Why Windows is Fundamentally Flawed

This video is very geeky, lots of technobabble that most of us won’t understand.  But it thankfully short, and understandable enough – even for a technophobic Ba’ku boy – to make you really think twice about using Microsoft Windows if you don’t have to (like at work or school if you’re just stuck with it).  But at home, or anywhere that the “rules” don’t require you to use Windows, seriously look at an alternative!  I wanted to try Mac, but the price tag was unbelievably incredibly ridiculous!  Looking for any other alternative, I discovered Linux and found one perfect for a technophobic student.  Heck I even did all my schoolwork on Linux, using LibreOffice and saving it in Microsoft Word format or pdf.

Anyway, three flaws that make Microsoft Windows so susceptible to viruses and stuff:

Programs run as “Administrator.”  This means most programs running on Windows have total access to everything, including system files – like knobs and levers and pedals and whatever that controls the machine!

Hardware drivers – not part of the kernel, but added on from different vendors (who may or may not be Microsoft) with God Only Knows what’s in them – but they too have “root” (Administrator) access.  They have to.  In Linux, though external drivers are rarely used, but most drivers are written right into the kernel.

No permissions assigned to individual programs.  One program has all access to run amok, system-wide, unchecked.  Yikes!

Anyway, techno-wizardly super geek or not, this video offers some important info about the most used operating system in home computers (Linux rules the server market!).  It’s only 7 and 1/2 minutes long, so it’s endurable.  I share it because it’s important, okay?

Robin’s Favorite Forever

I think that if I listed all the Linux distributions I have tried, it would number somewhere near two dozen or thirty!  Some didn’t last a day, some not even an hour.  Some lasted for weeks or months, when either some update messed it, or I messed it up myself, one just disappeared, one got political and I dumped it on principle, and one – only one – was the distro I always ran home to when I either got scared off, ticked off, or turned off.

Debian and Debian-based distros.  Slackware and Slackware-based distros.  Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros.  PCLinuxOS (independent, the apparent “heir” of Mandrake).  Red-Hat-based distros.  Everything but Gentoo and Arch.  I am a technophobe still, after all.  Some I loved!  Crunchbang Linux, now unsupported, was most awesome when it was Ubuntu-based.  The switch to Debian brought improvements in some areas but made installation and configuration much harder and more complicated, and one installed, it ran slower too.

In the end, they’re all Linux, all wonderful for the niches they fill.  Whether for servers, tablets, or desktops; whether for super-geeks or novices; grandparents or little kids; students, teachers, heroes, and sidekicks – there’s a Linux for everyone.

For this technophobic sidekick, it really has, after 6 years, boiled down to one single distro that has kept my old relic computer out of the landfill since I first ditched WindowsXP for my first ever alternative OS, Ubuntu 8.04.  One that – once discovered – became my go-to operating system, the one I always ended up falling back to.

When Canonical tamed mighty Debian and made it finally available, installable, and useful for ordinary mortals to use without “mad techno-geek skillz,” they did it better than anyone else had before.  And they still do.  I know a lot of Linux folks enjoy belittling Canonical for their business dealings and Ubuntu (to include the official derivatives, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Edubuntu, etc) users for their lack of computer skills.   So be it.  I have always lacked computer skills when it came to tweaks and fixes and configurations and such.  I kept a diary of whatever I did and what resulted.  I learned to use the terminal like a wonderful, powerful, magic toolbox!  But I always preferred the graphical interface, and the point-and-shoot simplicity of the Synaptic Package Manager instead of sudo apt-get whatever, for example.

I may yet get a few more years out of this old dinsaur before Linux stops offering support for 32-bit architecture.  But even when I no longer need to stick to “lightweight” distros, I’ll stick with the best one I’ve ever used, the one that more than any other, has kept my old desktop running, got me through all my college classes, and inspired this blog.

