Why Xubuntu – Another Reason That Might Surprise You

I have written about a lot of Linux distros, and they’re all great in their own way and for a whole bunch of varied reasons. Sometimes I would try one out just to try something new. More often I would “distro hop” (change my Linux operating system from one distribution to a different one) because of other Linux users (hereafter “‘Nixers”) reviews and opinions. Sometimes I hopped to get away from systemd, which other ‘Nixers have written horrible stuff about, like “they’re watching, they’re spying, they’re gathering info, and systemd will eventually become Skynet and wipe out humanity!” I’m already scared of technology by nature, but all the fuss over systemd (used in most Linux distros now by people a lot smarter than I kinda freaked me out and I binged on distros that aligned against the coming takeover of human society by the Robotic Overlords.

I have already described why I love this distro, Xubuntu. But in this post I want to go beyond the user experience, and explore another compelling reason that I have settled on Xubuntu and expect to stick with it.

Sometimes I read blogs from other ‘Nixers who railed against Linux distributions made by corporations hoping to profit from free and open-source software (FOSS). How dare they! Profit is evil! The pursuit of money leads to all kinds of evil, exploitation, and ecological disaster! Red Hat, IBM, Oracle, and Canonical among others, all create and give away great Linux operating systems for desktops and servers. There’s nothing in the GNU license, under which Linux is offered, that forbids anyone from copying, modifying, selling, and mixing up Linux any way they please. Yet many ‘Nixers seem to be awash in anti-corporate and anti-capitalist sentiment. They insist that any decent Linux OS must be created and maintained by volunteers supported by donations from users, period. Yet look at what many of these volunteers supported by donations are building on: Corporate Linux! How many Ubuntu-based spinoffs are there, all asking for donations to “improve” Ubuntu with some unique software and shiny wallpaper? How many from Fedora, same thing? It seems so hypocritical. Using Ubuntu as a base and relying on Ubuntu’s software repositories, these spin-offs claim some higher morality? Pfffft. Use Debian as a base, then. Use Arch as a base, or Slackware or any other “non-corporate” distro to improve upon and release as a “new” distro (or “distrolet,” as I call many of them).

Now consider why Ubuntu is far and away the most popular “base to build a new distro on.” There’s always Debian, from which Ubuntu is based, and it’s not an evil profit-seeking corporation. But noooooo, they build their distro on Ubuntu. Why? Because Ubuntu has vastly improved upon Debian, from the easiest installation software ever devised to whatever “non-free blobs” they have added to make Ubuntu “just work” on a huge variety of hardware. The “evil profit-seeking corporation” that developed and maintains Ubuntu has done a heckuvalot to improve on Debian, and it’s so very much easier to build a new distro on than Debian is.

So: Why Xubuntu instead of Debian, Slackware, Arch, or Mandriva? Because of the amazing work and innovations of the corporation behind it, for one thing. Also because it is officially supported by that corporation, yet community-developed at the same time. It’s not going to disappear when it’s “lead developer” gets sick, dies in a car crash, or has a stroke and can’t work anymore (like almost every other non-corporate Linux distro). And because it is built from Debian, great grand daddy of distros, which is also backed by a large community and not just one guy or one small group.

The Lead developer of Xubuntu at present is also a developer of the wonderful Xfce desktop! Both projects benefit from sharing developers. Under the hood (or bonnet, for you chaps on the other side of the pond), it’s Ubuntu. But only minimally so. Updates are far less frequent on Xubu than on it’s flagship Gnome-desktop counterpart, and updates don’t seem to break things on Xubu. I’m using a well-broken in Long Term Support release of Xubu, so it’s far less prone to having an update break anything.

So if you’re a ‘Nixer because you’re an anti-capitalist left-leaning FOSS zealot, you’ll hate this post, and you might hate me for writing it. But if you’re a ‘Nixer because the locked single-vendor system of Microsoft or Apple has let you down, try Xubuntu.

Between Philosophies: Salix OS

This is probably the best review of Salix OS that I’ve ever seen! It doesn’t just look at the esthetics, included software, package management, and performance, but it delves into the philosophy that motivated the development of the distro, and it’s history. Linux used to have one of those. Philosophies, I mean. Principles that mattered more than your distro’s popularity and placement on Distrowatch’s ranking.

“Between philosophies” describes the balance Salix successfully strikes and maintains between Slackware’s bare-bones, terminal-and-text approach to things in the name of simplicity, and a common sense point-and-click approach that saves time and keystrokes. The GUI (Graphical User Interface) doesn’t babysit newbies, nor prevent them from acting without reading the manual first. Being a responsible user is still required. Or to quote the article,

being a Lazy Slacker does not mean being an Ignorant one.

