Netrunner – The Best Distro You’ve Barely Heard Of

Netrunner

Netrunner

In my quest to find a professional and polished distribution of Linux that used KDE as the default desktop…I tried out quite a few flavors:  Kubuntu, Salix, Manjaro, PCLinuxOS and even OpenSuse.  All done in the past few weeks.

Each time I installed these distributions on this Dell Latitude D630 I pretended I had no idea how Linux was supposed to work.  I’d step through like a less than technical person would do.  How do I connect to wireless?  Is it easy?  Can I stream Youtube videos?  Will my mp3 collection play?  How do I manage that mp3 collection?  Will DVD’s play?  Do things ‘just work’ out of the gate?

I blogged about the beginning step in Manjaro Linux…it wasn’t as polished as I’d like.  I jumped next to Salix and found that Wicd, the default network manager…makes you jump through 9 different hoops to connect to a hidden network.  PCLinuxOS came next but it was so slow on this laptop that it lasted less than a day.  OpenSuse repeated the PCLinuxOS slowness.  Kubuntu was last and it was fine and polished…but once again, slow…random hangups when doing things like file browsing/web browsing.  Kubuntu was the closest I came to a great KDE flavored distribution…it stayed on the laptop for a couple of days.  So the question remained:  Can the distribution I am running be considered professional and polished while getting out of the way

The majority answer for most of these distributions is a resounding “NO”.

One distribution however, stood above the rest of them.  Instead of stopping on one of the above questions…I found myself having to create new and more intricate ones.  This distribution wasn’t holding me up…it was pressing me forward.  THAT is what a distribution of Linux should do.  It should be out of the way and allow you to get on with your business.  The distribution that does this the best out of that handful mentioned above is Netrunner.

The Hardware

I have an old Dell D630 Laptop which was a standard business line laptop from Dell circa 2007 or so.  It’s got an Intel Centrino and I loaded it up with 4 GB of RAM.  It has a 40 GB Hard drive in it and an Nvidia Quadro graphics card.  Overall, nothing special.  It’s very Linux friendly overall and I’ve used numerous distributions on this laptop since I picked it up at a liquidation sale.

Installation

netrunner2Netrunner uses the Manjaro installer.  Manjaro is based on Arch Linux.  Normally when people think of Arch Linux, they think of a very technical distribution that is only for the Linux elite.  The installer for Netrunner shuns the idea that you need to speak binary to install it.  Simple choices are laid out for you…I was able to encrypt my hard drive and didn’t need to know how to partition anything to get it moving.  The wizard was, simply put, phenomenal.  It was a well put together and excellent installer.

 

Day to Day Use

I’ve found Netrunner to really and truly be out of my way.  I don’t have to think to use it.  I open up music and play it.  I watch movies with no issues.  I browse Youtube videos without a thought.  Flash video just works.  When I pop in a USB Drive, it detects and mounts like I’d expect it to.  Overall, the operating system gets out of my way.  I normally use Openbox for my Linux laptop and I’ve actually gotten used to using KDE because of how polished Netrunner rolling is.

One of my favorite things about Netrunner rolling was Octopi, the graphical front end for pacman.  This tool allows you to manage all the packages on your system and to search out new ones.  It also allows you to manage AUR packages as well.  While this might not be something the average user would dive into right away…having been an Arch and Manjaro user before…I found it fantastic to have a “one stop shopping” experience via Octopi.

The overall speed of the distribution is fantastic.  I found none of the slowness that plagued the laptop during the testing of other distributions.  Things were quick and crisp when opening.  The only time I experienced slowness was when I had about 15 browser tabs open and was trying to open GIMP (I also had KDE Telepathy, Konversation, and dolphin open in the background).  Overall, I’ve found the speed quite acceptable.

Conclusion

My overall conclusion with Netrunner Rolling is that there is no better Arch platformed Linux distro with KDE as the default environment out there.  It just works.  It gets out of the way and it gives the end user a clean, crisp and efficient desktop right out of the gate.  You don’t have to know binary to get it installed, updated, and running.  You don’t have to sacrifice a goat to Cthulhu (I’ve heard that comes later?) to have a pleasing KDE experience for your desktop.  I keep saying this, but it just works.

I found it really odd that I hadn’t heard very much about Netrunner in the past but I readily admit that I hadn’t kept up with KDE based distributions in the past few years due to my fascination with Openbox.  Netrunner has won me over though…I will definitely be paying attention to this fine distribution in the future as it has taken its place as the top KDE distribution I’ve ever tried.  I hope you’ll give it a try in the future (if you haven’t already) and kudos the developers and community of Netrunner!

 

Manjaro KDE Notes

manjaro kde

manjaro kdeThis week I decided to step up from Window Manager Manjaro Openbox and give the latest version of the Desktop Environment in KDE try.  I’m one of those odd people who love minimalist desktops like openbox, xmonad, and i3 but still have a soft spot in their hearts for KDE.  We’re few in number and many with insanity. :)

So I downloaded Manjaro KDE edition and installed it onto my Dell Latitude D630 laptop.  Upon first boot, everything looks professional and nice.  The bootscreen is professional and the desktop has a common theme that is pleasant to look at.

