Goodbye Linux Lite

It was fun while it lasted, and I considered Linux Lite to be the best distro for new Linux users, especially those coming from Windows. But the last straw, one of many, is the default browser in the new Linux Lite 6 series. The new default browser is now Google Chrome.

Linux attracts many Windows users because, among other reasons they want to get away from evil big tech companies like Microsoft that spy on them and are back doors to tracking, data mining, and marketing. So they find Linux and then – Google?! No thanks.

So many reasons to ditch this once-favorite distro:

1. – It’s Ubuntu base: Ubuntu has gone off the freaking rails with it’s default software management becoming snap instead of apt!

2. – Systemd: Yes, I know, this an old debate and doesn’t matter to most users at all. But systemd becomes huge and invasive over even short periods of time. I put up with it because Linux Lite offers “Lite Tweaks” which lets you delete those crazy huge systemd logs in a couple of clicks, which I did regularly to keep my hard drive from filling up. In Debian and Ubuntu you can limit the size of those logs by editing etc/systemd/journald.config. Add a line “systemMaxUse=100M” save file, then sudo systemctl daemon- reload and reboot. Thereafter systemd logs will not get so outrageously large and fill up your disk space. But still, GEEZ man, systemd regulates every single process at every moment and records everything. It even needs it’s own password? What’s up with that? Nah, no thank you, there are still plenty of systemd-free OSes in Linuxland.

3. – Linux Lite “targets” Windows users now more than ever. But they do it by making Linux Lite as much like Windows as possible. What the heck, man? If I wanted Windows I’d just use Windows! I want my new OS to be as far from Windows-like as possible as long as it remains point-and-click simple. But for cry’n out loud, not just like the one I’m ditching. But hey, that’s just me.

4. – Supposedly made to be easy on older hardware, there is no 32-bit option available anymore.

So what is my chosen alternative?

This oughtta surprise you, it’s antiX! WHAT?!? After all that stuff you wrote about how much you hate political Linux? Robin, you’re a hypocrite!

Okay, lemme ‘splain myself here. Bear with me. The big issues with antiX were and are:

1. – Those evil, horrible, terrible bookmarks! And

2. – It’s developer is an anti capitalist.

As for the bookmarks, they all appear in a single folder in Firefox Bookmarks called “anticapitalista.” No one knocks on your door and compels you at gunpoint to click on them. Simply delete that folder and problem solved. It has been a long-standing tradition for developers to include bookmarks in their browsers anyway. Don’t like ’em? Delete ’em. As for the developer, so what? He doesn’t distribute antiX only to those who share his political views and forbid capitalists from using it. I can keep my Stars and Stripes flying and my MAGA hat on my head without causing my operating system to convert me to atheism, communism, or any other ism. Besides, think about this now: What better way to to express anti-anti-capitalism than by exploiting an anti-capitalist’s product and then using it to promote capitalism if I want to, right?

Why antiX and not MX-Linux? I thought you were an Xfce fanboy!

Simply because antiX does not contain any systemd code whatsoever. Sure I’m an Xfce fanboy and have been for a really long time. But adding Xfce to antiX, which – unlike Gnome and unlike MX-Linux – does not require systemd “as a dependency.” Why “have” systemd “as a dependency” if the OS doesn’t use systemd for anything? “It’s in there but the OS doesn’t use it” never made sense to me. I’m not sure what software MX-Linux has that needs systemd “as a dependency,” but antiX has all the coolest MX-tools without any need for space-wasting bloat that the OS doesn’t use.

Again, I know systemd doesn’t matter to most desktop Linux users one way or the other. But you gotta admit it’s a nuisance, and a huge consumer of disk space and processing power. Just like Windows, by the way, which also uses systemd. And like I said, I want an OS to be as little like Windows as possible.

Moving On

My beloved Xubuntu 18.04 is good until next April, but I won’t wait that long to replace it. In my previous post I wrote about the Future of Ubuntu, and have looked closely at the new default package management, snap. The old .deb packaging will still be around for legacy apps and stuff that we all depend on, but the default in 20.04 is snap packaging. To me this will mean a ton of duplicated libraries and cruft, since snaps are kinda-sorta sandboxed and snaps do not share libraries. Bad for those of us who don’t have super-ultra-mega-terrabyte hard drives, right?

Ordinarily rolling-release distros scare me a bit. But even without selectively updating (other than the kernel), there are cool tools like Timeshift that can put things back to a “restore point” in a few clicks and a few minutes’ time. And I dislike the idea of re-installing an OS from scratch and configuring everything the way I want it, adding and removing applications, fonts, themes, and all the rest of it. Updates breaking things has always been a kind of phobia for me I guess, but maybe it’s one that I have overcome with the reassurance offered by super-simple backup-and-restore tools, and the fact that my new distro of choice has a thorough vetting process for updates that filters out a lot of buggy stuff before it hits the stable repositories.