Robin’s all-time, forever fanboy Linux distro:

xubu-core16-04

XUBUNTU.  Here’s 16.04, built from Xubunu-core (after installing the Ubuntu base with only a terminal) and my own selected lightweight applications.  There’s no Firefox or Thunderbird in my remix, no LibreOffice, none of the usual popular stuff, but ultralight or other lightweight alternatives.  Geary for email (because Claws Mail just refused to cooperate). Midori for web browsing. Abiword and Gnumeric for office stuff. Mostly standard Xfce apps for just about everything else I use my computer for.  All with the awesome Ubuntu base and Xubuntu team community support.

This old Dell still runs faster and better on Xubuntu, now 7 years later, than it did when it was brand new running WindowsXP.

 

Sticking With Salix!

Well this is certainly unexpected! The first time I tried Salix, it refused to boot after an update, and I was like, “I’m done. I thought ‘borked by an update’ was uniquely a Debian/Ubuntu phenomenon until now. Screw this.”

What an ignorant and impatient fool I was. When an update includes a kernel update, you also have to update your bootloader to load the new kernel. That’s what I did wrong, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own, for not reading the instructions and assuming far too much. Typical, perhaps, of a technophobic user playing with a Slackware derivative for the first time after using almost exclusively Ubuntu-based distros previously. I was used to being spoon-fed and giving the operating system too much automation. Simplicity does not mean “everything happens automagically and you don’t have to do anything but click Okay.” The user is responsible for knowing what the heck he or she is doing!

Salix tells me what my choices might mean during installation and updates, and when it refused to boot after I made a stupid decision, I should have known. Silly spoon-fed Ubuntu user and Slackware rookie.

But y’know what? I think I’m just gonna leave Salix on my old ancient relic desktop computer for good. I’m probably all done messing around with other distros, at least on this particular computer. Here are my reasons:

It’s Slackware-based and fully compatible with it’s parent distro, unlike most of the other Slackware-based “lightweight” distros. This means it has Slackware’s legendary stability and reliability, and ultra-mega-super-duper-uber-long-term support.

It’s super simple! In keeping with the whole Slackware philosophy – and Linux philosophy, for that matter. One application per task. Do one thing and do it well. Stay the heck out of the user’s way.

It’s systemd-free.
I know, before you jump all over me about it, I’ve read all the debates and I think I’ve probably never personally had any issues with systemd, except that even my beloved Xubuntu began to slow down over time (almost like “Windows rot”) and had to be rebooted regularly just to refresh it and dump cache and stuff. It didn’t do that before Ubuntu (and thus Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Mint, and all their derivatives and spin-offs and remixes) adopted systemd, so I wonder if that might be part of the reason. The “one ring to rule them all” feature of systemd is counter to the “do one thing and do it well” principle that has made Linux so awesome to begin with (until recently). I don’t reboot Salix. I don’t need to. Could systemd be the reason? I don’t know, but it sure is nice not to have the gradual loss of speed over time that I experienced with Xubu and other old favorites.

Yeah, he’s talking to systemd.

Salix doesn’t include kernel updates by default. Why should they? The installed kernel works fine, it’s secure, and my computer doesn’t need support for all kindsa features it doesn’t even have. It ain’t broke, no need to fix anything. The only thing I change is the wallpaper occasionally, or fonts and stuff. It’s perfectly boring, as it should be.

My distro-hopper-stopper is Salix.

I haven’t tried it on the laptop yet, but that’s another post for another day.

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 users 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. 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.  Now that turned out to be simply a matter of updating the bootloader to a new kernel. 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 look, 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 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. And it’s also why the Slackware philosophy (one app per task) and the Linux philosophy (do one thing and do it well) appeal to me.

Y’want an app that’s not in the repos? No problem. 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 little old me.

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!

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. 

 

 

My Technophobia

Any fan of the Star Trek movies will remember this little guy from the movie Star Trek – Insurrection:

That’s Artim, of the Baku. His ancestors came from a planet where technology had developed weapons that threatened to destroy all life. Determined never to allow that to happen again, some of them decided to colonize a new world where most technology would be forsaken, and to build an agrarian society where machines do not do all the work of the people, leaving the idle to make mischief. Despite being technologically advanced, Artim’s people have rejected technology.

