Treat Your Moderate-to-Severe Technophobia With Linux Lite!

I’ve written before on both my own fear of technology, and about Linux Lite. Today I’ll combine both subjects. It all started with a flare-up of my moderate-to-severe technophobia that started last week, triggered by a discussion on Diaspora about systemd, the evil “one ring to rule them all” program manager used by most Linux distros these days. Just click on the systemd tag for a little more about it (but not much – I’m no expert).

But it’s big and intrusive and “does too much.” Some people complain that it’s an attempt to wrest control of Linux from it’s end-users to the developers, maybe more. The interest of so many “big evil corporations” in adopting it has the same familiar red-flag properties that have people running scared of Google and Facebook, using TOR and proxies online and that kinda stuff. Well I guess it just got to me, having gone on for so long.

I mean, it just depends on how you look at it, right? Or maybe…

I had already dumped Google, killed my gmail account, and quit facebook over fear of becoming a commodity for these companies to sell to advertisers and government agencies or whatever. Now, oh my Lord, systemd is threatening even the sacred refuge I fled to for privacy and safety and dignity! I’ve never experienced any issues – that I know of – with systemd as far as functionality. My Linux OS does what I want it to, does it well, and stays out of my way (unlike Microsoft’s OS). But still…

So…. I went and did something really stupid. Please don’t laugh (at least not where I’ll see you or hear you).

Instead of just switching back to Salix, PCLinuxOS, or any number of other systemd-free Linux distros that I have run before (because there’s no Gnome in any of the Slackware derivatives and PCLOS is too resource-hungry), I tried to rid Xubuntu of it’s horrific, demonic, intrusive systemd. I read on how to do it “safely” before I gathered my courage and ventured into the dark, fearful, mysterious netherworld of the command line interface (CLI). I didn’t do so recklessly or without a plan. I checked and double checked, referred to several official and unofficial sources, and proceeded with all deliberate caution.

I don’t care what the experts say. The only Ubuntu-based stuff that is free of systemd and that can function without it, is based on version 12.04 and older. None of those are supported anymore. I not only crippled my operating system, but apparently something I did in my efforts to exorcise the evil systemd demon from my machine seems to have physically damaged it somehow. Every technophobe’s worst case scenario! Push the wrong button and

Poor old Dell Dimension desktop. It served me so well for so many many years! Linux kept that old relic out of the landfill for decades! And then killed it, mercifully fast. No, I killed it, in a fit of technophobic panic over something that I really know too little about to be so worried about. Rest in peace, you trusty old friend. <sniffle>

But I didn’t spend a dime for my new one. An HP all-in-one with a huuuuge 500 GB hard disk drive! It was unresponsive after an upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 10. My partner used it to play one of those Windows-based MMPORPGs (Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game) on Windows, and bought a new one to keep playing, and for Skype and other stuff she absolutely has to have for her job… All of which, by the way, will run in WINE on Linux. Now’s my chance to show her just how effective Linux can be as a drop-in replacement for that bloated, expensive OD from Redmond!

So:

I’ve loaded up Linux Lite again, because it has cool tools, Xfce desktop’s simplicity and beauty, and readiness for the tasks I want to demonstrate for my Windows-addicted partner. This new computer is many times more powerful than the noble old relic that preceded it, and I hope it will help me win over one of the most challenging Windows addicts I know.

Stay tuned!

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Xubuntu and Linux Lite

I take special delight in keeping this ancient Dell desktop running and out of the landfill.  With it’s very low resources, it doesn’t really run the full-blown version of Xubuntu as well as it used to, and when 32-bit support ends it’ll finally be time to retire the faithful old box. It runs xubuntu-core like a dream though!  Well-chosen lightweight applications (Geary and Midori instead of Thunderbird and Firefox, for example) and the very basic Xfce desktop with the wonderful Xubuntu default settings (but no compositing, not a bunch of daemons running in the background, etc) make this old beast race along as sweet as ever.

