CubicleNate Noodlings | Episode 02 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

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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

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

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

Back In Time for Data Backups on openSUSE | Retrospective

Backup-02

The lack of data security is something that has recently affected some municipal governments in a negative way. Atlanta in 2018 was attacked with a ransomware and demanded $51,000 before they would unlock it. Baltimore was hit a second time this past May [2019]. I am not a security expert but in my non-expert opinion, just keeping regular backups of your data would have prevented needing to spend a ransom to get your data back. It would also help to run openSUSE Linux or one of the many other Linux options on the desktop to reduce the impact of a user induced damage due to wayward link-clicking.

If you are interested in keeping your personal data “safe,” offline backups are an absolute requirement. Relying only on Google Drive, Dropbox, Nextcloud or whatever it may be is just not not adequate. Those are a synchronizing solution and can be a part of your data-safekeeping strategy but not the entirety of it.

I have been using Back In Time as my backup strategy, in this time, I have only had to restore a backup once but that was an elected procedure. Back In Time is great because it is a Qt based application so it looks good in KDE Plasma

Installation

For openSUSE users, getting the software is an easy task. The point and click method can be done here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/backintime-qt

The more fun and engaging method would be to open a terminal and run:

sudo zypper install backintime-qt

It is, after all, in the main openSUSE repository and not playing in the terminal when the opportunity presents itself is a missed opportunity.

How it has been going

Since this is a retrospective on using Back In Time, you can find more about usage and other options backing up your system hereI am not going to claim that I was 100% disciplined performing weekly backups like I suggested. The sad reality is, I got busy and sometimes it was every other week… I may have forgotten to do it entirely in April… but for the most part, I was pretty good about keeping my system backed up.

Since Back In Time is really quite easy to use it is as simple as connecting a specially designated USB drive into my computer and I start “Back In Time”. Yes, in that order because I don’t I get a rather angry message.

BackInTime 04-Snapshots folder.png

Something else you have to do is either manually or automatically remove old snapshots. I didn’t pay attention and some of the snapshots completed “WITH ERRORS!” I am sharing this as a cautionary tale to pay closer attention to your backup medium, whatever that may be, to ensure you have enough space.

From there, all I would have to do is click the Save Snapshots Icon.

BackInTime 05-Take Snapshot Icon-box

The application will evaluate the last snapshot against your filesystem and create an incremental snapshot. The first snapshot is the most time consuming, the subsequent snapshots don’t take nearly as much time.

BackInTime 01-Main Screen.png

With Back In Time, there is a feature to adjust how many snapshots it keeps. I ultimately decided to have it automatically delete snapshots older than 6 months (26 Weeks). For my purposes, anything older than 6 months is likely useless. I could probably reduce the length of time that I keep. I really just need the data should something catastrophic happen to all the machines that I keep synchronized.  Your requirements may vary, of course.

BackInTime 03-Auto-remove

I have been told that I should do a separate monthly and weekly offline updates but it is my opinion that for my personal usage, weekly is fine. I would also say that if you are responsible for an organization or business data, doing the separate monthly and weekly backups, maybe even daily would be better. I am not a professional here, nor should you take my advice on what is best practice for your organization. I do recommend that you do backups at some interval and find out what is best for you.

Final Thoughts

After fumbling my way through Back In Time a bit, adjusting it’s settings for my purposes, this has proven itself to be a fantastic application I can count on to keep my data “safe.” I can personally attest to the ease of backing up and restoring data. The way I use it isn’t necessarily the best way for you. Back In Time can do a LOT more than the limited way I am using it.

Even if you don’t use Back In Time, find an application that will help you make backups that is easy to do and sustainable enough to stay consistent. There isn’t a single downside to it.

References

Data Back Up | Better to Prevent than to Regret

Back In Time on GitHub

Back In Time Documentation

Back In Time from openSUSE

Atlanta Ransomware Attack from SecurityMagazine.com

Baltimore Ransomware Attack Article

Bodhi Linux 5.0 | Review from an openSUSE User

Bodhi review title.png

Linux is a fun thing and trying out other distributions can result in a myriad of experiences. Some distributions concentrate on user experience or mostly the technical underpinnings. Some distributions put their own feel while others minimize their modifications. I am a long time openSUSE user and am perfectly content with all that it has to offer, not just as a distribution but as a project in its totality.  As a part of the Big Daddy Linux Community, there is an optional weekly challenge to try out a Linux distribution. My process for this is to put it in a VM first and then go to “bare metal” for further testing if my initial experience is compelling enough and I have the time.

