The other day I made a post about bringing my Aunt Jean into the fold after her spending years and years being exclusively a Windows user. I gave my reasons as multipronged, namely that I have found over the years that supporting friends and relatives who insist on using Windows is a frustrating, tedious, redundant pain that I’d prefer to avoid, and that I’m actually doing Jean a favor by transitioning her to a platform that, while very different from what she’s used to, will ultimately be a better one for her to use.
I thought I’d touch on the subject again briefly today, because I think it bears some clarification. Before you go out knocking on doors and handing out Ubuntu disks and asking people if they’ve discovered the glorious world of Free/Open Source Software, read on and adjust your plans accordingly.
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.
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.
So a few days ago, Slackware 13.0 was released. Unfortunately, Patrick Volkerding greatly deviated from the basic philosophy to which he’s faithfully adhered for years with nearly every release — one of stability, simplicity, and only including elements in the distro that are thoroughly tested and functional — and replaced the highly stable, robust, and fully tested KDE 3.5.10 with the much less stable, buggy, half-baked and in fact barely usable KDE 4.2.4.
I wrote the other day that I considered this a minimum of a year or so premature, and had decided sight unseen that this was a bad decision, based on my extensive attempts at using KDE 4 releases as recent as 4.3 (on OpenSUSE 11.1).
Turns out I was right. KDE 4.2.4 on Slackware 13 is a disaster. I did a full install of Slackware 13 last night on VirtualBox and found KDE 4.2.4 to be just as unusable on Slackware as I had found it to be in Kubuntu when I tried it out a couple of months ago. Not surprising, since I didn’t expect that Patrick would have been fixing the massive usability issues intrinsic to KDE 4 just by including it in a Slackware release; that just isn’t a realistic expectation. Still, I had to get a baseline, and that baseline was about what I had expected.
Then, I set about finding a way to upgrade KDE 4.2.4 to KDE 3.5.10 on Slackware 13. I was successful in this today, and here is my writeup of how I did it.
DISCLAIMER: Be prepared. There is whining ahead. I want to preface this by saying that I’m not interested in having a discussion about why I don’t gush with love over KDE 4, and I’m not particularly interested in suggestions for forcing it to work for me. This post is more about me wrapping my head around planning for how my use of Linux is going to change now that I’m going to have to re-think a lot of things about what has been my favorite Linux distro for years.
Why I’m disappointed
I guess I probably shouldn’t be too surprised, because I knew that Pat Volkerding has been working with my least favorite desktop environment and it’s been in
/current for a while now.
But I guess a part of me still was holding out a childish hope that KDE4 was going to be included in
/testing only, and that the default version of KDE for the Slackware 13.0 release would be KDE 3.5.10, the last decent release of that desktop environment. Given Patrick’s tendency to play it safe in regular Slackware releases and stick with only stable, fully-developed and thoroughly tested applications and desktop environments, I would have thought that something like KDE 4 — a desktop environment that’s still easily a year’s worth of hard development away from being a suitable replacement for KDE 3 — would be back-burnered in Slackware in favor of what is known to work and work well.
I probably shouldn’t be upset about this; it’s Linux… if I don’t like it, I can just make my own distro, right? If I want to spend the hours and hours it’ll take for that, sure. Well, I’m not to the point of making my own distro yet. But this does mean I’m going to have to significantly change my Linux usage, starting with replacing a bunch of stuff.
In exploring a renewed interest I’ve developed in Fluxbox recently, and spurred by some new stuff I learned from reading Patrick’s wonderful Fluxbox tweaking post a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d do a writeup on another capability that Fluxbox has that I’ve never delved into: dockapps.
Fluxbox has as a part of its toolbox a friendly home on its desktop for dockable utility applications that can provide information, handy functionality, and even dress up the otherwise normally spartan Fluxbox user space. I don’t use many dockapps, but it’s worth using the ones I have as examples in this writeup, if nothing else just to demonstrate how to set this up and take advantage of this capability.
So in this post, I’ll be discussing three dockapps: GKrellM, WMix, and WMWeather.
I’m a huge music fan. I pretty much have music playing all the time, in some form. As such, I like my MP3 player. Like many music lovers, I became enamored with the concept of having my entire music library at my fingertips at any time, so the MP3 player as a concept really appealed to me when they began to appear with larger capacities several years ago.
However, as a Linux user, there are some hurdles in choosing a portable digital music device, which limits one’s options, and then there is the simple fact that manufacturers have radically cut down on the products offered, which limits one’s options even more.
This is my discussion of that plight.