openSUSE Linux on a Dell Inspiron 3646 | Low Budget Multimedia Configuration for a Small Church

Churches generally have no budget for technology and frankly, I don’t think that a church should really avoid spending on technology as much as possible. I’m sure this isn’t a view many people share but it is my view. I believe it using whatever is available whenever possible and only making upgrades or purchasing new hardware when it is absolutely necessary.

There are several pieces of equipment in varying states of age and functionality. I haven’t sorted out everything, yet, and it is also not completely on my shoulders, as another tech and audio enthusiast in the church, Phil, has taken care of the audio equipment. It is all a work in progress.

My focus, for now, is to restore multimedia capabilities of the computer, Dell Inspiron 3646 and even improve it somewhat. Upon my initial assessment, I knew what my first steps were.

The Problems

Dell Inspiron 3646-04-System.jpgThe machine originally came equipped with Windows 10 which would annoyingly upgrade at the the most inopportune time and using it on under powered hardware is often problematic. The few times I spent any amount of time on the machine, it didn’t perform very well but it was working and I wasn’t really interested in thrusting the greatness of Linux on those not ready for it.

At some point in time, the system fell into disarray and I was recently asked to see what I could do to make the computer functional. Phil had already made the sound system functional enough to be used so it was my turn to make the computer functional.

Like it or not, sometimes your volunteers have things come up and just don’t make it in one day leaving the available workers short handed. Back in my days of childhood, multimedia meant slide show or overhead projector, but it’s hard to convinced a 20 something pastor that the right investment with no budget is a slide projector…

The Limitations

A budget of zero, or rather, whatever I am willing to dig up to make improvements. Since I had already been informed there is no budget for any upgrades or equipment, I was only going to do what was necessary to make the computer system as functional as possible. I already knew, with the power and capabilities of Linux, I could make substantial improvements very easily.

Here is the hardware I have to work with:

  • Dell Inspiron 3646
  • Intel Celeron CPU J1800 @ 2.41 GHz
  • 4GB RAM
  • Single Head Video Output
  • A bunch of other audio equipment with which to integrate

Preparing the Installation

I prepared a USB drive with openSUSE Leap 15.0. I downloaded the ISO from here and put the image on an ISO using SUSE Studio Imagewriter. Once the image completed writing, I inserted the drive into the Dell Inspiron 3646 and powered it up.

In order to access the BIOS, when the machine is going through the POST process and you are greeted with the Dell Logo, press F2. Since openSUSE is capable of handling secure boot without issue, I didn’t have to change anything. I just wanted to be sure that the BIOS was picking up the USB drive and I wanted to see the main screen so I could record the main bits of the hardware.

Dell Inspiron 3546-01-BIOS

I set this machine up with KDE Plasma because, is there really another choice? I mean, yes, of course there is but I didn’t want to have to fiddle with anything to get the features I wanted so my only real choice was of course going to be Plasma.

Since I like what I like when setting up the partitions, I did it manually to my preferences. I prefer the swap partition over the swap file and I am using BTRFS on root with snapshots enabled. BTRFS has been a rock solid performer in this capacity. I use XFS on /home. I was going to use Ext4 but the only reason for that would be for Dropbox compatibility and frankly, I just stopped using Dropbox due to their technical shortcomings.

Dell Inspiron 3546-02-partitions

After boot up, the system was all set. It required a few more software packages, firstly, the Plasma Browser Integration. In terminal:

sudo zypper install plasma-browser-integration

It actually may not be necessary to have to explicitly install this software package as the desktop it is supposed to automatically ask you if you want it installed.

Next I installed the Plasma Add-on for Firefox.

Plasma Integration Add-on

Finally, I installed all the Codecs and VLC into this machine using my multimedia codecs and VLC player instructions for Leap 15.0.

The last bit to configure was KDE Connect. Initially just with my Android phone, mostly for demonstration purposes. I also was presented with an opportunity to do a “live test” as well.

After some tests, it all worked just as expected and the machine performed much better than it did previously… exceptionally better… Not to belabor the point but before the machine was rather sluggish and I didn’t expect anything fantastic but this machine really does perform fantastically well.

Changes and Upgrades

This machine has only one VGA output and it was previously set up with a splitter cable that when plugged into both the monitor and the projector, the output would shut down. I don’t know if that is how it has been used or not but I determined it needed a proper splitter. I picked one up, hooked it up and I now have a unified output between the screen and projector.

VGA Splitter.jpg

I actually thought that this machine was going to require more memory to function well enough but it isn’t necessary at this time. This machine isn’t being taxed at all. KDE Plasma, even with all the fun I was running did not tax the machine at all.

How it’s working now

I am sure that there are a few more “bugs” to be worked out, mostly with the human to machine interaction. Mostly, I need to properly document the process of turning it on and off the system properly as well as how to pair Android phones or tablets to allow other workers to use the KDE Connect features. I have helped two people completely unfamiliar with KDE Connect, use it and it be impressed with it.

The feature that stood out the most was the ability to share a YouTube URL from the phone directly to the computer to have it open immediately and play. A feature I have enjoy for quite some time and have become quite accustomed was new and exciting to the unfamiliar. The multimedia controls, also quite handy and when I demonstrated the ability to use the phone to switch slides on LibreOffice Impress using only the volume keys, all well received

I still need to create some documentation to allow anyone to be able to use it without my direct intervention. For now, I am going to make myself available to help people become accustomed to this “new” system.

Future upgrades

Since some of the volunteers do Add a dedicated “burner” tablet so that volunteers don’t need to install KDE Connect on their phones. After I was reviewing some of my photographs, I noticed that there is an HDMI port on this computer. I am going to see about adapting that port to VGA and for multi head capability. The next upgrade would be a memory upgrade. 4 GiB of RAM, although good enough for now it would be nice to to have just a bit more. I haven’t opened the machine up but I am guessing there are at least 2 slots and one of them filled and the other is open. Of course, I need to check for certain before I start buying hardware.

Not directly related to this computer, there is a need to make further refinements to the attached sound system and determine what the issue is with the lighting control system.

Final Thoughts

The Dell Inspiron 3646 is a fine machine that, in my estimation has many years of service ahead of it. I have to say, once again, how amazing it is how much more efficient Linux is than Windows on less capable machine. The  computer’s functionality would greatly improved with a second display.

The sound system to which it is connected and the lighting controller are going to need a bit more attention. I am not sure exactly where to start or if I should even be the one to touch it. There is an annoying 60 Hz hum that needs to be eliminated. Then there is the matter with the lighting controller. Currently, it does nothing, no lights work. I am not sure yet where the breakdown is but I will figure it out eventually.

This is only the first in many steps to slowly making the information system situation in the church better. This is not the “main effort” in the church which is perfect for me. No budget, no attention and no one else that interest in finding solutions.

External Links

openSUSE Leap Download

http://philoangelo.blogspot.com/

https://software.opensuse.org/package/imagewriter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power-on_self-test

Multimedia Codecs Terminal

 

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MX Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

MX Linux review titleMX Linux is a distribution I have heard many good things about for several months. It even ranks high on the arbitrary DistroWatch.com site (3rd as of late December 2018). Having had a fantastic experience with BunsenLabs Linux on old hardware, I wanted to give MX Linux a spin. The latest version, MX-18 has been released and can be downloaded from here. I downloaded both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions to see how they would perform on older hardware. I am a die-hard openSUSE fan and I was also curious to see how using MX compares to openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. Additionally, it was also presented as a challenge from the BigDaddyLinux community.

