Archive: ‘Distributions’

Good Linux Distro for Old Laptop

07.09.17

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

Many of us Linux enthusiasts are known for trying to squeak as much mileage as possible out of our old or aging laptops. I hear about it all the time, and its true. Us Linux geeks will hand down a laptop, or repurpose an old desktop PC and (with Linux) morph it into something else or simply just extend its lifespan and usefulness.

I’m typing this post using an old HP G60 laptop purchased in 2009. Originally issued with Vista, it was soon updated to Windows 7. It performed OK when it was new, but of course over time, it began to get slower and slower. There’s a lot of useful information and instructions on basic upkeep (file cleaning, temporary cache and internet clearing) that seemingly never ship with the machine or come in the box when you buy it at a retail outlet? Why?

If I had to take a guess, it’s because the OEMs don’t really want you to keep a clunker around past its expected 3-year lifespan. They want you to refresh your machines and plunk down the money on that new Macbook or that slick-looking Lenovo laptop. It’s marketing without the aggressive tactics. They simply allow you to use your machine and run it into the ground so that you come to the conclusion on your own, that it’s time to upgrade.

When the machine was “handed down” to me it was originally intended as a gaming machine for my kid. Then he tried to play minecraft on it. Even with newer hardware (I maxed the ram to 4GB and put in a Solid State Drive) – the Minecraft experience was still less than ideal and the machine likely came close to overheat temperatures I’m sure.

Hence the machine got pushed forward back up to me. Ok no big deal. As a development machine it works ok. It can run XAMPP without issue, but its BIOS has no virtualization support, so no vagrant/oracle virtualbox…. oh well, it can still run docker, which I mainly use this machine for. Writing emails, and learning Docker. Not bad.

Now on to the main topic… what distro should I put on this old, underpowered rig? I tried several.
For a good long time I ran Ubuntu Mate and it was great. I then wanted to try something else so I went to the BSD side of the world, but on this machine… it just didn’t seem to do well. I guess I wasn’t accustomed to the way it would look and feel on this old machine. Maybe someday I will use this machine as a simple server with FreeBSD and not have any graphical expectations.

I then tried Solus, which was very nice. Very polished distro. I like how it works, until… until I turned off compositing. This PC (I feel) does not need compositing, it needs simple. Within a few days Solus was erased in favor of an experimental spin with Lubuntu. That wasn’t great either. Lubuntu in my opinion just didn’t perform or keep consistent on this machine, so what’s the point. Stuff kept changing, especially with the monitor situation. I use an external monitor (in addition to the laptop screen).

Finally I revisited an OS I used to use a long time ago… crunchbang. Only now crunchbang is no more. There’s Bunsenlabs, and also a counterpart called Crunchbang++. Crunchbang++ is very much the same as Bunsen or Crunchbang in that it uses the Openbox window manager. It responds very fast. And of course I’m used to the configuration (via files) that is provided by openbox, tint, and conky. I’ve invested a fair amount of time overcoming some of the quirks in terms of desktop placement and other things here and there. The Audio is always muted at login. I’ll solve that issue soon. It’s not critical so I let it ride…. for now.

What *Nix distro now?

06.03.17

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

Hi all, long time no write.
The time has come, well, it’s always been here I suppose… that lingering feeling that the distro you’re using is in need of replacement.
I’ve been using Ubuntu Mate for years now, and it’s great. No complaints with it, the issue is one that is known to many of us trying to get as much horsepower as possible from an old laptop.
How old you ask? Well it’s from 2009, and is an HP G60 in very good shape. Over the years I have maxed out the RAM, replaced the spinning disc HD with a Solid State Drive, and have replaced the keyboard and the battery. I’m just trying to get best performance out of it while trying to solve a few other problems/challenges in the process.
So glad you’re still reading this!! OK. Recently at work they have enabled Host Checker on the company’s VPN login stage. This basically means that my previous implementation of a 64-bit OS with some additional 32-bit java libraries added in (from mad-scientist directions) is no longer working. This used to work, and now it does not. Host checker fails because it can’t find program to run java applets or find an Antivirus program.

