Blatherings

EndlessOS | Review from an openSUSE User

EndlessOS is a distribution of Linux I have been watching from afar and almost dabbled with several times. Unfortunately for me and my biases, I didn’t take the time to get to know this distribution sooner. This is an incredibly interesting project that has been given a lot of time and care with plenty of thought. In no way should Endless ever be confused with a casual passion project. This is a serious, well designed and well thought out distribution of Linux that should be part of any Linux user’s growth in an open source enthusiastenthusiest.

Bottom line up front: Endless OS is a very interesting Linux distribution that has a specific target. I am not that target that I can appreciate. To refer to Endless as a Linux distribution does not do it justice as this is so much more. This is a Linux product. The “offline internet” and especially the Cooking application with the loads and loads of recipes built into it. There has obviously been a lot of thought that went into the user interface as this is incredibly polished. The presentation and holistic thoughtfulness in the user interface is not lost on me at all. The interface and the design intent is quite clear but is clearly not for me. I will stick with my more customizable KDE Plasma with my comfortable, leading-edge base that openSUSE Tumbleweed provides. Bottom line up front: Endless OS is a very interesting Linux distribution that has a specific target. I am not that target that I can appreciate. To refer to Endless as a Linux distribution does not do it justice as this is so much more. This is a Linux product. The “offline internet” and especially the Cooking application with the loads and loads of recipes built into it. There has obviously been a lot of thought that went into the user interface as this is incredibly polished. The presentation and holistic thoughtfulness in the user interface is not lost on me at all. The interface and the design intent is quite clear but is clearly not for me. I will stick with my more customizable KDE Plasma with my comfortable, leading-edge base that openSUSE Tumbleweed provides.

Installation

Installing Endless OS is a rather pleasant experience, the splash screen that introduces Endless OS felt like the same gravitas you would get from starting up a commercial, highly anticipated game.

The logo, coloring and the effect of it’s appearance, told me right away, I am not working with a Linux Distribution, I am working with a Linux product. The installation process was really quite simple. It begins with setting your language than determine if you want to “Try or Buy” this experience. Since I wanted to install it so I went for the “Reformat” option.

Next you are which version you’d like to use. Since there was only one option and no explanation as to how to download another, this did seem like a pointless step. The next step makes sense to me. I offered to select which disk to select to install EndlessOS. In this case, I am running this on a Virtual Machine so there is only one selection available.

Once you select Next, the reformatting will commence and you will be prompted to power off which was just a bit odd as I would think a reboot would be the next step.

Regardless, it rebooted and the installation continued where you were asked to select your language then the keyboard layout.

The only part of the installation that gave me pause was the Terms of Use. Sections were highlighted and it might have been one of the longest license agreements I have ever seen.

I realize this is a very litigious world we live in so this is the reality of life today, which is unfortunate but since, even after reading through it, I didn’t see a problem with it, I chose to accept and continue. I also selected to Automatically save and send usage statistics and problems. Spoiler alert, I didn’t have any problems.

If you are looking to add any online accounts, you can do so now and then you are asked to give information about you. The default sunflower avatar didn’t really seem to fit me so I changed the icon to just something else.

The last step asks for a password and then you are done.

Once you select to Start Using Endless the setup is complete and you can begin wondering around in the vastness that is EndlessOS.

First Run and Impressions

Right from the beginning, EndlessOS presented itself unlike any other Linux Distribution. I wouldn’t say that this isn’t a desktop in the strictest of senses. It is very much more like using a mobile operating system such as an Android Tablet or Phone and I wouldn’t say that it has a desktop either. In fact, I don’t know what to call it. Whatever it is called, that is what Endless has.

Although it is very different, it is also familiar at the same time. Along the bottom there are the familiar desktop features you would expect in a desktop… but they don’t all behave like you would expect… entirely. The menu button in the lower left corner behaves more like a “show desktop” than a menu but in this case the “desktop” is the menu… which is more like an Android device.

The neat feature of this desktop is the ease of beginning a search. Using Plasma, I would activate krunner to search for something. In my case, I wold press Alt + Spacebar or press the Meta key and start typing to pull up the menu and get the same search function. By contrast, on Endless OS, just start typing.

I started to type “games” because I was at a momentary loss as to what else I should type and it immediately brought up related items to games. This would include anything on the system to curated items in the App Center. There is an option to “Search Google for” your search term as well. This is another great example of the notion that the this is a product, not just a Linux distribution.

I wanted to explore some of the applications on Endless and I think my favorite of the applications I tried is the cooking application. Not only does it look great and feel welcoming but is very intuitiveeasy to navigate.

Some other noteworthy applications that I don’t have the time of which to give you a full review are what’s included, certainly aimed at education, one section, Games to Hack has some neat tutorials for working on games and the tools you need to start doing some coding. Seeing that Arduino and Raspberry Pi made the cut is simply fantastic.

The only thing that made me scratch my head was that I didn’t understand why the terminal wasn’t forefront in the menu system. Not a big deal though, that aforementioned search system allows for the same discovery option and you are able to search “Terminal” and find the terminal. I had to check and it was interesting to know that a freshly installed Endless OS system used 27 GiB of disk space and when settled, only uses 713 MiB of RAM. I find that impressive, considering it is a modified GNOME system.

I can see a lot of value in Endless OS and I only just began to scratch the surface of it. I can see a lot of value in this finely polished product. After touring around for a while. The only issue I had was finding out how to log out. Since the “menu” wasn’t a menu and didn’t have my session management options, like logging out. I eventually did figure out after clicking around that my avatar image in the lower-right corner was where I was able to shut the system down.

What I Like

It is of no debate whatsoever, Endless OS is a highly, highly polished and well thought out distribution. The whole package from initial boot, the installer to the running operating system is a unified product. Although called a Linux distribution, this is very much more than that, it is indeed a Product.

Some of the default applications are pretty fantastic to have. The number one on that list for me, the Cooking application is pretty great. The interface is very intuitive but that is not the impressive piece of it. What really stands out is the massive amount of recipes to try. I also really enjoyed seeing the selection of applications under the “Learn to Code” collection. Arduino Projects, Raspberry Pi Projects and Video Games stick out the most to me.

I appreciate the goal of Endless OS. They are working to bring the “internet experience” to less developed regions of the world and makes a single computer a lot more valuable. It makes me think… I wonder if other sites and resources could be rolled into this in a similar fashion. If so, that could make for a great offline repository of resources.

What I Don’t Like

Access to a terminal emulator is not immediately obvious. At least, I couldn’t find it in the “menu” of programs. I was able to find it by just typing “terminal” and it popped up. This wasn’t a huge deal… just kind of annoying. It would have been a bit nicer to have had it on the forefront… but that is likely not the intent with the target audience.

The “menu” in the lower left corner doesn’t exactly “play” the way I would expect but I do have to concede that the reason is to give a more Android / Mobile OS feel than the traditional desktop feel. This is totally my preference but I find the mobile phone application menu handling cumbersome. The clustering of applications, the Android way, is also a bit jarring too. Though I can very easily type to search for something, there is something to be said for browsing through a menu, grouped in logical categories.

