Xubuntu and Linux Lite

I take special delight in keeping this ancient Dell desktop running and out of the landfill.  With it’s very low resources, it doesn’t really run the full-blown version of Xubuntu as well as it used to, and when 32-bit support ends it’ll finally be time to retire the faithful old box. It runs xubuntu-core like a dream though!  Well-chosen lightweight applications (Geary and Midori instead of Thunderbird and Firefox, for example) and the very basic Xfce desktop with the wonderful Xubuntu default settings (but no compositing, not a bunch of daemons running in the background, etc) make this old beast race along as sweet as ever.

But I also have a laptop with 3 gigs of RAM and a dual-core processor and it’s 64-bit.  So just for grins, I’m giving Linux Lite a try.  It’s Xubuntu-based and designed to be even more novice-friendly (if that is even possible).  It has some pretty special little features that are great for folks trying out Linux for the first time.

lite-welcome

Once installed (using the super-awesome Ubiquity installer that makes all the Ubuntu-based distros installable in minutes with wonderful simplicity), the first boot of Linux Lite offers this interactive step-by-step guide to getting started.  After updating installed software, you can upgrade within a series with a great little Linux Lite application that changes repository settings as needed to the next point within a “series.”  Each series is based on the LTS releases of Ubuntu and compare with point releases.  Very cool.  Now check out the “Tweak tool:”

linux-lite-tweaks-tool_orig

This is a sweet little all-in-one-screen utility that does a little bit of housekeeping and customizing.  Newbies can simply check all the “Safe” options to keep the system clean and fast.  All of this can be done in any Xfce distro from the Settings menu, but Linux Lite has made it more convenient and reassuring for novice users.  Now they can tweak and peak their OS fearlessly.  That extra little safety assurance is similar to what Linux Mint  has done with their Updater, with levels of risk clearly labeled and explained for the user.

SUPPORT

The interactive online Help Manual opens in a tabbed web page and helps users navigate through many of the tasks that sometimes frustrate newbies (and technophobes like me), like getting the wireless to work, finding the right driver (or even updating existing ones!), getting the sound to work, etc.  For most users, all that stuff works right out of the chute anyway!  But if not, this Help Manual is about the simplest and best I’ve ever seen.  Not a Wiki or a searchable database, but a step-by-step guide with pictures and everything.

linux-lite-support-page

CONCLUSION

If you’re installing Linux yourself for the first time, Linux Lite is an awesome beginner’s distro with all of Xubuntu’s awesomeness made super simple and a lot less scary for the technically challenged / phobic novice than most distros, even “beginner friendly” ones.  And it’s lightweight enough to run on most computers that used to run Windows XP or Windows 2K.

If you’re not a “rank beginner” and can find your way around or want to provide a little bit of support for a friend, I still recommend Xubuntu.  I also recommend Xubuntu-core if you’re like me, using an ancient dinosaur relic fossil that can barely manage full-blown Xubuntu or Linux Lite, which is not lighter than Xubuntu in any way, but you don’t need to settle for a bare-bones desktop interface that doesn’t offer the fantabulous configurability and beauty of the Xfce desktop.  I remain a

xubuntubar

but heartily recommend Linux Lite for rookie beginner novices, with older hardware that is too nice to just throw away.

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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.

 

From Linux Mint to LXLE

Your mileage may vary, of course. But for me the choice has been an easy one:

I bought a modest, used Dell Latitude laptop computer for school and work. It is a 64-bit machine that shipped with Windows 7 and has 6 times the RAM of my desktop, an ancient Dell Dimension desktop with 512 MB that still runs better on LXLE than when it was brand new running Windows XP! I was a Xubuntu fanboy until even Xubuntu got to be too much for the old desktop. Lubuntu (at the time) was a halting, buggy mess that while plenty fast, operated with fits and starts. It didn’t last even a day before I was trying alternatives like MX-14 which was great for a while and then troublesome and rebellious later on. So I experimented with LXLE and it has been fantastic and trouble-free for over a year now.

