stuff, despite having been around a long time now. Wonderful, low-resource eye candy, but it didn’t stay where I put it on my desktop. It moved and morphed and migrated. Themes for it are pretty limited depending on what distro you’re using it on, and it’s not nearly as simple as the good ol’ Xfce desktop. Remember I’m only a sidekick, I need simplicity! But keep an eye on Enlightenment because I think it shows a lot of promise. Progress on it seems to be really slow, but worth the wait.

It was little different trying out a couple of docks (Cairo dock and Docky) on top of Xfce. Nice little desktop widgets and applets and gadgets and eye candy! But again, at least on this older hardware without the supercool video capabilities of anything newer than 5 years old or so, too many of these wonderful little goodies either wouldn’t stay where I put them, and/or they wouldn’t load and display after a reboot, and/or they insisted on being too big or too small. I like the quirky, bouncy way the icons behaved in Cairo Dock (it relies on Compiz, so buyer be aware), and I like the 3D shadows and reflective little “shelf” the launchers rested on. But the launchers seemed to be pre-programmed to launch only certain applications. I couldn’t create one for Abiword because Cairo-Dock thinks I should be using Libre-Office Writer instead. In Xfce I choose whatever icon I want and tell it to launch whatever application I want. It didn’t seem to be an option in Cairo and I don’t know why. That’s just weird. For now, I’ve decided that there isn’t much difference between a dock and panel anyway, and it isn’t worth the trouble to keep trying to figure out a bloated, misbehaving dock that needs a separate compositing window manager.

Bodhi Linux
is Enlightenment-only, so it’s gone.
PCLinuxOS scares me away with it’s all-or-nothing approach to updating. Maybe not an issue for folks with better hardware than mine, but that’s not the impression one gets from reading their forums. Cringing in fear during an update is just anathema to me. Still they have a warm, welcoming, helpful community of knowledgeable people, and their PCLinuxOS Magazine is absolutely first-rate no matter what Linux distro you use.

So today’s back-to-basics, minimal, simple, lightweight, trouble-free, quick-as-lightning desktop is Xubuntu 12.04 with the supercool Faenza icon set and two panels: One for my frequently-used launchers on the bottom (but put it wherever you like in Xfce!) and one for notifications and taskbar on top. Out of my way but instantly available even if I’m in the middle of two or three things at once.

Minimal, Simple, fast, flawless, fearless, rock-stable on this old Dell, and supported until April of 2017. See? I told you my mind was made up!

Oh, and that wallpaper, by the way, is a drawing, not a photograph!

Mad Geek Skillz

Wow, I’m all proud of my little self. For the first time I partitioned a hard drive on an existing Linux installation (using G-Parted) instead of a fresh install of a distro. To someone who has never dared to do anything geekier than update their anti-virus software, it’s ho-hum, so what.

But to a Sidekick who is learning good stewardship of the Hero’s provision by making an old run-down computer run at totally wicked awesome warp speed, this is very cool. I didn’t even know I needed to, until an update to Xubuntu 12.04 (still Beta) couldn’t complete because no more disk space was available. The old partitions were set up for the now 2-year-old Xubuntu 10.04. 20 GB was all it needed on the hard drive. Now 20 GB is too little – even Linux distros that are meant for older more modest hardware are outgrowing the old machines. It’s not the Linux developers’ fault, it’s the newest versions of favorite software. The new Firefox is fast and full featured, but just takes more to run it now than when my old computer was new and top-of-the-line. Perhaps this new Xubuntu will be the last OS this old dog can run. If so, I’ll run it on Xubu beyond 12.04’s end-of-life. So what? Old software for old hardware. Upgrading is not mandatory.

Perhaps when Xubuntu becomes too much for this old box, I’ll give Lubuntu a shot! It’s even lighter and faster than my favorite OS (Xubuntu), and maybe it will still support this old machine even beyond Xubu 12.04!

Far be it from a relative newcomer to Linux to go testing a Beta OS, but believe it or not, all I have to do is use it and just report what I see, what it does, when it breaks. They fix it! They especially like it when newbies test it.

People who you would think have no business playing with Linux – they make great Beta testers for the Xubu developers because the distro is aimed at newcomers! So if this Sidekick can do it, maybe you can too!