Easy Linux. So Easy It’s Downright BORING.

And isn’t that what we casual computer users want our operating systems to be? Yup, literally nothing to write about. It’s that dull.

So I must confess, out of some twisted need to have something “Linuxy” to write about, I went and tried the Xfce flavor of Linux Mint. And sure enough, there’s stuff to write about. But let’s be sure to note that this test was one of the community editions of Linux Mint, not the big official flagship Cinnamon edition of Linux Mint, which I’m sure must be awesome. I did the Xfce flavor because I’m a rabid Xfce fanboy, that’s all. Bestest, most wonderfulest and awesomeful desktop environment in the history of ever because it’s super-simple, infinitely configurable, rock-stable, and intuitive. For me. Some people think it’s too boring and retro, but those are the very reasons I like it! So to each his or her own.

Okay, so Linux Mint Xfce 20 installed effortlessly as always, thanks to Ubuntu’s awesome Ubiquity installer. Even setting up partitions was no big deal, daunting as it once was having to use GParted and stuff. Install, reboot…

Then it gets interesting.

The first thing I always do after updating the OS (and I’m a big fan of the Mint Updater, by the way) is switch out some of the distro’s default applications in favor of the ones I prefer. I have issues with Mozilla (the company) and refuse to use their politically-correct software even if there’s nothing better on the planet. So I open a terminal and get a black screen with spaces between every letter:

r o b i n > a p t – g e t a p p l i c a t i o n

It’s hard to read even full screen for cry’n out loud. But I manage for a few tasks, then decide to try out Mint’s software center. I want Geary instead of Mozilla Thunderbird, Brave Browser instead of Firefox, stuff like that. Geary installs from a .deb in the repositories, cool. Brave is a Flatpak. What?! There’s no .deb for Brave? Okay I understand why the lead dev over there at Mint refuses Snaps, and the sneaky way Canonical redirects input from Synaptic Package Manager to their own software store. But Flatpaks are okay? Why? They’re just Red Hat instead of Canonical as far as I know. Nope, I want a good ol’fashioned Debian-type package, so I do the PPA thing to get Brave.

Geary doesn’t get past the Create Account screen before it locks up and has to be put to death via the Terminator – I mean terminal.

p k k i l l G e a r y

Two or three tries, okay, bye Geary. Let’s try something else. Y’know, computers exist to do what we tell them to do. If they don’t do what we tell them to do, then they have no freakin’ reason to exist! Right? This is how computers get smashed with sledge hammers and axes! Okay, sorry, /rant.

An unexplained installation error prevents me from getting either Ungoogled Chromium or Brave Browser installed. Unexplained. “Installation failed.” No explanation given. The freakin’ attitude, right?

So instead of using the sledge hammer literally, I used a virtual sledge hammer to silence Mint Xfce’s sassy attitude and restore order to my galaxy. And now it’s just boring again. But peaceful. Reliable. Simple. Everything just works (including Geary) and life is good again.

Next time I get bored for something to write about, I’ll not go beyond a Live session (maybe).

So, is Microsoft Taking Over Linux?

There’s a lot of paranoid-sounding stuff going around the Interwebz about Microsoft “taking over Linux” by “buying their way in” to the Linux Foundation, contributing lots and lots of code, and there’s the famous “embrace, extend, extinguish” meme that makes the rounds over and over again. But is any of it true? Can a big, greedy, evil corporation actually take Linux over the Linux kernel and get control over many or all of the distributions and operating systems built on it?

Well, here’s where it might actually be helpful to remind ourselves that it’s GNU/Linux, not just “Linux.” Linux is the kernel, and GNU is the license it is released under. And maybe it’s that GNU license that can/is/will always prevent a “takeover” of your favorite ‘nix operating system. Consider:

For one thing, I highly doubt that Microsoft has contributed any significant amount of code to Linux (by significant, I mean that Linux would fail if the MS code were removed)

But even if they had, under the terms of the GNU/GPL license, that code is also free. Microsoft cannot stop you from downloading it for free, redistributing it for free (or even charging for copies if you like and anyone is dumb enough to pay you for it) modifying it as you see fit, and redistributing the modified versions.

