Next thing to try…

So, I got a brain-storm in the middle of the night (night before last).

First… Ubuntu being the most popular distro, there are advantages to running it in spite of the fact that the Linux geeks who think they are all that look down on it. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty to get things working in Linux and I can pretty much solve whatever problems come up. But at the end of the day, the quicker the path is to looking good and functioning well, the better life is.

There is also an advantage to running the LTS (long-term support) versions of Ubuntu. LTS versions are released every 2 years and officially supported for 5 years. Their other versions which are released every 6 months are only supported for 9 months. I was going to switch to the LTS version awhile back, but the installer for the last LTS release (12.04) does not support LVM (which I was using). So it wasn’t going to work.

However, night before last I was able to get my native Linux backup solution working. With an external hard drive formatted ext4 and some rsync goodness, I had three copies of all my files. The time was ripe… so I re-partitioned my drives getting rid of LVM. Now I was able to install 12.04 (and proceeded to do so).

I also looked into removing the Unity junk from Ubuntu. It turns out that it’s not that hard to remove Unity and go with the standard Gnome3 desktop. So that’s exactly what I did, and it’s all working great. FYI, most of the main Linux distributions (like Fedora and Debian) default to the Gnome desktop. And most the apps I use are Gnome or GTK-based.

So in theory… I should not need to make another change until April of 2014 when the next LTS version of Ubuntu is scheduled to ship. Unless of course I find another excuse.  🙂

One big advantage to running a mainstream Linux distribution… there is tons of support on the net. Pretty much any technical question I come up with can be answered with a quick web search. That rocks!


Well, after hanging out in the Debian IRC channels for a few days, I grew rather tired of the major attitude I was observing. Ok… Debian has been around a long time and it’s not as easy to run as say Ubuntu. But that doesn’t mean you have the right to be rude to people that run something else.

They referred to Ubuntu as “linux with training wheels”. Ok, whatever. Yes, I had Debian on both my machines and it was running fine. But the Debian folks are way too principled for their own good. They deliberately omit a lot of extremely useful and necessary software and drivers from their distribution because it doesn’t fit their particular strict definition of “free” and non-proprietary. This causes much unnecessary inconvenience.

Personally, I’m not running Linux because I want to be a communist. I could not care less about those sorts of principles that are put higher in priority above the need for things to actually function.

So I decided, screw the attitude. I’m going back to Lubuntu. Ok, maybe it has training wheels, but it looks a HELL of a lot better than Debian does. I could have tweaked Debian for six months to get it to look as good as Lubuntu does on DAY ONE.

This whole idea that you are somehow cooler and more elite because you run something that takes more work and knowledge to run is a bit of a fallacy. You may be cooler, but I HAVE A LOT MORE FREE TIME! LOL. AND MY SYSTEM JUST WORKS! So who is smarter?

Ok. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I love Linux. And I run it because it’s fun. Not for bragging rights. I run a distro that is pretty easy to set up. That’s ok. Instead of taking months to get everything right, I have two systems up and running perfectly with all my software in less than 24 hours.

Here we go again

So, after installing CrunchBang… I started hanging out in the Debian chat channels. I figured that CrunchBang was based directly on Debian… so for all practical purposes, any advice or support for Debian would also pertain to CrunchBang.

But, when I mentioned CrunchBang in the #debian channel, I was told in no uncertain terms that CrunchBang != Debian. And they refused to even talk to me (in spite of the fact that I wasn’t actually seeking support).

So… that evening I wiped my two systems and installed Debian proper. They won’t support something “based” on Debian, so I’ll just run Debian itself and then I can avail myself of the community support.

After installing Debian, I was surprised to discover that the default Debian desktop environment is Gnome. I was totally expecting something more light-weight. A bit disappointing. Then I thought, hey… why can’t I just install a few additional desktop environments along side Gnome and play around? The oh-so-kind folks in the #debian channel assured me that would be a piece of cake.

And piece of cake it was. Up until the point where I checked out the available programs in the Gnome GUI and saw four different file managers, several image viewers, and duplicates of just about every type of program and utility that came pre-installed. You see, each desktop environment normally gets paired with different programs to fulfill particular functions. So I essentially ended up with three or four programs in each category that did essentially the same thing. Bogus!

I proceeded to wipe both systems (yet again). I reinstalled Debian on both, but this time I decided to stick to only one desktop environment. I chose Xfce for my desktop machine and LXDE for my laptop.

So they’re both installed and running perfectly. But holy cow, this is getting old. After all this screwing around I am actually considering going back to Ubuntu or a supported flavor of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the most popular. But when it comes to “mainstream”… Ubuntu is pretty much for newbies, while Fedora and Debian are the two heavy hitters for people who don’t need their hands held.

As good as CrunchBang was… I don’t really like the idea of running something that is “almost” Debian. Or something that is “based on” a mainstream distro… but comes without any real support from that originating distro’s community (think red-headed step-child).


Well, I installed CrunchBang Linux about nine days ago on both my machines and I am still absolutely loving it. Totally awesome.

