My Views on Specific Linux Issues


Question: Do you really need to install Adobe flash-plugin in Fedora? (30 Nov 2014)

Fedora-20

The quick answer is no and yes. No, because most swf content, including that on youtube, will play in Firefox 29 if you install Shumway. Yes, because some content is coded to not play if Adobe flash-plugin is not found. Additionally, if Adobe flash-plugin is not installed, many more sites irritating will prompt you to install it, even if you set the "about:config" option "plugins.notify.MissingFlash" in Firefox to "false". To play swf content once Shumway is installed, simply click on the word Shumway that appears in the lower right-hand corner of the video frame. Shumway is a great idea, but the Shumway I uploaded in May 2014 to run in Firefox 29 was pretty unpolished. One can only hope it slowly will be improved, especially to remember to automatically cancel hung scripts once you have told it to do so.


Question: Is it possible to use Wayland as a replacement for X? (26 Dec 2014)

Fedora-21

The future of Wayland remains to be seen. I personally do not see any apps running better under gnome-Wayland than under gnome-X. To Wayland's credit, they do not seem to run any worse. Maybe Wayland is the way of the future. Within a few weeks of Fedora-21's release, most of the bugs of operation under Wayland, which plagued the pre-release versions causing frequent crashes, seemed to have been worked out.


Question: Is GNOME heading in the right direction? (2 January 2015)

Fedora-21

The answer for me is yes and no, or maybe yes and maybe no. First of all, know that I love the overall GNOME interface. I like being able to find applications without having to go through a zillion menus and sub-menus; I don't mind starting the search by moving the mouse to a hot-spot, and I love having a search widget to help me. I have enough experience with different OSs and interfaces to not be concerned whether the menu bar is on the top or bottom. I am a little upset that GNOME seems to change often enough that extensions that work in one version often don't work after an upgrade. My main concern with GNOME, however, is the current state of it's clients. It seems to me that GNOME is heading towards what might be described as a minimal interface (very clean, without much clutter). This is fine, so long as users are not going to have to memorize a whole list of shortcuts to do what used to be simple operations. For example, the current gedit for version 3.14-1 does not have copy, cut, and paste buttons anywhere. Also, import file seems missing or so buried I could not find it, and there is no menu for adding another spelling dictionary. Also, it seems unlikely that the casual user will know that the way to add a new dictionary is to install the appropriate hunspell rpm. Finally, if you choose the "highlight spelling error option" during a session, it would be nice if gedit remembered this preference the next time you launched a session. I hope these deficiencies I perceive will be removed in subsequent versions. Another problem I perceive is GNOME's insistence that it has to reinvent the wheel. For example, why does it have to have it's own media player (Totem) when there a so many decent media players available and Totem has always been awful as a media player. I have read that Totem has a role to play for Nautilus file manager. I wouldn't know about this because I fortunately was able to remove Totem without the OS insisting I also remove Nautilus. In contrast to the Totem story, I once thought GNOME's handling of pdf files was so bad I felt it necessary to run Okular (KDE's viewer) under GNOME. Today, evince-3.14-1, the GNOME document viewer seems much better and I no longer feel the need to use Okular regularly, but I have kept it installed for those pdf files that evince will not properly print.

Fedora has always had a problem handling proprietary technologies. I read that Fedora-21 would improve this problem. It is possible it did so with regard to proprietary hardware drivers because I have not had any hardware problems with either of my two different-brand PCs, but proprietary media in native Fedora is still as big a nuisance as always.



Question: Are there any obvious differences in Google-Chrome and Firefox's handling of Video? (18 August, 2016)

Lubuntu-16.04.1

I recently have been testing how well my computer would function if I connected to the Internet using only USB tethering and my Asus Zenfone-2 cell-phone, without any router or hard-wired Internet connection. I configured things so that the router had wi-fi connectivity, which allowed things like wireless printing, but it did not have any Internet connectivity. The Internet connectivity ws through the USB-tethering

It is clear that in my area, which generally has HSPA+ rather than 4G cellular broadband connectivity, the Internet connection using USB-tethering is degraded relative to a dedicated ADSL 15 Mbps line. In testing whether the USB-tethering was "good enough" for most purposes, I noticed an interesting difference between Google-Chrome and Firefox.

It is clear that on my system, which is supposed to be suitable even for systems much less powerful than my Asus Gaming computer, Firefox is much better than Google-Chrome for playing videos downloaded over the poorer Internet connection. At first I though the difference was due to the different versions of flash-player the two use, but then I noticed differences also when playing an HTML 5 video. The difference is that Google-Chrome either refuses to play the video at all (flash-player requiring videos) or stops in the middle (HTML 5 videos). Firefox, on the other hand, pauses the video and audio as it fills its buffer, and then continues playing the two until it next has to fill its buffer. Watching videos with the poorer Internet connection clearly leaves much to be desired, but in my opinion, trying to watch with Firefox is definitely less irritating.