It took me a bit to figure out where the session management tools were, I couldn’t find the logout or shutdown icons for a little bit but once I did, it made sense to me. I just wish there was some more obvious indicator as to where those selection exist.

Pause For Noteworthy Hardware

I am always a fan of interesting hardware and Endless has, for sale, some products that look like nothing else. These are not your average plastic and metal beige or black boxes with a couple LEDs to tell you that the thing still has a “heart beat”. They are works of art.

These simple yet elegant designs have a cleanly warmth to them that would look good, about anywhere in any room. These are by no means a power house of computing power but they would get the job done, for sure. For more information, check out the computers here.

Final Thoughts

Endless OS is a finely polished product that has a specific target market. I am not in that target market but I can think of many that would fit in this. I am initially thinking that this would be a pretty great interface to get kids into Linux. It is just set up perfectly for exploring Linux and learning how to use computers. The Learning to Code section is absolutely something that I would love to push my kids to do as they get a bit older.

I highly recommend trying Endless OS, just to try it. Even running it in a VM and playing around with it, is a great use of time. It will most certainly spark the imagination as to what you can do with it. I wish I had more time to explore all the different applications, especially under the Learning to Code and Games to Hack sections. I actually think that there could be several articles related to Endless OS and all the remarkable applications they have bundled into this product.

In the end, as refined as Endless is, it is just not the distribution for me. Although I believe there are many things to be gained by using Endless OS, the user interface design is just not compatible with the way I prefer to use the desktop. I also, personally, do not have a need to have several gigabytes of internet data on my machine. While I certainly see the utility in that, it is not what I personally want. I will stick with my comfortable, like old leather, distribution of openSUSE Tumbleweed and the Plasma Desktop where everything is tailored to me personally.

References

Endless OS Home
Endless OS Challenge at the BigDaddyLinux Community

Noodlings | Desktops and Window Managers, BDLL and openSUSE News

Another podcast and after listening to the final thing… I sound a bit like cardboard. Maybe episode 3 won’t smell like wet newspaper.

Listen here, it’s only 10 minutes and 30 seconds of cringe-worthy material.

Desktops and Window Managers

I view KDE Plasma as the pinnacle of all things that are the Desktop and portal into your digital life. This is of course my own opinion but really, what else can do as much as Plasma, in as little resources and be as flexible as it is.

Xfce is the GTK desktop that is, in my estimation, the benchmark to which all GTK desktops should be measured against. It is what I would call a “classic” Redmond style interface that is familiar to nearly everybody.

i3 is a very interesting window manager, I would still call it a desktop of sorts though the “hard core” users of it may say otherwise. It uses Gnome so it is encumbered by the Gnome limitations. If it could somehow be Xfce based, it would seemingly make more sense. I did some searching and so far as I can tell, I have not been able to find a Kwin based Window manager as opposed to i3.

11 Best Tiling Window Managers for Linux

What this lead me to was a discovery that Plasma has the capabilities of being a pretty darn decent tiling window manager. In my case, I am using some of the power of tiling with the traditional floating window desktop, so, in effect having the best of both worlds there.

BDLL Recap

There is a lot of talk about bringing new users to Linux and Adam Grubbs set up an Ubuntu Laptop similar to what you might buy from an OEM. Adam wanted to see how a new user might get along with a brand new Linux desktop.

The key bit of the conversation was the user’s experience of setting up Lutris. I have historically used Wine or Crossover to install Windows games on Linux and Lutris wasn’t quite as obvious on how to use it.

There was some difficulty of getting going with Linux, icons were a bit different and, better curation of applications could be a benefit. For example, searching for Steam doesn’t necessarily bring up Steam in an application search.

What is the solution?

I don’t think that there is any one particular solution to solve this for everyone. I am also not sure how “user friendly” Linux needs to be. Where Linux would, most certainly benefit:

  • Documentation Improvements to make it easier to become acquainted with the Linux Desktop
  • Something like Clippy as a built in guide to help you out when you are stumped
  • Ultimately, the strength of Linux is the community, be open to help people problem solve their way through Linux.

The Current BDLL Distro Challenge is Endless OS. This can be downloaded from here.

openSUSE Corner

Snapshots 20190902 20190829

Multiple YaST Packages trickled down with updates.

Libreoffice 6.3.1.1 removed some patches.

The welcome window for openSUSE received more translations for global users with an update of the opensuse-welcome 0.1.6 package.

openSUSE MicroOS, specifically the core appliance buildier Kiwi, has been further updated, it added required cryptomount coding for for EFI boot.

openSUSE MicroOS is designed for container hosts an optimized for large deployments. It benefits from the rolling of Tumbleweed and the SUSE Linux Enterprise hardening and scale of deployment. It is optimized for large deployments but is just as capable with a single container-host. Uses the BTRFS snapshots for updates and rollback.

20190902 snapshot has a very exciting change that really was a long time coming with proper PackageKit integration with Tumbleweed. Unless you have a bunch of crazy repositories, PackageKit will now handle your updates just as well as you would have it in Leap.

Snapshot 20190829 received a moderate score of 90 while 20190902 is trending at moderate 86 and 20190904 at a stable score of 93.

What I am doing with openSUSE

I am working with a Linux community member to create an openSUSE Tumbleweed based replacement for IPFire or pfSense. This is still in progress but as of today, I am real excited about it and the prospect of having an openSUSE based firewall / router with all the flexibility and modularity that it brings.

References

Best Tiling Window Managers for Linux on TecMint.com
openSUSE Tumbleweed Snapshot Review
BDLL Regolith Linux and New User Experience
Adam Grubbs Site
EndlessOS Download
CubicleNate Noodlings | Episode 02

VirtScreen on openSUSE | Turn a Tablet into a Second Monitor

When I take my laptop and I go into a mobile mode, I’m often missing a second or third screen. Frequently, my need isn’t having full motion video or anything of that sort, it’s just the ability to have text displayed in some form, be it PDF or web page, beside my main screen. Most of the time, that is how I use my multi-screen layout. One screen is my main workspace while the others display reference information.

I came upon this long lost solution on the BDLL discourse from Eric Adams.

https://discourse.bigdaddylinux.com/t/use-your-tablet-as-a-monitor-with-virtscreen/104

Key difference in my implementation versus his, both of us using KDE plasma. His solution is probably more elegant and could probably better take advantage of my AMD GPU but my solution is quick and dirty but gets the job done.

Host Device

Since this package is not available in the openSUSE repositories, I downloaded the AppImage here:

https://github.com/kbumsik/VirtScreen

There are further instructions on that page but I am going to only highlight how I used it on openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma Desktop Environment. Looking at the system requirements, I had to install X11VNC

sudo zypper install x11vnc

Since I used the AppImage, I had to make it executable. To do that in terminal, navigate to the location of the AppImage and run this:

chmod a+x VirtScreen.AppImage

Alternatively, if you are using Plasma with the Dolphin file manager, navigate to the location of the AppImage, right-click, select Properties (or Alt+Enter when highlighted). Select the Permissions tab and select the Is executable button.

Upon Launching it, I set the resolution of my Tablet, which is my HP Touchpad that I set up with F-Droid. I made an adjustment to the Height to adjust for the navigation buttons that seem to get stuck in the ON position.