But when I got the new laptop with 3 GB of RAM and all that power, I thought I should try good ol’ Xubuntu again, maybe play around with some other distros that would surely run better on this new high-powered 64-bit beauty. First to find it’s way onto the hard drive was Xubuntu, my old favorite for many years. Because it is stable, functional, simple, and has that wonderful Xfce desktop I love. It refused to run the computer’s built-in wireless card, and all efforts to install the Broadcom driver failed to remedy the situation. On a desktop it wouldn’t have mattered, but for goodnessakes, a laptop is supposed to be wireless!

So I tried Linux Mint Xfce 17 (codenamed Rebecca). Same great Xubuntu base, fantastically easy and safe updater that helps avoid the whole “borked by an update” scenario that the Ubuntu flavors are famous for (not so much on the long-term-support editions though). I love Rebecca! She’s gorgeous, down-to-earth, compliant, low maintenance, and eager to please. Best Mint yet! But again, wireless didn’t work. I actually ended up buying a wifi-dongle just to regain the functionality required of a laptop! I shouldn’t have to do that, but that’s just a fact of the times when you buy a computer that is “built for Windows.”

tpe g54usb 0

This little gem from ThinkPenguin.com cost only $25 and made my laptop a laptop again.  It was the only option after spending a couple of frustrating days following every step of extracting the driver from Windows and “ndswrapping” it into Linux without success.  Money well spent.

In the meantime I have been doing most of my work on the desktop, and growing increasingly fond of that ultralight and super-simple LXDE desktop. I hadn’t liked it on buggy, frustrating Lubuntu, but that PCManFM file manager is wonderful, the management and configurability of the panels and applets is every bit as elegant and easy in LXDE as in it’s older sibling, Xfce.  Basically, I just got used to it, and since I use it here on the desktop all the time, I figured my laptop should be the same way instead of confusing myself between the two.  And in front of other people too, since I use the laptop at work and school a lot.  As much as I adore the lovely Rebecca, I decided to try out the new 64-bit LXLE 14.04 and see how it compared with my desktop’s 32-bit LXLE 12.04.

The new one very closely matches the old one, but omygoodness, the default applications are the very same ones I always use (and usually have to install, sometimes from a PPA).  LibreOffice of course, but lookie here: Seamonkey!  Heh heh!  See I’m not the only one who thinks it’s wonderful, and knows how much less resource hungry this Netscape-based suite from Mozilla is than it’s more famous and popular Mozilla siblings.  It’s even faster than Chrome!  It’s almost completely set up the way I always set my own desktop configuration up, panels and all, right from the start.  Almost no tweaking to do.  And to my surprise, the wireless card works right out of the gate in LXLE!  Even Rebecca couldn’t manage it, but here’s this “lesser” distro for older hardware that just recognized it and enabled it instantly.  No more need to plug in my USB wifi dongle.  Maybe I’ll use it on my desktop instead, so I can move my desk to where I want to without running wires around the house.  Praise be!

I don’t even miss that once-beloved Xfce desktop anymore.  LXLE does LXDE better than Lubuntu, and better even than Xubuntu does Xfce.  It is elegant, lightning-fast, absolutely gorgeous, and stays out of my way when I’m working on school stuff.

Your mileage may vary, and people have their own reasons for choosing a Linux distro. But for me, switching from Linux Mint to LXLE was an easy choice. Now my laptop offers the same familiar interface and beautiful functionality of my desktop – and no longer needs special hardware added to give it the functionality I need.

Death of a Distro: Linux Has It’s Own Afterlife!

In a previous blog post, I tried to answer the question of why there are so very many Linux distributions (“distros” for short). Click there and read that one first, then come on back here and finish this post. It’ll help make sense of what I’m about to say.

The years have seen some small and some big Linux distros come and go. Some great notables among the honored “dead” Linux distros are Lindows, Mandrake, Libranet, and SimplyMepis. Lesser known but more recently popular ones include some recent “deaths,” such as SolusOS, Fuduntu, and Bodhi.

