ROSA Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

ROSA Linux review title.png

ROSA Linux is an RPM based Linux distribution that was forked from Mandriva Linux. ROSA is a Russian company that is developing a multiple Linux-based solutions of which ROSA Desktop is its flagship product. For their latest version ROSA Fresh R10, they offer Plasma 5, LXQt and curiously, Plasma 4. It is also this weeks challenge for BigDaddyLinux Live Show.

My first Linux distribution I put any time into was Mandrake Linux, initially in 2002 and it became my full time desktop by late 2003. There were some features about Mandrake that were uniquely Mandrake. Those features made Linux in 2002 / 2003 very approachable and made it easy to set things up and be operational. As time went on, some of those tools became somewhat dated and some did get refreshed from time to time.

This is my incredibly biased view of ROSA Linux from an openSUSE User’s perspective. Although I don’t believe any Linux distribution is perfect, I currently believe openSUSE is perfect for me. I will be objectively biased in this review but keep in mind that these are my opinions as a reasonably technical user.

Installation

I can’t say that in the last several years I have come across a terrible installer in Linux. Now, I haven’t tried a lot of distributions and what constitutes as “terrible” from my perspective would be different than others. ROSA Fresh R10, not terrible. I like it very much. Even from the Grub bootloader screen. I was happy about it.

rosa r10-01-grub

There is something delightfully early 2000s about this bootloader screen. Thankfully, it has the option to install ROSA directly but still gives you the option to just kick the tires. It is also worth noting, if you do nothing and let the loader time out, it will just boot whatever is on your local drive.

The steps on the installer are pretty straight forward, Language selection first, then you have to agree with their terms. It’s a short read and nothing stuck out as being bothersome.

Next your keyboard and Timezone selection

Here you specify how you want the hardware clock set and if you go into the advanced tab, the NTP (Network Time Protocol) Server preferences, if at all.

This is where it got weird; I specified to use the free space, which was all of the drive and it forced me to reboot before it could continue the installation but I had to repeat all the previous steps.

I don’t recall such a bump back on the Mandrake / Mandriva days but perhaps there was a technical reason for this. Another note: When installing on hardware that I used existing partitions, I didn’t have to do this. I only specified to format the root (/) partition.

When I got back to the partition screen, I selected to use the existing partitions. Then I had to specify what was root and /home. 

Presumably it could figure out Swap on its own.

It doesn’t take long to install ROSA, you get a typical corporate feeling set of commercials, then you set your bootloader options.

I am sure this would be a lot more handy for multi boot systems but for me, the default was just fine.

Seemingly the opposite of other installers, in ROSA you set the root password first, then the User Information.

If you go to the advanced settings, you are given the opportunity to set User and Group ID numbers. I wish this was a more common feature among Linux Distributions.

The last steps before you reboot into your Freshly installed ROSA Fresh R10, you are prompted for the Hostname and what services you would like to activate upon startup.

That is it for the installation. Very straight forward, outside of that odd partitioning reboot.

First Run

The initial Grub screen is the typical layout with the expected options. No complaints there. What I found rather remarkable was how quickly I went from the Grub screen to the login screen.

rosa r10-23-installed grub

The login screen appeared so quickly I had to take a double-take to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. I did also note that this was the older style login but it really isn’t a big deal fro my perspective. KDE Plasma booted up quite quickly as well; no complaints there either.

The desktop is very Mandrake feeling. The Home icon in particular. The desktop just feels very 2007 to me (I guess that would be Mandriva time not Mandrake).

It should be noted that immediately after installation, you have KDE Plasma version 5.10.5 but after performing the many updates, you have an even more fresh KDE Plasma 5.14.4, effectively the latest version of Plasma 5 and after initial boot and settling, uses 439MiBytes of RAM.

rosa r10-28-menu

The default menu itself is just the standard “Application Menu with cascading popup menus, the traditional style of which I prefer.

If you are not happy with that style of menu, there is also the Application Launcher that breaks the applications down into sections or the Application Dashboard that I don’t care for at all because it takes over the entire screen, akin to Windows 8.1 or perhaps Gnome if my memory serves me correctly. Either way, the menu that takes over the screen doesn’t work well for me at all, so the default, which I’m sure is too, “old-man-river” is absolutely perfect for me.

I am not terribly fond of the default theme of ROSA. I also didn’t want to switch to the “Breeze Dark” and just make it a generic KDE Plasma desktop, so I decided to change up the color scheme and make it more to my liking.

Immediately, I was not tickled with the window buttons but since I don’t plan on staying here, I decided to just leave it there.

Interstingly, ROSA comes preinstalled with Firefox and Chromium. I don’t recall if I have seen more than one browser as default on any other install before but that is not a big deal. The icon theme in ROSA, also very Mandrake feeling. I still find it appealing.

Curiously, the panel has LibreOffice Writer as one of the applications pinned to it. I am curious as to why that as one of the items as opposed to Konsole, the default Plasma terminal emulator. I would think that to be preferred. Since it was there, I decided to open it up and see how it looked with the dark theme I selected activated. It too required a tweak in the options to use the Breeze Dark Icon style.

After tweaking the icons, it got me thinking. The current trend in icons is almost monochromatic and clean looking which in a way clashes with the Mandrake high-color shaded icons. It’s clear that overall aesthetic isn’t a driving force in the design of ROSA, a large contrast to what you see with Pop!_OS or ElementaryOS in their emphasis of visuals.

When the notification popped up in the corner that there are updates, I decided to install them and go through that experience. On a positive note, I didn’t have to enter my credentials to begin the updates unlike all the Debian based distributions I have tried. Not that one is better, really, I just happen to prefer to not enter my user credentials for a user level task.

The experience from there was very Mandrake like which brought back fantastic memories. It is also worth noting that the icon sets haven’t been changed since at least 2008.

After the first round of installations, it required another round of installations. I didn’t dig into why but but after 1436 more packages, it upgraded nearly everything, as noted earlier, all of KDE Plasma was upgraded.

I didn’t go through all the applications but I found this gem a little interesting to see installed by default. I haven’t used a modem in Linux for well over a decade. I was almost inspired to try it out but I don’t have a land line to test it on.

rosa r10-43-kppp

None the less, I thought it was pretty interesting to see this installed. Perhaps there are old GSM modems that are still being in use in Eastern Europe or Russia.

