Tag Archives: Linux

The Truth About Linux

Deviating a bit from my normal routine this morning, I am writing you from the Crimson Cup coffee shop while enjoying my cranberry and orange muffin, and hot mocha. I’ve got about fifty minutes before I have to leave for a customer visit, so I thought I’d write to all of you (though with the spotty internet here I may have to post this later in the afternoon).

Stabbed-Tux-Linux-PenguinI think it’s time I come out and say it; Linux is a frustrating operating system.

Okay, for the techies out there let’s be specific: Zorin 6 built on top of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is frustrating, though trust me, it’s not alone.

Last week a game on my Steam wishlist was on sale. Specifically, The Walking Dead Season 2 and the 400 Days DLC (the DLC would be effectively free since I could pay for it with Steam wallet funds gained from selling trading cards). Unfortunately I forgot about the sale until the next morning, giving me until 10am PDT (or about 1pm my time) to get the game. I was at work which understandably restricts game purchases but I had the solution in hand, take my trusty old netbook out for an internet spin.

When I get to Starbucks the equivalent of my Start Menu and Taskbar are gone. Apparently an update I’d run the other day killed the Avant Window Manager (which as it turns out was kind of out of date and unsupported, unbeknownst to me since it came packaged with Zorin). True, Zorin is now up to version 9, but 6 is in LTS support until 2017, so I should have been all right. I had to launch Opera with a terminal (command prompt), only to find out I couldn’t get to my network settings to actually connect and authenticate with the wireless.

Long story short I was able to boot my computer up in another OS, authenticate with two-step verification with Steam, which involved two-step verification with the Gmail, and buy the game.

So, after some forum searching it turns out there is a more up-to-date version of Avant Window Manager, and I can download the source code from GitHub. As a sidebar the Avant developer in the forum seemed really kind of rude, especially to Linux n00bs just trying to learn their system (directed at others not myself since I only tend to create new threads if my specific problem hasn’t actually been solved). Like with a lot of Linux programs you must first configure the source code, make the source code, and then install it. You don’t have a nice EXE guiding you through the installation process and doing everything in the background. To compile Avant, I needed a development version of Python, different apparently from the Python I’d installed to run scripts (and that’s a whole other story involving installing SSL libraries and in some cases gcc and make).

Three steps later and I am ready to compile. Oh wait, unknown error, missing library, invalid C++ compiler.


Screw it!

I’ll install Zorin 9 lite, since it’ll probably work better on my older hardware anyway. This involves using pen drive linux to write another OS disk image to a flash drive, booting my computer up from the flash drive, and installing the new OS (after two hours of backup of course).

My point, an update forced me to reinstall my operating system. No matter what your complaints about Windows, when’s the last time you had to do that?

And maybe a Mac is better. In fact if one of you cheeky Apple lovers wants to gift me $1399.99 or a new MacBook Air, go right ahead. Ready to put your money where your mouth is?

Computers are inherently frustrating, so you don’t need to heap additional layers of frustration on top of the baseline. No average user could have gotten even half as far on my specific problem as I did (and frankly my only solution was a reinstall so I’m not even particularly elite).

Though it kind of hurts me to say it: Windows Works.



I need a shower.

~For those of you concerned, no actual penguins were harmed in the making of this post, just that stupid Tux. And that GNU bull or moose or whatever, I’m coming for you next!


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Life with Linux

220px-TuxIt’s been about two months since the XPocalypse, and also two months of living with Linux (specifically Zorin) on two desktops and my old netbook, and I thought it was time to share some of my thoughts/feelings. As a programmer I’ve always had a passing familiarity with Linux (I had to use emacs in an x-window system for a lot of my homework in college), but I’ve never really had it on a computer I used all the time. Most of my day to day work is done on the new Windows 8 machine (which has hella crazy battery life), but I use the old Linux box as a way to train myself for a day when I want to make old hardware work for me rather than buying new hardware. So, in no particular order, here are my impressions.

