Inked Ubuntu style
Given how often I change distros, this really scares me.
Inked Ubuntu style
Given how often I change distros, this really scares me.
I’m Shawn Powers. I do several tech related jobs, but I’m probably
most publicly known as and editor/writer for Linux Journal. I also do tech videos for Linux Journal, and speak at conferences, etc. I’m also a Linux trainer for www.cbtnuggets.com, and I have a training series for LPIC-1 certification coming out there now. (Yes, I’m shameless, lol) Lastly, my “day job” is as Technology Director for a local school district here in northern Michigan.
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
Ubuntu, although the new Unity interface concerns me greatly. I’ve had long talks (and even a panel at Penguicon) with folks from Canonical about it. I’m hopeful it will get more stable and less restrictive as it matures, but right now I’m sticking with Ubuntu 10.10.
What software do you depend upon with this distribution?
Looking across the top of my screen (which you can do as well with the screenshot of my desktop), I see Firefox, Gnome Terminal, Pidgin, Skype, Twhirl, LibreOffice, gFTP, kdenlive, textroom, banshee, and pithos. I use them all pretty regularly, but find myself on the commandline or in textroom most often. Well, that and Firefox. I’m horribly addicted to information, so I’m generally browsing the web in the background of any activity.
There are a few “background” applications I couldn’t do without as well. Dropbox for instance. Without Dropbox keeping all my different computers and operating systems in sync file-wise, I’d likely go insane(er). I also have a server at home running backuppc, which keeps all my systems backed up. If you don’t have a recent, tested backup – GO DO ONE NOW! As someone who has lost thousands of family photos in the past, trust me.
What kind of hardware do you run it on?
It’s nothing fancy, really. My Linux machine is a several year old Lenovo tower. It has 4GB of RAM, and ‘cat /proc/cpuinfo’ tells me it’s an Intel Core2 Duo CPU @2.8GHz. I have an old ATI video card in there with a 23" monitor, and a recent addition; a Crucial RealSSD 128GB SSD. It makes my mediocre system blisteringly fast, and apart from RAM, it’s the best upgrade I’ve ever done on a desktop.
What is your ideal Linux setup?
Honestly, I find Linux works pretty well with any fairly recent computer system. I have a half dozen laptops, and they all seem to work quite well with whatever flavor of Linux I throw at them. If I had to pick an ideal Linux setup (especially if you’re offering to buy it for me!), it would currently be a Lenovo X120e laptop. It’s what I think a netbook should be. It has an 11.6" screen, decent resolution, full size keyboard, and enough battery life to compute without the constant concern of where the closest outlet is. Plus it’s about $400. I just wish I could convince my wife I needed one. 🙂
Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
The setup looks pretty similar on every desktop and laptop I use.
What a complete pile of absolute.. well you get the point. Ubuntu 11.04 is akin to Windows ME. If anyone reading this can hark back that far. It is a complete waste of time, and energy, which i would suggest has occurred because some members of the Linux community are just so unable to listen or…
I was just listening to Jono Bacon on the Linux Action Show and his defense of 11.04 seemed to be something along the lines of ‘we know it’s not great, but we needed to release it to improve it.’
On the one hand, he’s totally right. On the other, a lot of the Ubuntu userbase is upset and I’m not sure how many will come back for 12.04, which seems to be the target for Unity Done Right.
I’ve been following the conversations around Unity, the new front-end for Ubuntu 11.04.
Ubuntu is really trying to rethink the desktop concept, with an eye toward keyboard-free computing. It’s a bold step, so it’s bound to alienate some people.
I haven’t played with Unity yet, but I have to admit that I am curious. I love Xfce but it’s very much rooted in the “traditional” desktop paradigm. What I like about it, is that it’s very much menu driven, so I can do a lot of selecting, without a lot of clicking and mouse work. It’s almost more of a very powerful file manager than a desktop.
From what I can tell, Unity takes that model a step further. In a lot of ways, it seems like Canonical has crafted an iOS experience for the desktop.
But it’s made me appreciative of the thought Canonical puts into their products. Obviously, not everyone likes the direction they’re going in with GNOME and Unity, but in general, Canonical makes decisions based on what they think is best for the user.
Less and less users grew up with traditional desktops as their only means of computing. There are people who only use desktops for very specific purposes, like typing a paper. Or even just printing one. I actually once witnessed a student come into a computer lab, open up a word processor, and transcribe a paper off of her phone. I’m not sure why she didn’t email it to herself, but I was fascinated that she would compose a paper on a phone before moving to a desktop/laptop.
Canonical seems to be making an effort to make an OS that makes sense to those types of users.
