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.

 

An Honest Debian / Ubuntu Question

Originally posted on Diaspora, where it got responses like “Good question!” and “Ubuntu takes from Debian and gives nothing back” – which doesn’t even try to answer this honest question – and “X is better than Y because,” I offer it here:

An Honest Debian/Ubuntu Question

This is not one of those stupid #Debian – vs – #Ubuntu “which one is better” kind of posts, but an honest question based on direct personal observation. Before I ask it I must give grateful appreciation to #Debian, the great grandaddy of a zillion other distros including #Ubuntu and all of it’s derivatives. Debian, you totally rock the universe and all the users of hundreds of other Debian-derived distros owe you respect and thanks. All hail Debian! But now here’s my issue:

I have an ancient old relic, basically one step up from an abacus. With a 2.5 GHz Celeron processor and a paltry little 512 MB of RAM, #Linux has kept this trusty old hand-me-down dinosaur out of the landfill for four years since I switched from WindowsXP to Linux. Earlier editions of my first distro, “Linux for Human Beings®,” ran adequately, but I found myself shopping for “lightweight” distros starting with version 10.04.

The conventional wisdom goes like this:

  • Speed-vs-ease is a trade-off. The price of Ubuntu’s simplicity and ease of use is speed and efficiency, so for older hardware Debian is better;
  • Ubuntu is slower than Debian because it “adds extra weight” to Debian;
  • Debian + Xfce should be twelve zillion times faster than even minimal Ubuntu + Xfce, because Debian is the Source of all Ubuntu, and free of all the “dirt” Ubuntu accumulates on it’s way “downstream” from the Source.

My own experience suggests that exactly the opposite is true.

I experimented with lightweight editions of both Debian (including #Debian itself, #Crunchbang, #AntiX, #SalineOS, #MX-14) and Ubuntu ( #Xubuntu, #Lubuntu, #Mint-Xfce-13, #Bodhi, and #LXLE), as well as a wonderful little #Slackware derivative callled #SalixOS, and #PCLinuxOS‘ Xfce, LXDE, and Enlightenment spins.

They’re all wonderful in their own way, and it’s nice to have so many to choose from! But here’s the rub (finally):

The Ubuntu derivatives consistently (and I mean over the course of the last four years) boot faster and run faster on my hardware (your mileage may vary) than any others – including a “bare bones” Debian with only #Openbox to provide a graphical interface.

WHY?!?

Is the conventional wisdom simply wrong, as my experience for four years definitely suggests? What exactly is the difference between Debian and her daughter Ubuntu that makes the latter so much more freakin’ wonderfully fast on old hardware like mine?

Which Begs a Second Question:

Whatever Ubuntu has done “downstream” to make the Debian system so much faster as well as more elegant (on the desktop), why doesn’t Debian adopt it for the desktop?

Really, just honest, positive questions; not fanboyism, not complaining. Just genuine curiosity because my experience flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, which even Ubuntu users have believed and passed along in their own publications and forums.

I’d really be grateful for something to explain why the “conventional wisdom” is so wrong in my own experience. Thanks.

********************************

Some replies from the Diaspora community included these little gems:

You could always compile your own kernel, it’s definitely am interesting experience!

My reply:

dr marcus in terror

Another person offered:

Debian has a strict policy to only include free software, so adopting proprietary software from Canonical would restrict the use of the system. I think the success of Debian and it’s fork projects is due to the “Debian social contract” (see link). I feel like Debian is ment to be the source, the foundation to build upon, until we have a more open and free world. The software included is not the most cutting edge, but it is free to use for everyone.

Proprietary software from Canonical? NOT “from Canonical.” This is non-free firmware, and even Debian offers it as an option. Neither distro includes it by default, and none has been in use on my computer since I dumped Windows®. Sorry, that doesn’t answer the question. The difference in speed has nothing to do with “proprietary software.” I wonder if it’s something that the folks at Canonical do to the kernel.  I know they are now different enough from each other to be practically incompatible (they can’t share repositories).

One important difference between Debian and Ubuntu ist that Ubuntu uses Upstart instead of SysV-Init for booting. Upstart allows for parallel starts of system services while SysV-Init is strictly serial. This would explain faster boot times, but not faster system behavior after boot.

Definitely not system behavior after boot-up for sure!  But it’s useful!  I wonder if it’s actually better or just different.

