My Mom Runs Linux!

Moms Running Linux

People are coming to Linux in droves these days. They each have their own reasons. It could be a desire to get out from under the thumb of proprietary software’s limitations, privacy concerns or just plain old economics. Some of them find a whole new world of computing happiness and others walk away frustrated. Why is that?

How you approach learning something new usually will determine just how successful you are at learning it. It’s all about attitude. Learning is a journey and those who cling to the fear of not reaching a pleasant destination usually quit before they start and stay right where they are. Those who are born with an innate curiosity and a sense of adventure often find that learning something new brings great rewards. Thus, they are constantly looking for new things to learn. It’s the naturally curious ones who tend to do well with Linux.

If you sit a child in front of a Linux computer, they usually just start using it. It’s an amazing thing to watch. Kids are curious by nature and they also have the added advantage of not having any preconceived notions when it comes to how a computer ought to work. I have found, on the other hand, that the hardest kind of person to teach Linux is the crusty old Windows power user. They are lost from the start and tend to get easily frustrated when they come across something they don’t understand. Their outbursts of anger can be quite animated! The Internet’s public forums are full of vitriol flung at the Linux Community by these sorts of folks. I learned a long time ago that the best way to deal with them is to simply ignore them. The psychological reasons for their bitter negativity are beyond my expertise to deal with, therefore, I don’t. What I try to do is focus on the positive and help folks who want to learn.

For me, the most important aspect of Open Source software is the freedom it gives users. Freedom isn’t just for those who crunch code, either. The average user who is just trying to do something with a computer benefits as well. I have helped hundreds of people to get started with Linux and I’ve heard from very few who didn’t continue with it. Many of them send me notes telling me how much fun they are having and how much more they can do with the very same computer that used to run a proprietary OS. This flies right in the face of those both within and without of the Linux world who constantly bemoan the fact that there is still software that is awesome on Windows and Mac that isn’t yet available for Linux. For many, it doesn’t really seem to matter at all, though. Once they let go of what they knew, they find new ways of doing what they need to get done and many say that they find the Linux alternatives simpler and more logical. Their words, not mine…

I didn’t really understand just how profound the power of Freedom was until I saw it in action with my very own mother. It is a story worth telling because it exemplifies my point. Here goes:

My mother had never even sat down in front of a computer until she was 68 years old. In 2009 she decided it was time for her to get on the Information Superhighway and so, with my help, she bought a shiny new Dell Inspiron small form factor desktop. The machine arrived loaded with Windows XP but since Windows 7 was the new movin’ groovin’ thing, Dell sent an installation DVD for the new Windows 7 as well. I was living far away at the time but I flew in and installed Windows 7 for her and got her going. She had her “Windows 7 for Dummies” book and off she went. I would get the occasional call from her with a question about how to do something or other and I would help her get it set up or fix the problem. I upgraded the RAM and replaced the power supply when a lightning hit killed the original a couple of years ago. It was about that time that I dropped all support for Windows with my clients and decided to focus entirely on Linux. It was also about then that I first mentioned Linux to my Mom but she didn’t want to move away from what she knew. No big deal… She really didn’t do much with her computer beyond basic e-mail and web stuff anyway. I remember going there once and sitting down in front of the computer to check on things and I found probably the cleanest Windows 7 install I had ever seen. Keep in mind, this was when it had been up and running for almost five years! She just didn’t do much with it at all. Still, I booted up Linux and showed her how it worked in a Live session. She liked it but was not ready to take the plunge. Sometimes it takes a certain amount of pain to push someone to a new OS.

She probably would still be running Windows 7 today but Microsoft decided that everyone should be running Windows 10 and the forced updates rendered her computer very close to useless. No, she never installed Windows 10 but putting off the update made the OS unstable and slow. Something had to change and so it was time For my Mom to start using Linux if I was going to continue maintaining her computer. I formed a plan and it worked nicely. My goal was to make the change as painless as possible for her. Little did I know that there would be no pain at all at the time. Read on.