The State of Linux (1 September, 2016)

It seems to me, as a Linux desktop enduser, that Linux development seems to go in phases, alternating between periods where its future development seems clear, and those where it seems uncertain. During one period of uncertainty, sound under Linux seemed very problematical, as did wireless networking. Today, I remember well having had numerous problems with sound, but the last time I had a problem is so far n the past that I can no longer remember when it was. Similarly, today, even Linux installers, not to mention the fully-installed OSs, have adequate wireless support.

Having said that, it seems to me that Linux is again entering a period of uncertainty. The uncertainty today is not because things don't work as designed, it is because there are so many options available for doing things.

Please don't misinterpret what I say. I am not saying that having options is bad. only that too many options in confusing. When I started worrying about these things, before even the days of Linux, the choices were between Berkely Unix or ATT Linux. Since they were expensive, similar enough, and came with whatever computer you bought, you never considered switching. In the early days of Linux, which I sort of missed out on, so I may not be accurate in my assessment, I think the main differences were in how you managed software installation, whether you used applications packaged in ".deb" files, or ".rpm" files. The desktop environment was similar, using gnome-2 to design windows. When I re-entered the world of *nix, the two most popular distributions, Fedora and Ubuntu abandoned the gnome-2 environment, Fedora going with gnome-3 and ubuntu with Unity. If the Linux world had split into we love gnome-3 and we love Unity, that maybe would have been manageable, but by far the largest group was we don't like change. Seeing as gnome-2 had been abandoned, the race was on to see how one could mimic the gnome-2/Windows-XP environment with active projects. This lead to development of new distributions and new desktop environments, among the most popular being Cinnamon and Mate. Not wanting to lose adherents to the newer distributions, the older distributions started providing different "flavors" or "spins" for their adherents. You could, for example, install the LXDE distribution, or the Ubuntu LXDE flavor called Lububtu. The is even a GNOME-3 Ubuntu flavor called Ubuntu GNOME, not to mention Ubuntu MATE or Ubuntu with a Cinnamon desktop. Fedora, similarly, has lots of "spins".



Question: Is qterminal a decent terminal emulator? (23 Mar, 2017)

Lubuntu-17.04

I have been using LXQt as my daily desktop environment since the start of 2017 and I think it makes for a really nice desktop. It includes qterminal for use as a terminal emulator. For reasons I am not knowledgeable about, perhaps to insure qterminal works with more than the LXQt desktop, the LXQt developers do not have complete control over the independent qterminal project. Thus, as of this writing, LXQt desktop is at version 0.11.1 and qterminal at version 0.7.1. Having said that LXQt is excellent, what about qterminal? I think qterminal is quite good and meets most of my needs. There is only one feature I would like to see implemented. qterminal allows one the option of having qterminal remember its size between invocations and also to remember its position. I would like to see a third option added and that is the ability to define a default size and a right-click menu option to reset the terminal to that size. Unless there is a general trend away from it, it might be nice to have the standard --geometry option implemented.



Question: What should be the target audience of Linux distributions? (1 Jul, 2017)

Lubuntu-17.04

Obviously, we don't want every Linux distribution to have the same target audience. That would be wasteful and repetitive. I am writing this blog entry because I do not think enough distributions target my needs. What are they? I want the best OS for doing simple things on my desktop/laptop pc. I would also like something simple enough and robust enough that I can show my less technically-minded friends how to maintain a similar system for themselves.



Question: Which distributions meet my needs? (1 Sep, 2017, updated 1 Jan. 2018)

Lubuntu-17.04

The previous blog entry dealt with target audiences. Interestingly, a large number of distributions target users with ancient computers. Initially this seemed to me to not be a very propitious path to follow. It sounded to me that this was akin to tring to establish a successful automotive company to help people whose model-T Fords were starting to wear out. It sounds like a noble motive, but one doomed to be less financially successful each successive year. On the other hand. forgetting about the automotive analogy, it occurred to some of us that a distribution that worked reasonably on an ancient computer should be lightning fast on a modern one. Some of us don't want a distribution that could show dancing icons while waiting for a application to launch, but preferred one in which there would be no wait.