Since this is a fork of Mandrake I was expecting some spin on the Mandrake Control Center but alas, there was no such thing. All the System Administrator tools are in the KDE System settings… which is fine, I was just hopping to see that old friend MCC that I used so many years back.

rosa r10-44-system administration settings

 

What I Like

ROSA does have surprisingly fast boot times. Although, I would say that most distributions today have fast boot times, thanks to SystemD.

The legacy Mandrake tools was a blast from my Linux past with which I enjoyed working so many years ago. The “Drake” tools are easy to use but the drawback has been that they are very “Wizard Like” which makes editing settings a bit cumbersome. Those tools got me using powerful tools in Linux more than 16 years ago which made it easier for me to understand how to manipulate the settings of those powerful tools in terminal when I had to tweak them further.

The default Application Menu choice is by far my favorite. I do like the cascading popups for the application categories. That has been my favorite, I’ve seen and used others but I am just not a fan.

What I Don’t Like

The installer was great until the partition option for using the entire disk was selected. The fact I had to reboot and go back through the installer made my head hurt just a bit. It seems like that could be cleaned up a bit.

The general theme of the KDE Plasma version of ROSA was disjointed. I can be forgiving of this mostly but it doesn’t seem like the designers even made an attempt to make it a consistent experience.

ISO was pretty far out of date which required a lot of updates. Not a huge issue if it was not for the slow rate the updates came down. Thankfully the updates came down without any problems, a tribute to the URPMI underpinnings.

Final Thoughts

ROSA Linux is a decent distribution. It works well but has a few theme issues. The system tools that originated on Mandrake so many years ago has not had any artwork updates. Although it was nice to see that old artwork, I do think it would have been better for a cohesive experience had the artwork all been updated to the same general appearance.

Would I give up openSUSE for ROSA? No, I would not. I think ROSA is good for someone but it is not the best choice for me and what I want out of a Linux Distribution.

Further Reading

ROSA Linux Downloads

Pop!_OS | Review from an openSUSE User

BigDaddyLinux Live Show

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IPFire | Open Source, Linux based, Firewall, Install and Configuration

ipfire-tux

I started searching for an edge device solution for my home I could put on x86 hardware after my Linksys E2000 started giving me problems. Initially, I was going with pfSense and set a machine up for that purpose but I came upon 7 32bit Dell Optiplex GX620 machine so I looked for a suitable solution. I wanted to make one of these an edge device. After all, they have more horsepower than any consumer based MIPS or ARM Router / Firewalls. After some searching, testing, more searching and testing, my solution is IPFire. IPFire, in short, could be considered the Linux version of the FreeBSD based pfSense. An Open Source firewall based on Linux that is easy to use, high performant and extensible which makes it usable to a large audience.

The documentation on this project needs some help, it took me some trial and error along with muddling my way through areas I didn’t fully understand to get it set up exactly as I want. Also note, immediately before starting this IPFire project, I set up a pfSense box so my expectations were now set. This is not a comparison to pfSense; that is another project of which is in progress.

This will hopefully help bridge some of the knowledge gaps you may have should you decide to try IPFire and an example of what works for me.

Preparation

To begin the process, I downloaded the IPfire from here:

https://www.ipfire.org/download/ipfire-2.21-core126

Should you be viewing this at a much later date, as in after a new version release click here and select Download from the menu.

I chose the flash image, I could have used the ISO, if I would have removed the drive and written the image directly to that drive. I think I may end up using this method for a future project. More on that later.

To match my hardware situation, I downloaded the 32 bit version of the Flash Image

Once downloaded I verified the image checksum

sha256sum ipfire-2.21.2gb-ext4.i586-full-core126.img.xz

Which gave me the output

0f8dc980103c733c7e236967ed35a3ce5cf847448f2b4e7c848220b334fddd38 ipfire-2.21.2gb-ext4.i586-full-core126.img.xz

Next I extracted the archive.

tar -xf ipfire-2.21.2gb-ext4.i586-full-core126.img.xz

In order to write the image to the flash drive, I had to check to see what drive I used the dd command as I would have done with pfSense. The instructions for installation where a little light and perhaps I need to help out with it.

In order to flash it to the drive, I first checked to ensure that I wrote it to the correct drive, I plugged in the drive and ran in terminal.

dmesg

In the last few lines, I was able to identify the drive.

/dev/sdd

Once extracted, I installed it, using

sudo dd if=ipfire-2.21.2gb-ext4.i586-full-core126.img of=/dev/sdd bs=16k

In only a few moments, the drive was ready for me to begin the installation.

Hardware Setup

ipfire hardware testingUsing 32bit Dell Optiplex GX620, I added an additional Ethernet Card. All I had on hand was a 100 Mbps device. The built in Ethernet Interface is a 1 Gbps so I decided to make that my internal side and the 100 Mbps NIC the external facing side as my max speed is around 60 Mbps.

My modem did make it known that it was not connected to a Gigabit device but until my speeds increase beyond 100 Mbps, I have no intention on changing it out.

The other work this computer needed was a new clock battery a CR2032 lithium button cell. I learned that the Dell Optiplex GX620 will not even boot with a dead clock battery

I had to make a few changes in the BIOS. One is to boot on AC restore so that should I lose power, it would boot as soon as power is restored.

Installation

The installation is fairly straight forward, so long as you have a basic understanding of what you want from your Local Area Network. Once your hardware is set, basically any computer with two NICs. The installation can commence.

Just a note, there is a mixture of camera photos of actual installation and VM installation. I should probably invest in a capture card at some point.

ipfire-01-1-boot screen

The first step is to install the Firewall Solution. You start with your language selection than to start installation.

You have one option on each of the next two screens, to agree to the license agreement and to delete all the data. Pictured below is the “VBOX” hard disk but I had a similar situation with the actual hardware.

In this process, you really only have one decision to make, to choose your file system. I chose ext4, because I know it is well tested and since it was first on the list, I wanted to start there.

After the system is installed you need to reboot to begin the configuration process.

ipfire-01-8-reboot

This is a very minimal Linux distribution… is it s a distribution? I don’t know if you call it that but it is a desktop-less interface so there is not much to install.

