Saturday, September 3, 2011

How I Wound Up Running Lubuntu 11.04

Last Friday, my new ThinkPad arrived, a T420i to replace my beloved T43. The T43 was running strong, but I was starting to get nervous about a catastrophic crash becoming more probable as the machine grew older. Plus, I was ready for a more contemporary machine that had a solid state drive and a built-in web cam.

Obviously, I couldn’t get a ThinkPad without Windows, but my goal was to never actually boot the machine into Windows. The first time I booted Linux Mint off of a USB, I missed the boot menu and saw a few seconds of the Windows boot-up routine, but I quickly restarted the machine and it never loaded Windows again.

Despite loving Xubuntu, I wanted an Xfce desktop on a distro that was rolling, so I wouldn’t have to deal with updating to new distro versions every few years. I planned to run the Xfce version of Linux Mint Debian on the new machine, but after getting Linux Mint Debian running, I soon realized it ran horribly. Thunar would freeze on its first open for a good 30 seconds before it was usable. Chromium and Chrome both always crashed the first time they were opened. There were lots of beeps I couldn’t seem to disable. Despite the new machine, it felt like a huge step down from my old machine running Xubuntu 10.04. Linux Mint Debian installed like a dream, though. It was painless. And it looked beautiful. I just wish it had run a little more smoothly.

With Linux Mint Debian Edition ruled out, I moved onto Sabayon, which is based on Gentoo. That also installed painlessly, but it had a bit of a lag I found disconcerting, especially in Thunar. Also, the package manager didn’t make sense to me. It was an interesting and beautiful desktop, but it didn’t feel quite right to me, but I might try it again at another point.

From there, I decided to try OpenSUSE. I couldn’t figure out how to download the Xfce version so I decided to try the LXDE version. Installing OpenSUSE was more complicated. It didn’t recognize my wireless card, even after downloading what I thought were the correct drivers. I enabled the Tumbleweed repository, which basically turns SUSE into a rolling release. Once I updated everything, I got a 3.something kernel that supported my wireless card (SUSE was only one kernel version behind, in terms of a kernel that supported my wireless card). But I couldn’t figure out how to handle updates in SUSE. I’m still not clear on the difference between the YaST graphical package manager and the command line zypper one. I also wasn’t sure how to handle package priority. Tumbleweed seemed like a mistake for someone like me, a new OpenSUSE user. Looking back, I should have just downloaded one kernel ahead to get my wireless working and stayed on 11.4 for a while.

Using OpenSUSE, though, I realized I really liked the LXDE desktop. It was like Xfce, only more spartan. But I couldn’t find an LXDE application launcher. So I downloaded the Xfce application finder and bound it to the Super-space key to summon it, which was exactly what I had done with Xubuntu. Suddenly, I really loved LXDE. But my own OpenSUSE package mismanagement left the desktop kind of borked. While I liked SUSE, I needed a desktop I could get up and running quickly, as the weekend was rapidly ending.

I decided to try Debian LXDE, but my experience was awful. It looked horrible and I couldn’t figure out how to get the wireless working.

Finally, I decided to just jump to the latest Lubuntu (11.04), and deal with a more long-term distribution when Lubuntu support ended in 2013. It installed effortlessly. It looks beautiful. And while it’s not pure LXDE, it’s a great experience. I’m able to use my wireless printer and I got my scrollpad working. Configuring things in LXDE requires a little more file editing, but I actually find it easier than figuring out which graphical menu controls which setting (plus, playing around with the openbox keybindings, I learned about a lot of cool shortcuts that were new to me: ctrl-alt-d to get a file manager and ctrl-alt-d to get LXTerminal).

In fact, that’s what I like about LXDE. It does so little, it’s very easy to manage. At first, I found myself trying to replicate Xfce in LXDE. There wasn’t a weather panelbar notification, so I started to look for one, before I reconsidered. Do I really need to know the temperature and weather every time I’m on my computer? Does that need to be a persistent piece of data? I also tried to install conky, before giving up after seeing there seem to be some issues between LXDE and conky. But upon further reflection, did I really need the data conky was giving me? And how often did I even look at it? And once I realized I really didn’t need conky, I lost all interest in trying to get it to work. It was quite liberating.

Some other random notes from Lubuntu:

  • I love PCManFM as a file manager. It’s so fast and so configurable. And the ability to bookmark folders is a huge timesaver. It’s my new favorite file manager.
  • When I ask Chromium to show me my downloads in their folder, I just get a Chromium screen (chrome://downloads/) and not the actual open folder. There are some fixes floating around but I haven’t tried them out yet because it’s not a big deal for me.
  • Suspend works flawlessly! I know people say you don’t need to suspend when you have an SSD, since SSDs boot so quickly, but suspend still feels quicker to me.
  • Lubuntu doesn’t come with the Ubuntu Software Store, which I never use anyway. I was kind of surprised it wasn’t there, though.
  • This one is non-Lubuntu specific: gPodder is awesome! I forgot to move my Xubuntu gPodder settings over with my files. I figured I would install it and just manually grab the podcasts I subscribe to. But upon installation and launching, gPodder asked if I wanted to sync with my web gPodder account, which I forgot I had made. I input my credentials and had my podcasts list populated within seconds. It was a very pleasant surprise.

On a recent episode of the TuxRadar Podcast, the hosts presenters were saying how Linux desktop managers are often reactions to bloat. Xfce was a response to GNOME bloat and LXDE was a response to Xfce bloat.

I don’t know that I would call Xfce bloated, but LXDE is nice and lean, while Ubuntu brings a lot of convenience and beauty to my machine. I happened upon this post yesterday, which was complaining about Unity. Lubuntu gives you the best of Ubuntu in an environment that’s not Unity. It’s been a great experience so far. I suspect a lot of Xfce people might find themselves falling in love with LXDE, should they decide to give it a shot.

my new Lubuntu desktop


Notes

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