A Month with Manjaro 0.8.13

Greetings, Linux users old and new!

I’ve not posted a thing here in at least a couple of years, but I’m feeling a desire to share my desktop Linux experiences once again.

Over the past two and a half years I’ve been running Zorin OS (6.2) on my main desktop computer. This is by far the longest period of time I’ve used any one Linux distro. And the reason for this is, I had Zorin configured just the way I wanted it. It looked beautiful and worked flawlessly. I’ve had no problems in all that time. I had all the applications I like and everything worked perfectly!

But then, over the last few months, I started feeling the sluggish stirrings of the old distro-hopping fever slowly returning. Well, that’s not quite true. I’m always looking at the changes in some of my favorite Linux distros, and new distros sprouting up here and there, and I can’t help but wonder how they would run on my 5 to 6 year old AMD Desktop machine. As updated versions of distros come out, I’ve downloaded and tried out many of my old favorites. But because of newer kernels and my not-so-Linux-fiendly hardware, many of the new versions of Linux did not run well with my graphics card.

But after reading and watching numerous reviews and videos about the ever-changing world of Linux distro development, I started becoming more and more curious about Manjaro Linux. I’ve always used Debian/Ubuntu-based Linux operating systems. Manjaro is based upon Arch Linux, which is fast and light and been around a long time, but also has a reputation of being much more difficult to set up and use for us ‘non-geeky’ Linux users.

But Manjaro is quite a different beast altogether from it’s parent. The Manjaro developers have taken all the package-building, command line tediousness out of using Arch, and created a very user-friendly, gui-driven desktop experience. They’ve created system tools that are simple and intuitive and made the power of Arch Linux accessible for even the least-experienced computer users. So about four weeks ago, after trying out a couple of Manjaro Live DVDs on my computer with no problems at all, I crazily took the plunge and installed it!

Why would I install a totally new operating system over one that worked perfectly for all my needs for two-and-a-half years, and still had a year-and-a-half of support left, you might ask? I really don’t know. I must be crazy, but the thrill and challenge of trying something new, based on Arch instead of Ubuntu, was just too tempting for me! So after making triple-sure I had everything backed up, and that all of the software that I regularly use was available through the Manjaro repositories, I installed Manjaro Xfce addition. So here is my experience so far:

The installation was very quick and easy, and everything went great with copying my backup /home settings and preferences. I have a separate Data partition, which was untouched during installation and made the process very simple. Reinstalling all the applications I had on my Zorin OS installation was wonderfully easy, using the Manjaro Xfce package manager, Pamac. Manjaro maintains it’s own software repositories, which have all the open-source software you could want, plus a few more obscure applications that I like; and everything is the newest version! Manjaro users can also access the Arch User Repository (AUR), for anything that might not yet be available for Manjaro, but that is generally discouraged. I did install two applications through the AUR, and Pamac built the programs and installed them with no problems at all. Installing software is point and click, just like using Synaptic in Ubuntu-based distros. Below is my current desktop. I decided to move the Xfce panel to the top of the screen and installed Docky to launch apps at the bottom. Plus I have Rainlendar desktop calendar and Conky-Manger top right.

Manjaro_Screenshot

After using Manjaro for a while, though, I did encounter some graphics glitches, and twice my system froze and I had to reboot. Now here is another amazing thing about Manjaro: the Manjaro Settings Manager, within the Manjaro Xfce Settings Manager, lets you install and uninstall several Linux kernels, as well as graphics drivers. After experimenting a little, I found that using the proprietary Nvidia driver instead of the open source driver, and downgrading the kernel to the 3.12 series, my graphics problems are gone. Just click, click and reboot!

Manjaro_SettingsManager

I had a couple of other small software glitches, which I posted on the Manjaro forums and found quick fixes to in a very short time. The Manjaro forums and online documentation are excellent! Also, getting my HP printer working in Manjaro was quick and painless. Since the first couple of days, I’ve had no problems at all with Manjaro Xfce. I really couldn’t be happier with this operating system!

Some other perks of this distro: Manjaro comes in two main official flavors – KDE and Xfce. But they also offer community editions with other desktop environments like Mate, Cinnamon, Enlightenment, Gnome, LXDE, Openbox, LXQt, even Deepin! The software selection is huge, cutting-edge, and the  software managers are dead-simple to use, making an Arch-based system available for users with a minimum of computer skills. And Manjaro is a rolling release, so there is (theoretically) no need to install a newer version; by installing updates when they appear in the update manager, the OS and software is always upgraded to the newest version.