So it is well understood, this is a biased review from an openSUSE Tumbleweed user. I prefer the KDE Plasma Desktop Environment as I believe it to be superior to anything else I have ever used. I will be looking at MX Linux from this perspective but I will be fair.

Installation

The MX Linux installer, although not the simplest installer I’ve ever used, is easy to navigate. The MX installer is straight forward and in my opinion easy enough for a new-to-Linux user to set up and get going with it.

From the initial machine startup, you are greeted with a pretty typical boot screen.

MX Linux-01-Live Media Start.png

The only aspect of this I wish could change would be the option to directly install MX Linux to the drive instead of going through the Live Media portion. It should be noted, that MX boots pretty quickly, I didn’t time it but even when installing it on old 32-bit hardware, it was surprisingly fast.

The welcome window, the MX-18 Continuum, is a real nice touch. For a new user or one that is getting acquainted with a new environment, this is absolutely fantastic. I would describe this like a landing page to get you access to the important bits of the system or information. Importantly, the codecs installer as well as the Tweaks cab be accessed from here. More on the Tweaks later. Should you close this window and not be able to find it, just type “MX” in the menu search to see all the MX tools.

MX Linux-02-MX Welcome.png

The installation of MX is a pleasant experience and to kick it off, the terms of service can be read in its entirety and in just a few seconds. I selected to auto-install using the entire disk. I am a one distro for one machine kind of guy so this is the way I like to roll. You will be asked for confirmation of the disk changes before it installed, so no need to worry about the installer doing anything without your explicit permission.

The machine then installs the operating system to your machine and while doing so gives you a series of “commercials” for the various features of MX. The feature I am particularly fascinated by is the ability to “repair your system”. I haven’t had a need for this in a long while but next time I should have a problem with a system, I intend on giving the MX repair tool a spin.

Upon the completion of the install, you will be asked your boot method. I have tended to go with the MBR on my legacy systems. Then you will enter your computer’s name, domain and Samba workgroup for Microsoft Windows style networking.

You’ll next set your localization defaults and your user name, password and root password. I didn’t see an option to add additional users but that is not a common feature I have seen from installers.

A really neat feature is the ability to save your changes to the desktop you made, presumably to the new user account you created. I didn’t test this feature but it sounds like a great idea and if you have been tweaking your system on the Live Media, it just might be very handy to pass those changes to your machine install.

MX Linux, like all distributions, will ask for your support in your time and talents. If you plan on spending time here, I would encourage you to do so. Once you hit finish, you are given another dialog box telling you that the installation is complete and whether or not you want to reboot immediately.

That’s it, nothing terribly complex, the installer walks you through step-by-step in a very clear and understandable method. One thing that I found it different, but not in a bad way, that the developers have chosen to install the system before you configure the user, computer name, domain and workgroup. I don’t see anything wrong with it, I just found it different.

Before the system reboots, you are instructed to remove the “disc” from the system. It gave me a moment of pause to think that I haven’t actually used optical media to install anything in quite sometime. Perhaps this should be reworded to be “Live Media” or “USB Drive” since that is probably more common these days.

MX Linux-13-Remove Live Media

First Run

The first thing I did when the system settled was to install updates. This distribution, too, requires you to enter root’s password. I am beginning to think that it is more common than not to require root password to do upgrades. I can’t help but to compare this to openSUSE Leap where it is not required to enter a password too do upgrades it is just click and go (Distribution upgrades are a different matter).

MX Linux-14-Upgrade.png

One area I will give high points with MX are the configuration tools. I do prefer KDE Plasma as my default desktop, being that it is very configurable, MX takes XFCE and give it almost as many customization options.

The MX Dark theme is pretty fantastic and, in my humble opinion should be the default theme. It just looks terrific and is very pleasant on the eyes.

Initially, the customization, for me, fell apart a bit when it comes to panel positioning. I am not a fan of the side or top positions for the panel. I’ll take the side before the top but I would really prefer it to be on the bottom. I don’t like ANYTHING at the top of the screen. I personally dislike the global menu or anything of that nature lingering on the top of the screen. This particular requirement is especially important for the way I have my multiple displays arranged. It only makes sense for me to have my Panel on the bottom of the screen. Anything else would just look goofy and be cumbersome.

Thanks to the developer, Dolphin Oracle, he informed on how to move the panel to wherever I wanted. Under Tweaks there is a panel tab. My failure was that I clicked on a panel button. In that panel tab, you can adjust exactly where you want that panel to live.

MX Linux-24-Panel Tweak

The package manager is fantastic. It is simple and straight forward with no weird bits about it. I like that there is a Flatpak Tab where you could search for applications that are not in the regular repositories. I was able to install Telegram and Discord without issue.

Another great feature of the package manager is how verbose it is. It shows you exactly what is going on. I much prefer that to a bar going across the screen like some kind of dummy light.

I have not a single complaint about the package manager. It has some great usability features that I appreciate and exposes what is going on behind the shiny GUI to the user.

What I Like

Dell Optiplex GX620.jpgThere is a lot to like about MX-18. I installed MX18 32-bit on an old piece of hardware and I was VERY impressed by how it operated. I could very happily watch YouTube videos and Netflix was ALMOST watchable, all this on Firefox. For the time being, I have decided that I am going to leave MX on this old Optiplex GX620. I want to do more comparisons between MX and BunsenLabs on two different older machines.

MX looks great, especially with the MX Dark Theme with Breeze Icons (available by default). The menu, although, not able to be placed in the correct spot, looks good and is very usable. It has a system tray and the virtual desktop switcher (pager) works as one would expect.

The package manager works very well and is very straight forward. I like how the tabs are laid out so that you can choose where you are getting your software. This is very opposite to the approach you would see on many other distributions. I don’t know that this is better or worse but I can say that it is an approach I can appreciate.

Finally, I especially appreciate how little memory MX uses. When watching Netflix, with a paused YouTube video still used less than 1 GiB of RAM which seemed delightfully low. It should also be noted that even after running MX for a few days, there was no evidence of any kind of memory leaking or creeping.

What I Don’t Like

What I don’t like is a short list. For starters, there isn’t an option to go right into the system installation. You are forced to go into a live media mode and install after that initial boot. If I were to only be deploying this to one machine, this is not a big deal but any kind of large scale deployments would make this less enjoyable.

With as many customization options that exist in MX, I didn’t immediately see where the pick was to put the panel at the bottom of the screen. I am not sure that there is exactly a fix for that as it was more of a PEBKAC issue (Problem Exists Between the Keyboard And Chair). Any of the customization issues that do exist for me is likely an issue that would clear itself up with more time using.

It doesn’t use Zypper… I know, this is a Debian based distro, so of course it doesn’t use Zypper by default, I just happen to like Zypper better and I wanted a third thing I didn’t like about MX. Remember, I said I was biased.

