Updates in Linux

Hi everyone!

In previous posts extolling the awesomeness of Linux Lite, I have said repeatedly that even as awesome as it is, I would not dare use it – or any other Ubuntu-based distribution (including my long-time favorite Xubuntu), without a safe means of updating it. It’s one of the reasons I am such a big fan of Unlockforus.com. It not only offers a special adaptation of Linux Mint‘s wonderful updater which helps users avoid most of not all of the “broken after updating” issues that Ubuntu and it’s derivatives are infamous for. Linux Mint users enjoy this protection instantly by default. Users of Ubuntu and it’s other derivatives should get this application and use only that updater. In today’s post, I want to explain why.

First, because of this warning which appears in Updater’s Help Contents menu:

In other Ubu-based distros I have used, updates are ordinarily done non-selectively. Often by open Synaptic Package Manager and Reloading it, then selecting Mark All Upgrades and Apply. This is exactly what should never be done, especially since Ubuntu tends include ridiculous Beta stuff in their updates! I remain a huge fanboy of Ubuntu/Canonical for their pioneering stuff, and for being the most successful at making Linux useable for us mere ordinary mortals. But the inclusion of Beta (and Beta-quality) stuff in a Linux distribution intended for new and inexperienced users is simply unforgivable. Were it not for the safety afforded by Linux Mint’s updater (and it’s adaptation for other Ubuntu-based distros at Unlockforus), I would probably be using – as troublesome as it is – Debian Old Stable. Or a Slackware derivative like Salix. Gosh, now that I think of it, I should probably try Salix now that I have the means to do so… well, that’ll be for another post.

How it works

Levels One and Two usually only update or upgrade a single software application. It’s an update only to Firefox or the music player, for example. Unlikely to affect anything else. So if that update breaks anything, it’s easy to fix, and you know right where to go. Levels One and Two are the preselected defaults on a new installation of Linux Mint. Absolute beginners can select “Just keep my computer safe” and only Level One updates will be applied, except for Security updates, which should always be applied, but with care if they are beyond Level Two.

There’s a Level 5 category too, which might include updates to the kernel, the bootloader, and other critically important system stuff. These are likely to cause regressions.

What’s a regression, you say?

More good advice from Linux Mint 18’s greatly improved Updater Help Contents file. A regression is any update that breaks something that was working perfectly well before the update. You can read about these damned things in Ubuntu Forums frequently. I can only imagine it’s worse in those rolling-release Linux distros which maintain the cutting edge. I have used only one rolling-release distro – PCLinuxOS – and I must admit it was trouble-free for months! But that is because there’s a great team of testers try out all the new stuff before it finds its way into the repositories. They do an awesome job of protecting the users from regressions even though updates are all-or-none. HOWEVER, as awesome as the testers are, they can’t possibly be testing updates on every single hardware configuration their community is using. Rolling-release isn’t all bad, but for me it’s just too scary. PCLinuxOS is the only one I might trust, but it would have to be on hardware I was absolutely sure of.



Another Reason to Drop Windows

FedEx was among many companies disastrously affected by last week’s global ransomware attack. It was completely stupid and unnecessary. The shutdown (a desperate attempt to halt the spread of the attack) caused big dispatch problems for drivers and tracking issues for customers. I did all my documentation on paper yesterday and the package scanner was useless.

A multi-billion dollar company still using WindowsXP (unsupported, even with security updates for most people, although some corporate customers have been able to extend support – for a big fat fee) and that doesn’t even have backups in place?!? There’s no excuse for that. Yesterday’s chaos was completely unnecessary.

Y’know I’m a Linux fanboy and would love to “convert” my company to Linux, but that’s obviously not going to happen. If FedEx is stupid enough to use a long-unsupported legacy Windows OS and not even back their stuff up, they’re sure as heck not gonna be smart enough to take the necessary steps to avoid another hack by switching to Linux or BSD. Maybe they’ll be smart enough to have backups in place, but my experience with the company has demonstrated some particularly foolhardy nonsense at the corporate level.

But the rest of us can learn a lesson from this! Most readers of this blog are just casual, “ordinary” desktop and laptop computer users (students, home users). WindowsXP was the best Windows OS ever! It’s only gotten worse since then, and that’s why a lot of people are still using it. The later versions of Windows got bloated and resource-hungry and kept interrupting users with notifications, updates (always in the middle of writing a term paper or something), and other stuff that demands the users’ immediate attention. A lot of the software that “comes with Windows” isn’t for the user at all, but for the OS! Just to keep it running and stable and reliable. That’s bloatware and hogs even more resources, slowing everything down.

If you’re one of those folks hanging onto WinXP because you have an old computer that still runs it fine, or the newer versions of Windows are confusing and even a little terrifying, take a lesson! Don’t be like FedEx. There are Linux distributions that even technophobes like me can use, that are fully updated and supported, free of bloatware (so it stays out of your way when writing that big ol’ term paper), and that cost nothing to get and install on your computer!

For newbies I really like Linux Lite. It’s made for novices just like Linux Mint and many other “newbie-friendly” Linux distributions, but it works very well on those older machines that ran WinXP so well! I could also recommend LXLE because it’s made for older hardware, but it is not designed for newcomers to Linux. Neither is AntiX (MX), or Salix, and neither are many of the other “lightweight” distros aimed at older computers. Linux Mint is great for novices, but it’s so heavy it doesn’t run well on those perfectly good but modest older computers.

E-Mail Management

Recently I switched my e-mail provider because my former one – and I don’t mind naming them: GMX.com – is being blocked by a growing number of ISPs as a major source of SPAM. It’s easy to believe that too, judging by the number of spam e-mails that polluted my inbox there. It’s as if someone turned off their spam filter or something. At least a dozen a day for the past couple of weeks, and it isn’t the first time that has happened.

I was already looking for a new service (not ready for my own domain yet) when I came across this article about e-mail privacy. It describes new rules that make everything in your inbox that is more than 6 months old “fair game” for examination by any government agency without a warrant! If you’re an IMAP user like I was, you enjoy the advantages of being able to access your old and new e-mail from any internet-connected device. My new service does not offer IMAP support, only the old POP3 protocol. But guess what? My e-mail program (Seamonkey or Thunderbird) gives me the choice of leaving the e-mail on the server or not, and I set it up to delete all mail from the server once I have downloaded it. Sorry, NSA, nothing to see here. Move along.

Privacy is one of the reasons I dumped Google’s gmail long ago. It’s one of the major reasons for getting myself off of Facebook, too. So why would I leave e-mail on an IMAP server where it can accumulate, forgotten but available on someone else’ server for government inspection? Maybe POP3 isn’t so bad after all, since it can be set up to delete incoming mail automatically as soon as it’s downloaded. Now all I need to remember to do, is delete sent messages regularly and empty the trash.

Stay tuned… I’ll be testing the latest version of an old favorite – Linux Mint Xfce (Rebecca) – in the coming weeks and posting about it here.