Isn’t that a kicker? Linux, a more secure operation system (in general) than Microsoft Windows…. is not considered “secure enough”…

I’ve been trying a few things to get it working within the scope of “host checker” and found this Perl script called jvpn but it isn’t working. I’ve done all I can within my own coder skill set to try and root out code issue or lack of java library issue, but there simply are no foolproof ways to make it work, and I feel this approach is simply very very hackish.

I was considering using an older 32-bit OS as an alternative, but in this day and age, that feels like going too far backwards in time. 32 bit?
The promising concepts of 32-bit:

  • The Java libraries will be 32-bit from day 1
  • I can install Java-enabled ESR release of Firefox

I’ve also read that FreeBSD is capable of establishing this connection to Juniper VPN, but I’m not convinced. For a week I tried out installing FreeBSD, and then installing TrueOS on top of it for a graphical environment. I may have done something wrong in that the machine felt slower in performance and the desktop (Lumina environment) just seemed to lack polish and if it’s going to be slow, at least it should look better in my opinion.

Does anyone have an idea on how to properly connect a Linux/BSD computer to a Juniper VPN with host checker enabled? Feel free to leave a comment. Thanks.

Ubuntu Mate ROCKS

02.01.16

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

Hi all, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. But I wanted to take a moment and talk about Ubuntu Mate.

Since Kubuntu 14.04 came out (and I did use 13.04 & 13.10) I used it on my Dell Inspiron 15z laptop. The only issue of installation was the usual pain points of Dual-booting with UEFI and Safe mode. Things that can typically be fixed easily using the Ubuntu Boot Repair CD.

However, over time I did notice recently that the machine under Kubuntu just didn’t feel as responsive as it once was. KDE is a full desktop experience and a good one. I don’t blame KDE for being KDE, but I think it was a good time to consider alternatives ahead of the upcoming 16.04 release.

Still a fan of the Jupiter Broadcast shows (such as Linux Unplugged and the Linux Action Show), there were numerous mentions of Ubuntu Mate. It got my attention.

I installed it, had the same UEFI nonsense and fixed it.
It is a great distro. I recommend the current 15.10 release to anyone who wants a full GTK desktop but one that runs faster than KDE.

I mean, it “isn’t KDE” but that’s beside the point.

I’m very happy with its performance and visuals.

Cheers,
Adam

Arch challenge and KaOS

03.04.15

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

Hi all, as a linux user since 2003, I decided it was time to leave my comfort zone and take an opportunity to learn and do things “the arch way”.

My son has been using our old Macbook 2009 for playing Minecraft and while this isn’t a big deal in and of itself, it has been giving the computer a really sizeable beating in terms of CPU, GPU, and overall computer temperature. I wanted to let him play his game, however on a not-so-critical computer and spare the Mac.

We came into an older (about the same production year) HP G-60 laptop. I bought an SSD for it, and designated the machine as his to use for Minecraft. I now needed an Operating System. Of course, it was not going to be Windows anything. Sorry.

With an faster, empty, open hard drive, I wanted a solid linux distro that I would not have to reinstall every 6 months. The idea of a rolling release came to mind, as opposed to an Ubuntu LTS release, which I use now (Kubuntu 14.04) on my Dell.

That’s when I discovered the super-nathan arch challenge courtesy of the Linux Action show featured here.

I could have chose from among several rolling distros, but I came across KaOS, which is rolling, and arch-based.
KaOS is a lean KDE distribution.
I loved it, and got so taken in with learning how things are done in the Arch Linux world. The only downside I found was, after a while, my son actually wanted to “use” the computer and I found myself trying to get in my learning in the off hours.

That’s fine, but I then also reached a point where I was going against the main purpose and philosophy of Arch itself…I found myself wanting a system that stayed stable and would not require much fuss. I do know this is a conflict or contradiction in terms as Arch does not make this promise. If the computer were purely for my use, it would be no big deal.

Another awesome thing you’ll see with KaOS is that it uses Plasma 5 or KDE5 desktop environment. It really is a big improvement over KDE4, which isn’t bad to begin with.

