LXLE on an Ancient Spare Desktop

Her computer is even older than mine, with even less RAM. I thought Puppy Linux or AntiX would be the only choices, since my previous experience with SalixOS was so disappointing. But just for grins and giggles, I put LXLE’s newest 32-bit version, Electra (16.04) on it. It’s Dell Dimension with an ancient Celeron processor and 512 mb of RAM. WindowsXP was brand new when this computer was new (still the best Windows version ever in my opinion).

Maybe Lubuntu would have just as good as LXLE or better, but I have a special fondness for this spin-off, partly because it’s choice of default applications is better, but it offers a downright luxurious experience for most users.

Four things disappointed me this time around. The installer took forever to successfully install this distro, much longer than I’m used to. Notification windows refused to close, slowing it down even more. Whatever, I chalk that up to the computer’s age and lack of resources. But the other three things that bother me this time around are:

Adding a new panel to the bottom is not possible. The panel has to go on the right or left side, period. I don’t think that’s an LXDE thing, since it has always been possible to put a panel anywhere I wished before now. My desktop has a wicked-kewl Xfce panel on the bottom with just launchers, analog clock (unavailable in LXDE) and weather applet (also unavailable in LXDE).

The weather applet is LXLE is unsupported and doesn’t work. I think I read somewhere that it has been forked, and the new one might work, but it isn’t included or listed among available applets for the panel. Not a deal breaker, as the user doesn’t even care about that since she goes to the web for weather and stuff anyway.

Whatever they did to Seamonkey – in my opinion the best web browser – on LXLE rendered it impossible to use on this ancient relic. The visible browser screen takes only a third of the screen and won’t expand to a viewable area. It’s faster than Chromium, which is what I installed after experimenting with Epiphany for a bit. Midori is still buggy and crashy, and Epiphany is just okay. Soooooo… I dropped all the extensive and abundant modifications and reset Seamonkey to the ordinary defaults from Mozilla, and bingo! Zips along faster than Chromium or Firefox, and it’s more reliable than crashy Midori and just-okay Epiphany.

Seamonkey is still the bestest, most wonderfulest and awesomeful internet suite in the history of ever!

I completely disabled screen-blanking, since when it “wakes up from a nap,” it’s all oversized and pixelated. Graphics driver issue, I think. Now set up to auto-detect and never blank the screen.

So LXLE – with modifications and un-doing some of the “improvements,” will probably keep her old relic going for months to come!

Revisiting SalixOS

I’ve gotta say I have absolutely loved Xubuntu – up until anything after 12.04, and LXLE, the brilliantly mixed respin of Lubuntu – up until 14.04. Precise, 12.04, was rock-stable and fairly nimble on this ancient relic I’m still using. I could continue using it through April of next year, but it’s largely unsupported now except for security updates. So I upgraded to Trusty, 14.04. Xubuntu Trusty was too much for this aging dinosaur, halting and slow. So again, LXLE to the rescue. Gorgeous, full-featured, and much faster than Xubu. All was well. Until updates cumulatively made it increasingly buggy. I did a little research and found this interesting article on some changes to 14.04 that were um, unorthodox at least. Among other things, Trusty isn’t using an LTS kernel for an LTS release. They’ve opted for “greater hardware compatibility” by using a more recent kernel, which was updated two or three times on LXLE during my sojourn with it. They’ve got some apps that depend on systemd to work, but systemd isn’t the default init application / process manager. Maybe that’s one of the things that contributed to LXLE’s bugginess after some updates. It became slow, reluctant to boot, and themes got glitchy. Other users of Ubuntu Trusty and derivatives have reported frequent loss of networking (both wired and wireless) after updates. Borked after updating is a frequent complaint, and it always had me walking on eggshells with Ubuntu, and even more so with LXLE’s all-or-nothing way of updating (open Synaptic > Mark all upgrades > Apply).