Experimental, beta, or too-new-to-be-proven stuff appears in Ubuntu (and all it’s flavors and downstream distros) without warning all too often. I still remember how buggy PulseAudio was when it foisted upon us all. I dumped it for ALSA with every new installation for months until it wasn’t possible anymore, but by that time it was stable enough. Then Unity. Then systemd. All buggy as hell at the start, but everyone became a tester, like it or not. In a distro intended for newcomers, novices, simpletons, technophobes, and other “ordinary” desktop users, this buggy experimental stuff thrown in as the new default is – well, bullshit. Snaps is the last straw. While I grant that snap isn’t replacing apt for the time being at least, by making it the default, Ubuntu has again brought buggy beta crud to “ordinary” users. No lessons learned from the last several times they’ve pulled this kinda stuff. I’m all for innovation, but let’s not use the LTS versions for that! Enough surprises.

Goodbye again, Xubuntu. Hello, PCLinuxOS!

The Future of Ubuntu (and Ubuntu-based distros)

There are Pros and Cons for everything, but when a distro’s development team makes big changes in policy towards users, there’s always a reason for it, and it’s not always a reasonable choice. Such may be the case with Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux distribution. There’s a big discussion about it going on in their forums (clicky here to have a look). Yes, this matters a lot because it affects every flavor of Ubuntu and every “downstream” project derived from Ubuntu (Linux Mint, Linux Lite, ElementaryOS, and one zillion and twelve others).

Snaps and Flatpaks and such are probably the future anyway, but the vetting of software by a bunch of testers before distribution to users should never go away. But unless you build your own OS from scratch (and some people do), you have to live with whatever the distribution developers decide.

That would be most of us. This “apparent” decision by Ubuntu developers, while probably relieving them of the burden of maintaining packages for their users (and making their job a lot easier and not having to keep package maintainers on the job getting updates to testers and then to users), it also means that we ordinary desktop users could end up as unwitting software testers, trying to find workarounds for broken software. We’re already finding that in instances where the Snap version of a software won’t work but the .deb version from the repository works fine, or vice versa. And that, more than anything else, has been my chief complaint with Ubuntu for years: Making unwitting testers out of novices and newbies without their knowledge (let alone consent).

Read the linked discussion and offer some comments! I’d love to know what some of my Linuxer readers think of this new trend.

xdg-desktop-portals-gtk broken in ubuntu 20.04, and how to fix it.

The Problem:

some programs take an extraordinary long time to start.

If you take a look at the error messages:

$ systemctl --user status xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service ● xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service - Portal service (GTK+/GNOME implementation) Loaded: loaded (/usr/local/lib/systemd/user/xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service; static; vendor preset: enabled) Active: failed (Result: exit-code) since Wed 2020-05-13 23:46:05 CEST; 11min ago Process: 6937 ExecStart=/usr/local/libexec/xdg-desktop-portal-gtk (code=exited, status=127) Main PID: 6937 (code=exited, status=127) maj 13 23:46:05 octo systemd[2171]: Starting Portal service (GTK+/GNOME implementation)... maj 13 23:46:05 octo xdg-desktop-portal-gtk[6937]: /usr/local/libexec/xdg-desktop-portal-gtk: error while loading shared libraries: libgnome-desktop-3.so.18: cannot open shared object file:> maj 13 23:46:05 octo systemd[2171]: xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service: Main process exited, code=exited, status=127/n/a maj 13 23:46:05 octo systemd[2171]: xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service: Failed with result 'exit-code'. maj 13 23:46:05 octo systemd[2171]: Failed to start Portal service (GTK+/GNOME implementation). ...skipping... ● xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service - Portal service (GTK+/GNOME implementation) Loaded: loaded (/usr/local/lib/systemd/user/xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service; static; vendor preset: enabled) Active: failed (Result: exit-code) since Wed 2020-05-13 23:46:05 CEST; 11min ago Process: 6937 ExecStart=/usr/local/libexec/xdg-desktop-portal-gtk (code=exited, status=127) Main PID: 6937 (code=exited, status=127) maj 13 23:46:05 octo systemd[2171]: Starting Portal service (GTK+/GNOME implementation)... maj 13 23:46:05 octo xdg-desktop-portal-gtk[6937]: /usr/local/libexec/xdg-desktop-portal-gtk: error while loading shared libraries: libgnome-desktop-3.so.18: cannot open shared object file:> maj 13 23:46:05 octo systemd[2171]: xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service: Main process exited, code=exited, status=127/n/a maj 13 23:46:05 octo systemd[2171]: xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service: Failed with result 'exit-code'. maj 13 23:46:05 octo systemd[2171]: Failed to start Portal service (GTK+/GNOME implementation). 

you will see that the problem is that libgnome-3.so.18 is missing, and it is not shipped with 20.04, and can not be installed.

The fix:

We just sym-link it…

$ cd /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu $ sudo ln -s libgnome-desktop-3.so libgnome-desktop-3.so.18 

Now the service can start. It seems to be a dependency issue.

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.

Ubuntu-Base, Debian Base, Systemd

I love my Linux Lite! On decent hardware it is light, fast, simple, and best distro for newcomers to Linux, bar none.

On older hardware, especially legacy hardware, not so much anymore. I can’t run it nimbly on the old Dell Dimension, so I’m loading up an ultralight OS on it called AntiX. Reading up on this distro and it’s mid-weight sibling, MXLinux, I found some very cool stuff that has me thinking hard about even my newer machine.

