CrunchBang Linux

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

CrunchBang 10

It only took RoboFrog about half an hour to have CrunchBang 10 installed and running on Dellbert*. I blame ZACHARiAS for that. RoboFrog thinks that ZACHARiAS is HIS new best friend. ZACHARiAS left us a comment on our last post recommending CrunchBang. Never one to pass up an adventure, TheFrog hopped right to it. We tried CrunchBang once, but TheFrog can’t remember why we decided not to use it.

More Than a Pretty Face

In fact…this is a face only a mother could love. It’s butt-ugly. The CrunchBang team are the ultimate function-over-form-folk. RoboFrog isn’t put off by ugly; HE tends to be a function-first-amphibian. Also, HE knows it’s easy to change the look of a Linux GUI (Graphical User Interface).

But first…HE wanted to figure out why we aren’t using CrunchBang. CrunchBang 10 is derived from Debian 6. Debian 6 isn’t an exciting distribution, but it’s rock solid. That’s what we were running on Dellbert before TheFrog decided to take ZACHARiAS’s advice and try CrunchBang.  (HE can never leave well enough alone! All HE needed was and excuse.)

Debian 6 was working extremely well. I crossed my fingers and hoped the TheFrog could get everything working again with CrunchBang. And you know what? There were no problems whatsoever. It took a few minutes to figure out how the GUI worked. After that, everything worked perfectly. RoboFrog got the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) server working. Except for the user interface, everything appeared to work the same as Debian 6. The GUI, though, was a big deal for TheFrog.

The GUI (Openbox) is crisp…even on Dellbert…and efficient. I could see TheFrog starting to vibrate. HE decided to see how far he could push Dellbert. HE compiled a C program. No problem. An Objective-C program. No problem. HE ran a couple of Perl programs. Again, no problem. Okay, that’s fine, but what about multimedia?

We’re movie freaks here at TRF (The Robotic Frog). We have a huge external hard drive attached to Whitestar* with all of our movies on it. All of our computers access that drive through NFS (Network File System). We like NFS because it’s easy to set up. We’re able to watch movies on any computer, anywhere in the house. Very cool. RoboFrog wanted to see if Dellbert could play a movie acceptably. Surely, this would bring him to his Pentium III knees.

Using VLC Media Player, TheFrog brought up a movie. Watched the entire movie. Dellbert did a great job playing it. I don’t want you to think that Dellbert performs as well as some of our more capable machines. We’re writing this, using Dellbert…and frankly…he’s sluggish. I have to give him his due, though; he has performed well beyond our expectations.

I Think TheFrog’s in Love!

HE had that moonie-eyed, short of breath look. I’ve seen it before. HE had it when we first looked at Xubuntu 11.10. HIS feelings went mostly unrequited until Xubuntu 12.04 came out, but like now, it was obvious that Xubuntu 11.10 had turned TheFrog’s head. And, it’s obvious now that CrunchBang 10 has turned HIS head as well. It’s at moments like this that I become most afraid. When HE’s in love, everything gets either really good…or everything goes to-hell-in-a-hand-basket . There’s no inbetween. What was it going to be this time?

TheFrog looked up at me and said, “I’m going to load CrunchBang on all of our machines.”

My voice broke and I almost screamed, “No your NOT!”

Xubuntu 12.04 is the best thing that’s happened to us since Fedora 14. If I had any influence on HIM at all (unlikely), I was going to push this in a different direction.

“We searched for months to find a distribution that we like. You can’t just chuck everything for this ugly duckling.”

“Okay, we’re not using Untouchable* right now. How about I test CrunchBang on him and if everything’s good…then we’ll switch everything over to CrunchBang?”

That’s uncharacteristically magnanimous of TheFrog. Usually, I walk into the RFCC (RoboFrog Computing Center) and HE’s simply had HIS way with it. It’s enough to drive a man to drink.

I replied cautiously, “I’m not sure about switching everything, but I can live with Untouchable.”

“Good. I’ll get to it.”

I think you can see there’s a lot more to this story. Here’s a summary: We’ve loaded CrunchBang 10 onto Dellbert and it is working well beyond our expectations. Apparently, whether I like it or not, we’re moving to another level with CrunchBang. Next time…Untouchable.

From famine to feast…

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

RIP Kubuntu

To famine!…I left the title I started this post with (From famine to feast…) because it illustrates how frustrated we are trying to find a Linux distribution that works with our old hardware.  I thought I was going to tell you how we went from no satisfactory Linux distribution to having two that were performing excellently. Two minutes after I wrote that title, I broke Kubuntu. That’s the second time.

