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. 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 “lite” anymore, which kinda concerns me. 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.

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.

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!

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!

More Mozilla Replacements

Last time I wrote, I was describing replacement software for Mozilla products. Not because I’m one of those rabid FOSS activists who runs only GNU, open-source, non-proprietary software (I really don’t know how anyone actually does anyway), but because of Mozilla’s politics.

I had replaced my once-beloved Seamonkey with Midori (Xfce’s own awesome lightweight web browser) and Geary (A Gnome project, unsupported for awhile and recently resurrected and updated). Both are wonderful!

Just out of curiosity because of some minor limitations with Geary and Midori, I wanted to try the GNU versions of Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird. They are IceCat (GNU’s version of Firefox) and Icedove (GNU – Thunderbird).

I installed them on my custom Xubuntu-core machine by adding the repository from Trisquel Linux (all GNU software) and using Synaptic to load ’em up.

IceCat refused to display anything with Java until I modified the settings, which I expected. Other than that it’s every bit like Firefox or Seamonkey’s browser, but a whole bunch quicker and more nimble. A good Mozilla replacement!

Icedove is awesome, and right out of the chute it has all the features I loved about Seamonkey’s mail reader and composer, including in-line links and images, Address Book, etc., which Geary lacks, as awesome as it is. Another good Mozilla replacement!

So if you think you can’t do without Mozilla’s great products, but don’t want Mozilla’s branding or to use their products showing, even unwittingly, some support for their political corruption, check out these sweet GNU alternatives.