How-To Choose the Right Distribution of Linux

Linux Choices
so many choices
Courtesy of evelynishere

Which distribution is the RIGHT distribution?  Is there such a thing?  When you start your journey with Linux you might here something like this:

– Ubuntu is the best distribution for the desktop
– Linux Mint is the best distribution for a home user and the desktop
– Debian is the best way to go because of its stability and solid base
– Mandriva isn’t as good as Mageia
– Mageia isn’t as good as Mandriva
– Red Hat is for servers only
– Distribution X is better than distribution Y!

Here’s the thing…statements like these are all BLATANTLY FALSE.  Why?  Because they’re opinions..everyone has one and they are all just that…opinions.

When you start your journey with Linux, don’t let someone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t use.  Go out and find what fits you like a glove and use that.  It doesn’t matter how large of community the distribution has (unless that is what you’re specifically looking for) or how often it updates or how many hits it has on the Distrowatch tracker.  Use what is best FOR YOU.  Only you can decide what distribution scratches whatever itch you have.

If you choose the right one, chances are you’ll be a part of that distribution for a long time.  But don’t worry, it isn’t like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and if you pick the wrong distribution you won’t turn into a dusty exploding skeleton.  In this situation, the RIGHT distribution of Linux is ANY distribution of Linux.  As long as you’re making a conscious effort to choose free software and use Linux, you win.

I’ve been in, around and even leading Linux communities since the late 1990’s and there is one thing I’ve found it is this:  Every single distribution has a place in this world.  Every single distribution has it’s own niche users.  Every single distribution of Linux is important. I’m sure many of you have heard or have said that Linux just needs to simplify more and have only a handful of distributions so we can concentrate on just that handful and make it be fantastic.  Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work very well and would stifle creativity.  To prove my point…what if we didn’t have small distributions at all?  That wouldn’t have a large effect on Linux as a whole right? Let’s take a look at that hypothesis…

If Small Distributions Never Were…

As an example:  Symphony OS.  It used FVWM and Mezzo for the desktop experience and it REVOLUTIONIZED the way we see and interact with files.  If you use Gnome 3, Ubuntu Unity, or KDE 4.X, you’re using concepts that Symphony OS was the first to put onto a Linux desktop.  Symphony never had a huge user base.  It never shot up the charts at Distrowatch.  It did however, push the envelope of what a desktop distribution can and can’t do.  It did push the boundaries of design.  It did push simplicity and usability to a new level.  It also did web apps before webapps were cool.  Somehow it never caught on…but I it influenced people and challenged people to push the envelope of what was possible and impossible with desktop Linux.

Small, Niche Distributions Perform a Function

Often times I have found Linux users looking for a distribution that fills a specific function.  “I just want a file sharing distribution” they’ll say, or perhaps “I just want a nice and simple desktop”, or maybe even “I just want a tight firewall”.  The beauty of open source software and Linux is that you’ll find small, niche distributions that fit the bill for all of those needs and when you use these distributions, you’ll continue to learn about Linux…and perhaps you’ll push the envelope of what is possible and not possible just like Symphony OS did.

Regardless if you choose small or large distributions, you win.  The fact is you CHOSE and weren’t force fed something by system installers and companies who think they know what is best for you.

We CAN All Get Along

Many times when we pick the flavor of Linux we like, we identify with its goals…the direction its heading…maybe even the direction the community champions.  There isn’t anything wrong with this.  The next time you experience passionate supporters of Linux, keep in mind that neither you nor they are the enemy.  If you both use Linux and open source, you both win.  Small, large,  and niche distributions of Linux operate harmoniously together and build off one another…it’s one of the unseen benefits of Linux and open source.  Beauty and power in simplicity through collaboration.  Congratulate yourself every single day for choosing Linux!