I wondered if systemd, especially in an updated distro that didn’t ship with it but has a bunch of stuff that depends on it, was part of the problem. I never took a position on the whole systemd debate because as a self-confessed technophobe I never dabbled in that “advanced coder stuff.” Suffice it to say that the debate ignited a bloody war among Linux geeks which has kinda died down a little but still rages in spots, even though all the Big Players (Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, SUSE, Gnome, etc) have adopted it. It’s more than just a “initiating” daemon, it’s a process manager also. So it sort of goes against the traditional “do one thing and do it well” rule of GNU/Linux. It’s not “mature” yet, to borrow another Linux cliche, yet it got widely adopted with such speed that bugs are still showing up, and developers are being forced to “fix someone else’ mistakes” by adapting their own projects for systemd. Uncool. So, I looked around for a “systemd-free” Linux distro that might be less buggy with all the changes being forced on users and developers and maintainers. One of them is PCLinuxOS, which I have played with before. I downloaded two of the community remixes, LXDE and Xfce. I made bootable USB keys of each, but both refused to boot. I spent a few hours retrying, but with the same result. Okay, chide me for giving up to easily, but I remind you – I’m a technophobe anyway, remember?

Enter my second choice from the systemd-free list of Linux distros: SalixOS. I’ve played with this one before too, and fled back to Xubuntu when SalixOS suddenly refused to boot one day. But a few things are different this time out. One of them is this cool LiloSetup utility that works in whether in Live mode or installed SalixOS. So I’m prepared now in case the bootloader ever balks again.

SalixOS 14.1 ships with Xfce4.10 (yeah I know, the new one is 4.12 but y’know what? I don’t care. New isn’t always better) and Linux Kernel 3.10.17 (yep, the LTS kernel, yay!) This superb and simple little distro is based on and fully compatible with Slackware, which is known for it’s rock-solid stability even though some of the software in Slackware-Current is “older.” I guess using Slackware Current is kinda like using Debian Stable. Older, perhaps, but stable. Certainly more stable than Ubuntu or cutting-edge Fedora, except not polluted with systemd. Gnome3 users take note: The Gnome people have decided to make Gnome3 with a bunch of systemd dependencies. Xfce is still good, if you’re trying to avoid systemd.

The repositories are chock full of awesome stuff, including Seamonkey! It’s nice not to have to add a PPA just to get one particular favorite application and keep it updated. There are all kinda of installation options, from bare-bones to full-on ready-to-play; and multiple desktops to choose from (Xfce is the default in the main edition). Software installation is nice and graphical for us technophobic users coming from the Ubuntu family, using GSlapt Package Manager. It looks and acts a lot like Synaptic! And if it ain’t in the repositories, there’s Sourcery, which works for a lot of users but was troublesome for me during my previous flirtation with SalixOS. Perhaps it’s better now. Sourcery compiles packages listed from source code – all from a sweet graphical interface that also looks and acts kinda sorta like Synaptic.

Rather than post screenshots just yet, I would encourage readers who are interested to look into this little-known gem for themselves. I think it’s a great choice for timid technophobic users like me as a “next step” beyond the Ubuntu family and it’s derivatives.

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.

A Kid Wins Linux Converts

I found this gem on line and repost with permission of the author, a14-year-old home user of LXLE:

My Parents Want LINUX!
by “Jamie”

How cool is this? I came home from school today to find my mom sitting in front of my computer on the phone with someone, asking questions about Linux. She and Dad go on my computer alot so I wasn’t worried they would find anything embarrassing (yet, but I just started high school so maybe soon lol), but I’m thinking maybe she thinks she broke something. Really though, I don’t think Mom and Dad could break anything on my computer on accident anyway because they don’t know the root password. So I sat down and listened.

“Well then why is my computer so much slower than my son’s when it has 16 gigs of RAM and a quad-core processor?” she thundered at some poor Indian guy on the other end.

“We gave him that old boat anchor six months ago because it’s old and underpowered and won’t run Windows anymore. He’s done something to make it run circles around my brand new one! I have stuff to get done and I have to borrow my son’s – what do you call this Jamie?”

“It’s Linux, Mom.” I said, trying not to grin too big.

“Linux! I want that on my computer!”

A long pause, then Mom’s face starts turning red. “What do you mean you can’t do that? You’re the professional and I have to have my computer work done by my 13 year old?”

“I’m 14 now Mom…”

“Shhhh!” Back to the phone, “Well?”

Another long pause, a quiet end to a frustrating phone call, and then Mom drops this bomb:

“Your father and I want you to make our computer do what yours does. Please.”

Stunned silence

“Jamie?”

