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.

Back to Xubuntu, Again

Well that was fun while it lasted, but:

Yesterday Seamonkey updated twice (using Salix’s Gslapt manager). The first time, no problem except that certain extensions were incompatible with the new version, and none were upgradable. Not a showstopper though, it happens all the time.

Second update restored some extension functionality, but completely removed all my bookmarks, cookies, passwords, history, and saved preferences. And none of them could be input again! Seamonkey would not let me bookmark pages, store passwords, manage folders, cookies, search engines, nothing. Seamonkey was my last resort after Midori, Firefox, and Opera had all buggy prior to installing Seamonkey. Now even trusty old Seamonkey refused me and mocked me at every turn.

I thought about installing yet another browser this morning after a good night’s sleep. No dice. Not even possible. SalixOS refused to boot. Even doing all the tricks to get it going failed. I was beginning to think my computer was broken!

If my version of Salix was available as a LiveCD, I might have used it to at least see if my hard drive had crashed, recover what I could if possible to a USB stick, maybe check my e-mail. But SalixOS 14.0 is only available via an installation disk. But I still had my old Xubuntu 12.04 LiveCD handy, so I used it to see if my hard drive had died or something. It booted up effortlessly as always and guess what? Nothing wrong with the hard drive. SalixOS just simply up and quit on me, just like several applications had been doing since I installed Salix two months ago.

So I grabbed another cup of coffee and thought about it for a spell. Salix had been a little faster than Xubu, but not by enough to matter, especially now that it had come to a screeching halt. Most casual users probably wouldn’t even notice any difference in speed between them (except that Xubu boots a lot faster – Grub beats Lilo). In over two years on Xubuntu I never experienced so many failures of multiple applications as I did in two months using SalixOS. Also, as I thought some more about what to do next, I recalled all the times I wished for a particular software package that:

  • Either wasn’t in the SalixOS repositories or
  • did not appear in available Slackbuilds or refused to install from Slackbuilds.

The old saying is true: Choose a distro, and you’re choosing it’s repositories. There are a gazillion applications in the Ubuntu respositories (although it’s odd that you have to add PPAs to get the Seamonkey Internet suite or the Faenza icon set – both of which are in the Salix respositories). By comparison though, I could list every bit of software in the Salix repositories on about two ordinary printed pages. Others can be compiled from Slackbuilds using Sourcery, but there are all kinds of dependency issues. Enough to have it fail to install what I wanted at least 50% of the time.

So after careful, thoughtful, thorough consideration of my situation, I decided, “Screw this. I’ll just install Xubu replacing Salix while I’ve got the darned CD in there anyway.” I had thought to dual boot, but that idea lasted about 3 minutes before I dismissed it, considering all the ups and downs of the last 2 months using SalixOS. I had ventured away from Xubu because I’m scared of updates breaking things. I’ve read a lot of horror stories about that – but it occurs to me that I’ve never actually experienced any such horrific, disastrous, cataclysmic breakages in Xubuntu for as long as I’ve used. Just minor ones, like sound not working or having to reinstall some peripheral stuff. So y’know what?

It’s back to Xubuntu, no more to roam, until and unless Xubuntu fails me as badly as SalixOS did. Oh well, no one said Linux was boring I guess. But in my opinion, it should be. At least on my desktop!

My Salix Screenshots

Hi readers!

I had a little time today after a glorious Resurrection Day worship service and a casual supper with family, to throw on a few new desktop wallpapers and take a few screenshots to show off my new SalixOS operating system. Very basic and very simple, it’s surprising that a computer dunce like me can use – <gasp!> Slackware of all things! But SalixOS makes Slackware easy for (kinda sorta) inexperienced users taking their first steps out of the spoon-feeding, one-size-fits-all Linux distro I have used for the past two years. I never have toyed with Docky or Conky yet, but those are probably next on my list. Not that I’m unhappy with the good ol’ Xfce panel with the goodies I’ve always enjoyed. But screenshots of Docky and Conky look so geeky and cool that it might be fun, when time permits, to mess around with them. I’ve got a lot of reading to do first though! And it’s a good idea, when you’re experimenting, to keep a written record of everything you do and what happened when you did. I’ll add the new toys to my “Linux journal.”