Basic Configuration

After the installation you have to complete the basic configuration. What took me a bit to understand was some of the IPFire-isms. For my two NIC setup, there is the Red and Green networks. More on that in a bit.

To start off, set your keyboard and Timezone.

Then your machine Hostname and Domain name.

You will have to set your root and admin passwords. From my experience in using it, the root user is for anything you do in the terminal and the admin is for the web interface. I am not able to ssh using the admin, nor am I able to log into the web interface with root.

The Network configuration menu portion of the install was a bit confusing for me at first. Here is where you must understand what the Red and Green networks do. If I had more than 2 NICs I would have played with the other settings.

The next section is the Drivers and card assignments. It is here that you will decide what NIC is Green and Red.

First I set the Green Network hardware. In my case, I wanted to use the Gigabit NIC on my internal network with my slower 100 Megabit NIC facing the modem to the Internet. This card is not going to be my bottle neck, my provider is still the bottle neck.

ipfire-14-card assignments

The Address settings will define the properties of your NICs.

I started with the Green interface, my internal network. I set the IP address and Network mask here.

The final bit to the Address settings is the Red interface, facing the Internet. My provider requires I set up my device to receive a DHCP address.

The last step is the DNS and Gateway settings. The only setting I filled in was the Primary DNS. Which, to my understanding, needs to be set for local hostname resolution. My primary DNS server is also the address of the IPFire device.

The last step is to Configure the DHCP server. In my case, I set the DHCP range from 192.168.10.100 to 192.168.10.200. My domain name, which was given earlier, was set already filled in.

That is it. Once rebooted, I could now further refine the configuration through the web interface.

First Run and Testing

The Web interface is quite straight forward. It will take some time of clicking around to become acquainted with all the options and once you think you have figured it out, you will find that you forgot where you just found the options you wanted. Not due to any lack of organization but rather due to the great number of options.

ipfire-25-system home

There are many, many, many features to highlight with IPFire. I will just show the bits that I find interesting. Even though I have 17 devices connected in my network with quite a few intrusion detection rules. The 16 year old 32 bit CPU doesn’t seem to be under any kind of stress.

ipfire-26-cpu graph

It is also worth noting that

ipfire-27-memory graphipfire-28-network utilization

Local Name Resolution

My most important feature of a Firewall, Router, etc system is that I have local name resolution. I spend a lot of time in the terminal and I also use Secure Shell for file transferring so it is important that I can address my computers by hostname and not have to figure out what the IP address is. Here is how you do it.

Under DHCP Configuration, ensure that the Primary DNS is set to the the the IPFire device… which is also your DHCP Server as well. It must also be noted that it did take a little while for IPFire to build the IP Tables for me to address the computers by hostname.

ipfire-29-dhcp configuration

DHCP Forwarding from the Access Point

I had no intention of discarding the Linksys E2000 that had been faithfully running my home network. I have chosen to keep it on the wireless as an Access Point.

This was done by setting the Access Point IP, Netmask and the DCHP Type is DHCP Forwarder to the address of the IPFire machine.

linksys e2000 network setup

That was literally all I had to do and my network was functioning the same as before but more efficiently. Interestingly, if I plug into the AP Ethernet Ports, it acts as a switch or wired access point. Very handy.

Intrusion Detection System

The features that I wasn’t looking for that made me pretty excited was this system of rules you can activate to harden your firewall.

For more inormation about it, you can navigate here and read away.

ipfire-30-intrusion detection system 1

There are some options as to which rule sets you choose. You can go with community rules or registered rules. I chose the EmergingThreats.net Community Rules. I don’t know yet if they are working as expected but I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.

ipfire-30-intrusion detection system 2

Future Project

Though I don’t have any performance issues with this aged 32 bit hardware, my only issue is the age of the SATA drive sitting in its bowels. It has passed the SMART test but I want to replace it with an SSD before it fails. It will also be interesting to see if I can properly backup all my settings and restore the configurations to the new drive when I make the upgrade.

For now, I am satisfied with my network as it is but I am also considering getting another NIC upon which to put all of my IoT devices. I generally distrust IoT and segregation is good for these useful yet potentially troublesome machines.

Final Thoughts

Looking back, I started to have problems with my Linksys E2000 in early fall of 2018. I wasn’t sure of the trigger but the router eventually required an intervention shortly before Thanksgiving. Things seemed fine for a while until I added my Kitchen Command Center in December. I would periodically have buffering and network slow downs. I was especially noticeable when I had guests. Running CAT5 to several machines did help somewhat but it pretty obvious the router was operating at levels slightly beyond it’s capability. The router’s average load was high, and that poor little device was doing just a bit too much. Firewall, router, DHCP Server, DNS Server and wireless access point was just a bit too much for that MIPS16 powered device. I didn’t eliminate this router, I reduced its responsibilities to just being an Access Point and now my home network functions fantastically well.

This was a very satisfying project worth every penny I spent on it… which was about 1 gallon of diesel to pick up the hardware. I am not a network guy but I can muddle my way through. If I have made any obviously egregious errors, feel free to let me know by commenting or sending me an email so that I can learn a little and not steer anyone else wrong.

Further Reading

IPFire.org Home

EmergingThreats.net General Intent

pfSense Project

Flashing Linksys E2000 Router with DD-WRT

Umix OS | Review from an openSUSE User

umix review title
I tried the Unity Desktop several years ago in its early days, it didn’t do anything for me as I didn’t care for the layout. When Ubuntu announced they were going to cancel the Unity project I thought it unfortunate mostly because it meant an end to their mobile phone efforts. Regardless of what your opinion is on the Unity project, it is an easily recognized desktop at just a glance. Unity is a desktop environment that is still liked by many and due to that appreciation for this desktop flavor, an Ubuntu spin based on the Unity desktop is now available. It can be downloaded from here. The mini ISO is available for free and the larger ISO is available for $11.

This is my review of Umix, the Unity Remix spin of Ubuntu. This is an objectively biased review of this Linux distribution as a very happy user of openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. I have grown to prefer a specific work flow. I don’t necessarily think my work flow is the best but it is the best for me. I also think it is a healthy practice to travel and experience other desktop cultures.

