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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Elementary OS: A Surprise

It’s really a surprise to me that a desktop environment with almost no configurability and with so few features could be such a drain on older hardware! The Pantheon desktop is so stylish and good looking, nice and simple and clean, uncluttered, just the way I like it to be. But it’s so very slow!

The file manager is so sparse that in order to actually manage any files, like moving collected images to the directory that stores wallpapers, I had to install an alternate file manager. I guess the eOS file manager is good for finding and opening files, but not so much for actually managing them.

It claims to be lightweight, but it doesn’t compare even to Xfce for speed and demand on CPU and RAM. Even KDE – at least the way PCLinuxOS does it in their awesome light implementation of it, was quicker and more nimble than the Pantheon desktop, which offers so much fewer features and options than any other desktop environment I’ve tried.

I would still recommend ElementaryOS for newcomers to Linux, whether coming from Mac or Windows – in fact, even those new to desktop computing would benefit from it’s simple, beautiful, and very intuitive design. But it sure ain’t for older computers with less than 3 or 4 GB of RAM. And for that kind of demand on resources, it ought to offer a lot more options than it does.

But y’know what… any desktop can be made to look like Elementary’s beautiful Mac-like desktop. I’ve been doing it for years in Xfce and LXDE.

Xubuntu is still the coolest Linux distro ever, for this sidekick who likes things simple, nimble, beautiful, and unobtrusive.

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.

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.

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!

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.