I have many Ubuntu and plain Debian servers and my experience is that plain Debian is many times faster than Ubuntu. If I had a choice, I’d use plain Debian on every system, but I’m forced to use Ubuntu because it’s the only distribution I can find that offers some of the more off-the-wall proprietary (non-free) drivers for unique hardware. Ubuntu will ship you non free software like that (not caring if it’s illegal) but Debian (out of the box) will not.

Okay, so his experience – on servers, by the way, not desktops – is the opposite of mine. Too bad he’s unaware that he can get all the non-free drivers he needs from the Debian non-free repositories. So he is “forced” to use Ubuntu on some of his systems? Ignorance doesn’t count, and it doesn’t answer the question.

Okay look… Both distros share many of the same developers! And as for that frequently-heard complaint that “Ubuntu takes from Debian and gives nothing back,” I simply call

bsflag

Ubuntu offers a lot to Debian which Debian refuses to accept, given their lofty “standards.” IMO, those standards may be making the so-called “universal operating system®” only suitable for servers, not desktops.  Unless they start making desktop and laptop computers that don’t require non-free firmware to even function. And that, I think, is unlikely.

Here’s another good one:

The last company I worked at started hiring devs and managers fleeing from Canonical. I pointed out to the CEO and CTO that maybe having a Canonical reunion tour was not an ideal path for the company to follow, but I was ignored. I’m not a fan of Canonical. At all.

So he tried to prevent some people from keeping their jobs because he doesn’t like their former employer?!  Okay that doesn’t answer the question either, but it does say quite a bit about the bitter person who wrote it.

I would still like to know.  But I guess I never will.

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!

Linux is Outrunning My Hardware!

Welllll, my goodness.

It’s getting harder and harder to adapt really awesome Linux distros to my aging, older computer. I have tried out “Linux distros for old computers” before, and have never really been pleased with what I found. My poor old computer is slowing and locking up on my “lightweight” Xfce edition of PCLinuxOS. The issue is temporarily fixed by a reboot, so it isn’t likely a video driver issue. There’s a bit of “swappiness” going on, which is normal I suppose (“Swap” is when your computer creates “virtual RAM” on the hard drive to supplement RAM), but it slows everything – including lightweight browsers like Midori (which has the worst font rendering imaginable) and Chromium – to a crawl. Even the mouse freezes. I know, my computer is old!

Running Bleachbit helped, for a couple of days. Now it’s back to acting like Windows, slowwwwwwing dowwwwwwwn and eventually becoming unresponsive. Except that it took Windows a lot longer to decay like this. Time to face facts, I guess: My computer is probably too old and too underpowered to run any version of PCLinuxOS for the long term. So I renewed my search for a Linux distro intended for older hardware.

Surprisingly not intended for older hardware is Crunchbang Linux. It looks like it would run okay on really old hardware like mine, because it’s so minimal. But on their website (“About Crunchbang”) it says that while not intended for old computers, it’ll probably work okay on most. Two things give me pause: First it’s too close to Debian, which has been difficult on my machine. And second it’s not intended for old computers. I think I should quit kidding myself and find one that is specifically designed for old hardware.

Puppy Linux runs in RAM. Which means there’s less RAM available for applications. And you’re always running as root, which is against my religion now, having left that vulnerability behind when I quit Microsoft Windows!

AntiX works on a laptop I installed it on, but it isn’t very pretty and again, too close to Debian. Works great on the laptop, but not on my old Dell.

I could fall back on my old favorite Xubuntu, but again, it is not intended for old computers like it used to be. It’s now mainly an awesome desktop alternative to Ubuntu‘s Unity desktop. Best desktop environment I ever tried. But a bare-bones Xfce desktop is just plain ugly on Debian and minimal Ubuntu. The Xubuntu team makes Xfce elegant and awesome. Once the lightweight flavor of Ubuntu intended for modest hardware, Xubuntu has changed it’s vision to focus on the traditional desktop, not so much on conservative use of CPU and RAM.

Enter Lubuntu, the one remaining Ubuntu flavor that is actually intended for and designed for older hardware like mine. My previous forays into the LXDE desktop experience have been sketchy, buggy, and frustrating. But LXDE is undergoing rapid development and getting rave reviews lately. Another very nice thing LXDE has going for it is the switch to a Qt base rather than GTK. GTK’s evolutionis wreaking havoc with Gnome and Xfce applications, some of which worked fine on GTK-2 but haven’t adapted to GTK-3. Conflicts and incompatibility mar the transition to GTK-3, and in turn mess up desktop environments and applications that are GTK-dependent. This might be a bumpy ride for LXDE and me. But I think I’ll stick with a proven name I trust – Canonical/Ubuntu – and use whatever version of it is aimed specifically at older hardware. The only caveat: Long-Term-Support only.