Installation

I am immediately glad to see that there is a option to “Install Umix” from initial boot. This is most certainly a welcomed feature. I do think that the wording needs some updates on this screen, “…directly from this CD” should probably be changed to “…directly from this media” or something similar.

umixos-01-welcome dialog

An immediate bit of subtle eye candy that I really enjoyed were the shadows under buttons when you hover over them. It was a smooth and fantastic looking effect that deserves a mention.

Umix uses Ubuntu’s Ubiquity installer so it is a quick and painless setup for a simple installation. You start out with the Keyboard layout and if you are connected to the internet, an option to download and install updates and third-party software for additional drivers and media formats.

 

When selecting to install the third-party software, I became acquainted with another bit of eye-candy, animated, rotating Check boxes. It was another small, subtle and super pleasant effect that just screams, “finely polished.”

umixos-04-disk partition

For installation type, you can keep this simple and say to “Erase disk and install Umix”, which is what I did when installing it on a VM. As a word of caution, the default partition scheme for Umix is to have a single Ext4 partition for root, home and a swapfile. I think that this particular drive layout is unwise and especially problematic especially if you decide to switch or try out other Linux distributions. Should you bork your system and be forced to reinstall Umix, you could be in a world of hurt unless you backed up your data or know how to remove the drive and hook it up to a working system. I do not recommend this method at all.

For the actual hardware that I installed it, I chose “Something Else” where I used more sensible defaults. I separated root, home and swap partitions on a designated distro-hopping machine. It started out running openSUSE Leap 15.0 wtih KDE Plasma as my baseline for comparison. Since I am distro-hopping with this machine. I want a separate home partition so that I can keep the data I accumulate in my testing.

The tool for using existing partitions was a little rough. There wasn’t a click through option to just use the partition. The partitioner knew my home folder was an XFS partition, but I had to explicitly tell it that it was and specify the mount point (which I am fine with). It really should have already had that file type selected. This is just a papercut issue. I was just a bit slow in figuring out what the interface wanted from me.

You are given a final warning before writing the changes to disk. Although I do believe it is a good thing to have this warning, it really should have a, “hey, don’t use one partition unless you don’t love the data in your home folder” warning…

umixos-05-disk partition confirmation

Next you will have to identify where you are in this spinning dirt clod out in space.

 

The final step before package installation is the user information. Another straight forward test and come to think of it, I like it that they have you specify the computer name here as such. As I noodle it around in my head a bit, it is probably more intuitive for a New-to-Linux-User to put the name here rather than in the “hostname” section of the network configuration section… just a thought.

As Umix installs, you are given a series of quotes by presumably famous people. Some of them were interesting, others not so much. It was a nice change from the almost obligatory commercials most distributions spew out.

 

Upon completion, reboot and begin your Unity Remix journey.

Umix Experience

The first thing I wanted to play with was the menu. I don’t like being negative about things, critical yes, but negative, not so much. With that laid out, I have to say, the menu in here was by far the worst menu I have every used in a long time.

 

It is strange that it can’t find anything on my desktop under the menu until I clicked on one of the monochromatic buttons at the bottom of the menu. I don’t really understand the logic behind that, maybe just recent or favorites, regardless, I don’t care for it. There is a second, more traditional menu toward the right of the top panel which seems redundant but it is by far a better menu.

When I hopped into the terminal, I could not SSH into my other machines. Local DNS resolution didn’t work. I checked /etc/resolve.conf and it was pointing to 127.0.0.53 which was odd. This made using ssh in the terminal with host names not possible which I found very irritating.

The way Unity handles multiple monitors is pretty decent. It is almost as nice as how KDE Plasma handles it. The interface for configuring the screen placement is pretty close to what you see on KDE Plasma and very intuitive. By default, the side panel menu was repeated on both screens. It is easy enough to remove.

umixos-17-multi monitor

The Fn+”Monitor Switch” hotkey is not nearly as nice as what you get on KDE Plasma.

kde plasma monitor switching
KDE Plasma Monitor Switcher

Unity toggles between Laptop Screen only, external screen only or both displays. KDE Plasma has a great dialog box that pops up that lets you choose what configuration you want with the mouse or arrow over on the keyboard.

The file manager in Unity is frustratingly limited. It is incapable of basic file manager functions like, typing in a file path or remote location address. You are forced to have to click through to “Other Locations” and then select whatever machine it can see on the network.

umixos-20-file manager

The Unity Tweak tool is a fine application. Specifically the window hot corners configuration. This is much like what KDE Plasma has but with fewer options (comparison pictured below).

 

Pictured above is another irritating feature of the global menu. Rather than having the menu in the window you are working, it is at the top of the screen. This is okay in full screen mode but having multiple non-fullscreen windows can make navigation clumsy.

The update tool, like so many Linux distributions required authentication to proceed. The update process was rock solid and although I don’t like requiring authentication for updates, better to over authenticate than under authenticate.

 

I didn’t have time to play with all the default applications but the only change I would have made would be to not have Chrome by default. Firefox would have been preferred. Mostly because Chrome is way too bloated and not as capable. Chromium would also have been preferred.

What I Like

The theme and overall look of Umix is fantastic. The little bits of eye candy in Unity is great, specifically the smooth shadowing effect under buttons and the spinning check mark upon select. I also like the usage of the wobbly windows. I had largely forgotten about visual effect. Overall the interaction with Unity has a very modern feeling and looks very pleasant.

The option to install Umix is also a welcome option. Trying than installing is very… trying. The installer is typical Ubuntu Ubiquity installer you find on most Ubuntu based distributions. I think it is still quite satisfactory and has held up well over the years.

Monitor handling is quite satisfactory. Not as good as KDE Plasma but on par. There are some refinements needed to get it to Plasma level of usability but overall, this is pretty great.

What I Don’t Like

Sigh… I don’t like being negative but there are lots of irritating features of Unity. For starters, the default resolv.conf has made accessing other computers on my home network through terminal an exercise in frustration.

The default file manager in Unity is just not acceptable. I would describe it as frustratingly limited. Adding one feature would move it from unacceptable to acceptable, the ability to type in a file path. Just that one feature would make it good enough. This file manager is is absolutely no comparison to Dolphin or Konqueror on KDE Plasma. It is a big stinker.

The firewall is turned off by default which I think is unwise unless you never plan on leaving the confines of your home network. The bundled firewall application is Gufw which is a very user friendly configuration experience.