But I also have a laptop with 3 gigs of RAM and a dual-core processor and it’s 64-bit.  So just for grins, I’m giving Linux Lite a try.  It’s Xubuntu-based and designed to be even more novice-friendly (if that is even possible).  It has some pretty special little features that are great for folks trying out Linux for the first time.

lite-welcome

Once installed (using the super-awesome Ubiquity installer that makes all the Ubuntu-based distros installable in minutes with wonderful simplicity), the first boot of Linux Lite offers this interactive step-by-step guide to getting started.  After updating installed software, you can upgrade within a series with a great little Linux Lite application that changes repository settings as needed to the next point within a “series.”  Each series is based on the LTS releases of Ubuntu and compare with point releases.  Very cool.  Now check out the “Tweak tool:”

linux-lite-tweaks-tool_orig

This is a sweet little all-in-one-screen utility that does a little bit of housekeeping and customizing.  Newbies can simply check all the “Safe” options to keep the system clean and fast.  All of this can be done in any Xfce distro from the Settings menu, but Linux Lite has made it more convenient and reassuring for novice users.  Now they can tweak and peak their OS fearlessly.  That extra little safety assurance is similar to what Linux Mint  has done with their Updater, with levels of risk clearly labeled and explained for the user.

SUPPORT

The interactive online Help Manual opens in a tabbed web page and helps users navigate through many of the tasks that sometimes frustrate newbies (and technophobes like me), like getting the wireless to work, finding the right driver (or even updating existing ones!), getting the sound to work, etc.  For most users, all that stuff works right out of the chute anyway!  But if not, this Help Manual is about the simplest and best I’ve ever seen.  Not a Wiki or a searchable database, but a step-by-step guide with pictures and everything.

linux-lite-support-page

CONCLUSION

If you’re installing Linux yourself for the first time, Linux Lite is an awesome beginner’s distro with all of Xubuntu’s awesomeness made super simple and a lot less scary for the technically challenged / phobic novice than most distros, even “beginner friendly” ones.  And it’s lightweight enough to run on most computers that used to run Windows XP or Windows 2K.

If you’re not a “rank beginner” and can find your way around or want to provide a little bit of support for a friend, I still recommend Xubuntu.  I also recommend Xubuntu-core if you’re like me, using an ancient dinosaur relic fossil that can barely manage full-blown Xubuntu or Linux Lite, which is not lighter than Xubuntu in any way, but you don’t need to settle for a bare-bones desktop interface that doesn’t offer the fantabulous configurability and beauty of the Xfce desktop.  I remain a

xubuntubar

but heartily recommend Linux Lite for rookie beginner novices, with older hardware that is too nice to just throw away.

Robin’s Favorite Forever

I think that if I listed all the Linux distributions I have tried, it would number somewhere near two dozen or thirty!  Some didn’t last a day, some not even an hour.  Some lasted for weeks or months, when either some update messed it, or I messed it up myself, one just disappeared, one got political and I dumped it on principle, and one – only one – was the distro I always ran home to when I either got scared off, ticked off, or turned off.

Debian and Debian-based distros.  Slackware and Slackware-based distros.  Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros.  PCLinuxOS (independent, the apparent “heir” of Mandrake).  Red-Hat-based distros.  Everything but Gentoo and Arch.  I am a technophobe still, after all.  Some I loved!  Crunchbang Linux, now unsupported, was most awesome when it was Ubuntu-based.  The switch to Debian brought improvements in some areas but made installation and configuration much harder and more complicated, and one installed, it ran slower too.

In the end, they’re all Linux, all wonderful for the niches they fill.  Whether for servers, tablets, or desktops; whether for super-geeks or novices; grandparents or little kids; students, teachers, heroes, and sidekicks – there’s a Linux for everyone.

For this technophobic sidekick, it really has, after 6 years, boiled down to one single distro that has kept my old relic computer out of the landfill since I first ditched WindowsXP for my first ever alternative OS, Ubuntu 8.04.  One that – once discovered – became my go-to operating system, the one I always ended up falling back to.

When Canonical tamed mighty Debian and made it finally available, installable, and useful for ordinary mortals to use without “mad techno-geek skillz,” they did it better than anyone else had before.  And they still do.  I know a lot of Linux folks enjoy belittling Canonical for their business dealings and Ubuntu (to include the official derivatives, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Edubuntu, etc) users for their lack of computer skills.   So be it.  I have always lacked computer skills when it came to tweaks and fixes and configurations and such.  I kept a diary of whatever I did and what resulted.  I learned to use the terminal like a wonderful, powerful, magic toolbox!  But I always preferred the graphical interface, and the point-and-shoot simplicity of the Synaptic Package Manager instead of sudo apt-get whatever, for example.

I may yet get a few more years out of this old dinsaur before Linux stops offering support for 32-bit architecture.  But even when I no longer need to stick to “lightweight” distros, I’ll stick with the best one I’ve ever used, the one that more than any other, has kept my old desktop running, got me through all my college classes, and inspired this blog.

