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…

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.

LXLE – A Delightful Surprise

Yesterday I set up dual-booting for the first time. Two things made me decide to do it:

First, I have an 80-GB hard drive for goodnessakes, and I’ve never run a Linux OS that used more than 6 GB of disk space. And all my collected pictures, songs, settings, school stuff, and whatever else has not amounted to more than maybe 7 or 8 GBs of storage space. There’s plenty of room to play.

Second, just when I was beginning to feel good about leaving my once-beloved Xubuntu because the latest version became slow and hesitant, MX-14 started acting the same way. To be fair, it’s not the fault of any Linux distro. Probably the main reason for the fits and starts is just the fact that this computer is an ancient, tired, relic dinosaur with only 512 MB of RAM and a little sissy Celeron processor. It’s like trying to run scientific calculations on an abacus or something.

For the past week, there have been times on MX that I needed to multi-task a bit for some school work. I’m editing a pdf and I have two browser tabs open. My Humanities professor has assigned another “web quest” due in two days. By the way, those web quests are awesome fun and very helpful to me in grasping the material. A very cool idea from a very cool professor. Anyway, even the most lightweight browser slows down, then the whole computer locks up. Unresponsive to any input. “Okay, it’s busy catching up with something I asked it to do,” I tell myself. “I’ll give it a few minutes to catch up.”

So I wait, and try just moving the mouse after several minutes. Nothing, still locked up. Fine. Go fix lunch and check again. Still locked. Eat lunch, clean up, walk the dog, read the paper. Still locked. Enough already! I hope my work has been “auto-saved” and do the Linux three-finger salute (cntrl-alt-backspace, which is kinda like the cntrl-alt-delete thing in Windows, only instead of rebooting it just drops you back to a command line). Nothing! What the…

Press and hold the power button to force a shutdown, while pressing and holding my tongue to avoid offending my housemates… Reboot.

Going back to work on my paper, I notice that I’m typing like crazy and nothing appears on the screen, so I stop. A few seconds later, my typed text appears as though someone else is typing it remotely while I watch. There’s some big delay between input from my keyboard and mouse, and output on the screen. This with no browser even open yet. So I save my work, close every running application, and check to see what is keeping the computer so busy. I had already “un-selected” a bunch of daemons and bells and whistles that used to start-up automatically, but there they were, running like crazy. Bluetooth, power manager, update notifier, all that junk I don’t use. So I turned them off – again – wondering how MX “forgot” my default settings, and went back to work on my paper. It’s the web quest, so I have to use a web browser. It requires having a few tabs open simultaneously and I worry that it’s gonna freeze up again. I’ve managed to answer two more questions when I notice the little “busy” wheel turning, so I wait. Move the mouse – the cursor doesn’t budge. It’s locked up again.

Go make coffee, pet the dog, grab the mail from the mailbox outside… that should have been enough time for the computer to catch up, right? Wrong. Three-finger salute again – nothing. Power off, reboot – again.

This isn’t new to me. Xubuntu (14.04) did the same thing except that it took a lot longer and happened more gradually – even predictably. “I guess I need a new ‘puter,” I tell myself. “It’s been a great run, but Linux has just outrun this old hardware. But why, then, did Xubuntu 12.04 run slow but at least okay without all this hesitation? What’s different about the newer versions of Linux that makes them impossible to run well on this old hardware? Rawr.

So I open one browser tab. Just one. Google “Linux for old computers” and find an old respected friend called AntiX among

the offerings. I could surely use that! I installed it on a laptop with less than half of my computer’s RAM and it did okay. But I’d rather have a real desktop, so I keep looking. Oh look, there’s Lubuntu. No thanks. LXDE was buggy as hell when I tried it before, and just plain ugly. I can fix ugly, but not buggy. So I skip that one. Oh, look, there’s Puppy! How cute! But it’s “against my religion” (not really, it’s just an expression, don’t get mad) to run as root all the time, especially on an Internet-connected computer. I’m a college student. I didn’t even have enough money for all my books this semester. I’m renting two of them! How am I supposed to come up with money for extra RAM (for all the good that would do) or a whole new computer?

Oh, look, here’s a new one: LXLE.