“Artim” is the moniker (and image) I chose to identify myself by in the wonderful forums they have at PCLinuxOS. Because I’ve always been pretty scared of technology. I’m an artist, and the last thing I ever imagined I’d be doing would be repartitioning a hard drive and installing and configuring my own operating system! “Linux is only for techno-geeks,” I had always assumed, and whenever I had computer problems I simply took the machine to a Microsoft Certified repair geek and paid whatever ransom was required to get my computer running again. I didn’t want to have anything to do with fixing my own tech stuff. I was scared to even open the tower cabinet to blow dust out of it! When the new smart phones came out, I asked for a “regular” phone, preferably one like this:

Please, just keep it simple! I don’t want a fancy one that can track the orbits of planets and comets, or predict the weather, or tell me what my dreams mean and whatever else those “smart” phones do! I just want a mobile telephone for goodnessakes, can’t I just have a phone? Noooooo. They don’t even make those anymore. And the old bricks that once served only as phones won’t work anymore with the current technology.

I really do get freaked out by technology. But like Artim’s people in the movie, technology was imposed upon me by outsiders, and I had to overcome my fear and distrust of all things technological. When I joined the fire department it was all techno-stuff. In college it was techno-stuff. Lifesaving techno-stuff, good and beneficial techno-stuff. But no less frightening to me than the walking, talking android Starfleet Commander was to little Artim at first.

So am I some kind of tech guru now? No way. Have I lost my fear of technology? Not entirely. I’m still just an ordinary reluctant user of computers and smart phones and technology by necessity. And frankly I still fume at having it imposed upon me. I am far from embracing this new world I find myself in now, where – like Artim’s ancestors – technology threatens to destroy all life. “When you build a machine to do the work of a man, you take something away from the man,” Artim’s father explained to Captain Picard.

Linux is not the fearful technology I imagined, though. It is simply the means by which I have overcome the tyranny imposed by Microsoft, just as the Enterprise’ technology liberated Artim’s world. In fact, Microsoft’s operating system is a lot more complicated, confusing, and bewildering than desktop Linux is. And look at the prices! Microsoft’s bloated, high-risk operating system: Two to three hundred dollars by itself, plus the cost of all the bloatware needed to maintain it (antivirus, anti-spyware, etc) and the cost of whatever software you need (Microsoft Office – $100 or more), and of course, the repeated cost of having a Microsoft Certified techno-geek repair the damage of ordinary use. Compare to Linux: Free. Completely free of charge for the operating system, no need for bloatware to maintain it, and free, open-source software like LibreOffice to do what others charge big bucks for. Maintaining it is also free of charge. Safe updates from software repositories maintained by volunteer developers, packagers, and maintainers. My Linux installs effortlessly in about 25 minutes. Try that with Winblows or Mac! I point-and-click my way through easily navigable screens, choose a name and a root (administrator) password and presto, done.

The only confusing thing for me has been all the different “flavors” Linux is available in, and the different desktop environments to choose from. But trying them all out costs nothing, and one can’t help but learn along the way. It took me a year to finally choose a favorite desktop, and two new ones have come along since then! Such wondrous variety, and all free.

More Reasons Not to Fear Linux

Linux has no “registry,” and thus no registry errors to slow it down to a crawl and no need for more software to “fix” it.

Linux is not susceptible to most viruses and malware like Winblows is, for two reasons: First because there aren’t many ‘Nixers as compared to ‘Dozers, so not much malware gets written to attack this “obscure” operating system. But second, because executable files don’t run in Linux like they do in Winblows, and the user doesn’t ordinarily operate in Linux as “Administrator” like Winblows users do. Viruses simply don’t have access to the system, and even if they get it through some act of deliberate stupidity on the part of the user, they may not even be executable there.

Linux works on just about any hardware nowadays, and it’s ideal for keeping older computers running better than new instead of replacing a perfectly good computer because Winblows doesn’t support the version that was installed when you bought it. Did you get that, WindowsXP users? Next April you don’t have to spend big bucks for a whole new machine just because support for WindowsXP is ending! There’s a completely FREE alternative that should not scare you like I was scared at first. Like Artim was.