The first time we broke Kubuntu was when RoboFrog first installed it. The installation was no problem, but the software updater froze while updating the system. It reached 48% and just stopped. HE* waited for 20 minutes before taking any action, then forced a reboot. HE told me before HE did it that it probably wasn’t going to be a good thing. HE was right. The system no longer booted.

We knew that interrupting a software update wasn’t a good thing, so we chalked that one up to our own stupidity. RoboFrog reinstalled Kubuntu and used command-line tools to update the system. Everything went perfectly. Kubuntu was functioning extremely well. The system was beautiful. We used it for six days…before I broke it.

You see, I’m the crash-dummy here on the LilyPad.  The-Frog is our fixer…I’m the breaker. I really have a talent for it. I can break almost anything. Luckily, HE can fix almost anything. It’s a great partnership, a yen/yang sort of thing.

How did I break Kubuntu? I went into System Settings->Input devices, selected Apple Aluminum Keyboard, and rebooted. On reboot, KDE slowed to a crawl. I tried to change the keyboard setting back. I clicked on the ‘K’ application menu and waited. It took more than 20 seconds for the application menu to appear. Wow! I selected the System Settings application, got the bouncing cursor that tells me that the application is loading, the normal cursor returned…and nothing. I tried that a couple of times with the same result. Rebooted…same result. That’s when HE stepped in an took Whitestar* away from me. HE already had the Xubuntu disk in hand and before I could say boo, Kubuntu was gone.

I told you last time that I figured out that HE has a thing for Xubuntu. I think HE was just waiting for an excuse.

This is all happening in real-time. HE’s already loaded Xubuntu onto Whitestar and updated it. The updater worked brilliantly. RoboFrog changed a few system settings that I’ll tell you about next time, turned to me and said, “Now let’s see if I can break it.”

“Break it? You just got it fixed.”

“Trust me,” HE said. “This is our system. It’ll work.”

HE hasn’t been that confident in a very long time. HE proceeded to bring up Synaptic (our preferred GUI* package manager) and marked every single piece of software that we normally load. We usually only mark and install half a dozen packages at a time until we get everything loaded. We’ve tried this with the Ubuntu Software Center and it just chokes. It likes one or two packages at a time.

Synaptic says that we asked it to install 715 files! I keep watching Whitestar as I write this on Defiant waiting for something bad to happen. In the time that I’ve written this, Synaptic has already completed the download and just finished the installations! From the point that RoboFrog took Whitestar away from me, in about 40 minutes, HE loaded Xubuntu, updated the system, and loaded all of our software. The system didn’t even break a sweat when HE asked Synaptic to load 715 files. Maybe there is light at the end of this tunnel.

Another 15 minutes and HE has Whitestar talking to the server and reloading the backup files. I’m a bit surprised (impressed, really). In roughly an hour HE has gone from nothing to having Whitestar completely restored.

Amazingly, I’m back to Whitestar. The first thing that I notice is that Xfce is very fast. I loved KDE. Even with the problems we experienced, if we had new hardware, I’d want to give it another shot. Xubuntu, though, seems to be running very well on our eight-year-old hardware. It’s beautiful; it’s fast. Now if it’ll just behave itself.

Okay, that’s enough of the Kubuntu saga. We have moved everything to Xubuntu. If I read RoboFrog correctly, this is where we’re going to stay for a while. Kubuntu lasted for six days. This is day three for Xubuntu. We’ll see how it goes.

RoboFrog gave Defiant to me a couple of days ago with Xubuntu loaded and told me to put her through her paces. I’ve already had a few pleasant surprises. Next time Xubuntu…I hope!

HE’s at it again!

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

“Good morning,” says I as I enter the Robo Computing Center, morning tea in hand. HE’s* hunched over Defiant* typing away.

“I’ve done it.”

“Mmmm,” I reply cautiously. Do I really want to know? HE continues working, oblivious to my presence. I know I’ll regret it, but I can’t resist.

“So, what is it that you’ve done?”

“I’ve reloaded Xubuntu onto Defiant and I’ve worked out all the kinks.”