“Oops, it’s LXDE, probably as bad as Lubuntu,” I think, but look at the screenshots! Whoa! And is that a cool looking weather applet I see? So I read on, skeptical as I can be. But I find enough information to pique my interest, so I decide what the heck, I’m not getting any school work done anyway, why not. I torrented the iso overnight to be nice about it, put the iso on a thumb drive with Unetbootin (which took 40 minutes on MX – seriously?) and took it for a test drive. Amazing. But running it from a USB drive is not the same as running it installed, but it’s LXDE and I’m still skeptical, so I decide to install it alongside MX. When it’s done I’ll really test it. Then we’ll see. And if it totally fails I’ll throw Xubu Precise on there, finish my web quest assignment, save all my school stuff on a thumb drive and just do all my school work at school from now on, using one of their yuckky disgusting Windows machines.

LXLE installed as effortlessly as any OS with that terrific Ubiquity installer that’s nice and graphical for us technophobic types. It’s Ubuntu, not Debian, so the user password is the root password. I hate that. But whatever, if it works I’m good with it. But does it work?

Oh. My. Gosh. Does it ever! I swapped out Claws-mail for Seamonkey because I post to this blog via e-mail and I need the HTML editor. I added Xournal for school stuff, and … really, I didn’t need to make any other big changes. When you log in to LXLE, you get to choose your “paradigm.” It can look like WindowsXP, or Gnome 2, or Unity, or even OSX. Pick your favorite, but they’re all LXDE customizations. Very cool. Gorgeous default settings, wallpapers, and miserly little widgets (Conky, weather) that don’t weigh down the processor with busy work. Not a lot of background stuff turned on by default, either, so it’s plenty fast.

So I updated it and tested it. I mean really tested it. I had my web quest going with 6 browser tabs open plus the pdf annotator and LibreOffice writer all at once. Taxed far beyond anything that MX would stand for, LXLE still held it’s own and I finished my web quest, victorious! And amazed. No bugs! No hesitation! Not ugly desktop stuff to dress up or get rid of. I did my web quest on a freakin’ abacus for gosh sakes, with no slow-downs, no freezes, no lockups. Amaaaaaazing.

Who knew LXDE could look this cool and be so customizable? No this ain’t LXQt, which the developer of this amazing respin calls “a fat pig.” This is just Lubuntu done right. And I sat here in stunned silence after my glorious web quest, just giving thanks to God for this delightful surprise.

The Last Thing Before Upgrading RAM

I suppose I could “downgrade” my OS to AntiX, a wonderful Debian-based Linux distro intended for ancient, relic hardware like mine. Or maybe LXLE, an Ubuntu derivative intended for older computers. But I just can’t be without my awesome Xfce desktop! My earlier flirtations with LXDE were dismal – at least on any Ubuntu base. It may not be the same on a Debian base, but since Ubuntu is built from Debian I have little reason to think LXDE would be any less buggy on a Debian base than it is – on my computer at least – on even a minimal Ubuntu base.

Xfce is wonderful, simple, and infinitely configurable. Even for a technophobic user like me, it’s easy on the eyes and doesn’t tax much brain power. Besides, I’m in college for goodnessakes, my brain is already being taxed near it’s limits. So I just won’t part with that Xfce desktop. Period, finished, end of story, end of discussion, game over, don’t even think about asking me again!

So I’m lovin’ my MX-14, Debian-Stable, rock-solid. Except when I had to do a little multi-tasking between Iceweasel (Debian-branded Mozilla Firefox) and Icedove (Debian-branded Mozilla Thunderbird). All I wanted to do was copy a URL from an e-mail into a post to a forum. No big deal, right?

So I’ve got Iceweasel open to the page I want to write a post in, and I click to open Icedove so I can copy the link from an e-mail message. And I wait. And wait. And wait. The little round cursor thing spins away, then disappears. No Icedove. It’s not indicated in the tool bar that Icedove is even running, so I click again, and wait some more. I have to quit Iceweasel just to get Icedove to open. The same thing happens when I click on a link in Icedove and waaaaaiiiiiiiiit for Iceweasel to open. They are both set as the default browser and e-mail applications in my Xfce Settings Manager, so that ain’t the problem. Still waiting. Aw, come ONNNNN! “This ain’t Xubuntu, get on with it,” I shout at the monitor as though it gives a damn.

It doesn’t.

Seamonkey (or it’s Debian-branded equivalent, Iceape) does not appear in the regular MX repositories. But in Synaptic I can enable other repositories that offer it. Why Seamonkey? Because the browser and e-mail are integrated; because, Seamonkey uses less RAM than Iceweasel/Firefox; and for me at least, it loads a lot faster than either the separate browser or the separate e-mail client. It uses the same add-ons that I use on Firefox. Win, win. Why not Clawsmail, the ultralight default e-mail client in MX-14? Because you have to use an external editor to compose HTML mail, like this post (I post to WordPress by e-mail)! So I’d be waaaaaaiiiiiiting for a third program to load up on this poor old dinosaur. Old hardware, yeah, but perfectly good if I can solve this problem.

