It’s Not So Scary After All!

…Dual booting, I mean. Not scary at all, except when I was actually installing the second OS to this really olllllld computer. I’ve got my awesome MX-14 installed, and today just for giggles I added LXLE 12.04 (Precise). It’s built from Lubuntu, but way cooler, not buggy at all, and every bit as fast on 512 MB of RAM as my favorite MX-14, and a helluvalot faster than Xubuntu 14.04 (Trusty).

I really expected the LXDE environment to still be buggy and troublesome like it was on Lubuntu was the few times that I’ve tested it, and I was kinda wondering if the LXQt thing might factor in. Frankly I was glad to read a comment from the developer on their forum that LXQt “is a fat pig” that he’s staying away from for as long as possible. While it’s great that two projects merged (very rare in the FOSS world where forking every little project is practically the norm), the “in-between” status of the new project is certainly not ready for prime time. It’ll be a great ride though, when it’s finally ready, I bet. In the meantime it’s really nice to check out LXDE on a clean, elegant platform that is – so far at least – completely free of the bugs that haunted me on every former flirtation with that desktop.

Gorgeous, ain’t it? What you don’t see is the vanishing dock on the left side of the screen (visible only when I mouse over it). It seems to be about as customizable as the Xfce panel, including opacity so all you see is the icons in the launch bar. And the weather applet is super nice – much classier looking than the Xfce weather panel applet.

The Ubuntu base is not particularly appealing because of where they’re headed with Xorg integration with MIR and whatever, and the fact that for a lot of users, every version of a ‘buntu since 12.04 has been significantly slower and more halting and awkward. Xubu 14.04 royally ticked me off, enough to make me either want to go either back to Xubu Trusty (which is good for 2 more years anyway) or check out alternatives (which led to discovering MX and LXLE). The future of LXLE depends on Ubuntu devlopment (which unfortunately includes all the weird stuff they’re doing with X and display management). But this fine Lubuntu respin offers cause for hope. And y’know what else was nice to see, was that they don’t call this a distro! “It’s a respin of Lubuntu,” the web site says, adding a note of gratitude for the developers of the foundation LXLE is built on. That is so refreshing!

I can’t say which OS I’ll spend most of my time on, but they’re both just wonderful! When I’m busy and have a lot of schoolwork to do, I’ll likely keep doing it on the familiar interface that I’m used to so I can work without distraction. But LXLE has piqued my curiosity about what LXDE can really be, besides “lightweight.” It also needs to be simple, intuitive, and stay the heck out of my way. So far so good! A truly unexpected and happy surprise.

In the meantime, just to drive home the point I passionately argued earlier today about MX being the successor and rightful heir of SimplyMepis, I added one of my favorite Mepis wallpapers to my MX-14. It’s dark and mysterious, and mirrors my personal mystical attraction to water. I loved it on my desktop when I played with SimplyMepis, but KDE was confusing and slow, even back then, so I wandered back to Ubuntu+Xfce. Now I get to celebrate the venerable heritage of my favorite distro with a little piece of history:

It’s still MX, but with that supercool historic wallpaper that captivated me back when I was a newbie taking early steps in the Linux universe, stepping outside the “Ubuniverse” for the first time. In honor of Warren and all the new ground he broke for so many users, I think I’ll just keep this wonderful watery wallpaper on the desktop for awhile.

Am I still a technophobe now that I’m finally dual-booting for the first time? Well maybe a little less of a technophobe, but not enough to go changing the name of this blog. 😀

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.

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.

PCLXDE

So here’s my latest experiment in Linux:

It’s PCLinuxOS with the LXDE desktop. Or “PCLXDE” for short. It’s plenty fast and all that, but really it’s the applications more than the desktop environment that make a system fast or slow it seems to me. I’m interested in LXDE because of their plans to “convert,” as it were, to Qt instead of GTK.

So far it still looks and behaves like the same old LXDE, except it’s much better behaved in PCLinuxOS than in Ubuntu or Mint. Lots better.

Panels are adjustable for geometry and opacity, color, and order of launchers and applets. But there’s no weather applet, the clock is – well, you get what you get – digital with a simple calender that doesn’t compare with Xfce’s options and integration with Orage, the Xfce calender app. But I bet when they’re all Qt-ed up it could be as spectacular as KDE, but ultralight at the same time. A rival to Enlightenment, perhaps!

I haven’t noticed any particular difference in responsiveness between Xfce and LXDE, which is what my experience has always been. Fewer features than Xfce and no noticeable advantage in speed or resource consumption. I’m not sure why PCLXDE comes with Compton, a composting window manager (like Compiz) in addition to Openbox. But it does ship with lightweight apps like Slypheed mail reader instead of Thunderbird, and Abiword instead of the heavier and slower LibreOffice suite. But installing LibreOffice is a snap with the built-in quick-installer.

This isn’t supposed to be a review of PCLinuxOS / LXDE or anything, just a little update of my Linux journey and one sidekick’s experience with LXDE so far. I have no idea why it’s so much better on PCLinuxOS than on Ubuntu or Ubuntu-based Linux Mint. I only know that all of my previous flirtations with this desktop environment fell victim to what I call “the ‘Buntu Bug.” But apparently, only on my computer and others like it. Dells are known to be a little capricious on Linux, as Ubuntu is known to be capricious on just about any computer. 😉

I might just get to missing my old wonderful Xfce desktop enough to switch back, but I’ll always keep trying LXDE on for size every year or so, and perhaps more often as the Qt integration proceeds. Can’t help myself, I guess. Xfce has become as comfortable as old leather, and in my limited and few years of experience thus far, it seems to be improving a lot faster than it’s younger sibling.