It’s rare that I’m without something to say, but I was dumbfounded. We spent the past three weeks coming to a decision once and for all about which Linux distribution to use. I thought we decided it was Kubuntu. Kubuntu is working extremely well and KDE (Kubuntu’s GUI*) has some amazing features. The ONLY complaint that I have at all with Kubuntu is that on our older hardware it’s a bit sluggish. It’s so refreshing to have a system that just works.

“YOU DID WHAT?!” I’m cool under fire. I didn’t know whether to grab a big stick an go to work on HIM or just tell MsRoboFrog.

“Defiant’s running great. I fixed the problems with Xubuntu. Here, use her for a few days and see what you think. Give her a good workout.”

It’s finally dawning on me what RoboFrog is up to. First, let me tell you something about The-Frog. HE’s like a bulldog. Once HE get HIS teeth into something HE just won’t let go. HE’s tenacious, relentless. When a problem beats HIM and HE walks away, you may think that it’s done. Don’t count on it. HE’s just run out of ideas for the moment. HE walks away, stews for a while…and then HE’s back trying something new. I should have seen this coming.

We used Arch Linux with Xfce as our GUI for a long time. That’s how we got hooked on Xfce. Our hardware is old, so an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink interface like KDE is sluggish. Xfce, however, is lightweight and  runs crisply on older hardware. So I understand why HE’s stuck on the idea of using Xfce.

RoboFrog was impressed with Xubuntu from the moment HE set eyes on it. If I had paid attention I would have noticed that over the past three months HE has returned to Xubuntu repeatedly. Now I have the picture. HE’s determined to make Xubuntu work. Maybe HE’s done it. HE seems to think so.

Okay, I’ll give Defiant a workout, but I get to be curious around here too. I’ve demanded (for what that’s worth) that RoboFrog leave Kubuntu on Whitestar*. Here’s what I’m curious about. Assuming that HE has finally worked out the problems with Xubuntu, how many of the things that Kubuntu (KDE) allows us to do can be duplicated with Xubuntu (Xfce)? We like both; let’s see how they compare.

We’re back … I think!

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

Shoot-out At the OK Corral

RoboFrog is an irresistible force when HE* gets in one of HIS* moods, and trust me, for three weeks HE has been…grouchy. It all started innocently enough. Remember that Defiant’s* hard drive died. HE ordered a new one from allhdd.com and chose not to expedite the shipping. It took about seven days to get the drive.

NOTE: Our experience with allhdd.com was very good. They had the product that we wanted at a reasonable price. Their communication was excellent and the drive arrived at the promised time. We will definitely purchase from them in the future.

It’s fun to watch HIM* when when HE gets something like a new hard drive. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid in a toy store any happier or more excited. Replacing Defiant’s (IBM ThinkPad T43) hard drive isn’t a big deal. There’s an external cover to the drive bay on the right side of the machine, held on with one screw. To replace the drive remove the bay cover, slide the old drive out, remove the metal cage from the old drive and install it on the new drive, push the new drive into the bay, and replace the cover. That’s it. Install an operating system and you’re done. At least that’s what HE had hoped.

Note: There are two caveats when replacing a hard drive on a T43. First, they’re really picky about hard drives. You need to get one that specifically works with this machine. Check here for drive information. Second, don’t get the drive upside down. Make sure to maintain the same orientation for the new drive as the old.

That’s when things went bad and RoboFrog transformed from kid-in-the-toy-store to The Terminator. Changing the drive was no problem at all. Loading the operating system, though, turned into a three week nightmare.

I don’t want to get into a long discussion of Linux distributions and the trials and tribulations HE had trying to find a distribution that would work on all of our machines. Frankly, we’re both completely worn out with trying to find an acceptable Linux distribution.

First, we retired Untouchable* (at least temporarily). We decided that life had gotten too complicated. We’re going through a dramatic change, removing clutter, getting things organized, and looking for ways to simplify everything in our lives. We will undoubtedly write about this in the future, but for now, we decided that a desktop and a laptop were all we needed. Second, Untouchable got the boot because it’s the only 64-bit machine that we have. Now we install both machines from the same medium; that’s one small variable eliminated. Whitestar is our only desktop machine (I’m not counting Chatterbox, our file server) and Defiant our only laptop.

All of our equipment is older, on the order of eight years. We suspect that’s one of the reasons we’re experiencing so many Linux problems. We’re starting to consider new machines. To simplify things further, we may buy a very capable laptop with a docking station. That would bring us down to one machine plus the file server. Our biggest worry is that if our one machine dies, we’re completely out of business.