Look for a review – well, more like a report – on Lubuntu sometime after the next LTS version is released.

Let the Whining Begin

It was bound to happen. Now let the whining begin!

Excerpted from this editorial at Distrowatch:

http://distrowatch.com/weekly.php?issue=20131209

Clem [Linux Mint’s founder and lead
developer] claims he has been asked by Canonical’s legal department to license the binary packages used by Ubuntu. To me this is a scary thought. Ubuntu is a base distribution for many projects, some of them (such as Mint and Kubuntu) are quite successful. Clem’s statement makes me wonder if Canonical has approached other open source projects about licensing the right to access Ubuntu’s package repositories. If so, what might follow? Would derivative distributions need to pay to use Canonical’s packages? How would Canonical enforce such a policy, with lawyers, by blocking access to the repositories if a user isn’t using Genuine Ubuntu? Canonical would certainly have the right to restrict access to its packages, they are on Canonical’s servers after all. However, most Linux distributions are quite open about allowing anyone to access their software repositories and I wonder if Canonical might be acting in a short-sighted manner if they are trying to license access.

With these thoughts in mind I contacted Canonical and asked if they could shed any light on the issue. At the time of writing I have not received a reply. An e-mail to the Linux Mint project asking for details yielded much better results. Clement Lefebvre responded the following day and, while he wasn’t able to go into specific details as talks with Canonical are still on-going, he was able to share a few pieces of information. When asked if Canonical was hoping to collect a fee for using their binary packages, Clem responded, “Money isn’t a primary concern. Although the original fee was in the hundreds of thousands pounds, it was easily reduced to a single digit figure. The licensing aims at restricting what Mint can and cannot do, mostly in relation to the OEM market, to prevent Mint from competing with Canonical in front of the same commercial partners.”

Clem went on to indicate Canonical has not offered any threats nor discussed enforcing any licensing terms. When I asked what Mint’s plans were concerning the licensing deal Clem answered, “We don’t think the claim is valid (i.e. that you can copyright the compilation of source into a binary, which is a deterministic process). With that said, Ubuntu is one of Mint’s major components and it adds value to our project. If we’re able to please Canonical without harming Linux Mint, then we’re interested in looking into it. As negative as this may sound, this is neither urgent nor conflictual. It’s a rare occasion for Canonical and Linux Mint to talk with one another and although there are disagreements on the validity of the claim, things have been going quite well between the two distributions and both projects are looking for a solution that pleases all parties.”

There must be a zillion or more Linux distros that are built on and derived from Canonical’s flagship Linux distro, Ubuntu. Without question, Ubuntu is by far the most successful desktop Linux distribution in history. Also without question, Ubuntu has done more to bring Linux to “the masses” of ordinary home computer users all over the world. It was Ubuntu which “tamed” Debian Linux better than anyone else (including Debian itself), making it practical for the desktop, and “user friendly” for us ordinary casual computer users. Naturally then, Ubuntu is the most copied distribution in history, with many more derivatives and spin-offs. The best known and most popular of these Ubuntu-derived distributions is Linux Mint.

Linux distributions offer libraries of software called repositories, from which security updates, upgrades, and software can be downloaded to maintain the operating system. Almost all of these repositories are free to the users (with some exceptions), and software packages, server space, and bandwidth costs are donated by users, by universities, tech companies, and donors. The software is packaged and maintained for most Linux distributions by volunteers. It’s awesome!

But here’s the thing: If I build a new Linux distribution based on another and it grows huge in popularity with tens of thousands of users, my distro still uses it’s parent distro’s repositories. Tens of thousands of “Robin’s Linux” users are tapping into the repositories of the distro I copied, raising the cost of maintaining the original.

I might say, “too bad, it’s free, it’s licensed that way, so tough luck. It isn’t my fault that the base I built from is awesome. Let them pay for it!”

The people I copied from aren’t obligated to provide free support and server space for my users. They should not have to pay extra so I can just feed off of them and make “Robin’s Linux” the most popular Linux in the world, yay for me, praise Robin, and by the way, please donate to support Robin who gave us this awesome Linux distro.