After one month using Manjaro, I am quite glad I took the plunge. For a more thorough look, please check out these video reviews:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3PBWb_m2jA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEymH5klxgg

Coming soon: Linux Lite keeps getting better!

Customizing Your Desktop Linux Operating System

One of the many things I like about Linux-based operating systems is the ability to make them look and behave the way you want them to.

I’m a visually-oriented person, and I enjoy being able to change the way my computer’s graphical interface looks. When using Windows or the Mac OS there are some options or third-party tools to change the look of the OS, but they are still pretty limited compared to what’s possible with Linux.

Zorin_Desktop_9_29_13Zorin_stock

The first picture above is of my main computer using Zorin OS 6, which uses the Zorin desktop environment with conky manager, a weather screenlet and Rainlendar desktop calendar app that I’ve added. The bottom picture is of the default Zorin OS desktop without modifications.

First off, Linux operating systems can use numerous different Desktop Environments and Window Managers. Some of the most popular being: Gnome, KDE, Xfce, LXDE, UnityCinnamon, MATE, Enlightenment, Razor-qt, Openbox, and Fluxbox, among many others that are more geeky and obscure.  I’m still not sure what the difference is between ‘window manager‘ and ‘desktop environment‘, (for example: I thought Enlightenment, or E-17, was a desktop environment as well as libraries for creating applications; but on the website it’s called a window manager), but they can drastically change the look of the desktop GUI and the way the user interacts with the operating system. There are an increasing number of Linux distros that have forked off of a traditional DE (desktop environment) to add more features or improve performance, like Cinnamon or MATE, or created their own new DE.

Here’s a nice web page on Renewable PCs that provides an overview of many of the above-mentioned desktop environments.

Another customization tool you can try are Screenlets, which I mentioned above, for adding information about numerous things in graphical form to your desktop for Gnome/GTK-based operating systems. Also see Here and Here for additional info on screenlets. As I mentioned in a previous post, Conky Manager is also another way to add more information to your Linux desktop in different visual formats. Fun stuff!

Another great way to spice up the look of your computer is to add different Themes and Icons. If you use any Gnome/GTK-based DE, you can find community-designed icons and themes Here, or if you use KDE, try Here, or for the Enlightenment-based distros, have a look Here. Although Bodhi Linux has their own customization resources Here to make installing E-17 themes quite easy!

There are also numerous ways to search for and launch applications in Linux distros. Different DEs have different launcher menus from within their panel bars, and there are a few nice Dock-like applications you can use that have varying degrees of customization options. (The Zorin OS panel is a customized Avant Window Navigator in panel mode).  Check out Docky and Cairo-Dock too. They can be found in most Linux distro’s repositories through the App Center or Synaptic Package Manager.

But really the sky’s the limit for changing the look and feel of your computing experience in Linux. From the complex to the sublimely simple:

Desktops_complex_simpleA KDE desktop with plasma widgets or a default Crunchbang Linux desktop with Openbox.

Ubuntu_BodhiWhether you prefer Ubuntu’s Unity Desktop or Bodhi Linux with Enlightenment, there are many ways to change your Linux distro to accommodate your workflow and visual taste.

The possibilities can be a little overwhelming, but looking around the web and reading articles from Linux-related web sites can give you lots of ideas to spice up your stock vanilla operating system and even increase your productivity. Just finding some different desktop pictures/wallpapers can provide a refreshing visual change if you’ve been staring at the same old screen for a while!

So have some fun, and turn your Linux computer OS into your own personal work of art!

Four good lite Linux distros for older computers

I discovered another nice Xubuntu-based operating system a few months back, and yesterday I installed it on my ancient Dell D610 experimental laptop. It’s called Linux Lite. Check out the new website.

I’ve been using Zorin OS Lite on this machine for a few weeks, which is based on Lubuntu/LXDE. Also very nice, but I find the LXDE panel is not quite as configurable as the Xfce panel. There are not as many applets available (like weather forecast) and Radio Tray would not work in it on Zorin Lite; but strangely, it does work in the Peppermint OS 3 LXDE panel, which I have installed on my HP Mini netbook. Strange.