Back to finding a Linux distribution. RoboFrog started with Ubuntu Studio 11.10, and as I said, this is where the problems began. It worked…okay…not great. And, that’s when HIS mood went sour. HE shut down everything we were doing and informed me that we weren’t doing anything else until we had an acceptable operating system running on Defiant and Whitestar. Notice that I said “acceptable operating system.” For the first time in five years, HE put Windows™ back on the list of possibilities. I was stunned. I never thought I would hear that from HIM.

Over the past three weeks HE repeatedly installed

  • Ubuntu Studio 11.10
  • Xubuntu 11.10
  • PCLinuxOS 2012
  • Fedora 16 Xfce
  • Fedora 16 KDE
  • Arch Linux
  • Kubuntu

HE would run one of them for a couple of days thinking HE’d finally found us a home. Then a problem would pop up. After HE told MsRoboFrog, for the third time, that the problems were resolved SHE started giving HIM the evil-eye. I noticed that HE took Defiant to the basement and stopped mentioning computers to MsRoboFrog.

RoboFrog always had great confidence in the Linux world because no matter how many distributions HE tried or how much trouble HE had with them…HE always had Arch Linux to come back to. That confidence has been shaken.

Arch has been our favorite distribution for a long time. Sadly, we’re retiring Arch Linux. We get all of our news and media entertainment from the Internet. We read the morning news on Yahoo! and Google, stream music from Pandora, movies from Amazon, and TV from Hulu. All but the morning news depend on Adobe Flash Player® to deliver content. Something changed recently with Arch Linux and Flash. We tried Arch Linux a couple of times on both Defiant and Whitestar with the same results. Flash video looks more like a slideshow (and not a particularly fast one) than video. That’s a deal-breaker. We searched the Internet and Arch Forums, but found no way to correct the problem. We’ve lost an old friend.

You may wonder why, given the wireless problems we had with the *buntu’s, that we’re testing them again. Remember that we installed the Diamond Wireless Range Extender? Well, the problem with losing the wireless lock is gone. We’re very happy with the Diamond Wireless Range Extender.

So…who won? We’re holding our collective breaths, but HE has Kubuntu running on all three machines: Whitestar, Defiant, and Chatterbox*. (There’s an interesting story about Chatterbox and Kubuntu, but I’ll save that for another time.) Kubuntu is not just running okay; it’s running extremely well. We’ve been running Kubuntu for four days. Don’t laugh; that’s twice as long as any of the others.

We’re going to continue testing Kubuntu (and try to steer clear of MsRoboFrog for a while) and hope that we truly have resolved our Linux issues. For the moment, I don’t have to worry about HIM taking us back to Windows™. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would certainly be a significant failure in what we’re trying to do here on the LilyPad.

More Kubuntu next time…and, I hope we’re back!

Conclusion of the meltdown!

WordPress / Blogging

We’ve been experimenting with themes for The Robotic Frog. I think we’ve tried all that are available at WordPress.  We had a few surprises, though. Here are some things to consider when choosing a theme for your blog.

Comments

We like comments at The Robotic Frog and encourage you to share your thoughts. I was surprised at the number of themes that don’t have a link for comments. I assumed that every theme had a comment link unless you turned it off from the Dashboard. Not so. If you want comments, make sure your theme includes a link.

Consider where the comment link is located. Once I started looking for it, I found that many themes have links at the top of the post, but not at the bottom. The reader finishes reading at the bottom of the post. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that the comment link should be there?

Fonts

I want the text to be as readable as possible. I found many themes that I liked…except the fonts were difficult to read. Make sure your fonts have the look that you want.

Tag Line and Page Links

There are some very nice themes that don’t display your tag line and/or page links. Check for this when choosing a theme. Also, themes display your page links in different orders. If that’s important to you, note how the prospective theme handles page links.

Back to the meltdown…

I decided to start with Whitestar*. “Well you know,” says HE*, “that Fedora probably won’t load from the DVD. We’ve had that problem before.” I know HE’s correct about this, so I have HIM prepare a bootable USB stick with Fedora 16 Xfce…just in case.

HE was right. It wouldn’t load from the DVD. This is a curious problem. The installation begins and then after you’ve made a couple of choices it decides that it can’t find the drive from which it started. I don’t know about you, but that seems really weird. Even more puzzling is that Fedora 14 loaded perfectly from DVD onto Whitestar. The “Honey, I lost the DVD” thing started with Fedora 15. It seems that Fedora 16 perpetuates it. (Fedora isn’t the only Linux distribution that has this problem with Whitestar.) As with Fedora 15, Fedora 16 loaded from the USB stick and all was well.

