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!

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!

Disillusioned by the Community

There are times when I don’t want to admit that I use and love Linux.

It’s true…at times, I’m embarrassed to tell people that I’m part of the community as a whole.

You may wonder when these times are…right now is one of those times.  I despise infighting found in free and open source software…specifically, I really don’t like it when people have one sided experiences and apply their experience to ALL areas of Linux and open source software.  Case in point is this blog post on KDE 4.6 experience in Ubuntu.  For everyone out there, please be advised that Ubuntu is not equivalent with ALL Linux.  In fact, Ubuntu does Gnome very well…but it doesn’t do KDE well at all.

If you truly want to know what KDE 4.6 is like, you need to go with a KDE specific distribution like Mandriva and ride that cutting edge.  I can guarantee you won’t be greeted by crash handlers and all sorts of nonsense that you’ll get inside Ubuntu when you install KDE along side of your Gnome install.

Posts like the one I linked to above make me angry…it’s like driving a Volvo compact car and then dismissing every other car company that makes a compact car as equivalent the experience on the Volvo.  To me, you need to drive each implementation (each companies interpretation) and make an informed decision as to what you find.  Taking a test drive of a Volvo compact and then bad mouthing all compact cars is ignorant…and in my opinion, that is what the person above does with KDE 4.x

I’m a staunch defender of KDE 4.x and I’ve blogged about ignorance surrounding it in the past.  Not all gripes about it are ignorant…but a majority of people’s problems they have with it are simply people band-wagoning together to trounce something because it’s cool to do so.  Much the same is M. Night Shyamalan’s Airbender movie…people talked so much crap about the movie and him as a director, I thought that the movie was going to be the worst movie of all time.  It wasn’t near as bad as people were making it out to be and Shyamalan isn’t the worst director out there by any means.

I think overall, KDE 4.x has become the M. Night Shyamalan of the Linux world…a very talented director(project) that everyone was accustomed to making great movies(desktops) that doesn’t want to be pigeon holed into fitting what others feel it should fit.  KDE 4 is not KDE 3 and for good reason.  It’s being coded and made into something different yet subtly similar because it’s 2011 and not 1996.  If you don’t like it, don’t use it.

IF you don’t use it…don’t trash talk it.

If you want an HONEST representation of it, go to a distribution that prides itself on providing a good implementation of it.  Saying “Ubuntu is the most popular and people are going to try it out on Ubuntu” is wrong…because I don’t know of many end users that will enable a PPA repository and possibly jack up their Gnome install to give it a go…when they can just pop in a Live CD and give it a try….I think the poster of the blog entry above forgot about the magic of Live CD’s for his ‘review’.  It’s too bad that he feels Ubuntu’s lack of attention to all things KDE are representative to KDE as a whole…and it’s too bad his attempt at ascribing this notion comes off as troll-like.

I don’t use Ubuntu at all yet you don’t see me trolling the Ubuntu boards talking about how crappy I feel it is.  If you use Linux you are a part of the Linux community as a whole.  This community encompasses all distributions and all desktop environments.  You have a responsibility therefore; if you want to see Linux succeed, be tolerant and understanding of opposing distros/desktops. Talking trash about other opposing opinions is irresponsible and juvenile.  I hope someday people take this inherent and implied cordiality to heart.  Until then, we have posts like the one above…whether inadvertently geared to bash KDE or absolutely geared to bash KDE…it nonetheless bashed it.  I hope we can grow past things like this in the future.

TinyMe Linux For The Win

I was running Unity Linux 2010.2 with KDE 4.5 for around the last month.  I really like what has been done there but it seemed a bit heavy for my Gateway M250…the CPU fan was always on which told me it was always in high use.

I checked out Gnome 2.30 on Unity and found it to be delightful on my resources; however, Gnome doesn’t make me feel warm and tingly when I use it.  I find myself frustrated with its lack of configuration options…specifically, right click menu.  So I rolled my own using the base install of Unity.  That worked quite nicely but lacked much of the polish I became accustomed to when using KDE.  What I wanted and needed was a happy medium.   I found that happy place with TinyMe Linux.

TinyMe is based on Unity Linux 2010 and was previously based on PCLinuxOS.  It uses LXPanel, PCManFM and the Openbox Window Manager to handle the heavy desktop lifting.  The ISO I used was a release candidate and lacked much of the polish of the TinyMe stable release of the past.  Even though it’s a release candidate, I still found it quite stable and usable…especially since I know my way around the openbox window manager.