Essentially, the moment Microsoft contributes code to a GNU/GPL licensed project, they lose all control over that code. It becomes GNU/GPL code. This might explain why, for all of history, there’s never been Microsoft Code in Windows®to access Linux File Systems like Reiser, EXT2, EXT 3 and so on… because adding that code to Windows® would have forced Microsoft to acquire GNU/GPL licensing on Windows, thereby making Windows “free software!” On the flip side, it was perfectly legal and still meets GNU/GPL code for Linux to add code to access DOS and NT file systems, as long as the code used was not a copy of the Microsoft-owned code.

Credit and thanks to fraterchaos@diasp.org for pointing these things out in this thread on Diaspora. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Maybe a little reassuring, I hope.

YESSSS!

It was not easy to do on Salix like it was on just about every other Linux distro I’ve ever installed. Underneath the friendly “Linux for Lazy Slackers” is Slackware, after all. Second only to Gentoo or Arch “from scratch” in level of difficulty for an ordinary mortal. Much less a technophobe. But I did it. Somehow.

YESSSSS!

I got the icon set and themes I wanted that were not in the repositories, and the Brave browser (also not in the repositories and without resolution from Slackbuilds using Sourcery, the very cool Salix tool that builds Slackware packages). I actually found it in another Slackware-compatible third-party repository and unpacked it and installed from the command line. Imagine li’l ol’ me using the command line for anything! Much less making and installing software from outside my distro’s own repositories. And no, not like from just adding some high-risk dumbass PPA for Ubuntu either.

And I think that’s the point in using a Slackware-based Linux distribution. You really can’t help but “learn Linux” just from using it as an ordinary casual user. Yet another good reason to use it.

Likely to Be my Permanent – and my Only – Linux OS

This one bears repeating even though it’s a couple of years old now. I must have had a flash of common sense once, but then soon wandered off. And look where I ended up – right back here again!  So I’m changing the date of this post just to show ehere I keep coming back to.

I have kept Linux Lite and MX-Linux around for a long while, mostly to help introduce new users to Linux. Many of them got started because the Microsoft OS they were used to is such a freakin’ resource-hog that you have to buy a new computer every three years or so just to keep up! Why let a perfectly good working machine go to the landfill because Micro$oft has decided not to support it anymore, right? So, Linux to the rescue, right?

Nope, not nearly as much as it ought to be. A trip to the Swap Shop finds a dozen or so vendors offering refurbished computers for $40 or so, but they still have Windows and they’re slower than snails. When I used to brag about how Linux could make them run better than new, and without any need for the dreaded terminal, I won a few “converts,” and a few more by cleaning up and donating old computers with a lightweight “newbie-friendly” distro pre-installed. Of allllllll those people I helped, guess how many are still using Linux?

One. Just one. As far as I know, anyway, we lost touch when I moved away. So maybe none! All of them – and we’re only talking a dozen or so – have since traded up to new computers and – one guess – they’re Windows or Mac.

So, my OS is gonna be for ME, not for anyone else. Not to “show off” to others in hopes of winning them over; not on my computer so I can walk others through the steps of configuring, fixing, tweaking, and installing software. Not for the coolest, awesomest, most thrilling visual effects and eye candy I used to care about. No more of that now… my ‘puter is my own, and it’s just for me, and it’s gonna be what I want: Blazing fast, graphical, simple, uncomplicated, and basic. No systemd. No bloat. Nothing I don’t need or want. One application per task, faithful to the old Unix ideal, quaint and outdated as that might seem to others who like the bleeding edge, eye candy, and super gaming capability. Does anyone know of a Linux distro that offers just that, without all the busy bovine excrement that has to be included in the OS just to make this-or-that other thing work that you actually want? One that is still supported and up-to-date without the instability of the Big Major desktop distros? I can think of one. It’s an old faithful standby that has kept my ancient spare 32-bit Dell out of the landfill for over a year now, with no issues. And it’s mind-bending fast on my higher-end 64-bit desktop and laptop.