Final Thoughts

MX Linux is a great distribution. Weather you have older hardware or the latest and greatest, MX will likely be a good fit. It does lack some features of which I am accustomed but if I was without my beloved openSUSE + KDE Plasma, MX could fill that space quite nicely. Where I do see me using MX is on older 32 bit hardware as it does run very well, it’s reliable and breaths new life into what should be long-retired hardware. This can take past end of life hardware chugging along quite nicely with a modern Linux kernel. When I weigh this distribution against BunsenLabs Linux, I would lean a bit heavier to MX over BunsenLabs, mostly based on the the MX configuration tools. As far as performance goes, MX and BunsenLabs seem to be on par with one another.

At the end of the day, I would not swap MX with openSUSE Tumbleweed + KDE Plasma. As nice as MX is and as much as I have enjoyed using it, I just happen to enjoy openSUSE a bit more. It should be noted once again. I am heavily, heavily biased in my evaluation but that doesn’t mean that MX is, in any way a distribution you should just pass by. Even if you are content with where you are, MX is worth a spin.

Further Reading

https://mxlinux.org/

https://www.bigdaddylinux.com/

https://distrowatch.com/

MX-18, What’s New Video on YouTube

BunsenLabs Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

Get openSUSE

Just a Christmas Day Blathering | Linux Makes it Better

CubicleNate-Christmas-2018-2Christmastime is my favorite time of the year but I am not so much a fan of the cold and the darkness. Regardless, I love all that Christmas is supposed to be about along with some of the trappings of the pop culture effect on Christmas. Growing up, much of the Christmas time celebration with family didn’t take place until just after December 25th. I enjoyed the old-world twelve days of Christmas style of celebrating Christmas time. Starting December 1st we would celebrate Advent but would generally put the tree up on or near Christmas Eve. The First day of Christmas was understood as December 25th and we would keep our tree up through at least to Epiphany. Today, it seems like Christmas starts November 1st, if department stores merchandising has anything to say about it. I realize that this early debut of Christmas irritates many but I don’t mind at all. For me, when I stop passing out Halloween candy at 8pm, I turn on the Christmas music and begin that transition. It is what makes the cold, dark days of the winter so much more bearable.

There are some downsides to this time of year, the elevated levels of hustle and bustle which makes it easy in which to get lost in the chaos. Keeping everything straight and on the right course is a continual challenge. This is where Linux makes the holiday season much better, more efficient. It is kind of like a life-hack that makes doing more possible. Beyond the obvious like tracking everything in a calendar, there are other tools Linux makes easily available. Life gets real busy this time of year, and without the right tools it is real easy forego the activities for which you look most forward, the things you enjoy, like put up Christmas lights.

Christmas Lights-2018-01.jpg
They are all LED lights… except for that wreath.

Every year, I make it a point to add to my Christmas movie collection. You can’t have Christmas without the seasonally appropriate movies. I’ll pick up a DVD or two and use Handbrake to create a digital copy and use VLC to play them back throughout the Christmas season.

Another great thing about Christmastime is the baked goods. There are a number of things I like to bake, cookies, pies, pumpkin rolls… I do it as often as I can for school, church and family functions. Keeping it all straight and accessible is easy, thanks to software like Gnome-Recipes.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-09-Gnome Recipes

Sure, you can use books, papers and sticky notes to save your recipes but utilizing technology makes it so much more efficient. Thanks to the power and efficiency of openSUSE Linux, I am able to keep my recipes at the ready on my Kitchen Command Center.

Christmas-Cookies-2018-01.jpg

I am not a fan of the cold, but I do enjoy Christmastime very much. The dark and cold of Southwestern Michigan is much more bearable when you have a joys of family, delicious food and the lights of Christmastime. All the more reason to extend the season to the right and left of December 25th.

The way I see it, today is the first day of the twelve days of Christmas, but maybe the next eleven days think about some way you can spread some Christmas kindness to the people around you. Just because the presents have been exchanged and the terrestrial radio stations stopped playing the Christmas classics doesn’t mean the season is over. There is nothing stopping you from giving the gift of Linux… The hustle of the season is over, take a little time to genuinely share some Christmas kindness with those around you.

Further Reading

https://software.opensuse.org/package/handbrake

Gnome Recipes on openSUSE Tumbleweed

openSUSE Tumbleweed on Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop

BunsenLabs Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

BunsenLabs review title

Until last Saturday (15 Dec 2018), I hadn’t heard of the BunsenLabs Linux distribution. Immediately, I like the name as makes me think of one of my favorite Muppets. I was immediately intrigued by this distribution for the system requirements. RAM minimum is 256 MiB with 1 GiB recommended. Storage requirement is only 10 GiB. It is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. (see here)

BunsenLabs is based on Debian Stretch and has a fantastic post-install custom configuration script that made quick work of setting up the desktop.

This is a biased review from an openSUSE Tumbleweed user running the KDE Plasma Desktop Environment. I am very happy with openSUSE and Plasma and this is not a review to consider switching my primary machines but rather just see what else is out there and have fun playing in unfamiliar territories.

Installation

BusnenLabs has a fine installer that reminds me of my early days on Linux. Not sure if it is the font or the color scheme or just everything together, the installer brought a smile to my face. It’s very easy to understand what is going on and you do not have to be an expert to set it up. I do think that it could be a little overwhelming to the technically adverse but with just basic system knowledge, this is a breeze to install.

BunsenLabs-02-Grub

I was initially very happy to see that I could skip the Live version and go right into the Installation. Not having that option is really quite annoying.

The first three pages is all all very easy questions, what language, what country and what kind of keyboard. Afterward it loads more installer components.

It should be noted, you must be connected to the internet for the installer to succeed. More on that later.

The next two screen ask you to enter the machine name and domain. It probably could have been combined onto one page but this isn’t a bad design choice. It’s perfectly clear and allows for the user to not be overwhelmed.

Next you will enter your username and password (some screenshots omitted) then your timezone.

To this point, all the questions have been non-technical, in nature, very simple and straight forward. Now the installer gets a bit more involved: The partitioning of the disks.

This is the only area of the installer that I think could get complicated for the user. It took a bit for me to understand as it felt a little cumbersome but ultimately, it does its job very well. I selected the guided partitioning and perhaps there is an even easier way.

Next, select the drive (in the case of this VM, there was only one option) then how you want the layout of the drive to be. I think doing anything other than a separate /home partition on an installation a bit silly.

If you are forced to “nuke and pave” your installation of Linux with either a new distribution or a new version, not having a separate partition means you are going to go through the process of copying your data back onto the computer.

The installer gives a real nice readout of how the drive is going to be set up and gives you a chance to change your mind.

After setting the location of the Grub Boot loader, your installation is complete.

First Run

BunsenLabs boots pretty quick, which is actually pretty typical of Linux distributions today. The login screen pops up pretty quick with a pleasantly offset login dialog box.

BunsenLabs-19-Login Screen

The Desktop Environment starts up quick, mostly because there is not much there and you are greeted with this terminal Welcome Screen. This is the first welcome screen I have seen with a terminal which gives this distribution a whole lot of bonus points.

