Bought a turkey to smoke for Thanksgiving. I had to buy a 5 gallon bucket to brine the thing in. Using a basic brine of brown sugar and salt. I realized that I don’t have a large enough smoker to hold the turkey whole so my solution is to cut it in half so that I can put it on two of the racks.
What I learned
My smoker thermometer is probably wrong
I would have been wise to swap the halves of the bird sometime through the smoking process
I used to much wood so it was a bit too smokey tasting
Those turkey bones made for some great post-Thanksgiving soup
Next turkey should be a bit smaller or just do a couple chickens instead
What would be really great is to have a smoker that has some sensors like temperature, humidity, particulate matter and a couple probes to put in various places in the meat so that I can get better data on the cooking process
Linux Powered Christmas Lights
I have wanted to some kind of computer controlled Christmas lights since I first saw this light display on YouTube to the tune from the Trans-Siberian Orchastra, “Wizards of Winter.” Since then, this has been something I wanted to do. This was the year that I finally did it and this is what I used.
BeagleBone Black rev C
Kulp Lights F8-B “Cape” that controls the pixel lights
8 local ports for strings of lights
Each string can have approximately 700 pixels
Multiple expansion options
Pixel2Things AC board to power the traditional AC strings of lights and the blow up Santa and Painfully bright White Christmas tree
12v 30Amp Power supply
ABS Electrical Junction box enclosure
10 Pair of Ray Wu connectors to build extension cables and to wire into the F8-B
200 ft of 18 AWG 3 conductor cable to build extension cables
500 ft of 18 AWG 2 conductor cable for power injection, although, I didn’t end up needing it.
8, two conductor extension cords from the hardware store for the Pixel2Things AC devices, the traditional department store lights and the blow up Santa
1, 40 ft, 3 conductor extension cord for powering the control box and for extra wire as needed
Currently running 1148 pixels totaling 3444 light channels
xlights software AppImage which works very well in openSUSE. Using it not tied to music but just as an animation.
Turning some of my “Christmas Lights” into all the holidays lights.
Next year I will be building some props, candy canes, arches and Christmas trees, add a low powered FM transmitter to do light shows to music but not so much that my neighbors will want to burn my house down
BDLL Follow Up
Working through evaluating the Ubuntu 19.10 releases. I’m impressed with the Ubuntu Proper release. It is a great project that has so many high quality derivatives.
Ubuntu Proper (GNOME)
I am going to just say that Ubuntu has my favorite expression of GNOME. The Competitive advantage of Ubuntu GNOME is the clean experience and the additional features that just make sense for a typical desktop user
A solid experience and it just doesn’t disappoint. You can choose between the different desktop paradigms of Windows Like, Mac Like, and Unity Like. It’s such a smart Desktop and frankly I think this should be the Ubuntu Proper experience, but that is my opinion.
The LXQt desktop with the best out of box polish. There are some other things I would polish out on it, specifically, to drop openbox as the window manager and use Kwin but that is easily done for any user. In fact, I did a little write up on it.
A great Plasma desktop experience and although it has some really great defaults, I still prefer some of the other integration better on openSUSE. Specifically that Firefox uses the Plasma file dialog box instead of the clunky GTK version. Since the default layout is not a big deal to me as that is easily changed and I have been doing so since the KDE 3 days, there isn’t a great reason to choose Kubuntu over an openSUSE Plasma. However, I will say, it is my favorite of the Ubuntu flavors. They just happen to do Plasma justice and for someone new to Linux that wants a premium Linux experience, this would be a candidate to send them there.
Xfce based Ubuntu. I didn’t actually try it but since I know what I am getting with Ubuntu and I know what I am getting with Xfce, you just can’t go wrong with it. For those that like the Xfce experience and want to try their hand in the Ubuntu world, this is a good place to go.
Tumbleweed Snapshot Releases
Mesa 19.2.4 bug fixes from 19.2.3
Linux kernel 5.3.12
Tumbleweed gets a new OpenSSH Version
KDE Plasma 5.17.3 buxfix update fixed Mouse KCM acceleration profile on X11. I did notice that there were mouse issues shortly after that announcement with GNOME’s mouse issues.
kcalendarcore package update with KDE Frameworks 5.63.0
YaST Packages updated
ALSA 18.104.22.168 dropped patches and fixed regressions for the UCM parcer
Update of ModemManger 1.12.0, a D-BUS-activated daemon that controls mobile broadband devices and connections. That update had several improvements and changes to include adding support for Mobile Station Based Assisted-GPS in addition to Mobile Station Assisted-GPS.
firewalld 0.7.2 added 15 new service definitions and provided a new option, FlushAllOnReload in firewalld.conf
There was also an email from the Tumbleweed release manager, Dominique Leuenberger that a build fail notification for the python-numba package in openSUSE Factory has not been addressed for the past four weeks and unless somebody steps up and submits fixes, the python-numba will be removed.
