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.

On One-Man Linux Distros, Stability, Simplicity

It kinda makes you wonder, when you think about the many super-cool Linux OSes out there that are supported by just one person, maybe one or two others helping. Recently the main guy behind the wonderful (and systemd-free) PCLinuxOS announced that he needs to step down for health reasons. Not a surprise, he’s been having health issues lately and everyone knew and had time to prepare. PCLinuxOS will very probably continue it’s awesome run for many years after Texstar, the lead developer, passes on. That’s because the distro has an awesome, large, and loyal community that will no doubt keep PCLOS going.

That may not be the case for one-man distros like Linux Lite, though, if anything happens to Jerry, the lead (and only?) developer. Slackware, God bless it, is the oldest surviving Linux distro. But it’s still basically a one-man show, and struggling financially, and losing popularity to “the big guys” with huge corporations behind them (SUSE, Ubuntu, Fedora/RedHat/CentOS). Maybe the best support for a Linux distro is actually one of those community-based distros. I might count PCLinuxOS amongst them because of the very substantial community around it. I doubt that the same is true for Linux Mint, and smaller distros like Bodhi, Salix, and Linux Lite.

Some real community-built and community-maintained gems can be found in official spin-offs of the big corporate distros. My old favorite, which I will remain a rabid fanboy forever – Xubuntu – is such a distro. Probably the same is true of Lubuntu and Kubuntu as well. Little known but truly community-developed and users can get involved in all kindsa ways. Mine has always been “evangelism” of a sort, though I really don’t do that much “Linux evangelism” anymore; and donating dollars.

Just something else to consider when choosing a distro.

SalixOS: Marketing and Support

Salix OS has done some pretty amazing stuff to bring Slackware Linux down to us mere mortals, ordinary desktop users. They were doing for Slackware what Ubuntu once did for Debian. Except for the installer, perhaps, SalixOS is incredibly simple and intuitive. Maintaining 32-bit support, Salix OS is systemd-free, equipped with cool tools like Slapt-get, Sourcery, and a codecs-installer, and the one-application-per-task simplicity that makes light and fast. I say they WERE doing for Slackware what Ubuntu once did for Debian, because it looks like no one is doing it anymore.

In this thread, Salix forum users talk about “marketing” and targeting “a larger user base.” It’s right that they should. Suggestions include promoting Salix on social media, but no one is doing that, apparently. Others suggest blogging about it, but on WordPress almost every reference to Salix is about Japanese groundskeeping, and SalixOS brings up next to nothing. I wonder if they don’t really want a larger user base after all, since newbies would appear in their forums with questions and “silliness” that the old hands would rather not be troubled with. The forums have very few recent threads or posts, and many go unanswered for days, weeks, months, or longer.

Perhaps part of it is that Slackware doesn’t have or use any Gnome stuff. Fine with me, I hate Gnome, and I think Gnome hates a lot of Linux users too, judging by the stupid choices they have made in the past couple of years. The funny thing is, you can get and use Gnome stuff in SalixOS if you want, though few people even know that. It’s not that easy to do, but with Sourcery, Salix’s wicked-kewl slack-building-from-source tool, you can!

There are other other Slackware derivatives that are more popular and gaining ground, but the most popular of those is no longer compatible with Slackware anymore! SalixOS remains fully compatible with it’s parent, so all the treasure trove of software available to “Slackers” (Slackware Linux users) is also available to “Lazy Slackers” (SalixOS users). Salix is an Xfce desktop distro. Other Slackware-based distros use different desktop environments. Slax, Slackel, etc. But it’s not like different “flavors” of the same familiar base, as in Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Kubuntu, etc. These are entirely separate distros with entirely different developers, goals, communities, and users. It seems kinda fragmented to me, looking from the outside in, and I wonder if that isn’t part of the reason for the declining “market share.”

That, and the recent appeals for funding of Slackware, which for a time apparently was on the verge of going under. Slackware is the oldest surviving Linux distribution, but it’s still basically a one-man show. When he goes, so will Slackware and all her children. Unless there are others to pick it up and maintain it. This is a huge disadvantage as far as “market share” is concerned. By contrast, Debian is driven by a huge community and will never die. Red Hat and it’s family has a large, fat corporation backing it. Ubuntu is backed by a corporation as well, but not one that is profitable yet. All it’s derivatives are basically one-man-show distros, maybe with a few paid developers among the big ones like Mint.

The future of Linux may be in the hands of the Big Corporations after all, perhaps with a few exceptions like Debian, a truly community-driven project that forms a superb base for others to build on. Which others will continue to do as long as Debian needs to be “brought to the ordinary desktop user” instead of aimed at servers and technocrats.

What does the future hold for Linux? For your own favorite distribution? Feel free, comment below.

Why Linux is Great for Missionaries

Most of my readers know that I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, and a big supporter of Christian missionary efforts, especially church-planting missions like New Tribes Mission. I have written a bunch of articles on why GNU/Linux and open-source software is better for starving college students, people with older hardware (like the many thousands who are still using Windows XP without support because they can’t afford to buy a new computer); why it’s great for schools and governments and businesses. For many of the same reasons and for several others, Linux is great for missionaries! Here’s a few reasons why:

  • It costs nothing. Even ancient relics like the desktop I’m writing this on are kept humming along, fast, simple, and trouble-free with an elegant, point-and-click simple Linux operating system like LXLE. Download, burn to a DVD or USB thumb drive, boot into the DVD or thumb drive, and install. Pay nothing.
  • It supports older and modern hardware. Whether you’re doing translation work on an old hand-me-down laptop in a remote area or running a base of operations server in support of several field missionaries, Linux supports a very wide range of hardware.
  • Software for home schooled kids is abundant and free of cost. Whether in a remote forest, jungle, rainforest, desert, big city, or mountain range, home for missionary families is “wherever the Lord calls.” But most missionaries don’t want their own children going to school and learning what the non-Christian tribal school (if any) teaches. There are literally thousands of free software titles for home schooling available in many Linux distribution repositories, always up-to-date.
  • Linux has no registry – no registry errors. No defragmenting. No need for antivirus software, anti-spyware software, registry cleaners, and system optimizers. No system is virus-proof, but Linux users do not ordinarily run in “Administrator mode” as Windows users do. Malware simply doesn’t have access to critical system files. A Linux user would have to consciously and deliberately open the door to his or her computer’s vital system files by entering a password.
  • It’s not just for geeks and tech-savvy nerds. Even this technophobic sidekick can use it effortlessly. Point-and-click simplicity.
  • Free software for every imaginable use: LibreOffice does everything Microsoft Office does. Firefox does what Internet Explorer does (only much better and much more safely). I like Seamonkey on any hardware because it’s a lot less of a resource-hog than Firefox, and when it comes to e-mail, compared to Mozilla’s Thunderbird, the difference really shines. It’s the old Netscape suite, revived by the folks at Mozilla – free and open-source! Only it’s free, legal, and safe. The thing about Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) is that you own it. Feel free to reverse-engineer it, tweak it, modify it, copy it, distribute it, install it on a thousand computers. If you improve it, great! Just share your improvements with the developers, please. That’s why FOSS is so great: It’s worldwide collaboration and sharing. There are no licenses or terms to worry about for most of the software available to Linux users. Copy and distribute to your heart’s content.
  • Customizable: Make it your own! It is, after all, yours. If you loved Windows XP like I did, then use a Linux distribution that looks and acts like WinXP (ElementaryOS, LXLE, others). If you love Mac (and I do too), try Ubuntu or LXLE, which comes with multiple “paradigms” to choose from that mimic and behave like your favorite interface. In Linux you can change much more than just the wallpaper.
  • With missionaries it’s really important to keep expenses down. Having to send a computer to a tech for software issues like virus removal, recovery of corrupted files, fixing that awful slow-down that inevitably happens over time in Windows (it’s called “Windows rot,” the only cure is to re-install Windows) is rarely ever necessary with Linux systems. Hardware issues, well, that’s a whole ‘nother thing. If you drop your laptop in the river that’s different. I’m talkin’ software here, not hardware. But Linux users almost never have to send the computer away to a gifted geeky technician because of a software issue.

Linux is different, but not difficult. We get our software from safe online repositories. We don’t download it from some web site we hope is safe, double-click an .exe file and pray that it doesn’t install something we didn’t bargain for. Linux users have to be wise with software updates. We don’t blindly accept all updates for the operating system the way others do. So most Linux users learn not to blindly apply all updates, but wait to hear if an update has caused a problem for other users (and there are a lot of wonderful geeks who test new updates constantly) before accepting it. But updates are rarely needed! If you’re using a reeeeeeally old version of a web browser, perhaps, that your favorite web site won’t display properly on maybe then. But as long as it’s working, just go on using it as is. That is why I recommend only the Long-Term-Support (LTS) editions of the popular Linx distributions like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, ElementaryOS, and LXLE.

So, missionaries: Keep expenses down and security up. Keep maintenance down and simplicity up! Reduce downtime. Raise uptime. Run fast and light, not hindered and weighed down with “security suites” and other unnecessary bloatware running in the background all the time and slowing you down. Use an operating system that stays out of your way and lets you do the things you bought a computer for. Be a good steward of the funds people donate for your work! Don’t be locked in to single proprietary vendor who can change the whole system on a whim and charge you extra to keep using your own computer long after it’s paid for. Spend only a little time, not money unnecessarily. Keep your work as free of cost as possible! Keep it simple, safe, secure, and free of legal encumbrances like licensing fees and End User License Agreements. Show your donors that you are doing everything you can to keep costs down and use the Lord’s money wisely. Use that portion of your support funds that used to pay for software on more important things!

More Joining Soon

With the introduction of Unity in Ubuntu Linux, Xubuntu gained a lot of new users. And soon, Xubuntu will gain many more users as support for Windows XP ends on April 8th next year.

The Xfce desktop in Linux lends itself perfectly to this influx of new users coming from Windows for two reasons:

  1. Most users of Windows XP likely have older computers that came with Windows XP pre-installed. Xfce was designed for older hardware, to operate with low resource requirements.
  2. Most users of Windows XP will find the Xfce interface easy to adapt to. In fact the Xubuntu-based Linux Lite bills itself as especially well suited to Linux novices, and Windows users in particular:

The goal of Linux Lite is to introduce Windows users to an intuitively simple, alternative operating system. Linux Lite is a showcase for just how easy it can be to use linux. From familiar software like Firefox and Thunderbird, to simply named menu items, to one click updates and software installs we hope that you will find Linux Lite an enjoyable computing experience.

I dare say, Xubuntu is very well suited to that task as well. Linux Lite has tweaked Xubuntu further and edited the menus with simplified names and categorized menu entries that make things easier yet for Windows users to make the transition. It’s quite brilliant, actually.

Hopefully my favorite Linux distro won’t forget that it was originally intended for older hardware, especially now with the impending influx of new users coming from Windows XP! If Xubuntu becomes to big for its britches (it won’t fit on a CD anymore, bad news for those of us with old CD burners that can’t burn DVDs), I’ll be sending my Windows XP friends to this newcomer distro – and pleading with the Xubuntu Team to keep these new WinXP users in mind when they work their wonderful magic in making Xubuntu – still the most splendid Xfce distro ever made.