The latest challenge is Bodhi Linux it is built on the Ubuntu 18.04 LTS but targeting machines with fewer resources. The Bodi Linux Project offers forums for help and advice, they have a wiki to help with configurating the system, and offer a live chat through Discord to get help or just get to know members of the community. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any IRC options. I downloaded the ISO from here. There are few different options from which to choose. I went with the “AppPack” ISO as it has more applications bundled in it. For more information on choosing the correct ISO for you, see here.

Bottom Line Up Front, Bodhi Linux is well put together and the Moksha Desktop is a crisp, low resource, animated (almost excessively) environment that is worthy of giving it a spin. This distribution is certainly worth the time, especially if you have an older system you want to keep going a little longer. The Moksha Desktop looks good and is more functional than GNOME so that is already a leg up on many distributions.

Installation

When you first spin it up, you are greated with the typical boot menu you would get from a Linux media. My only complain here is that it doesn’t have an install option from here. That is always my preferred option.

Bodhi Linux 1 Live Installer

Booting from the Live Media was pretty rapid. The default desktop was clean and themed correctly, dark. I didn’t even see a light option so well done there! All the icons and menus lend themselves nicely for a dark themed desktop.

The Welcome Screen is nothing more than a local html file of places to go to get started using Bodhi Linux. You are almost immediately greeted with the notice that you are not running the latest Enlightenment. I know that this desktop, Moksha, is forked from it so, just odd that I would see “Enlightenment” there.

Since I wanted to play with this distribution and do things with it, I needed to install it. Although I prefer being able to install out of the gate, I can get along with the Live process well enough. My only issue was. I didn’t know where the installation laucher was to get the process started.

After some searching I found it was “hidden” in the menu under Applications > Preferences and the entry is called Install Bodhi Linux 5.0.0 AppPack.

The rest of the installation process is pretty trivial. You will start off by selecting your language and then deciding if you want to download updates while installing Bodhi and third-party software. I selected both for my installation

Next is the installation type. For the purposes of this installation, I want to wipe the entire disk to do whatever Bodhi wants to do with it. The default setup is to have one partition running, ext4… I’m pretty sure… I should check again…

You are then asked for your location and user information. Once that is complete, the installation will commence. The installation process is very similar to what you would see on many other distros, a slide show of propaganda about the distribution and optionally you can see what it is doing by selecting the fly-out just above the progress bar.

When the installation completes you can Restart Now or to Continue Testing the live media environment. I of course was anxious to get into the real thing and start mucking about so an immediate restart was warrented.

Bodhi Linux is incredibly easy to install. Assuming you don’t have any hardware issues, such as with proprietary drivers (which I do not have). You should be all tip-top and ready to rock with Bodhi Linux in very short order.

First Run and Impressions

Bodhi has a pretty decent looking desktop. It loads quickly and uses very little RAM. The file manager is acceptable and bonus, it reminds me of the Konqueror File Manager mode back in the KDE3 days. The clock widget is pretty nice and very functional. The good part about the default settings is that it has the task bar, or shelf, as it is called here, on the bottom of the screen like a good and proper desktop.

The effects that are enabled by default are interesting. It is a very live and active feeling desktop. It’s maybe a bit on the hyper side, if anything. I am not exactly sure what to think of the effects but they are neat to look at none the less.

I think if the labels were to float above the icon as opposed to on top of it, that would look better, but that is my opinion. Obviously, that is not an opinion shared by all.

The file manger does have the option to open up applications from it, which is another call back to the KDE3 days for me. I think it is handy to have for sure. Interestingly enough, you can still do that in Dolphin File Manager today on Plasma by putting “applications://” in the location field.

I appreciate that LibreOffice is installed by default. As much as “Cloud Office” is all the rage by kids these days, my old man ways still heavily use office applications locally. I am a fairly heavy LibreOffice user and I don’t see any way that would change anytime soon.

The system settings are a bit light in Bodhi. Perhaps it is an encouragement to learn more functions in the terminal but this is not my preference. I like the terminal and I like my GUIs and I especially like my hybrid approach openSUSE gives me with YaST as a traditional GUI and CLI application with ncurses. I am finding that when I use a distro, this is now a feature I am expecting to have available, to aid in the management my system.

The GUI tweaks are nice. Although mentioned just a bit before in this blathering, what I would normally call a panel is called a shelf here, which is fine. Enlightenment has been around long enough to have developed its own terminology so they should stick with what works for them. I just bring this up because it may be a bit confusing for some.

