New Linux User Questionnaire

Before installing either Xubuntu or Linux Lite on a brand new Linux user’s computer, I always use this questionnaire to customize their machine with the proper applications, themes, panel(s) set-up, icon sets, etc to make their first experience as awesome as possible:

1. What do you want to use your computer for?
2. Are you “technically challenged” and just want to keep it simple, or would you like to explore your “inner geek?”
3. How old is your computer and what Operating System did it ship to you with (example: Windows XP or Vista, OSX, etc)? How big is the Hard Disk Drive and how much RAM?
4. Do you like “eye candy” and pretty special effects on your desktop, or do you prefer a faster, basic desktop with fewer bells and whistles?
5. Please list your favorite and most-used computer applications (programs). Try to categorize them if you can, under headings such as Web Browsing, E-Mail, Music Editing, CD-burning,
Office/Word Processing, Photo Editing, etc.
6. Would you like the latest “bleeding edge” stuff or do you prefer older, proven, rock-stable programs?
7. What’s your favorite color?
8. How will you connect to the Internet (if applicable)? Dial-up, wifi, Cable
9. Will you tell all your friends how awesome Linux is (and how nice Robin is for getting it up and running for you)? Don’t answer this one yet…

 

Good News on Linux Lite

Greetings!

You were expecting a review of Ghost BSD, well that’s coming, hopefully this weekend. But I just heard this little bit of great news from Linux Lite: Series 5.x will have no added PPAs!!

All those extra PPAs have been a source of update woes, regressions, malfunctions, and frustrations to Linux Lite users for far too long. There were even PPAs in there for software that was already available to Linux Lite users in the Ubuntu repositories (Linux Lite is based on Ubuntu) without the added PPAs, which I think is counter to Linux Lite’s purpose. Aimed at new users and non-technical users, particularly those coming to Linux from Windows, Linux Lite aims to be the easiest “newbie distro” while remaining lightweight for use on older, modest hardware.

“Emerald,” the codename for Linux Lite 5 series, will have no added PPAs at all. That is the best possible news for Lite users who have been put off by the constant update issues that have plagued the distro in the past. When I was using it, one of the first things I always did was to eliminate all those extra PPAs, so I was able to dodge many of those update problems. I also removed them in new installations of Linux Lite for computers I was refurbishing for others.

Other improvements include some great new Tweaks in the Lite toolbox that accomplish lots of maintenance tasks with a few mouse clicks. One of the new ones is a way to clean up the crazy huge Systemd logs that accumulate on the users’ hard drive:

My friend Ralphy is no longer maintaining UnlockMe for Linux Lite, which was one of the tools I found especially useful on Lite, but lookie here! Much of his familiar and brilliant coding shows up in Lite Tweaks, which is maintained and even improved upon. I’m very glad to see this!

In my book these new developments will elevate Linux Lite 5.x series above even the venerable Linux Mint for introducing Linux to newcomers.

Newly Installed Xubuntu 18.04

Ah, I can relax now. I’m back home, and it’s as warm, cozy, familiar, and easy as I remember. And the neighborhood is lovely, upscale but not snobby and uptight.

Home is Xubuntu, of course. I’ve been away a long time! But this is just exactly the way I remember my home distro, except that it seems a little slower than before. That might be just because the last time I was here was before systemd and all that extra junk was foisted on users. But I think I can speed things up a bit with the usual little things, like turning off services I don’t use, adjusting the “swappiness,” maybe going back to Seamonkey instead of the usual separate Firefox and Thunderbird applications.

This time instead of the usual Xfce panel with launchers on the bottom, I thought I’d throw a liiiiiiiiittle bit of eye candy in, so there’s Cairo Dock with weather applet, analog clock applet, and silly bouncing effects when you mouse over them and click them. Yet it’s lightweight, and just prettier than a plain ol’ Xfce panel. And I like that 3D shelf thing.

Lots less bloat than Linux Lite, and all I added was Synaptic Package Manager, because it’s what I’m used to and I think it’s better than “Software Center.” I added SystemBack and MintStick, just because they’re super-simple graphical tools for formatting and writing images to a USB drive, creating restore points and allowing me to make a bootable and installable copy of my installed system and write it to a pendrive. All done in under 40 minutes. On Debian this would have taken me a few days!