BunsenLabs-20-Post Install

This 15 page post-install script makes installing all the extras and backports, Java and Flashplayer if you wish super easy. Once done, I was able to use YouTube and other Flashplayer sites like homestarrunner.com.

Interface

I don’t know that I am such a fan of the OpenBox interface. It does its job. The theme is okay but it doesn’t really excite me. It appears to be incredibly stable, despite this environment feeling like it is a patchwork of components.

BunsenLabs-22-Applications Menu

The only things I am not real crazy about are the way you access the application menu. The only option I see is the Super Key (Meta Key, Windows Key, etc). The menu style is actually what I like, for the most part. Applications arranged in categories based on what it is, not just a mess of applications akin to what you see on Android and iOS, so huge points there. This menu is better than most “modern” menus.

BunsenLabs-23-Application Menu 2

Accessing the application menu is fine for computers with keyboards but those that are touch screen, probably not a good setup. However, I do not think that this Linux distribution is targeting that kind of hardware. Which got me thinking.

Second and Third Installation

I have some 10 to 15 year old Dell Optiplex desktops that I wanted to see how well BunsenLabs Linux would work. I started with this Dell Optiplex 745, Core 2 Duo machine. It has 4 GiB of RAM and an 80 GiB hard drive. The installation of BunsenLabs was fantastic. One note of caution, should you install BunsenLabs, unless I missed something, it will require a working network connection. I had to start the installation over to provide network connection this time. It completed without issue. Following the post-installation, of BunsenLabs, I was blown away by how well the system ran. I can’t stress to you enough how fast it was. I opened up Firefox and hopped into YouTube and it played movies without any problems at all. It is quite smooth at 720p in full screen mode (I didn’t have a full HD screen).  I tried a few other things, kept a terminal open to run free -h to see how memory usage was and I had a lot of wiggle room.

Dell Optiplex GX620-3So then I thought… could BunsenLabs, with a modern Linux Kernal run well on a Pentium 4 HT machine? I pulled out of my stash a Dell Optiplex GX620, 2.5 GiB of RAM, and an AMD X600 series GPU. The installation and post-installation when just as smooth. I ran the same kind of test, wondering, can I do YouTube on this. The answer is a resounding YES, albeit at 480p to not get the annoying skipping. To me, this was impressive. A machine released in 2005 is still capable of being a decently functional machine. Certainly not great but not exactly obsolete.

I was very impressed with what BunsenLabs could do with this substantially dated hardware. It makes me think about the possibilities.

What I Like

I like so much about BunsenLabs. It is a fine distribution of Linux that harnesses the vast array of software from the Debian project and makes installation friendly for pretty much any user. Sure, the are a few things that are not my favorite but certainly not impossible to navigate. Giving the option to install from the Grub menu was a huge win for me.

BunsenLabs is fast and efficient. It appears to be tailor made for aging hardware and really makes what could be thought of as junk to being a really pretty terrific piece of equipment. Immediately, I can think of many uses for these old computers just because of what BunsenLabs provides so easily.

What I Don’t Like

Sigh… I am just not a fan of the OpenBox + XFCE that BunsenLabs uses. Don’t get me wrong, it is not bad but I just couldn’t use it full time. I think it would work great for specific use cases, appliance or kiosk type work but for me and my desired workflow, it just doesn’t meet the mark. It is not bad and probably great for a great number of people but misses a few features that I just don’t want to do without.

Final Thoughts

BunsenLabs Linux is a fantastic project that really needs a little more love from the community. It is not given the credit it deserves. I am thinking of many applications for BunsenLabs now. It is based on Debian, which isn’t my favorite base but because it is Debian, I have access to pretty much any software that I want. I don’t have many requirements, especially for these older machines but his opens up a whole world of capabilities for this hardware that is well past end of life. More to follow on what I do with these derelict machines on another date.

Further Reading

https://www.bunsenlabs.org/

Homestarrunner.com

Minitube a YouTube Application on openSUSE

Minitube on openSUSE-sm.png

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this handy little application but it’s great. It is used for watching YouTube videos without the bloat of a browser or having to log into Google for subscriptions. There is a lot to like about this application as it provides, in many ways, a better YouTube experience. As of recent, it seems like YouTube is getting more bloated with features you don’t need and is getting increasingly irritating to use. There is a drawback, I do want to “like” and occasionally comment on videos to which you cannot do with Minitube but at least you are giving the content creators another “view”.

Installation

When visiting the Minitube home page that there is a Windows, Mac and Ubuntu version available, there isn’t a listed option for openSUSE, not even mentioned but that is not a problem. Some fantastic member of the openSUSE community has taken care of it for you and it is in the official repository for both Leap and Tumbleweed. The easiest method of installation is to utilize the one-click installation method here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/minitube

Alternatively, you can jump into a nice cozy terminal and fire this off:

sudo zypper install minitube

Once installed, it shows up in the menu under the “Multimedia” section.

Features

When you start it up, you are greeted with a simple screen where you can search for your desired video. It is just that easy.

Minitube-01-Search

Alternatively, you can browse for content based on topic of which they have listed 11 topics to choose: Most Popular, Film & Animation, Autos & Vehicles, Music, Pets & Animals, Sports, Gaming, Comedy, Entertainment, How to & Style and Science & Technology.

Minitube-02-Browse

Once you have subscribed to a channel, that is stored locally only and you can review those subscriptions in the Subscriptions “tab”. There you can watch what is new on that particular channel. Alternatively, you can select “All Videos” or “Unwatched Videos.”

Minitube-03-Subscriptions

A nice feature here is that, if you select All Videos or Unwatched Videos, it will make a kind of playlist intermixing the different channels, sorted by newest to oldest allowing you to just let it run if you so choose.

Minitube-05-Playing Subscriptions

Should you want to subscribe to a particular channel, there is a small bookmark looking icon next to the channel name. The icon is a bit counter-intuitive as it shows the bookmark with a red “X” when you have subscribed.

Minitube-04-BDLL

A fantastic feature, that is great if you have kids, is a “Restricted Mode” which hides videos that may contain inappropriate content. I don’t know how effective the filter is but even if it is partially successful, I would at least call that partially a success.

What I Like

This client is fast and efficient. It doesn’t have all the irritating lagging of using YouTube in a browser. Although that can be fixed in Firefox so that it doesn’t lag as much, this is still much faster. I like the way it handles subscriptions, does not require signing into Google, does protect users at least somewhat with a restricted mode.

If you watch something and want to go to the YouTube page to comment, like or look at the description, it is as easy as a right-click and “Open In Browser” or Ctrl+B.

I like how it turns your subscriptions into a playlist automatically. This is handy if you have a bunch of videos to catch up on and you have to knock out a few baskets of laundry in the living room.

What I Don’t Like

There are a few bugs. Very often, stopping the video will only stop it momentarily and it will continue when you are on another tab of the player. The navigation of the application is a bit clunky. When watching a video, there isn’t an obvious way to navigate around back to your subscriptions page or to the Browse page.