The top panel, I think called the global menu is unnecessary use of screen real estate and having it repeat per screen is incredibly undesirable, especially with multiple monitors. I was unsuccessful in finding a way to turn it off, at least for the additional monitor but I was unsuccessful. Admittedly, I didn’t look very hard but it wasn’t obvious to me through the tweak options I scanned through.

Final Thoughts

I feel like I have been far too negative with Unity, I really didn’t want to be annoyed by it. It looks good and has some nice features to it but the lack of flexibility just makes it unusable for me. Since Unity is a “full featured” desktop environment, I am going to be more critical of its features as compared to MX Linux or BunsenLabs Linux.

Would I get along happily with Ubuntu + Unity? No, I really wouldn’t. There are so many other and better options out there for a better desktop experience than what Unity provides. I don’t think it is a bad desktop but it is just not good for me. I would still encourage anyone to try it out and see if it works for them but it just doesn’t work for me. When I compare it to openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma it just has more features for a lower memory foot print than Ubuntu + Unity. Both at a vanilla install, post updates, KDE Plasma 380 MiB of RAM, Ubuntu + Unity uses 712 MiB.

I think that it is great that there is an effort to preserve Unity, for all those that enjoy using it, I hope they continue to enjoy it and that Unity continues to get developer love. It’s a fine desktop environment for many and I hope they continue to have the option to use it for years to come.

Further Reading

https://teejeetech.in/2018/12/10/introducing-umixos-unity-remix/

 

Sony Vaio VPCEB23FM E-Series Laptop with openSUSE Leap

openSUSE on Sony Vaio PCEB23FM-sm.png

I seem to be one of those individuals that is gifted old hardware from time to time. Most people… normal people… just don’t need or even want an old piece of hardware and generally just toss it. As payment for setting up a laptop with openSUSE for a friend I was given this old bit of hardware that I really don’t need but you just never know when a something might arise to make use for an old piece of kit. Since I didn’t want it just sitting around with a broken installation of Windows 7, I decided to put openSUSE Leap 15.0 on it.

I already had the ISO downloaded and written to a USB Flash drive but in case you want it you can get it here.

Preparing for Installation

Initially this machine was a bit of a tough nut to crack. I was unable to get into the BIOS, it seemed that none of the directions I found would work. On a whim, I decided that I would attach an external keyboard to see if by chance there was a keyboard problem with the laptop; and so it was.

To access the BIOS, upon booting the system, press F2 repeatedly during the “Vaio” Logo splash until you enter into the the important bits of the system. Since this machine is too old for secure boot and only has the legacy boot, I only had to change the boot order to seek the USB Drive first.

Specs that Matter

Not that it really matters but for the edification of those interested:

  • Intel Core i3 350M @ 2.27 Ghz (1st Gen)
  • 4 GB RAM, 3.5 GB Available after shared video usage
  • Graphics Card Intel Core Processor Graphics
  • 15.6″ 1366 x 768 Glossy Screen
  • 3 – USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 – eSATA / USB 2.0 port
  • HDMI
  • SVGA
  • SD Card Reader
  • Memory Stick Pro Reader
  • and some other things…

Mostly a decent system.

Installation

The installation of openSUSE was rather trivial. I booted up the machine with the installation image, began the process and mostly just clicked through. The only customization I did on the install was to set the partitions the way I wanted:

  • Root: 25 GiB
  • Swap: 4 GiB
  • Home: 264 GiB

I selected KDE Plasma as being my desktop of choice, because, is there really another option?

For more on the installation process, you can go here.

Once the machine was up and running, I installed the multimedia codecs, the terminal way, Falkon Web Browser and I was off to the races. The reality is, for a rather old laptop, it is not too terrible at all. It ran Plasma Desktop rather nicely with only a few moments of lagging here and there due to disk access.

It is probably not far from needing a replacement drive but I will wait until it burns out. This machine isn’t slated for any sort of “production work” in my  house. It’s seemingly a fine machine but just doesn’t excite me at all.

I used this machine to help set up my new Edge Device in a kind of test environment for a couple days to test functions with another machine so it very much came in handy to have.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how this machine stacked up against my old, trusty, faithful Dell Latitude D630. From cpubenchmark.net, I compared the two CPUs. I am perfectly aware that the CPU is not the only factor in a system’s performance but I was curious.

core2 duo vs core i3-350m

Interestingly, the Dell Latitude D630 feels more performant than the the Sony Vaio, perhaps due to Dell having more memory or running Tumbleweed, regardless, it was just an observation of which I have to actual empirical data to back it.

So, then I thought, since I have no intention of using this machine as a regular, in production, type machine, I have decided to make this laptop my distro hopping machine. I now have a performance baseline, what I should expect, based on running openSUSE Leap 15.0 with KDE Plasma. It runs much nicer than the Windows 7 it had previously and better than many brand new machines with Windows 10 I have used. I know how a rock solid, sensible, Linux distro feels and now I would like to compare it to other distributions and maybe I can learn something from it.

Final Thoughts

It’s always fun acquiring new hardware, even old busted up hardware is great too. There is something indescribably fun with installing Linux, specifically openSUSE Linux on old or discarded hardware, not to mention new hardware but that doesn’t happen as often.

I am not expecting the hard drive in this machine to hold out very long since it is about nine years old and I plan to do a lot of reading and writing on it. The screen looks okay, the keyboard mostly works and it is just an okay machine.

I am grateful to have received this machine as I now have a purpose for it, my distro hopping machine, I have a good base to which I can make more biased reviews of other Linux distros. I know how this “feels” so now I can compare how other distros “feel”. In my clearly biased view, nothing will be as good as openSUSE, but it’s fun to play.

Further Reading and links and things

https://software.opensuse.org/distributions/leap

https://www.cpubenchmark.net/

Dell Latitude D630

Multimedia Codecs and VLC Player

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

CubicleNate Biased Reviews

LinuxMint 19.1 | Review from an openSUSE User

LinuxMint review title.pngLinux Mint is a very popular distribution and has seemingly been so since the start. My first look at Mint was in 2010 about the time I went through my second season of distro hopping. At the time, ultimately, openSUSE won out but it was close. I am taking another look at Mint, not due to any dissatisfaction of openSUSE but because 19.1 came out and the good folks in the BigDaddyLinux community decided to try it out.