The first order of business was to find a direct replacement hard drive for the machine. No big deal, I had torn down an old DVR box and kept the 3.5 inch SATA drive. 320 GB would be plenty for her and the drive checked out OK with surprisingly low hours. It would do nicely to replace the 7 year old Western Digital that had come with the machine. Next, I would have to find her a printer because the Dell she had bought with the computer was not supported. I recommended an HP Envy 4500 Printer/Scanner/Copier. Mom has been a Firefox user since the day I booted up the computer for her the first time and I had switched her to Thunderbird for e-mail ages ago. This meant that I would be able to transfer all of her configuration files for web and e-mail and they would look and act just as they had on Windows. All good but what distribution? That was a vexing question. After much deliberation, I decided to start her on Linux Mint 17.3. It has proven itself to be very stable on slightly aged hardware and it would be easy for Mom to transition to from Windows 7 with the Mint’s Cinnamon Desktop.

With my freshly wiped hard drive and a Linux Mint 17.3 install DVD in hand, I journeyed the mile or so I now have to travel to get to Mom’s house. I shut the computer down, carefully removed the old Windows drive, popped the new-ish one in and installed Linux Mint. First boot, updates, a few tweaks and Linux Mint was running nicely. I plugged the old Windows drive in and transferred data files and configuration settings to the fresh Mint install. It took five minutes because my Mom had very little data stored on that machine; a few pictures and MS Works documents plus three or four songs and that was all. Shut down, unplug the old Windows drive and put it in a static bag, put the top back on and I was done. Success.

I sat down with Mom to show her around. I helped her choose a background and tweak the theme and fonts to her liking. She opened up Firefox and found all of her bookmarks were still there. Thunderbird worked the same way and she was happy.

My 74 year-old Mom was now officially a Linux user!

I told her that her Windows install was safe and sound on the old drive and put it in a safe place. I went home and waited for the phone to ring. I waited and waited and still I waited. No call from her asking questions, no angry messages on the answering machine telling me she hated this new-fangled crap and wanted Windows back… Nothing. I finally called her a few days later and asked how it was going with the new Linux Mint install. She said, “Fine.” I asked her if she installed the updates when they popped up. She said, “Yes.” “Call me if you need me” was all I said. A few days later I get a call. She has a question about the computer. No, not about Linux Mint, something to do with Firefox. On it went like that. Then I started getting more calls: “How do I use the scanner software?” Next: “How do I convert a document type in LibreOffice?” Then: Can I create a PDF file?” “Mom, what are you doing?,” I asked. “Oh, I’m finally getting all this family tree info into the computer. I’m scanning documents and pictures, working with gemology sites online and I’ve started exchanging information with folks in forums…. It’s really fun! Sometimes I stay up until 3 am punching on this thing…” Then she adds, “It’s all so easy!” I helped her with the technical stuff and she took off and ran with it. Now we are discussing backup options. She wants a new Ubuntu laptop she can stream stuff to her TV with and she asked me the best way to network everything. This from a lady who barely did e-mail and Facebook a few months ago!

I jokingly asked whether she wanted me to put the Windows 7 drive back in and she answered me with “NO!”

This story is typical and miraculous all at the same time; typical because I hear similar stories from new Linux users all the time, miraculous because we’re talking about my mom here. She doesn’t like change and she is suspicious of technology she doesn’t understand. The moral of the story to me is that Linux offers Freedom to anyone who has the patience to learn how to use it. Once these folks get past the “scary new stuff” part of the process, it is absolutely amazing to see what they come up with to do with it. You can do just about damn near anything when you work within a system with no limitations and Linux has very few. Isn’t it exciting to wonder what they will come up with?