So here’s the first shot – just the desktop with nothing open. This is what greets me about 20 seconds after power-up:

My old Xubu desktop actually used a different window manager called Compiz. It made open windows appear translucent when I was working in another. Okay, so it looked cool, but SalixOS has a sensible “one application per task” approach to their mixture. So since this is an Xfce desktop, it just uses the Xfce window manager (Xfcewm). I could enable some cool effects I suppose, but the whole reason I’ve switched from Xubuntu was to regain the speed and simplicity that was being lost with every new update. Until recently, Xubuntu was aimed at “older, modest hardware.” That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I think that, with the arrival of Unity and Canonical’s departure from the Gnome desktop, that Xubuntu serves more as an alternative to Unity rather than as a distro intended for modest machines with lesser resources. For that there’s Lubuntu now, and I’ve read that it fits the bill nicely. So here’s my desktop with a few apps open: The terminal, the pdf viewer, and Thunar, the default file manager which is kind of growing on me as I get used to it.

Oh, did you spot that Diaspora document in my Downloads folder? I was thinkin’ ’bout getting back on that social network again. It offers some cool new features like formatting posts and comments (try that in Facebook – maybe someday, if you pay extra for that) and using #hashtags instead of joining groups to read stuff that interests you. But that’s a whole ‘nother post for some other day. Today I’m showing off my sexy speedy SalixOS desktop! On the right, there, is the SalixOS Startup Guide opened up for me to learn about the terminal. It’s quite different in Slackware from the Debian/Ubuntu apt-get sudo and all that. Not any more complicated so far, just different. All I’ve really done so far in the terminal is look around a bit, and use it to gain root access to Thunar so I could move some files around “as root.” There’s much more there to explore, but not without my journal and a lot more reading first.

I am still absolutely delighted with SalixOS. Midori hasn’t crashed even once, despite having multiple windows open and video streaming. It’s much faster and more responsive than Xubuntu was, and no daily flood of major updates to scare the heck out of me. This old computer is nearly 10 years old, and with SalixOS on it, I think it could go another 10 years with none of the slowdowns and crashes and freezes and such that frustrated me my last several months as a Xubu user.

Thanks for reading!

A Xubuntu User’s Review of SalixOS 14.0

This is me tinkering with Linux again. Be sure not to overlook the UPDATE at the end of this post.

Yesterday and today I’m testing SalixOS 14.0 on an identical computer to my own desktop computer, a Dell Dimension with an old Celeron processor and 512 of RAM.


SalixOS 14.0 is not available as a LiveCD yet. You can get the previous version, 13.7 as a LiveCD to “test drive” without making changes to your hard drive, but it has an older version of Xfce on it. The new version (4.10) has a bunch of changes and it’s not like the Ubuntu-style metapackages I’m used to. It’s designed so you can install components in a non-Xfce environment, which is kinda cool. I suppose if you want LXDE but with an Xfce panel and the Xfce goodies you can do that now. At the time of this posting the only way to “test” SalixOS 14.0 is to install it to a hard drive or use it in a virtual environment (which I’ve never done). But the installer is effortless, fast, and easy to follow. It even offers recommendations and information to help you decide how to proceed at each step.

If I were to reduce my review down to a single sentence, I would say that what Ubuntu has done for Debian, SalixOS is trying to do for Slackware. Except that Salix is still fully compatible with it’s parent distro, and Ubuntu is definitely not.

SalixOS is easy, simple, and fast. But it “feels” older even though all the software seems to be up-to-date. That’s prob’ly just the default configuration, easily changed in Xfce as always.  I’ll offer some screenshots in later posts, probably.

Salix doesn’t “do it all for you” the way Xubuntu always did. You need to manually set up the little conveniences like “print to pdf” and such, but newbie-friendly instructions are available on the Wiki. Some big differences between Salix and Xubuntu are: Lilo as the default boot manager (but you can choose Grub on installation if you prefer it), LibreOffice instead of Abiword and Gnumeric, the newest version of the ultralight Midori web browser instead of Firefox version Twelve Zillion.0, Claws-Mail instead of Thunderbird, good ol’ reliable ALSA instead of PulseAudio, etc. Another nice feature is Salix’s “keep it simple” approach. One application per task. That’s why it all still fits on a CD instead of a big ol’ DVD. Even Xubuntu has seen the last of it’s releases that will still fit on a CD.