Tumbleweed Snapshot Reviewer give 20191203 a stable score of 95; 20121206 Stable 98; 20121207 Stable 99
Ubuntu is, without any dispute, the most prolific Linux distribution today. You can look at any metric and you will see that Ubuntu is number one. How did they rise to this level? I can only speculate, perhaps it has to do with the charismatic and enthusiastic visionary of Canonical’s founder Mark Shuttleworth that made Linux more approachable and attractive by the masses. Regardless, Canonical does a great job with Ubuntu. Despite any of the controversies or blunders the company makes, they are risk takers and regardless of what distribution you use, it should be applauded.
As part of the BigDaddyLinux Live challenge, we are testing the various Ubuntu flavors but for this article, I am going to focus on Ubuntu Proper, the mainline from which all the other flavors are derived. At one time, Ubuntu had their own desktop, Unity, of which they have discontinued development and now use GNOME as their core desktop.
This is my admittedly biased review of Ubuntu (Proper) as an openSUSE Tumbleweed user that prefers Plasma to all other desktops. It should also be clear that I am not a fan of GNOME at all and to use it is an absolute chore to use for me. Bottom Line Up Front, Ubuntu is pretty great and I would feel good about giving it to anyone. Regardless of my bias and preferences, Ubuntu is just a great, rock solid distribution that is a bit heaver on resources than I like but if you run a reasonably modern system, this is not an issue what so ever. If you haven’t tried Ubuntu, which would be odd that a Linux user hasn’t, or if you haven’t tried it in a while and have that restless itch, Ubuntu is worth taking around the block and maybe even on the highway to stretch it’s legs a bit.
Feel free to bail here.
One thing I can say about Ubuntu without any reservation is that it is incredibly easy to install, especially when you have a fairly straight forward installation. When the ISO boots up, you can “Try or Buy” as it were and since I don’t see a whole lot of use with a VM in just trying it without the installation process, I wanted to Install Ubuntu. The first decision is to set your keyboard layout.
The next in a line of easy decisions to make is to set your preferences for Updates and additional software. For my purposes, testing an installation, I like to see what software they bundle with the distribution. I am finding more often than not that distributions seem to be skimping out on basic computing software. It amuses me continually how people clammer for a minimal installations, especially on a desktop system where you need basic installation but maybe I don’t get it and am not Linux-ing correctly. I also selected to download updates and to install third-party software. This is one feature I do like about Ubuntu. Although adding such things in openSUSE isn’t complicated, clicking one checkbox is by far much simpler. The next page is to instruct the installer how you would like to utilize your disks and before you continue, a final sanity check will take place.
Your location in the world will be required as well as your name, computer name and if you would like to log in automatically or require a password to log in. For a VM and how I am using it, an Automatic login would not be an issue but I still chose to require a password to log in.
The installation will commence and very nicely, you can watch the details scroll by as you watch the fun highlights of the distribution like you would your uncle Fred’s vacation Slideshow during a family reunion…
The installation doesn’t take long and when complete, just a quick reboot for a fresh and exciting Ubuntu Proper experience was unleashed.
First Run and Impressions
The Ubuntu log in screen is simple and elegant with a purple field, white writing and a single user log in selection. There is nothing to detract your eyes away from the mission at hand, log in. Simple elegance.
Your first time logging into the system you are given four pages of initial preferences. You would start off with setting up any online accounts you have. For my case, I am not going to use those. Next will be an option to help improve Ubuntu. This is a nice feature and although I am a bit dubious about having anything “phone home” I am absolutely in favor of letting distribution creators know any information to help them improve the product.
Next is to set allow applications to determine your geographic location and lastly you are ready to go with some recommended applications to try out with a button to get to the Ubuntu “Software” application.
After the short guided setup, you are left with a very pleasant and release-unique desktop with a great wallpaper. I am also pleased to see you can indeed have icons on your desktop. Well done Canonical!