I selected the Enable Virtual Screen.

Next, I needed to Open Display Settings to arrange the screens.

Unfortunately, there was an error that caused the display settings to not open. I went into the preferences to see what the other options were. Since I know I didn’t want Gnome, I went with ARandR.

Since it wasn’t installed, I went to openSUSE Software and searched for it.

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

After installing ARandR, VirtScreen still could not launch ARandR. Thankfully, I was able to launch ARandR using Krunner (menu works too) and made the adjustment to the screen location.

The next step was to activate the VNC Server within VirtScreen by setting the password and opening up the appropriate port in the Firewall. Since the openSUSE default is Firewalld at the time of writing. You can either do so with the GUI, which is pretty straight forward or use the terminal.

To get the active firewall zone

sudo firewall-cmd --get-default-zone

Assuming you are only using the default zone, Public (adjust based on

sudo firewall-cmd --zone=public --permanent --add-port=5000-5003/tcp
sudo systemctl restart firewalld

If you are not running Firewalld you will have to adjust for your particular firewall.

The final step is to activate the VNC Server.

Client Device

The client device in my case is my HP Touchpad. The client software I set up that worked best from the F-Droid store was AndroidVNC. If you have one that you prefer, by all means, use that instead.

This is the easy part. Here, set the Connection Nickname, Address and Port. I did set it to the 24-bit color but would get better speed with a lower color depth but not so much as to make the the display much faster, it does, however, make the display much more annoying to look at.

Once you command the client to make the connection, and everything else is done correctly, the client will connect to the host and you will have a second, albeit a bit sluggish 2nd monitor to use for any low frame-rate functions.

I use this for displaying PDFs, web pages like wikis, chat clients or anything else that doesn’t require high frame rate. This is often useful when I am doing different admin types of tasks that require me to look at published documents and I am away from my SuperCubicle (home office). It is very, very handy.

Final thoughts

This is a great little project for making old tablets, such as my HP Touchpad, even more useful. It just doesn’t take much processing power by the client device to peer into a VNC host.

Issues I have noticed. On some Wi-Fi networks, I am not able to make the connection between the devices. I’m sure either ports or some sort of walking is happening that is preventing me from making the connection.

When you set up your VNC client on the tablet or whatever, you have to be sure that you take into account loss of screen real-estate due to whatever the client does on the boarders. Optionally, find a way to turn off the pointer on the client. If you don’t, you get weird flickering. Sometimes, the client or host will just disconnect. I have not yet tracked down the root cause of the problem but it doesn’t happen frequently enough for me to do anything about it.

Full motion video is not actually possible with this. I wouldn’t recommend watching any YouTube videos but more static web pages or using it for chat clients like IRC, Telegram, Discord, or the like is perfectly usable.

How often will I use this? Only when I have to and that is at least monthly. There are a few issues with the setup but it is perfectly usable with just a bit of fiddling. Hopefully this will continue to get attention and work done by the developer.

Reference

VirtScreen on GitHub.com
Use Your Tablet as a Monitor with VirtScreen on discourse.bigdaddylinux.com
HP TouchPad in 2018 on CubicleNate.com

Regolith Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

Regolith is a very interesting distribution based on Ubuntu that uses the i3 Window manager. In this case, you get all the benefits of the Ubuntu distribution with the unique i3 interface with predefined shortcut keys. The creator of this fine distribution, Ken Gilmer, has put a lot of time, effort into really making this a fine demonstration of i3.

This is my first i3 experience and overall it has been quite enjoyable. For those that are less familiar with what a Window Manager vs a Desktop…. I really can’t say, to me, it is a desktop environment I’m sure there is some nuance that distinguishes a “desktop environment” to a “window manager” but that debate and discussion is outside of the scope of this blathering. For my purposes, anything that allows me to interact with my computer in a holistic fashion is a Desktop Environment. So what is holistic in this context?

This is my impression of using Regolith as a deeply entrenched, content openSUSE Tumbleweed User that thinks using anything other than Plasma keeps my fingers hovering just over the bail-out button. Bottom Line Up Front, Regolith was a challenging but educationally enjoyable experience. My trip through Regolith sparked my imagination as to some specific applications and uses for this user environment. As cool as the interface is for Regolith (i3) is, it is not enough to push me off the openSUSE Tumbleweed Plasma mountain. This is my biased impression after running Regolith as a my interface into my computer.

Installation

Since this is Ubuntu based, the installation is really quite trivial. The team at Canonical have done a fantastic job of giving us a low barrier of entry into the Linux world. When Regolith boots, out of the gate, you are asked to select your Language. The Grub Boot menu pops up where the second option will put you immediately to the “Installation Process.” Thumbs up there! Anytime I get that option right from the beginning, I am just pleased I don’t have to hope that the Installation Icon is not hidden, bypassing my need to hunt around for the one function I came here to do.

Choosing this option, it looks like Regolith boots up a basic desktop and you are immediately greeted with the installation application. To start out, you are welcomed and asked for your language preference… again… perhaps just a verification that you do indeed speek the language you previously specified. Then you selet your Keyboad Layout.

Next you are asked to select whether or not you would like to install updates and 3rd Party Software. The Installation Type I have chosen for this is to erase the entire disk as I am running this in a virtual machine

Before committing to the drive modifications, you are given a sanity check and that makes this the point of no return, in a manner of speaking. After that, you are required to select your location.

The last step is going to be to set your user information. Here you can determine if you want to log in automatically or not here too. I find, even in VMs that will have no chance at having sensitive information, I still won’t select to automatically login.

The installation process occurs as fast as any other Ubuntu installation and you are given a slideshow of information as you would expect to see. I didn’t notice any differences in this installation sequence than Ubuntu proper.

Once you are given the installation completion message, select the Restart Now button and you are off to the Regolith races.

First Run and Impressions

Since performance was not going to be an issue with this distribution as it is not something loaded with extra bells and whistles. I wasn’t conserned with any lagging due to running this in a virtual machine, and the reality is, there wasn’t any issue at all.

To start off, you are given the Ubuntu Welcome Walkthrough that once again sets up your system.

The walkthough then allows for location preference and cloud services. Once that is complete you are done and ready to i3 to your hearts content.

One of the beauties of having a machine with muliple monitors is that I can dedicate one monitor to a full screen virtual machine and very much get the feeling of bare metal. Doing this, I used Virt-Manager with KVM/QEMU.

The desktop (window manager, I know but I am calling this a desktop, feel free to send condescending comments or emails on this point) has instructions plastered to the background to get started with navigation. I found this so handy that I took a screen shot and used this as a reference.

I was muddling my way through a bit on Regolith but I didn’t get into my groove until I watched this demonstration by Eric Adams on YouTube. Watching him go through and show some other features that weren’t on this page, and see how he navigated it very quickly, I mimicked it a bit and I started to see the real power.