  • I love startup and shutdown. Updates don’t hold up my shutdown and the thing is all the way off in less than ten seconds. One of the dreads of any windows computer is going to leave and realizing the thing wants to do 13 updates you weren’t planning on. This actually screwed up a netbook computer of my dad’s when he was cut off from the internet at a Panera. Not so with this box. It boots up quick, and shuts down quicker.
  • Zorin’s Windows look and feel is pretty good, but the version I installed (6.4 LTS) isn’t the best with desktop icons so I find myself mostly using the menu. The menu keeps programs pretty organized, though not always where I would expect them, and I’m not sure how to re-arrange and create my own folders and sub-categories.
  • I got Steam to work and brought over roughly 25% of all the games I own. I haven’t messed with Wine yet, but presumably I could get a lot more programs to work that way as well.
  • The Ubuntu Software Center is convenient for finding programs and installing them from a centralized location, but most programs seem horrendously out of date. Calibre was at least 40 revisions back, and ScummVM was back several releases as well. If it’s software you use all the time, you’re probably better off going straight to the developer’s site and getting the latest version.
  • Installing programs manually can take many forms. ScummVM came with a .deb package that Ubuntu could install through the software center. Calibre came with a long command line command that you paste into a terminal to install. Neither seem to have built in update mechanisms so this procedure must be repeated each time a new version comes out. Your mileage will vary depending on the programs you are using.
  • For internet Chrome seems to be the best, mainly from a plugins perspective (flash is installed and working without having to download). I use Opera but the one packaged with Zorin is very old, 12.16. I haven’t tried to update to the latest yet, but the old version serves well enough.
  • I use the old netbook a lot for downloading torrents from Humble Bundle (my latest eBook or game purchases) . Torrents tend to be the fastest and easiest way to manage the bandwidth downloads take up (sharing 15Mbps while trying to watch Netflix can get a little tight). qTorrent is pretty good, though its default setup crashed my router a few times before I told it to dial back the number of connections.
  • Using Google Docs and LibreOffice are fine, close to the OpenOffice experience I used to use. Probably won’t use it for any long projects, but nice to know it’s available.
  • ScummVM and DBGL work well and allow me to port a lot of my old games to this machine. Overhead can sometimes make games run more laggy than they seemed to on Windows.
  • The file explorer is tabbed and capable, arranged in the same groupings as Vista-8 (Docs, Music, Videos, etc.)
  • I like that print screens automatically write out a file.
  • Wireless connections seem better able to handle security at the enterprise level. My old netbook is the only computer I have that can connect to my company’s wireless.
  • VLC media player is a classic for video playback. Haven’t found an audio player I love yet.
  • Still playing with notepad replacements equivalent to Notepad++. Haven’t found one I like yet.
  • I’ve been meaning to test programming IDE’s but haven’t really gotten around to it. Installed CodeBlocks and Geany.
  • I’m not really happy with PDF readers either yet. SumatraPDF is one of the best windows ebook, pdf and comic book readers and I have yet to find something that simple and elegant for linux.
  • Lubuntu is definitely better on old hardware and Zorin’s lite release is very similar to its full release so switching between them isn’t difficult.
  • The number of updates seems much higher than Windows, but at least they don’t get in the way.
  • USB devices recognize easily except for my USB 3.0 hard drives. Might be more a fault of the hardware (though Windows XP did not have this problem).

Have you ever played with a Linux system? What are your impressions? Any recommendations?

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After the XPocalypse: Zorin – As close to Windows as Linux can get

Say you have an old desktop that used to run XP. You don’t really want to spend the money to replace it, but you don’t want it gathering dust either. Bottom line, you don’t want to spend any money right now and you’re willing to try something new and radical, yet safe and familiar.

Look no further than Zorin:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 08_02_06

Never heard of it? Well, you’ve probably heard of Ubuntu. Zorin’s a flavor of linux with Ubuntu as its starting point. Zorin’s mission is to provide a Windows like experience for people who are new to Linux. Be warned, it is still Linux. There will be a learning curve, but you can do it!

First off a word about versions. The version I’m recommending you install is Zorin 6.4 Core LTS (0r 6.2 Lite LTS if your machine is really ancient). LTS stands for “long term support” which in the Ubuntu Linux world means 5 years. Zorin 6.4 is the latest LTS available, based off Ubuntu’s 12.04 LTS. It’ll be good for about another three years, and then you’ll probably need to do another install. You can try something newer but support times are shrinking. They used to be 18 months and now they’re 9 months. So this OS should last you 2-4 times as long as any other option besides spending money.

For this install you will need:

*Clarification on support. Zorin 6.2 and 7.1 lite are no longer supported, but there is no version of lite for version 8 of Zorin (the latest). The 6.4 Core has the longest support of 2017. The reason for this is that Lite version is based on Lubuntu (lightweight Ubuntu) which has a different support cycle. I recommend using Core if your system can handle it, and the latest lite if not until a new version is released. (This differs from the version of Zorin I originally recommended for download, I am correcting the original post). A new LTS version of Ubuntu should be released sometime this month, but when that update affects Zorin is unknown.

You’ll be installing Zorin either with a live USB or live CD/DVD. There are some pros and cons to either solution:

  • Burning a CD or DVD from an ISO is pretty easy. If you don’t have the software on your computer, try InfraRecorder.
  • If you don’t have an optical drive (external or built-in), then flash is really the only way to go.
  • But not all BIOS’s support booting from a USB (more on this later).
  • Using a USB allows you to create a full linux live system with persistent files that you can boot on any machine (in other words kind of like a virtual machine).
  • But the data files are unencrypted and lost if you lose the USB.
  • USB will be faster, but DVD will be easier and will auto-eject when finished installing.