It’s easy to compare Windows, Mac and Linux computers like they were appliances but a personal computer is far more than an appliance in the sense that a dishwasher or toaster is; it becomes an expression of the person who uses it. Linux is not a product of some big corporation that says, “Use it the way we tell you to or else.” No, there’s way more to it then that. It’s you and me… and my mom. How cool is that?

Linux Emergency Mode Thoughts

emergencymode

I’ve broken a lot of things over the years. Quite a few of them out of curiosity. I remember in the mid-1980s my dad had bought me a digital CASIO watch. After a few months with it, I wanted to see how it worked. Avoiding the sound advice of the instruction manual, I proceeded to open it using a blunt object. In the end there was no way to get it to work again.

Younger readers won’t remember or realize that a digital watch during the 80s was high tech and cool. It was a computer on your wrist. It had an alarm and a stopwatch feature. While there’s certainly a market for high end watches for the kids at school, these were status symbols. Now they’re on the cheap shelves of your local big chain store.

I’m not as violent as I was in my earlier days when it comes to electronics, but I still avoid the advice of the manuals (if any) and test things to their limits. I’ve run an Apple time capsule in my car so the kids could have wifi to play minecraft on car rides. I’ve tinkered around with several iterations of portable movie servers over the past few years. I’ve run a MATE-based Emby server off of a MacBook Air. My video for that even made it to an episode of LAS, though my solution wasn’t terribly eloquent but it still worked. One cool thing about that video is it got the attention of some of my old Army buddies and I enjoyed a week of digitally reconnecting with folks I haven’t worked with in over a decade.

One current iteration of the server in the car is a MATE-based Pi2 running Emby. It’s way smaller and more portable. Again, not elegant, but functional. At least it was functional until I broke it this week.

When they say that the Pi needs 2 amps they’re serious. I plugged mine into a power supply that’s been known recently to have some hiccups. I was curious to see what would happen. It hiccuped as some files were being written to the SD card and affected the load sequence for the OS.

Plugging it into the monitor I saw a message I had never seen before. “Welcome to Emergency Mode!”

That’s a very deceptive sentence. Welcome? I thought. Really? What’s so welcoming about emergency mode? Aren’t emergencies things to be avoided and run away from? What’s that exclamation point for? Are you that excited I’m visiting? Truly, I hope my time in emergency mode wouldn’t amount to much more than a visit. After all, this happened as we were headed out for a car ride. Time was limited.

As it turns out, the problem was extremely easy to solve. Throw the SD Card into another machine and push the error message to Google and see what pops out. I found a couple of quick lines on fsck (which I had never used before) and Bob’s your uncle. Problem solved.

You could totally razz on me in the comments as an amateur for never having encountered emergency mode or for ever having used fsck. If you think that’s what the comments are there for, you go right on ahead. I think it says something about the OS that I’ve never had to use these tools before. I think it says a lot about the community that they made my problem easy for someone to post about and for me to quickly find the answer before the car ride.

This week, I listened to the psaltery voice of Bryan Lunduke lovingly berating and belittling his guests on his podcast. Martin Wimpress, whose work with MATE made it the first project I ever donated to was among the guests. He was asked why he based his project on Debian/Ubuntu and to that Martin responded with polite comments about the robustness of the communities around those projects. He’s right and because of that community I didn’t tag him on Google Plus and wait for a reply. I got my answer much, much faster than that.

I’m still going to keep the blunt objects in a different part of the house but I learned this week that if I break a few lines of code along the road of personal curiosity I’ll have help to get me back on course again. I’m grateful for the community that’s built all of this wonderful support information. The momentum is certainly brewing for the projects on the latest episode of Lunduke and Whatnot. I still believe that the problem solving involved, not just with code, but with the community that builds it, puts these folks nothing shy of genius level. They built something I could smash and put back together again! Whoever invented fsck rocks!

Ubuntu Shifting The Overton Window

We’ve talked for years about the killer app that will take the Linux desktop to the mainstream.  For some the killer app is a particular game.  To illustrate, I’m still playing Civilization IV.  I’ve spent about thirty minutes trying to get it working under Wine to no avail.  I’m sure I just haven’t found the right tutorial yet.  Until that happens, I can’t fully commit.

