Archive

Posts Tagged ‘XFCE’

Using Linux to keep an old work PC alive

November 19th, 2012 1 comment

A couple of years ago I helped a small business convert their old virus infected Windows XP computer into a Linux Mint 11 (Katya) Xfce. This was done after a long time of trying to help them keep that machine running at a half-decent speed – the virus being the last straw that finally had them make the switch to Linux. Amazingly, well maybe not to the Linux faithful but to most people, this transition not only went smoothly but was actually extremely well received. Outside of a question or two every couple of months I have heard of no issues whatsoever. Sadly Linux Mint 11 has recently reached its end of life stage and so the time has come to find a replacement.

The Situation

When I said this was an old Windows XP machine I wasn’t kidding. It sports a speedy (sarcasm) 2.4Ghz Intel Pentium 4 processor, 512 whole megabytes of RAM and an Intel integrated graphics card. With specs like those it is pretty obvious that the only two real considerations (from a technical standpoint) are low resource requirements and speed. I’d be tempted to jump to a more specialized distribution like Puppy Linux but the people using the machine are A) used to Linux Mint already and B) expected a familiar, fully featured operating system experience.

Where is Linux Mint today?

Linux Mint 13 has recently been released (including an Xfce version) based on the latest Ubuntu 12.04 stable release. This makes it an ideal candidate for an upgrade because it is something already familiar to the users and will be supported until April 2017.

The following are the steps I took, in no real order, to setup and configure Linux Mint 13 Xfce for their use:

Pre/During Install Configuration

  1. Encrypt the home directory
    Because this is a work computer and will be storing sensitive financial information I configured it to encrypt everything in the home directory. Better safe than sorry.

Post Install Configuration

  1. Install Google Chrome
    I removed Mozilla Firefox and installed Google Chrome for two reasons. First Chrome tends to be, or at least feel, a little bit snappier than even the latest version of Firefox and as I mentioned above speed is king. Secondly, unless something changes, Google’s Chrome (not even Chromium) will be the only Linux browser that will continue to get Adobe Flash updates in a straightforward and easy way for the user. UPDATE: ironically the only issue I found with this whole install related to Google’s embedded Adobe Flash. For some reason the audio on the particular version ran at double speed. This is apparently a known issue.
  2. Install Rhythmbox
    I also removed Banshee and installed Rhythmbox instead. This was done not because I consider one better than the other (or even that these two represent the only options), but simply because the users were already familiar with Rhythmbox. They use Rhythmbox to listen to streaming Internet radio.
  3. Remove unnecessary software (Pidgin, XChat, GNOME Mplayer and Totem)
    Not because they are bad applications, they just simply weren’t needed. I kept VLC because it can pretty much play all audio-video.
  4. Add Trash can to desktop and remove Filesystem icon
  5. Remove all but one workspace
  6. Install preload to speed up commonly used packages on startup
  7. Configure LibreOffice
    The goal of this step is to set up LibreOffice in such a way as to make it use less memory while still keeping most of the functionality. In order to accomplish this I changed the number of undo steps from 100 to 30 and disabled the Java components.
  8. Change screensaver to blank screen
    This looks more professional and uses less memory.
  9. Spin down hard drive when possible
    While I was at it I also went into power management and had the system spin down the hard drives when possible. This configuration had nothing to do with performance, in fact spinning down the drives can slow access to files, but was done because they often just leave the PC running 24-7 and it is not in use at all during the night. I’m sure this will save them a couple of cents per year or something.
  10. Disabled unused startup services like Bluetooth
    The machine doesn’t even have a Bluetooth radio.
  11. Set it so that inserting a removable drive causes the system to open a window for browsing the contents
  12. Change the system tray clock time format from 24 hour time to 12 hour time.
    This was a user preference.
  13. Set updates to be downloaded from best available server

  14. Install Microsoft fonts (i.e. ttf-mscorefonts-installer)
  15. Install 7zip, rar and unrar
    You never know what kind of random archive formats they might need to open so it is better to support them all.
  16. Change login screen theme
    The default login screen is nice but it isn’t the most user friendly. I opted to install the Mint Pro (MDM) theme from GNOME-Look.org.
  17. Install all updates
  18. Run Grub boot profiler to speed up the boot process
    If you’re not aware of this it is a great trick. Essentially once you have everything installed (driver wise at least) you do the following:
    -Modify /etc/default/grub and change the line GRUB_CMD_LINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash” to GRUB_CMD_LINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash profile”.
    -Then run sudo update-grub2 and reboot.
    -The next reboot might be slower but once the machine comes back up simply edit that file again and remove the “profile” text. Your computer will now intelligently load drivers as the hard drive head travels across their location, instead of in some other arbitrary order which can actually shave a couple of seconds off of your total boot time.

How did it turn out?