Anyway, though LXDE uses a little less RAM than Xfce, I find it’s not that much of a difference on my 8-year-old Dell, even with only 756 Mb. of RAM. I got Linux Lite installed and set up in pretty short time, and it’s quite perky and useful. I like it a lot! Of course for older hardware, Peppermint OS and Zorin OS Lite are also good choices.

You also might want to check out LXLE, a new Lubuntu-based distro that is fast and attractive. I also installed this on the Dell laptop a few days ago. It has a unique application-script-thingy called Fast Forecast that places an icon in the panel that gives a detailed weather forecast. In my case, the forecast was for a city a couple of hundred miles away; but I was able to edit the script and put in our zip code, and then it worked fine! The only reason I decided to go with Linux Lite is that the Dell D610 would not go into sleep mode (Suspend) using LXLE. I searched the web for hours and tried some things, but Suspend just wouldn’t work on that particular hardware! Oh well, you never know how a distro will work until you actually try it out. It’s good to shop around! That’s the great thing about Live Linux CDs.

I’ll leave you with my Linux Lite desktop with Mediterranean Night theme. It comes with Mediterrean Light, but I just prefer those darker themes. I also used the simple Conky script from LXLE on my Linux Lite. Thanks, LXLE!

Linux_Lite_Screenshot

Voyager Linux reviewed on The Linux Action Show

I just checked out this week’s Linux Action Show and noticed that their main segment was a review of the the top 3 Xfce distros as recommended by their viewers. Since I’m a big fan of Xfce these days, I was curious to see what their favorite distros were. And it turns out their top favorite is also the distro I’ve been using on our main machine for many months: Voyager Linux! Below is a link to this episode. The Xfce review portion of the video starts at about 44 minutes in; with the review of Voyager Linux starting at 50:34.

http://www.jupiterbroadcasting.com/24671/best-xfce-distro-las-s23e07/

My thanks to the guys at Jupiter Broadcasting and The Linux Action Show for putting on such a great, informative weekly broadcast about all things Linux! I hope to return soon with recommendations for a few of my favorite Linux applications.

Bye for now!

Xfce is Becoming my Favorite Linux Desktop Environment!

I’m such a fickle Linux user! A few weeks ago Kubuntu was my Linux distro of choice and I was loving the K Desktop Environment. I also had Xubuntu (actually the modified version of Xubuntu called Voyager) installed on my kids desktop computer and my old Dell laptop, and I was becoming very fond of using Xfce.

Then about two weeks ago, just as I was preparing to install the new Kubuntu 12.04 on our main computer, Kubuntu started behaving very strangely. When I’d reboot, it would start in  my wife’s secondary user account instead of mine. It happened every time, and I’ve never known any Linux distro to do this. There have been other odd little irregularities while using KDE/Kubuntu, but nothing this strange. Although back in late February, after I’d been using Kubuntu 11.10 for about two months, the system started freaking out with some weird visual anomalies; items in the control panel disappearing and huge RAM usage, and I had decided to re-install it. Everything was good for a while, but now it was acting weird to the point where the system was becoming unusable again! Having to reinstall a distro twice in four months was just too much for me. So I thought about the one distro I’ve been using on the other computers for months and finding nothing I didn’t like about it; and I decided to install Voyager, which just came out with the new version based on Xubuntu 12.04.

I loved the beautiful look of the KDE Plasma Desktop very much, and it’s configurability and many of the native KDE applications. But after using Voyager/Xubuntu for a while now I totally love this operating system and Xfce! The operating system is very quick! I’m only using the native Xfce compositing instead of installing Compiz, Metacity or Emerald; and I must say; even though I’ve always enjoyed fancy desktop effects and fading, wobbly windows and all the other eye candy, I’ve found I really don’t miss it all that much. In Xubuntu windows snap open and close and applications launch quick as a wink. RAM and CPU usage is much lower with Voyager. And the basic compositing lets you adjust window transparency and shadows. The Xfce panel also supports transparency and can be configured with a right-click, very much like Gnome 2. In fact I find that I prefer Xfce to Gnome 2 or Gnome 3. It’s simple yet gives you many options. It has a nice Settings Manager, themes, icons, and is very responsive. The Voyager remix of Xubuntu also comes with a great set of pre-installed apps and a wonderful Conky Control app with numerous pre-made setups that makes using Conky a snap! See the screenshot. (I switched AWN (Avant Window Navigator) bottom dock for Docky, though Voyager’s default AWN looks cooler). And I just upgraded from Xfce 4.8 that comes in Xubuntu 12.04 to the new version, 4.10. It went without a hitch and works great!