If you like KDE, and are willing to use an Arch-based system, I recommend KaOS. However, be sure to visit as many pages of the website as you can, including the FAQ and the KCP section of the site to learn how KaOS does its packaging and the new things you can see at github.

Thanks for reading this far, and in good spirits, I’ll say that since I wanted a distro for the HP G-60 that would be easier to maintain and less fuss, I went with Ubuntu Mate, which is based on the 14.04 LTS. This way my kid can play, and when necessary, I can quickly and easily update and maintain the system.

Cheers,
Adam

Robolinux is amazing

09.21.14

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

I recently was given another laptop for “repurposing” – which in my circles – means “bye bye crufty windows vista/7 and hello Linux”.

It’s a somewhat older HP G60 laptop, and I pulled the original HD, and added RAM to the tune of 4Gig and wow, this thing is super fast. Boot up to usable desktop in well under 10 seconds, and the application responsiveness is the fastest I’ve seen in any Linux thus far. Now, onto to the main topic of the post, Robolinux.

I chose the XFCE Version for speed, and it does deliver. It took a while to get used to the XFCE way of doing things again (it’s been ~ 7 years since I’ve used it. I used to rock Xubuntu on an old Dell D600 laptop).

Typically, when I want a ligthweight distro with a great software base, my “go-to” is generally Crunchbang (has the Openbox environment). But this time around, I was going for a more “windowsy” user interface experience for the person I was setting the laptop up for. It would just be “too much” of a shift for them to learn both Openbox and using Linux, so I took a look at Robolinux.

Robolinux is derived from Debian, and has a lot of great software pacakges I didn’t find anywhere else. Not that I have looked high and low mind you – as I typically set up a machine and (if it’s for me) I go all out customizing it for what I want to do with it (which from recent posts, I needed a machine ready to do all kinds of things and was in love with SolydK until I had to cross back into Windows8 world… sigh. but to be fair, Kubuntu 14.04 has been doing really well.

Check out Robolinux, especically if you prefer the VM instead of Dual booting into Windows when (sigh again) necessary to do so.

Good luck.

Solyd is great but I had to switch back

02.25.14

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  3 Comments »

What does this mean? Well, it means that for a good run I was able to use Solydk, the KDE version of the SolydXK Linux Distribution. I recently had to replace Solydk with another distro because I ran into issues with my Dell Inspiron 15z, which is UEFI, Secure Boot with Windows 8 Pre-installed.

I do regret purchasing a Windows-based machine thinking it would be easy to dual-boot with Windows and Linux. More specifically, a non-BIOS machine anyway. It’s been blogged about countless times, that it’s just downright painful to get Linux and Windows 8 (with UEFI) to play nicely and dual-boot without issue. In retrospect, a System76 laptop with a Windows 8 VM would have probably been a better choice.

Here’s what I learned before I first switched to Solydk. That (on this machine so far) Ubuntu and its derivatives (for that matter) will install (in general) without major issues. But I discovered soon after that the Ubuntu Boot Repair CD becomes your best friend soon after. And of course, tutorial sites such as How To Geek come in handy as well. Here is a tutorial which may help with boot repairs. Even though Ubuntu has gone to the trouble of getting their kernels signed and approved by MS, there are still some minor post-install issues where you have to jump through a few hoops to have a reliable dual-boot system.

Then I switched to Solydk, as I recently became a big fan of not only the KDE, but the concept of installing a rolling release – install once, update as necessary. Sadly, because Solydk installed GRUB to the MBR, (my bad choice) I was unable to boot into Windows 8. Thus my machine became a single-boot laptop. It wasn’t bad for a while – but then you reach a point where you need to get at that Windows 8 OS to do something. And it won’t boot.

I reached for the Boot Repair CD, which has a feature to restore the MBR. That part of it worked great, as I was finally able to get to Windows. The bad news was I could no longer get to Solydk. Tried many different things and of course got some really supportive help over at the SolydXK Forums. But did not have any luck in getting the machine back to dual-boot capability.