Next, I just wanted to click around and interact with the desktop. Just see how Ubuntu Proper does the basics like the applications menu, the system menu that contains the network, sound & session actions and the Activities features.
This is totally a personal preference thing and completely opinionated but I kind of don’t like that three basic desktop functions in different corners of the screen. I have only tested this on a single desktop VM but I can’t help but wonder how this would feel to work with on a multi screen setup. It would be annoying to have to go to different screens to get to those bits and it would also be annoying to have the title bar on all the screens. That is certainly worth further investigation.
The software center is great but a feature that I think stands out with Ubuntu is how you can tweak the software updates to your liking such as what updates you want and the frequency of checking for updates.
Since I prefer the rolling distribution model best, this wouldn’t be particularly useful to me but I really like this concept and I applaud this sort of easy access to updates as what would suite your personal preference.
The system settings is the typical GNOME settings so it is without the customization abilities as you would see on most of the other desktops. This is one of those irritating “features” of GNOME, the lack of organic ability to customize and the interface to suit your specific needs.
If you really want to customize GNOME and make it your own, you will have to install GNOME Tweaks. I find this to be less than ideal but does open up the ability to make GNOME more to your liking.
This is what basically makes GNOME the worst desktop when it comes to the mess that is the system settings. The groanings that some may give about Plasma pales in comparison to the mess that GNOME has made of their system settings. I wished that Ubuntu would fix this, just for their release but alas, they have not. I don’t know what it would take for GNOME to include the tweaks tool directly into the system settings but the fact it has been a buried (not included by default) feature for quite some time now is depressingly unfortunate.
Really, once you select Yaru-dark, this is a premium GNOME visual experience. Now it looks good and doesn’t give me a headache. Sure, if you are using LibreOffice, you still have to deal with the white block in the center but it is not nearly as painful to look at as the all white version.
Not only is LibreOffice with Yaru-dark very pleasant to look at, it also makes for a nice focus or framing of the document too. I do appreciate the the work that was done into Yaru-dark, very much, and I wish that would be an easy default to select.
Just a thing…
I noticed that Zypper was in the Ubuntu repositories and I wanted to see what would happen if I installed it. I really should have played around with it longer to see if I could get it to successfully manage the Ubuntu repositories but I didn’t get very far with it.
Having Zypper on an Ubuntu could almost push me over the edge in using Ubuntu more regularly but Ubuntu is still missing the cohesive YaST Control Center for managing system settings and such. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have become very dependent and accustomed to that suite of tools and it is kind of expected on anything that I intend on managing.
Although I did a lot more with Ubuntu than these few things, this is where I am going to leave it. This is at a length that a typical reader will just start scrolling through to see how much more nonsense is stuffed to the article and just look at pictures to see if anything grabs attention.
What I Like
Ubuntu does a great job at polishing GNOME into something much nicer than what you get from the upstream. They really take into account user experience and do the little things that count, like a functional desktop where you are allowed to place icons, even if this is something that becomes messy and unwieldy. At least you have a choice and a place to put folders to other locations in your desktop for convenience sake.
The Yaru-dark theme is fantastic. Sure, it takes a bit of digging for the un-GNOME-initiated to turn this lever but once you install the GNOME Tweaks tool and unlock the “control of your desktop achievement,” you can keep the headaches at bay and make for a more relaxing and enjoyable desktop experience. Granted, I know this is an opinion of the author and just a quick reminder the heading of this section is “What I Like”. This is a biased review, I am not a journalist!
The update control options on Ubuntu is simply fantastic. If you were to set up a system that had to remain in an unchanged state for an extended period of time, this is the place to make it happen. I can see having this adjusted for something that needed to be treated as an appliance where the system doesn’t change, outside of what would be needed for security purposes. This is an appreciated feature.
What I Don’t Like
GNOME… As much work as Ubuntu puts into GNOME, it is still frustratingly aggravating to use and adjust to suit user preferences. The lack of easy switch to the Yaru-dark theme without having to jump through hoops (okay, not really hoops) to do simple improvements is just maddening. Also, GNOME quite possibly has the worst settings of the desktops with the separation of the Settings from the GNOME Tweaks. I would be less irritated by this if Ubuntu would just include it as a subset of the Settings but the way it stands, the need to go to two different places to find what you need is just silly.
