So Much Mint

Well, it finally came to pass that I was no longer even getting security updates on my laptop which was running an older version of Linux Mint, so I decided to sit down and upgrade to the latest and greatest version, but unlike my initial decision to switch to Mint for my laptop OS, I was suddenly faced with a plethora of variations: Cinnamon, Mate, KDE, XFCE, and Debian. Ultimately, I settled on XFCE. The important part, however, is why.

My initial thought was to try the Debian variant. In general, I like Debian, and the thought of having a Debian-based installation rather than Ubuntu-based was appealing. Everything seemed to be going just fine; however, once I ran updates, the system broke. I tried multiple times to load and update the system; each time with the exact same result. The Debian variant being a blatant failure, I switched to the Cinnamon desktop distribution. Once again, the initial installation went just fine. Unlike the Debian version, though, it updated without any problems. There were, however, many issues after trying to adjust certain preferences. The real issue wasn’t that my changes caused things to malfunction, but that returning the settings to their original values didn’t fix the problems. Because of this, I ditched Cinnamon and tried Mate with similar results.

I skipped over KDE simply because I haven’t liked KDE since it ventured away from version 3.5. Also, so many of the programs I like to use are written using GTK, that they look out of place running under KDE. So I went to where I should have gone in the first place: XFCE. Now I am happily running Linux Mint 16 with the XFCE desktop.

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Debian 7 “Wheezy” Not So Great

I won’t repeat a lot of what I said in the review I posted on my site, but it is worthy of at least mentioning that my initial excitement about Wheezy was sadly unfounded. Please check out my full review for more information.

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An Update on Debian

It could easily be argued that what I am about to present is “old news”, and based on the fact that the information I am about to present was announced toward the end of February, that would not be without warrant. However, as slow as the wheels of progress spin in the development world of Debian, and as slow as this site has been, I figure it’s information still worth mentioning, just in case you haven’t heard.

First, let’s talk about the current stable version of Debian: Squeeze. The latter part of February introduced the latest update to this rock-solid, albeit somewhat outdated, distribution. Add in the backports and proposed updates repositories, and certain aspects get a bit more current, but it is still using a much older version of Gnome, and you can still choose to load the (in my opinion, wonderful,) old version of GDM, rather than the (in my opinion, garbage,) newer version that is utilized by most other distributions. Version 6.0.7 offers little difference, other than security patches and minor relatively unnoticeable tweaks over previous releases of Squeeze, and if you need a good stable environment, that’s quite all right.

Next, shortly before 6.0.7 came out, Debian announced the first release candidate for version 7.0, codenamed, “Wheezy”. Overall, I am excited that Wheezy is finally starting to move toward an official release. Don’t get me wrong, there are things I will miss about Squeeze, (the aforementioned older GDM module, for one), but on the whole, it’s about time Debian moved forward. From what I’ve seen, they are still taking a very careful approach to what is natively in the system, and if you want newer versions of some software, backports and proposed updates are again, likely to be a must. Wheezy is, however, the closest thing to a modern release that Debian has produced in a long time.

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SOPA PROTEST

On January 18th, 2012, the Linux for Christians website will participate in the SOPA protest. Normal activity will resume on the 19th.

http://www.nosopa.org/

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Bodhi: A New Lightweight Distro

I was recently informed about a new distribution aimed at old hardware. That distro is Bodhi. With minimum hardware requirements coming in at a 300 MHz i386 for the processor, 128 MB RAM, and 1.5 GB for hard-drive space, this distro promises to give Puppy Linux a run for its money. (You’d have to go with DSL to get lower minimum specs.) With the Enlightenment Desktop Environment for the GUI and access to distro-specific and Ubuntu repositories, Bodhi seems as though it will be impressive for any system. Unfortunately, it doesn’t yet live up to that promise.

The first thing I see as a problem, before I even begin to download, is the lack of a 64-bit version. I do understand that a 64-bit version goes somewhat against the idea of working on outdated hardware, but now, there are even 64-bit systems that could be considered obsolete. A resource-friendly 64-bit distribution is definitely in order. Another thing that I was initially concerned about was overall functionality. Bodhi seemed to be priding itself on being “free.” This is often a sign that non-free (a.k.a. non-open-source) software and drivers are not available. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I tend to be more practical about what software I choose. I was relieved to see that this was not the case. The distro is compatible with Ubuntu’s “Lucid Lynx” (10.04 LTS) repositories, so there’s plenty of software available to meet your needs, both free and non-free. Now to the fun stuff. Time to boot!