Surprisingly well. The machine isn’t a speed demon by any stretch of the imagination but it does perform its simple tasks well enough. It remains to be seen if the computer will make it to the next long term release of Linux Mint Xfce, or even if it will be able to run it at that time, but for now the users are happy and that is what matters.

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Reinstalling Linux

November 2nd, 2009 2 comments

Generally, after using a Windows machine for close to a year, it gets bogged down and slow and benefits greatly from a reinstall. After about 2 months of using Linux, and installing three different desktop managers on top of one another, I’ve found the same with my Linux install.

I attribute most of the problems that I’ve been having to the relationship between XFCE and KDE. After installing KDE and playing with it for one evening, I hightailed it back to XFCE, and found that many of  the options that I set in KDE leeched their way back into XFCE.

For instance, all of the window decoration that I set in KDE, the default web browser and file manager all persist in XFCE. Thanks to the light weight way that XFCE handles settings (read: it doesn’t save them, and doesn’t listen to ones that you do set, so don’t expect it to), most of KDE has leeched into my XFCE install.

This, along with a few other minor problems that I’ve been having lately, as well as a curiosity about what the install process would be like now that I know what I’m doing, have lead me to attempting a fresh install. Ideally, I’ll be back up and running within an hour.

Cheers, and wish me luck.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Debian, Jon F, KDE, XFCE Tags: , , , ,

Learning to live with XFCE

October 24th, 2009 2 comments

There’s no doubt that when I initially switched from GNOME to XFCE, I was pretty angry. But hey, you can’t stay mad forever – In time, I’ve learned to appreciate GNOME’s minimalistic cousin for what it is, and (unlike some of the other guys) haven’t yet decided whether or not I’ll be switching back to GNOME tomorrow.

Sure, XFCE was a pain to get set up, but since then, it’s been fast and exceedingly stable. As a point of comparison, while running GNOME, I experienced daily crashes related to a known issue between Compiz and my Intel integrated video card. On XFCE, this issue has yet to manifest itself, although this may also have something to do with all of the upgrades that I made the day before changing desktop environments. With the addition of Compiz, GnomeDo+Docky, and some minor customization, I’ve created a desktop that is pleasing to look at, but remains responsive and lightweight on my aging hardware.

My only major complaint with XFCE remains the organization of the “Start Menu.” While I initially thought that the idea of separate Application, Places, and System menus in GNOME were stupid (having come from a Windows background), I find myself missing them under XFCE. I find their single menu system cluttered and hard to navigate, even with it’s sub-menus. GnomeDo improves things, but only if you know the name of the feature or setting that you’re searching for.

On the other hand, the GNOME community has just released a new version of their desktop environment, and it seems to include some neat new features. More importantly, the GNOME community has done a lot of thinking about where they want to take v3.0, due for release in either March or September of 2010. Some of the most interesting ideas that have come from this brainstorming (in my mind anyway), are a new desktop paradigm, supported mainly by a new compositing engine called Gnome Shell, and a new way of browsing your files called Gnome Zeitgeist. Check out some early demo screens here.

Hell, I might even consider taking the KDE plunge, just to see what all of the rage is about…




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

XFCE: A Bitch Session

October 14th, 2009 10 comments

After a full day of using XFCE as my new desktop environment, I have just a few complaints, handily summarized in the following ordered list:

  1. No Alt-Tab: I was under the impression that alt-tab window switching was a standard feature of every desktop environment since at least Windows 98. So where the hell is it in XFCE? Nowhere! That’s where! Instead, I enabled the ring switcher plugin for Compiz, which I had to run in order to use GNOME Do anyway.
  2. Default Browser Doesn’t Save: This one started out with the crappy default web browser that comes with XFCE, Web Browser 2.26.3. It is allegedly a GNOME project (which is odd to say the least, since this is XFCE, and GNOME defaults to the Epiphany Browser). In any case, even after setting the default browser to Firefox (Iceweasel in my case), the system still launches all links in this inferior app.
    Screenshot-Preferred Applications
  3. Cursor Set Doesn’t Apply Immediately: Along with changing the default web browser for my system, I changed the cursor set. The default one was ugly, so I grabbed some new ones from Synaptic, and set one in the mouse theme options dialog. The problem is that the cursor set doesn’t change until some random amount of time has elapsed after I log on. So my session begins with the old, ugly cursors, and then eventually gets around to changing over to the prettier new ones. What the hell?
  4. GNOME Do and Screenlets Don’t Always Start: This one is likely related to running Compiz on top of XFCE (which includes it’s own compositing engine), and the order of startup applications. In any case, sometimes when I log on, GNOME Do and Screenlets fail to start, and I have to bring them up manually. I have a feeling that this is because Compiz hasn’t yet started, and the applications fail, as they rely on it being there. Still, a hearty WTF to this one as well.
  5. Default File Browser Lacks Network Locations: The XFCE default File Manager is Thunar 1.0.1, which is fine, except that it does not include any way to browse network shares. In GNOME, I can hit the ‘Network’ place, and immediately view any available SMB share drives on my local network. As of yet, I haven’t figured out how to find or mount network locations through the XFCE GUI.
  6. The ‘Start’ Menu Fails: I never thought that I would say this, but I find myself longing for the Applications/Places/System menus of GNOME, instead of the mashed together start menu that is present under XFCE. Although this could just be because I’m not yet familiar with XFCE, I find it harder to locate programs in this menu system. The GNOME organization just felt more logical once you got used to it.
  7. Lack of Default Features: This speaks mostly to the organization of XFCE. Instead of including every imaginable feature in the default install, extra features are added through a series of plugins, so as not to bog down machines that don’t require them. As such, my default install did not include a battery level indicator, a wireless network strength monitor, or a slew of other ‘basic’ desktop environment features. Installing the package xfce4-goodies fixed all of these problems.