The next category of killer app usually comes from the productivity side of things.  For some, it’s a video editor with the capacity and polish of Final Cut Pro X.  For others, it’s a Microsoft product such as Visio or Project.  For many, it’s Adobe’s Photoshop or, more accurately, their Creative Cloud suite of applications.

Adobe isn’t a company so large they don’t have any feedback mechanisms.  In 2012 their feedback website became inundated with requests for support for Linux.  16,000+ votes later the feedback has become one of the most popular requests on their website with official comment from the company acknowledging the popularity of the request.

In 2012, overcoming the engineering challenges of moving Creative Cloud to Linux were impractical, but times, they are a changin’ and I believe that within three years Adobe will release all or part of its Creative Cloud applications for Linux.  Why?  Because we’re seeing a shift in the Overton Window.

Ubuntu’s recent Snappy Sprint concluded with a wide variety of projects moving forward with their goals.  Nearly all of those projects took to social media to say something positive about the experience.  The Elementary Project’s post attempts to be positive while also trying to be non-committal.  They talk about the experience being extremely productive and then acknowledge that they’re not making any formal decisions *yet.*

This is how the Overton Window moves.  When projects and pundits talk about the future with a level of inevitability it contributes towards their audience’s future acceptance of their road map.  It’s a way of moving the expectations and therefore contributing to future acceptance of the audience.  As Snaps continue to gain technical momentum and positive press, it will become more and more likely that they will emerge as the dominant installation system going forward.  Once that happens, a large company like Adobe can do its cost-benefit analysis and cater to the growing number of individuals who are choosing Linux on the desktop.

Ubuntu may have a great project on its hands from a technical level, but if it fails to continue the momentum of positive press, it’ll fail to get the widespread adoption it needs to make it successful.  I’d expect for the next Snappy Sprint for Ubuntu to not only invite a wide spectrum of Open Source enthusiasts, but also the Linux press.  Which outlets should be invited, should absolutely be a high priority topic for those planning the next event.  Assuming the next sprint is already being planned, who would you like to see cover the event?

Flash Isn’t Dead Yet

Adobe Flash Is like a creepy uncle.

Sure, it may give us the creeps while annoying us to no end. Hell, it may even be a danger to those around it….but it also gives us access to cool stuff. Anyone claiming Flash is no longer needed is not taking media consumption into account.

Your local news

Admittedly, I still (occasionally) depress myself by watching the local news. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the concept; rather, it’s the delivery that frustrates me. For most folks, the local news is provided by cable, satellite or perhaps OTA (over the air) antenna.

Then there are cord cutters like myself who sadly, live in valley making anything OTA a complete impossibility. So on those super rare occasions (such as snow days, checking for road conditions) that I do watch the news, I prefer to do so from my PC. I then open up my Firefox browser and guess what – it requires Flash. No HTML5 video alternatives like with YouTube. Nope, it’s Flash or go home.

Google Play Video

Do you enjoy watching videos purchased through Google Play? Would you like to watch them on something besides your tablet, smartphone or TV streaming device – a Linux PC, perhaps? You’ll need to use Flash. Google, the company that made a big stink about how Flash needs to die…requires it for their video content.

GooglePlay
Chrome on left, Firefox on Right – “Keep Summer safe…from Flash”

Despite my GooglePlay video purchases being rather small when compared to my local video library, the fact remains that my viewing of said purchases on my Linux box means I have to have Flash at the ready.

Hulu

Next up, we have Hulu. Surely, with the company trying to turn things around, Hulu has done away with its Flash requirement, right? Wrong. No matter your subscription level with Hulu, you will absolutely need to have Flash available in order to watch videos using Hulu.

hulu
Chrome on left, Firefox on Right

Please forgive the lousy screen capture. Despite my displeasure with Flash, the video playback actually did not have any tearing…unlike my screenshot above.