Have a look, see if the challenge doesn’t appeal to some geeky corner of your brain, even if you’re scared of technology like I am!

Likely to Be my Permanent – and my Only – Linux OS

I have kept Linux Lite and MX-Linux around for a long while, mostly to help introduce new users to Linux. Many of them got started because the Microsoft OS they were used to is such a freakin’ resource-hog that you have to buy a new computer every three years or so just to keep up! Why let a perfectly good working machine go to the landfill because Micro$oft has decided not to support it anymore, right? So, Linux to the rescue, right?

Nope, not nearly as much as it ought to be. A trip to the Swap Shop finds a dozen or so vendors offering refurbished computers for $40 or so, but they still have Windows and they’re slower than snails. When I used to brag about how Linux could make them run better than new, and without any need for the dreaded terminal, I won a few “converts,” and a few more by cleaning up and donating old computers with a lightweight “newbie-friendly” distro pre-installed. Of allllllll those people I helped, guess how many are still using Linux?

One. Just one. As far as I know, anyway, we lost touch when I moved away. So maybe none! All of them – and we’re only talking a dozen or so – have since traded up to new computers and – one guess – they’re Windows or Mac.

So, my OS is gonna be for ME, not for anyone else. Not to “show off” to others in hopes of winning them over; not on my computer so I can walk others through the steps of configuring, fixing, tweaking, and installing software. Not for the coolest, awesomest, most thrilling visual effects and eye candy I used to care about. No more of that now… my ‘puter is my own, and it’s just for me, and it’s gonna be what I want: Blazing fast, graphical, simple, uncomplicated, and basic. No systemd. No bloat. Nothing I don’t need or want. One application per task, faithful to the old Unix ideal, quaint and outdated as that might seem to others who like the bleeding edge, eye candy, and super gaming capability. Does anyone know of a Linux distro that offers just that, without all the busy bovine excrement that has to be included in the OS just to make this-or-that other thing work that you actually want? One that is still supported and up-to-date without the instability of the Big Major desktop distros? I can think of one. It’s an old faithful standby that has kept my ancient spare 32-bit Dell out of the landfill for over a year now, with no issues. And it’s mind-bending fast on my higher-end 64-bit desktop and laptop.

I’m so disheartened by the fact that all my enthusiasm, “evangelism,” and newbie support for Linux hasn’t actually changed anyone’s mind for more than a temporary short period, that I think I’m pretty much done with all that now. I’ve got better things to use my computer for than just writing about computers, OSes, software, and why these things should matter to people. In fact they don’t matter to most people, and desktops and laptops have largely been replaced by smart phones and tablets now anyway. You like your Chromebook? Cool. Does it matter to most people that it’s Linux-based? Prob’ly not. Does it matter that it’s a Google gadget and it’s likely spying on you and reporting back to the Mother Ship for targeted ads and to predict what you’re likely to spend money on and where you go every day? Apparently not.

Well, it matters to me. And to maybe 2% of all desktop computer users on Earth. The other 98% are content to be carried along, captive to a single vendor and subject to it’s whims. Fine, fools.

I’m moving on.

Moving on from Diaspora the digital ghetto, moving on from trying to convert others to this truly better way of computing and managing applications, data, and workload. I’ll still advocate for Linux and Free Open Source Software (FOSS) when and if the subject ever comes up at school or work or church or hanging out, and here in this blog from time to time when I feel moved to do so and have something interesting to write about that might be of interest to others who appreciate it’s value.

Kinda Missing My Linux Lite

I know, I know. I’ve already got the bestest, most wonderfulest and awesomeful Linux distro in the history of ever on my ‘puter. It’s not encumbered by systemd, it’s got cool tools, good looks, great performance, and a wonderful supportive community.

But I still miss my Linux Lite, and I’m torrenting the latest release all day today. I intend to dual-boot it with my equally fantastical and awesomeful MX-18.

Why, you ask? Why, why whyyyyy would you do such a thing?! After all that stuff you said about Ubuntu-based distros putting Beta software in their updates and all that stuff about what systemd might well become?