Big huge grin that won’t go away. I don’t even think a root canal could take this smile off my face right now! So I have to do some reading and make sure I know how to do this dual-boot thing. But in the meantime Mom is running LXLE on her computer from a live USB drive and singing a little song that goes like ZOOM ZOOM ZOOOOOOOM!

This makes me a happy boy!

#Linux #Ubuntu #Windows #parents #happy #singing #dancing #iamsofreakingoutrightnow

This is better than anything I’ve posted to this blog. Maybe I’ll recruit this kid as a co-contributor!

Eye Candy and Dual Booting

So this morning I suggested a few alternatives to the Xfce4 panel weather plugin that has stopped working, temporarily I’m sure. It might even be fixed by the time I finish writing this post. That’s how cool Xfce is, and how on-top-of-everything the MX-14 team is.

This one is called screenlets, easily installed on my favorite distro through Synaptic. There are actually several different weather screenlets! So you can choose one that fits your own desktop, make it whatever size you wish, and put it wherever you want it. I could have put mine right above or below the panel so it would look just like the broken Xfce applet! But I like my eye candy big and pretty. Like this:

That’s the classic Mepis wallpaper I love so much, dark and deep and mysterious-looking. I chose a pretty weather applet, configured it easily using my zip code (you can’t tell it’s October here, can you?), and made it just the right size to match the clock (again, one of multiple clocks to choose from). You can add “quote of the day,” or “This day in History,” one of a choice of calendars, post-it notes, maps or a globe, a ruler, calculator, whatever stuff you might find sitting on your desk in the office or at home. Lookie here at all the choices you get!

I don’t even know what all of these things even do! But they hardly use any CPU power and don’t slow down my “user experience” any little bit. They’re just fun eye candy things to play with if you like this sort of thing. I just counted seven different clocks to choose from! And five weather applets to choose from – unless that “dayNight” screenlet is also a weather one. A couple of different kinds of post-it notes that you stick right on your desktop too. Calendars, maps, and monitors; lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Two Favorites Side By Side – Differences that Matter, Differences that Don’t:

I’m still dual-booting MX-14 (see my earlier post about this delightful distro that combines the old Mepis magic with the simplicity of the Xfce desktop on Debian Stable) with LXLE (a totally awesomeful respin of Lubuntu with almost none of the bugs and plenty of speed), which is magnificent compared to my last flirtation with the LXDE desktop. But Xfce still “feels like home,” and I find it easier to configure even with all the cool tools that Ronnie (the man behind LXLE) has added. I just can’t choose a favorite! So I dual boot and enjoy them both. Some differences just don’t matter to me at all, but other users might find them important. One is the boot-up thing. Both of these distros boot up in about the same amount of time. LXLE gives me a classy-looking boot screen that just looks super-awesome-cool, while MX-14 offers that boring “wall of text” that flies by too fast to read. So what. I don’t care what it looks like while booting, for goodnessakes. Both distros have wonderful, configurable panels that are quite similar and even misbehave in similar ways (like the on-again off-again weather applet in Xfce4, and LXDE’s digital clock that offers me a bunch of nonsensical characters to choose from when I want to configure it). Another difference that doesn’t matter.

Differences that do matter, at least to me, include the way that the mouse behaves in LXLE. Fully updated, LXLE 12.04’s behavior is just like Xubuntu 14.04’s was. The cursor hesitates, halts, and sometimes simply rebels against the mouse so that I have to “argue” with it, repeating mouse gestures a few times to get the stupid cursor to move where I want it. The mouse in MX is perfectly well behaved. Yeah, that kinda matters! The other difference that kinda sorta matters is the Ubuntu base versus the Debian base. I worry less about stability and reliability on MX because it is based on Debian Stable. And everyone knows it just doesn’t get any more stable than Debian Stable. But somehow Debian doesn’t seem to make as efficient use of my computer’s resources as the Ubuntu-based distros have (until 14.04). LXLE doesn’t freeze and lock up like MX-14 did before I added some RAM. I have yet to discover why. But yeah, that matters.

So I’ll just keep dual-booting and see where they both go, and report my findings here. I promise objective, measurable observation and opinion, not the rabid, defensive rantings of a distro fanboy. Stay tuned…

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.