Try as I might, I do not like the top and side bars, the Unity layout, for my desktop. I find the top menu combined with the side menu an unacceptable extra use of screen real-estate. Reference my previous LibreOffice images, there is this thick bar of overhead at the top of the screen before you even get into where you do any document creation. Now, I will admit, that it is no worse than my preferred layout of having all that “admin overhead” at the bottom of the screen It is the same total loss of vertical real estate. I don’t see the value in having the icons along the side as well as the information along the top. I can’t even say for sure why you even have that “LibreOffice Writer” drop down in the top bar. Sure it’s a place to get some information but why couldn’t that be integrated into the side dock? You also can’t make the top menu bar auto hide which would be a nice feature too. I would actually prefer the top bar go away entirely and just put everything to the left side of the screen MX style as I don’t see any other practical purpose of the top bar at all. It’s just there. Perhaps it is just to what I have grown accustomed but the split of information along two sides of the screen just doesn’t work well for me.
Ubuntu is, in my estimation the best Ubuntu experience you are likely to have. Though, as I can remember, Pop!_OS is pretty great too but I haven’t given that a spin in quite a while. I do appreciate the work that Ubuntu has done to improve the desktop look and feel. It’s a great improvement from the the stock GNOME experience. They give some color and a much needed modern touch to the icons that GNOME desperately needs. The Yaru theme has a premium look to it and GTK applications should test specifically against this theme as it is likely the dominant GTK theme in Linux today.
Would I give up openSUSE for Ubuntu? No, absolutely not but I do appreciate the technology, the time and effort that goes into the polish of this distribution. I appreciate all that Canonical has contributed, the technology, the run times for Steam and Snaps but the underlying operating system is not for me. Canonical’s gift of Snaps is a technology which I use pretty regularly on openSUSE. In my estimation, Ubuntu is more of a consumer distribution that is targeted to the mass market. It is a fine product but just doesn’t provide that same comfort that I get from my tried and true openSUSE where I feel like it is more mine to work with and on.
I highly recommend, if by some off chance you haven’t tried Ubuntu in a while, to take it for a spin. Just because GNOME annoys me, doesn’t mean it will necessarily annoy you and these are just the ramblings of a Linux user that likes what he likes.
Regolith is a very interesting distribution based on Ubuntu that uses the i3 Window manager. In this case, you get all the benefits of the Ubuntu distribution with the unique i3 interface with predefined shortcut keys. The creator of this fine distribution, Ken Gilmer, has put a lot of time, effort into really making this a fine demonstration of i3.
This is my first i3 experience and overall it has been quite enjoyable. For those that are less familiar with what a Window Manager vs a Desktop…. I really can’t say, to me, it is a desktop environment I’m sure there is some nuance that distinguishes a “desktop environment” to a “window manager” but that debate and discussion is outside of the scope of this blathering. For my purposes, anything that allows me to interact with my computer in a holistic fashion is a Desktop Environment. So what is holistic in this context?
This is my impression of using Regolith as a deeply entrenched, content openSUSE Tumbleweed User that thinks using anything other than Plasma keeps my fingers hovering just over the bail-out button. Bottom Line Up Front, Regolith was a challenging but educationally enjoyable experience. My trip through Regolith sparked my imagination as to some specific applications and uses for this user environment. As cool as the interface is for Regolith (i3) is, it is not enough to push me off the openSUSE Tumbleweed Plasma mountain. This is my biased impression after running Regolith as a my interface into my computer.
Since this is Ubuntu based, the installation is really quite trivial. The team at Canonical have done a fantastic job of giving us a low barrier of entry into the Linux world. When Regolith boots, out of the gate, you are asked to select your Language. The Grub Boot menu pops up where the second option will put you immediately to the “Installation Process.” Thumbs up there! Anytime I get that option right from the beginning, I am just pleased I don’t have to hope that the Installation Icon is not hidden, bypassing my need to hunt around for the one function I came here to do.
Choosing this option, it looks like Regolith boots up a basic desktop and you are immediately greeted with the installation application. To start out, you are welcomed and asked for your language preference… again… perhaps just a verification that you do indeed speek the language you previously specified. Then you selet your Keyboad Layout.
Next you are asked to select whether or not you would like to install updates and 3rd Party Software. The Installation Type I have chosen for this is to erase the entire disk as I am running this in a virtual machine
Before committing to the drive modifications, you are given a sanity check and that makes this the point of no return, in a manner of speaking. After that, you are required to select your location.