Fedora 16 Xfce was very attractive. All of our critical software was available in the repositories and most of the odd packages with which we want to experiment were there as well. There was one minor glitch. The Xfce weather applet doesn’t work with Fedora. It worked just fine with Xubuntu (and Arch Linux). That’s annoying, but not a reason to stop using Fedora. We’ve had really good luck with Fedora in the past, so I was hopeful that we were about to end this saga.

On to Defiant*. HE started the installation. Perfect, but what about the Internet connection. Xubuntu had problems maintaining the connection upstairs (see previous post). We ran Defiant from about three o’clock in the afternoon until almost midnight. It didn’t lose the Internet connection a single time. We experienced one minor (to us) problem.

Fedora 16 Xfce clearly recognizes Defiant as a laptop. Trackpad tap and scroll, however, are not enabled. With Xubuntu, the trackpad just worked. As I said, this was a minor problem for us because we know that it’s two lines added to a configuration file for Synaptics (the software that makes the touchpad work). The biggest problem we had was figuring out where Fedora keeps the configuration file. Once that was determined, we added the two lines, rebooted…problem fixed. While this was a minor issue for us, I can see it being a deal-breaker for a new Linux user.

Untouchable* was still running Xubuntu. We use external USB hard drives for our backups and they were connected to Untouchable. We had no problem getting Defiant to talk to Xubuntu. It was drag-n-drop to reload Defiant’s files. All seemed to be working well. We had two machines back up, and so far, no major problems. Time to shutdown and head for bed.

“Huston, we have a problem.”

I got up the next morning and there HE was, staring at Defiant. The shutdown screen was still displayed. Defiant was hung up on something and didn’t turn itself off. We had rebooted Defiant several time last night and didn’t see this problem.

“What was the last last thing YOU did last night?” I always have to keep an eye on HIM.

“Not much. I set up the file sharing.”

Eventually, we determined that this had something to do with disconnecting from the NFS server. We never found a way to correct the problem, but we did find an acceptable way to get Defiant to shut down. It was a bit of a kludge, but it got the job done. Crisis avoided. We’re getting close. Only one more machine to get working.

Out of time and out of gas!

There were no problems loading Fedora onto Untouchable. Not a surprise. Everything loads on Untouchable. Then came the deal-breaker. We moved the backup drives to Whitestar. Backup wasn’t an important issue at RFCC until we started working on this blog and putting a lot of time and effort into creating content. We realized that we were one hard drive crash away from disaster, so we put a lot of thought into figuring out how to do backup as reliably and painlessly as possible. Whitestar is our machine designated for handling backups. That means it must operate as our file server. This is usually a pretty simple thing. We searched for documentation for how to do this with Fedora. The most recent documentation we could find was for Fedora 13. I looked through the online documentation for Fedora 16 and found documentation for Samba (software that can also be used for file sharing), but not NFS (the system we use at RFCC). We tried the instructions from the Fedora 13 manual and they didn’t work (probably our fault). At this point, I looked at HIM and said, “Stop! No more.” I was out of patience, out of time, and out of gas with this entire project. I directed HIM in the strongest terms to get us back to Arch Linux as quickly as possible.

Arch Linux logo

It took a half day to reload Arch Linux, our software, and restore our backups. What a relief after all this to have three systems working perfectly: filemanagers working, weather applets working, file server working, trackpad working, wireless Internet working, and no startup or shutdown issues! Arch Linux with Xfce as our GUI environment continues to be our Linux system of choice.

Conclusion (Finally!)

Let me be clear about how we feel about these Linux distributions. Our preference is Arch Linux, but Arch is not without it’s problems. It’s just that we’ve used it enough that we know where the potholes are and how to steer around them. If Fedora Xfce and Xubuntu were the only choices we had, we would gladly use either of them. The problems we experienced can be overcome or minimized. Linux Mint Xfce is a different story. RoboFrog’s position is that if the installer and updater don’t work, you’re lost before you ever get started. The irony is that if a newcomer asked us for a recommendation for a first Linux system, we would recommend the main Linux Mint distribution (Ubuntu derived). Anthony Venable writes a blog that I follow. He recommends Ubuntu for newcomers and I have no reason to fault that recommendation. It would be The Robotic Frog’s second choice. In fact, we’ve just installed Ubuntu 11.10 on a new machine (Chatterbox) because of Anthony’s recommendations. If you’re a first-timer interested in Linux, check out his blog.