Conky Always on Top Fix in Openbox

openbox and conky

I hit a snag recently when installing Openbox on the newest Alpha2 for Unity Linux.  I initiated Conky in my and it was always on top…of everything on my desktop.  That’s not a good thing when you’re trying to browse the web with your Conky layout on top of your browser.  After thinking about some of the settings, I thought maybe that own_window setting might be good to play around with in conky settings…however, after a few tries, that didn’t pan out and fix this problem.

I recalled something similar with wbar in Openbox…it would draw itself on top only and have a large black box around it.  No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it to not display the bar nor get it to stop displaying on top.  I eventually would have to kill the PID and restart the program; then I tried something…on accident actually…pypanel, my previous panel, displayed so fast I had to make it sleep to avoid problems.  So I just replaced pypanel with wbar and let it go.  Wouldn’t you know it, Wbar displayed fine and in all it’s glory after that.

I tried the same with Conky and I am happy to report it works just fine to solve the “always on top” issue.  To make a task sleep before running in your, alter it as follows:

(sleep 6 && program) &

Where 6 is the number of seconds you want things to sleep and program is the program you wish to run.  Hopefully this helps a few people out…it threw me for a loop for a while before I was able to solve it.  Gratuitous and obligatory screenshot is below:

openbox and conky
openbox, conky & tint2

Mozilla Firefox, From Darling to Enemy in One Release


FirefoxWhat is wrong with everyone in Linux land bagging on Mozilla Firefox and their 5.0 release?

Complaints pretty much have one thing in common:  They claim there isn’t enough ‘new and shiny’ things inside FF5 to warrant a major version.  This is illogical thinking because major version means NOTHING when it comes to usability of software.  I’ve noticed that I can browse and use FF5 just as easily as I could FF4 and FF3 before it…I still type in URL’s and websites display.  My plugins all still work.  It starts up a bit faster and websites seem to load just a bit faster…which is good.  So why all the whining and complaining?

The silliest thing about this is that the same people complaining about Firefox 5 say that Chrome and IE are going to overtake it and that this is the beginning of the end for Mozilla and Firefox.  Poppycock!  Chrome and Chromium have been using Agile programming and the SAME EXACT METHODOLOGY BEHIND releases and version numbers that Firefox is doing now.  So where was the flack for Google and Chromium when they released often and incremented all the way up to version 10 and then version 12??

It is my opinion that the people shouting from the rooftops that Mozilla and Firefox are a sinking ship doomed to fail while using Chrome/Chromium in the background have no clue what Agile Programming (or in Google’s case, Agile-like programming) is or what it sets out to accomplish…and they’re showing how hypocritical they are.  If you’re one of these people, where were you when Chrome and Chromium was ratcheting up their version numbers without noticeable improvements and features?

Sad that Firefox and Mozilla, who championed one of the first fantastic browsers on Linux, has went from Linux Darling to Public Enemy Number One in a single release in some peoples eyes.  Hopefully, people will realize how silly it is and stop complaining?  Well, one can dream right?

Let’s look at the quality of the software when levelling complaints instead of being upset that the version number doesn’t jive with what we think it should.  Thus far, my experience with FF5 has been pretty darn fantastic.  Thanks go out to Mozilla…you’ve done a great iteration of software yet again.

Some Random Helpful Hints

I’ve been slowly collecting a few commands that are useful to me for various things while using Linux.  I figured that I would share some of these handy commands.  In no particular order, they are:

To copy, preserving permissions AND structure AND recursively, from a remote system to your local system:

rsync -r -a -v -e ssh /local/location/for/directory/

Please note that the code above assumes that you are using key based authentication and not password.  For password based authentication, it would look more like this:

rsync -r -a -v -e ssh /local/location/for/directory/

To remove all files matching a certain extension (xml in my example) in a directory:

find . -type f -name "*.xml" -exec rm -f {} \;

To go into a location, find all files that match a certain extension (jpg in my example) and move them to a different directory:

find . -name "*.jpg" | xargs -i mv '{}' /location/to/move/them/to/ 

To recursively remove empty directory from the directory you are currently in (your pwd):

find -depth -type d -empty -exec rmdir {} \;

These are a few of the commands that I’ve found useful in the past few weeks.  I hope you find them useful as well.  I’ll be test driving quite a few different distributions and reporting back what I find as well as experimenting with various different commands…I really like find because it is so powerful so look for some more posts with uses of the find command.  Thanks for reading and sorry for my lapse in posting this past month!