But this is Xubuntu. Almost perfect as-is, right out of the box, saving me lots of work and letting me get right to work, doing what I love.

Xubu instead of Linux Lite

I used to recommend an Ubuntu derivative called Linux Lite. But he idea of putting extra software like Virtualbox service on the Live iso, that is not for the user, but for reviewers (and thereby to benefit the developer) strikes me as kinda putting yourself ahead of the users. Perhaps I have misjudged him, so to be fair I won’t be too critical of that decision other than to say I think it’s weird. But Linux Lite another one of those one-man show distros, and I’m friends with a former developer for the project. That too might be influencing my decision not to recommend Linux Lite anymore.  Linux Lite (and LXLE, by the way) also comes with several PPA included by default, which cause no end of update issues.  Some of these PPAs are for software that is already in the Ubuntu repositories anyway, just perhaps not the latest version.   Again, why make unwitting Beta-testers out of Linux newbies??  Unforgivable.  One of the first things I always did after a fresh installation of Linux Lite was to remove almost all of those extra PPAs!  Xubuntu, on the other hand, is community-developed and doesn’t include a lot of “weird” stuff nor a whole lot of cruft. It’s a sweet, fast distro and I will always be a fan of Xubuntu.

Plus, for all it’s “newbie friendliness,” LinuxLite just isn’t all that “lite” anymore, which kinda concerns me.  For a nice long run, Linux Lite defied the “axiom” that newbie-friendliness was a trade-off for speed.  Removing the extra PPAs was probably part of the reason my experience was so good… But out of the box, so to speak, Lite isn’t so lite anymore.  Xubuntu has been and probably always will be the distro I run back home to after straying off because:

  • I got scared of systemd after reading someone’s panic-post about Robotic Overlords taking over Linux, or
  • This other distro is new and shiny, or
  • some Linux snob scolds me for using “a kiddie distro” (see here), or
  • I got scared about systemd again because of the panicky stuff I read on some other web site

But I always end up back on Xubuntu, because it’s simple, it’s super-fast, perfect right-out-of-the-wrapper, already configured the way I like, and takes only a few minutes to install and/or upgrade. I’m a busy boy lately, and just don’t have time to hop a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m moving on.

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

In Praise of Linux Lite

In reply to someone’s suggestion in another forum that “Linux distros which are derived from other Linux distros contribute nothing new to the larger desktop Linux world:

The thread was entitled Linux Lite vs Xubuntu, and a reader asked what the differences were and why they mattered.

There are important differences. I did a little homework before switching to Linux Lite from my all-time favorite Xubuntu:

In Linux Lite, applications are named for their function, not their “real” names. A newbie wouldn’t know that Evince is a pdf viewer or that Thunar is the file manager. Linux Lite is for novices who don’t know even what they don’t know. This one little thing is very thoughtful, all by itself.

The Xfce desktop is highly customized in Linux Lite, yet still infinitely customizable by the user. Again, with newbies in mind, and simple people like me who would rather run applications than running the operating system.

Linux Lite includes a magnificent set of tools to make maintaining and tweaking the OS effortless and non-stressful, with point-and-click simplicity and explanations for us non-tech types. If unsure, there are explanations and the support of this awesome forum, in which the Lead Developer actively participates. That is rare!

This is better for newbies than even Linux Mint in my opinion. From the start, it has always been designed with newbies and simplicity-loving technophobic users like me in mind. And lastly, and most importantly:

Before Linux Lite, it was an axiom in the desktop Linux world that speed and performance was a trade-off to achieve “user-friendliness” with a GUI. Linux Lite has proven that you can “have your cake and eat it too,” so to speak. No longer does it have to be a trade-off of lost performance to achieve a newbie-friendly GUI.

As in any Ubuntu-based distro, the hidden danger to newcomers and inexperienced Linux users is in the quality of updates from upstream Ubuntu (newbies cannot be expected to update selectively), and in the addition of several PPAs to the standard Ubuntu repositories. The simlest work-around in my opinion is the addition of the Updater adapted for Linux Lite from the Linux Mint treasury. Find it here.