Whew! We’re finished…for now…talking about Linux distributions. Next time, we’re returning to content creation. Thanks for hanging in there!

More meltdown on the LilyPad

* Check the Glossary page if you don’t know what or who these are.

=========================================

Technically, Untouchable* and Whitestar* weren’t broken-broken. Linux Mint Xfce installed and was workable. It just wouldn’t load updates. This brings me to a point of policy here at RFCC*. We try a lot of Linux distributions and only have a few no-go rules:

  • The installer and updater must work properly.
  • We must be able to load the distribution on Untouchable, Whitestar, and Defiant*.
  • It must boot and run properly on all three machines.
  • We must be able to load software with the package manager.

At the point that a distribution fails one of these requirements, it gets dumped. We usually don’t try to fix the problems. This, of course, is a generalization (If you don’t know RoboFrog’s point of view on generalizations, check the Scratchpad page.). But I don’t have a lot of control over…HIM*. Sometimes HE* gets curious and just has to tinker. I think it’s a waste of time, but when HE gets in a mood there’s no stopping HIM.

“Relax. This isn’t a problem,” HE says. HE immediately picks up the Xubuntu Xfce 11.10 installation disk and starts loading Xubuntu onto Untouchable. There’s not much to say at this point. Untouchable is already broken. HE can’t make it much worse.

xubuntu

Xubuntu easily loaded onto Untouchable and presented a very attractive Xfce screen. The update manager signaled and all updates loaded perfectly. I had to give HIM credit. There seemed to be a lot to like here. I turned around and HE was already loading Xubuntu onto Whitestar. I held my breath. As I said, we have more trouble with new installations on Whitestar than any other machine. Surprise! No problems. And of course, HE immediately started loading Xubuntu onto Defiant.

Xubuntu loaded and updated without incident on all three machines. This almost never happens. Whitestar, usually our problem child, had no problems. Defiant, our second most troublesome machine, also loaded without incident…wireless worked immediately, trackpad tap and scrolling worked. I was getting pretty optimistic. Maybe one of the *buntu’s was finally going to be a favorite at RFCC. Then HE loaded all of our software. Still no problems. All of our critical applications were available. HE had the file server running on Whitestar with Untouchable and Defiant talking to it. I was impressed. I told HIM that I would take it from there and get all the backup files on the appropriate machines.

I double-clicked on the filemanager (Thunar)…and nothing happened. Well, maybe it missed the double-click. I double-clicked again. Nothing. I stared at the screen considering the possibilities. About ten seconds later, the filemanager window popped up along with a dialog box describing permission problems and such. Hmmmm. Then another filemanager window along with the same dialog box showed up. So, the system got both double-clicks and just had to think about them for a really long time. What was displayed in the filemanager window was fine; it just took a long time to get there and it brought along the dialog box with its cryptic error message. I closed both filemanager windows, both dialog boxes, and double-clicked again so I could see how long it took for the filemanager to come up. It popped up immediately with no error message. Okay, well that happens sometimes. Maybe the system has worked the problem out. Rebooted and tried again. Nope. Took almost twenty seconds for Thunar to come up and it brought the error message with it. I tried again with the same result. Finally, on the third try, Thunar came up immediately with no error message. We had the same result with all three machines.

I went to the Internet to see if anyone else was having this problem. Yep, but it wasn’t perceived to be a big problem. Since the filemanager is a program that we use a lot, for us, it was a deal-breaker. Time to dump Xubuntu and look for something else. We’re running out of options. Only Fedora Xfce left…And…now you know how Defiant got dragged into this mess. All three machines down at the same time.

One final comment about Xubuntu on Defiant: My wireless modem is in the RFCC (basement). Wireless worked perfectly in the RFCC, but Defiant gets used a lot upstairs (two floors above). Upstairs, Xubuntu wouldn’t hold a lock on the wireless signal. It  connected during boot and everything looked fine. Then, it would hold the signal for about ten minutes…maybe. Once the signal was lost, I couldn’t get it to reconnect. The only way to restore the wireless connection back was to reboot. This is the only time I’ve ever had this problem with Defiant. Other Linux distributions (in fact, every other Linux distribution I’ve tried) will hold the lock all day. This, by itself, was reason enough for a no-go with Xubuntu.

