My Desktop

MX-17 is simply gorgeous right out of the box! But y’know I like to change things up a little bit, and I like a clean, simple, pretty desktop with just a tiny bit of bling. I still haven’t decided if I’ll keep Cairo-Dock on or go back to the awesome Xfce panel on the bottom that I always love. I’m just play’n around with it.

That’s just the notification stuff in the top panel, and favorite app launchers in the super wicked-kewl dock on the bottom that magnifies the icons when you mouse over them and bounces them when you click on one to launch it. I also always liked that 3D effect you get from the little table the icons appear to be resting on, reflected on the panel. So pretty, so cool.

This is Debian Linux made really easy, but without the instability and bloat of Ubuntu and most of it’s derivatives. With the ‘buntu-based ones (besides Linux Mint and PeppermintOS), I generally was very leery of updates from upstream (meaning, from Ubuntu). I have learned to selectively update, but for new users who haven’t learned to selectively update, I always recommend either Mint, Peppermint, or Linux Lite as long as the updater from unlockforus is installed first before updating a new installation. But that kinda limits your choices, doesn’t it? While that updater should theoretically work on any Ubuntu-based distro, including the official Ubuntu flavors (Xubu, Lubu, Kubu, etc), it’s intended only for the distros that ship with it or on Linux Lite.

Better yet, choose a distro that doesn’t need to be modified with added special software to make it safe. That’s one of the things I always hated about Windows for goodnessakes, you had to add extra stuff just to maintain the operating system! Like antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-ransomware, crap cleaners, optimizers, etc. Well I prefer to run applications, not the operating system! Of course the user should maintain his computer and it’s OS, I’m not say’n (s)he shouldn’t! I’m jus’ say’n a newcomer to Linux should start with a system that is already as safe and stable and reliable as it can be. If it’s super newbie friendly, that’s a nice bonus, but starting with a rock-stable foundation that isn’t borked by updates is, in my opinion, lots more important.

For goodnessakes I didn’t want a Linux that “looks and acts like Windows” in order to “make it easy for Windows users to adapt to Linux.” Fine, make it easy, but I don’t want a FOSS copy of the operating system I just replaced because it sucked and got in my way all the time and required abuncha bloatware and time to maintain. I want it to be different enough from Winblows to make me feel good about choosing an alternative OS, but point-and-clicky enough to be “friendly.” That’s one of the reasons I reeeeeally like the Xfce desktop! It can be modified all kindsa ways to look and behave just about any way you want it to, and it’s not a resource-hungry behemoth like KDE or Gnome. In fact, the Xfce desktop is the same one Linux Lite uses to “make it easy for Windows users to adapt.” Alot of people apparently like and want a “Windows-like” desktop, which is why Zorin and Linux Lite are so popular I guess. But for me, no thank you, I want nothing to look or act like Windows. In fact, if it looks a little scary and sinister, like “touch it and die,” that’s cool too.

Like Crunchbang Linux, for example, came with a warning that it could make your computer go “Crunch! Bang!” if you press the wrong button or something. It had a black, almost sinister-looking Openbox desktop that made you feel like a superduper-techno-wizard just for having successfully installed it! Mwahahahaaa! Now to try to take over the planet!

MX-17 is my favorite Linux now, because it’s got the newbie-friendly stuff going on (enough of it to make it suitable for competent newbies – not enough to protect them from being irresponsibly stupid), but inherently much safer with it’s Debian Stable base than any of the Ubuntu-based stuff.

MX-Tools – Newbie Awesomeness Without the Ubuntu Risk!

Today instead of using the Systemback or Timeshift apps that I was used to, I tried out an awesome new one (new to me anyway) from the wonderful tool set that comes with MX-17. It’s called MX Snapshot and it does what the others do – flawlessly and simply. I was able to completely “clone” my desktop system to a bootable iso, then burn it to a USB key using MX Live USB Maker.

Other than being very slow to boot up, it ran and installed effortlessly on my laptop computer with every bit of information and settings saved from the desktop computer. Best of all, once installed and booted up from the hard drive, I did not have to fiddle around with stupid Broadcom drivers or Ndiswrapper or any of that stuff to get the wifi to work! It simply recognized the new network device and in two clicks I was connected! Without needing that fail-safe driverless wifi dongle I always had to use on the laptop when it was running Linux Lite.