 

Then I went into the menu to see what programs come installed by default.  Bleh…everything with a bag of chips, the receipt, and then even more.  Too much mess.  Multiple entries for single programs.  It’s a mess in there.

4 entries for the ‘Marble’ program greet me inside of the ‘Education’ area.  FOUR?  This is very simple to fix…you simply right click the menu button and choose ‘edit applications’ but how does something like that make it past the QA process?

Sound was muted across the board by default….I’m pretty sure this is just due to my sound hardware but it’s important to note that not everyone will know to look for that.

Desktop effects enabled by default means that things were DOG slow until I installed a video driver.  Not a good first experience.

I attempted to download a few torrents out of the gate to see what kind of throughput KTorrent would give me.  I use magnet links mostly and upon grabbing my first torrent I realized that nothing was happening.  The metadata wasn’t even downloading.  So I attempted a restart of the application with no fix.  I tried logging out and back on with no fix.  Then I tried a restart of the entire PC with no fix.  No matter what I did…torrents wouldn’t download.

So I switched to qBittorrent.  Still no fix.  No matter what happens, torrents don’t work for me with this version of Manjaro.  In my previous version they worked just fine.

About this time, i started to get rather irritated and stopped looking around for things that were wrong.  No offense to the Manjaro KDE guys…but this isn’t a very good implementation of KDE in my opinion….there is just too much installed by default and what is installed doesn’t seem to work well.  There were quite a few other oddities I experienced while exploring the desktop including multiple KWin crashes when launching specific applications.

Overall, I wasn’t happy.

So I’m heading over to Salix KDE now to see if a simplified approach to KDE will cleans the palate so to speak.  I neglected screenshots when testing Manjaro KDE out but I’ll take many with Salix and follow up here.

Manjaro Linux – My Current Distribution

manjaro

manjaroI’ve been running Manjaro Linux Openbox Edition since about November of 2013.  I haven’t re-installed…since Manjaro rolls with it’s releases…I haven’t needed to re-install.  It’s been as steady as a rock for 2 releases and many months of torture and pain from yours truly.

The only other distribution I’ve ever put through its paces like this that remained stable and usable was Salix…which is Slackware based.  Manjaro is Arch based and benefits greatly from the fantastic package manager ‘pacman’.  Oddly enough, Salix has a lot in common with Manjaro in that they both attempt to bring simplicity with easy upgrades/updates.  They also both tap into the community for customized packages…Salix with the ability to install Slack builds and Manjaro with the ability to add on packages from the AUR (Arch User Repository).  Both provide tools that allow a user to interface with these user built repositories.  Both are lightning fast and use a very low amount of resources.

Even though I’d hadn’t noticed before….they do have a lot in common.

I’ve demanded a lot more from my Linux distributions lately…I haven’t picked the ones I use based on what everyone else is using.  I haven’t picked one that has recently released.  I picked one that doesn’t decide what’s best for you.  I think this approach is best…doing less is more.

I don’t want a distribution to install the entire KDE application suite out of the gate taking up tons of space on my hard drive and making my Kmenu a jumbled mess.  I don’t want a distribution that doesn’t install tons of applications but is so bloated and lethargic on the desktop that I can barely function.  I don’t want a distribution that does things the wrong way by requiring me to install more than what I need (thanks meta packages!).  The bottom line is, I want a simple distribution of Linux that truly and wholly supports the ‘less is more’ mantra.  The only two I’ve settled on are Manjaro and Salix.  I’m not saying these are the only ones that ascribe to this mantra…I’m just saying these are the only two I’ve used that I like.  I’m sure there are others you might have found do the same thing and I’d encourage you to leave a comment with this distribution so that I can check it out.

I don’t do a lot of Linux reviews…but I will be doing a Salix and Manjaro one in the near future.  I think they both deserve any amount of press they get because they are fantastically simple distributions.

Ubuntu 12.04, Amahi, and Linux Not Detecting Hard Disks

amahi_6.1_ubuntu

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve had this much trouble with Linux detecting a hard drive.  It brought me back to Ye Olde Linux days when 14 floppy disks housed your distribution and more times than not you didn’t have compatible hardware and had to find out via BBS what modem worked with what kernel…sometimes, it was a major pain…and that was the fun in it :)

In today’s installation of Linux…I thought I’d left those days behind.  I was wrong, unfortunately.

I downloaded Ubuntu 12.04 to install so that I could put Amahi on my video/picture/file/tv/movie share Linux machine.  Amahi is pretty much the best program on the face of the planet to use for this purpose…I’d put it up against any ‘samba-like’ distribution of Linux out there and I think it would come out on top.  Anyway, I went to install Ubuntu 12.04 and I immediately hit a problem:  it wasn’t detecting my hard drive.  I got out my notes for when I last installed an operating system on this server and it happened to be the last release of Amahi on Fedora…which was Fedora 14.  In that instance, I had to pass the nodmraid option in order for my hard drive to detect.