Of course, not everything about XFCE is bad. So far, I’ve found it to be stable and exceedingly fast. X11 hasn’t crashed once, although I have no doubt that it will; and once I installed the xfce4-goodies package, I found the environment to be very functional. Overall, I am pleased with my choice, even though there have been some minor setup annoyances.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Testing out Testing

October 13th, 2009 No comments

With everybody switching up their desktop environments this week, I decided that I’d take a shot at installing XFCE on my system. My initial research showed that it is somewhat like a light-weight, highly customizable GNOME. Since I’m running on older hardware, it seemed like the best choice for me. While at it, I also decided to go ahead and move my Debian install from the stable to the testing repositories. In an ideal world, this switch would open the doors to some newer software, alleviating many of the issues that I have had with older software.

Moving to Testing:

Without bothering to do any research, I added the Debian Testing repository to my sources list and told the machine to check for available updates. It immediately found 655 new packages available for installation. Luckily, Debian offered me a handy “Smart Upgrade Manager” and I didn’t have to navigate the upgrade process myself:

Screenshot-update-manager

After hitting the Smart Upgrade button, my machine chugged away for a few moments, figuring out dependencies and the like, and finally presenting me with a 1289.4MB list of 1570 required packages. Hoping for the best, I hit Apply, and spent the next 2 hours waiting for the necessary downloads to complete. Three episodes of House and an episode of Flashpoint later, at almost 1am, the install process was finally finished. So far, everything seemed alright.

Until I restarted. With the updates applied, my machine booted just fine, and even allowed me to login. Unfortunately, it never made it as far as the desktop. I was presented with a blank grey screen and a mouse pointer (which does work), but no windows, toolbars, or panels to speak of. It seems then, that X11 is working, but that it isn’t launching a window manager of any kind on login. I hit ctrl+alt+F1 and was relieved to find that I still had a terminal, and access to all of my files. But where did my desktop go?

Once at the terminal, I launched Aptitude, to see if there were some broken packages that needed to be fixed. It listed 190 that ought to be removed, and another 6 that ought to be upgraded, including GNOME. Hoping to fix the problem, I told it to get to work, and watched as it attempted to clean up the mess that I had created. That finished, I did what I should have done in the first place, and followed these instructions in an attempt to fix my system by upgrading properly.

This time, everything worked nicely, and within minutes, I was looking at my desktop through the brand spanking new GNOME v2.28.0, just released on September 27th. A solitary hiccup with dependencies required me to completely remove and reinstall the Compiz compositing engine. Friends, I speak to you now from the bleeding edge of the Debian GNU/Linux experience. From this point onward, I will receive the very latest code, just as soon as all release-critical bugs have been addressed. Sweet.

Adding XFCE:

From my newly stable machine, I opened up Synaptic package manager and installed the xfce4 package, which pulled all of the necessary components of my new desktop in as dependencies. I also added the xfce4-artwork package, as it promised a slew of extra pretty desktop backgrounds to play with. After adding Gnome Do, Docky, and playing around with the desktop settings, I arrived at a pretty decent looking desktop:

xfce-desktop

My first impressions of the desktop are that it seems very solid, fast, and customizable. Unfortunately, it is lacking a few creature comforts, mainly alt-tab window switching (seriously, what the fuck?), and drag-and-drop from menu items to  other windows. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll give it a solid run, and see if it will become my Desktop Environment of choice.

Edit: After a long look down the tubes, I concluded that XFCE doesn’t support alt-tab, and just enabled the Ring Switcher plugin for Compiz to do the job instead.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Climate Change

October 11th, 2009 No comments

Here at The Linux Experiment we are all about shaking things up. After all, we have committed to using Linux for four whole months just to see if we could! The next big thing that we are going to introduce into the experiment is a little environmental change. No I don’t mean the Al Gore kind of environment, but rather the desktop environment like GNOME or KDE.

For a week or so, leading up to the recording of our next podcast, each of us will be switching our current desktop environment to something else. The point is to once more branch out of our comfort zones a little bit and see if we don’t end up liking something else better!

Stay tuned!