This review is not going to be a comparison to previous Linux Mint versions. I have mostly stayed on top of it. I have even contributed a bit to the project in my time and talents for setting up the smart card reader. Linux Mint has been know for it’s being a well polished distribution. I would say that release 19.1 keeps in this tradition. I will be evaluating Mint strictly against what I use today, openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. This is a biased review but with a mostly open mind.

Installation

I didn’t test Mint on actual hardware, for my purposes, that wasn’t necessary, my evaluation is about the user experience, interfacing and ease of use. At this point, pretty much all Linux distributions run great on main stream or older hardware and Linux Mint is known for just running well.

When booting from the installation media, there wasn’t an option as to what to do. It just did an automatic boot. I see this good for some users but not my preference.

linuxmint-01-live media boot

The media boots quickly and you are presented with a great looking desktop and I was even given a warning that it is using software rendering. It brought a smile to my face to see how the desktop looks friendly yet, “cool” and approachable. Often approachable has to be bright in color but this is not.

linuxmint-02-live media first run

The installation is is the standard Ubuntu Ubiquity installer that I have grown to appreciate with so many other distributions. It is a well done installer that is easy for even the non-technical to navigate.

You start with your language and keyboard settings. Then if you want third party software and how you want to install Mint. In this case, I just went with to use the entire disk.

I should have explored my options further but did not and regretted after more exploration into the depths of Mint. More on that later.

After partitioning the hard drive you are asked to create the user and off it will go writing your new Linux experience to disk.

I appreciate how Mint gives you  a “commercial” that is very relatable to a typical user. I do agree that Netflix is quite useful these days and rather expected. It’s just interesting to see that in the installation process. I also can’t help but think about the days I had to do a hacky work around to get Netflix working in Linux… oh, those were the days…

After the installation is done, you are asked if you want to continue testing or reboot immediately.  Of course, I chose immediate reboot.

First Run

The welcome screen on Mint it is a most certainly a well crafted and well thought out entrance to this desktop experience. This is a well done and very welcoming, especially for someone new to Linux.

linuxmint-13-welcome

The different sections of the welcome is clean and laid out very logically and not overwhelming to go through. This is a great crash-course for a new user to get going with Linux Mint.

It gives you a point to spring board into what is truly important to a user. From here you can set up a lot of the specifics for you hardware and whatever requirements you may have.

Should you have problems, help is a click away and I also like that they have a click for contributing to Mint as well. I really hope that its users do take the time to throw them some bucks because all the thought and effort they put into it really does deserve it.

Theme

The first order of business was to see how, if available, the dark theme would look on mint. The window borders and controls can be set separately. I set mine to be Mint-Y-Dark on both.

I give it 3-thumbs up. It just looks so pleasing on the eyes. I really believe that this should be the default theme for Linux Mint

Default Applications

Linux Mint has all the basic application installed to do whatever you need to do on a computer. LibreOffice for document creation. Firefox web browser, HexChat for IRC and Thunderbird for email.

The menu they have put together for it is also really well done. I do like that have it set up nicely organized and have an “All applications” listing as well. Not that I find that as useful, but I see the utility in it if you are just looking through the list of installed applications. It also has a search function that works well too.

linuxmint-21-menu

The default Firewall is also very approachable. This is the same as MX Linux and many other distributions out there, Gufw. It looks good and is pretty easy to use with a very nice help section too get you started. Interestingly, it was disabled by default.

linuxmint-20-firewall

System Snapshots

The system backup / snapshot utility has two options, RSYNC and BTRFS. I was excited to see the BTRFS option and wanted to see how close this would be to openSUSE.

linuxmint-22-snapshots

After hitting finish, I was given a sad dialog box that said it was not supported. Here is why I wish I would have looked at the partitioning options more closely. Maybe next time.

linuxmint-23-btrfs not really an option

Upgrades on Mint are about like what you would experience on seemingly any other Debian based distribution. I did have one issue of not being able to fetch some of the packages but the system still hummed along quite fine after a reboot.

linuxmint-24-updates

My only real issue with the installer was even after authorizing the upgrades, I had to do further authorizations in the same session. It was a bit odd but better to be safe than sorry.

What I Like

The dark theme on Mint is top notch. I am partial to the dark theme with green highlights, as that is how keep my desktop with openSUSE. Green is just a great color. Kermit was wrong, it is easy being green.

Cinnamon looks real nice and is very approachable for a new-to-Linux user. The menu is nice the icon theme is nice, it is all, real… nice. There really isn’t much to complain about with the appearance and usability. It does what I would expect, it feels clean and the system settings all feel very nicely integrated. Linux Mint feels like a complete experience.

The default applications are sensible basics that I am perfectly fine with. I don’t get hung up on default applications, so long as I can get what I want. I could get my work done in Linux Mint just fine.

What I Don’t Like

I didn’t care for how Mint automatically started a live media version when booting from the downloaded media. I do prefer having the option to install directly not just force me directly into a live media session. Perhaps the audience that Mint is catering to, this is indeed a good solution. Not my preference but I see its utility.

It is common in many distributions to require authentication to do updates. What I didn’t notice with other distros was without closing the update application, I had to enter my password again to attempt updates. I guess better safe than sorry but it is a bit of a paper-cut issue from my perspective.

The default partitioning is not my preference. I would prefer separate home and root partitions. I have played around with Linux to “configure” it my way or get something else working and have messed things up beyond repair. I have also spent enough time working on systems to know that there are times that a nuke-and-pave that is required periodically. I really believe that it is unwise to have one partition.

I was real excited to see BTRFS based snapshots as a way of backing up the system but that option was given to me after the installation. I would have had to know ahead of time to set it up as such but I didn’t see that immediately in the installer as an option.

Final Thoughts

Linux Mint looks great and I see this as a good distribution for the uninitiated into the Linux world. I would gladly recommend it to anyone, especially if you can’t be there in person to help them out with it and through it. The welcome screen is a great and seems to get a newbie right to where they have to go.

