Acer AspireOne D255 with openSUSE Tumbleweed Xfce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Like

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

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

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

What I Don’t Like

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

References

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

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Xfce, A Model GTK Based Desktop | Late Summer Blathering

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

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

Previous Xfce Experiences

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

New Experiences with Xfce

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

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

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

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

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

Xfce on openSUSE

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

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

sudo zypper in -t pattern xfce

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

References

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

Salient OS | Review from an openSUSE User

SalientOS review title

Salient OS is the first Arch based distribution that I put any significant time into. Salient takes the heavy lifting out of Arch. The value of not building your own Arch system and using somebody else’s assembly can be debated but that is outside of the scope of this review. I am looking at this from my biased perspective as an openSUSE Tumbleweed user, another rolling release. Could I use Salient OS long term? Perhaps but what am I gaining? I am not sure.

This review was initiated as a BigDaddyLinux distro challenge. I am perfectly happy with my choice of openSUSE. I am just dabbling around to learn and experiment because, why not? Linux is a fun thing.

Installation

Installation of Salient OS is surprisingly easy. There isn’t an option to install it from boot but you can boot into a live media version of Salient and kick the tires before you commit to an installation.

SalientOS-01

My initial impression is, the desktop looks fantastic, it is themed just right and the wallpaper is pretty fantastic. I don’t know what it is from but it is visually quite interesting.

SalientOS-02-Desktop

Since I am not a fan of testing things out in the live media mode, I wanted to install it but there wasn’t an icon on the desktop to begin the installation so I searched for it in the menu. Which, by the way, it should be noted that the this is a great menu.

SalientOS-03-menu

Once I found the installer, by searching for “Installer”

Upon launching it, the welcome screen gave me a warning about my hardware, I paused for just a moment, but just continued anyway. It should be noted, I didn’t have any issues on my time with Salient OS. Next I set the location.

Next was the keyboard selection. It defaulted the proper keyboard which was welcoming. The partitioning, not my preference for the default but it seems to be more and more common, regardless of the benefits, I still prefer the default of a separate partition.

Next was setting the user information and finally a summary. Not a whole lot of options, perhaps a good thing since I am unfamiliar with Arch, this is likely a good thing.

The install process was pretty quick. There was a point at around 20% where it seemed like the installation stalled but the disk an CPU activity told me that it was indeed working hard.

Once the Installation was complete, I wanted to reboot immediately to see what I can do with this fresh installation.

First Run

The Grub bootloader is among the best I have ever seen. It sets the mood right from the beginning. This isn’t a bright, eye stabbing, desktop, this desktop respects light discipline.

SalientOS-13-Grub Boot

The login screen was a bit of a puzzle to me, not a big deal, no worse than having to press ctrl+alt+delete to log into Windows, in this case, I just had to click on the robot image for my user name to appear.

SalientOS-14-Login Screen.png

The desktop appeared just as it had before and I saw that there were updates. Having heard the horror stories of Arch updates, I wanted to see how it would go for me. I know that Arch does require a bit of vigilance on ensuring it stays up to date and this was a fresh install so there should be no problems.

SalientOS-16-Updates

Authentication for completing the update was required, probably a good idea with Arch updates.

SalientOS-17-Update Authentication

I appreciate how verbose the update process is. I can see not only what is being updated but what the version changes are. That is a very welcomed bit of information and appeals to my geek core.

SalientOS-18-Upgrade Process

I did get one warning but it didn’t see it as being anything significant.

SalientOS-19-Upgrade Notification

I closed the window after the transaction successfully finished and rebooted the system. Everything came back just as I would expect.

SalientOS-20-Upgrade Successful

This update didn’t fail, but if I let Arch go too long (which I will test) without upgrading, I am to understand that this could be a problem. I am going to put it through a similar test I put Tumbleweed through, just to see.

Interestingly, both Firefox and Chromium are installed by default. I am sure there are arguments against having multiple browsers initially installed but I have no problem with this and in a way, that is kind of a reoccurring theme in this distribution; Options.

SalientOS-21-Firefox

This is the first distribution I have seen that has OpenShot installed by default. I find that fascinating.

SalientOS-22-OpenShot

You are also given Kdenlive to play around with, keeping in line with this idea of Options with this distribution.

SalientOS-23-Kdenlive

Options don’t end there, either.

My impression of this distribution is that it looks like a work of high-energy art encapsulated in pleasant, modern, dark themed wrapper. The window decorations are almost electric in appearance with brilliant high contrast widgets in a pleasantly dark and slightly translucent frame. The desktop effects are clean and simple and it all just looks like it is absolutely not Xfce… but it is. It really gives me pause to think how wrong the notion is that Xfce is not a modern desktop when this clearly demonstrates that Xfce can in fact be morphed into something as modern looking as Plasma or Gnome.

This distribution is packed with all the gaming and gaming related applications of which I am aware. It has Steam and Lutris installed by default which essentially covers the entire gambit of gaming on Linux.

Salient OS is also packed with content creation software, Open Broadcaster Studio, SimpleScreenRecorder, Kdenlive and OpenShot for video related creation. Audacity and LMMS for Audio production. Graphic creation has Blender for 3D modeling, Darktable, Gimp and Inkscape.

For writing to a USB drive, SUSE Imagewriter is bundled by default, which is absolutely my favorite tool.

What I Like

Right out of the gate, this distribution has all the gaming applications, graphics editing, video editing and pretty much all the great, high profile applications are bundled in here. No searching or installing a long list of applications to get up and running.

The desktop is super nice looking. I am most accustomed to seeing a dark theme with green or blue accents but this one, instead has orange accents. It is a nice departure from the norm. It should also be noted that this is a very fine display of how Xfce can be configured to look slick and modern.

The settings panel in Salient is well done. It is pretty common now for the controls to be consolidated, which is appreciated, some are better than others and this one is pretty great.

What I Don’t Like

Due to my desktop layout bias, I prefer the desktop have the panel on the bottom. I can deal with it on the top or the side but you don’t get two sides. The desktop would be a lot more functional if you had the panel at the bottom with the quick launch icons embedded. Although the bottom panel is covered up on full screen, I just don’t understand the appeal. I know this is configurable and I am quite possibly just an old curmudgeon that likes my desktop a certain way.

The Firewall is installed but off by default. Not my preferred default behavior but probably the easiest for inexperienced users to have it get along with their home network… which seems in contrast to what an Arch distribution expects from its users.

Xfce is a generally nice looking desktop but GTK just doesn’t look as good as Qt, at least, GTK does a much poorer job of integrating Qt apps in a GTK environment than the other way around. There are configuration controls included in Salient OS but it just doesn’t have that level of integration that you see from Plasma.

Final Thoughts

SalientOS is a distribution that is truly built for gaming enthusiasts. It looks fantastic, works well and basically has all the necessary applications for gamers and content creators baked in and ready to be used. I have heard this argument against having too many applications included and getting the term “bloated” thrown around. I actually think that is kind of a silly argument. If there is something you don’t want, it is easy to just remove the application and if you want to go more minimal and build up from there, just go with Arch proper. Salient rolls everything up and gets you from zero to operational in short order with no fiddling around.

If you want to try out Arch but are a bit intimidated with the technical expertise required to get it going, this is a fine choice and I don’t see how you could be wrong in trying it. Personally, I don’t see the benefits of Arch outweigh the benefits I have in openSUSE Tumbleweed, but the fine compilation of software and sensible defaults of Salient OS certainly nips at the heels of openSUSE.

Further Reading

https://bigdaddylinux.com/

Salient OS on SourceForge