Spooked and Hopeful All At Once

A friend on Diaspora has been asking a lot of questions about systemd lately, and the more he learns and posts about it, the scarier it seems. Not so much for the present, but for the control it takes over everything in the OS (and choice is a big deal for most Linux users, even for simple technophobic “ordinary users” like me). It’s a “supervisor” for all running processes on a Linux system which has it built in (Debian, Red Hat, Fedora, CentOS, Ubuntu and all it’s children and grandchildren like Linux Mint, Linux Lite, ElementaryOS, Bodhi, and dozens of others). He had asked why systemd requires it’s own password, which I didn’t know about. And like the nice helpful boy I want to be, I searched for the answer to share with him. Here’s a a little of the conversation:

I’m not trying to start a new debate, since I don’t know enough about it to contribute anything except that there are still some great systemd-free Linux OSes around, from AntiX and Devuan (Debian-based) to PCLinuxOS and of course, Slackware (the oldest active Linux distro in existence) and it’s derivatives like Vector Linux and SalixOS. That’s all I can contribute to the debate, but here’s why I’m a little spooked by all this systemd stuff:

Politically arch-conservative, my “default setting” is to completely mistrust the government and big intrusive corporations like Microsoft and Google anyway, but from the conversation above (and about 70 more comments in that thread), it seems almost like systemd is trying to take over Linux! It’s initialized on boot-up even before the kernel for goodnessakes, and has “agents” to coordinate and keep a record of every process. Okay, it’s supposed to make everything better somehow I guess, but keeping a record of everything? This really does sound like the start of a “slippery slope” that is supposed to be the new standard for the most popular Linux desktop and server operating systems.

That’s why I’m spooked.

Now for the hopeful part:

If I jump back to Salix to avoid systemd, I would really miss the cool tools I have with my modified Linux Lite – particularly the tools from this wonderful site maintained by a quiet coder who has adapted stuff from other great Linux distros for Linux Lite and Linux Mint. So just for giggles, I searched for a Slackbuild of MintStick, the supercool USB utility that not only writes iso images to a USB thumbdrive, but also lets you format USB sticks with two mouse clicks. And guess what?! Sure enough, there’s a Slackbuild for that! Updates are never an issue in Salix (fully compatible with Slackware). It’s stability is legendary and “broken after updating” is so rare I’ve never even read any such thread in the Salix forums. Linux Lite is awesome for now – modified with the unlockforus stuff – but it’s future is uncertain.

Perhaps I’ll revisit PCLinuxOS again, too. It’s been probably 2 years or more since I played around with it. But Salix was always awesome, even without any Gnome stuff in it at all (there are plenty of places to find “Gnome for Slack” packages and scripts anyway). I’m not a big fan of Gnome, since it seems they really didn’t listen to the community at all when they came up with Gnome 3 and ended up losing a lot of users to Mint’s fork of Gnome called Cinnamon, and to other desktops like Xfce, LXDE, etc.

Linux is about freedom. Systemd seems a threat to that freedom. But thankfully, it’s easily avoided – for now.

EDIT:  I just finished deleting a few paranoid posts about systemd.  As it turns out, most of the issues I uncovered were two or three years old (before systemd showed up in Ubuntu-LTS-based distros) and have long since been patched.  And now that it is in such widespread use, there are literally thousands of freedom-loving developers, users, testers, and coders to keep an eye on it.  Fear of systemd is not going to rob me of an awesome, simple computer experience.

 

Ready for What, Exactly?

Why “Kiddie” Linux Distros are Awesome

In a Diaspora post, a user shared this Linux humor post, which I “liked” and am re-sharing – with a little twist:

There’s an assumption in the comic that the “kids” will “grow up” to become super-duper master geeky techno-wizards with “mad programming skillz” and create a master race of sentient androids or something.

I say, in reply to this assumption, “until you are ready:”

Ready for what? Some of us are just ordinary users who surf the ‘net, write letters and term papers, share e-mail, watch videos, and play games. It’s all we did on Windows or Mac, and it’s all we care to do on any OS. We run applications, not the operating system.