I had some trouble getting identd (auth) working. Turns out my router was blocking ident requests. It’s not that uncommon I guess. I wanted to run an identd so that IRC would not hang for 30 seconds during logon. Plus I’d rather not have the little squiggly thing you get by your name when you don’t use identd that pretty much says (I’m too stoopid to know how to setup identd).

So… my wife (being the way cool wife that she is) ok’d an unplanned $60 expenditure for a new Netgear WNR3500Lv2 router. The selling point of this router is that it supports “open” third-party firmware like DD-WRT and Tomato. This firmware completely replaces the stock firmware (sort of like rooting your phone and installing a custom ROM). It’s like having a router on freaking steroids. Gives you all sorts of way cool features.

So, after installing a recent build of the Tomato firmware, boom… identd is all working and happy. Yay!

But now I have another problem. All of a sudden DALnet (the IRC network) is complaining about me running an “open proxy”. I don’t even know what an open proxy is. But I guess it’s a big security risk and they don’t want insecure machines on their network. So I’m effectively banned from their network until I can figure out what the problem is.

I’m not sure if that’s caused by my router or my web server (lighttpd). But it’s probably one or the other. I’ll have to do more research.


Several days ago I had recently installed Fedora 19 on my machines. There was really nothing wrong with Fedora that prompted me to make another change. But I was really considering giving Debian a try. I’ve run Debian before, many moons ago. It’s one of the oldest surviving Linux distributions and very well-respected for it’s stability.

Now there are a lot of distributions that are based on Debian. Not only that, but Ubuntu is based on Debian. And there are a ton of distributions based on Ubuntu. So Debian is sort of the granddaddy. I had downloaded several new ISOs. I had Debian, I had Arch Linux, and I had CrunchBang.

Decisions decisions. Arch Linux is a lot of work. Fun, but still… a lot of work. It’s almost like a “roll your own” kind of thing. Debian might also be a bit of work, because I’d have to choose all the packages I’d need. And then I’d have to make them all work together.

But CrunchBang was interesting. It is directly based on Debian and it features the Openbox window manager. The CrunchBang folks really only add two things… 1) they choose the various necessary components to go with Openbox so that it will give basic functionality that most people require… and 2) they provide a nice default configuration for said Openbox and components. The result is an extremely light-weight Linux system that is the minimalist’s dream.

Seriously, I’ve been running it for four or five days now and I am totally in love. I think my “distro-hopping” days are over. I have CrunchBang on both of my machines and it’s working flawlessly.

It did take a little work in some areas. But it wasn’t bad. I plugged in my Canon digital camera… and it wasn’t recognized. Most complete Linux desktop environments provide that functionality, but Openbox isn’t actually a “desktop environment”, it’s simply a window manager. That’s why it’s so nice that the CrunchBang folks put all the various pieces together. Once I tracked down the pieces necessary, I was able to talk to my Canon camera just fine.

The thing about most other distributions (or operating systems in general) is that right after installing them, I find myself needing to start uninstalling all the needless garbage they add to it. And often times removing all that junk is way harder than just picking a minimalist distribution and adding to it.

The *buntus are for wusses

Ok, part of the thing running Linux… is finding out what the cool kids run, and going with that. Right?

And when you’re doing it for fun, easier is not always best. I mean you want a bit of a challenge right? Then you think you’re really solving problems and such.

While it’s true what I said earlier… about not wanting to have to work so hard to get things working. It’s also true that I want to learn. Increasing my knowledge is definitely one of the main goals in running Linux.

I was recently following a discussion thread in the Xfce forums about which distribution was the favorite of the folks (who presumably all ran the Xfce desktop environment like I do). A number of people did prefer Xubuntu… because it just worked. But those are the folks that just didn’t want the hassle.

For people who know, and think the hassle is totally worth it… they seemed to prefer Debian, Arch Linux, and Fedora. I think Debian was the clear winner.

So all the *buntus are based on Debian. One guy says… if Debian is the father of all these distros, why not just run that? On a similar note, Fedora was the original heavy hitter (starting as Red Hat). And that development team has been and still is responsible for a lot of innovation and new technologies that are later adopted by the other distributions.

But in one aspect, Debian and Fedora are like night and day. Debian is well-known as the most conservative distro out there. In terms of… they don’t put something into the distro until they’ve tested it for like two years. While that means it’s rock-solid stable. It also means they make it pretty inconvenient to get recent versions of the various software components.

Fedora on the other hand, seems to be pretty well-known for being on the bleeding edge. A ZDNet article I referred to earlier indicated that Fedora was for people that really know Linux. As opposed to the *buntus or Mint which are oriented toward newcomers or people who don’t want to hassle with a larger learning curve.

So I figured I’d give Fedora another try. I installed it last night and it’s working just peachy. For now I’m running Xubuntu on my laptop and the Xfce spin of Fedora on my desktop machine.

But I think I’m going to want to play around with the network installer disc for Fedora. I used the live Xfce spin for my desktop installation. That gave me a pre-selected set of software designed for the Xfce desktop environment.

