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

ElementaryOS

So I had two days off in a row, and after I got all the important stuff done I decided to tinker with a new Linux operating system I had heard a lot of cool things about. I’ve messed around with several different desktops, from minimal Openbox with no “real” desktop environment at all, to the big major popular ones like KDE, Gnome, Xfce, LXDE, and Enlightenment. One I never tried is the newest one, called Pantheon, created especially for ElementaryOS, a wicked cool Ubuntu respin. It’s available for Arch Linux too! It doesn’t mix well added to the Ubuntu family (Kubu, Xubu, Lubu, etc), even though ElementaryOS is an Ubuntu-based distro. This ain’t just Ubuntu with a PPA tied on, it’s Ubuntu with a bunch of bloat and junk removed to make it nimble and fast, and a special wonderful desktop that is the most intuitive I’ve ever seen! Users coming from Mac or Windows will navigate around this system effortlessly. In fact, I’d bet that new computer users who may never have even used a desktop or laptop computer would find this system has a very gentle learning curve.

It isn’t especially configurable like Xfce or even LXDE, but the cool thing is that it doesn’t have to be! It’s not really for tinkerers anyway, just people with modest to modern hardware who just want to load up and go to work (or play). Very Mac-like in appearance, with basically two desktop features – a top panel for accessing the menu and setting the volume and stuff like that, and a dock at the bottom that looks like Docky, kinda sorta. It’s set up very much the way Xubuntu is by default, with a few differences: None of the resource-hogging “goodies” run in the background, the cool icons “leap” when you click on them, and open apps have a “reflection” under them on the launcher. Screenshots are easy to find by just Googling “ElementaryOS screenshots,” but you know I can’t resist posting my own anyway, even though I’ve done very little to make my own desktop especially unique. But it’s just so simple and pretty!

The current stable version, based on Ubuntu 14.04 (Trusty), ships with Midori as the web browser (nice easy browser from the Xfce project), Geary as the e-mail client (no longer active, but being forked and developed by the ElementaryOS team), and none of the usual bloat. It has it’s own simple file manager with would probably suit most casual users and not scare them away with “options” that just confuse and frustrate newbies and technophobes. I reluctantly added Thunar after fiddling with the default one a little bit, and worried that adding Xfce stuff would mess something up, but it didn’t.

I added Seamonkey after trying Geary and finding it comparable to Kmail, kinda broken and lacking some features that matter to me. Midori has a history of crashing a lot when I’ve used it before, so I just ran home to my default favorite. But I just love this desktop to bits, and it’s every bit as nimble and lightweight as LXDE, and stays out of my way. If you like icons on the desktop itself, this Pantheon desktop is not for you. I don’t think it’s even an option! But I like my desktop clean, and I’d rather open apps and stuff from the dock or the menu anyway. The only thing I might add to the desktop is a Conky display, which is easy, but I probably won’t bother. Conky is just more extra noise to me.

This is a totally cool desktop, preconfigured almost exactly the way I always customized my LXDE and Xfce desktops anyway. People who judge only by screenshots say the Pantheon desktop is “a Mac clone,” but it’s not at all. It just looks super cool like Mac, but it’s lean and simple and fast. I’m really enjoying it!