I have to admit: I feel a little odd about running the same distro on three different machines! I love the choices with using Linux-based operating systems, and there are several distros that I really like and are quite different from each other (Bodhi Linux, Mint, SolusOS, Kubuntu, Pinguy OS, Linux Deepin, to name a few). But since running Xubuntu for many months now on different machines I’ve come to enjoy Xfce immensely, and Voyager is the best Xfce distro I’ve used. It’s fast, stable, attractive and easy to use. It just feels comfortable!

For those of you who like Gnome 3, or have been trying to like it; The new version of PinguyOS will be released shortly. I’ve been checking out Pinguy’s refinements to Gnome Shell, which will be their default Desktop Environment, and it looks promising. More to come…

Xubuntu 12.04 Review

Voyager 12.04: The Beautiful Xfce Distro from France

Voyager 12.04 LTS – Xfce/Xubuntu

Voyager: A Beautiful French Remix of Xubuntu

A few weeks ago, in my endless quest for new and useful Linux distros, I came across a very groovy remastered version of Xubuntu (Ubuntu + Xfce Desktop Manager) called Voyager 11.10. The website is in French, but you will notice a pop-down menu to translate it into English or numerous other languages. The Google translation is a bit quirky (pretty funny, actually) in English, but you’ll get the gist of it.

Over the last few months, while searching for alternative Desktop Environments to use instead of Gnome 3 or Unity, I’ve become very fond of Xfce. It uses less system resources than Gnome or KDE and thus runs quicker on older hardware or computers with less RAM. For this reason I installed Xubuntu on our almost 8-year-old Dell D610 laptop that gets daily use in the kitchen for web browsing/email/internet radio listening. It’s a faithful old machine, but only has 756 Mb of RAM; so Xubuntu runs pretty well on it. I’ve also run Bodhi Linux, WattOS, MoonOS and a couple of other distros on it.  But one day I heard about Voyager 11.10 on the PinguyOS forum as one of someone’s top 3 ‘perfect’ distros. So I downloaded the Live Voyager ISO image and installed it on my ‘testing’ computer; a used HP Compaq desktop machine that is about seven years old, which the kids are now using. And I was very pleased and impressed by the numerous great tweaks the Voyager people have made to the standard Xubuntu experience.

Instead of the bottom panel with launcher icons that comes with standard Xfce; Voyager has the Avant Window Navigator (AWN) installed instead. See my screenshot above. Voyager also comes with a nice, unobtrusive little conky setup along the top edge of the screen to monitor hard drive space, RAM and cpu usage, etc. There are also numerous applications and utilities installed that are not standard on Xubuntu; like Synapse, Zoho Cloud Office Web Apps, Cheese Webcam app, Minitube (a nice way to watch Youtube videos without using Flash), and one I use a lot: Radio Tray, among many other tweaks and Firefox extensions. Flash and mp3 playback are also pre-configured. Oh, and the developer of Voyager is apparently really into travel photography; it comes with a lot of nice wallpaper photos!

Voyager comes with a default Ubuntu Ambiance theme and has all the functionality of the Xfce panel and menus. I’ve really come to love Xfce lately. Because of its ease and configurability, I think I now prefer it to the old Gnome 2 experience! And Voyager is a stylish and useful variation on Xfce/ Xubuntu. I would recommend giving it a try on any system, but especially on an aging computer.

Voyager is now installed on our laptop. On a final note: last week the trusty Dell laptop screen stopped working; nothing but dull psychedelic flashy colors. So I hooked up a spare 17 inch LCD monitor and rebooted. Then in the Xfce System Settings under ‘Display’ it showed both the Laptop monitor and the Dell LCD monitor and I was able to enable the one and disable the laptop screen. So now we actually have a larger, nicer monitor for the old laptop!

To leave you, here’s a short video of a preview of Voyager 12.04 that will be coming out at the end of April (along with Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Kubuntu/Lubuntu). It comes with a new conky configuration manager that looks really cool!