The modern laptop I am using is an Asus gaming computer, model GL752VW, and I have tried to install and use a number of distributions on it. The problem is that the laptop uses an Nvidia GeForce Optimus GLX960M video card. That video card does 3D graphics blazingly fast. Using all Lubuntu versions since 17.04, I have been able to run glxspheres64 at greater than 2000 fps. The problem is that, despite reports to the contrary, very few linux distributions besides Ubuntu are able to support the Nvidia GLX960M video card. I have tried Antergos, an Arch derivative, and SparkyLinux, a Debian derivative, and Manjaro, as well as less aggressively, a number of other distributions. Many of them claimed to support proprietary Nvidia drivers, and I got a few of them to work temporarily, but only Ubuntu worked reliably enough to use. I had SparkyLinux working long enough to run glxspheres64, but it used mesa instead of nvidia-prime and ran glxsperes only at about 60 fps before it died altogether.

Ubuntu-17.10

By 1 Nov, 2018, I had changed my mind about Lubuntu. It seemed to me to be a distribution that had lost its focus and was no longer sure in which direction it was heading. I also discovered that Ubuntu-17.10, which comes by default with the GNOME desktop, is a excellent distribution in which to install and run the LXQt desktop, which is my favorite. I know the Ubuntu has come under considerable criticism in recent years, some of it deserved, but I keep returning to it because, in my experience, it is by far the easiest distribution in which to install proprietary nvidia Optimus drivers. Despite numerous reports of solutions for other distributions, I have never gotten any of them to work reliably for my computer for more than a brief interval.



PureOS Carries the Day (1 June, 2018)

PureOS-8

PureOS is a linux distribution that does not even break the top 100 in Distrowatch's measure of popularity. It is a rolling distribution based upon Debian 8 Testing. I am not sure exactly what that means so long after Debian 9's release, but I suspect it means that the release is similar to Debian 9 Stable. I found PureOS extremely easy to install, offering a much more pleasant esperience than when I tried to install Debian itself a few years ago. Like Debian, PureOS uses systemd. PureOS has fairly frequent software updates and it seems to keep fairly up-to-date in terms of the version numbers of its software. Furthermore, I have found it extremely stable. What is special, possibly unique, about this distribution is that it contains no proprietary binary code and seemingly will not allow it to be installed. I have tried twice to install the proprietary nvidia graphics driver, and, as PureOS's documentation clearly suggested should happen, I did not succeed. The distribution also does not have any 32-bit software. Aside from that, the PureOS repositories seem to have nearly the entire range of Debian apps. I even succeeded in installing and using virtualbox by adding a Debian apt-repository. I am not sure what would happen if you tried to run a 32-bit application in virtualbox. PureOS reminds me of a joke adapted from many similar situations. "What is the worst thing about PureOS? It is boring - there is very little to fiddle with or fix". "What is the best thing about PureOS? It is reliable - there is very little to fiddle with or fix".

Seriously though, there are some down-sides to using PureOS. Very few browsers seem to qualify as not using bits and pieces of proprietary binary code. So unless your favorite browser is Purebrowser or Epiphany, you will not find it in the PureOS repos. I have not tried installing something like chrome, chromium, or firefox from a Debian repository. The main PureOS browser, Purebrowser, is basically an improved Firefox, and thus shares with Firefox it's rather cumbersome bookmark handling. But it is signifcantly less buggy than Firefox was the last time I tried Firefox, so it is possible to get comfortable with Purebrowser's slightly cumbersome bookmarking procedures. Purebrowser also has much fewer options for plugins. On the other hand, native password management is fine and their version of uBlock Origin, an "adblock-plus"-like ad blocker also works well. Ghostery is available to help prevent tracking. Other privacy-oriented plugins like NoScript and CookieMonster also are available. I have yet to find, in any OS, a single browser that could open all webpages. But, on-the-other hand, I have not found any webpage that cannot be opened with either Purebrowser or Epiphany, PureOS's two browsers. A rather irritating shortcoming of purebrowser was that initially it failed to process video sound correctly on several webpages, the most notable being videos of the Wall Street Journal. The solution for the Wall Street Journal and and NFL.com videos was to navigate to about:config and change general.useragent.compatMode.firefox from the default false to true. This also corrected wsj's problems opening a new link in same tab. I think the original (now corrected) problems were because of wsj's extensive use of jsons.

Another slight downside to PureOS is that while I said it largely works, we would not be talking about Linux if it was not necessary to ocassionally seek help. I have found it easier to find help for Ubuntu-derived OSs than for Debian-derived ones, even though technically, Ubuntu itself is Debian-derived.

Another downside, arguably, is the lack of many proprietary drivers. The proprietary Nvidia GeForce driver is one of the best around. I do not play video games and aside from the tremendous enhancement in frames per second running glxspheres and other gpu benchmarking programs (in Ubuntu), I did not find any practical enhancement running other video applications, such as vlc, with the proprietary GeForce Nvidia driver.