Easy enough.  I went into the Ubuntu options for booting.  Chose F6 and then selected nodmraid.  It booted fine and I went to a desktop.  Once there, I clicked the install icon.  Things were looking good until I went to the part of the installer where you choose a hard disk…which didn’t give me any hard disks.  I tried this process again and again…often times putting in other options such as noapic, nolapic and other awesome boot parameters using the F6 portion of the boot prompt.  No joy on any of these tries.  What could it be?

After a few minutes of brainstorming, I realized that Ubuntu wasn’t actually honoring the boot parameter for nodmraid.  Since this was the case, the hard drive wasn’t detecting.  In order to get the hard drive detecting, I should remove the dmraid information from my hard drive and see if this made a difference.  So, here’s how I fixed this problem:

  1. Instead of booting to install Ubuntu, select the option to Try it first
  2. Once there, hit up the dashboard, click on all applications, and search through all 78 until you find Terminal
  3. Once the terminal is up, type sudo su and hit enter.  You’re now root.
  4. type fdisk -l and take note of the letter designation of your hard drive that is having problems detecting (sda in my case).
  5. type dmraid -E -r /dev/sdX where ‘X’ is the letter designation of your hard drive.
  6. Answer yes to the question it asks of if you wish to remove the dmraid information on the drive.
  7. Reboot and Install Ubuntu.  It should now detect.

Not a hard thing to figure out…but it might be for some new users…and I’m almost certain Amahi users will run across this…because many of them are converts from Windows Home Server.  In this case, they’d probably be pretty freaked out having to drop down to a command line and issue commands.  Hopefully, this article will be a handy tool for them to use in order to get Ubuntu and subsequently, Amahi installed on their computer.  Thanks for reading!

Where Will You Hide the Bodhi?

Bodhi LinuxI had a brief flirtation with Bodhi Linux this past week.  I nuked my CrunchBang Linux install to give it a go.  It seemed pretty solid, but after spending some quality time with the distro, I found the version of Network Manager loved to randomly disconnect me from wireless networks…as in, right in the middle of me transferring files, streaming music, and doing tha IRC thing.  Very irritating.

I did a full update to the most recent released version (released in the past few weeks) and found e17 randomly crashing which wasn’t the best addition to a randomly disconnecting wireless connection…and I know that crashes aren’t a problem in e17 since the handler can just restart all the modules and BOOM you’re back.  Regardless, the Network Manager disconnection problem eventually irritated me enough to jump ship.  I attempted connman, exalt, and wicd but I found myself lost.  Since I haven’t used those tools before and the docs very scarce for uprooting Network Manager from Bodhi, it was a stopping point.  No worries, it’s still a great distribution and e17 is VERY fast and looks very good on this 7 year old laptop. However, CrunchBang called me back.

It just works.  Period.

It’s fast.  It’s openbox.  It smells tasty.  Ok, so I made up that last part…there isn’t a smell per se, but rather an overall polish that makes me want to use it.  So, inside a Starbucks in Eastern North Carolina, I buried a Bodhi and set out for home with a CrunchBang ISO.  I promised a review of CrunchBang anyway and it’s high time I started on it.  Let the distro hopping slow down for a while.

Old Computer? No Problem! Linux Saves The Day.

Want to know what utilizes 54.3 MB of RAM idle at 1% CPU utilization on a Gateway M250 laptopCrunchBang Linux, that’s what!

It’s always a breath of fresh air when you are able to resurrect older hardware that most people would throw right into the trash with a dash of Linux.

Granted, this M250 laptop isn’t in its default config…I’ve updated it from 512MB of RAM to 2GB of RAM…which puts it at the maximum it can recognize.  It is running a Pentium M 740 Processor that runs at 1.73 Ghz and was part of the Centrino line from Intel.  It’s not breaking any land speed records but it hums along nicely.  I can upgrade it still to a Pentium M 760 and then that too will be maxed out.  For now, this laptop would run Windows XP normally and probably not do a fantastic job at it with a bunch of apps installed.

With Linux, I can load it up with just about anything I want and things just work.  If you haven’t taken a look at CrunchBang Linux in a while, you should do so immediately.  It’s like straight up octane fuel for your older computers.  I’m pleased that CrunchBang uses Debian for its base so that I am not in want of obscure packages and it uses Openbox, one of my favorite window managers, for its default desktop.

During the writing of this article using Firefox…er Iceweasel 8.0…it’s humming nicely at 175MB of RAM being used and about 15% CPU.  Very pleased thus far.  I’ll include a screenshot below and I’ll do a more in depth review of CrunchBang soon.

Remember, don’t throw out your old computers/laptops.  Resurrect them with Linux…particularly a VERY well put together and nice distribution like CrunchBang Linux!

 

CrunchBang Linux
CrunchBang Linux