The installer for the iso created on MX Live USB Maker is identical to the official installer. Very graphical and beginner-friendly. I gave MX the entire drive, since backups are so easy and I still have that iso and can create a new one in mere minutes.

The tool set in MX-17 is pure awesomeness. Not only simple enough for a technophobic Ba’ku boy to understand, but it actually works like it says!

MX may not be as novice-friendly at first (that is, to install and configure), but for the longer term it’s better for new Linux users because it’s built on Debian Stable. Unlikely to be bricked by one of upstream Ubuntu’s infamous updates and all the attending regressions and breakage.

Linux Lite 3.6

Some might say it’s “Xubuntu done right.”

But “right” is a very subjective term. Right for me is first simple, second, fast, third novice-friendly (because I prefer to use the same distro I’m sharing with so many people new to Linux, since it’s so much easier to provide support to them), and fourth suitable for modest, older hardware that can’t handle newer versions of Windows or the big fancy mainline Linux distributions. For others, Voyager is “Xubuntu done right.” For others, Linux Mint Xfce is “Xubuntu done right;” and for many others, it just doesn’t get any better than Xubuntu right out of the chute. Until I discovered Linux Lite, Xubuntu was my go-to distro. The others are all wonderful, but most were either to “heavy” for my old hardware, or not suitable for sharing with “newbies” who never used Linux before. Linux Mint Xfce would ordinarily be my first choice for newcomers to Linux, but many of these new arrivals are here because their computers are older models with low resources, and even the “lightweight” Mint can become a bit resource-hungry.

Linux Lite is built from Ubuntu core (minimal) and uses a very highly modified Xfce desktop which makes it far less demanding on resources than most Xfce-flavored Linux distributions.

But it doesn’t stop there. That would be enough, but Linux Lite aims to be beginner-friendly as well. The trick is to be “newbie friendly” without adding so much GUI stuff (graphical user interface) that you weigh it down and make it slow and cumbersome.

Ease of use used to be a trade-off, sacrificing speed. Or if you wanted speed and miserly demand on RAM and processors, you sacrificed the GUI stuff that makes Linux “friendly” for us ordinary mortals. Linux Lite blows that old paradigm away. You really don’t have to sacrifice speed and resource-demand to make Linux “play nice” for beginners, kids, great grandparents, and even technophobes.

Linux Lite achieves this “impossible” blend of simplicity and speed in three ways:

The first I already mentioned – the very highly modified Xfce desktop. Xfce is ordinarily easy on processing power anyway, but by not mixing it with Compiz and other extra goodies outside of Xfce’s own designs in hopes of making it “elegant” or whatever, it retains it’s undemanding qualities. Other tweaks make it even less resource hungry than “plain vanilla” Xfce.

The second is Linux Lite’s collection of awesome tools, not least of which is the Welcome Screen (which you can bring up on demand long after your first use of the distro) which offers step-by-step links to updating and upgrading, maintaining, cleaning, adding or removing software – all with point-and-click ease. Other cool tools include Lite Sources, which lets you choose from among software repositories anywhere in the universe, for faster updates and upgrades. Choosing the one closest to where you live is generally best, of course. And Lite Tweaks lets you personalize your desktop, clean up any junk, recover wasted space, and speed things up even more!

How is a new user supposed to know that Thunar is a file manager? They don’t know Thunar, but they know Files – Home – Pictures and whatever. So other than the applications everybody probably knows, like Firefox, apps are named for what they do, not the whimsical names that don’t really offer any clue as to their function. That’s simplicity without bloat if ever there was.

A feather is the official symbol of Linux Lite, and it’s completely appropriate. And that heart, well, that just means I love it! That huge dagger behind my back in the picture simply represents hacking out all the extra bloatware and cruft that most people assume is necessary to make a Linux distribution “user friendly.”

To make this Ubuntu-based distribution even more safe and secure, I recommend unlockforus – an “unofficial” repository of wonderful stuff not approved by Linux Lite (yet?) but either developed for Linux Lite or adapted for Linux Lite from other Linux distributions, like the awesome MintStick app and of course the must-have Mint Updater adapted for Linux Lite.

Enjoy!

Ready for What, Exactly?