As stated above, two big advantages of PureOS I have found is its up-to-dateness, if there is such a word, and its robustness. Some examples of this I have seen are its ability to always easily compile and execute the latest versions of LXQt desktop (currently 0.13), and also audacious (even 3.10-beta1).

All told, I think that PureOS's committment to privacy and rock-solid reliability, coupled with a huge number of available applications, carries the day, so that for the time being, I am committed to PureOS as my primary OS. I wiped my computer of Microsoft Windows years ago and after installing PureOS, I found a suitable replacement for the one 32-bit program I had used wine for. Finally, even though the default desktop environment for PureOS is GNOME, my favorite desktop environment, LXQt, has been extremely easy to reliably install and use instead.



Purism (22 Aug, 2018)

Purism is a corporation that makes computers, currently is trying to make a privacy-respecting mobile phone, and is largely responsible for the PureOS linux distribution that I raved about above. This blog will be solely about goals and approaches. I am not technically knowledgeable enough to dispute those who claim, with great righteousness, that Purism can never reach its goal. I will tell you upfront that this is going to be a very positive endorsement of Purism and I will try to explain for you my reasoning. First, I respect their ultimate goal. Second, I understand and endorse their approach to reaching it. Third, I appreciate their business model. Finally, I am impressed with the progress they have made in the short time I have followed them. I will say more about these below, but first we should discuss some definitions. In describing the kind of phone Purism is attempting to develop, I have called it privacy-respecting. It has also been described as freedom-respecting, or respectful of your digital rights. Ever since Richard Stallman and his crew developed the notion of free software, they have emphasized that they mean free as in freedom, not necessary as in price. The problem, no fault of Richard's or Purism, is that the words freedom and rights are very difficult ones, meaning different things to different people. I am not going to go there. Purism's CEO, Todd Weaver, has made it very clear what he thinks our digital rights are, and I am not going into a philosophical discussion of rights or responsibilities. I am going just to discuss one thing, because initially I believed it until I realized who silly that kind of thinking was. If you want to criticize Purism for not making it easy for you to do things they don't believe are safe, my advice to you is "Get over it" or "Don't use PureOS". I have come to believe that Todd Weaver and his colleagues at Purism know better than I what is safe and what isn't.

I also respect that Purism does not overstate what they have accomplished. They do not claim to have built the most freedom-respecting computer of all time, only the most freedom-respecting computer using post-2008 technology. They also are very clear on the distinction between bypassing potential threats and deactivating them entirely.

A clear example of this is the issue of secure boot. When UEFI was championed by Microsoft before Purism even existed, everyone, including the major players, Redhat's Fedora and Canonical's Ubuntu realized the threat this was to the free software movement. But both major players chose solutions not to mitigate the problem, but to maximize their revenue. As a result, UEFI continues to dominate the field and, in my experience, it has gotten increasingly difficult to install free software without using UEFI. Purism's early computers also did not have a solution. But their most recent ones, do not use UEFI, but instead use both coreboot and TPM. Their version of coreboot still has a small amount of unknown binary code, which sadly caused the libreboot people initially to castigate them. I hope the libreboot people will eventually refrain from attacking Purism (perhaps this has already happened), but will instead work with them to eliminate the need for any binary code. I am sure that once the Purism and coreboot and libreboot people succeed, Fedora and Ubuntu also will jump on the bandwagon. My only point is that we should be applauding the former's efforts, and support them as leaders promoting really free software and hardware.

Okay, so I have opened the Pandora's box of free (as in freedom) hardware. Purism has not claimed to have eliminated all binary and proprietary blobs from their hardware. But they understand the importance of heading in that direction and deserve to be supported, not criticized, for not having succeeded 100% yet.

I promised to discuss Purism's business model. Instead of investing large amounts of their own money in grandiose schemes, they get an idea, estimate what it will cost to bring it to fruition and produce X number of units, and then they crowd-fund it. If there is not the interest they thought there would be, presumably the project doesn't go forward and nothing but some time and effort is lost. If there is intesest, the project goes forward, pre-funded, and hopefully succeeds. So far, this model has worked for them. I have put my money where my mouth is. I already have paid for and am awaiting my Purism Librem-5 phone (hopefully in early 2019) to replace my Android phone, which besides having a lousy OS, violates everything I believe in. I have not coughed up the money to replace my relatively new Asus 17-inch gaming computer with a Librem-15, but when the former starts to feel old, I intend to do so, unless it seems better just to buy a monitor and drive it with my phone.




Emmes Technologies
Updated 30 Aug, 2018

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