Ready? To do what, exactly, besides customize / personalize the desktop, and install peripherals like printers, speakers, joysticks and stuff? The most inexperienced novice can do all those and keep everything updated effortlessly in the “kiddie distros” as they have been called. And you can add Linux Lite to that list – and you see what all the “kiddie” distros have in common? They are Ubuntu-based. More than anyone else, Canonical (Ubuntu) has brought Linux to us ordinary, non-geeky mortals and kept thousands if not millions of computers out of landfills. Others are doing similar work! Salix, for example, is doing for Slackware what Ubuntu did for Debian. And it’s crazy simple to use even though Slackware is certainly not (I just wish Gnome stuff was available in Slackware!). Even Arch has a derivative or two that are made for simplicity and “friendliness.”

I have installed and used at least a dozen distros, from Debian and Ubuntu (and derivatives including Mint, ElementaryOS, LXLE, and Linux Lite) to Salix and even the newcomer, VoidLinux. I’m not a novice, but in the end I’m really “just a computer user” and I really only want to get my school work done, surf a little bit, blog a little bit, play a little bit, and listen to a little music. Why make it complicated?

The funny thing is, a whole lot of very gifted geeks worked very long and hard to make Linux available and usable by us “ordinary desktop users.” And many of us ordinary mortals are grateful, supporting our favorite projects with translation help, monetary donations, and getting the word out.

And a whole lot of very gifted geeks use the same “kiddie distros” as we mere mortals do, either to help develop them further or just because they want to run applications instead of the OS for ordinary tasks.

– An unashamed “kiddie distro” user

I Dodged a Bullet

I have been heartily recommending Linux Lite for newcomers to, but even this awesome beginner’s distro (and not just for beginners, by the way) was susceptible to buggy from “upstream” (Ubuntu). A beta version of the Grub bootloader was included in updates from Linux Lite following the “recommended procedure” for updating the distro. It also affected those users who use the old Synaptic -→ Refresh -→ Mark All Upgrades -→ Apply procedure.

The buggy Grub version – and it’s bug-free replacement – are Beta (experimental) software.

What the heck is beta software doing in a LTS version of a “beginner’s distro?”

Save that experimental stuff for the in-between releases for cry’n out loud. Beginners should not be beta testers!

One of the best things about Linux Mint, when I was using it (no longer – very bloated compared to Linux Lite), is the wonderful Mint Updater! It allows the user to select updates and avoid the risky stuff.

I’m pleased to report that the wonderful Mint Updater has been adapted for Linux Lite!

It’s “unofficial,” not the “recommended procedure” for updating Linux Lite (although it may be in the future, I hope), but it saved me from the Grub Bug!

Read more about using the wonderful Mint Updater on Linux Lite at
https://unlockforus.com/update-manager-linux-lite-3-x-series/

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!

Xubuntu 14.01 LTS, 64-bit

Xubuntu has been a mainstay for most of my 4 years or so as a Linux user. In spite of numerous flirtations with other distros, Xubuntu has been the one I kept coming “home” to. Until now.

My desktop is too old and underpowered to run my old favorite anymore, so I switched to a delightful Lubuntu spin-off called LXLE. Featuring the LXDE desktop but wonderfully and luxuriously configured, it has been pure joy, and has given the old relic yet another new lease on life.

Now…

I recently acquired a refurbished Dell laptop, 64-bit, with Windows 7 and decided to dual-boot it with my old favorite distro. Xubuntu 14.04.1, 64-bit. It installed effortlessly as usual but would not recognize the built-in stupid Broadcom wifi network card. I ended up purchasing a wifi dongle from ThinkPenguin that doesn’t require special proprietary drivers. No big deal.

Boot up Xubuntu 14.01 with the wifi dongle in and wifi works perfectly. Update, no problem. Did my usual stuff that I always do with a fresh installation of an OS: Install favorite applications, wallpapers, fonts, etc. Now a reboot, since the update contained a new kernel. Please wait while Xubuntu reboots. Keep waiting. And waiting. Eat a sandwich, down a Dew, still waiting. Aw, heck with that. Hard shutdown using the power button. Reboot into Xubu, log in, launch my favorite Internet app, Seamonkey.

No go. “Seamonkey is already running. First end the current process or restart your computer.

Really?