Install Firefox 4 on Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE)

I am testing out Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) and wanted to benefit from Firefox 4 and all its speediness.  It’s not available in the repositories and since LMDE uses Firefox and NOT Iceweasel, you really can’t install it from the Mozilla Debian repository.  So, I decided to manually install things.

Normally I don’t like to manually install things outside the repository because when updates are pushed, there is no upstream source to differentiate from…so your chances of running outdated software increase unless you are vigilant.  Luckily, I consider myself vigilant.  Unfortunately, I’m not as vigilant as I consider myself to be…so I’ve added in reminders for myself on my Google calendar to check for Firefox 4 updates.

So, here’s how to get Firefox 4 onto your LMDE desktop…First, uninstall the version of Firefox you have using Synaptic or the software center.  Open a terminal up and let’s get started.

Create a temporary directory to house a downloaded and unzipped Firefox:

cd ~/ && mkdir tmp && cd tmp/

Next, let’s download and unzip it (please note this is for en-US version only…you’ll have to adjust the URL for diff. languages):





Now let’s unzip and extract it:

tar -xvjf firefox*.tar.bz2

Now let’s move the newly extracted items to /usr/local so it can be used by the system:

sudo mv firefox /usr/local/firefox4

Now we need to create a link so that applications calling firefox 4 access it correctly:

sudo ln -s /usr/local/firefox4/firefox /usr/local/bin/firefox4

Ok, the hard part is done…but you don’t have a menu entry for it nor a shortcut you can execute.  Let’s do that now.  Right click your mint menu and choose “edit menu”.  Now, select the “Internet” menu in the left hand pane.  Click the “New Item” button.  The following window will pop up…fill it in with the information contained in the picture below:

The command line should be (remember the link we made above? let’s use it!):

/usr/local/firefox4/firefox %u

launcher properties

Notice in the picture above the Firefox icon is present…yours most likely isn’t.  In order to set the icon, click the area where it appears above and then select the following image:

When you’re finished, click close.  Firefox 4 should now appear under “Internet” in your Mint Menu.  You can now right click that item and add it to your favorites if you wish.

Now let’s make sure you list Firefox 4 as the default web browser for Gnome.  Do this by opening up the control center in the Mint Menu.  Select “Preferred Applications” inside the control center.  Make sure that you choose ‘custom’ in the drop down menu shown below and the path for the command will be the same as it was for your launcher but instead of a %u you can use a %s at the end of the command (as shown in the picture below):

preferred applications

That should be everything you need to have a good Firefox 4 experience in LMDE.  To uninstall things, you can simply delete the menu items and then delete the directories we created during the install process.

Hopefully this will help those of you out there who want Firefox 4 on your LMDE install!

Back to the Basics with Debian

Sometimes, you just have so many problems with the distribution you’re running that you have to wipe it out with a clean slate. I did that this past week and am now using Debian.

With using Debian there comes a feeling of being back to the very basic of Linux distros…much in the same way when you use Arch…it just feels plain, unencumbered, and basic and there is a feeling you get when build something from nothing…you start with a kernel and just enough CLI tools and create your house…then live in it.

It feels good to be stable. It feels good to not have to worry about programs crashing, the net disconnecting, or not being able to install programs.

People like to ride the unstable or testing route with most things out there…as I move forward in my Linux journey, I find myself looking to be less and less cutting edge and more and more stable. Plus, if there is a program out there that needs updating…backports are always a good way to get them.

I’m enjoying my new digs and will look to getting back into the swing of posting enjoyable articles and how-to’s in the upcoming weeks.