Acer AspireOne D255 with openSUSE Tumbleweed Xfce

Anytime someone wants to give me a piece of hardware, it’s hard for me to say, “no.” I received this Acer AspireOne D255 as payment for installing openSUSE Leap on an HP Laptop. This little netbook was a bit slower than my other Acer AspireOne and with only 1 GiB of RAM and a dead battery. I tried to see if I could install anything but the hard drive was at it’s end of life. So, thing sat in a drawer for about a year or so. I found that there are some education open source programs that are quite educational and since I would rather my kids not play games on phones and tablets, now was the time for me to act.

I purchased a new battery and a charger for this computer which cost me all of $21. I ordered a 2 GiB stick of DDR3 memory so that whenever it did arrive, I could upgrade that as well.

Taking apart the AspireOne is not that difficult, at all, you just have to know how to get to the screws to drop the back panel. Annoyingly, you have to remove the keyboard by essentially pushing back little detents to pop the thing out. It isn’t exactly work made for large hands.

Under the keyboard the screws that require removal are all marked with arrows and the last bit is to push the panel off using a screwdriver. That will expose the goodness that this machine keeps hidden away.

The hard drive sits in in a caddy and the memory is held in place with the usual spring clip arrangement. After replacing the failed Hard Drive with an SSD, it was time to do the installation.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how it would go to have my eight year old boy install openSUSE Tumbleweed with Xfce. I expected to direct a couple steps, of which would be how I want the partitions to be laid out, the username and password as well as the root password. I also instructed him to turn off the CPU vulnerability mitigations as well. I saw no need for this computer to need those.

I wanted to see if he could do the rest without my help. Amazingly, but really not so amazingly, he was able to do it. This made me think and smile and reinforce the fact that the YaST installer is actually quite easy to use. I mean, if an eight year old can do it…

My boy recognized Windows 7 wasn’t on it any longer and corrected the mislabeling.

After playing with Xfce on openSUSE in the virtual machine, I really wanted to see how it felt on some 10 year old netbooks, or more specifically, this under powered unit with only 1 GiB of RAM.

Surprisingly, the system runs quite well and doesn’t seem too terribly encumbered by the lack of RAM. Granted, most of what is being done at this time are simple programs geared for educating my kids but getting on the web didn’t prove to be a problem either. It was able to YouTube without any irritating stutter.

After booting to a settled system. The AspireOne was using about 380 MiB of RAM. I could probably force it lower by removing some things but I don’t see it as necessary at this time. Instead, I will pop in that 2 GiB DDR3 SODIMM and leave quite a bit of headroom for some of the other educational things to come.

The “new” battery for this machine did have one drawback. It is a little thicker than the original one and now it sits at a bit of an angle when set down. It does make it a bit harder to slip into a neoprene case but the flip side is that it won’t suffocate if left running on the couch

The applications I installed for the time being to make using them a bit better are:

  • Syncthing-Gtk – I have a series of files in written as well as audio and video form that are for memory work. For them to have read-only access to it from their machines is a huge plus when they are not home.
  • Gcompris – This is a great educational application with lots of games and such to help teach the basic foundational things like numbers, letters and learning the sounds. It is also a great tool to teach the kids to learn to use a mouse or touchpad as well.
  • Tux Paint – it is a fine little application to teach the basics of creating images in on a computer.
  • qsynergy – this is more for my convenience so that I can more easily “help” them fro my computer. I do want to note, that I did purchase a license key for this applicaiton.
  • Crossover Linux – I have an older version of Rosetta Stone that is packed with many languages. I specifically want them to take time to learn Latin and German. This will reduce the irritation of having only a single machine for the kids to share. One little note. There was an issue with sound. The PulseAudio module was not available in the Wine Configurator. The solution was to install libpulse0-32bit

What I Like

I really like that I am able to install a “heavy weight” distribution like openSUSE onto a rather under powered an really quite anemic machine. I was incredibly surprised how Xfce looked and felt on this machine. Although, much to my chagrin, my daughter made hers all pink and bright instead of my preference of dark and green of which I initially set. I guess, without any instruction at all, she too sees the importance of making it personal.

This machines gets crazy long battery life. For a machine as “long in the tooth” as this is. I am shocked that it can run all day on battery. I will place a lot of that credit to openSUSE’s default use of TLP as well as the fact Xfce is very resource conscious.

This is going to certainly enhance the quality of the my supplied education to my kids. Inexpensive laptops running a resource conscious operating system with all the underpinning bells and whistles provided by openSUSE.

What I Don’t Like

For whatever reason the libpulse0-32bit module didn’t install with Crossover Linux. I don’t think that is a fault of openSUSE, maybe Crossover but that was an irritation that required a few extra steps.