Adding and removing software is as easy in Salix as it is in Xubuntu’s Synaptic Package Manager (I never cared for the Ubuntu Software Center anyway – I always delete that resource-hogging eye candy from a new install of Xubuntu), using the GSlapt package manager for Slackware stuff, and Sourcery, a Synaptic-like compiler with supposedly good dependency support. Dependency support is one of the strong points of Debian/Ubuntu’s apt-get package management, but it can also get “messy” and pull in other who-knows-what stuff along with it. I don’t know if any of that accounts for some slow-downs in Xubuntu or not, or if it’s just the fact that it updates so often and sometimes a software update in one bit of software hinders or cripples another bit of software.

Speaking of updates: Kernel upgrades are still fast and furious in Xubuntu 12.04 LTS (I even got two kernel updates in a single week!) and they tend to scare me. I reboot after one of those updates and pray that it still works!  Updates only rarely break Slackware.

The only surprise is the size of the software repositories.  Perhaps I was a little spoiled using Debian and Ubuntu repositories which are vast, huge storehouses of amazing software.  The Salix/Slackware repos are much smaller.  I guess the saying is true:  “Choose a distro and you choose a repository too.”  But about that:  I’d much rather have a smaller repository of absolutely rock-stable software that will not conflict with other software or be broken by frequent updates than to have a huge, vast, confusing library to wade through.  Besides, the Sourcery compiler (unique to Salix) should allow me to safely add a few other favorite applications, and having a favorite one added is is easy as asking for it.  Win/win.

I’m a busy sidekick and haven’t got a lot of time for playing around and tinkering with Linux distros the way I used to. I’ll just use my Salix computer as I normally use my Xubuntu one and if it continues to impress me as it has so far, I’ll likely not bother to look any further.

I give SalixOS 14.0 seven Penguins out of ten for simplicity, reliability, stability, beauty, configurability, and versatility.



The Sourcery app looks pretty cool and attempts to address dependency issues, but it has proved to be unreliable.  It has failed me at least half the time.  Applications began freezing or locking up after a few weeks.  Thunderbird, Firefox, Midori, Opera, and then Seamonkey all worked for the first few days of use, then either froze up or lost all my settings and passwords and bookmarks and such and refused to let me restore them.  I ran Bleachbit to clean up and start over, but the same results repeated themselves.  Updates were buggy, sometimes coming within a few minutes of each other and sometimes conflicting with prior updates.  That completely floored me because of Slackware’s wonderful reputation for not having update issues.  Saturday unintentionally became my last day as a Salix user when it refused to boot at all and balked at every attempt to fix it.

I could re-install, but geez, what the heck for?  I had a pretty good thing going there with Xubuntu LTS, so it’s time to go “running back home” to my faithful, comfortable, reliable default.



Friends Don’t Let Friends Beta-Test Linux Distros

Here’s why:

Like an addiction, playing with it until it breaks and learning how to fix it can become an all-consuming fire, eating up entire days of the victim’s life. And the people you meet in those support forums are so nice and helpful, it becomes another trap: You feel a sense of belonging, a kinship with other nerds when you always felt out of place before, and maybe a little ashamed of being “too nerdy.” Look at you now – part of a wonderful open-source community. No need for a secret identity or anything.

But I let my Hero down for a time, being too consumed with making this Linux thing work when I’m really just a beginner, relatively.

“But we like beginners,” my fellow nerds will say, “and we need them to test this distro because it’s aimed at exactly the kind of casual user you represent.”

Beta for newbies? Please, is it really that hard to put yourself in my shoes? Was it really so long ago that you were a Linux newbie too? C’mon, I don’t believe that. Get your kids to test it. Ask your family or neighbors or some kids on Spring Break, or retirees at the clubhouse. People who don’t otherwise have lives or obligations or a Hero to put above all else.