Why “Kiddie” Linux Distros are Awesome

In a Diaspora post, a user shared this Linux humor post, which I “liked” and am re-sharing – with a little twist:

There’s an assumption in the comic that the “kids” will “grow up” to become super-duper master geeky techno-wizards with “mad programming skillz” and create a master race of sentient androids or something.

I say, in reply to this assumption, “until you are ready:”

Ready for what? Some of us are just ordinary users who surf the ‘net, write letters and term papers, share e-mail, watch videos, and play games. It’s all we did on Windows or Mac, and it’s all we care to do on any OS. We run applications, not the operating system.

Ready? To do what, exactly, besides customize / personalize the desktop, and install peripherals like printers, speakers, joysticks and stuff? The most inexperienced novice can do all those and keep everything updated effortlessly in the “kiddie distros” as they have been called. And you can add Linux Lite to that list – and you see what all the “kiddie” distros have in common? They are Ubuntu-based. More than anyone else, Canonical (Ubuntu) has brought Linux to us ordinary, non-geeky mortals and kept thousands if not millions of computers out of landfills. Others are doing similar work! Salix, for example, is doing for Slackware what Ubuntu did for Debian. And it’s crazy simple to use even though Slackware is certainly not (I just wish Gnome stuff was available in Slackware!). Even Arch has a derivative or two that are made for simplicity and “friendliness.”

I have installed and used at least a dozen distros, from Debian and Ubuntu (and derivatives including Mint, ElementaryOS, LXLE, and Linux Lite) to Salix and even the newcomer, VoidLinux. I’m not a novice, but in the end I’m really “just a computer user” and I really only want to get my school work done, surf a little bit, blog a little bit, play a little bit, and listen to a little music. Why make it complicated?

The funny thing is, a whole lot of very gifted geeks worked very long and hard to make Linux available and usable by us “ordinary desktop users.” And many of us ordinary mortals are grateful, supporting our favorite projects with translation help, monetary donations, and getting the word out.

And a whole lot of very gifted geeks use the same “kiddie distros” as we mere mortals do, either to help develop them further or just because they want to run applications instead of the OS for ordinary tasks.

– An unashamed “kiddie distro” user

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.

 

The End of an Awesome Distro

It’s the end of an era for an enthusiastic and loyal group of Linux users who benefited from Corenomial’s unique Debian mixture known as Crunchbang Linux (abbreviated #!). When Crunchbang was first started, it filled a much-needed gap for older computers by adopting for the desktop only the Openbox window manager without the other features of a “full” desktop environment. Originally using a minimal Ubuntu base and later switching to a Debian base, Crunchbang was – at first anyway – specifically targeted to users of old, modest hardware that would have been bogged down under the weight of the popular desktop environments of the time, Gnome and KDE. There was Xfce for older hardware too, a full desktop environment, kinda-sorta like “Gnome Lite” at the time. Using only a window manager was a rare and gutsy experiment to try when Corenomial first introduced Crunchbang, but it was Crunchbang that taught many users that – guess what – you don’t really need a full desktop environment to have an awesome point-and-click desktop experience! You can save your computer’s resources for applications instead of “eye candy.” Dark and almost sinister looking, the Crunchbang desktop allowed even beginners to adequately master basic desktop Linux while having an intimidating super-techno-geeky looking desktop to impress their technophobic, Ubuntu and Mepis using friends who were terrified to even gaze upon a terminal interface. Much more impressive than that old spinning cube trick that impressed so many kids for whom having a dazzling desktop was at least as important as what you might actually use the computer for.

But today Xfce is so much more than “Gnome Lite.” And some wonderful new players have joined the game now. LXDE, RazorQt, Enlightenment, and others. These are full desktop environments rich with features that in some instances rival the “big old dogs” that have dominated the Linux desktop for years. For a little while Corenomial included several Xfce features in Crunchbang that gave it pizazz without adding the “bloat” that brought so many users to Crunchbang from other distros. His improvements and default settings taught the Linux community to focus on what matters – performance, good stewardship of resources, and making the most of what our computers offer. There have been other distros built on window managers without a “full desktop environment,” like Puppy and AntiX, but it was Crunchbang more than any of the others that provided an example of just what can be done with “just” a window manager.