Netflix

Next to Hulu, Netflix is the single most watched video service in my home. Despite this, I must have….wait, it’s not asking for Flash. It’s asking me to install Silverlight! Even though it’s well known that Chrome-using Linux enthusiasts can indeed watch Netflix using HTML5 video, under Firefox I’m being prompted to install a dead technology that Microsoft wrote off a long time ago. Best part is their help page – holy browser useragent, Batman!

netflix
Chrome on left, Firefox on Right

So with Netflix, I guess the good news is that you’re not required to use Flash! Sigh…

Amazon

Like Netflix, Amazon video also expects you to have a browser that supports it like Chrome. I am happy to report however, that it did not make any mention of Silverlight.

amazon
Chrome on left, Firefox on Right

It’s all about Chrome

I suspect as time goes on, we’ll see Hulu and Google Play following along with Netflix and Amazon, thus, tossing Flash aside for good. Regardless, the fact remains with all of these video services (including your local news) that using Chrome is the best way forward.

So why not simply install Flash into Firefox or another browser? Because of DRM and the fact that Chrome is the most reliable media browser for Linux right now. The sad fact of the matter is Chrome is the goto browser for streaming video media. So unless you’re thinking of running your own Kodi or Plex server, your options on the Linux desktop are limited to Chrome at this point.

What say you? Do you bother with these services? If so, how do you watch them? Maybe instead, you said “forget it” and run your own Kodi or Plex server? Whatever it may be, hit the comments and tell me how you watch your favorite TV shows and movies.

The Merits of the Open Source Philosophy

Tonight, I sent my fourteen year old daughter a sample from the book “Libertarianism For Beginners.”  If she likes it, I’ll gladly buy the full book for her to add to her library.  The purchasing process was reasonably painless as there was a clean interface guiding me from product discovery all the way through delivery.  As an added bonus, the underlying architecture for the whole thing was Linux. This is what you might call Software As a Service or SAAS.  In fact, most of the SAAS systems we rely upon for our most common daily activities utilize the most popular kernel ever created and deployed in the history of computing – Linux.

So what does the book have to do with SAAS? There’s a reason I shared a book about Libertarian philosophy with Eliza and it wasn’t just because it’s a book with pictures.  It’s because she recently stumbled onto watching the Atlas Shrugged movies and was intrigued by the clear way the characters present their thoughts.  She could understand how individualism benefits society and how forced charity can lead to destruction.  It’s not a philosophy that everyone reading this agrees to, nor should they, but it’s neat to see a young lady become infatuated with ideas instead of boys, fashion, or makeup.

In contrast, I’m reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar.  This book discusses software development and also happens to be 15 years old.  Why is it still selling?  Wouldn’t you think in an industry with as much development as software a 15 year old book would be obsolete after a couple of years?  While I’m not finished yet, I can tell you why it’s still a valid read. It’s less about the technical specifics and more about the philosophical ones.  It’s a book about philosophy that happens to talk about technical specifics, and it’s quite good at it!  No wonder Eric Raymond makes the rounds on the Linux Documentaries on YouTube.

To this day, I have to admit I don’t read or write code.  Not only that, I think I might have filled out four bug reports in eight years.  Seven of these reports turned out to be duplicates and the eighth one no one could understand what I was trying to say.  I probably contribute the least to the community when it comes to the technical side.  But when it comes to the philosophy, I’m a huge champion.

I work for one of those organizations that’s supposed to be responsible to a constituency while it simultaneously classifies things to reduce the ability of the constituency from auditing its processes.  The idea of openness and transparency is huge.  The story of Linux is compelling enough that the more we lock away things, the more I push back and point out the destructive nature of closed philosophies.

This week at work, we discussed a bit about network monitoring tools, priority managed switches going bad, and not having the software we’d like to do a job.  (NMAP is not allowed).  I’ve tried to convey to the powers that be that open community has the answers to all of these problems, and I work for an organization that has problems with the idea of anything being open.