I think the network installer disc makes all the software available. It lets you chose each component and only choose those pieces you want. And it downloads all the pieces on the fly rather than having stale versions on a pre-built disc.

So I intend to give that a run. Maybe even tonight. We’ll see. I didn’t get much sleep last night.

Xfce “save session” option

I think the “save session” option on the logout screen in Xfce is dorky. So I found a way to remove it. Here are the steps:

sudo mkdir /etc/xdg/xfce4/kiosk

sudo vim /etc/xdg/xfce4/kiosk/kioskrc

Add these lines:
Done. You can also do this to clear out any previously-saved sessions:
rm -r ~/.cache/sessions/*

Weekend fun

Ha! I had some more Linux fun over the weekend. On Saturday I wiped my two machines and put Lubuntu on. Although Ubuntu was pretty smooth… it had a lot of “features” that I just didn’t want.

So I played with Lubuntu for the rest of the day. It’s big feature is that it’s light weight. It runs LXDE and has very little overhead when compared to other distributions. It is pretty plain. But, I’ve never viewed eye candy as being that important. I like functionality and efficiency. So that made LXDE pretty appealing.

After messing around most of the day I had things set up pretty well. That’s when I started thinking about Fedora. Not only are there different flavors of Ubuntu, there are also different “spins” of Fedora. And there is an LXDE version of Fedora. In theory it should be fairly similar to Lubuntu.

That’s when it occurred to me that there was no reason why my two machines needed to be running the same distribution. So I proceeded to wipe my laptop and put the LXDE spin of Fedora 19 on it. I figured that it would very similar to Lubuntu.

Well… it was similar but different. I would say that the installation program for Lubuntu (which is essentially the same as for Ubuntu) is better. But it was really no problem.

One of the primary differences between Fedora and the Ubuntu derivatives is that Ubuntu derivatives use the Debian package system and Fedora uses RPM (from the original Red Hat). Shortly after I installed Fedora I ran into an installation issue with the VirtualBox application. It makes use of custom kernel modules. This was no problem at all for Ubuntu and such. But in Fedora the installation process for VirtualBox errored out with some cryptic errors regarding kernel header source.

Come to find out… Fedora updates that I had run earlier updated the version of the kernel. But because I hadn’t rebooted, the installation process for VirtualBox was looking for the old version of the kernel source, causing the problem. Not a big deal. Once I rebooted, all went well. But it was an illustration of differences regarding ease of use.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that Fedora was a different beast. There are a number of things that I typically get working when I initially do a Linux installation. I’ve had a lot of practice doing them lately. And with Fedora many of those were more difficult to achieve than they should have been. Things that just should have worked didn’t. So because of that I decided against continuing on with Fedora.

In spite of the article I had read on ZDNet about Fedora being for people who “knew” Linux… I think I’d rather use a distribution that I don’t have to work so hard at. In the exploration of why things weren’t working properly, I ran across bug reports explaining that a number of these things were known issues. That didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth.

I also ran across threads in the developer’s forum that indicated discord among the team with regards to the direction Fedora will take into the future. Now I’m sure all open source projects experience that to a certain extent. But reading it did not give me a lot of confidence. With Ubuntu the deal is about their recent focus on mobile devices and touch screens. A case could be made that they are losing their focus and diverting their resources away from desktop Linux.

At any rate… I figured what the heck… and on Sunday morning I wiped both my systems and installed Xubuntu. This is also somewhat light weight flavor of Ubuntu like Lubuntu. But a little better in the departments of visual appeal and functionality. It uses the Xfce desktop environment.

The Xfce environment appears to be a bit more integrated than LXDE. More of a complete experience. So far I really like it. And I have both machines completely set up and purring.

I think Xubuntu is where I will stay for awhile. Time to relax and enjoy.

Linux is indeed fun

So, I’ve been playing with Ubuntu proper for the last few days. It certainly has polish. But I realized this morning that it was just too full of annoying crapware. I found myself inundated with “features” that I didn’t want. With no easy way to remove or disable them.

I’ve always believed that Linux is about having it your way. Being able to customize most of the facets of your operating system is the huge selling point (or would be if it cost money).

Along those lines… I wiped Ubuntu off my machines and put Lubuntu back on in about an hour this morning.

And as far as the fun part of Linux goes, it certainly is the customizability. But it’s also the freedom and convenience of being able to wipe the operating system and install a completely different flavor in less than an hour. All the while retaining my data, the user settings, and configuration for virtually all the software that I run.

In looking back at the last two weeks with all the installing, wiping, and installing again… to an outsider it might seem like a lot of hassle. But it was not nearly as bad as one might imagine. As a matter of fact… it was not difficult or inconvenient at all. And I learned a bunch by doing it. I don’t imagine that I’ll be doing full wipes and re-installs on a normal basis. But it certainly isn’t a big deal if I do get the whim.

With every iteration I get closer and closer to what I’m after. And I discover what it is I really am after a little more each time. When it comes to functionality… pretty much any of the setups I’ve had will do the job. So really it’s all just about having something to play with. There are much more expensive hobbies to have.