At that point, it was time to choose a distro that would dual-boot properly and play nice with Windows 8 and all the UEFI/Secure Boot nonsense installed on this computer. I considered Fedora 20, but I could not get my head around the errors I was encountering on the manual partitioning page. I’ve been using Debian derivatives for so long, that I kind of got used to the way they do things. The Fedora partitioner was the deal-breaker for me. Maybe someday I’ll get it working via experimentation in a virtual machine.

The other viable candidate was Kubuntu, so I installed the current latest version (13.10) and had a lot of issues with the well-known “black screen on boot from grub” issue. This occurred whether the Live DVD booted in EFI mode or Legacy mode. It simply didn’t matter. I followed many blog posts that advised adding grub parameters `nomodeset` and `acpi_osi=Linux`, and `acpi_backlight=vendor`. None of these parameter add-ons fixed the issue. So it was time to make a judgment call. Fix the 13.10, or do something else. With April only days away, I decided to move forward toward the long-term support release of version 14.04 “Trusty Tahr” but since it’s not yet officially released, I downloaded and installed the Alpha2 version.

Kubuntu 14.04 Alpha2 installed nicely (the Live DVD booted just fine with the computer in UEFI mode), and the install process did not wipe out the MBR. However it did do some kind of monkey business as I was unable to boot into Windows. Once again, the boot repair DVD to the rescue. I was able to properly purge and reinstall GRUB and of course repair the MBR. After that, I am able to dual-boot Windows 8 and Kubuntu 14.04 with no black screen issue.

I’m seeing two somewhat interesting and strange items, but I can live with them both. One of them is that the grub menu theme is missing a character to the point where my grub boot screen is using “? in a box” as its border character. Also I have the Yakuake terminal set to autostart, where under normal conditions it stays hidden until you press F12 key. Currently, the terminal drops down once the desktop has fully loaded into a usable state. Again these are minor things that are possibly the result of rocking an Alpha2 (Pre-release) version of the OS.

In summary, it’s back to Kubuntu for now, but I can see myself reinstalling Solydk at a later time. Preferably when they implement support or handling of EFI and allow the boot loader to not be put onto the MBR. The SolydXK team is working on it, so hopefully they’ll release this feature soon.

Thanks for reading.

Bye Bye Buntu, hello Solyd

12.22.13

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

I’ve used Ubuntu for quite a long time now. I would say since 12.04 on my current laptop (Dell Inspiron 15z that I mentioned in another post. Yes, the one with Windows 8 and Secure-boot UEFI). Seemed to be the “good/easy” choice to get up and running with a dual-boot for this newfangled secure-boot BIOS since Ubuntu has “signed kernels” since 12.04 version. Setting this up, was not simple, yet not too complicated once I found advice on the net that actually worked.

After upgrading from 12.10 to 13.04, things simply were not the same. The machine would not boot in secure mode. No big deal, but after a while it makes one think… what changed? what’s different? and the next thought… do i really want to be forced to press and hold the F12 key each and every time I want to boot into Linux properly. The answer to that last part was an obvious ‘no’.

So, it was time for a change of distro. The criteria was kind of simple: Stable (well I think everyone wants stable..) and if possible, a rolling style release, so I wouldn’t have to worry about `upgrades in-place` doing silly things, or having to do fresh installs. Under ‘normal’ circumstances I prefer fresh installs, but also prefer it when the machine itself is easy-to-control. Which I would say is somewhere between the days of Fedora Core 2 (when I was learning Linux) and this new age of Secure-boot BIOS. I feel like this machine’s BIOS is not under my full control (A P.I.T.A if you ask me).

The Linux Action show podcast reviews Distros every now and then, and one week, they mentioned “SolydXK“. The review goes back a few months, so I had forgotten most of the review. It was a positive one, which made me consider trying it. I wanted a KDE environment (as recently) I’ve been using KDE, even in Ubuntu (google for the 3-5 commands it takes to migrate Ubuntu to Kubuntu) if you like Ubuntu but have grown a bit tired of Unity and older GNOME.