The last step is going to be to set your user information. Here you can determine if you want to log in automatically or not here too. I find, even in VMs that will have no chance at having sensitive information, I still won’t select to automatically login.
The installation process occurs as fast as any other Ubuntu installation and you are given a slideshow of information as you would expect to see. I didn’t notice any differences in this installation sequence than Ubuntu proper.
Once you are given the installation completion message, select the Restart Now button and you are off to the Regolith races.
First Run and Impressions
Since performance was not going to be an issue with this distribution as it is not something loaded with extra bells and whistles. I wasn’t conserned with any lagging due to running this in a virtual machine, and the reality is, there wasn’t any issue at all.
To start off, you are given the Ubuntu Welcome Walkthrough that once again sets up your system.
The walkthough then allows for location preference and cloud services. Once that is complete you are done and ready to i3 to your hearts content.
One of the beauties of having a machine with muliple monitors is that I can dedicate one monitor to a full screen virtual machine and very much get the feeling of bare metal. Doing this, I used Virt-Manager with KVM/QEMU.
The desktop (window manager, I know but I am calling this a desktop, feel free to send condescending comments or emails on this point) has instructions plastered to the background to get started with navigation. I found this so handy that I took a screen shot and used this as a reference.
I was muddling my way through a bit on Regolith but I didn’t get into my groove until I watched this demonstration by Eric Adams on YouTube. Watching him go through and show some other features that weren’t on this page, and see how he navigated it very quickly, I mimicked it a bit and I started to see the real power.
I started to see how I could use this very nicely with any terminal based applications and tile them quite quickly and nicely, ready make things happen. Used it to do many of my terminal and web browsing functions. I could easily modify the boarder size with Super+ + or Super+ –
I really liked the ease of opening new terminals and browsers into new work spaces or into new pane on the existing screen. I think, if I were to use this regularly, I would probably end up with many, many virtual desktops in order to manage similarly what I do in Plasma. I think in some ways it could be better and perhaps more effective. I then wondered what would happen if I went more than 9 Virtual Desktops…
Being forced to use keyboard shortcuts to force me to jump into different virtual desktops for a while on Regolith started to become second nature. Consequently, I now use the default keystrokes for virtual desktop switching with Plasma. I am tempted to change them to the Regolith shortcuts but I think I have those mental profiles for switching in Plasma locked in now and I must say, way better than moving the mouse to the bottom of the screen.
What I Like
The minimalist feel of the window manager. The speed of which to lay out the panels is really fantastic. Managing all aspects of the window are done with the need to move my hand from the keyboard is really quite minimal. Combine that with a laptop pointer mouse you would see on a business class Dell or Lenovo, you could potentially do a lot very fast, so long as it wasn’t an artsy thing.
Using Regolith reminds me of the days of old using DOS based applications but layered in a fantastically intuitively manner. Being able to switch between, resize window panes and dig through menus on a keyboard alone feels like a nerd superpower.
The location and status information in the bottom panel is almost just right. If I took the time to tweak it just a bit to give me just a bit more information, I would almost call this perfect.
What I Don’t Like
There seems to be a lack of being able to customize the color scheme. Although the color scheme is fine, I would like to tweak it a bit. I am sure that I could install Gnome tweaks but I am what you would call a proponent of the extension system. Therefore, I am not installing such a thing.
Related to my previous dislike. This is Gnome based, currently, and this could change, I have limited confidence in Gnome as a whole. GTK appears to be a wonky and broken tool kit when used by Gnome, although it is fine in Plasma, I have experienced mixed results with GTK in Gnome. I also don’t like that Gnome is a single-threaded process. I would prefer something Plasma based where the environment is multi-threaded. To further contradict myself, since i3 isn’t exactly doing a lot, this might be a silly and moot point.
I don’t really run Ubuntu, not for any technical reasons, I just don’t prefer Ubuntu, so I think I would prefer using i3 or something like it on an openSUSE base. After all, this is my biased review and having that familiar set of terminal tools that I greatly appreciate would make for an even better experience. I think what might happen next is taking i3 for a spin on an openSUSE machine and comparing the keyboard input schemes of the two different systems.
Regolith is a very interesting distribution using the i3 Window Manager by default. Although you can essentially just add i3 to any Ubuntu distribution, this will make the end goal of an i3 environment on Ubuntu much easier. It has a real raw, strap yourself in with a 5-point harness, this is going to move fast, feel to it. The very way you interface with the system is speedy and feels ultra productive. I can appreciate the design and thought of i3 and especially the time that Mr. Ken Gilmer has put into Regolith.