I started to see how I could use this very nicely with any terminal based applications and tile them quite quickly and nicely, ready make things happen. Used it to do many of my terminal and web browsing functions. I could easily modify the boarder size with Super+ + or Super+ –

I really liked the ease of opening new terminals and browsers into new work spaces or into new pane on the existing screen. I think, if I were to use this regularly, I would probably end up with many, many virtual desktops in order to manage similarly what I do in Plasma. I think in some ways it could be better and perhaps more effective. I then wondered what would happen if I went more than 9 Virtual Desktops…

Being forced to use keyboard shortcuts to force me to jump into different virtual desktops for a while on Regolith started to become second nature. Consequently, I now use the default keystrokes for virtual desktop switching with Plasma. I am tempted to change them to the Regolith shortcuts but I think I have those mental profiles for switching in Plasma locked in now and I must say, way better than moving the mouse to the bottom of the screen.

What I Like

The minimalist feel of the window manager. The speed of which to lay out the panels is really fantastic. Managing all aspects of the window are done with the need to move my hand from the keyboard is really quite minimal. Combine that with a laptop pointer mouse you would see on a business class Dell or Lenovo, you could potentially do a lot very fast, so long as it wasn’t an artsy thing.

Using Regolith reminds me of the days of old using DOS based applications but layered in a fantastically intuitively manner. Being able to switch between, resize window panes and dig through menus on a keyboard alone feels like a nerd superpower.

The location and status information in the bottom panel is almost just right. If I took the time to tweak it just a bit to give me just a bit more information, I would almost call this perfect.

What I Don’t Like

There seems to be a lack of being able to customize the color scheme. Although the color scheme is fine, I would like to tweak it a bit. I am sure that I could install Gnome tweaks but I am what you would call a proponent of the extension system. Therefore, I am not installing such a thing.

Related to my previous dislike. This is Gnome based, currently, and this could change, I have limited confidence in Gnome as a whole. GTK appears to be a wonky and broken tool kit when used by Gnome, although it is fine in Plasma, I have experienced mixed results with GTK in Gnome. I also don’t like that Gnome is a single-threaded process. I would prefer something Plasma based where the environment is multi-threaded. To further contradict myself, since i3 isn’t exactly doing a lot, this might be a silly and moot point.

I don’t really run Ubuntu, not for any technical reasons, I just don’t prefer Ubuntu, so I think I would prefer using i3 or something like it on an openSUSE base. After all, this is my biased review and having that familiar set of terminal tools that I greatly appreciate would make for an even better experience. I think what might happen next is taking i3 for a spin on an openSUSE machine and comparing the keyboard input schemes of the two different systems.

Final Thoughts

Regolith is a very interesting distribution using the i3 Window Manager by default. Although you can essentially just add i3 to any Ubuntu distribution, this will make the end goal of an i3 environment on Ubuntu much easier. It has a real raw, strap yourself in with a 5-point harness, this is going to move fast, feel to it. The very way you interface with the system is speedy and feels ultra productive. I can appreciate the design and thought of i3 and especially the time that Mr. Ken Gilmer has put into Regolith.

The biggest take away of using i3 was that it forced me learn and use the keyboard in such a way that when going back to Plasma, I wanted the same kind of productivity enhancements. This forced me to learn the bindings in Plasma to better navigate my desktops and a few other functions.

After dabbling around with i3 and modifying my Plasma desktop usage, I have decided Regolith or i3 for that matter wouldn’t make my Linux life more efficient on my primary machine. The keyboard shortcuts are very awesome for doing very rapid switching between applications and tiling them around on the screen. The reality for me is, I don’t see this as enough of an enhancement that I would gain more than I would lose from moving away from Plasma on openSUSE… but then this had me thinking… where I could most certainly see this being used is in a more server or systems monitoring application where a full desktop is not necessary. The awesome nerd-value of i3 is strong and for some sort of persistent system where I can have it monitoring logs and activity is exactly where I would use this.

Regolith might be one of the greatest experiences I have had in Linux for a long time. Not so much that I have radically changed anything about what I am doing but that I have taken what I have learned from the productivity enhancements and assimilated them into my own workflow to make my work more efficient. For that, I am extremely grateful.

References

Regolith Linux Home
Virt-Manager with KVM/QEMU on openSUSE Tumbleweed
Big Daddy Linux Live! 8-24-19 Regolith Discussion Week 1
Big Daddy Linux Live! 8-31-19 Regolith Discussion Week 2
Eric Adams Regolith Runthrough

Noodlings | openSUSE News and other Blatherings

A lot more work than I initially anticipated, I have decided to start a “podcast” but the term “podcast” seems to pretentious for me in the same way that “blog” does so these are nothing more than audio blatherings of what I have been noodling around.

Or Click to listen to the Podcast Here

In Tumbleweed News

Standout updates in the snapshots released in the last two weeks have been pretty plentiful. As part of the fun in running openSUSE Tumbleweed, you get a regular stream of well tested software updates.

Some of the most recent changes includes updates for Mesa 3D Graphics Library with version 19.1.3 that mostly provided fixes for drivers and backends. The Mesa-ACO drivers are now in staging so that will be available soon in Tumbleweed.

KDE’s Frameworks and Plasma have been updated. There have been multiple fixes for KTextEditor, KWayland, KIO and Baloo. Plasma 5.16.4 provides bug fixes and Airplane mode improvements.

The Kernel has been updated to 5.2.10, VLC version 3.0.8 to improve adaptive streaming and a fix for stuttering and low framerates. CVEs were addressed with apache2 where a malicioius client could perform a Denial of Serve attack.

HP Linux Imaging and Printing package, hplip is now at version 3.19.6 which adds support for new printers. MariaDB 10.3.17 is enjoying five new CVE fixes

Pending rating for snapshot 20190824 is trending at a moderately stable score of 87, 20190828 is trending at 86. Tumbleweed Snapshot ratings can be viewed at the Tumbleweed snapshot reviewer.

Xfce 4.14 has arrived in openSUSE

After 4 years in the making and a few more days of baking in the openSUSE Build Service. Xfce has been run through the openSUSE gauntlet of openQA, the automated quality assurance system and has been built, ready for Tumbleweed and backported to Leap as well. I tested it on version 15.1 and it has the same pzazz and vigor you’d see on Tumbleweed. 1After 4 years in the making and a few more days of baking in the openSUSE Build Service. Xfce has been run through the openSUSE gauntlet of openQA, the automated quality assurance system and has been built, ready for Tumbleweed and backported to Leap as well. I tested it on version 15.1 and it has the same pzazz and vigor you’d see on Tumbleweed.

The installation on Leap is about 443 packages when selecting to the X11:Xfce repository. Keep in mind, this is not the official repository but what is considered “Experimental” so keep that in mind, for what it’s worth.

Some of the changes that I find particularly noteworthy is that all the core components are now using GTK3. You can enjoy, potentially, a flicker and screen tearing free experience due to fully gaining support for VSync. If you have a High DPI monitor, your life with that hardware will be much improved and there have been some GLX compositor improvements. For more information on the improvements.

Changing the Chair of the openSUSE Board

Richard Brown has stepped down as the Chairperson of the openSUSE Board. He has been at it for six years and decided to hang it up. He wrote a nice letter to the community as a public statement and announced his successor, Gerald Pfeifer.