I’m so disheartened by the fact that all my enthusiasm, “evangelism,” and newbie support for Linux hasn’t actually changed anyone’s mind for more than a temporary short period, that I think I’m pretty much done with all that now. I’ve got better things to use my computer for than just writing about computers, OSes, software, and why these things should matter to people. In fact they don’t matter to most people, and desktops and laptops have largely been replaced by smart phones and tablets now anyway. You like your Chromebook? Cool. Does it matter to most people that it’s Linux-based? Prob’ly not. Does it matter that it’s a Google gadget and it’s likely spying on you and reporting back to the Mother Ship for targeted ads and to predict what you’re likely to spend money on and where you go every day? Apparently not.

Well, it matters to me. And to maybe 2% of all desktop computer users on Earth. The other 98% are content to be carried along, captive to a single vendor and subject to it’s whims. Fine, fools.

I’m moving on.

Principled Action

Dear Readers,

I found an old Gmail account I haven’t used in a while, signed in, and deleted it. Screw you, Google. I deleted Facebook and moved to Diaspora. I’m also toying with MeWe, but probably not for long since it’s centralized and even deleted a friend’s whole group because they disagreed. I also dumped Microsoft Windows®, since I have no wish to contribute to Bill Gates’ bullcrap, in favor of Linux.
Now it’s Mozilla to delete, because of this. New default setting to filter out content the new dictators don’t like. So it’s Brave browser instead of Firefox, and Evolution instead of Thunderbird. I gave Geary a shot, but when I clicked on Preferences in Geary the app would crash (at least on my current Linux distro). My Internet provider, AT&T, owns CNN Fake News. So I’m working on changing my ISP as well.
My own family thinks I’m “paranoid,” but I’d be hypocritical not to put my convictions into action. They agree that Big Tech is a big, evil problem, but they’ll go ahead and continue giving big tech control over their Internet use, social media, and privacy. No, I’m not paranoid, I’m principled and doing what principle demands.

So, those of you have read my previous post about Diaspora are probably wondering what in hell I’m doing going back there again! Well… Here’s the thing:

It’s decentralized. Meaning it’s not under the control of one single person. If one server (“pod,” in Diaspora’s lingo) goes rogue, I can jump to another or for that matter, run my own!

I’ve found ways to clean up the crap and make Diaspora what I want it to be. It takes some time to do that, but I think it’s worth the trouble. Ask me how in the comments if you’d like to try it. And,

MeWe is such a bewildering, cluttered mess by comparison. Diaspora’s user interface is intuitive and simple, in spite of the learning curve which I think is comparable to Fakebook’s. While “Groups” are a thing on MeWe, I’m able to create my own groups on Diaspora, kinda sorta, by dedicating an Aspect (category) to share exclusively with.

Call me paranoid or a conspiracy type if you want, but one thing you can’t call me is a hypocrite. I’m acting on my beliefs, not just whining about what’s wrong with the rest of the world.

You Want a Refund?

When users of an awesome free OS or awesome free software complain about stupid little stuff like spoiled brats, I like to tell them, “You are entitled to a full refund of the purchase price.” Sometimes they get it, and reflect on the fact that a whole buncha people worked really hard to create and maintain the software at their own expense. Sometimes they still whine and I tell them, “well then, stop using the software, or the distro, whatever, and go back to paying big bucks to single vendor. You get what you pay for, right?

Please read the article below, and consider supporting great projects with whatever donations you can afford.

https://mikemcquaid.com/2018/03/19/open-source-maintainers-owe-you-nothing/?fbclid=IwAR3pj4uyM5Efj70XlkCeCTygrtXc3nekeOLki6tFdE1C31G4Nzz0zS-Gpf0

Snaps: Good or Bad?

On older hardware – BAD. Snaps gobble up scarce resources on older hardware. On newer hardware with a zillion and twelve terrabyres of RAM and storage space, not that big a deal, but still a lot less efficient than good ol’ tried-and-true .deb or .rpm packages on Linux.

