Ubuntu Help?

Ubuntu Forums is one of the the official places that users of Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Voyager Linux, and others can go for help, to help others, or just to chitchat about Linux and Ubuntu.


But they do have one continuing issue:  They frequently have to add new moderators in this busy online community, and when they do, all too often the new moderators have to assert their authority.  I was censured in one thread because a moderator simply didn’t like what I said (his words, not mine).  Now today I got a private message from another moderator regarding a link to this blog in my signature.  The link has been there since I created my account there, but today all of a sudden it’s “against the rules.”  He writes:


*Links:* You may post links to sites with content that is  acceptable 
according to this code of conduct. This is most useful when  giving 
tech support and explaining a topic and then linking to a wiki  page 
or Linux site with more information. 
You may also link to your  personal site."

The link to your site introduces a religious element to all 
of your posts and violates the second quote 
in that it links to a subject forbidden on the forum.

Please remove the link immediately.

Emphasis mine on the links to a personal site, which is all the link was.  Am I not allowed to write about what I wish on my own blog now? Or can UF users no longer link to personal blogs that don’t comply with the rules of Ubuntu Forums?  Fine, I removed the link and told the idiot to delete my account. Fortunately there are other better places for users of the Ubuntu family to go where the moderators are not so heavy-handed and anxious to assert their authority. For chitchat as well as tech help, there’s discourse.ubuntu.com, a friendly place with a new and attractive interface. And there is Ask Ubuntu, and some great personal blogs like OMG Ubuntu. That one hasn’t been outlawed yet by an overbearing jerk, but because it may not fully comply with the rules of some other completely different web site, it could be.

Ubuntu Forums remains an official help forum for Ubuntu family users, and a lot of them have been helped there.  But it’s good to know there are alternatives, since many of us who used to go there to help others are abandoning the site because of the overbearing, drunk-with-new-power moderators who interpret the “code of conduct” according to their own personal preferences. Judging by a look at other Linux forums like LinuxQuestions.org, Linux.com, and LinuxForums.org, it looks like many more users are looking elsewhere for the support we used to be able to count on UF for. 




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.



The Lubuntu Adventure Begins

Updating the kernel solved my major issues with PCLinuxOS, but as I wrote in my previous post, I wonder if I’ve just been kidding myself about getting this old relic to run these spectacular modern desktrop Linux distributions.

Even my most favorite and beloved Xubuntu seems to outrun this old hardware at times. And according to the Xubuntu team’s Strategy Document, that wonderful Ubuntu flavor is not specifically intended nor designed for older hardware like it once was:

Xubuntu does not explicitly target users with low, modest, or high powered machines but instead targets the entire spectrum. Xubuntu’s extra responsiveness and speed, among other positive traits, can be appreciated by all users, regardless of their hardware.

Although I must admit if I had a computer that could handle Ubuntu’s fancy new Unity interface, I think I’d give it a shot. But my computer can’t carry heavy loads. It’s over 10 years old for goodnessakes! So instead of trying to make these awesome modern Linux distros run on this old relic, it’s time to get real and choose one of those “ultralights” that is designed for hardware like mine. I am so grateful for Linux! It has already given this old dinosaur years of new life! But the Big Popular distros are outrunning my hardware.

So yesterday I promised to write about Lubuntu, the only remaining Ubuntu flavor that is actually intended and designed for older hardware. There isn’t a Long-Term-Support release of Lubuntu yet, but one is coming in April, and I suspect it’s going to become hugely popular as more and more former WindowsXP users find it a wonderful alternative when support of WinXP ends at the very same time as the new LTS editions are released.

There’s even a way to add a little eye candy to Lubuntu while still being as miserly as Scrooge with resources:

Ain’t it pretty!? This is Lubuntu 13.10! That’s no special fancy icon set, those are the Lubuntu default icons! My only additions are the wallpaper – a photograph taken out the window of a big ol’ jet airliner (can you hear the song?) of Mount Ranier towering over the neighboring mountain range – and a cute little application called gdesklets. I couldn’t find a weather applet for it in the usual places but I bet there is one to be found. Less resource-hungry, I’m told, than most of the alternative screenlets. I’ve got a calendar and an old-fashioned analog clock on the desktop since I’m always forgetting what day it is and where I’m supposed to be. :-[

Fully updated, Lubuntu is absolutely the fastest, most responsive operating system I have ever had on this computer. It performs even faster than the ultralight AntiX (which doesn’t even offer a full desktop environment) and is much more up-to-date. Is it stable? Well, I haven’t been using it long enough to know that yet, but so far nothing has crashed or hesitated or slowed down or frozen up. Unlike many of the Ubuntu-based spin-offs, multimedia codecs need to be added manually either during or after installation, since it is illegal in many countries to include that software in a freely distributed system. The only little glitch I have experienced so far was that choosing to include them during installation of Lubuntu didn’t work. But after installation of Lubuntu, adding them was a simple matter of a few mouse clicks.

