Better Mozilla Replacements

Last month I wrote about replacing all the Mozilla stuff on my computer, as a kinda-sorta protest against their stupid, purely political decision to fire their CEO because he dared to hold and dared to express a politically incorrect opinion about gay “marriage.” I love the Mozilla products, especially Seamonkey – the wonderful Internet Suite risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the Netscape project. I was hoping to find an equal replacement for Seamonkey that is entirely free and open-source. I tried out a few and settled on two awesome applications that not only give me everything Seamonkey did, but with less demand on system resources.

My browser is Xfce’s own wonderful ultralight browser, Midori. It can “identify” as any browser you wish, has built-in and customizable “add-on” options like Ad Blocker (which I don’t use, by the way, perhaps more on that later). It used to crash inexplicably all the time. Now it’s rock-stable on Linux Lite, Xubuntu, and SalixOS.

KMail

KMail is a sweet little KDE application that does almost everything quickly and simply, but it doesn’t allow for embedding images while composing HTML messages. That’s it’s only drawback – that and, of course, all the KDE dependencies that come with it when trying to install it in Linux Lite (Xfce desktop environment). Very nice, but not as full-featured as Thunderbird or Seamonkey just because of the Composer.

Geary / Pantheon-Mail

Pantheon-Mail is ElementaryOS’ own fork of the little Gnome e-mail client called Geary. I found absolutely no difference between the two at all, installing Geary from the Ubuntu repositories and Pantheon-Mail from ElementaryOS’ PPA. Both seem identical to me. The only difference was the default icon for the Xfce Panel, and the absence of any icons for certain options in Pantheon-Mail. Why fork a good project just to change it’s name? I found no difference whatsoever in my week-long comparison of the two. Neither has a proper Address Book, but depend on gathered addresses from incoming and outgoing e-mail. Rich Text is available but without any choice of font – just the default font and size, and the only rich-text options are color, Bold, Italics, Strikethrough, and Underline.

I didn’t even bother with the very popular and supposedly “full-featured” email clients Claws-Mail and Slypheed. I didn’t bother because neither has a mail composer that offers anything but plain text. It’s possible to write HTML messages, but you have to add a whole ‘nother application, an external editor. Hey I’m just a simple little sidekick, still scared of “complicated” software, and I prefer to keep things simple. For those who are aware of HTML’s “risks” and prefer only plain text, these two are very popular in the Linux world.

Evolution

I guess I have avoided this one for so long because of it’s association with Novell, a big office software company. But it’s FOSS, released under the GPL license, officially a Gnome project distributed by Novell (whatever that means, I got my copy from the repository, lol). Not available in Slackware or Salix because there’s just no Gnome stuff available for Slackware users, it is absolutely awesome. Full HTML composing using a Thunderbird-like WYSIWYG editor (oh, that’s “What You See Is What You Get”) and a truly super-cool interface, friendly enough for a little, mildly technophobic sidekick.

That’s the options available in the Composer window. Actually more options than Seamonkey offers, believe it or not. This post is being composed and published entirely via email, which is simply the way I prefer to do it when I can. Perhaps a leftover habit from back when we were on dial-up Internet and I did all my reading and writing offline anyway using an e-mail client (Eudora on Windows, then Thunderbird on Linux, and now Evolution (on Linux but not available as a Slackware package or Slack-build). When I’m ready I’ll test them out on Void Linux and write about it!

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.

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.

From Linux Mint to LXLE

Your mileage may vary, of course. But for me the choice has been an easy one:

I bought a modest, used Dell Latitude laptop computer for school and work. It is a 64-bit machine that shipped with Windows 7 and has 6 times the RAM of my desktop, an ancient Dell Dimension desktop with 512 MB that still runs better on LXLE than when it was brand new running Windows XP! I was a Xubuntu fanboy until even Xubuntu got to be too much for the old desktop. Lubuntu (at the time) was a halting, buggy mess that while plenty fast, operated with fits and starts. It didn’t last even a day before I was trying alternatives like MX-14 which was great for a while and then troublesome and rebellious later on. So I experimented with LXLE and it has been fantastic and trouble-free for over a year now.

But when I got the new laptop with 3 GB of RAM and all that power, I thought I should try good ol’ Xubuntu again, maybe play around with some other distros that would surely run better on this new high-powered 64-bit beauty. First to find it’s way onto the hard drive was Xubuntu, my old favorite for many years. Because it is stable, functional, simple, and has that wonderful Xfce desktop I love. It refused to run the computer’s built-in wireless card, and all efforts to install the Broadcom driver failed to remedy the situation. On a desktop it wouldn’t have mattered, but for goodnessakes, a laptop is supposed to be wireless!

So I tried Linux Mint Xfce 17 (codenamed Rebecca). Same great Xubuntu base, fantastically easy and safe updater that helps avoid the whole “borked by an update” scenario that the Ubuntu flavors are famous for (not so much on the long-term-support editions though). I love Rebecca! She’s gorgeous, down-to-earth, compliant, low maintenance, and eager to please. Best Mint yet! But again, wireless didn’t work. I actually ended up buying a wifi-dongle just to regain the functionality required of a laptop! I shouldn’t have to do that, but that’s just a fact of the times when you buy a computer that is “built for Windows.”

tpe g54usb 0

This little gem from ThinkPenguin.com cost only $25 and made my laptop a laptop again.  It was the only option after spending a couple of frustrating days following every step of extracting the driver from Windows and “ndswrapping” it into Linux without success.  Money well spent.