I’m no Linux guru or techno-geek. I’m not running off to join Starfleet. I’m just an appreciative Baku boy with a better perspective of technology (and a new android friend). A little less bewildered and scared of it, and better able to help others just like me, who try to avoid technology and have been willing to pay tribute to a tyrant (Microsoft or Apple) rather than live free and on their own terms. Technology is meant to serve us, not the other way around! Remember Artim when April gets closer and your XP machine is about to become obsolete and more threatening than ever. Even a little sidekick can handle most desktop Linux distributions without any special geek-training. You can too. Don’t be scared.

A Linux Hitchhiker

When you think about it, computers users like me are just hitchhikers. I don’t have much to contribute, I’m just along for the ride and happy to have a ride at all. A hitchhiker usually finds himself or herself at the mercy of those he or she takes a rides from. That’s not really true in Linux like it was in Microsoft’s car. Microsoft held me for ransom. The only contribution they wanted from me was money – lots of it. And of course, I had to be a willing slave to their operating system. I found it’s demands excessive and got sick of the bullying. It’s my computer, it should do what I tell it to do, not the other way around! So I hopped out, said goodbye and stuck out my thumb in search of an alternative.

As a hitchhiking computer user, you’re not so independent unless you have skills at coding and programming and such. But fortunately not all those who offer rides are in it for the money or expertise. Many are looking for riders who are simply willing to ride along and evaluate the vehicle and it’s features from a non-technical, ordinary user’s perspective. Some Linux developers, particularly those who work in desktop projects, want to know if it’s something their friends will use, that won’t scare away technophobic parents and grandparents, that children can intuitively navigate. They need to know what unskilled hitchhikers think.

There are other things that people who pick up hitchhikers want. It’s the reason that hitchhikers suppose they have to flash some skin and act a little flirty since we think we have nothing else to offer. Like all geeks, Linux developers need affection, appreciation, and love. Fangirls and fanboys to sing their praises and make them feel successful and appreciated. Fan blogs get lots of readers and devoted fangirls and boys are rewarded with hits and listings on Linux Planet, Launchpad, Linux News and whatever else. ” Linux cheerleaders” are popular with “Linux jocks” I guess. I could be one of those if I wanted to be, and if I were to become a cheerleader and poster fanboy for a Linux distro right now, I would choose Xubuntu Linux to dance and cheer for. Because for right now, it’s awesome for me on my old hand-me-down Dell which Xubuntu has rescued from the landfill. I absolutely adore Xubuntu! But I’m not going to become one of those fanboy / cheerleaders for good reasons:

  • I may not always have this computer.
  • Xubuntu may not always work on this computer as awesomely as it does today.
  • Xubuntu has changed a lot since I first took a ride and fell in love. I still adore it, but let’s just say I’ve had to make some adjustments to our relationship.

I don’t need to be a cheerleader or have a popular, widely-read “Linux blog” to get rides. Besides, I can get rides without sacrificing my dignity, because I can write honest, articulate articles about my Linux experiences as an ordinary casual home computer user. That and an occasional donation to a worthy project is all I have to offer, and it ought to be enough. I’m not ever going to learn coding and programming because I have neither the time, nor the skills, nor the passion such work requires for boring stuff like techno-appliances and their peripherals. I just need them to work so I can pursue the things I am passionate about. My computer is just a tool, a means to other ends. I’m grateful for those whose passion provides me with such awesome tools to pursue my passions with. I have other interests but on occasion in this category I like to to chronicle my journey and tell about the rides I have shared with generous drivers, some that were wonderful fun and some that were duds. Your mileage, as they say, will certainly vary.

But remember, if you are a casual user like me, that you’re just a hitchhiker and don’t piss off the nice driver who is helping you out. Of course that doesn’t mean you have to put up with rude drivers, unsafe drivers, nasty, smelly or even boring ones. Just say thank you and hop out, unless you’re in the middle of nowhere without any other option. But with Linux it’s so darn easy to collect LiveCDs / DVDs, and you’re never out of options.