But at the same time, Canonical seems very respectful of the users using the Canonical variants. I’ve been playing with Debian Testing and Mint Xfce and while both are good, neither feels as composed as Xubuntu. Xubuntu does more than just work. It creates a curated Xfce experience, with a lot of thought put into software selection. Debian is a little too hands-off in its software selection for Xfce, allowing the user to choose everthing himself. Mint is basically trying to cram GNOME into Xfce. Both OSs can be fixed by the user, but I like that Xubuntu doesn’t really need to be.
When we talk about Linux distros, we talk about stability and reliability and hardware integration. And those are all important things. But as those factors improve across distributions, user experience becomes more important. I can run any number of Xfce-based distributions and have similar reliability, but I’ll probably stick with Xubuntu because of their software selection. The maintainers think about how Xubuntu users might use the desktop manager and select programs to create a cohesive experience. Obviously, I could choose another distro and simply mimic the Xubuntu defaults, but why add in an extra step if it’s not necessary?
It’s safe to say that Linux now works easily in most (your mileage may vary) situations. So now, the next battle is creating distributions that create a certain kind of user experience. Unity is an attempt to do that. It’ll be interesting to see how non-Linux-inclined people respond to it.
A really neat thread on the benefits of Ubuntu versus Debian (I know Ubuntu is based on Debian. You know what I mean!).
With the end of the year rapidly approaching, I thought it’s as good a time as any to discuss why I switched to Xubuntu.
Like most Linux users, I tend to distro hop. I had an XP/Ubuntu dual-boot for years. When I finished grad school and didn’t need SAS and Stata anymore, and when I had some free time to troubleshoot issues, I moved to a 100% Fedora install and got rid of XP (there were brief flirtations with Kubuntu and OpenSuse that ended after less than a week).
Fedora never quite made sense to me and the wireless wasn’t great with my ThinkPad T43, so I switched to Arch, which was nice, but a lot of work to maintain. Eventually a GNOME update broke my system and rather than fixing it, I returned to Ubuntu (The great thing about Arch is you have full control of your system. The horrible thing about Arch is you have full control of your system).
Ubuntu was great and stable, and soooo much less work than Arch, but it never felt as snappy as I thought it should. GNOME Do, the application launcher I loved, seemed to be crashing a lot, and a huge part of my embrace of Linux revolved around the beauty of GNOME Do.
But in general, I often felt my system was lagging; like there was too much going on behind the scenes. Even with Compiz turned off.
I wanted something easy and convenient like Ubuntu, but simpler. I wanted programs to snap open. If I wanted pauses between actions, I could have stayed with XP.
I wound up playing with a VirtualBox version of Xubuntu and I liked it a lot. It was responsive. It was snappy. And while I could still use GNOME Do if I wanted to, the native Xfce application launcher was pretty great.
Xubuntu 10.04 was a long term stable release, so it seemed like great timing to switch from Ubuntu to Xubuntu, via a clean install.
I made the move back in August and I haven’t looked back. The power of the Ubuntu repositories and the simplicity of Xfce have been just what I wanted.
Of course, like any Linux users, I’m always thinking ahead to my next distribution. I’m sure I’ll stick with Xubuntu, but I’m very intrigued by Linux Mint Debian, which I run virtually at work. It’s pretty nice, but I mostly love that I never have to worry about version updates. With Ubuntu, you always have to decide whether you’re going to move to the next version, even with the long term stable releases. With Linux Mint Debian, it’s a rolling release, so you’re running bleeding edge updates that have been vetted and tested (for the most part).
That’s a very attractive feature, but GNOME still feels bloated and laggy to me. I suppose I could just remove all of the GNOME stuff and substitute the Xfce packages, but that feels like a lot of work. I could also just run Debian myself and use the Testing repository, but at the end of the day, I’ve just been very spoiled by the variety available in the Ubuntu repositories.
So for now, I’m committed to Xubuntu, even with it’s slight bit of Ubuntu bloat, but with an eye on a solid rolling distribution that has some kind of Xfce spin.
But if I had to stick with Xubuntu forever, I think I’d be pretty happy. It works well with my ThinkPad and it lets me do what I need to do without my needing to overthink things. The vast majority of things I need to do (type, print, surf and download music) all happen without my micromanaging the process.
A few months in, I’m still very happy I made the switch to Xubuntu. As a one-time compulsive distro hopper, that’s really saying something.
I updated the Xubuntu I run at work in a virtual box and noticed I now had Xfburn in addition to Brasero for burning discs.
When I got home, I immediately removed Brasero and installed Xfburn, and that, coupled with my move to the Xfce task manager, is about as close as I’ll come to updating to 10.10.
10.10 runs fine at work, but it doesn’t seem to bring much new and improved to the table, so I’d just as soon stick with the long term support version, which is set up just the way I like it.
I understand Ubuntu’s rapid development cycle and how it keeps people excited about the OS, but I think it sometimes backfires when there’s not a lot new between releases. Instead of getting excited, I wonder if development has plateaued. I wonder if releases are going out just for the sake of the development cycle and not for the sake of the user experience.
