My thoughts on Ubuntu

This isn’t so much a review, just a rambling discussion on what comes to mind for me about Ubuntu after using it on my laptop for three months or so. I decided against writing a conventional “review” of Ubuntu… seems like there are enough of those, so I don’t see the value of it.

But I do see some value in a rambling discussion on the subject, so here goes.

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One more Linux user, one less Windows support headache

If you’re reading articles other than this one here on The Linux Critic, you are probably technical on a level which other people have noticed, i.e., you get asked by the occasional relative to provide assistance with technology, be it “hey, help me get my new printer working”, “HELP! WINDOWS WON’T BOOT!”, or even “I’m buying a laptop, which one should I get?”.

I have a few thoughts on that subject, mostly brought up by a recent experience, and I thought I’d do a writeup to share them with others.

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Moving from Kontact to Thunderbird

In my post expressing my disappointment in the direction Slackware is heading I had mentioned that I would be seeking replacements for a number of KDE based applications to which I have become attached over the years, and would have to learn to live without.

One of those applications is Kontact, which is a combination mail client, contact manager, calendar, scheduler, task tracking application (called a “Personal Information Manager” these days, I suppose). Kontact isn’t a perfect application, but I like it, and I’m unhappy with the version in KDE 4, so I started looking for a replacement some weeks ago.

The closest thing to it in the non-KDE universe is Evolution, which for those of you who have never used it, is a very full-featured Microsoft Outlook clone. I used Evolution on my Ubuntu laptop for a couple of weeks and had quite enough of it. It was constantly failing to connect to my POP servers, constantly locking up, constantly crashing, and was just all around unreliable.

There aren’t many other Personal Information Management applications out there that can do as much as Kontact or Evolution. So I figured a good spot to try and “make do” is Thunderbird. I had a pretty bad experience with Thunderbird the last time I tried it, but that was a couple of years ago now, so I thought it was high time I gave it another chance.

I was pleasantly surprised!

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Synergy: A software KVM switch (without the “V”)

A good friend of mine and fellow technology wizard has on several occasions brought up Synergy as a great solution for doing work spanning a couple of local workstations.

I know I have several times added it to my “Mental List Of Apps To Try”, but somewhere along the way I forgot about it. Last weekend Jered was over at my house for dinner and he brought it up again, and this time I installed it.

To make a long story short: I should have been playing with Synergy a long time ago!

For those who like to read a little bit more than that, continue, because I have a writeup.

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Openbox: A fun and lightweight window manager

I am always on the lookout for a new way of doing things when it comes to personal computing, and one of the best ways to do so is to experiment with different window managers for Linux.

Since I have my laptop set up as an Ubuntu test platform, and since APT makes it easy to download and install applications and not find myself in dependency hell, my laptop seemed to be a great way to play around with a window manager about which I’ve been reading for some time: Openbox.

Those of you who are familiar with LXDE will have some experience, albeit limited, with Openbox, as LXDE is based on it (with a bunch of other cohesive applications and a consistent look and feel integrated to complete the transition from “window manager” to “desktop environment”), but Openbox will seem much more familiar to users of Blackbox and Fluxbox, predominately in the sense that Openbox is built very light and minimal, with a desktop bare of icons, and a user-defined right-click menu that is used for launching applications. Like Blackbox and Fluxbox, Openbox is also dockapp friendly, and as a window manager it runs very fast on limited hardware.

I’m a big fan of Fluxbox, so I thought it worthwhile to give Openbox a try, if nothing else to give me material for a Linux Critic writeup, and instead I found that I just liked using Openbox, so this turned out to be more than just a review.

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5 reasons why I love Linux

Every so often while I’m working on something, I’m struck by how satisfying it can be to be running Linux as my operating system of choice. No, this isn’t about beating up Windows or tearing Microsoft down any notches… as much as I tout the benefits of Linux and as much as I dislike some of Microsoft’s practices, they have their place in the grand scheme of things.

No, this is about the actual good things that come to mind for me when I say “I love Linux”, and why you should too.

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Five reasons I prefer Opera over Firefox

I know, I’m a Linux guy, and an advocate of Free/Open Source Software.

However, I’m also a user, and I’m a right-tool-for-the-right-job kind of guy. I’m picky as hell about my software, and I think the simple fact that I choose Linux for my day-to-day desktop use says a lot about its ability to meet my needs.

However, I’ve never been in on the big love affair the open source community has with Firefox. Yes, I think it’s great that it’s taken enough market share away from Microsoft to spur them into action — it’s been argued that IE7 and IE8 would never have existed in any form approaching a “modern” browser if it hadn’t been for Firefox pushing them to catch up.

However, like Linux, Firefox needs critics. It may still be better than what Microsoft offers, but it isn’t perfect by a long shot. It doesn’t meet my needs as an end user, which is why I’m still using a closed-source browser as my primary web surfing tool. So why does an open source advocate like myself use Opera instead of Firefox? Read on.

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The most useful Linux resource on the web

When I first started using Linux, I came to the table with a grounding in old command line Unix, and a few solid years under my belt managing a couple of Ultrix boxes where I used to work.

So I knew the basic set of commands, the Bourne Shell (or the basics of it, at least), and the general architecture the more Unix-like distros follow.

However, when I started using Linux, I was trying something well outside of my experience and knowledge: I was using it as a desktop OS.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time searching the internet every time I had a problem or a question. In all that searching, I came to find one particular locale that always seemed to have the answers I was looking for.

It was called (and still is) LinuxQuestions.org. LQ is a massive forum, with subforums for the more popular distributions, and (in my experience) a very friendly, welcoming atmosphere for Linux users of all experience levels.

I know that in the fend-for-yourself world of Linux and open source software it can be kind of lonely out in the cold when you just CAN’T get whatever that is you’re working on to just WORK, damn it!

Do what I do. I go to LinuxQuestions.org and use their search page, and 9 times out of 10 I find what I’m looking for without even having to post my question.

So I think it’s worth giving the community at LQ some love, because they have been an invaluable resource for me in my years of using Linux at my primary desktop operating system, and I’m sure they can be for you too.

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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