RoboFrog Computing Center

[If you don’t know who or what these* are, check the Glossary.]

Correction: Thunar (file manager)

I said last time that Xubuntu 12.04 had corrected the problem with Thunar. This morning the problem was back. When I brought up the file manager immediately after booting BigDog*, it took about 15 seconds for Thunar to show up and a few seconds later a second file manager window arrived. This is the same behavior experienced with Xubuntu 11.10, but without the error dialog. No problem. RoboFrog just switched us over to a different file manager.

One of the benefits of trying as many Linux distributions as we do is that we come across many different programs and utilities that provide the same basic functionality. There are a number of interesting file managers that can be used with Xfce4 (Xubuntu’s desktop environment). Normally we would turn to Nautilus, but we had a really bad experience with it and Xfce4. It messed up a bunch of settings and the only way we were able to get our desktop working again was to completely remove Nautilus. We don’t know if that was the result of something we did or a glitch between Nautilus and Xfce4. Nautilus is usually a very solid utility.

This is Linux, though, and that means there are other options. We’ve had very good luck with Dolphin (KDE file manager), ROX-Filer, and PCManFM. Dolphin is a heavyweight that provides pretty much all the functionality you could want from a full-featured file manager. The only issue we have with Dolphin is that on older hardware it’s sluggish. ROX-Filer and PCManFM are lightweight utilities that both work very well with Xfce4. Our preference is PCManFM.

Replacing Thunar

It’s easy to use another file manager with Xubuntu. (This procedure should work with any Linux using the Xfce4 desktop.)

  1. Use your package manager to install an alternate file manager. (MouseMenu->System->Synaptic Package Manager; search for dolphin, rox-filer, or pcmanfm)
  2. Xubuntu 12.04 installs by default with three desktop icons displayed. Turn off those icons. (MouseMenu->Settings Manager->Desktop; click on the Icons tab and un-check Home, Filesystem, and Trash.) The icons should disappear from your desktop.
  3. Create new launchers for Filesystem and Home. (Right-click on the desktop->Create Launcher; give the launcher a name; enter the name of the file manager program and the directory you want opened.) For PCManFM this would look like: Name: Filesystem; Command: pcmanfm / (for the filesystem launcher) and Name: Home; Command: pcmanfm /home/<your-user-id> (for your home directory). If you’re using ROX-Filer just replace pcmanfm with rox.
  4. Finally, set your new file manager in Preferred Applications. (MouseMenu->Settings->Settings Manager; choose Preferred Applications; click the Utilities tab; click on the File Manager drop-down. If your file manager shows up in the list select it; if not, select other and enter the name of your file manager…in our case pcmanfm. In the case of ROX-Filer the name of the utility is rox. Close the Settings Manager and you’re finished.

RoboFrog Computing Center (RFCC)

As I said last time, we’ve had a significant change in staff and roles at the RFCC. This is roughly what the RoboFrog Computing Center looks like. All of the computers with the exception of Squirt* (Kindle Fire) are networked with the file server using NFS (Network File System). It’s pretty easy to set up a Linux-only home network with NFS. Squirt is brand new (RoboFrog’s birthday present). Squirt connects to the Internet through the wireless router, but doesn’t talk to the network. The entire wireless system has been changed, but we’ll talk about that another time.

Chatterbox* was our file server. RoboFrog retired Chatterbox and reassigned the role of file server to Whitestar*. BigDog is a new (for us) computer that RoboFrog’s brother gave to him. There’s quite a story about BigDog, but I’ll save that for another time. BigDog, though, is now the main “desktop” machine. BigDog is an HP Pavilion dv-9000 laptop. He has a huge hard drive, dual-core processor, plenty of memory, and a 17″ screen…but wow!…he’s heavy. We also received a docking station with him, so TheFrog decided to turn him into a desktop. Since Xubuntu 12.04-beta1, BigDog has performed flawlessly. Best of all, he was free (as in beer). Defiant retains the position of primary RoboLaptop. Though she’s a little slow these days, she’s still our favorite laptop ever.