MXLinux has some great advantages for a mission-critical computer:


1. – It is based on Debian Stable.

That means several things: Ubuntu-based distros are famous for including beta and beta-quality stuff in their updates! Debian Stable simply does not. Breakage in Debian Stable is very rare. So there’s really no need for a “Mint-Updater” to filter out the high-risk, dangerous system-breaking stuff. That’s a biggie for me.

It also means access to the huge, vast, far-flung Debian repositories of free and open-source software. The largest on Earth. No beta stuff, not cutting-edge, the latest and greatest, but definitely more reliable.

2. – Systemd is there, but not used in MXLinux.

A lot of software depends on systemd now, so installing just about anything from the Gnome project and other software means you have to have systemd as a dependency. But MXLinux doesn’t use systemd as it’s init, nor as the invisible lord and master of every process and daemon on the system, as it does in both Debian and Ubuntu and most of their derivative distros. For most users – including me, actually – this is not any big deal. But in the back of my mind I wonder what systemd may become as it takes over more and more functions in Linux in the future.

3. – In addition to the Debian Stable repositories, MXLinux has their own, with up-to-date and tested software. No more adding PPAs just to get this or that bit of software. That is a big deal to me, since I think it’s dangerous to add PPAs to your software sources.

Just for these three things, I would thing seriously about adopting MXLinux as my “default” distro, especially on modest hardware.

AntiX has no systemd at all, by the way! Debian-base, systemd-free. That’s going on the old Dell Dimension.

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.

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.

Cheers!

Linux Lite 3.6

Some might say it’s “Xubuntu done right.”

But “right” is a very subjective term. Right for me is first simple, second, fast, third novice-friendly (because I prefer to use the same distro I’m sharing with so many people new to Linux, since it’s so much easier to provide support to them), and fourth suitable for modest, older hardware that can’t handle newer versions of Windows or the big fancy mainline Linux distributions. For others, Voyager is “Xubuntu done right.” For others, Linux Mint Xfce is “Xubuntu done right;” and for many others, it just doesn’t get any better than Xubuntu right out of the chute. Until I discovered Linux Lite, Xubuntu was my go-to distro. The others are all wonderful, but most were either to “heavy” for my old hardware, or not suitable for sharing with “newbies” who never used Linux before. Linux Mint Xfce would ordinarily be my first choice for newcomers to Linux, but many of these new arrivals are here because their computers are older models with low resources, and even the “lightweight” Mint can become a bit resource-hungry.

Linux Lite is built from Ubuntu core (minimal) and uses a very highly modified Xfce desktop which makes it far less demanding on resources than most Xfce-flavored Linux distributions.

But it doesn’t stop there. That would be enough, but Linux Lite aims to be beginner-friendly as well. The trick is to be “newbie friendly” without adding so much GUI stuff (graphical user interface) that you weigh it down and make it slow and cumbersome.

Ease of use used to be a trade-off, sacrificing speed. Or if you wanted speed and miserly demand on RAM and processors, you sacrificed the GUI stuff that makes Linux “friendly” for us ordinary mortals. Linux Lite blows that old paradigm away. You really don’t have to sacrifice speed and resource-demand to make Linux “play nice” for beginners, kids, great grandparents, and even technophobes.

Linux Lite achieves this “impossible” blend of simplicity and speed in three ways:

The first I already mentioned – the very highly modified Xfce desktop. Xfce is ordinarily easy on processing power anyway, but by not mixing it with Compiz and other extra goodies outside of Xfce’s own designs in hopes of making it “elegant” or whatever, it retains it’s undemanding qualities. Other tweaks make it even less resource hungry than “plain vanilla” Xfce.

The second is Linux Lite’s collection of awesome tools, not least of which is the Welcome Screen (which you can bring up on demand long after your first use of the distro) which offers step-by-step links to updating and upgrading, maintaining, cleaning, adding or removing software – all with point-and-click ease. Other cool tools include Lite Sources, which lets you choose from among software repositories anywhere in the universe, for faster updates and upgrades. Choosing the one closest to where you live is generally best, of course. And Lite Tweaks lets you personalize your desktop, clean up any junk, recover wasted space, and speed things up even more!

How is a new user supposed to know that Thunar is a file manager? They don’t know Thunar, but they know Files – Home – Pictures and whatever. So other than the applications everybody probably knows, like Firefox, apps are named for what they do, not the whimsical names that don’t really offer any clue as to their function. That’s simplicity without bloat if ever there was.

A feather is the official symbol of Linux Lite, and it’s completely appropriate. And that heart, well, that just means I love it! That huge dagger behind my back in the picture simply represents hacking out all the extra bloatware and cruft that most people assume is necessary to make a Linux distribution “user friendly.”

To make this Ubuntu-based distribution even more safe and secure, I recommend unlockforus – an “unofficial” repository of wonderful stuff not approved by Linux Lite (yet?) but either developed for Linux Lite or adapted for Linux Lite from other Linux distributions, like the awesome MintStick app and of course the must-have Mint Updater adapted for Linux Lite.

Enjoy!