But mark this thread [SOLVED]! It’s Seamonkey to the rescue, and setting it up is as effortless as good ol’ Thunderbird. The interface is familiar to users of previous versions of Thunderbird and Firefox, too. Good ol’ fashioned buttons and stuff, instead of scrolling through menu options. Built from the wonderful old Netscape Internet Suite by the folks at Mozilla, Seamonkey has – for the time being at least – staved off the absolute necessity of adding RAM to this old relic hardware.

But I’m still gonna do it. Because no matter what, I’m not parting with my beloved Xfce desktop environment.

It Ain’t Broke So Stop Fixing It!

So this morning I’m looking at a web page when Seamonkey becomes unresponsive. Then I remember that it’s Tuesday, and that’s when I have set up the Xubuntu Updater to do it’s weekly update.

“Oh, fine, just let the thing run,” I think. “I’ll get back to the web later.”

If it’s just updating software, I have it set to just go ahead and put in the latest version of whatever software is installed. But if it’s a system update, then I have to enter the root password and authorize it. And sure enough, like almost every Tuesday since I installed Xubu 14.04, the Updater wants to update the Linux kernel again. Uh-oh. Every time it tells me I need another kernel update, I’m like

No, not again! This is terrifying stuff to me, even though most kernel updates are safe haven’t borked my system, it has happened before. And even though I can reboot to an older kernel, it leaves me wondering what was wrong with the old one that it needed to be updated anyway. If it’s a security thing, well, I guess that’s different. But most of the big scary kernel and firmware updates aren’t addressing some security vulnerability, they’re “improving” some existing feature or adding new ones.

I’ve got a lot of college course work going on and I need a rock-stable OS that isn’t gonna be suddenly slowed or crippled by the next “improvement.” Updates to programs like my browser and stuff are fine, but what “improvements” to vital stuff like the Linux kernel do I really need to keep this ancient relic of a perfectly good computer running? Older versions of Xubuntu were considerably faster than the latest version. I used to be able to multi-task without having things hesitate or grind to a complete halt. While I understand that some updated applications probably use more resources than the older versions, why do the kernel and firmware require more resources? And for cryin’ out loud,

It ain’t broke! So stop fixing it!

So there’s another advantage to using an OS that is based on Debian Stable. It’s stable! It doesn’t get “fixed” unless it needs fixing. Even as I write this post, the computer halts and balks and makes me wait until it finishes with some other invisible process it has going on in the background.

If I had a newer computer I’d probably switch to Linux Mint because the ingenious updater helps technophobes and newbies use it intelligently. But on this old relic, it’s gonna be MX-14, the wonderful AntiX/Xfce mixture built from Debian Stable with “the magic of Mepis” in support.

My distro-hopping days may be over, even after I upgrade this old hardware some day when I have money for that. And this blog may just get really boring after that, since it’s such a trouble-free system.

Debian vs Ubuntu

I’m truly puzzled by some of the comparisons between Debian and Debian-based Linux distros and their Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based counterparts. I know this is an old debate and that it is complicated by rants from rabid fanboys and zealots on both sides. I don’t care. What I care about is what works for me, on my computer.

On the Linux forums I lurk in, both sides appear to agree that Debian + the Xfce desktop is a hundred zillion times faster on modest hardware than even minimal Ubuntu + the Xfce desktop. This is supposedly because of the Ubuntu changes to the Debian system. They claim that the trade-off of making Debian “easy” and “user friendly” is a loss of speed and efficiency. That’s what they say, frequently, on both sides of the debate. This makes the debate more about simplicity-vs-efficiency, and users of older, modest computers have to choose between them.

My experience has been exactly the opposite!
I have tested all of the Ubuntu variants including derivatives like Mint, and Debian proper and several direct-compatible derivatives from AntiX and MX-14 to Mepis, SalineOS, and Crunchbang Linux. They are all delightful in their own way, and all are supported by large communities of users. But even in their most light weight configurations, Xubuntu and Mint Xfce were much faster than Debian and it’s Debian-compatible spin-offs on my computer. In my own experience with this very modest 12-year-old Dell with its Celeron 2-GB processor and half-gig of RAM, every single instance of Xubuntu, from 10.04 through 14.04 has been much snappier than any Debian-compatible, non-Canonical counterpart – even with the same desktop environment and applications. Linux Mint Xfce, from 10 to 13 also ran faster and more elegantly than Debian, AntiX, Crunchbang, and MX-14. From all I have read, it should  be 10 times slower, but it just ain’t so.