2016 is the year we’re seeing a trend for openness at an unusual pace and scale.  Both Microsoft and Apple have released some of the technologies as open source.  Alternatives to software solutions aren’t just alternatives, they’re becoming the norm as these alternatives mature and develop in ways their proprietary counterparts can’t keep up with.  We now use LibreOffice at church.  NextCloud moved the whole market of self-hosted cloud solutions within weeks of their announcement.

The technical merits and failings of any solution could easily get lost in the corporate “buzzspeak.”  If Linux were locked away tomorrow some sales guy would tout its popularity as a way to push more product.  Linux didn’t gets its popularity because of fancy marketing.  As professional as the guys are at Jupiter Broadcasting, UbuntuPodcast.org and the other podcasters out there are, combined their budgets pale in comparison for the marketing department at any major (and several minor) tech companies in the market today.  It’s not the marketing, it’s the merits of the philosophy.  Welcome to the bazaar.  There’s always some place for you to fit in.

Linux Mint Saves The Day

Mint-super

There are no two ways about it. Ubuntu blew it big time with their 16.04 release. All of the Ubuntu flavors I looked at in beta performed beautifully but the moment 16.04 became an official release something went terribly wrong. I started to hear rumblings from the community almost immediately and then I ran right into show-stopping problems myself when I bought a new computer a couple of weeks ago. This article will detail those problems and you’ll find out just why I have found a new respect for Linux Mint.

Those of you who’ve been reading my stuff and watching my videos will no doubt remember how I went gaga over Ubuntu MATE. I still think it’s one of the most innovative distros out there. As a matter of fact, the problems with Ubuntu 16.04 have very little to do with the desktop, so I don’t blame any of the independent communities like Ubuntu GNOME, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu or Ubuntu MATE for the issues folks are dealing with. Information is still a bit sketchy as to what’s going on with the Network Manager problem and the display issues all go back to driver problems that third party companies have to deal with. Still, Canonical, the company that distributes Ubuntu, has their hands full. We’ll talk more about them later.

THE INSTALL FROM HELL!

My HP EliteBook came up with a broken hinge and so I decided it was time to find me a new laptop. I looked at the current crop of new machines and a whole bunch of used ones, too. I finally settled on a very nice refurbished Dell Studio 1750. It has all Intel inside, a big colorful 17-inch monitor and just enough Core Duo processing power to play the kids games and to do a fine job of playing YouTube videos. Awesome. I didn’t anticipate any problems getting Ubuntu MATE to run on this machine. It isn’t all that different from the HP EliteBook and the installation of Ubuntu MATE Beta was a breeze on the HP.

My first plan of attack was to simply take the hard drive from the HP and put it in the Dell. There’s no UEFI and I had no proprietary drivers installed, so this should have worked just fine. I swapped the drives and, lo and beheld, it booted with no apparent issues at all. “Cool,” I thought to myself, “This’ll be easy.” Wrong! Yeah, it booted just fine but I had no Internet access. Neither WiFi nor Ethernet worked at all. It was funny because the WiFi appeared to be working. It saw the networks but just would not connect. I went off to burn a fresh Ubuntu MATE 16.04 install DVD.

Booting the machine from the DVD gave me a slightly different result. The WiFi didn’t work at all but I could get access with an Ethernet cable. “OK,” I thought, “I’ll just reinstall and I can figure out what’s up with the WiFi.” Wrong again! I did and found that the WiFi built into the Dell was Broadcom and needed a driver. No problem. OS all installed, driver installed and the WiFi card was operational. The problems started again when I went to create the user accounts. There are five total on this machine. Each time I’d log into a new account, the WiFi would ask me to put in the passphrase for my network and each time it would take several tries to get it coroneted. I had configured only two of the accounts when it decided to stop working altogether. Clicking on the Network Manager icon would just make it disappear. It crashed every time. I’d restart it and it would happen again. Bummer.