Loyal users and admirers of Crunchbang will maintain the forums and community spirit of the distro, but the chief of the project, who I would call “Cap’n Crunch” if I had earned the right to be so informal with such a great developer, has come to feel that with the incredible advances of the ultralight desktop environments and other great Debian mixtures, the gap that Crunchbang used to fill no longer exists. I never used Crunchbang beyond installing it and playing with it intermittently on an ancient old relic, and never took part in it’s community. Now that this landmark distro is disappearing, I’m getting a sense that I missed out on something really wonderful. Long live Corenomial and long live the loyalty of the Crunchbang community. Read Corenomial’s announcement here.

Eye Candy and Dual Booting

So this morning I suggested a few alternatives to the Xfce4 panel weather plugin that has stopped working, temporarily I’m sure. It might even be fixed by the time I finish writing this post. That’s how cool Xfce is, and how on-top-of-everything the MX-14 team is.

This one is called screenlets, easily installed on my favorite distro through Synaptic. There are actually several different weather screenlets! So you can choose one that fits your own desktop, make it whatever size you wish, and put it wherever you want it. I could have put mine right above or below the panel so it would look just like the broken Xfce applet! But I like my eye candy big and pretty. Like this:

That’s the classic Mepis wallpaper I love so much, dark and deep and mysterious-looking. I chose a pretty weather applet, configured it easily using my zip code (you can’t tell it’s October here, can you?), and made it just the right size to match the clock (again, one of multiple clocks to choose from). You can add “quote of the day,” or “This day in History,” one of a choice of calendars, post-it notes, maps or a globe, a ruler, calculator, whatever stuff you might find sitting on your desk in the office or at home. Lookie here at all the choices you get!

I don’t even know what all of these things even do! But they hardly use any CPU power and don’t slow down my “user experience” any little bit. They’re just fun eye candy things to play with if you like this sort of thing. I just counted seven different clocks to choose from! And five weather applets to choose from – unless that “dayNight” screenlet is also a weather one. A couple of different kinds of post-it notes that you stick right on your desktop too. Calendars, maps, and monitors; lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Two Favorites Side By Side – Differences that Matter, Differences that Don’t:

I’m still dual-booting MX-14 (see my earlier post about this delightful distro that combines the old Mepis magic with the simplicity of the Xfce desktop on Debian Stable) with LXLE (a totally awesomeful respin of Lubuntu with almost none of the bugs and plenty of speed), which is magnificent compared to my last flirtation with the LXDE desktop. But Xfce still “feels like home,” and I find it easier to configure even with all the cool tools that Ronnie (the man behind LXLE) has added. I just can’t choose a favorite! So I dual boot and enjoy them both. Some differences just don’t matter to me at all, but other users might find them important. One is the boot-up thing. Both of these distros boot up in about the same amount of time. LXLE gives me a classy-looking boot screen that just looks super-awesome-cool, while MX-14 offers that boring “wall of text” that flies by too fast to read. So what. I don’t care what it looks like while booting, for goodnessakes. Both distros have wonderful, configurable panels that are quite similar and even misbehave in similar ways (like the on-again off-again weather applet in Xfce4, and LXDE’s digital clock that offers me a bunch of nonsensical characters to choose from when I want to configure it). Another difference that doesn’t matter.

Differences that do matter, at least to me, include the way that the mouse behaves in LXLE. Fully updated, LXLE 12.04’s behavior is just like Xubuntu 14.04’s was. The cursor hesitates, halts, and sometimes simply rebels against the mouse so that I have to “argue” with it, repeating mouse gestures a few times to get the stupid cursor to move where I want it. The mouse in MX is perfectly well behaved. Yeah, that kinda matters! The other difference that kinda sorta matters is the Ubuntu base versus the Debian base. I worry less about stability and reliability on MX because it is based on Debian Stable. And everyone knows it just doesn’t get any more stable than Debian Stable. But somehow Debian doesn’t seem to make as efficient use of my computer’s resources as the Ubuntu-based distros have (until 14.04). LXLE doesn’t freeze and lock up like MX-14 did before I added some RAM. I have yet to discover why. But yeah, that matters.

So I’ll just keep dual-booting and see where they both go, and report my findings here. I promise objective, measurable observation and opinion, not the rabid, defensive rantings of a distro fanboy. Stay tuned…