Meet Dellbert. He’s a rescue computer. RoboFrog was visiting his father-in-law a few days ago. As he walked into the garage there were two computers sitting next to the trash bin. Casually he asks, “What’s up with the computers?”

“They’re going out in the trash tomorrow. They’re old. Aren’t any good. They’ve been sitting in my basement for years.”

“Do they work?”

“They did when I put them in the basement,” says Robo-father-in-law.

“Can I have ’em?” asks TheFrog.

“Sure. Take them with you. I just want to get rid of them.”

You should have seen TheFrog. You’d have thought it was Christmas. I’m not sure what MsRoboFrog is going to do when she finds out he’s dragged two more “junk” computers home. She has a firm policy about such things. I noticed that he took them directly to the RFCC (basement) and didn’t mention anything about them to HER*. Probably just an oversight.

I have to admit that Dellbert is a curiosity. Is there any use for an old machine like him? Dellbert is so old that the only way he had to connect to the Internet was a 56k modem. RoboFrog immediately ordered an ethernet card. It cost him about $13 (US). That’s the only hardware modification made to Dellbert.

I told you last time that we’re running Lubuntu 12.04 on Whitestar. It’s working very well. Lubuntu is Linux tailored for limited hardware. Here’s what they say on the Lubuntu Wiki:

A Pentium II or Celeron system with 128 MB of RAM is probably a bottom-line configuration that may yield slow yet usable system with Lubuntu. It should be possible to install and run Lubuntu with less memory, but the result will likely not be suitable for practical use.

So here it is: Dellbert has a Pentium III, check; 128 MB of RAM, check; and a 12 GB hard drive. According to the Lubuntu-folk he should be good to go, so RoboFrog immediately started loading Lubuntu 12.04 onto Dellbert. The drive started, all the lights flickered, the Lubuntu flash screen came up, all the drives stopped churning, and HE* sat looking at the flash screen with it’s flashing dots. And HE watched…and watched…for an hour. By that time it was obvious, even to me, that Lubuntu wasn’t going to load. RoboFrog tried burning another Lubuntu DVD. I’m not sure that I understand why he did that. Lubuntu loaded just fine onto Whitestar from the first DVD. Anyway, the new disk did exactly the same thing. Lubuntu 12.04 won’t load onto Dellbert from DVD.

RoboFrog, never one to be deterred when he’s in the zone, switched to Ubuntu 12.04 Server. Guess what? It loaded just fine. Then he loaded Debian 6. No problems with Debian. Next, he tried Vector Linux. That loaded fine as well. Finally, he loaded Slackware 13.37. No problems there either. For the time being, that’s the operating system that’s on Dellbert. The only Linux we’ve tried…so far…that won’t load…is Lubuntu. Go figure. That’s disappointing to me, but TheFrog seems to be more excited than disappointed. That usually means he’s up to something. I’ll figure out what it is and tell you about it next time.

That’s the new cast of characters at the RoboFrog Computing Center. Xubuntu 12.04 continues to perform magnificently and apparently TheFrog is excited about tinkering with Dellbert and Slackware.

2 responses to “RoboFrog Computing Center

  1. For Thunar, try looking at the settings for samba/sharing.
    I had similar issues and believe it was linked to it trying to scan the network, the reason I believe this is because it only started happening after I setup samba and got Thunar to work with it. Also XFCE has release 4.10 recently if you don’t have it already, makes having side bars (got widescreen?) a bit nicer

    • Hey Robert, thanks for the comment. We don’t use samba because we don’t have any Windows machines, but I think that you’re correct that this has something to do with scanning the network. I’ll take a look at the configurations and see if I can find anything.

      We’re still running Xfce 4.8. We do have widescreen. We’ll be looking forward to 4.10.

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