In the meantime I have been doing most of my work on the desktop, and growing increasingly fond of that ultralight and super-simple LXDE desktop. I hadn’t liked it on buggy, frustrating Lubuntu, but that PCManFM file manager is wonderful, the management and configurability of the panels and applets is every bit as elegant and easy in LXDE as in it’s older sibling, Xfce.  Basically, I just got used to it, and since I use it here on the desktop all the time, I figured my laptop should be the same way instead of confusing myself between the two.  And in front of other people too, since I use the laptop at work and school a lot.  As much as I adore the lovely Rebecca, I decided to try out the new 64-bit LXLE 14.04 and see how it compared with my desktop’s 32-bit LXLE 12.04.

The new one very closely matches the old one, but omygoodness, the default applications are the very same ones I always use (and usually have to install, sometimes from a PPA).  LibreOffice of course, but lookie here: Seamonkey!  Heh heh!  See I’m not the only one who thinks it’s wonderful, and knows how much less resource hungry this Netscape-based suite from Mozilla is than it’s more famous and popular Mozilla siblings.  It’s even faster than Chrome!  It’s almost completely set up the way I always set my own desktop configuration up, panels and all, right from the start.  Almost no tweaking to do.  And to my surprise, the wireless card works right out of the gate in LXLE!  Even Rebecca couldn’t manage it, but here’s this “lesser” distro for older hardware that just recognized it and enabled it instantly.  No more need to plug in my USB wifi dongle.  Maybe I’ll use it on my desktop instead, so I can move my desk to where I want to without running wires around the house.  Praise be!

I don’t even miss that once-beloved Xfce desktop anymore.  LXLE does LXDE better than Lubuntu, and better even than Xubuntu does Xfce.  It is elegant, lightning-fast, absolutely gorgeous, and stays out of my way when I’m working on school stuff.

Your mileage may vary, and people have their own reasons for choosing a Linux distro. But for me, switching from Linux Mint to LXLE was an easy choice. Now my laptop offers the same familiar interface and beautiful functionality of my desktop – and no longer needs special hardware added to give it the functionality I need.

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.

The End of an Awesome Distro

It’s the end of an era for an enthusiastic and loyal group of Linux users who benefited from Corenomial’s unique Debian mixture known as Crunchbang Linux (abbreviated #!). When Crunchbang was first started, it filled a much-needed gap for older computers by adopting for the desktop only the Openbox window manager without the other features of a “full” desktop environment. Originally using a minimal Ubuntu base and later switching to a Debian base, Crunchbang was – at first anyway – specifically targeted to users of old, modest hardware that would have been bogged down under the weight of the popular desktop environments of the time, Gnome and KDE. There was Xfce for older hardware too, a full desktop environment, kinda-sorta like “Gnome Lite” at the time. Using only a window manager was a rare and gutsy experiment to try when Corenomial first introduced Crunchbang, but it was Crunchbang that taught many users that – guess what – you don’t really need a full desktop environment to have an awesome point-and-click desktop experience! You can save your computer’s resources for applications instead of “eye candy.” Dark and almost sinister looking, the Crunchbang desktop allowed even beginners to adequately master basic desktop Linux while having an intimidating super-techno-geeky looking desktop to impress their technophobic, Ubuntu and Mepis using friends who were terrified to even gaze upon a terminal interface. Much more impressive than that old spinning cube trick that impressed so many kids for whom having a dazzling desktop was at least as important as what you might actually use the computer for.

But today Xfce is so much more than “Gnome Lite.” And some wonderful new players have joined the game now. LXDE, RazorQt, Enlightenment, and others. These are full desktop environments rich with features that in some instances rival the “big old dogs” that have dominated the Linux desktop for years. For a little while Corenomial included several Xfce features in Crunchbang that gave it pizazz without adding the “bloat” that brought so many users to Crunchbang from other distros. His improvements and default settings taught the Linux community to focus on what matters – performance, good stewardship of resources, and making the most of what our computers offer. There have been other distros built on window managers without a “full desktop environment,” like Puppy and AntiX, but it was Crunchbang more than any of the others that provided an example of just what can be done with “just” a window manager.

Loyal users and admirers of Crunchbang will maintain the forums and community spirit of the distro, but the chief of the project, who I would call “Cap’n Crunch” if I had earned the right to be so informal with such a great developer, has come to feel that with the incredible advances of the ultralight desktop environments and other great Debian mixtures, the gap that Crunchbang used to fill no longer exists. I never used Crunchbang beyond installing it and playing with it intermittently on an ancient old relic, and never took part in it’s community. Now that this landmark distro is disappearing, I’m getting a sense that I missed out on something really wonderful. Long live Corenomial and long live the loyalty of the Crunchbang community. Read Corenomial’s announcement here.

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…