You can snag the TinyMe release candidate here:

After a few adjustments of adding my favorite programs I was in business.

TinyMe RC 2010

Even without some of the programs that made TinyMe famous (like the TinyCC) this distro is both stable and robust which is a testament to the underlying Unity Linux core.  If this release candidate is any indication, look for GREAT things to come from TinyMe 2010’s full release…something I will be looking forward to!

A Canonical Controversy

Remember these past few months where Ubuntu/Canonical’s contribution to Gnome (or lack thereof) was called into question and the topic was on the tip of every Linux news website tongue (see closing thoughts for info links)?  Let’s throw some gasoline on that fire for your Friday!!  It’s time for a Barbecue!

Today, Mark Shuttleworth’s blog was added into Planet Gnome after he made a request for it to be added.  Why is this a controversy?  Mainly because some people want blogs that are featured on Planet Gnome to be from authors that are active in the Gnome community and to actually blog about Gnome as a topic.  If Canonical’s contributions to Gnome are being called into question (as evident from the links in closing thoughts below) then what results is a controversial decision for Mark’s blog to be added in.

If you read the comments on the buglist issue, you will see that there are quite a few people in opposition to this move.  According to the Planet Gnome FAQ, there are criteria for being added.  Does Mark’s blog fit the criteria?  A close examination will result in a resounding NO.

Examining the Evidence

The evidence?  Mark has only one, single post on the topic of Gnome on his entire blog.  Is it recent?  If 2008 is recent, then yes, it’s recent.  If that’s not recent enough for you then no, it fails horribly on being recent.

Up next, let’s pull from the Planet Gnome FAQ, “It generally helps to write a few words about you and your contributions to GNOME, or why you think your blog should appear on Planet GNOME”.  Looking at the bug that was filed we find no explanation as to why it should be added other than “I contribute via Canonical”.  This phrase is going to be flogged by those people that were/are irked with Canonicals level of contributions upstream.

Lastly, since Mark is the face of his company, does this mean Gnome supports his company more than say…CEO of Red Hat or Novell since those CEO’s are not added on Planet Gnome?  Does this constitute a conflict of interest?  Does it signal favoritism?  If one person believes it to be this way, everyone loses…because there will be a debate about it and it WILL divide people and not unite them.

To be honest, I can’t believe Mark even asked to be on Planet Gnome as the CEO of Canonical.  He should know right out of the gate that it would look bad if he was added in…if it were me, I’d remove myself immediately.

Closing Thoughts

I said that this would be gasoline on a fire because of the firestorm debate surrounding how much Canonical, Mark Shuttleworth’s company, gives back to upstream projects like Gnome.  For more on that debate [1] [2] [3].

This is just the icing on top of the cake in my opinion.  Whoever decides what goes on Gnome and what doesn’t should really evaluate their processes and stop looking at a persons stature or bling factor and instead on the merit for them to be there.  In this instance, Marks blog provides little to merit its presence on Planet Gnome.

Please note, I’m not saying Mark hasn’t done anything at all for Gnome…just saying he doesn’t blog about it (and the evidence supports me on this claim)…and before a blog is added to Planet Gnome it should have more than one post in the past 7 years (yes, he started blogging in 2003) to be considered as a good candidate to be there.

What do you think?  Should Mark be on Planet Gnome?  Whether you agree or disagree, please state your reasons in a comment below!

Midori, Flash, and Unity Linux 2010

I just took a look at how Unity Linux 2010.1 shapes up and found that the flashplayer plugin doesn’t work with the default browser which is Midori.  Here’s a quick fix for getting flash to work with Midori on Unity 2010.  First, install the flash-player-plugin (as root in terminal or use the gui):

smart install flash-player-plugin

Next, we need to create a directory under your profile to house the flashplayer plugin and then copy it there.  I’m sure we might be able to get by with a symbolic link but I didn’t try that out…

mkdir -p ~/.mozilla/plugins && cp /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/ ~/.mozilla/plugins/

That’s it, it should work now.  I’ve done this on 32bit Unity Linux 2010.1 on a Gateway M250.  Hopefully this helps out someone out there :)