Kill Seamonkey using the terminal, re-launch. “Seamonkey is already running…

FINE! Reboot. Please waaaaaaaiiiiiiit…. screw that, hard reset. Boot into Xubu. Launch Seamonkey. You guessed it, “already running.”

FINE! Opened Synaptic, selected “completely remove Seamonkey – including configuration files.” Done.

Opened Thunderbird. “Would you like to import stuff from Seamonkey?”

So I guess it wasn’t completely removed after all. Prob’ly still running, somehow.

It’s not that I’m stupid or lazy. I’m just busy!
Too busy to take a lot of time for something that should be done in a single click! Yes, I’m a bit phobic when it comes to the terminal – or any tech stuff for that matter. But something as simple as launching a newly-installed application should not require me to Google for solutions and mess around with terminal commands and all that. I’m busy! I’ve got a bunch of school work to finish and work to do. So…

Goodbye, Xubuntu. It’s been wonderful until today. Maybe a corrupted install process, I dunno. Perhaps no reflection on Xubuntu at all if something went awry during installation. It could be I suppose, since I’ve never dual-booted before. But y’know what? Here’s why I won’t bother to reattempt it with Xubuntu:

  • Probably every single 64-bit computer ever built has more than enough RAM and processing power to run LibreOffice instead of Abiword and Gnumeric. So why bother with those old applications anymore? There’s as much old stuff for low-end hardware to remove in Xubuntu has there is to install in a more modern machine. It isn’t like I’m using Xfce in a modern 64-bit computer because I need a low-resource desktop environment, I just happen to really like like Xfce. This ain’t Lubuntu for crying out loud, installed on some ancient relic like my desktop. It’s 64-bit! 3 GB of RAM for goodnessakes.
  • The Xfce menu is weird in Xubuntu 14.01. I like the Whisker menu, but it’s too many clicks to find and launch an application from it. The default configuration could stand a little dressing up and simplifying.
  • Do I really need PulseAudio? I’ve always removed that abomination right after a fresh install unless I have some other application that depends on it, which I don’t. It’s still a buggy resource hog in my opinion, even though it’s the default in almost every major Linux distro anymore.

If it weren’t for the fact that I might still need Windows for future school work, and for some applications I think I’ll need as a new Aflac associate (my new job, just started this week), I wouldn’t bother dual-booting. But Windows gets in my way and won’t let me get any work done without a bunch of interruptions. If I can avoid using it at all, I will. But Xubuntu? Not on the new laptop, sorry. Too much for the old desktop, and not enough for the new laptop. Even if it would reboot properly and launch Seamonkey properly.

Linux Snobs

I didn’t actually get rapped on the knuckles for this post, but I expected it and was surprised that it never came. It restored my hopes that Linux snobbery was on the wane – except perhaps in some corners of the Debian / Arch / Gentoo communities, perhaps. I am really bothered by Linux snobbery, probably more than normal. Perhaps because:

  • I was an adult, a husband, career firefighter, and father of two before I overcame my own technophobia enough to even try Linux, just to avoid buying a new computer to replace an aging heap that I couldn’t afford to throw away.
  • When I finally got up the courage and installed my first Linux distro, I was feeling not only accomplished and exhilarated, but also proud that I had given new life to my computer. Even my family was impressed, and that ain’t easy!
  • So when I mentioned it on a Linux forum I had joined just because it seemed like a sensible precaution to take being a novice, imagine my surprise to find arrogant hostility! Not from Windows users who thought I had lost my mind, but from arrogant, snobby, jerkweed Linux users who chided me for using “a kiddie distro,” Ubuntu. Apparently a few other Ubuntu users had been chased away by the same elitist attitude.

But Linux elitism is ultimately self-defeating if you think about it. Microsoft knows it. Apple knows it. That’s why they market their products to kids. They know kids love gadgets. They don’t care if kids learn the inner workings of those gadgets, they just exploit kids for their interest in having the coolest and most fun gadgets. But GNU/Linux and open-source software and hardware depends on future coders, engineers, and geeks that are not driven just to be cool, but to be geeky and creative. Don’t put down their mom and dad for using a “kiddie distro.” Instead help their parents pique their kids’ interest in contributing to something with more noble and global impact potential. And let the kids play.