I have several good reasons, and I’m not alone! A lot of cool techno-wizard types who use MX-Linux and AntiX and post regularly in MX forums also use Linux Lite and help out in their forums! The two distros share a common mission in spite of their different bases and different philosophies. That mission is making and keeping desktop Linux easy and simple for us “mere mortals,” us ordinary desktop and laptop computer users. They have different ways of doing it, and both are great! I tend to give Linux Lite the edge in that department so far. My reasons for dual-booting:

  • For new Linux users that I don’t do the installations for, Linux Lite is much easier to install. That Ubiquity installer from Ubuntu is just the best there is, and I wish the Debian-based distros would adopt and use it.
  • If I do the installation, it’s likely to be MX-Linux if they are interested in really learning how to configure and maintain it. If they’re honestly not willing or inclined to learn more, and to join the forums and learn to responsibly maintain a DebianLinux system, I’ll install Linux Lite for them, which – for now at least – has a very low learning curve and built-in maintenance features for “lazy” users.
  • I can provide much better support to these new users if I use the same distro and can “click along with them” to configure, adjust, and maintain their OS.
  • I can remove 99.999% of the risk posed by the Ubuntu base by adding the “after market” tools that minimize the update dangers and make the menus and such more intuitive (in my opinion). UnlockMe also has the simplest way to add software that isn’t in the Linux Lite and Ubuntu repositories. If I do the install, I’ll use a custom iso that includes these wonderful tools.

Linux Lite has a wonderful community of friendly people, and like the MX-forums, the developer(s) actively participate in those forums. That means a lot to me, still being as technophobic as I ever was, despite being geeky enough to use Linux and actually understand some of the techno-jargon in Star Trek, my all-time favorite entertainment escape. They are also easily searchable and welcoming for those few newbies who actually regret not wanting to learn more at first.

So look for an overdue review of the current version later this week or next.

“Artim”

MX-Tools – Newbie Awesomeness Without the Ubuntu Risk!

Today instead of using the Systemback or Timeshift apps that I was used to, I tried out an awesome new one (new to me anyway) from the wonderful tool set that comes with MX-17. It’s called MX Snapshot and it does what the others do – flawlessly and simply. I was able to completely “clone” my desktop system to a bootable iso, then burn it to a USB key using MX Live USB Maker.

Other than being very slow to boot up, it ran and installed effortlessly on my laptop computer with every bit of information and settings saved from the desktop computer. Best of all, once installed and booted up from the hard drive, I did not have to fiddle around with stupid Broadcom drivers or Ndiswrapper or any of that stuff to get the wifi to work! It simply recognized the new network device and in two clicks I was connected! Without needing that fail-safe driverless wifi dongle I always had to use on the laptop when it was running Linux Lite.

The installer for the iso created on MX Live USB Maker is identical to the official installer. Very graphical and beginner-friendly. I gave MX the entire drive, since backups are so easy and I still have that iso and can create a new one in mere minutes.

The tool set in MX-17 is pure awesomeness. Not only simple enough for a technophobic Ba’ku boy to understand, but it actually works like it says!

MX may not be as novice-friendly at first (that is, to install and configure), but for the longer term it’s better for new Linux users because it’s built on Debian Stable. Unlikely to be bricked by one of upstream Ubuntu’s infamous updates and all the attending regressions and breakage.

New and Improved Linux Lite 3.8 Released!

Linux Lite 3.8 has been released, yaaaaay! And upgrading from 3.anything-below-eight is a snap. Two mouse clicks, enter your password, and the magic happens.

This time I have it set up much differently from anything I’ve tried before, because my computer has two hard drives! So cool. So I let Linux Lite have the entire first hard drive, and the second HDD, /media/root/DATA, holds all my backup stuff. And how do I do backups? Again, super-simple:

Linux Lite has the bestest, most wonderfulest and awesomeful back-up utility in the history of ever installed by default. It’s called systemback and it creates restore-points, which are like snapshots of your entire Linux Lite system. You can even include all the stuff in your /home directory if you want. I have systemback scheduled to make new backup snapshots once a week (but you can do it daily, hourly, whatever you want) and store them on that second hard drive (/DATA). You can even make your snapshot bootable and store it on a thumb drive!

Systemback won’t be maintained after 3.8, so they are clooking to replace it, probably with Timeshift (also awesome), but I intend to retain it for use long after it’s unsupported. It’s that good.

Now I wouldn’t run even Linux Lite – or any other Ubuntu-based distribution – without the Update Manager from unlockforus.com. Annnnnnd, I also have Ralphy’s best work yet – UnlockMe – installed. I wanted Waterfox instead of Firefox on my system (I think Firefox has been going out of it’s way to tick users off lately for some unknown reason). Open UnlockMe, click the Applications tab, find Waterfox, click. No PPA to add, it’s one of those “tarballs” that newbies find troubling at first. No need. It searched for a PPA. Finding none, it grabbed the tarball from Waterfox’s page, unpacked and installed it, and added it to the whisker menu! Automagically!