First thing I noticed when booting from the CD is the unique boot screen. Normally, this is not that big of a deal, but it was actually rather attractive, and I thought the floating leaves were a nice touch. I was then presented with a menu to select what configuration I wanted for the desktop. There were options for a bare-bones desktop, a fully composting desktop that supported either hardware or software rendering, a desktop for general use, an alternative “artistic” layout, a laptop or netbook configuration, a tablet option for small and/or touch screens, as well as a tiling option for which I didn’t quite understand the purpose. Naturally, I chose the composting option.

In the past, I’ve always shied away from the Enlightenment Desktop Environment. It’s functionality and stability have always been issues for me. What I saw on the distro’s website, though, was nothing like the Enlightenment I remember. The screen shots are spectacular. Seriously, these are on par if not superior to some that I’ve seen using Gnome and KDE. Screen shots, however, only tell the visual part of the story. After choosing my theme, I was taken to the desktop. After playing around with what little software there is on the live CD, I gathered that the actual visual experience lived up to the screen shots. The composting effects, while not quite as impressive as those available in Compiz, certainly were better than what you get from XFWM. Not being familiar with Enlightenment, it took me a while to find all the controls, but ultimately I did and immediately started playing with settings. This is where things began to fall apart.

This may be due to my unfamiliarity with Enlightenment, or it may be a genuine problem with the desktop environment itself; I’m not sure which. Regardless of the reason, I managed to break the desktop and nothing I did (short of rebooting the computer) would put it back to right. I made some modifications to the virtual desktop settings and ended up with no right-click menu on the desktop, and the wallpaper was no longer filling my screen, but rather pushed to the left with a big stripe of background color on the right. I tried to restore the original settings, refresh the composting engine, restart Enlightenment, log out and back in, etcetera. Nothing fixed either the right-click menu problem or the wallpaper issue.

The next difficulty I encountered was regarding software. While it’s all well and good for the distro to run on obsolete hardware, it needs applications to be of any use. There is not much in the line of software already on the CD, and you aren’t necessarily given insight as to the best applications for older hardware. This is a key difference between this distribution and other lightweight distros, such as Puppy Linux and DSL. Both of these come equipped with applications ideal for the minimum hardware requirements for which they were designed. If you aren’t careful about what you choose with Bodhi, you can easily bloat your system beyond your hardware’s capabilities when installing to obsolete equipment. The only advantage Bodhi has over Puppy Linux and DSL is that it is a full distro intended for hard drive installation rather than being run from a CD, and that is not always an advantage.

All this negative said, I do think that Bodhi is on the right track. There needs to be a lightweight flexible distribution with a desktop that can be configured easily for different hardware environments and leave the majority of resources available for applications. Likewise, this lightweight base system and desktop need to be installable to the hardware, not just run from removable media. Bodhi with the Enlightenment Desktop Environment seems to be headed in this direction, and will certainly be a distro worth keeping an eye on.

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Digging Deeper into Linux

My first experiences with computers were pre-Windows and pre-Mac OS. By the time I got around to IBM (or IBM clone) machines, DOS was up to about 4.2 or something like that. I became good friends with the command prompt and most of the DOS commands, and as a result, was well versed in using computers and making them do what I wanted to well before GUI’s became the defacto standard. With the advent of Windows 95, though, the need for those true computer skills seemed to diminish. When I first tried Linux I was put off by it because things didn’t “just work” the way they did in Windows. It wasn’t until my later attempts at Linux that I realized the importance of working in the terminal. Recently, much has improved, and well developed distros such as Mint and Ubuntu are becoming nearly as “user friendly” as Windows. The problem with that, at least in my opinion, is the diminishing need for what I consider true computer skills.