So here’s a grownup’s really fun-looking eye candy on a “kiddie distro” that I think can encourages the next generation of wonderful geeks and coders that can keep open-source alive and competing with it’s proprietary rivals.

That’s a custom Conky display going on in the upper right part of the screen. And while “wobbly windows” is nothing new, it’s no less cool. That silly stuff could keep me in front of the computer longer than the tedium of just doing work. Even grownups gotta play sometimes. And if kids know their mom or dad made such cool stuff all by themselves, they’ll want to learn it too.

So, Linux snobs, consider what you do when you see “kid stuff” on “kiddie distros.” And shut up.

Eye Candy and Dual Booting

So this morning I suggested a few alternatives to the Xfce4 panel weather plugin that has stopped working, temporarily I’m sure. It might even be fixed by the time I finish writing this post. That’s how cool Xfce is, and how on-top-of-everything the MX-14 team is.

This one is called screenlets, easily installed on my favorite distro through Synaptic. There are actually several different weather screenlets! So you can choose one that fits your own desktop, make it whatever size you wish, and put it wherever you want it. I could have put mine right above or below the panel so it would look just like the broken Xfce applet! But I like my eye candy big and pretty. Like this:

That’s the classic Mepis wallpaper I love so much, dark and deep and mysterious-looking. I chose a pretty weather applet, configured it easily using my zip code (you can’t tell it’s October here, can you?), and made it just the right size to match the clock (again, one of multiple clocks to choose from). You can add “quote of the day,” or “This day in History,” one of a choice of calendars, post-it notes, maps or a globe, a ruler, calculator, whatever stuff you might find sitting on your desk in the office or at home. Lookie here at all the choices you get!

I don’t even know what all of these things even do! But they hardly use any CPU power and don’t slow down my “user experience” any little bit. They’re just fun eye candy things to play with if you like this sort of thing. I just counted seven different clocks to choose from! And five weather applets to choose from – unless that “dayNight” screenlet is also a weather one. A couple of different kinds of post-it notes that you stick right on your desktop too. Calendars, maps, and monitors; lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Two Favorites Side By Side – Differences that Matter, Differences that Don’t:

I’m still dual-booting MX-14 (see my earlier post about this delightful distro that combines the old Mepis magic with the simplicity of the Xfce desktop on Debian Stable) with LXLE (a totally awesomeful respin of Lubuntu with almost none of the bugs and plenty of speed), which is magnificent compared to my last flirtation with the LXDE desktop. But Xfce still “feels like home,” and I find it easier to configure even with all the cool tools that Ronnie (the man behind LXLE) has added. I just can’t choose a favorite! So I dual boot and enjoy them both. Some differences just don’t matter to me at all, but other users might find them important. One is the boot-up thing. Both of these distros boot up in about the same amount of time. LXLE gives me a classy-looking boot screen that just looks super-awesome-cool, while MX-14 offers that boring “wall of text” that flies by too fast to read. So what. I don’t care what it looks like while booting, for goodnessakes. Both distros have wonderful, configurable panels that are quite similar and even misbehave in similar ways (like the on-again off-again weather applet in Xfce4, and LXDE’s digital clock that offers me a bunch of nonsensical characters to choose from when I want to configure it). Another difference that doesn’t matter.

Differences that do matter, at least to me, include the way that the mouse behaves in LXLE. Fully updated, LXLE 12.04’s behavior is just like Xubuntu 14.04’s was. The cursor hesitates, halts, and sometimes simply rebels against the mouse so that I have to “argue” with it, repeating mouse gestures a few times to get the stupid cursor to move where I want it. The mouse in MX is perfectly well behaved. Yeah, that kinda matters! The other difference that kinda sorta matters is the Ubuntu base versus the Debian base. I worry less about stability and reliability on MX because it is based on Debian Stable. And everyone knows it just doesn’t get any more stable than Debian Stable. But somehow Debian doesn’t seem to make as efficient use of my computer’s resources as the Ubuntu-based distros have (until 14.04). LXLE doesn’t freeze and lock up like MX-14 did before I added some RAM. I have yet to discover why. But yeah, that matters.

So I’ll just keep dual-booting and see where they both go, and report my findings here. I promise objective, measurable observation and opinion, not the rabid, defensive rantings of a distro fanboy. Stay tuned…