Just as much as it is a positive that this doesn’t talk to your Google account, I also think that it is somewhat unfortunate that it doesn’t connect somewhere so that you can keep track of what you have watch across machines. Perhaps a future feature but there are times I start a video in my “SuperCubicle” and move on to the Kitchen or the Living room computers. It would be nice to be able to keep them all synchronized. The work around for that is to check the timer to see how far you are in the video. Just a thought, but this could possibly be done with a simple config file that stores information about the last video watched that could be synchronized between machines using Syncthing.

Final Thoughts

I have been using Minitube on and off and there is a lot to like about it. First and foremost, it is efficient, uses only about 233 MiB of RAM to run the application and play a video so it is certainly lighter than running YouTube in a browser. There are also a few nitnoid issues with it but I am certain those will smooth out over time.

I highly encourage you to try Minitube to see if this is something that would make sense for you. It is a visually nice interface, very responsive and pretty straight forward to use. It does give you the option to jump into a browser to watch the video so there really is nothing lost in using this over exclusively using the browser. Personally, I do see this as a fine piece of software that I am thankful to have.

Further Reading

Minitube Home

https://software.opensuse.org/package/minitube

YouTube Classic Extension on Firefox

Syncthing on openSUSE

Solus | Review from an openSUSE User

Solus review title

I have been trying other Linux distributions as of late, not due to any dissatisfaction of openSUSE, quite the contrary, I haven’t been more satisfied with openSUSE. The fun of Linux is the variety of expression in solving similar user problems. Solus is a distribution that does pretty much everything its own way. I don’t know all the technical details but I do know that it has its own package management system and strict guidelines that claims to be more efficient than other Linux distributions. This is my very biased review of Solus.

Installation

I prefer to test out distributions in a Virtual Machine (VM). I will agree that you can’t get the FULL experience with a VM but you can at least make some of the evaluations and determine if you are willing to commit at a greater scale to the operating system.

I downloaded Solus from here. I prefer to download using torrents instead of direct in an effort to relieve the Solus server of my traffic and seed the network for a while. The download is a modest 1.4 GiB size ISO. At the time of writing, I installed version 3.999. Also note, I downloaded the torrent as to not tax their servers and as a very tiny way of giving back, I leave the torrent going on my machine until I hit a ratio of 1.

I set up the VM for Solus, started the installation process. This ISO is a live cd which gives me the desktop, I suppose as a preview, and the option to Install the operating system.

Solus-01-Live CD

The installer walks you through the process very nicely. I have no complaints about the installer.

You start out by setting your language and give the installer an opportunity to detect your location, which worked perfectly for me.

Next you choose your keyboard and your timezone. I do feel like that is an extra step as they could have bundled that in sooner but really, that is just a nitpick. Not a complaint.

The disk options are very straight forward as well. Just have to answer how you want to install Solus. In this case, I am erasing the disk entirely. Then determine if you want any additional disk options. I chose none.

The configuration of the Hostname and bootloader then your users is very straight forward. It should be noted, that you must use all lowercase for your hostname in Solus. I have used mix cases on openSUSE for years which I like to camel case some hostnames. Logging in has never been a problem as I haven’t had any case sensitivity issues ever bite me.

Confirm the users then proceed to install the operating system. You are prompted to make sure that you are absolutely certain you want to commit to the install. The installer was pretty swift. I failed to take a screen shot of the process so nothing to show there.

Solus-13-Complete

The reward to your efforts, you are given a happy “Installation Complete” message and an option to restart now.

First Run

Unfortunately, the first run was not a success at all. I even attempted to reinstall Solus in the VM and again on another VM with tweaked settings. I was still not able to get Solus working in a VM.

Solus-15-Install booted on VM

I was unsuccessful in correcting this so I decided to install Solus on my aging Aspire One Netbook.

Solus-17-Install on AspireOne

It installed and worked fantastically well on this machine. It did hurt a bit to install over openSUSE Tumbleweed but I hadn’t been using this machine much since I fixed my Lenovo ideapad.

Solus-18-Disks

Once the machine booted up. I checked for updates and there were plenty. Like many distributions, you are prompted for a password to do updates. Not as much of a fan of this but it seems to be quite common.

Solus-19-Updates

The odd thing with the updates is, when I completed the first round of updates, there were more updates but I couldn’t do the next round of updates because the system would no longer accept my password. I rebooted the machine, which was really quite fast, and I was able to use my credentials once again to complete the updates. Upon completion of those updates there were more updates and again the system would not accept my credentials. A second reboot, completed a third round of updates and this time there were no further updates. I proceeded to install Telegram. I appreciated seeing it readily available for installation.

Solus-22-Install Telegram.jpg

I was, however, not able to install it because once again, the system would not accept my credentials, so I had to do a third reboot to install Telegram. I found this a bit aggravating but to be fair this is release 3.999 so I am sure they are still working out some of the issues. Like all Linux distributions, they are a continual work in progress.

What I Like

The installer looks great and is easy to use. I see no stumbling there for a new user. The software installer is also intuitive. The search feature works well and I found what I wanted in the repository. I find this to be pretty typical of most distributions so no surprise there.

Solus has a very pleasant desktop that is clean and modern looking. It has a kind of minimalist feel to it, almost serene by comparison to how I keep my KDE Plasma Desktop. Notifications applets side panel is also a very clean and intuitive layout. Compared to Deepin, I would say I like this approach better. Although, in comparison to the KDE Plasma Status & Notification, I still prefer how Plasma presents the information.

I do appreciate the default menu in Solus. It has the menu structure and favorites or common applications adjacent one another. The search is at the top of the menu so finding what you want is efficient.

Solus-21-Menu

The default theme is great, albeit too light for my liking. The new icons are well done, very modern and visually appealing. The task bar is the right color, dark. It has a task bar and a system tray which are important features in any desktop.

The most important feature is the boot time. Solus boots fast, it was especially crazy fast on an 8 year old netbook. I am not sure what special sauce the Solus Team uses to make this possible but this is fantastic.

What I Don’t Like

Something that I found odd about Solus was this mishmash of dialog box theming, some translucent dark, others are opaque white. I haven’t determined why exactly but after finding the switch to the dark theme, I didn’t see this as an issue. Also note, I didn’t initially see any obvious way to customize the theme initially. Thanks to some help from those on the BDLL Telegram chat, they directed me to how to switch the appearance through the right-side notification panel.

I wasn’t able to install Solus in Virtual Box, which is very annoying. I have been able to in previous versions of Solus, of which I have done testing in the past. This is a rather important feature, for me.

Solus is really focused on being a desktop distribution. it doesn’t seem like it is as well suited for server applications. Although, since Snap packages are supported in Solus, I don’t see why Solus couldn’t be used to run Nextcloud or some other service.

Final Thoughts

Solus is and has been a fantastic distribution. If I were to be without openSUSE for some reason, Solus would be a top contender based largely on the speed, efficiency and generally well tuned nature of the distribution. Although I didn’t test KDE Plasma, I have heard great things about it and if I were to give Solus another spin, I would certainly go there next.

Just a note, I did notice that Solus with Budgie uses more system resources than openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. Solus with Budgie uses 446 MiB with a vanilla system vs openSUSE at 382 MiB. I imagine it is due to the dependencies that Budgie has on Gnome.