The biggest take away of using i3 was that it forced me learn and use the keyboard in such a way that when going back to Plasma, I wanted the same kind of productivity enhancements. This forced me to learn the bindings in Plasma to better navigate my desktops and a few other functions.
After dabbling around with i3 and modifying my Plasma desktop usage, I have decided Regolith or i3 for that matter wouldn’t make my Linux life more efficient on my primary machine. The keyboard shortcuts are very awesome for doing very rapid switching between applications and tiling them around on the screen. The reality for me is, I don’t see this as enough of an enhancement that I would gain more than I would lose from moving away from Plasma on openSUSE… but then this had me thinking… where I could most certainly see this being used is in a more server or systems monitoring application where a full desktop is not necessary. The awesome nerd-value of i3 is strong and for some sort of persistent system where I can have it monitoring logs and activity is exactly where I would use this.
Regolith might be one of the greatest experiences I have had in Linux for a long time. Not so much that I have radically changed anything about what I am doing but that I have taken what I have learned from the productivity enhancements and assimilated them into my own workflow to make my work more efficient. For that, I am extremely grateful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In participating in with a virtual LUG, BDLL, I decided to give Enso OS a try, on Virtual Machine, of course. In recognizing that there can be Virtual Machine-isms, I am going to ignore any issues I had with that and just relay the overall usability of this distribution. I am evaluating Enso OS from the bias of a long time openSUSE user that prefers the Rolling Release model of distribution and uses KDE Plasma Desktop on machines as old as 11 years. I have rather high expectations for an operating system environment. I expect a certain level of reliability and convenience, computers are to serve me, I do not wish to serve the computer. The more it does for me, the better and it is imperative that I can trust the computer, which is why I use openSUSE.
Even though I am very committed to the openSUSE community, I do like to see what others are doing, just because someone isn’t using openSUSE, doesn’t mean they don’t have great ideas too. It is also fascinating to see how other engineers, developers and designers solve the same problems but in their own unique ways.
I have yet to have a Linux distribution fail to install on VirtualBox. I am using the VirtualBox from the openSUSE Tumbleweed repositories, which, over the years has been basically problem free.
The Enso OS ISO I used was downloaded from here. It is the latest version (at the time of writing) 0.3, built on the latest LTS release of Ubuntu, version 18.04.
Much like trying out other Distros, I set the RAM to 4GB and allocated a 120GB Dynamically Allocated Storage drive. Immediately, I was pleased to see that I was given an option if I wanted to try Enso OS or immediately install it.
Since I don’t see a point in trying Enso in a “Live Media” mode on a virtual machine, there was only once clear choice here. Install Enso.
Each of the screens are straight forward. Select your keyboard, test it out then determine if you want to pull down the updates during the installation as well as install third party software. I think this is a nice feature, especially for a new user. This is something openSUSE does not do through their installer, good bad or otherwise. They have their reasons, which is why I put together this to make it quick to install the necessary packages on any current openSUSE system.
The rest of the installation is pretty straight forward, when you commit to “erasing the disk” it warns you but then you go onto setting your location and user name.
I didn’t notice any synchronization with NTP (Network Time Protocol) servers. Not that it is necessary but it is a feature I activate on all my openSUSE systems so that time is always synchronized between them… to the second…
Two things I appreciated about the actual installation process. One, there is an option to watch and see what is happening during the installation. I could not only see the “commercial” provided by the installer but also what was happening through the installation. Secondly, I like the colorful rainbow fading affect. It reminded me the happy colorful times in the 90s of games overusing color gradients in the background…. really quite fantastic.
Enso OS has a similar feel to it as Pop!_OS, not exact but something of a similar thread where there is an emphasis on making your desktop experience bright and cheerful. Frankly, this is isn’t exactly how I want my desktop to look but I am not opposed to this styling. I think, for most people, this is probably a more attractive look than what I desire.
After the installation was complete, there were updated required, which I didn’t really understand as I did select to install updates immediately. Not a big deal, really. I did appreciate how the update dialog was verbose so I could see what it was doing. The software center in Enso OS was a similar experience to what you would see on Pop!_OS or others with a “Software Center”. The applications are curated in a clearly understandable and friendly manner.