I can’t count the number of distro switches I’ve made because an update to a new version of a distro broke something. Rather than investing the time to fix it, most of the time it just seems easier to try a new Linux flavor.
When something changes every six months, you start to think of it as disposable, not permanent.
There’s got to be a middle ground between distros like Debian and Slackware, which have years between releases, and the more rapid release method of Ubuntu and Fedora. But without the bleeding-edge complications of something like Arch.
I suspect Linux Mint Debian might be that middle ground, but it’ll be at least a few months before we know how stable it is over time.
But ultimately, non of this really matters to me. Right now, I have an OS that works for me and will have support for the next few years. But I can’t help but wonder if more people would stick with a distro if the distros weren’t on such a rapid release schedule.
Maybe there’s such a thing as too much innovation.
In general, I love working with Xfce via Xubuntu.
It’s simple, everything makes sense, and everything just works.
But like most Linux afficionados, once I’ve got a distro set up just right, I start thinking about the next one.
Because I’m so in love with Xfce, I’ve been considering going to a distro that’s more Xfce pure, with less GNOME touches.
The best way to do that would be to use a minimal distribution that let you build up your OS from scratch. I was thinking in terms of Debian and Arch.
I’ve played with Arch before and the bleeding-edge thing always ended up killing me, so I was considering Debian running Xfce.
While I was thinking about this, it came to my attention (through Steven Rosenberg’s amazing blog) that Xubuntu allows you to run Xubuntu sessions or Xfce sessions.
The Xfce session option is more of a pure Xfce experience, without the Xubuntu bling.
It’s a subtle difference, but the Xubuntu icons do make for a nicer experience. It gives the desktop a more contemporary feel. And everything seems to be a bit more vivid in the Xubuntu environment.
It made me realize that despite my Ubuntu control issues, they really do bring a lot to the table.
On a semi-related note, I’ve been playing with the new Mint Debian in a virtual box and it’s made me appreciate the Ubuntu repositories. It seems like anything I want I can find in the Ubuntu repositories. That hasn’t been my experience with the Debian ones. For instance, they don’t have Chromium and I don’t have the energy or time to compile it from the source code.
So despite my reservations about Ubuntu, and how many decisions they make for me, at the same time, I do appreciate how much they enhance my OS.
I could probably accomplish most of what I do using Xfce as the desktop for a non-Ubuntu distribution, but it wouldn’t be as easy and it wouldn’t look as nice, so what would be the point?
I’m always happy to see Xfce get some attention, since I think a lot of people assume GNOME is the only option for desktop management. And the more cutting-edge Linux people seem to be interested in KDE.
Like I said earlier, though, it might be time to stop calling Xfce lightweight. While it can be lightweight, given what most people expect of their desktop experience, I think it’s no longer a given Xfce will be lightweight.
I know people running Xfce on Debian and Arch say it’s super fast, but I always wonder if things get bogged down as they add more GNOME-derived applications to perform more complex tasks.
It’s great to see Xfce getting some love, though. But I think we’ve reached the point where Xfce can be seen as an almost-equal to GNOME and KDE, rather than the sickly sibling that requires less contemporary hardware.
First of all, the Xfce experience gets more complete each development cycle. But also because it’s no longer a given Xfce will work well on less robust systems.
Xfce is just a nice desktop environment. Qualifying that statement only creates expectations that might not be met.
Christopher Tozzi has an interesting post about Xubuntu 10.10 trying to establish more of its own identity, including using less GNOME-centric applications, like the GNOME task manager.
The article is interesting, but Tozzi has a great comment in the comments section, though:
Sometimes I think Xubuntu might be better presented not as a lightweight version of Ubuntu, but merely as one with an alternative desktop environment which happens to be a little lighter on resource usage than Gnome but whose chief value is an alternative desktop experience, not its resource consumption.
I’ve never thought Xubuntu was fast enough to satisfy people who want a truly lightweight system, but I do find certain aspects of Xfce’s interface and way of doing things preferable to Gnome’s. If I switched to Xubuntu, it would be for the interface, not because it uses a bit less memory than Ubuntu.
It’s a great take on Xubuntu and one I agree with. Xubuntu isn’t especially light, but it is different. It’s a different desktop environment that I suspect a lot of people would prefer, were they to be exposed to it.
The beauty of Linux is that it gives the users so many choices. But it seems a lot of users aren’t aware of the level of choice that they have.
Xubuntu lets you run Ubuntu, and all of the convenience that includes, but with a different desktop environment. Not necessarily a better one, but a different one.
So I agree with Tozzi. Xubuntu is interesting not because it’s quicker but because Xfce is an interesting desktop environment.
Having said that, I’ve always liked that Xubuntu is kind of an afterthought within the Ubuntu world. I’m not sure I want Canonical paying a lot of attention, trying to craft an experience. I’d be happy if they just implemented more Xfce-native applications.