I also used UnlockMe to get the coolest Dark Arc theme and Papyrus icon set that is equal in beauty and intuitive appeal to Faenza, but even better looking in my opinion.

Got my usual analog clock and weather widgets in the Xfce panel, and I’m not quite through putting frequently-used stuff launchers on it, but I was too anxious to share this. Oh, y’see that second Conky panel there? I got it from UnlockMe too! Just look under Applications and install Conky Manager. Click, click, done.

Simplicity is how I need and want things to be on my computer. I also want it fast and I want it to stay out of my way when I’m doing stuff. Linux Lite has a highly modified Xfce desktop that is absolutely without a doubt the leanest and easiest out-of-the-box configuration I have seen in any Xfce-desktop distro.

I did enjoy Linux Mint Sylvia (Xfce), but LL is faster on modest hardware and comes with some cool tools that Mint doesn’t offer. I got those same wonderful Mint tools (MintStick, the Updater, etc) from “Ralphy’s Repo of Awesomeness” and added them to Linux Lite. I don’t think you can add Linux Lite’s supercool tools of awesomeness to Linux Mint, however, which is a big part of the reason I went back to Linux Lite after a 2-month flirtation with Mint on the new machine.

Testing Conclusion: Linux Mint 18 Xfce

So I have been testing out Linux Mint‘s latest “lightweight” Xfce edition for about 2 and a half months now. It’s truly a wonderful distro, great for Linux novices, and good on most hardware newer than 5-10 years old. I have modified only by adding some cool tools from my friend Ralphy’s treasure chest of awesomeness. My “findings” are unscientific as far as actual measurements of performance and features other than what is observable to a casual user. And here they are:

Linux Mint Xfce is packed with features and tools that keep it safe and fairly stable, but it has gradually slowed more and more over a period of weeks. To be fair, some of the slowness may be due to the major kernel updates that have come in rapid succession in order to patch the recently discovered Intel vulnerabilities. Even the creator of Linux, the venerable Linus Torvaldes, has called many of these security updates “junk,” unnecessary and burdensome. I remain unconvinced that this Intel vulnerability is serious enough to justify the cure, which seems to be worse than the disease.

While these security updates to the kernel (known to slow some machines by as much as 30 percent!) might help explain the recent slowdown, I still find Linux Mint’s most “lightweight” edition much more “bloated” with extra stuff that may or may not actually make it “better” – whether “better” for new Linux users or “better” in some other way I don’t really understand.

The old paradigm – that greater ease of use means greater loss of speed and efficiency – definitely holds true in this otherwise awesome distribution. That paradigm has become an axiom in the Linux world. But there is one exception that I have found and cannot explain. It’s Linux Lite! It is built on the same Ubuntu base as Linux Mint, yet suffers none of the loss-of-speed-in-exchange-for-user-friendliness issues that we all thought was “just the way it is, inevitably.” Even if the kernel updates account for a lot of this difference, it’s the highly-modified Xfce mixture in Linux Lite that accounts for this amazing exception to the rule. Too many Xfce distros aim at compositing window managers and unnecessary daemons running in the background. While Linux Lite has both compositing and background processes running, they are well-chosen and don’t demand the same resources as the most commonly found ones.

The only negative on the back burner is the Ubuntu base. Not that Ubuntu isn’t a great – maybe even the best – base to build a distro upon, but because the updates Ubuntu sends down the chute to it’s users (and all the Ubuntu-derived distros “downstream”) include Beta software and beta-quality software. Only Linux Mint has effectively addressed this hazard through the use of it’s wonderful Mint Updater. Fortunately, that superb safety net is also available to users of Linux Lite (at unlockforus.com), so you can have your cake and eat it too! Though I haven’t tried it, I suspect it might work just as well on any Ubuntu-derived distribution, from L/K/Xubuntu to Zorin, Bodhi, and Peppermint.

Were it not for the fact that I love restoring older computers and giving them new life using the most beginner-friendly distribution possible, I might not be a Linux Lite user because I remain always a bit leery and suspicious of Ubuntu and it’s inherent updating issues. But I use Linux Lite (modified with selected tools from Unlockforus, especially the Updater) to restore those old machines and introduce new users to the wonderful world of Linux. And I find that it’s easier to support these new users if I am a user myself.