Fluxbox: How I make it feel like home

In the wars between GNOME and KDE (which now has even split between the two factions warring over KDE4 and KDE3.5), some of the other environments get lost in the shuffle and are often forgotten about.

One which I think is underappreciated is Fluxbox. Based on the original Blackbox 0.61.1 code, Fluxbox is a blindingly fast, simplistic approach to providing a graphical user environment while staying out of one’s way. Easy to use, easy on resources, and easy on the eyes, Fluxbox is an elegant choice that is often overlooked when the options are weighed between other graphical environments on Linux machines.

I started using Fluxbox when I was on some extremely quarrelsome hardware and needed something with a lot less going on than GNOME or KDE so that I could more effectively troubleshoot it. What I found out was that Fluxbox had an extremely tweakable interface… and I like things I can tweak and customize. I also discovered that it ran extremely fast on the limited hardware I had at the time, something else that KDE and GNOME didn’t have.

Intrigued, I stuck with it for a while and over time I learned a few good hacks that I thought I would share with the three or four readers I’ve acquired here.

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Great Slackware writeup

I make no secret of my Slackware evangelism. In a recent post I told the story of how I came to Slackware, and why I still use it.

I’ve been meaning to do an in-depth writeup on Slackware, and I probably still will, and most likely it will be in pieces, because I think there’s a lot to discuss. However, someone else has done a great writeup on my favorite distro and I felt the need to share it with the four or five readers I have (thanks for the link, Joe!).

From The beginner’s guide to Slackware Linux:

“It’s not trying to win enormous desktop market share, nor is it loaded with blinking lights, hold-your-hand graphical wizards and package managers that change with every release. Slackware is about as pure a GNU/Linux system as you can get – at least, without all the arduous leg work of Linux From Scratch.”

KDE4

For those of you who may be reading this that are expecting a review, you might as well stop reading right now. This is not a review, this is a rant.

I want to like KDE4.  I really do.

But every time I’ve tried it the experience just makes me furious. The entire time I’m struggling with it, I’m thinking “THIS? THIS is what they dumped KDE3.5 in favor of? THIS?”.

I can appreciate moving to Qt4. I can understand the excitement — as someone who has worked as a developer — of developers drooling over a new set of tools and the enthusiasm of “Wow, we can do some REALLY COOL STUFF with this!!!!”. I can understand the appeal of “let’s dump the entire codeset and start from scratch, rather than just migrate KDE3.5 over to Qt4″.

But from every time I’ve played around with KDE4 with the intention of forcing myself to use it for a while to “get used to it”, I abandon it after less than two days. Why? Because it’s garbage, at least at this point.

I know, the common response is “you just don’t like it because it’s different!”. It is different, but that’s not my problem with it. I don’t like it because I can’t DO anything with it. Seriously. The KDE developers have gone off their rockers. I can appreciate the eye candy, but if you are transitioning from KDE3.5 to KDE4.2, you’ll be losing 80% of what you’re used to being able to do with your desktop environment.

And I’m not a GNOME fanboi either. I dislike GNOME, even when it’s relatively well-implemented, like in Ubuntu. It seems like with every release, the GNOME people remove more functionality from their product. I don’t like that kind of philosophy. I want options, damn it! There’s almost nothing more frustrating to me than to click on “preferences” for something and find only two options in there, and NOTHING about the relatively simple thing I want to do.

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The story of how I found Slackware Linux, or “Once You Go Slack, You Never Go Back”

I’ve told this story to a lot of people who have asked me why I use an old-and-crusty distro like Slackware. I do have some pretty good reasons, and most of them lie in this tale.

A long, long time ago — back in 1999 or so — I had a computer that gave me nothing but trouble. It was one which I had bought from a vendor that did business with my employer then, so I got it for cheap. It was a Pentium 3 450 MHz (slot CPU, not socket!) machine with 256 Mb of RAM and a 10 GB hard drive, in a nice coffee-stain beige tower. When I bought it I also bought a Windows 98se license (and they actually shipped it with the full install media!!!!! Remember back in the days when computer vendors still did that?), and that’s what I set up on it when I got it.

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Partitioning: A Different Perspective with Encryption and RAIDs

Introduction

Everybody’s got an opinion, and I’m no different. After reading Trent’s piece yesterday, I thought I’d add my two cents as my partitioning scheme is quite complex (though I can think of several ways to make it worse). For newbies, some of this is unlikely something to try, but you might want to read anyway to get an idea of what can be done.

For starters, I have 1GB of physical RAM, and 4GB of swap space split over two drives. I have two 120GB drives that I use for my primary system that are split into 8 partitions (and a logical ninth). Most of these partitions mirror (RAID-1) each other so that if one drive fails, the other maintains the system until I can replace it. You may note that the swaps are not mirrored, but both swaps and the md08 array are encrypted. Like Trent, I intended a dual boot with Windows, so the first partition on sda is NTFS. (Of course, I haven’t actually had a Windows OS on that partition in about two years, but it’s nice to know I have it if I find a game that won’t play nice in Wine.) Also note that /boot is a mirrored partition, which keeps the data safe, but upon bootup the boot loader (LILO/GRUB) accesses only one of the two drives (i.e., sda3, not md3).