As nice as Solus is with all it’s incredibly fine tuned engineering and strict packaging guidelines that feeds into its efficiency, I find it a bit too… strict. This model is likely fine for most but I don’t feel like it is mine. The more open model of openSUSE just feels like a better fit for me.

Further Reading

Solus Home

Install Snaps on Solus

Lenovo ideapad 110S Repair | UEFI Partition Currupted

bigdaddylinux.com

ltunify | Tool for working with Logitech Unifying receivers and devices on openSUSE

I recently became increasingly annoyed using the Touchpad portion of this wireless keyboard. Touchpads just are not as efficient as a real mouse. The touchpad is fine for very simple navigation but for doing anything that requires much traversing around the screen combined with much left and right-mouse button clicking is almost unusable. Maybe if this keyboard had real left and right mouse buttons, this wouldn’t be so bad.

Microsoft Wireless Keyboard Touchpad.jpg

I happened to have an orphaned Logitech receiver doing nothing in one of my many drawers of horded electronics. All I needed was a mouse to pair up with it. Since this one is one of those Logitech Unifying Receivers, all I needed was a Logitech mouse that was compatible with it. I went to my favorite place to buy used electronics, eBay, to get the cheapest thing I could find. I came upon a Logitech M185 Wireless Mouse which I ended up winning for $3.00, so a great deal.

Logitech Unifying Receiver and M185 Mouse.jpg

Next, I had to pair this newly acquired mouse with my Unifying Receiver. To do so, I needed to install the Ltunify application.

Installation

Like nearly everything on openSUSE, installing software through the official, experimental or community repositories is easy to do. The easiest method is using the one-click installation from here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/ltunify

Or if you prefer the terminal, which I happen to, you will have to add a repository then install the application.

Repository for Tumbleweed

sudo zypper ar http://download.opensuse.org/repositories/hardware/openSUSE_Tumbleweed/ Hardware

Repository for Leap 15.0

sudo zypper ar http://download.opensuse.org/repositories/hardware/openSUSE_Leap_15.0/ Hardware

Refresh all repositories

sudo zypper ref

Install the application

sudo zypper in ltunify

Application Usage

Once the application is installed, I just typed ltunify -h in the terminal to see the help and gain some understanding on how to use this.

# ltunify -h
Usage: ltunify [options] cmd [cmd options]
Logitech Unifying tool version
Copyright (C) 2013 Peter Wu <lekensteyn@gmail.com>

Generic options:
-d, –device path Bypass detection, specify custom hidraw device.
-D Print debugging information
-h, –help Show this help message

Commands:
list – show all paired devices
pair [timeout] – Try to pair within “timeout” seconds (1 to 255,
default 0 which is an alias for 30s)
unpair idx – Unpair device
info idx – Show more detailed information for a device
receiver-info – Show information about the receiver
In the above lines, “idx” refers to the device number shown in the
first column of the list command (between 1 and 6). Alternatively, you
can use the following names (case-insensitive):
Keyboard Mouse Numpad Presenter Trackball Touchpad

From here I could see that this was going to be super simple. As root, I ran this

ltunify pair

Then turned the mouse on immediately. As soon as the mouse paired the terminal returned to the command prompt. To verify the mouse was paired, I ran the command

ltunify list

To which I was happy to see that the new mouse was now paired along with the broken mouse I once had.

Devices count: 2
Connected devices:
idx=1   Mouse   Performance MX
idx=2   Mouse   M185

To remove that device no longer being used, that is just as easy as pairing

ltunify unpair 1

Now my receiver is happily paired exclusively with the new mouse for my Kitchen Command Center Computer and I am no longer encumbered by a buttonless touchpad, navigating around a spreadsheet, document or anything of that nature.

Final Thoughts

Logitech is pretty awesome for having this Unifying Receiver device. It makes losing a dongle to a Logitech mouse or keyboard not such a big deal. It even frees up ports as you can have one receiver paired with 6 devices. That, in my opinion, makes Logitech devices more valuable than others and so long as they keep up with this convenient-for-the-user focus. They will keep my business.

Further Reading

ltunify from software.opensuse.org

Logitech Unifying Receiver

Kitchen Command Center Computer: Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop

ltunify on GitHub

GB Boy Colour Repair

GB Boy Colour-10-Title.png

Last year’s Christmas present to my oldest boy (2017), started to misbehave in such a way that made playing it no longer enjoyable. This GB Boy Colour, a Game Boy Color clone, likely not made with the highest quality components started to have switch problems. It either wouldn’t turn on or turn on and immediately off, have continual reboots (is that what a Game Boy does, reboot?) or some other odd screen dimming, random lines flickering across and other peculiar behavior. This malfunctioning device was causing my boy serious frustration.

Old Tech Is Better Tech

GB Boy Colour-12.pngThese older Nintendo Game Boy games are great because they don’t require internet connection so there is no way I am being spied on and there isn’t any advertising. On top of it, these old games games are still fun many years later.

If you want to know more about the device itself just search “GB Boy Colour” and there are numerous reviews. What is particularly fantastic about this device is that it is a color screen with backlight and it not only has a bunch of built in games but it has the cartridge slot so that you can pop in those 25 + year old games and play them with an even better experience than you had in the early 90s. I wasn’t into the Game Boy when it came out but this particular unit is pretty great.

Disassembly

I turned this broken device into an education opportunity for my kids. They not only get to see the inside of this portable fun-box, they can also observe the process of soldering and the importance of taking care around tools, like the soldering iron. I consider it a huge win that I burn myself or my kids.

Easy OutTaking apart this device was a bigger headache than it should have been. The Nintendo specific screw heads could not be removed with the tool I purchased to remove it. I could have customized the tool to make it fit in the counterbore but since I don’t have a metal lathe (yet), I was not able to do so. I suppose I could have chucked it up in my drill and used a metal file or die grinder to grind it down but that seemed like far too much work. Instead, I decided to use an “easy-out” to remove the screws and replace the screws with standard cross-recess drive style.

GB Boy Colour-03-Screw Heads

Six screws is all that holds this case together. Pretty typical plastic screws you would see in devices of this type. Two of the screws are in the battery compartment which I didn’t immediately see.

GB Boy Colour-07-Back

Once the case is apart, there are three more screws that hold the main board to the front case.

GB Boy Colour-08-Separated.jpg

Once separated, you have to be careful not to let the screen dangle around and get beat up. That reveled the power switch soldered joints.

Repair

My inexperienced observation of the device reveled that the soldering of the switch was likely done too cold so there wasn’t a good bond between the board and the switch. The fix was rather easy, I was able to use my soldering iron to heat up and add a bit more solder. When I completed soldering the switch I also noticed that the switch itself was ever so slightly cracked. The metal contact was pulling away from the sliding action. I fixed this by applying a little glob of hot glue to properly support the bits to keep it from pulling apart.

GB Boy Colour-04-Switch

After reassembling this Game Boy Color Clone, I gave it a test run (read: played games instead of get work done), lost track of time for a bit until my boy insisted that he try it out himself.