The file manager is pretty typical and very usable. I was, however, disappointed in the default menu, called “Launchy.” Although you can make it sort by category, the default is a kind of messy. A similar mess you you get on a smart phone. It is what I would consider an unsorted mess of applications. If you don’t have many applications, it isn’t a big deal but the more you have, the more of a mess it will become. Thankfully there is a search function that pretty much nullifies this shortcoming.
The settings window is nicely laid out and made quick work of finding where I could tweak the theme to my liking.
I do want to note that the dark theme is Adwaita-Dark, not a dark version of the Enso OS theme. Perhaps in the future there will be an Enso OS dark theme. The default Enso OS has a more Mac like window button arrangement vs the more traditional icons you’d see on pretty much anything else.
Everyone has their base necessary set of applications to get going and knowing that this is based on Ubuntu I was already familiar with the command line methods of software installation. What I wanted to see was their graphical interface called the “AppHive”, so, I installed a few applications. I appreciate how each application has the developers listed below the title. It is a fine way to present the application prior to your choosing weather or not to install it.
I installed a few key applications and gave them a run around the block to see how it ran. Everything is as you would expect in my rather short run, the applications all worked fine. I was was also pleased to see that the Software Center included Snap applications and they installed just as any other applications would. The Discord Application is a Snap and if I hadn’t paid attention during install, I would not have ever noticed. Keeping this transparent to the user is a nice touch.
A quick check in the terminal and I could see that Discord was installed as a Snap. Installation of the Smart Card system works as well as it does on any of the other Ubuntu based distributions so for my most important work I do in Linux, I could accomplish without any issue.
What I like
Enso OS is by far the finest looking XFCE Desktop I have used. I do admit that I haven’t tried any XFCE Desktop in quite some time but this is not anything like I remember. Enso OS has made XFCE feel as “modern” and pleasant as any other desktop environment. I would say that this is a more positive experience than what I had using a Gnome. XFCE is easily customized and has a more familiar workflow than Gnome.
Installing applications with the Software Manager, AppHive, provides a seamless experience when installing Snaps or Deb packages. From a newer or less comfortable user’s perspective, this certainly would make for a better experience.
What I don’t Like
The only issue I have with Enso OS is the menu, Launchy. It’s not a big issue as it does have a search feature but the menu just isn’t neatly organized by default. Since I am a KDE Plasma user, I felt like XFCE was lacking some of the features I prefer and use regularly. I am sure I could have gotten KDE Connect to work with XFCE but the lack of integration makes it a less enjoyable desktop experience. XFCE is not bad, by any stretch but it’s just not as much for me and what I want out of a desktop.
I have been enjoying looking at other distributions to see how other developers, engineers and designers express their desires and solve their problems in a Linux Desktop Environment. I must say that I am quite impressed the work put into Enso OS. Outside of some theme changes, I am not exactly sure what the unique selling point is over Xubuntu but it doesn’t detract from the quality of the end product. This is a finely produced, very complete, well polished Linux distribution.
As nice as Enso OS is and the convenience it provides with installing multimedia codecs, I am perfectly happy with where I am using openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. Even though openSUSE doesn’t include multimedia codecs by default, there are enough guides out there to fix that small issue. I also want it to be clear that trying out Enso OS was not in any way a waste of my time and I am glad I took it for a spin.
As part of a kind of challenge, I have decided to kick the tires on Pop!_OS Since I don’t have the extra hardware to install it on “bare metal” so I have chosen to put it in a Virtual Machine. Pop!_OS can be downloaded from here. I chose the 2GB sized Intel/AMD version for this test. The Requirements are on par with nearly every other 64-bit distribution out there. It requires 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage.
The installation process Pop!_OS is a fantastic experience. The instructions are clear and the presentation is uncluttered with a clear course of action. Very good for a new user to Linux.
After the installation and reboot of the machine, you are prompted to set up your user. It’s all pleasantly straight forward and easy to understand. It is at this point you can choose to encrypt or not encrypt your home directory.
After you log in, you are greeted with this friendly, multilingual, interactive welcome dialog. Like the installation experience, clean and simple.
Your First task is to set your privacy settings
Nothing confusing, simple wording and asks you questions very simply; Do you want to allow applications to know your location. No techno babble, no long winded explanations. Plain, simple and clear language.
Next your asked if you want to set up any online accounts. I was not particularly interested in this feature so I did not test it.