I saw a few social media posts saying he will be missed but I don’t think that is the case at all. He is still at SUSE and will still be a contributor to the project. It’s just that his role has changed back to working primarily on the technology and keeping his life in proper balance.

All good things must come to an end, I suppose but, again, not really an end, just a passing of the baton and the project keeps rolling. I personally wish Mr Richard Brown well on his endeavors.

Kata Containers in the Official openSUSE Tumbleweed Repository

Kata is container runtime similar to runC but focuses on security. The idea of Kata is a focus on security with an ease of integration with exiting container ecosystems. Kata should be used when running container images whose source is not fully trusted or when allowing other users to run their containers on your platform.

It is most common to see containers share the same physical and operating systems resources with host process. Host specific kernel features, such as namespace, are used to provide an isolation layer between the host and container processes.

Kata Containers, instead, run in lightweight virtual machines for added isolation and security to further reduce the host attack surface and mitigate the consequences of container breakout. Kata accomplishes this using KVM hardware virtualization and is configured to use a minimalist virtual machine manager (VMM) like Firecracker.

Kata can be used as a standalone as it’s intended to use to serve as a runtime when integrated in as a container engine

Uyuni version 4.0.2 is Release

Uyuni is an open-source infrastructure management solution, tailored for software-defined infrastructure. This is a fork of the Spacewalk project to provide more operating systems support and better scalability capabilities and now the the upstream for SUSE Manager.

The new features of Uyuni are monitoring, content lifecycle management and virtual machine management. It is available for openSUSE Leap 15.1

Other Thoughts

I have been playing with the Open Build Service to get familiar with the packaging. There is a lot yet for me to learn. Maybe someday I can actually become useful with it. Currently I am struggling with grasping some of the specifics but in this process I have grown to be very grateful to anyone that helps to maintain any and all software in any Linux distribution, let alone openSUSE

Final Thoughts

This is the first Podcast I have put together, it is without music or any effects. If I waited to put together the “perfect product” my first time out of the gate, everything I would have to update all my noodlings.

Feel free to send complaints or condescending comments to YouSmellLikeARottingFruitSalad@CubicleNate.com , if they are clean and family friendly and give me a chuckle, I must may read them.

References

News.openSUSE.org
Xfce 4.14 Lands in Tumbleweed
Xfce Official Tour
Xfce, a Model GTK Based Desktop | Late Summer Blathering
Richard Brown’s Announcement to Step Down as Chairperson
Kata Container Announcement on News.openSUSE.org
Firecracker microVMs Site
Version 4.0.2 of Uyuni is Release from News.openSUSE.org
Mesa projec Page
KDE Project page
https://cubiclenate.podomatic.com/

Broken and Fixed Virt-Manager on openSUSE

I am not a “Distro Hopper” but I like to try out other distributions of Linux or operating systems, for that matter. I don’t have much interest in wiping out my main system to find out I prefer openSUSE over something else. The alternative is virtual machines. I have found that QEMU/KVM seems to work better with openSUSE Tumbleweed than Virtualbox. I have previously described this issue here.

The issue I had today was that when starting a Virtual Machine Guest on may system, I received an error without any real hint as to the solution of the problem. A bunch of details that, frankly didn’t make a whole lot of sense so I searched the title of this error:

Error starting domain: Requested operation is not valid: network ‘default’ is not active

I found a reference that fixed the issue and so I made myself a little reference as another gift to future self. For you know, when I break something again.

Libvirt / QEMU / KVM Reference

Reference

Virtual Machine Manager with QEMU/KVM on openSUSE Tumbleweed

CPU Security Mitigation on openSUSE | Tuning it for Your Case

This is a little outside of my normal blatherings format but after stumbling upon a video from Red Robbo’s YouTube channel. I wanted to investigate his claims that maybe, just maybe the security mitigations that I have chosen they are a bit excessive for my use case. Recently, openSUSE has added a feature to make this easily user adjustable. Since they made it easy, obviously, someone far smarter than I am has decided that some of the mitigations may be excessive and not worth the performance loss for all use cases. I written about the mitigations some time ago and how it is fun to see all that is being implemented. Maybe it’s time to dial it back.

This is the video that made me pause and think about the choices I’ve made.

Red Robbo made the statement, “how many people are actually impacted by this, not potentially impacted but actually…”

Fair statement, what is my actual risk. not imaginary but actual risk. So that got me thinking. My setup has been to keep the mitigations on “Auto”. That seems fair to me. Let the system decide how many mitigations I need to have in place. Then this video came out and It got me thinking…

“How many mitigations do I really need to have to protect my system?”
“What are the threats against my main machine, a laptop, that does not run any services?”
“How much of a performance improvement would I have if I switched the mitigations off?”

According to SUSE, by leaving the mitigations to Auto, “All CPU side channel mitigations are enabled as they are detected based on the CPU type. The auto-detection handles both unaffected older CPUs and unaffected newly released CPUs and transparently disables mitigations. This options leave SMT enabled.”

It was time to explore this further. Do some, self-discovery, as it were.

In reading all the CVEs on the subject, they are worded as either, “Local attacker”, “In theory”, “…a possible approach”, “could be made to leak”.

I couldn’t help but think, golly, this is all… speculative… isn’t it. I now wonder what the actual threat is. I appreciate how the fixes were very much preemptive before any attacks were made but it almost seems like building my house so that it is meteor proof, just in case of meteor strike.

What I’ve done

So I did as Red Robbo suggested, not on all my machines, just the machines that that, I shut them off. I am not on anyone’s target list. I don’t run any kind of service that has tons of people in this system and it doesn’t often face the scary internet directly as it is going through a firewall that filters most of the scary traffic away. Making the change was really quite easy and underscores the beauty of YaST. To get to the right module, I go into YaST and select the Boot Loader module under System.

Within the bootloader module, select the Kernel Parameters tab and under the CPU Mitigations, I selected the drop down and the Off option.

After selecting okay and rebooting the system I can’t say I noticed any major improvement to performance. I tested Auto vs Off and I couldn’t actually tell the difference in performance. There may be some improvement but either I am personally too slow or nothing I do on a regular basis is affected by the mitigations.

Final Thoughts

For “desktop” machines, I am pretty confident that the other security features of Linux is quite adequate to keeping you safe on the Scary Internet. This desktop machine doesn’t provide any services to anyone outside of me as I am using it. I don’t have an Internet facing web service or database that has a risk in being compromised by bad actors.

For my personal server, that really doesn’t do a lot, I am keeping the mitigations to Auto. Although it does not face the internet, it is on all the time, I am not asking too much of it and it has a great chance at getting poked by something. Though, since I am not a target, the chances of that machine being compromised is also rather slim.

Your situation is dependent on your level of paranoia. Crank up your mitigations to 11 if you think it is best. As for this particular machine and the other little laptops and netbooks I use, I don’t see it as necessary.