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How I do my partitioning in Slackware

One Linux topic on which everybody seems to have an opinion is partitioning. “What’s the best way to partition my system?” newbies ask, and if they do so in a public Linux forum frequented by experienced penguin techies, they are bound to get at least a dozen answers, many of them completely different from each other.

So what is the best way? Simple. Whichever way you find works best for you.

When I first started out with Linux, I didn’t know either, and I did a lot of reading on the subject, and as a result I created a partitioning scheme that works best for me, and that’s still more or less what I stick with.

With my recent Ubuntu installation I didn’t do any manual partitioning, mostly because for one, I wasn’t planning on dual-booting that laptop with anything else, and for another, I wanted to accept the defaults so that I could see what Ubuntu does on its own.

However, when I’m setting up a Slackware machine, I have a method that I follow.

One word of caution. If you’re setting up your partitions presumably to hold a Linux installation, write down what you’re designating what (i.e., “hda1 = Windows”, “hda5 = swap”, “hda7 = root”, et al) so that you have it to refer to when you’re installing later. Nothing quite like coming to the point in the install where it asks you “where do you want to mount your home directory?” and you don’t remember which partition you created with /home in mind.

Been there, done that.

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Ubuntu screenshot time

Just another quick blurb. I’ve uploaded a screenshot of my laptop as it appears now that I’ve tweaked my Ubuntu installation to the way I like it.

I’m more of a KDE 3.5 kind of guy, so I rearrange GNOME to have the main stuff (panels/toolbars whathaveyou) a bit more like I’m used to, but I still like the way this looks so far.

I’m still learning where things are in Ubuntu (well, GNOME, mostly, since that’s the main thing that’s different for me here), but one thing that has struck me is how impressive the speed is. Remember, before this, I was running Slackware 12.0 on this exact same laptop, and I was using Fluxbox as my window manager — not exactly a visually heavy system.

So for me to say that Ubuntu runs pretty snappy on this laptop is saying a lot, and I’m not much of a fan of the bloat in GNOME, so I think that’s significant.

To be fair, I think what this says is how well the Canonical people have their act together at optimizing GNOME for their project. Nice job, guys. Coming from a Slackware guy, I’m here saying that I’m not only impressed with the setup process, but I’m impressed with the performance so far too.

Giving Ubuntu a real try

Just a really quick blurb on my experience with the latest version of Ubuntu last night.

I managed to, over time, break Slackware on my old Toshiba laptop, and since it needed a reload and I just burned an Ubuntu 9.04 disc the other night, I figured I’d install it on my laptop last night.

I’ll write more regarding this process, but I have to say, while I’m much more of a Slackware guy, the installation went really well, and even though the default interface for Ubuntu is GNOME (which I have never liked much), the folks at Canonical have put together a nice package.

Within minutes of having the OS installed and up and running I had Fluxbox installed, Opera installed, root access enabled, and wireless working without any trouble at all.

I’ll be giving this a try for a little while to see how it goes, but so far, so good.

A quick blurb about Notebooks / Netbooks

I’ve been getting really excited about getting a new laptop of some kind. The recent spate of netbooks from various manufacturers has me thinking lately that I don’t really need a full-blown laptop.

All I really do with my laptop is write, email, surf, and the occasional other little thing here and there… but nothing involving too much heavy lifting for the CPU or graphics. I definitely don’t need any kind of top end gaming laptop or anything.

So as a result, why should I spend close to $2000 on my next laptop?

Answer: I shouldn’t.

Netbooks have gotten me riled up lately, not only because as a product they are now beginning to show offerings of lower-end portables that are in the $500 and below pricepoint, but because most of the main netbook sellers also provide Linux of some sort as an option.

So I’ve been watching the developments in the netbook and notebook market eagerly for the past 6 months or so, and it seems like every week something new is popping up that grabs my attention, particularly from Dell.

HP is also making some really interesting moves in this market, but Dell has been going one step further and making low-priced regular notebooks as well.

A different linux blog which I follow regularly recently talked about the Dell Inspiron 15n, which gave me a total doubletake. I’m not looking for a regular 15″ laptop… I’ve been waiting for Dell to offer better options on their 12″ netbooks… but this made me reconsider that.

Even when I pimped it out with 4GB of memory, the top-end processor option and the slim LED display I still came out under $600. Not bad. Looks like the crappy economy is causing at least one company to make some interesting moves in pricing!

Anyway, it’s something I’m watching. Dell is putting more and more on the line by offering Ubuntu on many more of their products, and they’re not just hiding them in the closet or back room anymore like they were. It’s now possible to get Linux on their flagship models, which is saying something.

Since I’m in the market for a new laptop — be it a netbook or a full blown notebook — I’ll be keeping an eye on them in coming months. This is bound to get interesting.

Where and how do I get it?

So you made a choice of which distro to try, now what?

Sounds like a simple question, but it does come up, even for the more technical folks. “I want to give Linux a try, but I have no idea where to get it, or how.”

When I started out in the Linux world, I didn’t know either. So I’ll help you out with that.

Let’s just suppose for a minute that you took my advice in last week’s post and went with one of the two simple options I suggested, depending on your needs. Good! That narrows down where you have to look to get what you need.

Of course, if you decided to go with some other distro, a great centralized location to start with is Linux.com. From there you can get to most of the major distros’ websites, and from those you can easily find places from which to download whatever you need to your heart’s content.

But let’s go back to the two from last week’s “Which Distro?” post. Slackware and Ubuntu.

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