Before I continue, let me clarify something: I don’t think—and am certainly not trying to say—that all who use a computer should be experts in configuring and maintaining an operating system. I am, however, saying that anyone who wants to make computers their career, as I do, should be an expert in configuring and maintaining an operating system. The way that happens is tinkering with the inner workings of the OS; and in Linux, that is most easily done through using the command line. There are things in Linux that you can do in the command line twice as fast, if not faster, than in the GUI. The only way to really learn the command line is to use it. While they may be great for every-day use, the “average user” distros such as Mint and Ubuntu are too easy to operate without touching the command prompt. For truly learning the ins and outs of the system, you need a distro that practically requires heavy command line usage. I have two such recommendations. The first is Debian, and the second is Linux from Scratch.

Debian makes a good learning distribution, in my opinion, for two basic reasons. First, compared to many other full distributions, it is easy to perform a bare-bones installation. This gives you not much more than Apt for package management, the Bash shell, and a few other necessary system management utilities. You are then free to build your system package by package. This provides you with lots of command line experience and forces you to become familiar with manual system configuration. The fun thing about Debian, though, is that if you go for the stable build, as I did, even if you install the GUI in the initial install, you will still be spending a lot of time in the command prompt to begin with, but once everything is installed and properly configured, you have a good solid system with which you are intimately familiar—something I found lacking in my previous experiences with Linux Mint and Ubuntu.

The second reason I like Debian so much as a learning distro falls to something typically only touted by Ubuntu—community. That’s right, community. Ubuntu, Mint and several other distros are based on Debian. (Ubuntu doesn’t necessarily hide this tidbit, but it’s not as easy to find as it used to be.) Because of this and the amount of time that Debian has been around, there is plenty of documentation out there to help you if you run into problems. In fact, if you can’t find something specific for Debian, you can often use a solution listed as being for Ubuntu.

Lastly, there is LFS. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you pay attention through the process, you will learn a lot about Linux. In fact, even though I have not successfully completed LFS, I probably have learned more about Linux from my attempts at building it than I have from using functioning Linux systems. For those not familiar with LFS, I will explain. Linux from Scratch is a highly specialized distribution, if you can call it that. It is, in fact, more of a project than a distro. The end result is that you build your Linux system completely from source so that it is custom built not only for your needs, but for your hardware as well. While the live CD comes with a GUI, even if you decide to manually load it, you will spend practically all of your time in a terminal window.

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Rejoicing With Sadness: David Wilkerson

Today was a sad day for me.  The Christian community has lost a great man and dear saint.  David Wilkerson was founder of the Times Square Church in New York city, World Challenge, and the world renowned Teen Challenge (which had the highest recovery rate of drug and alcohol addictions in America).  He was a pastor, an author, devotional/blogger/mailing list writer.

“You will be missed! Your amazing works here on earth will not go unnoticed and the legacy you leave behind will and has touched so many. What is our loss on earth is heavens gain. There you get to spend eternity with our King! We will see you again one day. Blessings to your family in this time of sorrow and in joy knowing your (sic) in a much better place,” Allen-Morales wrote.  (an excerpt from here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/christians-honor-david-wilkerson-as-true-hero-via-twitter-facebook-50025/)

http://www.worldchallenge.org/en/node

Please pray for his widow and family.

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Hacker mentality parallels Christianity?

“Internet hackers have acquired a dubious reputation for piracy, sabotage and the spilling of sensitive secrets, but an authoritative Vatican publication appears to rehabilitate them and traces parallels between hacker philosophy and the teachings of Christianity”.

read on……

http://www.techworld.com.au/article/382267/vatican_publication_rehabilitates_hackers/

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Church Geek

I don’t know about all of you, but I am one of two people in my small church that know anything computer related. The other guy is a Mac guy so he doesn’t count (haha).  So this basically means I am tech support for my fellow congregants. This really doesn’t bother me since this is what I do for a living anyway.

This present situation leaves me a bit of leeway when it comes to introducing technology in my church.  Up until 2006, all of our sermons were recorded via a cassette tape recorder in our sound booth.  This set-up had worked for the last 25 or so years, so why change?  Well, the problem with this is, that in 2006 and forward, it is increasingly hard to find cassette players, let-alone people who have them. Most people these days have CD players (thank goodness).  The obvious solution was to start recording digitally.  Unfortunately the price tag on a digital recorder that can connect to a sound board is quite high.  The obvious answer?  Linux!