References

SUSE.com Centralized CPU issue Mitigation document
Red Robbo’s Workshop YouTube Video: Improve Intel CPU performance on openSUSE
CubicleNate.com Spectre and Meltdown Vulnerability Status
TID 7022512 – Security Vulnerability: “Meltdown” and “Spectre” side channel attacks against CPUs with speculative execution.
TID 7022937 – Security Vulnerability: Spectre Variant 4 (Speculative Store Bypass) aka CVE-2018-3639.
TID 7023075 – Security Vulnerability: Spectre side channel attack “Bounds Check Bypass Store” aka CVE-2018-3693.
TID 7023076 – Security Vulnerability: Spectre side channel attack “Lazy FPU Save/Restore” aka CVE-2018-3665.
TID 7023077 – Security Vulnerability: “L1 Terminal Fault” (L1TF) aka CVE-2018-3615, CVE-2018-3620 & CVE-2018-3646.

Xfce, A Model GTK Based Desktop | Late Summer Blathering

In full disclosure, Plasma is my Desktop Environment of choice, it is very easy to customize and to make my own with very little effort. As of late, there isn’t a whole lot of customizing I do, it’s all pretty minor. A couple tweaks to the the visuals, make it dark, change some sound effects to make it more Star Trek The Next Generation, add a couple Plasmoids and set up KDE Connect. Then I am ready to go.

Since KDE 3 and later Plasma, each release adds and refines existing features, all of which seems as though they are doing so in a sustainable fashion. New releases of Plasma are always met with excitement and anticipation. I can count on new features and refinements and an overall better experience. I didn’t look anywhere else but then, Xfce wondered into my world and although slow to change has become that desktop too. Historically, Xfce has been [for me] just there, nothing particularly exciting. It has held the spot of a necessary, minimal viable desktop… but not anymore.

Previous Xfce Experiences

Using Xfce was like stepping back in time to an era of awkwad looking computer innocence, where icons were mismatched and widgets were a kind of grey blockiness with harsh contrasting lines. Such a great time… While KDE Plasma and Gnome moved on, working in new visuals and staying “modern,” Xfce did it’s own thing… or nothing… I don’t really know but it, in my eyes, became the dated desktop environment. It was always rock solid but wasn’t much to look at. To be fair, there were some examples of real decent looking expressions of Xfce but I unfairly dismissed it.

New Experiences with Xfce

I started to do a little distro and desktop hopping, not to replace my preferred setup, openSUSE Tumbleweed with Plasma, but to see what else is out there and to play with some other examples of desktop design and experience. One such example that I really enjoyed was MX Linux.

It is a clean and pleasant experience that doesn’t scream 2002. The configuration options are plentiful and easy to understand. Not to mention the Dark theme looks simply fantastic. Then there is Salient OS which has a slick and modern look. It didn’t look Plasma but looks like the present and doesn’t make you think of the traditional Xfce environment.

Then came Endeavour OS where, for just a moment, I thought I was using Plasma. It is truly a slick Xfce environment with some great choices for appearance.

Although, 4.12 was released in 2015 and some speculated the project as being dead, new breath life came to the users of this project and just recently (Aug 2019), version 4.14 was released.

Xfce’s latest release didn’t take away features or trim out functionality. It only added new features and refined the the whole desktop. Most notably, a complete (I think) move to GTK3 from GTK2 which allows for better HiDPi support (great for those with the hardware), improvements to the window manager to have a flicker and tearing free experience. A “Do Not Disturb” feature was added to the notifications and many, many more things but these stand out the most to me. More can be read here at the official source for Xfce News.

Xfce on openSUSE

It was announced that Xfce 4.14 landed in openSUSE Tumbleweed. I wanted to see how that experience shaped up. A Telegram friend Mauro shared his Xfce desktop with me and I was blown away by how it looked. I sure didn’t think, Xfce, in the traditional sense.

Then, I wanted to see, how does Xfce on openSUSE look, right out of the gate, just as you log in for the first time. What is my vanilla experience. I installed Xfce direct from the YaST installer on a fresh disk but in case you want to try it on your openSUSE Tumbleweed instance, just run this:

sudo zypper in -t pattern xfce

After booting it up, it looked really quite respectable. I appreciate the new welcome screen, right out of the gate. This is a welcome re-addition to openSUSE. Something that drifted away about 4 or 5 years ago.

I wanted to see what themes were built in. How I could tweak it just a bit and make it my own. I must say, I am pleasantly surprised; ecstatic, really.

After adjusting the theme to something dark, I came to the conclusion that Xfce is fantastic, it is simply fantastic and I take every bad thing I have ever said about GTK back. Xfce is, in my opinion, the premier GTK based desktop. It is fully functional, easy to customize and respectful or system resources and incredibly responsive.

Everything about is easy to tweak to make my own. There wasn’t a special “tweak tool” that had to be installed not part of the regular settings, it was all there. The boot up time on an a Xfce only system is a break neck speed. I don’t know what they have done at openSUSE to make this happen but just wow and Thank You!

I didn’t make much in the way of tweaks to Xfce to make it the way I prefer. Like when playing Monopoly® with my kids, I like to have my cards laid out a specific way and as such, I made some slight changes to the panel along the bottom and added just a hint of transparency because, why not. I also did a bit of a tweak to color theme to make it to my liking, and I was ready to go. The adjustments took me all of 4 minutes and I was grinning from ear to ear. Like an 8 year old on Christmas morning, staring at the tree with presents beneath it, I was excited from my finger tips to my toes just ready to tear into the gifts I have yet to uncover.

Final Thoughts

Xfce is the GTK desktop environment that seems to have all the necessary elements, clean interface and the ease of customization that rivals KDE Plasma. This is “not your father’s Xfce” as it were. This is an Xfce that doesn’t “just get out of the way” it says, I am here, I am ready to give you a great desktop experience and I won’t mess a single thing up. It says, I am down to business but if it’s play time, I mean business about play time too.

I have now used Xfce 4.14 on top of openSUSE, MX Linux, Salient OS and Endeavour OS. They are all great examples of how Xfce should look, the crisp and immediate sense of responsiveness that insists on productivity. In my observation, Xfce is the model GTK desktop, the standard to which all others should be measured against. It’s stability, efficiency, easily customized and makes the desktop truly a personal experience.

References

Xfce Official Release
Xfce 4.14 Lands in openSUSE Tumbleweed
https://cubiclenate.com/2019/03/06/salient-os-review-from-an-opensuse-user/
https://cubiclenate.com/2019/08/20/endeavour-os-review-from-an-opensuse-user/
openSUSE Portal:Xfce

Endeavour OS | Review from an openSUSE User

Endeavour OS is the unofficial successor to Antegros, I’ve never used Antegros so I cannot make any comparisons between the two. It should also be noted that I think Arch Linux, in general, is more work than it is worth so this won’t exactly be a shining review. Feel free to bail here if you don’t like the direction of my initial prejudice.

I am reviewing Endeavour OS as a rather biased openSUSE Linux user that is firmly entrenched in all things openSUSE. I am going at this from the perspective that my computer is my companion, my coworker or assistant in getting my digital work done and some entertainment sprinkled in there as well.

Bottom Line Up Front: If you want to run main-line Arch, Endeavour OS is absolutely the way to get going with it. They take the “Easy Plus One” approach to Arch by allowing you to install what I would consider a minimal but very usable base and learn to use “genuine Arch” with all the triumphs and pitfalls. If you want to go Arch, I can most certainly endorse this as the route to do so. However, even after playing here for two weeks, I find Arch to be more trouble than it is worth but a great educational experience.