This really isn’t a blog focused on reviewing Linux distributions. We got ourselves into a mess, though, and it put us offline for a week. We’re actually interested in content creation and we’re coming back to that.  This problem, though, underscores the importance of the post we intended before the meltdown (which we’re getting back to, I promise). Before that, though, Fedora Xfce…next time.

Meltdown on the LilyPad

We’ve been mostly offline for the past week here on the LilyPad. This is the result of a meltdown of the RoboFrog computing center (RFCC, my basement). I wish I could tell you that the meltdown was the result of a computer virus, a critically malfunctioning operating system, sabotage, equipment failure, lightning strike, or a random act-of-God. The truth is that it was the fault of one person: RoboFrog’s wife’s husband. So that he can save face, I won’t mention his name. Let’s agree that we’ll refer to him as…HE, HIM, HIS.

There are three…let’s call them production computers…here on the LilyPad. Actually, there are quite a few others, but they’re mostly older, decommissioned machines that get used for special projects and tinkering. The three production machines get used every day. This blog is produced on all three depending on wind direction, position of the stars, mood, and location of RoboFrog. Naturally, the three production machines have names.

My favorite and most capable machine is Untouchable (There’s a reason it’s named that!). It’s a desk machine that I assembled specifically to run Linux. Prior to last week, only one Linux distribution had ever failed to install and run on this machine: Ubuntu 11.04. (Ubuntu 11.10 runs just fine.) The second desk machine is Whitestar. Whitestar is a Dell Dimension 8400. It sits next to Untouchable and is intended to be the experimental machine here at RFCC. Finally, there’s Defiant, the RoboLaptop (second most-used machine); it’s an IBM ThinkPad T-43. So that’s the cast of characters. All of the machines are on the order of five to six years old and there’s nothing exotic about any of them. It’s pretty crowded on the LilyPad. Back to the tale.

HE is an incurable tinkerer, always wondering if the flies are thicker over someone else’s lily pad. We had perfectly installed and configured Arch Linux systems on all three production machines. Xfce is our GUI (graphical user interface) of choice at RFCC. The Linux world is going through a metamorphosis in the area of look-and-feel and GUI functionality. Gnome, Ubuntu (Unity), and KDE (the three top Linux GUI contenders) each have their own ideas about where things should go. We’ve decided to sit this one out at RFCC. Since our machines are…mature…we decided to use Xfce while the heavyweights fight it out. We immediately found our machines more responsive and the environment familiar. Lately, we’ve noticed several of the major distributions touting a version configured with Xfce. HE…decided that we needed to try three of them: Fedora Xfce, Linux Mint Xfce, and Xubuntu. To which I said, “No problem. That’s why we have Whitestar…so we can experiment with new things.” That was all HE needed. Immediately, HE decided to load Linux Mint Xfce on Whitestar.

Linux Mint 11

We like Linux Mint here at RFCC…a lot. **IF**…we were going to run a heavyweight distribution, Linux Mint would be the first we’d try. When Linux Mint came out with an Xfce version, we took notice. I really can’t blame HIM for wanting to give it a try.

HE loaded Linux Mint Xfce on Whitestar with no problem whatsoever. There’s a reason (not necessarily a good one) for everything at RFCC. Whitestar is the experimental machine because we have more trouble installing new Linux distributions on it than any of our other machines. I was impressed that HE managed to get Mint installed so easily. It’s Linux Mint, though, so that shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Then it started!

Linux Mint automatically runs the software updater when you log on the first time. The software updater got HIS attention and HE told it to update everything. Then, it gave HIM a message saying something about not being able to access the repositories. Okay…now we had a broken computer. HE immediately decided that this might be a Whitestar thing instead of a Linux Mint thing. Before I could stop HIM, HE started loading Mint Xfce on Untouchable. (Did I mention that there’s a reason it’s named Untouchable?) You can see where this is going. Everything worked exactly the same on Untouchable. The installation was flawless, but it wouldn’t update. Two broken machines at RFCC.

A rational person would stop while they were ahead…right? I was already a bit miffed with HIM, but as usual, HE was excited about all of this. HE kept babbling on about having a golden opportunity to try some things we wouldn’t otherwise have tried. Frankly, I wasn’t amused at having two computers down and excited is not the word I would have used. There’s more that I’ll get to next time and I’ll tell you how HE managed to drag Defiant into the mess.