Bodhi Linux 31 Shelf

Switching the themes is pretty straight forward, although, they all look about the same, and they are all dark which is perfectly fine for me. It is clear to me that the developers and maintainers of Bodhi are concerned about users with light sensitivity issues. At least, that is what I am going to consider it. They are very thoughtful.

The settings panel is really where the meat of the settings are for the desktop. There are some odd menu locations for somethings, like the themes but that can also be found in the Settings Panel. If it were up to me, I would probably dump some of those menu entries to clean things up a bit.

Interestngly, Steam is installed by default. I ran it, expecting to have an issue with it but that was not the case at all. I am not sure why I would have expected an issue because it is built on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS so that was really screwy thinking on my part.

Bodhi Linux 20 Steam

Sadly, I have no Steam friends… as you can see.

I do want to note that the memory usage is very light on a settled system. I let it sit a while before I checked and it was using 183 MiB of RAM. I thought this to be rather impressive. That would make this a fantastic choice for low end netbooks or cheap laptops.

I played with some of the other applications and in the end, I have determined that this is just as functional of a portal to your applications as any other Ubuntu Linux Desktop. Pretty decent selection of applications, satisfactory defaults. Some notable applications that I wanted but wasn’t readily available in the system or on their AppCenter was Telegram and Discord. I could just as well use a browser but I do happen to like those bloated Electron apps taking up valuable RAM on my system. I would probably have to add some PPAs to fill in the gaps there.

Bodhi Linux 22 Leave Dialog Box

The logout action button brings up a six basic functions for stepping away from a computer. I chose, in this case, to shut the system down as my journey around Bodhi Linux was complete.

What I Like

Bodhi Linux has a very low memory usage and it is quite responsive. This would be a fine candidate for using on low end hardware and I am putting this in that use-for-low-end-hardware stack. Though, since 32-Bit is being dropped by Ubuntu, I think having this built on Debian or openSUSE Tumbleweed would be preferred.

The default themes are very acceptable, since they are all dark. I wouldn’t need any more variety in that regard. The interface is also quite configurable and has a system tray so that makes it better than GNOME.

The “Quick Start Guide” is quite fantastic. It gets you to all the places you need to go to get up and running with Bodhi. It has a decent wiki, helpful forums and a fairly active “Live Help” through Discord. I can’t see any reason why someone would not beable to get along fine in Bodhi Linux.

What I Don’t Like

As much as I liked the provided themes, something seemed or felt dated about it and I can’t put a finger on it. Maybe the layer of effects with the animations with text description or the amount of effects while hovering over an icon… the icon colors themselves… I am not sure, really. Although, this comes from a guy that likes the bouncy launch Icon on Plasma which is very much an early 2000s thing, so take that for what it’s worth.

The installation launcher was hidden and that annoyed me a bit. I knew that it was not right on the desktp going into it so I wasn’t surprised but still annoyed I had to go through the menus to find it. An easy fix for that would be have the icon on the desktop or at least on the root menu.

The menu layout feels clunky and there isn’t a search feature in the menu, something of which I have grown accustomed in the last few years and doing without is almost a non-starter for me in the desktop world. I like menus but I also like to search. A search feature would also make finding the hidding installer a bit easier to get to as well.

Final Thoughts

Bodhi is a fine experience. It is very resource conscious, feels responsive and for the most part seemed to work well. The desktop does feel a bit dated, not horribly and I don’t have a particular thing I can point to that says it feels dated. I also don’t know that my impresson there would be universal. My guess is that most users wouldn’t have that impression out of the gate. This is likely the strong influence Plasma has had on me with the Breeze theme.

Althought I think I could get along fine with Bodhi, it just happens to lack some of the things I rely on regularly that openSUSE has provided me. It is not that I find the Bodhi experience lacking but that there are things of which I am quite accustomed that I don’t see the benefit in giving up.

Would I recommend Bodhi to a new Linux user? I am not sure on that. Some of the notable mising packages would make getting going a bit more of a challenge. I do think that I would recommend this to anyone that has old hardware that they want to keep chugging along a little longer or perhaps they have a computer that acts as some kind of portal to the Internet with other basic applications like LibreOffice.

Enlightentment or Moksha Desktop as it is called here makes for an interesting, maybe esoteric experience in Linux. There isn’t anything bad about it, it is just different but yet, highly functional. It is certainly not my preference but I would absolutely encourage anyone to give this a spin.