Installation

Installing Arch using the “Arch Method” from the Wiki is pretty obtuse. Following it, step by step is not clear and leaves to many aspects ambiguous and unclear. It should NOT be a “beginners guide” at all. Thankfully, Endeavour OS installer bypasses the nonsense so you can get going with Arch.

The media will boot quickly and you are given a shiny desktop with a window open. There are two tabs, the first tab has two selections: one access to offline information and the second for information the Endeavour OS website. The second tab will allow you to create partitions and to install Endeavour OS to the disk.

Should you choose to make modifications to the existing file system. You can do so from here using the Gparted tool.

Since I set this up to be on a virtual machine, I intended on using the entire disk so no partitioning was necessary. Selecting Install EndeavourOS to disk initiates the installer. It will start out requesting language then Location.

Next is the Keyboard layout and your partitions preference. Since this is a simple setup, I selected to erase the disk to meet my testing requirements.

Lastly, the User, computer hostname and passwords will be entered. The last step being the summary and a final sanity check. Not a single step was difficult in this process. It was all very straight forward.

The installation proceeds rather quickly and gives some rather enjoyable propaganda is presented. One questioning your disposition towards the terminal.

Once the installation is complete, I restarted the system to boot into the newly installed Arch Linux based operating system.

First run and Impressions

Something that is most noteworthy was the speed at which Endeavour OS went from boot screen to login prompt. It wasn’t just fast, it was as expeditious as the time it takes to flip the switch of a Commodore 64 having that momentary pause and be greeted with that comforting blue glow on a 1084S CRT.

Upon logging in, you are presented one of the finest looking Xfce desktops I have ever seen. The only issue I had with the start up is that this Kalu applet spews out important system “news”. It was a little like going to a relatives house and being greeted by that over excited nephew

The first thing I thought I would do would be to perform some updates. After all, I had just been informed, quite clearly that there are lots of updates pending. After punching in my root password, the installer commenced with such an incredible display of detail that it tickled every nerdy nerve ending.

After the updates completed there was not a single issue with the system. It all booted with the latest and greatest Arch has to offer and just as stable as before. That meant it was time to check out the customization options. Make some tweaks to remove that piercing white from the User Interface.

After clicking through a few themes, the appearance that sat the best with me was the Arc-Dark theme. Adwaita-dark was a close second and would make me just about as happy.

The default file manager is satisfactory. It’s not quite as good as Dolphin but for basic use, it will work well. The icon theme looks real nice and makes for a real pleasant and complete experience.

When it came time to install software, it was time to see what Endeavour had installed for me to accomplish that task. The good news is, they gave you everything you need… the terminal and the Pacman package manager.

Since I am mostly aware of how to use Pacman, this isn’t a big deal but the Endeavour OS Pacman basic commands list page is lacking the search function but I do have that solution in hand. Since I am not a complete dolt, I am able to figure these things out but as I learn the Pacman commands, I find them to be an adhoc mess. After sifting through the Arch Wiki the search command is performed like this:

pacman -Ss <package name>

Once you determine the package you want to install, it can be done as such.

sudo pacman -S <package name>

…Because it is completely intuitive to have -S be install and -Ss be search… I’m sure it makes sense to someone, somewhere.

I was able to search for and install many of the applications I would need except one. Surprisingly, I was not able to install osc the Open Build Service Commander command line tool. I find it odd that it is in the Debian repositories but not Arch which seemingly has everything.

I is probably available in the Arch User Repository (AUR) of which is something I would avoid as it is kind of the wild, wild west of software. Some say they love it, others tell me to avoid it and some tell me I have to read through everything carefully to make sure I am not installing anything dangerous. All of which makes me sigh.

What I Like

The installer is easy to use. It is quick to get going with Arch and not have to muddle around with the nearly useless “Basic Installation Guide” provided on the Arch Wiki. The basic installation with Endavour OS gives you a fine looking Xfce Desktop Environment and tweaks it well enough that one can comfortably get going with it and accomplish basic tasks… that is… after you’ve installed your desired applications

The boot up time for Endeavour OS is fast, not just fast, but strap in, hang on, we are jumping to warp speed kind of fast. Granted, I haven’t set up the loads on this that I do on my regular machine so I can’t say if it would fare any differently but out of the gate, Endeavour will not leave you impatiently tapping your foot at any point.

Most importantly, and this is quite subjective, but the community is quite friendly. When it is all said and done. Linux is not just an operating system of components but one of people and community members. Just in observation alone, the project seems to foster a sense of community that is extremely helpful and quite engaged. That feature alone makes Endeavour OS worth all the hassle of using Arch tools.

What I Don’t Like

Pacman has a real obtuse syntax. I don’t care what the justification might be but understanding how to install software on an Arch distribution should not be as such. This is ridiculously unintuitive and doesn’t feel like it was well planned out at all. It absolutely feels like they added features and chose a letter in the same way you would pick one playing Scrabble.

Since this is Arch based, there are some rather dubious quality assurance practices. There isn’t that automated testing as you would see in openSUSE, openQA to minimize the likelihood of new software breaking systems. In my opinion… let me underscore, bold and italicize opinion, this would not make for a good server or production machine environment. Many people will say they run it just fine. I would submit that these individuals are intimately acquainted with their systems and know it inside and out. There is merit and utility in this but I don’t have the time for another relationship with a computer (insert Commodore Amiga jokes here).

Not as big of a deal but there isn’t a good description of how to get software for Endeavour OS on your system. There isn’t a graphic installer or instructions on the Endeavour OS website for searching for packages. You kind of have to fend for yourself. This is, adamantly a minor issue and easily rectified.

As wonderful as the AUR is and how likely it is that the software has no malware, it is still the wild, wild west of software. There is no guarantee that the software will be maintained or tested against the current versions in the official repository. There is no guarantee on proper testing or any level of quality assurance either.

Final Thoughts

If you are going to jump with both feet into the murky, shark infested waters of Arch, Endeavour OS provides a great life raft, or maybe an actual dingy to shield you from some of the hazards of using Arch. I wouldn’t put any stock into it holding up long term but that is quite likely my experiential bias of using Arch and perhaps my lack of fully understanding how to use the Arch tools… but that brings me to my next point. I am not a Linux noobie. Using and managing numerous Linux machines on numerous devices has been mostly effortless and automatic. Arch is like taking numerous steps backward. The machine doesn’t work for you, you work for the machine. Although I didn’t have any issues with Arch in the two weeks I used it, I have had previous installs go wonky on me. I do admit, it may be due to my lack of understanding and experience on Arch.

The Endeavour team has made huge strides in getting Arch Linux closer to what I would consider sustainable but it is still too much like flying a helicopter with a wonky tail rotor through a derecho on half a tank of fuel. It’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong. I see the utility in Arch but not the benefits, at least, not any benefits that outweigh what openSUSE gives me.