Robin’s all-time, forever fanboy Linux distro:

xubu-core16-04

XUBUNTU.  Here’s 16.04, built from Xubunu-core (after installing the Ubuntu base with only a terminal) and my own selected lightweight applications.  There’s no Firefox or Thunderbird in my remix, no LibreOffice, none of the usual popular stuff, but ultralight or other lightweight alternatives.  Geary for email (because Claws Mail just refused to cooperate). Midori for web browsing. Abiword and Gnumeric for office stuff. Mostly standard Xfce apps for just about everything else I use my computer for.  All with the awesome Ubuntu base and Xubuntu team community support.

This old Dell still runs faster and better on Xubuntu, now 7 years later, than it did when it was brand new running WindowsXP.

 

Sticking With Salix!

Well this is certainly unexpected! The first time I tried Salix, it refused to boot after an update, and I was like, “I’m done. I thought ‘borked by an update’ was uniquely a Debian/Ubuntu phenomenon until now. Screw this.”

What an ignorant and impatient fool I was. When an update includes a kernel update, you also have to update your bootloader to load the new kernel. That’s what I did wrong, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own, for not reading the instructions and assuming far too much. Typical, perhaps, of a technophobic user playing with a Slackware derivative for the first time after using almost exclusively Ubuntu-based distros previously. I was used to being spoon-fed and giving the operating system too much automation. Simplicity does not mean “everything happens automagically and you don’t have to do anything but click Okay.” The user is responsible for knowing what the heck he or she is doing!

Salix tells me what my choices might mean during installation and updates, and when it refused to boot after I made a stupid decision, I should have known. Silly spoon-fed Ubuntu user and Slackware rookie.

But y’know what? I think I’m just gonna leave Salix on my old ancient relic desktop computer for good. I’m probably all done messing around with other distros, at least on this particular computer. Here are my reasons:

It’s Slackware-based and fully compatible with it’s parent distro, unlike most of the other Slackware-based “lightweight” distros. This means it has Slackware’s legendary stability and reliability, and ultra-mega-super-duper-uber-long-term support.

It’s super simple! In keeping with the whole Slackware philosophy – and Linux philosophy, for that matter. One application per task. Do one thing and do it well. Stay the heck out of the user’s way.

It’s systemd-free.
I know, before you jump all over me about it, I’ve read all the debates and I think I’ve probably never personally had any issues with systemd, except that even my beloved Xubuntu began to slow down over time (almost like “Windows rot”) and had to be rebooted regularly just to refresh it and dump cache and stuff. It didn’t do that before Ubuntu (and thus Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Mint, and all their derivatives and spin-offs and remixes) adopted systemd, so I wonder if that might be part of the reason. The “one ring to rule them all” feature of systemd is counter to the “do one thing and do it well” principle that has made Linux so awesome to begin with (until recently). I don’t reboot Salix. I don’t need to. Could systemd be the reason? I don’t know, but it sure is nice not to have the gradual loss of speed over time that I experienced with Xubu and other old favorites.

Yeah, he’s talking to systemd.

Salix doesn’t include kernel updates by default. Why should they? The installed kernel works fine, it’s secure, and my computer doesn’t need support for all kindsa features it doesn’t even have. It ain’t broke, no need to fix anything. The only thing I change is the wallpaper occasionally, or fonts and stuff. It’s perfectly boring, as it should be.

My distro-hopper-stopper is Salix.

I haven’t tried it on the laptop yet, but that’s another post for another day.

How Non-Geeks and Technophobes See Linux

In a Linux forum I read but haven’t joined, a “typical” desktop user replied to a geek who hoped to shame us “typical” users of “easy” desktop Linux. The reply to his point is classic! Too right-to-the-point not to share here, on behalf of us “typical” users and technophobes. Here is the original post and reply on Linux Mint forums:

“Typical users” don’t expect to type commands. Too complicated, that’s for experts, I’m no geek, I just want to use my computer the easy way so I can get in touch with Susan. And then Mr. Typical User will click (or — God forbid — “touch”) his way into Facebook somehow, and once there, he will type, he will type away all day long and make Susan happy. Go figure.

I am one of those “typical” users who doesn’t expect to type commands, but expects to use the keyboard for applications rather than for maintaining, tweaking, or fixing the OS. The times that I have used the dreaded terminal have been very few and far between. If not for Linux Mint’s simple GUI, I would have run right back to Windows!

But I don’t think it’s just us “typical” users that benefit from the GUI. I have read these forums enough to know that there are plenty of very tech-savvy geeks who prefer to click their way through things instead of using the terminal. I respect the power of the mysterious, foreboding terminal too much to mess around with it without knowing exactly what I’m doing! When I first learned to use a gun I felt exactly the same way. A gun is too powerful to use without knowing what you’re doing, potentially lethal to you and to others!

