Friends Don’t Let Friends Beta-Test Linux Distros

Here’s why:

Like an addiction, playing with it until it breaks and learning how to fix it can become an all-consuming fire, eating up entire days of the victim’s life. And the people you meet in those support forums are so nice and helpful, it becomes another trap: You feel a sense of belonging, a kinship with other nerds when you always felt out of place before, and maybe a little ashamed of being “too nerdy.” Look at you now – part of a wonderful open-source community. No need for a secret identity or anything.

But I let my Hero down for a time, being too consumed with making this Linux thing work when I’m really just a beginner, relatively.

“But we like beginners,” my fellow nerds will say, “and we need them to test this distro because it’s aimed at exactly the kind of casual user you represent.”

Beta for newbies? Please, is it really that hard to put yourself in my shoes? Was it really so long ago that you were a Linux newbie too? C’mon, I don’t believe that. Get your kids to test it. Ask your family or neighbors or some kids on Spring Break, or retirees at the clubhouse. People who don’t otherwise have lives or obligations or a Hero to put above all else.

My Xubuntu 12.04 Desktop

This is my Xubuntu 12.04 desktop! I have Seamonkey installed and set as the default browser/email client. The latest version is 2.8, and unexpectedly, it required me to add the Ubuntuzilla ppa to get it. It’s a bunch faster than the newest Firefox, and still accepts most add-ons and extensions that matter to me: Scribefore Classic, AdBlockPlus, stuff like that.

I moved the default launcher to the bottom where it functions as a kinda-sorta dock with all my application launchers and applets (weather, analog clock, PCManFM (much nicer for me than Thunar), the Parole music player, and the Abiword writer.

I asked on the Ubuntu forums about why Xubu has all kinds of Gnome stuff included, when it’s supposed to be an Xfce distro, and Xfce is supposed to be lighter and faster than Gnome. At first thought, you might suppose that all that Gnome stuff is unnecessary and would slow Xubu down a lot. Maybe it does slow it down some (compared to straight Debian Xfce or SalineOS or the way-cool, newbie friendly Slackware derivative called SalixOS for sure), but it also makes it a complete and full-featured Xfce spin that behaves as elegantly as it’s “full-Gnome” parent, Ubuntu.

It took Ubuntu to “tame” Debian and make it useable by mere mortals like me. It looks like SalixOS has done the same thing for Slackware! I’ll test it when I have some time to play and post a review here. I’m fascinated by SalixOS because of it’s ultra long term support and reputation for rock-stability (like Debian).

It’s probably faster than Xubu, but perhaps less full-featured because it doesn’t add in all the Gnomie stuff. But for non-technical desktop Linux users, Xubuntu is every bit as easy as the other “friendly” beginner Linux distros, but still easy on modest hardware like my 8-year-old Dell.

Xubuntu 12.04

Okaaaaay! A mere simple sidekick who imagines he might be able to handle Beta-testing a Linux operating system is probably kidding himself, BUT:

Foolhardy though it may be, I’m doing it! Because I’m just impulsive that way, and my “inner geek” won’t wait. And besides, it’s Xubuntu, and a long-term-support (LTS) version, so it’s likely safe. And if not, re-installing is so simple even a mere sidekick can do it. 

So here’s my report on the good and the bad so far:

First: I downloaded my iso file from Softpedia instead of the daily build (it has all the updates and is much better, as you’ll discover as you read on) from the official download site. If you want to try it because maybe you’re as foolhardy and cocky as I am, use the official download iso file! My Softpedia copy balked at two attempts to load, and finally, slowly, loaded Xubu on the third attempt. I test-drove it on the LiveCD to satisfy myself that it would be compatible with my hardware. Check, all good. And I like the new Greybird theme! Verry cool:

So, I clicked on the “install” icon. First attempt was a no go. Second attempt proceeded and after selecting English, the installer advised me how much room Xubu would need on my hard drive, reminded me to make sure I was connected to the internet, then offered me a choice between installing Xubu 12.04 alongside my existing Xubu 10.04, or “upgrading” 10.04 to 12.04 (preserving settings, pictures, music, bookmarks, e-mail settings, etc), or wiping the entire drive and installing Xubu 12.04 to take the whole hard drive. This is where the trouble all started! I think I’m a smart boy, and I had separate partitions to keep my data from being wiped (backup anyway!), so I chose “upgrade.”

Instead of replacing my old Xubu with the new one, the installer created a whole ‘nother partition table that looked like my old one on GParted (1 gb for Linux-swap, 20gb for / and the remainder of the drive for /home), but it didn’t fully overwrite the old installation. The first result of that was that Xubu couldn’t install updates because “that partition is full.” What!?! 10 gigabytes!?! No waaaaaay. Desperate to make room, I removed a bunch of unused applications and ran the “clean this mess up” command:

sudo apt-get clean

Yay! Gained about 20 mgs of disk space. Oh, wait… 20 MEGS? Crud. I thought, “The next update will fill that up and I’ll be back at Square One.” Rawr.

Sure enough, it did. Determined to make sure Xubu had all the room it would need, I doubled the size of my / partition using GParted from the LiveCD. Ha! Fill that up, you stupid update!

It didn’t, yay. But Xubu became reeeeeally slow after that. The longer the uptime, the slower Xubu got. Off to Ubuntu Forums for help (that’s always where Google sends you anyway). The wonderful folks there tell me I must have multiple installations or something, even though GParted tells me it’s okay. Maybe resizing them just complicated matters even further. Okay, now I’m getting mad.

“Fine! Take the whole stupid hard drive then! Stupid Xubu “upgrade.”

So, off to the Official, Real McCoy, Authentic, Authorized download page for a good copy of the iso. This time I just let Xubu have the entire drive (seriously, who doesn’t do backups anyway?). Oh.My.Gosh. Xubu rocks again! Even Firefox (version 11!) flies faster than before. Xubuntu 12.04 is the best Xubu yet, and it runs as quickly on this old Dell as WindowsXP did when it was brand spankin’ new! Best Xubu ever.

Lessons learned:

1. – A separate /home and/or /data partition is a good idea, but not always. It may tempt some people to neglect backing up files, and it just might mess up a new installation if there is a big gap between what you’re upgrading from and what you’re upgrading to.

2. – Use the official iso from the official download site or torrent. Accept no substitutes.

3. – Know where to go for help when things get too complicated. This is Xubu, for goodnessakes! It’s not supposed to be complicated!

4. – Xubu is still the best Linux distro in the history of ever!