Should you skip this step, it is easy to get set up accounts later. This is in the settings menu. Searching “Online Accounts” in the menu will bring it up.
That is all that will be needed to get started.
And you are ready to get Pop!_OS-ing
The cleverly named Pop!_Shop which is a re-skinned ElementaryOS App Center, not the Gnome Software Center, which I originally thought.
I searched for and installed Telegram with the expected outcome. I searched for specific libraries to install what is needed for the Smart Card but nothing would show up. When the GUI doesn’t do as asked, there is still terminal to bail you out. Using my instructions here to make the installation.
The process of going back and forth became a bit irritating but more on that later. Installing and testing out the Smart Card system was successful. It worked just as my instructions specified for Ubuntu and its derivatives.
What I Like
For starters, this is an Ubuntu derivative, so I know I have access to… basically everything. Also, knowing this is built on a well tested base, plus the extra polish from System76, I would have no distrust of any system running this.
The installation interface is beautiful and friendly. It has fun artwork, straight forward installer. The look and the artwork in Pop!_OS is absolutely stellar. It has a fun, clean and modern looking interface. The contrast is perfect and give the Environment the same kind of welcoming, pleasant, here is a hot cup of coco, go sit by the fire and warm up, after shoveling the snow off of the sidewalks.
The Pop!_Shop is not only cleverly named but looks great. The care and attention to detail made by the designers make this application fit into their finely crafted desktop environment is noticed and appreciated.
The base set of applications chosen by the designers is a nice fit. It has all the basics you need without having to install anything. You can get by just fine with what’s available and not be burdened by the confusion of excessive application selection.
What I don’t like
I want to make it clear that I have a pretty huge bias as I am entrenched in a particular workflow and I happen to like, how openSUSE structures itself. I also want to make perfectly clear that I think this is a very fine piece of art and technology for which I have great admiration in all those involved.
For starters, I do not like having to click on “Activities” on the top of the screen to do pretty much everything. It is my opinion that this exercise is nothing more than unnecessary wear and tear on my mouse button and a general waste of time. This particular design choice is clunky and inefficient. The lack of buttons on the window and the lack of any way to add them, at least one that is not obvious. It would be a fantastic feature to minimize the screen at the click of a button or maybe keep windows above others with a single-click of a button. Much like the additional unnecessary clicks to do anything through the “Activity” button, I have to add a right-click than select what I want to do with the window.
There is no Task Bar no way of knowing what is going on at a glance, to look at all your windows open, extra clicking is required by going back to that “Activities” button. Alternatively, the Alt+Tab will allow you to switch windows, which works fine if you only have a few applications running. If you have a lot going on, switching between applications is going to be a mess.
Not a big deal, but I don’t particularly care for the way you have to use authentication to do updates from the GUI. I say this with my openSUSE bias as doing an upgrade through the update tool requires no authentication when using openSUSE Leap. This is a small potatoes thing… really…
Last thing… and this too falls back on my bias… Due to the lack of package selection from the Pop!_Shop, I needed another package manager since as much as I like GUIs, so I installed Synergy to see how it compared to openSUSE YaST Software Manager.
sudo apt-get install synaptic
Synaptic is pretty decent. It has a lot of the great features of which I am accustomed to with openSUSE but there was one glaring missing feature I was not able to find.
There isn’t any way to select a repository to switch system packages into. Perhaps this is not a necessary feature in Ubuntu based systems but for openSUSE, this is a nice feature. There is value in switching system repositories to a more bleeding edge KDE or Gnome and switching them back, if wanted.
Would I use Pop_OS! for a daily driver? As nice as it is, the spectacular polish, the beautiful art, sensible selection of default applications and so much more, I still would not. There are too many user interface issues with it that make it too slow and clunky. The lack of minimize and task bar in the desktop plus the required extra-clicks to get to the menu, although it is not a serious productivity loss, it just feels slower. I am aware that there is a work around for that using Gnome-Tweaks and Keyboard Shortcuts but I just don’t find it an acceptable out-of-box answer.
I am certain that Pop!_OS is a fantastic interface for many and for those in which it works well, they should continue to use it. It looks fantastic and feels incredibly well polished and I have no doubt whatsoever that it is stable and works reliably for the long haul. It just doesn’t fit my needs. Part of the beauty of Linux and the open source is the ability to choose what is best suited for your particular needs, desires and unique flair. Use the best tool for the job and I have no doubt that Pop!_OS is a fine tool for many jobs.