Mint-superLINUX MINT TO THE RESCUE

I poked at this all damn day, folks. I tried Ubuntu with Unity, Ubuntu GNOME. Evey version of Ubuntu 16.04 simply wasn’t going to work with this laptop’s WiFi. I didn’t want to go back to Ubuntu 14.04 but Ubuntu 16.04 wasn’t going to get it for sure. I did install 14.04, only to find that the screen brightness settings were all jacked up. The machine booted with a very dim screen and you’d have to manually adjust it every time if you wanted to use it. That sucked. I was now at my wit’s end and I considered sticking the Windows 7 drive back in it and packing it up to send it back!

I’d try one more thing first, though. Let’s see what happens with Linux Mint.

It was evening when I went and dug out my Linux Mint 17.3 installer DVD and gave that a try. Bam! Everything worked perfectly! The WiFi driver installed without a hitch and I only had to connect it once. Each time I created a new account, the WiFi was already there and I have had zero networks related trouble with this machine since. Working with the Cinnamon Desktop was like going back home and I got everything installed and rocking in just an hour or so. Linux Mint still won’t suspend the machine when the lid is closed while sitting at the login screen, though. That’s actually OK with me because I figured a way to use it to my advantage. I’ll explain that in more detail later.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

The ten-year-old eMachine desktop I had been using for e-mail and such finally got to be more trouble than the ability to brag about getting useful work done on a dinosaur was worth. It was slow. There’s no getting around the fact that today’s software is built for multi-core processors and runs slower than molasses in January on an old single-core machine. This old machine also started to show its age by locking up at the most inopportune moments. Other than the broken hinge, the HP with its Intel i5 still worked just fine and so I hatched a plan to put it back in service. I would use it as a desktop by plugging in a keyboard, mouse, monitor, printer and speakers. My plan included running it with the lid closed so the faulty hinge wouldn’t be an issue at all.

Now, this machine had been running Ubuntu MATE 16.04 without a hitch, so my first thought was to slap a new drive in it, install Ubuntu MATE and everything would be unicorns and rainbows. Wrong! Not only did I run into the same WiFi-related problems but the displays were a mess. All I wanted the machine to do was use the Acer 19 inch display I had been using on the eMachine as the primary display. Ubuntu didn’t like that idea from the start. It came up with the login screen at some crazy resolution that made me only be able to see half of the login screen. I was able to open Displays and fix the problem but the settings wouldn’t stick. Every time I logged out it would go back to being all jacked up.

NOW I’M PISSED

For my British friends, I don’t mean that I had one too many beers while I was fooling around with the computer. No, I was pissed in the American sense, meaning I was mad as hell. Why was I so upset? Simply this: ALL of this had WORKED flawlessly when the machine was running Ubuntu MATE 16.04 Beta and now it didn’t work at all! I tested it weeks before I even thought of buying the Dell laptop to replace the HP. The idea of shifting the HP to desktop status had been knocking around in my head for a while.

“So, what am I gonna do now?” I thought to myself. Answer: “I’m gonna install Linux Mint 17.3!” Guess what, folks? It worked perfectly, yet again, and I’m writing this text on it right now.

The ‘no suspend at login’ thing I have complained about the Mint Display Manager in the past actually worked in my favor here. Linus Torvalds once said that if developers leave a bug in something long enough it becomes a feature. Well, here’s a case in point. I set the desktop to do nothing when the lid is closed and that way I can run the machine with it closed and locked so I don’t have to fool with the broken hinge. If it would suspend at the login screen then that would be a pain because it would just go to sleep right after booting up. So far, it works perfectly.

The Dell Studio acts the same way. I can have the kids log out but not shut down. They close the lid, the screen goes out but the machine is still very much on-line. I can work on it through SSH and send a power off command when I’m done. That’s nice.