I think Cinnamon is nice desktop and would be satisfactory for any casual user but it is not exactly what I like. I still prefer the flexibility of KDE Plasma. Would I be happy on Mint? I really don’t know if I would. It was all real nice but I just don’t know. I think I would have to play around with it some more to be able to answer that. I certainly prefer it to many other distributions of Linux and I would take it over the Windows or Mac experience but as a daily driver on my main machine, it wouldn’t be my first choice. I very much prefer what openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma gives me, it satisfies those varied itches I have. Mint is not a bad place to be, it just doesn’t happen to scratch all my itches.

Further Reading

LinuxMint Downlaod

BigDaddyLinux Community

http://gufw.org/

 

KDE Connect CLI | A gift to Future Self

terminal-icon

KDE Connect is an application that I use on a daily basis between my mobile and my desktop or laptop Linux systems. Most of my systems are openSUSE machines running KDE Plasma and the mobile devices are running LineageOS (Android). Up until I decided to run a non-KDE Plasma desktop.

​I was given the distinct pleasure in getting to know the KDE Connect Command Line Interface application when pairing devices to a BunsenLabs and MX Linux installation. The main reason for this was to be able to share clipboards and use my HP TouchPad as an input device for the machine.

The commands are mostly easy to use. This is a guide for me, if it works for you, fantastic. If you have no interest in this, that is perfectly fine too.

Installation

Install using your favorite graphical package manager or in the terminal.

openSUSE

sudo zypper install kdeconnect-cli

Debian Based

sudo apt-get install kdeconnect-cli

Process to Pair Device

There are two ways you can go about doing this. From the terminal on the non-Plasma system to a system with either Android KDE Plasma or the reverse. I am going to demonstrate this the fun way, which is from the terminal to the GUI systems.

Assuming that you have configured your firewall to allow KDE Connect communication, in short 1714-1764 for UDP and TCP connections, check with your distribution for firewall instructions, or here for the KDE Community instructions. Optionally, here for the openSUSE Instructions.
In the terminal run this to find KDE Connect enabled devices:

kdeconnect-cli -l

That will give you output something like this:

– TouchPADD: device_ID (reachable)
– SkyHigh: device_ID (reachable)
– Icarus: device_ID (reachable)
– Nexus5X: device_ID (reachable)
4 devices found

Now that you have identified the devices you will need to pair the device

kdeconnect-cli -d device_ID --pair

On the device you are attempting to connect to, you will see the notification that the a device is attempting to connect
kde connect pair notification

Accept it and move on to the next device you that you wish to connect.

How I am using it

I am using my TouchPADD as another input device for the non-KDE Plasma system, I am also using it to share clipboard contents between machines as well, usually URLs.

Final Thoughts

There are many more function of KDE Connect you can do in the terminal. You can play around with KDE Connect in the terminal by running.

kdeconnect-cli --help

The only other command I have used is to ping another device

kdeconnect-cli -d device_ID --ping

Since I couldn’t find any resources that plainly explained how to use the terminal commands so it was fitting to jot it down. Hopefully you find this useful.

Further Reading

https://community.kde.org/KDEConnect

https://en.opensuse.org/SDB:KDE_Connect

KDE Connect – Mobile and Desktop Convergence

MX Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

BunsenLabs Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

https://lineageos.org/

PeppermintOS | Review from an openSUSE User

peppermintos review title

PeppermintOS is a bit of a different distribution that I have become aware of in recent months. Peppermint is built with the LXDE interface that is very nicely customized. It can be downloaded from here in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The latest version, Peppermint 9 Respin can be downloaded in both to see how they would perform on both old hardware and in a virtual machine.

So it is understood from the very beginning, I am a huge openSUSE fan and a member of the project. I am fantastically satisfied with the distribution, nothing is perfect, but this distribution and its culture fits me well. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other fantastic projects that work fantastically well for other users. I also primarily use KDE Plasma as my desktop. There are many other fantastic desktop environments out there but Plasma just happens to work best for me by catering to my preference. With my biases clearly stated, I will now get into my experience with PeppermintOS, as an openSUSE user.

Installation

Using the SUSE Studio Imagewriter, I burned a 32 bit image onto a USB flashdrive and installed it into a Dell Inspiron 10 with 1 GB of RAM. It was stated that Peppermint will work with older hardware, so that is exactly what I used. I also installed this on a Virtualbox Virtual Machine so that I could capture some better images.

For starters, I really appreciate that I am able to install Peppermint right from the boot menu. This is one of those features that is important to me when I install a Linux distribution. I am glad that they give the option to try it live but that particular feature is not as important to me.

peppermintos-01-installer boot menu

The next two steps are basic but necessary questions of your language and keyboard layout. It’s good to knock this out immediately.

Next you are asked to specify the installation type. In this case of this Dell Inspiron Netbook, I chose to erase the entire disk and let the the defaults reign. Next you asked if you would like additional software such as downloading and installing updates immediately and to install third-party software for graphics, wifi hardware and such. I did notice a minimal installation option, I did not try this out but from my experience, distributions often offer a ‘minimal’ set of applications. I wanted to see what I was specifically given with Peppermint.

After you confirm the updates and other software, you are given a warning about how the partition tables are going to be written. Maybe this is better than what I am used to with openSUSE but I do prefer stepping through and setting all my options before I am given the final warning. Peppermint warns you in the middle of the install. After the whipping of the drive, you are asked to identify your location. I am puzzled by the sequence of steps here a bit.

After you enter your user information and set your log in preference, the installation begins.

I have to give much credit for the Peppermint team in their theme and graphics with the installer. I do believe that this is the first distribution of Linux I have ever installed that I didn’t have to fuss around at all with the theme. The installer just looks great and the logo fits right into the color selection. Fantastic!

peppermintos-10-installation complete

Once you get the happy message that the installation is complete, the computer will restart when you give it the push.

First Run

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint looks pepper-minty fresh. It has the kind of dark theme I can work on that doesn’t cause me undue stress on my eyes. The coloring the soft lines, just looks great.

peppermintos-11-login screen

Immediately upon starting Peppermint, I had to look at some of its included tools. One particular tool that I found particularly useful was sakura. It gave me a very thorough listing of system information about the installation, the machine, state of the battery, hardware information and package repos. It can be run it on a machine to get a detailed snapshot of a system configuration. I also was glad to see neofetch was included by default with the option of turning it’s output on and off from the Peppermint Settings Panel upon opening the terminal. This tool not only gives you another detailed snapshot of the system but gives you some fantastic ascii art of the distribution logo.