The machine itself is too small for my fingers. The keyboard is okay but it is just slightly smaller than what I like. It isn’t easy to do extended typing on it. The touchpad, also a bit undersized and the “mouse buttons” although separate from the touchpad, are not great. This is part of the reason I like having Synergy to use my main system to use as an input device. I suppose I could plug in a mouse and keyboard…

Final Thoughts

I will never take for granted how great Linux can keep older hardware highly functional. In this case, using openSUSE Tumbleweed with Xfce is absolutely enhancing the use experience on this old, under-powered machine. Consequently, I am able to better enhance the quality of education for my kids.

I have a new love for these end of life netbooks. Just a few short days ago, they were sitting stacked on top of one another collecting dust. Now they are sources of furthering my children’s education and they enjoy using them. I have developed an aversion to my kids being on mobile devices like phones and tablets. I want them to learn and know to use a keyboard and mouse or touchpad. I am hoping, as time progresses, I can further their education on the use and eventually administration of Linux, especially openSUSE or MX Linux.

For 9 year old Amazed on how performant this AspireOne D255 is. The Atom N550 is able to do a lot more than I expected and it looks like I will get a significant amount of time out of it. I must say, once again, how grateful I am to everyone that has anything to do with any of the tools that make this possible. From the kernel and applications, to the package maintainers and the folks in the server room delivers each of those Tumbleweed snapshots, and everyone in between or have some ancillary relation to any project, thank you.

References

openSUSE Tumbleweed Download
Atom N550 CPU Benchmark
Syncthing-Gtk
Gcompris
Tux Paint
qsynergy
Crossover Linux

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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

Upgrade Reliability of openSUSE Tumbleweed

AspireOne_TumbleweedFor fun… or maybe negligence… I hadn’t updated one of my openSUSE Tumbleweed netbooks. As a rolling distribution of Linux, it is generally considered in bad form to not keep it updated as it will likely break the installation. Not so with Tumbleweed.

The System

Acer Aspire One D255E Netbook

  • Intel Atom CPU N455 @ 1.66GHz
  • 2 GB DDR3 Memory
  • 250 GB HDD
  • Intel GPU with 1024×600 screen resolution
  • Runs openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma
  • Last updated 02 May 2018,
  • Kernel 4.16.7
  • KDE Plasma 5.12.4
  • KDE Framework Version 5.45.0
  • QT Version 5.10.0

sudo zypper dup

After updating the repositories and some churning a couple repository switches for two packages, there were a total of 2902 packages to be downloaded and installed. This included:

  • Kernel 4.18.0
  • KDE Plasma version 5.13.4
  • KDE Frameworks Version: 5.48.0
  • Qt Version 5.11.1

After about two hours of that little netbook cranking away, downloading and installing, the upgrade was complete. The machine rebooted without a single incident. Not a bit of strange behavior or fiddling required to use the computer. It just worked.

I was curious to know, how many snapshots were released since the last update. According to this page,  there were 54 snapshots released by the Tumbleweed team. That means there were enough changes to spin up a new ISO of Tumbleweed 54 times!

How does it run?

Upon the system settling, I wanted to check the memory usage. A total of 489 MiB was being used by the system. Since Firefox and Chrome tend to be a bit heavy to use, I installed Falkon Web Browser and started to dink around a little bit. The machine is obviously a bit slow but runs well enough to be useful. Monitoring CPU usage, there were few spikes or periods of the CPU maxing out. I am impressed by how few resources that are actually being used.

As far as how performant this machine is? It’s not. Not at all nor do I expect it to be. I don’t know that this machine is any slower than when it originally Ran Windows 7 Starter but comparatively to other systems, it can be just a bit painful to use outside of casual web browsing but it does play Tux Racer quite well.

Final Thoughts

I am impressed by how well openSUSE Tumbleweed can tolerate not being updated for an extended period of time. Two major kernel revisions, Qt version jump, and a KDE Plasma version jump and not a single things is broken even after missing 54 snapshots. Truly a testament to the hard work of all those involved in building and maintaining openSUSE Tumbleweed.

As far as the hardware goes. I really like the size of this netbook; the keyboard is almost full size and it is preferred over a tablet for most purposes and it stands up on its own without any special case. The battery life is still good after 8 years of use and although it feels a BIT flimsy, the build quality is as such that it has survived more than one drop without any catastrophic damage. When this finally goes, I would strongly consider another of the same form factor and build quality.

As with anything, your mileage may vary. Not everyone has the same successes and failures in their cases. I have pretty ordinary hardware so I seem to have constant success with openSUSE Tumbleweed as a very stable and robust platform to run on my machines.

References

Tumbleweed Changes and ISOs

Acer Aspire One D255E Netbook

Falkon One-Click Install for openSUSE