So why would Ubuntu make snap packaging the default in their distro and it’s flavors? Because it relieves them of the burden of having to maintain all those modified .debs in huge repositories with multiple packagers and maintainers. The burden shifts to the writers and vendors of the software instead of maintainers at Canonical / the Ubuntu family. Saving lots of work and lots of money.

The problem is, though, that updates to software for the operating system can mess up the snap applications, and vice versa! With repositories and maintainers, those problems are avoided most of the time. That’s prob’ly why Linux Mint said “no freaking way” to snaps as the default on Linux Mint. It’s a distro for newcomers to Linux, and having it break all the time because one independent package out of thousands of them borks the system is enough to drive users back to proprietary OSes and imagine, as before, that Linux is “just for geeks and for servers.”

This video is kinda long, but it’s good! More info about snaps, and why they’re unpopular with developers of even Ubuntu-based derivative distros:

Yup, they’re bad.

Moving On

My beloved Xubuntu 18.04 is good until next April, but I won’t wait that long to replace it. In my previous post I wrote about the Future of Ubuntu, and have looked closely at the new default package management, snap. The old .deb packaging will still be around for legacy apps and stuff that we all depend on, but the default in 20.04 is snap packaging. To me this will mean a ton of duplicated libraries and cruft, since snaps are kinda-sorta sandboxed and snaps do not share libraries. Bad for those of us who don’t have super-ultra-mega-terrabyte hard drives, right?

Ordinarily rolling-release distros scare me a bit. But even without selectively updating (other than the kernel), there are cool tools like Timeshift that can put things back to a “restore point” in a few clicks and a few minutes’ time. And I dislike the idea of re-installing an OS from scratch and configuring everything the way I want it, adding and removing applications, fonts, themes, and all the rest of it. Updates breaking things has always been a kind of phobia for me I guess, but maybe it’s one that I have overcome with the reassurance offered by super-simple backup-and-restore tools, and the fact that my new distro of choice has a thorough vetting process for updates that filters out a lot of buggy stuff before it hits the stable repositories.

Experimental, beta, or too-new-to-be-proven stuff appears in Ubuntu (and all it’s flavors and downstream distros) without warning all too often. I still remember how buggy PulseAudio was when it foisted upon us all. I dumped it for ALSA with every new installation for months until it wasn’t possible anymore, but by that time it was stable enough. Then Unity. Then systemd. All buggy as hell at the start, but everyone became a tester, like it or not. In a distro intended for newcomers, novices, simpletons, technophobes, and other “ordinary” desktop users, this buggy experimental stuff thrown in as the new default is – well, bullshit. Snaps is the last straw. While I grant that snap isn’t replacing apt for the time being at least, by making it the default, Ubuntu has again brought buggy beta crud to “ordinary” users. No lessons learned from the last several times they’ve pulled this kinda stuff. I’m all for innovation, but let’s not use the LTS versions for that! Enough surprises.

Goodbye again, Xubuntu. Hello, PCLinuxOS!

New Linux User Questionnaire

Before installing either Xubuntu or Linux Lite on a brand new Linux user’s computer, I always use this questionnaire to customize their machine with the proper applications, themes, panel(s) set-up, icon sets, etc to make their first experience as awesome as possible:

1. What do you want to use your computer for?
2. Are you “technically challenged” and just want to keep it simple, or would you like to explore your “inner geek?”
3. How old is your computer and what Operating System did it ship to you with (example: Windows XP or Vista, OSX, etc)? How big is the Hard Disk Drive and how much RAM?
4. Do you like “eye candy” and pretty special effects on your desktop, or do you prefer a faster, basic desktop with fewer bells and whistles?
5. Please list your favorite and most-used computer applications (programs). Try to categorize them if you can, under headings such as Web Browsing, E-Mail, Music Editing, CD-burning,
Office/Word Processing, Photo Editing, etc.
6. Would you like the latest “bleeding edge” stuff or do you prefer older, proven, rock-stable programs?
7. What’s your favorite color?
8. How will you connect to the Internet (if applicable)? Dial-up, wifi, Cable
9. Will you tell all your friends how awesome Linux is (and how nice Robin is for getting it up and running for you)? Don’t answer this one yet…