Suppose the people I copied from get tired of paying for my users’ share of their resources, and finally ask me to share some of the cost. That’s only fair, isn’t it?

Apparently not to many users of Linux Mint, who are whining and complaining bitterly about Canonical’s request for licensing fees or some way to help shoulder the very heavy burden that Canonical has borne for years, supporting Linux Mint’s huge number of users with it’s vast Ubuntu repositories. In this thread on the Linux Mint forums, several Mint users castigate Canonical (Ubuntu’s developer) as some evil, greedy tyrant who can’t take the heat of competition.

What? Competition? What competition? Linux Mint is Ubuntu! With pretty green window dressing and some wonderful, ingenious improvements like the Mint Menu and Mint Updater and Mint Backup-and-Restore. But at it’s core, it’s Ubuntu. Linux Mint is awesome because it’s Ubuntu at it’s core. And by some estimates, Linux Mint is more popular now than it’s parent distro. Which means that Linux Mint is a huge drain on Canonical’s resources. Ubuntu’s huge software repositories are supported privately by Canonical, not by charitable donations like most Linux distros’ repositories.

The Mint community’s response to Canonical’s simple request for some help with the cost of the burden of maintaining many distros besides their own is disappointing. As one of their own users put it, “It’s kinda like biting the hand that feeds you and then getting all butthurt when they finally say “‘stop it!'”

That’s it, exactly. If Mint is so awesome, let it’s users step up and pay their share of the cost to maintain it instead of acting like the 40-year-old bum who won’t get a job, and lives in his mommy’s basement playing video games that she pays for.

Are Linux Users Anti-Capitalist?

I’ve seen a lot of stuff in Linux forums and blogs to make me think so, in spite of the existence of for-profit Linux companies like Red Hat, Novell, and Canonical. During my very brief membership in Diaspora, the free and open-source social network that bills itself as an alternative to Facebook, I found no other members there who believe in good old fashioned free market capitalism. Diaspora attracts many Linux/FOSS users. There were hundreds of posts from Diaspora community members equating profit with greed, as though it is somehow unethical to reap the rewards of one’s own hard work. For all I could tell, I may have been the only one in the whole network with an opposing point of view.

Now comes another rant from Richard Stallman, the rabid FOSS advocate who sees all other software as inherently evil because it may have a profit motive. In his most recent anti-capitalist rant, the Bearded One rails against Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, the most popular and most widely used desktop Linux distribution in history. He urges Linux users to abandon Ubuntu because of an advertized feature of it’s innovative Unity desktop interface (here). He claims that the “shopping lens” in the desktop “dash” (think of “dashboard” – that Unity desktop is pretty cool, and is designed with a view towards touch screens and such – the future!) is a “sneaky” invasion of the user’s privacy with an eeeeevil profit motive.

First of all, the shopping lens is an advertized feature of Ubuntu, so there’s nothing “sneaky” about it. And users can easily opt out if they don’t want to use it. Secondly, it takes money to fund development of Ubuntu’s innovations, which they then provide for free to their users. Canonical’s deal with Amazon helps provide some of that funding while preserving the user’s privacy by not collecting any “user-identifiable” information. What expectation of privacy does any online shopper have anyway? Gimme a break! If Canonical can get enough profit from deals with companies like Dell, Amazon, and Google to continue funding their awesome and innovative operating system and then give that operating system away for free, how can that be considered greedy and selfish?

It’s only considered “greedy” by anarchists, communists, and others who believe that the rewards of one’s own hard work should not be retained by those who earn those rewards. “Share the wealth,” we are told by those who would remove any incentive to work at all, much less invest in the work of others. The Linux and Free and Open Source Software communities have more than their fair share of such rabid anti-capitalists who think they are entitled to all the benefits of other people’s work. What about their own volunteer contributions to the Free Software Foundation? How is that different from any Ubuntu user who wants to use Ubuntu’s cool search feature or shopping feature to support their favorite Linux/FOSS project? Answer: It’s no different at all. It’s just easier than writing a check to support the Bearded One’s favorite Linux/FOSS projects – or more accurately, to support the Bearded One himself.

Shut up, Stallman. Quit begging and bitching and get a real job. I bet if you did, you would come to resent the efforts of other socialists and anarchists to confiscate your wages in order to “share the wealth” with other bums like you.