GB Boy Colour-13-Super Mario Land.png

Final Thoughts

I was pretty fortunate that I was able to just re-flow the solder on this switch and beef up the walls with hot glue to hold it together. Using this as an educational opportunity with my kids made for some good family time. It brought about many questions about what the components do, how a soldering iron works and why it melts the solder. I not only helped them to understand electronics a little bit, it also created respect for the tools and the need for increased caution. From their perspective, the most important part was being able to play Super Mario Land and Ms Pacman again without the thing getting stuck in reboot cycles.

Further Reading

Nintendo Life Review of GB Boy Colour

NES SNES Security Bit Screw Driver on Amazon.com

openSUSE Tumbleweed on Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-00-Title

For quite some time, I have been noodling around an idea about adding a “new” Linux machine to my home with a specific purpose and requirements in mind. The primary purpose of this machine would be to enhance my organization and reduce wasted time. I also had a very specific form factor requirement for my use case, an all-in-one computer with a touch screen interface and VESA mount capability. I needed it to be new enough but it didn’t have to be too new. I did months of searching and watching and finally ended up with the Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop.

Why?

I have a smaller kitchen and I spend a lot of time in it. I had a laptop or Chromebook taking up valuable counter space which had at times become problematic. Generally, that laptop or Chromebook would be tied into my CoolVox, a refrigerator sound system. I stopped using the Chromebook for this because it would do crazy things with the audio such as play at maximum volume and not allow me to adjust it. The openSUSE Linux machines were far more reliable with Bluetooth audio. The kitchen machine would be used for entertainment purposes, music, podcasts, YouTube videos or Netflix while I am doing what needs to be done.

I have been using the KDE Personal Information Manager, Kontact, for keeping my life organized for quite some time. I have several calendars some Google, some iCal and they are used for different purposes. As much as I like Kontact and Akonadi for managing this data, they can get a bit resource intense from time to time so one of my 2 GB machines would not be adequate. I tried the paper calendar trick but it just wasn’t as sustainable if I changed something, I wouldn’t always put it back in the digital calendar or I would forget to print a new one… it was too clumsy.

e6440-01-smI was not satisfied with any of my current solutions as they made the kitchen feel cluttered and taking my Dell Latitude E6440 in the potential harms way of kitchen messes just wasn’t a good idea. Getting an All-In-One that I could mount to the wall would clean up my kitchen and be a focal point to keep better organized.

Interestingly, this machine came preinstalled with Windows 10. I wanted to see how well it worked on this machine before blowing it away and installing openSUSE Tumbleweed. Unfortunately, it didn’t even successfully boot.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-02-Windows Fail

The Hardware

I didn’t want to spend a lot but I didn’t want to go too cheap. I also didn’t want a big project fixing anything. This used, Dell Inspiron 20 3048 was close enough to meet my requirements. I think the screen is just a bit small at 19.5 inches diagonal and the resolution is only 1600×900 but it is adequate. What it does have is a VESA wall mount which many of the newer Dell all-in-one machines do not seem to have.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-01-Back.jpg

Specs that matter

  • CPU Pentium G3240T 2.7 GHz
  • Upgraded to 8 GB RAM
  • 1 TB HDD
  • Touchscreen LED 19.5″ at 1600×900
  • Built in speakers
  • SD Card reader
  • 6 USB ports
  • 3.5mm Line out
  • 3.5mm Headphone / mic jack
  • Atheros AR9565 Wifi b/g/n + Bluetooth

Upgrades

The machine came with 4 GB Upgraded the memory to 8GB. I used the two 4 GB  DDR3 SODIMMS from my E6440 when I upgraded its memory. Accessing the memory on this machine is a bit of a headache. The back panel is held on by snaps. I used a plastic separator tool to pop the snaps and remove the back cover. The memory is behind another panel on the right, viewing from the back.

Installation of openSUSE

openSUSE Tumbleweed has been so rock solid and reliable on everything so far, I decided that I was going to use that instead of Leap. I will have regular, daily interaction with this machine and running sudo zypper dup in terminal once a week or so is hardly a hassle. The installation went as one would expect, flawlessly. I set up the partitions as such:

  • /boot/efi: 250 MiB
  • Swap: 8 GiB
  • / (Root): 40 GiB – BTRFS
  • /home: 883 GiB – XFS

Added Applications

In order to fully utilize this machine, I need a series of applications added to this machine. Here is my short list:

Telegram – Because most of my communication happens here.

Franz – I have been using this quite happily since I first installed it on my other machines, it only made sense to use it to stay properly connected to work functions.

Falkon – I am liking this web browser right now

Syncthing – It should be noted I amusing Qsyncthingtray on this machine

Insync – I am still using Google Drive pretty heavily and this is the best Google Drive Sync application I have used to date

kvkbd – This is the best on screen keyboard I have seen in Linux to date. It does need to be switched to the dark theme to look right. I used this keyboard previously on a Panasonic CF-19 Toughbook with much success.

Teamviewer 13 – Just in case I need to get into this machine remotely

Setup and Tweaks

KDE Plasma looks best, in my opinion, with a openSUSE dark theme and I added the Oxygen5 Window Decorations because it just looks right to me.

In order to play media, I added the needed codecs and VLC using my own little guide I set up. The terminal instructions are way better.

I set up KOrganizer with the appropriate calendars and two of my email accounts. I don’t foresee myself using this much for emails but I do have a need to be able to stay on top of some higher priority accounts.

The default notification sound in KDE Plasma are not to my liking. I have a bunch of Star Trek The Next Generation sound effects that I prefer use instead.

I opened up a few ports in the firewall for KDE Connect, Syncthing and SSH.

I have made this machine a nearly complete mirror of my primary machine using Syncthing. It took a few hours to synchronize about 200 GB of data but it was much quicker than pulling down my files on Google Drive.

Hardware issues

The only issue I had was with the SD Card reader. It seems to read some cards fine but not all. I don’t know if it is an issue with the device, the drivers or the SD Card itself. I rarely use SD Cards so this is not an issue right now.

How it is currently working out

So far, it’s been working out well. Using Kontact to display my calendar has been beneficial to not only in keeping me on task but also in keeping the kids involved in activities and time frames. Using this machine tied in with my CoolVox to play music or entertain myself has also been fantastic. I also use it with the kids education for displaying relevant educational materials or playing songs to help with memorization of facts. The wall mount is almost perfect for positioning the screen as I like and I also appreciate it being a bit higher than normal. Forces me to stand straighter…

The only real issue I have with this system is it feels quite a bit slower than I would like. Upgrading the CPU is an option and I just may do it in the future. It’s really fine for now, it just hiccups a bit when I make it do too much.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am very happy with this purchase. I like how it has made my kitchen more functional, improved efficiency and organization of day to day activities. This machine will obviously not do much when it comes to gaming and probably not too much when it comes to generating data. It will, however be used a lot to display information and consume content. Kontact works fantastically well on and is very touch screen friendly. As I have been interacting with it, I have found little “paper cut” issues with the machine using the touch screen. I will be filing bug reports on the little issues I discover to hopefully further improve user experience on KDE Plasma.

This computer was a great purchase and I have a few other tasks in the works for it but that will be for another blathering.