My choices came down to Kubuntu 13.10 and SolydK (the KDE version of Solyd). So far, I’m really liking Solydk. There are few weird things, such as flickering splash screen on boot – which occurs whether I have the USB external keyboard/mouse plugged in or not. Also, I’m liking that SolydXK is a rolling distribution. Given that Linux offers choice, I can always switch back if necessary to Kubuntu. But for now… Solyd is working really nice. Really responsive on this computer and gives a great KDE Desktop where stuff basically works as expected in other KDE-based distros.

Some other qualities of Solyd are that it was not derived, but “forked” i believe from Linux Mint (read more here), which I have used and is quite nice. So that puts in the ‘based-on-debian’ category of distros. Solyd is based on Debian testing and uses Synaptic Package Manager. Even though software stores/managers are all the rage these days, I still (from time to time) will use the GUI Synaptic or the more common apt-get install command at the terminal.

If you’re in a similar spot with a relatively new computer (2 yrs old or so) and want a good KDE experience (rolling release) you do (thank goodness) have many great choices. Some of you still reading might be screaming “Arch, Archlinux has all this!” and you’re correct, Arch is well-known for its rolling style. However, it’s not easy or quick to set up and I wanted to get going quick so I can try the distro out.

I recommend SolydK for KDE fans out there, (no shopping lens or other spying apps that send data – as far as I know). And I’m thinking of putting SolydX (the XFCE version) on a friend’s computer (right now the machine runs Puppy Linux from CD-rom).

More new software

11.29.13

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

With the upgrade to Ubuntu 13.10, I was looking forward to the better performance (which it “does have”) however what I failed to consider – was what things might “stop working” post-upgrade.

I should have paid more attention to the multiple questions during the upgrade process. Questions such as “do you want to keep existing file “fileName” or use new file. I didn’t consider the impact of the decisions. Nor do I remember them to be honest.

End result – system that previously dual-booted windows and linux now would not boot directly into linux. At all. I then proceeded to turn off Secure Boot in the BIOS and after quite a few tests, trial, and error I wound up being able to get into Linux by holding down F12 at every boot and then selecting UEFI OS. Not ideal to say the least.

Got so irritated, that I was “moments away” from dumping Ubuntu 13.10 in favor of Fedora 19. But before doing that, I first made a backup of files, and followed some easy steps to convert Ubuntu into Kubuntu. Wow, I had not used KDE in such a long time, and I must say that I’m impressed with it. For many years I didn’t use it, as it simply works better on newer machines with decent Ram and hardware. Since I now have a machine with decent specs, I figured “why not” try out KDE again.

I’m writhing this post in KDE as we speak, and it’s wonderful to have the choice of booting into Unity Ubuntu, Ubuntu Flashback, or KDE. I totally enjoy the customizing and how it “gets out of the way”. I put my favorite/most used applications icons in a vertical dock at the right-hand side of my screen and set the bottom panel to auto-hide. Konsole is an awesome terminal and starts immediately.

Still, I find it a nuisance to need to press and hold F12 each time and make a BIOS selection in order to boot the system. I may yet still scrap Ubuntu entirely and go with Fedora and make use of KDE from there. While I got used to Unity via Ubuntu, I can’t say I’m a big fan of it. But then again, that’s the awesomeness that is Linux. We usually always have a choice of what we want to use right out of the box, or customize/add/remove things to our heart’s content.

New Hardware, New Software

11.28.13

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  No Comments »

Well, new is tough to define since computers and technology move so fast.

April 2013: I treated myself to a new laptop: an i7 machine (Dell inspiron 15z) and I’m happy with it. Great specs, such as 8GB of RAM, a touchscreen, and the “dual-drive” thing where one drive is a 5400 RPM in tandem with a 32GB SSD. So far, it’s got the best response time of any computer I’ve owned.

We’ve covered the hardware, on to the Software! The machine has Windows 8 & a UEFI Secure-boot BIOS. Yes, my fellow fans of Linux, I was “well aware of the challenge” of dual-booting that lay ahead. Still, I pressed on.