This doesn’t seem to be as customizable as the Xfce desktop, but I’ve managed to get the whole desktop looking great, including the panel opacity and desklets, without the frustration I anticipated with learning a new desktop environment. That’s huge to me, since I ordinarily get bogged down in that kinda stuff. So I guess it’s intuitive enough, for me at least.

I recommend this Ubuntu flavor for ‘buntuers with computers having from 256 to 512 of RAM. Less than 256 is probably impractical for Lubuntu. But a lot of those old machines with WindowsXP on them fit in that range, and Lubuntu will be there to save countless numbers of them from an agonizing death in the landfill.

Linux is Outrunning My Hardware!

Welllll, my goodness.

It’s getting harder and harder to adapt really awesome Linux distros to my aging, older computer. I have tried out “Linux distros for old computers” before, and have never really been pleased with what I found. My poor old computer is slowing and locking up on my “lightweight” Xfce edition of PCLinuxOS. The issue is temporarily fixed by a reboot, so it isn’t likely a video driver issue. There’s a bit of “swappiness” going on, which is normal I suppose (“Swap” is when your computer creates “virtual RAM” on the hard drive to supplement RAM), but it slows everything – including lightweight browsers like Midori (which has the worst font rendering imaginable) and Chromium – to a crawl. Even the mouse freezes. I know, my computer is old!

Running Bleachbit helped, for a couple of days. Now it’s back to acting like Windows, slowwwwwwing dowwwwwwwn and eventually becoming unresponsive. Except that it took Windows a lot longer to decay like this. Time to face facts, I guess: My computer is probably too old and too underpowered to run any version of PCLinuxOS for the long term. So I renewed my search for a Linux distro intended for older hardware.

Surprisingly not intended for older hardware is Crunchbang Linux. It looks like it would run okay on really old hardware like mine, because it’s so minimal. But on their website (“About Crunchbang”) it says that while not intended for old computers, it’ll probably work okay on most. Two things give me pause: First it’s too close to Debian, which has been difficult on my machine. And second it’s not intended for old computers. I think I should quit kidding myself and find one that is specifically designed for old hardware.

Puppy Linux runs in RAM. Which means there’s less RAM available for applications. And you’re always running as root, which is against my religion now, having left that vulnerability behind when I quit Microsoft Windows!

AntiX works on a laptop I installed it on, but it isn’t very pretty and again, too close to Debian. Works great on the laptop, but not on my old Dell.

I could fall back on my old favorite Xubuntu, but again, it is not intended for old computers like it used to be. It’s now mainly an awesome desktop alternative to Ubuntu‘s Unity desktop. Best desktop environment I ever tried. But a bare-bones Xfce desktop is just plain ugly on Debian and minimal Ubuntu. The Xubuntu team makes Xfce elegant and awesome. Once the lightweight flavor of Ubuntu intended for modest hardware, Xubuntu has changed it’s vision to focus on the traditional desktop, not so much on conservative use of CPU and RAM.

Enter Lubuntu, the one remaining Ubuntu flavor that is actually intended for and designed for older hardware like mine. My previous forays into the LXDE desktop experience have been sketchy, buggy, and frustrating. But LXDE is undergoing rapid development and getting rave reviews lately. Another very nice thing LXDE has going for it is the switch to a Qt base rather than GTK. GTK’s evolutionis wreaking havoc with Gnome and Xfce applications, some of which worked fine on GTK-2 but haven’t adapted to GTK-3. Conflicts and incompatibility mar the transition to GTK-3, and in turn mess up desktop environments and applications that are GTK-dependent. This might be a bumpy ride for LXDE and me. But I think I’ll stick with a proven name I trust – Canonical/Ubuntu – and use whatever version of it is aimed specifically at older hardware. The only caveat: Long-Term-Support only.

Look for a review – well, more like a report – on Lubuntu sometime after the next LTS version is released.