Further Reading

C|Net Review Dell Inspiron 3048 all-in-one

Whirlpool CoolVox

openSUSE Tumbleweed

Crazy Awesome KDE Plasma Desktop Bluetooth Audio on openSUSE

CPU Pentium G3240T 2.7 GHz Benchmark

Telegram on Mobile and openSUSE

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

Syncthing on openSUSE

Insync, the Google Drive client for Linux

Panasonic CF-19 Toughbook | Touch Panel Calibration

TeamViewer 13 on openSUSE

Multimedia Codecs and VLC Player

Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop

Enso OS | Review from an openSUSE User

In participating in with a virtual LUG, BDLL, I decided to give Enso OS a try, on Virtual Machine, of course. In recognizing that there can be Virtual Machine-isms, I am going to ignore any issues I had with that and just relay the overall usability of this distribution. I am evaluating Enso OS from the bias of a long time openSUSE user that prefers the Rolling Release model of distribution and uses KDE Plasma Desktop on machines as old as 11 years. I have rather high expectations for an operating system environment. I expect a certain level of reliability and convenience, computers are to serve me, I do not wish to serve the computer. The more it does for me, the better and it is imperative that I can trust the computer, which is why I use openSUSE.

Even though I am very committed to the openSUSE community, I do like to see what others are doing, just because someone isn’t using openSUSE, doesn’t mean they don’t have great ideas too. It is also fascinating to see how other engineers, developers and designers solve the same problems but in their own unique ways.

Installation

I have yet to have a Linux distribution fail to install on VirtualBox. I am using the VirtualBox from the openSUSE Tumbleweed repositories, which, over the years has been basically problem free.

The Enso OS ISO I used was downloaded from here. It is the latest version (at the time of writing) 0.3, built on the latest LTS release of Ubuntu, version 18.04.

Much like trying out other Distros, I set the RAM to 4GB and allocated a 120GB Dynamically Allocated Storage drive. Immediately, I was pleased to see that I was given an option if I wanted to try Enso OS or immediately install it.

EnsoOS-01-Installation Options

Since I don’t see a point in trying Enso in a “Live Media” mode on a virtual machine, there was only once clear choice here. Install Enso.

Each of the screens are straight forward. Select your keyboard, test it out then determine if you want to pull down the updates during the installation as well as install third party software. I think this is a nice feature, especially for a new user. This is something openSUSE does not do through their installer, good bad or otherwise. They have their reasons, which is why I put together this to make it quick to install the necessary packages on any current openSUSE system.

The rest of the installation is pretty straight forward, when you commit to “erasing the disk” it warns you but then you go onto setting your location and user name.

I didn’t notice any synchronization with NTP (Network Time Protocol) servers. Not that it is necessary but it is a feature I activate on all my openSUSE systems so that time is always synchronized between them… to the second…

Two things I appreciated about the actual installation process. One, there is an option to watch and see what is happening during the installation. I could not only see the “commercial” provided by the installer but also what was happening through the installation. Secondly, I like the colorful rainbow fading affect. It reminded me the happy colorful times in the 90s of games overusing color gradients in the background…. really quite fantastic.

First Run

Enso OS has a similar feel to it as Pop!_OS, not exact but something of a similar thread where there is an emphasis on making your desktop experience bright and cheerful. Frankly, this is isn’t exactly how I want my desktop to look but I am not opposed to this styling. I think, for most people, this is probably a more attractive look than what I desire.

After the installation was complete, there were updated required, which I didn’t really understand as I did select to install updates immediately. Not a big deal, really. I did appreciate how the update dialog was verbose so I could see what it was doing. The software center in Enso OS was a similar experience to what you would see on Pop!_OS or others with a “Software Center”. The applications are curated in a clearly understandable and friendly manner.

The file manager is pretty typical and very usable. I was, however, disappointed in the default menu, called “Launchy.” Although you can make it sort by category, the default is a kind of messy. A similar mess you you get on a smart phone. It is what I would consider an unsorted mess of applications. If you don’t have many applications, it isn’t a big deal but the more you have, the more of a mess it will become. Thankfully there is a search function that pretty much nullifies this shortcoming.

The settings window is nicely laid out and made quick work of finding where I could tweak the theme to my liking.

I do want to note that the dark theme is Adwaita-Dark, not a dark version of the Enso OS theme. Perhaps in the future there will be an Enso OS dark theme. The default Enso OS has a more Mac like window button arrangement vs the more traditional icons you’d see on pretty much anything else.

Software Installation

Everyone has their base necessary set of applications to get going and knowing that this is based on Ubuntu I was already familiar with the command line methods of software installation. What I wanted to see was their graphical interface called the “AppHive”, so, I installed a few applications. I appreciate how each application has the developers listed below the title. It is a fine way to present the application prior to your choosing weather or not to install it.

EnsoOS-21-Software Installation

I installed a few key applications and gave them a run around the block to see how it ran. Everything is as you would expect in my rather short run, the applications all worked fine. I was was also pleased to see that the Software Center included Snap applications and they installed just as any other applications would. The Discord Application is a Snap and if I hadn’t paid attention during install, I would not have ever noticed. Keeping this transparent to the user is a nice touch.

EnsoOS-22-Dark Snap Packages

A quick check in the terminal and I could see that Discord was installed as a Snap. Installation of the Smart Card system works as well as it does on any of the other Ubuntu based distributions so for my most important work I do in Linux, I could accomplish without any issue.

What I like

Enso OS is by far the finest looking XFCE Desktop I have used. I do admit that I haven’t tried any XFCE Desktop in quite some time but this is not anything like I remember. Enso OS has made XFCE feel as “modern” and pleasant as any other desktop environment. I would say that this is a more positive experience than what I had using a Gnome. XFCE is easily customized and has a more familiar workflow than Gnome.

Installing applications with the Software Manager, AppHive, provides a seamless experience when installing Snaps or Deb packages. From a newer or less comfortable user’s perspective, this certainly would make for a better experience.

What I don’t Like

EnsoOS-18-MenuThe only issue I have with Enso OS is the menu, Launchy. It’s not a big issue as it does have a search feature but the menu just isn’t neatly organized by default. Since I am a KDE Plasma user, I felt like XFCE was lacking some of the features I prefer and use regularly. I am sure I could have gotten KDE Connect to work with XFCE but the lack of integration makes it a less enjoyable desktop experience. XFCE is not bad, by any stretch but it’s just not as much for me and what I want out of a desktop.

Final Thoughts

I have been enjoying looking at other distributions to see how other developers, engineers and designers express their desires and solve their problems in a Linux Desktop Environment. I must say that I am quite impressed the work put into Enso OS. Outside of some theme changes, I am not exactly sure what the unique selling point is over Xubuntu but it doesn’t detract from the quality of the end product. This is a finely produced, very complete, well polished Linux distribution.

As nice as Enso OS is and the convenience it provides with installing multimedia codecs, I am perfectly happy with where I am using openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. Even though openSUSE doesn’t include multimedia codecs by default, there are enough guides out there to fix that small issue. I also want it to be clear that trying out Enso OS was not in any way a waste of my time and I am glad I took it for a spin.

Further Reading

Enso OS Main Site

BigDaddyLinux.com

VirtualBox.org Site

Xubuntu.org Site

openSUSE.org Site

Multimedia Codecs and VLC Player for openSUSE