References

Bodhi Linux Download

Selecting the correct Bodhi Linux ISO

Moksha Desktop

openSUSE Main Site

More about Ncurses from Wikipedia

YaST Main Site

Bodhi Linux Destkop Challenge Discourse on BigDaddyLinux.com

Wavebox | Chat Unification Snap Application on openSUSE Tumbleweed

Wavebox on openSUSE

From time to time, I like to play around with the universal packaging available in Linux. It has mostly been AppImages and Flatpak but I wanted to Snap something into my system. After working out an AppArmor issue. Snaps were working fantastically well once again. The application I wanted to try was another Chat Message Unification Application. I had heard wonderful things about Wavebox so it was time to try it out. It’s described as, “A clever new home for cloud apps on your desktop bringing Gmail, Inbox, Outlook, O365, Trello, Slack & over 1000 more apps into a configurable client.”

You can look at the details here on the SnapCraft store.

Wavebox Snap 19

In a terminal I installed Wavebox from the Snap Store:

sudo snap install wavebox

Installation was a snap (haha) and it created an entry in the application menu of KDE Plasma, just as one would expect. It should also be noted that the system tray icon also looks great next to the rest of the icons sitting there too.

Wavebox Snap 20 System Tray.png

When the Application started up, I didn’t notice any lengthy start up time that has been complained about in the past with Snaps. It was delightfully… snappy… and when it settled I was greeted with a pleasant interface. There was no question as to what I needed to do, create an account.Wavebox Snap 2

Going through the process was really quite trivial. You begin by entering your name, email and password. I elected to setup two-factor authentication which did require me to install an application on my phone…

After you have logged in, you can add your first application. I went with Slack, specifically the Bad Voltage slack group. There is a convenient search box right at the top of the uncluttered interface.

I am not 100% sure what the “Pic a Colour” section does, entirely but it does create a ring around thee account on the side tab of the service. Setting up Slack was trivial and has the same basic feel of what you would have in the web browser.

What I think is interesting is the different customization features you can specify for each module you add. What is interesting to me is the ability to put a tab to sleep and stop it after some time of inactivity. I don’t know exactly what that means and how it is implemented but if that is what I am thinking it is, that should be more kind to your system when on battery power. I find with all the services running in either a browser or other Chat Unification applications, the CPU usage is noticeable.

Wavebox Snap 11

I wanted to install the G-suite of tools and began that process by selecting the Gmail icon when adding an application. There is a similar “Pick a Colour” selection then you can choose which services it loads into this “tab”. I didn’t test all the functions but the ones that did worked as expected. The Hangouts button doesn’t give me the hangouts configuration I prefer but it is functional, none the less.

Wavebox Snap 13

Setting up the account is much like logging in through a browser or even Kmail, for that matter. When you sign in, you then configure the default inbox configuration.

The display of the email is as you would see in a web page but the added benefit is that you have all the other services on a menu bar at the top of the Window. This is, by far, the best implementation of interfacing with the Google Services I have ever seen. It is far more functional than the Google defaults and even nicer than what I have been using on similar services.

Memory Use

It’s very easy to see how much of your drive is taken up by the application

/dev/loop11 156M 156M 0 100% /snap/wavebox/180

I don’t view this as outrageous at all. The application has another 181 MiB of storage on my home directory in the snap folder. I haven’t fully investigated the the contents of the folder but it does keep historical snap version configuration files, which is interesting.

Running the 10 Google Services, Riot and Slack, I am using about 490 MiB of RAM, so, 12 services in all on this so about 40.8 MiB per service. Combine that with the sleep function, this doesn’t feel too bad.

What I like

The way that Wavebox bundles the Google Services into one tab and how integrated and purposeful it feels makes this application really quite special. There is a lot of thought and detail put into it. I would say that this is a far better “Google Experience” than what you would have on a Chromebook. It is, seemingly a much more efficient and integrated experience, really, the best I have ever seen.

The Sleep Tab feature is very interesting and I have not studied it enough to know exactly how it works because I have received email notifications while the tab was sleeping so it must check periodically. somehow. I would really like to run this on a long term basis and determine, or at least, better determine what it is doing. Maybe even do some CPU usage comparisons between Wavebox and similar services but I just don’t have the time for that.

The conveniences of having all the different communication and collaboration services in one window, everything unified, is very conducive to productivity. That feature alone makes this application stand out from others similar to it. I would determine that it is a better experience than what you have in a browser with a string of pinned tabs.

What I Don’t Like

Wavebox does requires a login to an external server someplace to manage your accounts. This is like the Franz application I have also reviewed. It was an area for which I didn’t particularly like. I do see the utility of it and since these are all services you are logging into, one more isn’t that big of a deal… really… but somehow that is still a sticking point for me.