References

Endeavour OS Download

Endeavour OS Pacman basic commands list

Zorin OS 15 | Review from an openSUSE User

One of those distributions there is a lot of buzz about and I have mostly ignored for a significant number of years has been Zorin OS. I just shrugged my shoulders and kind of ignored its existence. None of the spoken or written selling points really stuck with me, like a warm springtime rain trickling off of a ducks back, I ignored it.

I think that was a mistake.

Instead of just acting like I know something about it, I made the time to noodle around in this rather nice Linux distribution. My review on Zorin OS is from the perspective of a deeply entrenched, biased openSUSE user. I won’t pretend that this is going to be completely objective, as it absolutely is not. So take that for what it’s worth.

Bottom line up front and to give you a quick escape from the rest of this blathering, I was pleasantly surprised by the Zorin OS experience. It is a highly polished experience molded with the Gnome Desktop Environment. It is such a nicely customized and smooth experience, I had to check twice to verify that it was indeed Gnome I was using. Although I am exceptionally satisfied with using openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop, the finely crafted distribution gave me pause and much to think about. So much so, I had to think about some of my life decisions. This was such an incredibly seamless and pleasant experience and I could easily recommend this for anyone that is curious about Linux but doesn’t have a lot of technical experience. I would put this right up next to Mint as an approachable introduction to the Linux world.

Installation

The installation media can be acquired here where I went for the “Free” edition called “Core”. I chose to run this in a virtual machine as the scope of this evaluation is is to test the ease of [basic] installation, how usable the interface is and the [subjective] quality of the system tools.

The Core edition gives you three options. All of which are to Try or Install. For my case, I am choosing the top option which is simply, “Try or Install Zorin OS”.

The system boots with a very modern or almost look to the future font, simply displaying, “Zorin.”

You are immediately greeted with two options, to “Try…” or to “Install…” for my purposes, I have chosen to Install Zorin OS. Following that choice, your next task is to set your keyboard layout and your preference on Updates and other software.

Next you are to select the Installation type. Since this is a simple setup, I have chosen to erase the disk. You are given one sanity check before proceeding. Selecting Continue is essentially the point of no return.

After you have past the point of no return, select your location and enter your user information and the hostname of the computer.

Following the final user-required input, the installation of Zorin OS 15 will commence. This process doesn’t take very long and if you are interested in all the nerdy details, there is an arrow just to the let of “Installing system” that will reveal the interesting bits.

That is all there is to it to install Zorin OS. It’s super simple to get the installation completed and get onward with your foray into this shiny new Linux installation.

First Run and Impressions

Upon the reboot of the system, you are presented with a bright, fresh, desktop that gives you the renewed and rewarding feeling of waking up, overlooking a great expanse from a precipice following a long, hard day of hiking through winding, steep, thickly wooded, mountainside trails. This, this is finest smelling desktop that absolutely brings life to your finger tips!

Although I am not big fan of the bright themed desktop, somehow, this is tolerable. I can’t put my finger on it, but I like it. Maybe it the subdued panel along the bottom or the the well-thought out icon set but this is a nice white theme. This is also likely the only time I will ever write this.

The settings present themselves quite nicely in Zorin OS. Unlike many other Gnome experiences, the options are readily available, there isn’t the mess of settings you get with a typical Gnome Desktop. There are no myriad of extensions that need to be installed and digging through separate settings systems just to get simple things turned on like a minimize button. There is no “Gnome Tweaks” requirement to make it functional. This is functional right out of the gate, like a Desktop should be. This is a truly mature desktop experience that takes user preference into account, this is fantastic! This makes Gnome great and I take everything bad I ever said about Gnome back.

After darkening the theme to something more palatable, as the white fatigued me a bit I was liking this desktop even more. It should also be noted, there is an option that allows you to have the desktop auto-magically change from light to dark theme based on the time of day.

The Software Update Utility has a nice little feature to it. It was something I didn’t notice initially but on a second round of updates, there was a notification on the lock screen that there are updates available. I don’t know if this is a normal Gnome thing, I don’t recall seeing this before but I do think that this is pretty fantastic.

The update process is easy enough. Selecting “Install Now” will kick the process off. Enter your password and you are off to the update races.

I wanted to dig into the system a bit as I was unsure what exactly Zorin was based upon. I knew it was Ubuntu based but what exactly. In the terminal, I ran the command.

uname -a

It gave the following output

Linux ZorinOS-VM 4.18.0-25-generic #26~18.04.1-Ubuntu SMP Thu Jun 27 07:28:31 UTC 2019 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

That tells me that this is based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, Bionic Beaver.

I was interested in what wonders the software center brought to me. On the very top was a very enticing banner to tell me to try OnlyOffice, I resisted just long enough to look at all the recommended software choices, many of which are Snaps.

When I couldn’t resist the temptation any longer, I had to see what this “OnlyOffice” was all about. Scrolling down to the bottom, I see that it is also a snap so I installed it and launched it.

Although LibreOffice is installed by default, I found this to be an interesting alternative. Sure, LibreOffice satisfies my needs but maybe I am a bit of an Office Suite Hopper. Perhaps a bit more of a dabbler but I just wanted to kick the tires a bit. My initial impressions are that it is much like the latest of the Microsoft office suites but with only the three main parts: word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications.

I like what I see, it is responsive and would be a great safety blanket for someone used to the Microsoft Office suite of tools. Also, knowing it is a Snap, I may have to revisit this application at another time. At this time, I still prefer LibreOffice because of the dark openSUSE Breeze theme that keeps my eyes happy.

What I Like

The experience is very well polished. So well polished I almost couldn’t tell I was using Gnome. The menu was incredibly well laid out and a very approachable designed. The customization options were easily accessible to changing it to a dark theme that suited me well was effortless. I was able to install most of the core set of applications I would need to get along fine if I chose to live here. The Zorin Connect application, based on KDE Connect, is a well done execution.

What really makes Zorin stand out is the implementation of Gnome. This has significantly altered my perspective of Gnome. Zorin has fixed the mess of controls you would normally find in Gnome by integrating the Gnome Settings, Gnome Tweaks and maybe some other things in a sensible fashion and providing some layout options that may be to your liking.

What I Don’t Like

Unsurprisingly, there was one terminal based application I was not able to install from the Software Center, which is the openSUSE build service command-line tool. Not a big deal, easy enough to install from the terminal using apt install osc.

Since the Desktop is Gnome, it is going to be encumbered by the Gnome shortcomings. The higher memory usage, the single process thread of Gnome Shell and that it is demonstrably the slowest of the desktop options. The Zorin team, however, has done a lot to make Gnome shine better than I have ever experienced and perhaps this is proof that all of the encumberments can indeed be eliminated.

Final Thoughts

Zorin OS has rocketed itself to the top of my list of distributions to recommend to new users. From my perspective, this one is tied with Mint on easiness to deploy and familiarity in the interface. I now give it a number one in the implementation of Gnome as they seemed to have fixed the glaring user experience shortcomings. I give this two thumbs up! …but it still wouldn’t rip me from my precious openSUSE Tumbleweed. As well done as this is with all the options, something still felt confining, probably my own biases. Regardless, if you have never tried Zorin OS, give this a spin.

References

Zorin OS Home
OnlyOffice Home