I don’t know what Canonical does to the Debian kernel, but in my experience it has had two effects:

On one hand it makes the Ubuntu family largely incompatible with it’s parent distro. Software from the Debian repositories may or may not actually run on Ubuntu derivatives and vice-versa. It’s a crap shoot, and potentially bad for whichever OS you’re using.

On the other hand, Ubuntu’s changes make Debian not only easier, but also more responsive and compatible with a wider range of hardware. It seems that the trade-off of speed for ease is a myth – at least for this user, on pretty old hardware. And I bet I’m not the only one.

So all of this brings up another mystery for me: If Debian wants to be “the universal operating system” and “ready for the desktop” by users other than the geekiest of techno-nerds, why won’t they adopt some of the huge improvements that the Ubuntu developers have made? The Ubiquity installer, for example. Highly graphical and wonderfully simple, it makes installing the ‘buntus and Mints, Zorin, Pinguy, UberStudent, WattOS, and countless other Ubuntu derivatives fast and easy. While Debian’s new graphical installer is much easier now, it’s still confusing and clunky by comparison. Why make it harder on Debian users? Why not adopt some of the changes Ubuntu has made to the kernel and firmware to make Debian run better?

Because it’s “pollution from downstream,” perhaps? It reminds me of an old boss I used to work for. The only way to get an idea past him and applied to the workplace was to make it look like his idea. If it was his idea, it was brilliant. If it was anyone else’ idea, it was bad, not well thought out, poorly designed, too costly, whatever. And it never got implemented, period. Yeah, that’s pretty bad bossing, and if it hadn’t been a government job he wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did.

This is all free software, Debian. Take it! Use it! Make Debian better! Why not?

It it because Debian wants to remain aloof and “superior?” Is it because Debian doesn’t want “mere ordinary mortals” in it’s community since they don’t write code? As if code is all that matters. Debian and Ubuntu even share many of the same developers and coders! So you would think they’d still be compatible and both would be awesomely fast and super-efficient, elegant, easy, simple, and beautiful. All I can conclude from all this is that Debian is a haughty, nose-in-the-air snob that has nothing but disdain and contempt for her most popular and successful child. Debian is simply jealous of Ubuntu. And for good reason. They claim that Ubuntu is “copied” from Debian and that Ubuntu has “given nothing back.”  WRONG.  Ubuntu has given a lot back, but Debian is too arrogant and elitist to accept it.

C’mon, Debian, you can’t have it both ways!  Either take what Ubuntu offers and make Debian better, or quit whining and crying that your “little sister” is prettier and more popular than you.

 

 

MX-14 – Mepis Magic in a Lightweight Xfce Distro!

Most of my readers know how technophobic I can be. I need my computer’s operating system and software to be rock-stable and trouble free as well as simple and unburdensome on my old, modest hardware. As a starving college student I can hardly afford to buy a new computer, and I’m finding that I have to use a few techno-tricks to get away with using Linux for school when they want Windows. So far saving Libre-Office work in Microsoft format (docx or rtf) has worked, as has changing my browser’s useragent string to make the school’s web site think I’m using Internet Explorer. So far so good.

An update to my Xubuntu 12.04 disabled my printer and sound last week and I fixed it by re-installing Linux-firmware, but it scared me enough to Google in search of lightweight Linux distros (preferably with the wonderful Xfce desktop) based on Debian Stable. Now before you go chiding me for not just using Debian, let me remind you that I’m a technophobe! I actually did successfully install and configure Debian once, but it took weeks to get it working and it was still wild and buggy. One of the reasons that Debian is “the granddaddy of distros” is that others have to “tame” it for ordinary casual users like me. Ubuntu does it, for example. Mint does it, Crunchbang kinda-sorta does it, and Mepis does it. Another reason that there are a zillion and twelve derivatives of Debian, is that Debian Linux is just awesome, period. Huge, vast, worldwide, and wonderful. Just still not quite tame enough for a technophobic sidekick, and too difficult to share with the other Teen Titans. But Debian’s snooty elitism pisses people off all the time.  Another reason, perhaps, for it being forked all the time.