Information these days it’s available from many sources. For up-to-date Linux info, I trust Chris Fisher and Matt Hartley over at the Linux Action Show podcast and have been a listener for many years – a shout out to you, Brian Lunduke as well. Miss ya bud.

While listening to the podcast, they mentioned the emerging (at the time) technology of Secure Boot computers, and the potential impact it would have on us Linux users. I could have (and there are days that I wish I had) purchased a System76 laptop – however I did want to have “some access” to a late-model windows OS “just in case”. Chris and Matt informed me that Ubuntu and Fedora were (again, at the time) the only distros that would be compatible with the UEFI Secure Boot System.

A few of you still reading this post may be saying “Booooo, down with MS Windows…” – but I must say that having the real “Microsoft word” was critical for my job hunting. Open Office just isn’t there yet (sorry Apache), and Libre Office… disappointing as well. I needed (and used) the “real deal” – I don’t enjoy saying this, but there are just some MS Apps that are not directly replaceable (yet) in the Linux world.

I will say that getting Ubuntu to properly dual-boot was an arduous process. The good thing is that I did eventually get it working with the help of various software (such as EasyBCD for Windows, and Boot Repair Tool for Ubuntu). Things worked great for a long time. Then it was time for upgrade to Ubuntu 13.10, which I now sort-of regret. The upgrade broke a lot of stuff. Broke it to the point where I had to disable a lot of BIOS things just so I could hold down F12 key each and every time I boot.

I was livid, and have so much ire about this, that it deserves to be in it’s own blog post. Stay tuned – more to come.

Old Hardware, Old Software

06.27.12

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  1 Comment »

Hello all. Feels like it was only yesterday talking about this old Emachines T-5048 computer.  This machine has been through a lot. Many distros tried, several distros failed.

The good news is, that in the process I learned that Old Hardware is just not going to be treated fairly by new software/OS Releases. It’s a reality that I used to think only applied to MS Windows users.  You may remember the days when you wanted to run Windows 2000, but it just would not work right until you made “some” investment in new hardware.  Me, I was lucky. I only needed to purchase a new video card.

This computer has been running Crunchbang 10 for a few months now.  While the response time is really fast, (due to its light resource footprint) I had to heavily modify the grub bootloader to get it to properly boot.  Changes such as turning off ACPI and LAPIC.  I thought the only downside was that I’d have to manually press a button to turn off the machine.  Sadly, I think it goes beyond that.  Playing sound files or CDs  produces a poor experience.  Music would sometimes start and then stop, or stutter (don’t know which is worse) and I attribute this to hardware on the machine.

To know for sure. I installed an old (yet still supported LTS OS version). I first chose Kubuntu 10.04 LTS for two reasons.  First, it is old (below kernel 3). Secondly, it’s KDE4, which I’ve never tried.  I enjoyed the depth of possible customizations, but disliked the slow performance.  I need a responsive desktop, and this machine cannot run KDE properly.

My next (and current) choice was to try one of my favorite “other” distros – Linux Mint 9 XFCE Isadora (an LTS based on Ubuntu 10.04). I chose XFCE version of Mint since I ran a dual-boot Xubuntu with Windows XP on an old DELL Laptop.  Now that I’m dual-booting with 2 Linuxes, I think I will leave Mint XFCE on here, as it seems a great balance of speed and visual appeal. KDE looks better (visually) than XFCE, but again, performance and the ability to get the most out of this aging hardware are crucial to me. Also, in comparison to Crunchbang– Crunchbang is faster, but with XFCE the programs I install wind up in the application menu.  In Crunchbang you have to add just about every program you install in a manual fashion. There might be a tool out there that does this automagically, but I haven’t found it yet.

Edit; Found it. And boy do I feel dumb. I’ve been using Crunchbang Linux for years, and the answer was only a Forum-search away. To access all of your installed applications, follow the advice to show Debian Menu.

So far, music playback works great, and hey, I can also issue the shutdown command and walk away, knowing the machine will power itself off. Yay!