In 2006 I based my digital sermon recorder off an old Gateway desktop machine that was equipped with a 450Mhz proc. and 256 MB ram.  I installed a stripped down version of Puppy Linux and Audacity.  This set-up worked ok, but there were some latency issues.  The end result were a few pops and crackles, but worked none-the-less.  Fast forward to today with my present system.  It is a Toshiba Satellite laptop with a 1.3Ghz p4, 512MB ram, Xubuntu 10.04, and Audacity.  The small form factor of a laptop is ideal for a cramped sound booth.  It interfaces with the board via USB.  If your Sound board is not equipped with USB, you can buy one of these for $30 (http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com/product/Behringer-UCONTROL-UCA202-USBAudio-Interface?sku=702540), which is what I used before getting a new board.  The newer kernels are not plagued with latency issues, so the sound quality is pristine.  I can burn audio CD’s right on the laptop, or put an mp3 on a flash drive.

In conclusion, you too can have digital quality recordings at your church for next to nothing.  In my case, free.  Remember the Mac guy I mentioned earlier?  He was the one who donated the Tosh lappy, which was quickly upgraded to Linux!

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Ah… Minty Fresh

I remember the first time I heard of Linux Mint, I wasn’t that impressed. There were several reasons for this. First, it was based on Ubuntu. At that time, I despised Ubuntu. It wasn’t until recently that I began to appreciate it. The second reason is heavily tied to the first. At the time, Linux Mint seemed to be nothing more than Ubuntu with a new color scheme and logo. Despite the fact I find the green and grey scheme far more appealing than Ubuntu’s fascination with orange and brown, that was not enough to make me want to use it over Ubuntu. So even as I found an appreciation for Ubuntu, I still had no desire to try Mint. With the release of Ubuntu 10.10, and subsequently, Linux Mint 10, that has, I’m happy to report, changed.

After a few days of giving it a good sampling, and getting all my programs set back up, I can only think of 3 things I don’t like about Linux Mint. The first issue I have is one that is shared with Ubuntu. Being the lover of eye-candy that I am, I like to be able to manipulate as many aspects of the GUI as possible, including the log-in screen. While this can be done, it is a convoluted process; and unlike Debian, from which Ubuntu, and therefore Mint, are derived, there is no direct way in the menu or from the log-in screen, to manipulate the visual aspects of the log-in. I find this terribly annoying and wish both Ubuntu and Mint would put the full GDM configuration tool back into their distributions.

Second annoyance is that the “Mark All Changes” button has been removed from the Synaptic Package Manager. I personally don’t like using automatic updates as they always go off at the most inconvenient times. Therefore I do the updating myself. I prefer to use Synaptic over the other package/software management that is natively installed. I also don’t like having to use a second program to do easy updating. Of course, now that I have everything set up, it isn’t likely that I’ll be changing my software configuration, so I guess I can just get by with the update utility, though I’d still rather just have my button back.

Lastly, there is the issue with having to use sudo. Again, this is shared with Ubuntu. When I first started using Linux, the distro I chose (and Debian is this way as well) required entry of the root password to take care of administration tasks. While I can set a root password and have the ability to use root from the command line (or even log in as root from the log-in screen), Mint still uses sudo for GUI authentication of administrative applications. Personally, I find this annoying. Perhaps it’s just an odd quirk, but I don’t see how providing a way for an account to gain super-user access helps protect the system. I’d much rather have to put in a different password from the one I use to log into my computer for daily use when I want to perform administrative tasks.

All that said, those are the only things I have found that I don’t like about Mint. What does this mean? For one, many of the things, such as DVD play-back, that are a pain to configure in Ubuntu are set up automatically. Also, the Compiz configuration utility is installed by default. It may seem petty, but I don’t like having to hunt that thing down when setting up Ubuntu. Mint sets it up automatically. The menu used is far more appealing and doesn’t chew up over half of the panel. There are other minor changes here and there as well that make Mint practically everything Ubuntu should be. Also, unlike Ubuntu, I was able to get a stable install on the first try. In the end, Mint is about as close to a perfect distribution as I have found.

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