Overcoming my dread of guns took a lot of gentle coaching and patience. I’m glad I did though, and now I’m a pretty good shot with both my pistol and my shotgun. But without the gentle, patient, compassionate coaching of my dad and the instructor, I would have walked away from shooting even knowing that without those skills I would be more vulnerable to “bad guys.” The thing for us “typical users” is the lack of gentle, kind, patient coaching and instruction in the use of such a powerful tool as the terminal. OMG, even the name of it is scary: Terminal. As in “The End.” “That’s All, Folks.” “Game Over.” The Linux community – and Debian’s in particular – is famous for chasing away people who are scared of the terminal. In fact I wonder if we respect it’s power more than some geeky people do!

I can use the keyboard to “make Susan happy,” but you just have to forgive me if I don’t use a “GUN” to make you happy.

Minimal, Simple, Fast

So I’ve had some time to play with desktops and Linux distros over the past few weeks because I’m always up early in the morning and can’t make a lot of noise in the house that would wake anyone else. People who know me are like, “Make up your mind already for goodnessakes, dude!”

Really, my mind has been made up all along. I just like to explore sometimes. But until and unless I find anything to rival the speed, simplicity, and sheer awesomeness of Xubuntu Linux – and for as long as it works on this ancient-by-today’s-standards Dell desktop – I’m sticking with what works flawlessly and elegantly for me. I’m really not the Linux distro-whore I appear to be. It’s just that there’s a lot of new innovations and stuff I hear about and want to try out. For instance, Conky has a GUI (graphical user interface) now! Frankly I never bothered with Conky but when I get around to it maybe I’ll try it now that they’ve made it simpler (supposedly).

So this morning’s post is just a quick summary to defend my argument that I’m not a distro-whore!

My flirtation with the Enlightenment desktop (on PCLinuxOS and on Bodhi Linux) is over. To put it in bluntly, it’s experimental and beta-quality stuff, despite having been around a long time now. Wonderful, low-resource eye candy, but it didn’t stay where I put it on my desktop. It moved and morphed and migrated. Themes for it are pretty limited depending on what distro you’re using it on, and it’s not nearly as simple as the good ol’ Xfce desktop. Remember I’m only a sidekick, I need simplicity! But keep an eye on Enlightenment because I think it shows a lot of promise. Progress on it seems to be really slow, but worth the wait.

It was little different trying out a couple of docks (Cairo dock and Docky) on top of Xfce. Nice little desktop widgets and applets and gadgets and eye candy! But again, at least on this older hardware without the supercool video capabilities of anything newer than 5 years old or so, too many of these wonderful little goodies either wouldn’t stay where I put them, and/or they wouldn’t load and display after a reboot, and/or they insisted on being too big or too small. I like the quirky, bouncy way the icons behaved in Cairo Dock (it relies on Compiz, so buyer be aware), and I like the 3D shadows and reflective little “shelf” the launchers rested on. But the launchers seemed to be pre-programmed to launch only certain applications. I couldn’t create one for Abiword because Cairo-Dock thinks I should be using Libre-Office Writer instead. In Xfce I choose whatever icon I want and tell it to launch whatever application I want. It didn’t seem to be an option in Cairo and I don’t know why. That’s just weird. For now, I’ve decided that there isn’t much difference between a dock and panel anyway, and it isn’t worth the trouble to keep trying to figure out a bloated, misbehaving dock that needs a separate compositing window manager.

Bodhi Linux
is Enlightenment-only, so it’s gone.
PCLinuxOS scares me away with it’s all-or-nothing approach to updating. Maybe not an issue for folks with better hardware than mine, but that’s not the impression one gets from reading their forums. Cringing in fear during an update is just anathema to me. Still they have a warm, welcoming, helpful community of knowledgeable people, and their PCLinuxOS Magazine is absolutely first-rate no matter what Linux distro you use.

So today’s back-to-basics, minimal, simple, lightweight, trouble-free, quick-as-lightning desktop is Xubuntu 12.04 with the supercool Faenza icon set and two panels: One for my frequently-used launchers on the bottom (but put it wherever you like in Xfce!) and one for notifications and taskbar on top. Out of my way but instantly available even if I’m in the middle of two or three things at once.

Minimal, Simple, fast, flawless, fearless, rock-stable on this old Dell, and supported until April of 2017. See? I told you my mind was made up!

Oh, and that wallpaper, by the way, is a drawing, not a photograph!

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!