Sunday, March 18, 2018

Looking at one Linux Distro for home

At home we use Linux on almost all of our computers.  The only exception right now is one laptop with Windows 10 so I can run my tax software.  Each machine has its own Linux that best works for that device.  That is getting to be a bit of a pain as some packages are not available for some distros (like the Pale Moon browser).

My netbook (Acer Aspire One D255E) I bought years ago as there was a chance I would be traveling and I wanted a light weight computer that would allow me to quickly pick up email, browse, chat with family.  The machine originally had Windows 7 starter and that was quickly replaced with Linux Lubuntu.  I picked that as it was very light weight and quickly launched.  While Lubuntu is a great package there are things I couldn't do easily and I had to write bash scripts to do those tasks (like turn off the touch pad when logging in).  It also would not play one of the browser based games I play (Runescape) as the latest Firefox and Chrome disabled the ability to launch Java which is why I am using Pale Moon.  I normally don't play online with the machine (which is what I am composing this blog entry with), but, it is nice to have if I start to travel again.

My wife's laptop is running Netrunner as that worked on machine as other distros had problems with the video card or the wireless network card.  It is a great distro, and worked well on her machine.

We have a media tower in the living room hooked up so that we can stream shows, plug in USB sticks for picture shows and a quick way to browse the net without having to bring down one of the laptops.  It is running PCLinuxOS and that is also an excellent distro as just about everything is there (including Pale Moon).  It is also what I am running on my HP laptop and it just works and is not too bad on system resource usage.

I wanted to consolidate everything with PCLinux, but, when I tried it on the netbook it would either crash as start or run so slow it was almost useless.  Not a problem as I could always use Lubuntu if I could get PCLinuxOS to work on the wife's machine.  When I did the launch it would crash on the video card that the machine had and I was not willing to play around with settings to make it work in case my wife did something and break the setup.

Next up i tried Linux Mint on the netbook.  I figured if it worked well there it should work well on the other machines.  It did launch and worked very well.  It is a bit slower that Lubuntu, but, not enough to be a deal breaker.  It recognized everything and just worked.  I proceeded to make a complete backup of all my folders and then reimaged the machine with Mint.  A few obervations:
  • Pale moon isn't available, but, their web site does give instructions on how to download & install.  The only quirk I had was when I tried to install with my non-admin account it would accept the password for the admin account (more about that later).  I signed out and then launched the admin account and did the install there without an issue.
  • The first account you define when starting up is by default the ADMIN (root) account so be very aware of that.  That is what I had to log in as when doing the Pale moon installation from.
  • There are a lot of patches so when you launch for the first time do it from admin and get everything patched up.  Once you get that done define a regular account that you will use every day.
  • It is slower than Lubuntu so be patient at times.  When I log in there is about a 15-20 second wait from when I supply my userid and password and when the main screen shows unlike Lubuntu which takes a couple of seconds.  The same is true for logoff.
  • There is a setting for mouse where you can go to the touchpad and click the option to turn it off when it detects an external mouse.  This is much nicer than Lubuntu where I had a custom bash script written to toggle the mouse off.
  • The screen is smaller than a normal laptop and some of the screens do not fit and cannot be resized to fit.  I found a workaround by holding the [ALT] key and holding the left mouse button I can move the window around.
  • Most software you need is automatically installed.  The only thing was the browser I use and then the XSANE package for when I scan documents.  It does come with Scanlite that I may try later on.
Later on I will have to plug in the USB stick with Mint into my wife's machine and see how it all works.  I am hoping that it 'just works' and then I can image her machine to Mint.  I have already done a full backup of all her documents.

Last task will be later in the evening on the media box and re-image that machine to Mint.  I don't have to back up anything there as we don't save files, but, use the Internet for content.

End result is that I should be down to just two distros at most (PCLinuxOS and Mint).

Update 1:

Jane's machine has been updated to Mint.  I still have to finish configuration, but, the system boots up and her account is active.  Next up is to restore the backup of her documents, install Thunderbird for email and a number of games she likes to play.  The only machine left to convert is the media box as I think I will leave my main machine alone (PCLinuxOS).

Android and Facebook app

After a long wait Facebook has finally launched their lite version for Android.  The old app was not too bad, but, massive and slow.  On the tablet it wasn't all that bad, but, on my cell phone it slowed the device so much I logged out, purged the cache and stopped running.  I was running the messenger lite so I could chat with some people when I was away and had only my phone, but, Facebook itself I wouldn't launch.

I installed the lite app on both my tablet and phone and it appears to be running much faster.  The options I use are all there and whatever they took away I don't use and don't miss. The one thing it does is when you click on messages it goes to Messenger (or Messenger lite which I use) and not the internal version.  When it is installed on the phone you need to be patient for a minute as it appears to download some content and may generate a message that it crashed (it didn't).

On my tablet Facebook was using 295 megs of storage space and even when not running it used 38 megs of memory.  The Lite version uses 7.7 megs of storage and 4.3 megs of memory.  On the phone it shows using 6.5 megs of storage and 1.7 megs of memory.

One warning, when you search for 'Facebook lite' in the play store make sure the  author (below the software title) shows 'Facebook' so you get the legit version!

Facebook Lite in Play Store

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Battery issues and the 4th & 5th R

In the last week Apple showed us how not to 'extend' battery life in a machine.  There will be a lot of experts and Apple fans who will debate both sides, but, here is my observations of the issue.

  • Batteries in all devices degrade over time.  Give the users a tool to allow them to select the power options and explain in simple terms the implications of using them. I have an Android device and when I unplug the machine I turn on the power saving options so I can get a longer life out of the device until I plug back in.  I was informed of the power options for my phone and tablet and I was given a choice to make use of that option!
  • Don't make system changes in the background hoping the users won't notice, they will!  Be up front and explain the issue as there are enthusiasts who will find out and let the whole world know.  If there is an issue that requires changing hardware settings let us know, communicate the issue and what the options are.
  • Don't overcharge us for parts.  I understand and agree you need to make a profit, but, the prices at times seems to be set so it is cheaper to buy an new device.

Everyone knows what the three 'R's are.  Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  I believe there are two others.
  • Repair.  Don't make it difficult to repair and only at the authorized dealers with over inflated prices.  Nothing is a bigger turn off in my not so humble opinion than being forced into this option.  Make it a bit easier to repair the devices and open up who can make repairs to those devices.  You can set up training and certification (at a reasonable price) for this and then let them compete based on price, service and quality.  As a side effect of making it easier to repair it also will make it easier to recycle the device as it can be more easily disassembled into parts for recycling.
  • Replace.  Make it easy for us to replace the batteries and screens in our devices.  Replaceable batteries is one of the first things I check for when I buy a new device.  I do this not just for phones, I also do this for ALL devices (tablets & laptops especially) that have batteries.  I don't want to buy a device and when the battery is failing either go for an expensive repair or forced to buy a new device as we cannot get a battery.
Over the years I have done various upgrades and repairs to my laptops and cell phones.  It was a simple thing to pop out the old failed battery and then replace it.  For my netbook it gave me the option to do a major upgrade for the battery and I replaced it with a much bigger battery that allows me to work on the machine for most of the day unplugged.