Dead, perhaps, but neither gone completely nor forgotten. Mepis/SimplyMepis is about to release Mepis 12. It’s already available for download as a beta, but because it is based on Debian Stable, I seriously doubt that it is of beta quality. The demise of Mepis has not been officially announced, but the resignation of its main developer has been. That usually spells the end of a distro, but not always. The same can be said about Bodhi, which also is losing it’s main developer. Is bonny Bodhi doomed? Is Mepis kaput? Perhaps not. A lot depends on the community around a Linux distro.

I think that the difference between a truly dead distro and one that survives, either through an “heir” or a “reincarnation,” is it’s community. And I think I can prove it with examples.

Mandrake lives! It has been reincarnated, mixed with the best of some other Linux flavors borrowed from both Debian and it’s former incarnation in a new(er) distro called PCLinuxOS. Because Mandrake had a loyal, competent, and enthusiastic following which included a very capable Linux wizard named “Texstar.” PCLinuxOS is “the heir of Mandrake,” so even though officially “dead,” magnificent Mandrake lives on through it’s heir.

Sometimes a distro’s community falls back to a living “ancestor” of their experiment, as was the case for Lindows and Libranet. Both built from mighty and immortal Debian Linux, the developers went back to their “parent” distro and brought lessons learned and triumphs earned back with them to Debian. There’s no “heir” nor apparent successor to these old commercial distros, but all Linux users – especially those of us who use Debian-based Linux – have directly benefited. Yes, Virginia, there is an afterlife for Linux distros.

I never used Fuduntu nor Cloverleaf. All I know is that the former was developed “just for fun” and very few people ever took it seriously. Yet it had a successor of sorts, also deceased. But Linux is fun for these cyber-explorers, and their accomplishments are probably not wasted. I would bet that bits of these two “minor” distros live on in other forms.

There are probably twelve zillion Ubuntu-based distros that fit a different category, never having ever actually lived at all. These were attempts to grow a distro “from cuttings of a bigger plant” (Ubuntu) that didn’t take root. It probably happens a lot. Usually these are “one-man distros” that have a poor chance of living longer than a few months anyway, because they’re not actually developed, only “borrowed” and re-branded. I call them “distrolets.” Not true distros.

Bodhi may only be changing hands, and not in any danger of imminent demise. Like Mepis, no one has announced the end of development, only the departure of one key person, the principle founder / lead developer. But unlike Mepis, Bodhi hasn’t been around long enough to gain a large and loyal following that includes several “Linux gurus” in it’s following. I hope I’m wrong about that and I wish them well, of course. But it seems that no one has stepped up to take the reigns of the Ubuntu-based Bodhi Linux project. Mepis, on the other hand, has an “heir apparent,” and several competent community members who continue to maintain and develop the project.

The next release of this one-time top-of-the-charts magnificent Debian-based distro may be the last one, but Mepis has a bright future by any consideration because of it’s very well established community. The successor and “rightful heir” of SimplyMepis is MX. Named according to it’s heritage (Mepis/AntiX) and featuring the Xfce desktop, some of its users have already demonstrated delightful success in modifying it with great results, from a KDE desktop to some of Mepis’ special tools and graphics. Old as my computer is, it ran the full SimplyMepis KDE version 8.0 with no more trouble than it had with WindowsXP when it was brand new.

My old relic couldn’t run the newest version, but it has only gotten more beautiful since I was able to run it on this machine. Still as beautiful in it’s MX version with the Xfce desktop and funny name. Because of it’s well-established and tech-savvy community (excluding this technophobe and some other new folks) and it’s Debian-Stable base, the heir of Mepis is poised to enjoy a long and fruitful life. It doesn’t appear on Distrowatch yet, at least under it’s new name, but I predict a steady rise in it’s use, particularly among those with older computers that want a rock-stable OS without the unexpected drama that many users of other Xfce distros experience.

In whatever form it takes and by whatever name it is known, long live Mepis!