Wavebox isn’t free. Not that I think everything should be free but I would rather spit out a one time payment for this application. It costs $48 per year to use this application. For my purposes, since my efficiency with any of these services is not a part of my job, (arguably maybe Google could be), it isn’t a good value for me to make the investment. However, if your work required you to communicate on numerous  services regularly, I could absolutely see this as being a vital piece for improved quality of [computing] life.

Final Thoughts

Wavebox LogoRambox and Franz are both similar applications I have reviewed, albeit with a slightly different lens, they are all really quite fantastic applications. Any one is a good choice and I am glad that they all exist. There are features from each application that I appreciate so each application has their merit. I would say that of all of them Wavebox does seem to have just a bit more polish than the rest. There are more tools and tweaks with this and the way all the Google Services are rolled up with a very convenient menu makes this the best experience for using G-Suite. Far better than even with Chrome or using a Chromebook. This is so nicely integrated that it makes a mediocre web application experience feel like a real, nicely polished, and purposeful, native application.

Wavebox is, undoubtedly, suited for the professional user, not so much a dude like me that can’t seem to stick with an application like this for more than 6 months or so. This is extremely well thought out and well executed. Features like the Sleep Tab make this stand above other options.

Another final thought, having access to Snaps (along with other universal packages) available on openSUSE Tumbleweed really opens up a very wide array of available applications for my use. Snaps seem to integrate well into openSUSE; just as long as nothing gets messed up with AppArmor again. Snaps are a great choice for application delivery for many cases and I am thankful that I have access to them.

References

Wavebox from the Snap Store Web Frontend

Snapd Resolved bug on Bugzilla

Rambox | Chat Message Unification Application for openSUSE

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

SimpleScreenRecorder on openSUSE

A fine tool for which I recently had some use is this very capable application called SimpleScreenRecorder. I used it to create a couple simple videos mostly to see how well it works but mostly for the purpose of creating something useful as a reference.

To install it on openSUSE use the one-click method here:

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

Or, my preferred method, in the terminal, enter:

sudo zypper in simplescreenrecorder

Fantastically, it is built using the Qt toolkit so it looks much better in the KDE Plasma Desktop Environment.

I have used it for a couple videos and have plans for more, mostly as notes to myself but in video form.

Basic Usage

After installing the software, it will sit in the multimedia subsection on the menu. It can be called up in a search as well, at least on Plasma.

SimpleScreenRecorder 1

Select Continue

Next you are presented with your Input Settings. You can create different profiles for different purposes. You can also select if you want to record all the screens, a single screen, a fixed rectaning, follow the cursor or to record OpenGL. I have only used the options to record the entire single screen or a fixed rectangle.

SimpleScreenRecorder 2

You can choose to record the cursor or not and whether or not you want Audio. I have only used PulseAudio and it has seemingly worked just fine.

When you Continue, you will have to select the Output Profile or create your own, set the file name, the video and audio codecs settings. The settings pictured below has worked quite well for me in terms of quality but are a bit excessive in the memory usage.

 

SimpleScreenRecorder 3

After all that is set, you can start recording at anytime. It is also not a bad idea to Start the preview if you want to make sure it looks right before beginning the recording. The information frame on the left side of the window is quite nice. It tells you all kinds of useful information about the process. What is especially good to know is the file size. Depending on your available system resources, this could become somewhat of a concern.

SimpleScreenRecorder 4

Once you have completed the recording, hit Stop Recording along the top of the window and Save Recording if you believe you are satisfied with the results.

And that is it!

How I’ve Used It

I wanted to demonstrate how to set up switching from left-to-right typing to right-to-left typing on LibreOffice

I also did a quick little video just to play with SimpleScreenRecorder and showing how to turn on and off tooltips within KDE Plasma 5.16. I did edit both of these videos with Kdenlive for practice because someday, someday, I might get good at it.

Final Thoughts

SimpleScreenRecorder is a fantastic example of easy to use software to create simple videos for any number of things. This is great for demonstrating how you accomplish something on the desktop, sometimes video is the best way to present it. This is a fine example of easy to use open source and free software that has an incredible value.

Since I am able to install this application from the official repository with my favorite Linux distribution openSUSE Tumbleweed, it is just another straw on my pile of reasons I use it. Additionally, it requires no fancy configuration to get going, there is nothing peculiar about running it and it has been seemingly quite reliable. I have even thought of other fantastic uses besides providing quick little help videos and really, the limits of this application are at the limits of your imagination with this tool.

openSUSE Linux and all it’s fantastic tools add just a bit of happiness to my life, and I am so incredibly grateful to everyone that has had even the smallest part in making this possible.

References

SimpleScreenRecorder from software.opensuse.org
SimpleScreenRecorder Home Page