I still have one machine running Ubuntu MATE 16.04 and I’ve had no issues with it so far. The only problem is that if I should want to reload that machine, I am willing to bet that it won’t work. Canonical screwed the pooch somewhere between beta and official release and took what promised to be a super stable Ubuntu distro and made it a big pain in the ass. This is particularly frustrating for those of us who talked it up so glowingly in the tech press prior to the release date. We now all look like a bunch of idiots. The Linux detractors out there are going to have a field day with this as well.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Ubuntu has a laundry list of problems to worry about with 16.04. No AMD proprietary drivers, display flickering issues on certain Intel graphics, the new Software app has had major problems and let’s not forget the show-stopping Network Manager bug.

There’s lots of complaining about what Canonical got wrong here and I don’t want to appear to be one who would kick them when they’re down but I would like to offer my opinion for what’s it’s worth. Here goes…

I talked this over with Jeremy O’Connell at Cyberweb in Atlanta a few days ago and he said something that really got me to thinking. He asked the question, “Why does Canonical lock themselves into such a rigid release cycle in the first place? Why not release numbered releases when they’re actually ready instead of pushing out what they’ve got just because the calendar says they need to?” I couldn’t give him a good answer.

Mark Shuttleworth has made a big deal out of the “orderly release candidates” that Ubuntu uses in speeches for years. Well, maybe it worked ten years ago but now it’s out of step with the FOSS world and it doesn’t do anybody in the Ubuntu ecosystem any favors. The idea of an LTS is a good one, though. Rolling releases are a big gamble for anyone who needs their machines to work day in and day out without having to troubleshoot something that gets broken with updates. I would have happily waited a few more months for the next Ubuntu LTS as long as it worked right when it came along and I think a lot of users would agree with me on that.

Linux Mint takes a lot of heat for the way they wait for things to be ready before putting out the next version and they’ve had also taken heat for basing their entire distro on Ubuntu LTS releases starting with 14.04. Mint now releases interim “dot” releases that users can easily upgrade to without having to do a complete reload. I think I may have added my voice to those who complained about Mint’s “stagnation” at times but I take it all back now, folks.

Whether or not we will be able to move to Linux Mint 18 when it finally comes along with an in-place upgrade remains to be seen but they can take their sweet time on that, as far as I’m concerned. I want to know that whenever they come up with is going to work when I upgrade or install it. I’m tired of dealing with what amounts to a bait and switch from other distros. Ubuntu 16.04 looked wonderful in beta but now I can’t use it nor can I recommend it to my clients.

Linux Mint is NOT perfect but it meets the criteria I set forth when I set up a machine for someone other than myself, which is that it has to be stable and it has to be easy to work with. I don’t want to worry about an update breaking a whole bunch of machines and then I have to deal with it for weeks to come as clients call me or e-mail me for support. Yes, Linux Mint holds back sensitive packages but maybe they’re right to do so after all. Security is damn important but so is stability and there has to be a balance of risk to reward that should be considered every time something is updated. Is it more of a security risk to keep the stable version or is there more of a risk of trashing the system when you upgrade for the sake of security?

I respect the fact that the thick-glasses wearing, neck-bearded Linux nerds out there want to be on the cutting edge of technology but there’s another group of us who just want the stuff to work. The glasses and neckbeard crowd have had the loudest voices up to now but I think it’s high time some reality got injected into the discussion and hopefully, this article will serve to do just that and get folks talking more about reality and less about ideas and theory. Linux is out of the lab for good now. It’s no longer a toy for the technically gifted. It’s time to treat it as such and stop beta testing long after the official release date has come and gone.

Are you hearing me, Canonical?

One more thing: There’s too much hype out there. I include myself when I say that those of us who write about technology need to stop echoing the press releases and quoting the speeches from release day events and start being a lot more critical of what actually comes to us when we click on that download button. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement but when the dust settles and we gotta use the stuff for real that’s what really matters.


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