So Google came up with one I never heard of before: MX-14,  “a special edition of AntiX” in collaboration with the Mepis community! Based on Debian Stable (not Testing, which is great, because as a true technophobe, the word “Testing” gives me pause), it’s an Xfce Linux distro that bills itself as “mid-weight” even though it’s lighter and faster than most of the Xfce distros I have tried. Also a huge plus for me, it still fits on a CD! Here’s what MX looks like from the LiveCD:

Ain’t it pretty? The panel appears on the left by default, but you can put it anywhere you like. On rectangular screens it’s a cool space-saving idea to have it on the left or right. My screen is a flat square so I moved the panel to the bottom and added my favorite little applets and most-used applications to it for quick one-click access. I removed the Notifications from the bottom panel and put them on a top panel which is only visible when I mouse over it. This Xfce desktop is wonderful because it is infinitely customizable and stays out of my way. And the new Whisker menu is similar enough to the old familiar one that it was no challenge to adapt to. The only little bug was that I couldn’t add Screenshooter (the screenshot applet) to the panel:

The trick is to treat it like an application instead of an applet. Create a launcher first and then specify Screenshooter. But on this desktop, I can bring up the screenshooter with the PrtScr button on the keyboard! So I just skipped the launcher thing after learning that little trick.

Installing MX is as easy as installing Xubuntu, but it is less familiar which is why it seemed more difficult for the first few minutes. Just slow down and take time to read the prompts and it’s effortless. The only bugaboo was trying to eliminate a 1.2 GB “unallocated” partition on my hard drive that appears right in between “/” and “/home.” I don’t even know how it got there for goodnessakes. I never did figure it out (I’ll do it later when I don’t have a lot of school work to do), but on an 80-GB hard drive I’m not too concerned about it. So after a complete back-up I installed MX on my existing partitions, overwriting Xubuntu. Yeah, I know. I’m still a Xubuntu fanboy, but:

It doesn’t get any more stable than Debian Stable. We technophobes need ultimate stability!
Mepis magic! Mepis has “tamed wild Debian” for years without all the high risk, and
Every Xubuntu user is a Xubuntu tester, like it or not. I never could get why the developers put Beta software in a distro intended for Linux novices. Many like me have just been lucky, but it’s still unforgivable in my opinion, to make Linux newbies unknowingly into unwitting guinea pigs.

Mepis has gained a reputation for making Debian usable by ordinary mortals, but without all the drama, the hype, and the unpredictability of the Ubuntu family. So as soon as I found MX in a Google search and learned it was from the same people who develop Mepis and AntiX, I was anxious to try it. The result:

High-contrast icon theme, and a wee bit of compositing enabled just enough to make the panel background invisible. Simple wallpaper and none of the busy screenlets I had before. They’re cool if you want them, but I’m looking to conserve resources. And Xfce has the “goodies” in the panel where I can see them at a glance instead of minimizing something just to read the weather or see the clock behind my school project. Pft.

Now let me tell you about the default browser, Qupzilla! This is pretty darn cool. It’s as fast as Midori but without the font-rendering issues and crashing. It looks and acts very much like a slightly older version of Firefox, but cleaner and much faster. And Ad-Block by default in MX. Ha! I can even do my useragent trick in Qupzilla. Oops… nice while it lasted, then CRASH!  Re-installed, reworked, revamped, rewired, re-done and still CRASH.  Oh well, back to Firefox.

This is Debian Stable with up-to-date applications from the Mepis repository. And remember what I wrote before about choosing distros? One of the things to consider is the repositories. Choose a distro and you’re also choosing it’s repositories. Y’wanna talk about huge, vast, ginormous, mondo-mucho gargantuan repos? Debian has the biggest and richest repositories in the entire universe! And installing software in MX is easy with the Synaptic Package Manager. I always used Synaptic anyway rather than that slow, bloated Software Center, so again, this has been an easy transition from Xubuntu so far.

And when I need support, Mepis has forums where lots of wonderful people make themselves available to technophobes like me. On my first day they helped me solve two minor problems (one just by browsing the topics and reading, and the other in reply to my screenshooter issue).

I’m a happy li’l sidekick today. My technophobia has not stopped me from trying out yet another Linux distro, and this one looks like it could well take Xubuntu’s place in my heart, becoming the distro I would always “run home to.”

Debian’s awesomeness.
Mepis’ magic.
And none of Canonical’s relentless, unpredictable drama.

Praise be.