Ice Web App Integrator

A fine feature included with Peppermint that may also be somewhat of a hindrance to its adoption is a tool called Ice. If you are unaware of this, it is a web application integration kit that allows you to easily integrate web applications into the menu as though they were native applications. I have been doing this with Chrome but as of late, with the Chrome bloat, just haven’t been using those menus I have previously created. This is a fantastic way to use some of those “web apps” like native apps without being tied to Chrome.

I was so enamored with this, I had to try it out. I decided I would see if I could create a “Netflix App”. As I could see this very handy in possibly using this as a media set-top box distribution. After all, the theme is already fantastic looking. It has that “theater ready” look about it.

What is nice about Ice is that you can specify, right from the dialog, where you want the application to live on the menu tree. In my case, Netflix is a multimedia app… maybe it should be in the Internet section… In any case you can put it where you want

peppermintos-17-star trek on netflix

Default Applications

I wanted to see what kind of applications are installed by default. Upon doing some clicking around, I thought it to be rather lean but that is really a non-issue as far as I am concerned. I actually would prefer that for several use cases.

What I found particularly interesting was the choice for office applications. This is a first, as far as I have ever seen, Microsoft Office 365 is your default office suite. I would never have thought I’d ever see Microsoft Office products by default in any Linux distribution.

peppermintos-18-office suite

It’s a different world we live in these days…

PeppermintOS-21-Microsoft Word.png

The updater tool on Peppermint is everything I want in an updater tool. Nice and verbose. Although, I do seem to prefer doing it all the the terminal these days, this gives me a find blend of the friendly approach of a GUI with the verbose readout of the terminal.

It should also be noted that doing updates does require a password. I have come to the conclusion that this is the norm for Linux distributions.

Logout

Lastly, after you have had all your fun and want to put your PeppermintOS machine to sleep, you have some options when you go to log out. It’s nice to see it laid out so incredibly clear. A well branded dialog with the Peppermint logo, typeface and reminder of what version of Peppermint you are running.

peppermintos-14-shutdown.png

All-in-all, in my short time on Peppermint, I truly enjoyed it.

What I like

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint OS has the best theme and installer graphics for those, like me, that are not happy about light themed interfaces and bright lights. The tone this distribution sets with me is that it understands my struggles and knows they are real when it comes to bright lights. It gets me.

The menu in Peppermint is laid out very well. and is snappy, even on old hardware. It looks good, works well and thankfully has a “recent applications” and and “Favorites” section.

The Peppermint Settings Panel is a great tool that has just about everything I would need as a desktop user. The System Information Tool, sakura gives me more than what I need but will happily accept. Interestingly, one of the tools is a system wide Ad Blocker that you can set. Sure, that’s not so good for cubiclenate.com but since there are so many websites out there that, in my opinion, misbehave in their advertisement exposure, this is good to reduce a lot of that unwanted traffic and distractions.

Ice could possibly be my favorite PeppermintOS feature that I wish I had on openSUSE. Everything else is basically there but I haven’t come across a “Web Apps” integration outside of using Chrome. I wanted to not emphasis this but I really can’t help it.

Lastly, I was able to install from the boot menu. That is a huge win for me. I do appreciate this as an option.

There are a lot of great features of PeppermintOS, like many distributions, this is put together very well and I can see many use cases for it. In an effort to not turn this into a novel, I will leave it here as my top likes.

What I don’t like

I prefer to to have the final commit button at the end of the installation, just as openSUSE does it. From my estimation, once you commit to the writing of the disk partitions, you have already committed and there is no turning back. I could go through the entire process on openSUSE and still back out at the very end after I am given a rollup of all the changes and such. Truly, this is not a criticism of the Peppermint team in choice of installations steps, this is purely a preference. In the end, this really doesn’t matter much.

I am not sure how to think about having Microsoft Office 365 as the default office suite but this can be easily changed. I shouldn’t put this under “What I don’t like” as it is something I just don’t know what to think about.

Final Thoughts

Peppermint OS is certainly with giving a try. I need to take some more time on it and I am putting this distribution of Linux as one of my top, smile-producing Linux distributions. It is certainly worth the time to try out, especially on older hardware. Was fascinated by the inclusion of Office 365 as the office suite. This could almost be the antithesis of a Chromebook, which is nice to see.

For more on what other Linux enthusiasts think of PeppermintOS, check out this meeting of the minds from the BigDaddyLinux community.

I thank the team that has created Peppermint for the effort they have put into this, there has been a lot of time taken on the look and feel of Peppermint and it shows.

Further Reading

https://peppermintos.com/

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

neofetch | Command-Line System Information Tool

VirtualBox.org

BigDaddyLinux Community Chatter

BigDaddyLinux.com

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

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

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

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

The Problems

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

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

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

The Limitations

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

Here is the hardware I have to work with:

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

Preparing the Installation

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

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

Dell Inspiron 3546-01-BIOS

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

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

Dell Inspiron 3546-02-partitions

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

sudo zypper install plasma-browser-integration

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

Next I installed the Plasma Add-on for Firefox.

Plasma Integration Add-on

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

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

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

Changes and Upgrades

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

VGA Splitter.jpg

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

How it’s working now

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

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

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

Future upgrades

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

External Links

openSUSE Leap Download

http://philoangelo.blogspot.com/

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

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

Multimedia Codecs Terminal

 

MX Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

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

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

Installation

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

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

MX Linux-01-Live Media Start.png

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

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

MX Linux-02-MX Welcome.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MX Linux-13-Remove Live Media

First Run

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

MX Linux-14-Upgrade.png

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

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

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

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

MX Linux-24-Panel Tweak

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

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

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

What I Like

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

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

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

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

What I Don’t Like

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Further Reading

https://mxlinux.org/

https://www.bigdaddylinux.com/

https://distrowatch.com/

MX-18, What’s New Video on YouTube

BunsenLabs Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

Get openSUSE

Just a Christmas Day Blathering | Linux Makes it Better

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

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

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

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

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

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-09-Gnome Recipes

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

Christmas-Cookies-2018-01.jpg

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

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

Further Reading

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

Gnome Recipes on openSUSE Tumbleweed

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