My suggestion is create both options (flash drive and CD/DVD) and try both to see which works. Flash drives can always be reformatted and CD/DVDs are cheap. Plus you have a backup of the OS if you ever want it.

Step One: Bring your USB to live

Assuming you’ve already burned a live disc, we’ll now create a live USB.


Pendrivelinux’s UUI has some pretty simple to follow instructions. Select the Linux OS you’re installing from a drop down list (Zorin OS is under “other”). Browse to the location of your ISO. Select your flash drive (and optionally format it).

The persistent file size is the area of your drive used to store any files or settings you create while running the live system. This makes it easy for you to try what you like, and then install everything you’ve changed without having to repeat it. If you’ve got a big flash drive, go ahead and slide this bar all the way to the end.

Click create. Be patient, this could take as much as a half an hour to complete, but probably more like 15 minutes. Get a coffee. Send some e-mail.


At some point it will start extracting the ISO image. This will pop up another window and will probably be one of the longer parts of the creation.


The only disadvantage to the persistent drive it takes a few minutes to create. The program has to create a virtual drive that’s formatted correctly. If the program doesn’t look like it’s doing anything, trust me, it is.

Some people prefer UNetbootin. Both work, there’s no real advantage to either. Use whichever you prefer.

Step Two: Get to your BIOS, or hit F2 repeatedly

Your BIOS is what actually runs first whenever you turn on a machine. Modern computers hide the BIOS so you don’t even see that it’s working, you just see Windows. But trust me it’s there. They’re all a little different, and you even hit different keys to get to them. You’ll have to look up which one works for your computer but good candidates are F2, F9, F10, F11 and F12. My older ASUS netbook (model eee 1005 HA), used F2.

You’re looking for a tab marked Boot settings or something like it. You probably will only be able to use your keyboard to move around.

On the ASUS there are two boot orders, one marked “Boot Device Priority” and the other marked “Hard Disk Drives”. Make sure to have your USB plugged in when you are making these changes. Make “Removable dev” your first boot priority, and make the USB the first of the two hard drives. This setting doesn’t seem to hold if you remove the drive or even shut the computer all the way off.

Most BIOS have CDs as the first priority item. You can leave this and make USB the second to cover all bases.

If you’re successful you should see UUI’s load screen and then the Zorin live system will boot.

Step Three: Look Around

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 08_02_06

There’s an icon on the desktop that might just be how we install this OS. It’s called “Install Zorin OS”. Before you click it, click on the network icon in the bottom right and connect to your internet connection. Make sure your device is plugged in. This install may take about an hour.

Feel free to play around with the menu, or any of the buttons at this point. Familiarize yourself with the programs that come pre-installed. Everything’s organized by category so it should be pretty easy to find what you want.

Step Four: Push the button

Click the “Install Zorin OS”. If you’re running from a live CD, be patient if it doesn’t respond immediately. After a few screens asking what language you speak Zorin will bring up this screen:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 12_42_48

You can do one of a few things at this point. The first option is to install Zorin alongside the existing operating system. If you think you’re going to need XP in the future, just to run some programs you can’t get running anywhere else, go ahead and choose this option (I did).

Note: XP demanded a chkdsk after I finished installing Zorin (probably because of the repartitioning). This is normal and XP should run fine after it finishes the check.

If you think you’re ready to only live with Linux, go ahead and pick option two. Be aware this erases all your files and programs so hopefully you made a backup? If not, quit and try again.

Step Five: Figure out how big you want Zorin to be

After you hit continue you will see this screen:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 12_44_38

On the left is your old OS (assuming you kept it), on the right, Zorin’s new home. 40GB is a pretty good size though you can always go bigger depending on your needs. Just click and drag the bar in the middle to manipulate.

Note: Ubuntu does not define a GB in this case as a true gigabyte. It is instead 1,000,000,000 bytes. A real gigabyte is 1,073,741,824 bytes. So our 40 “GB” drive is actually about 38.4 gigabytes, still more than sufficient.

Step Six: Click “Install Now” and Wait

Partitioning the drive for your installation will probably take a while, especially if your hard drive is really full and hasn’t been defragged in a while. When true installation begins there will be a few screens for determining time zone, keyboard layout, and login credentials. Once you’re done, Zorin may show you a video while it finishes copying all the files over.

Note: Your user icon can be difficult to change after installation so make sure you pick one you’re going to like (especially if you take a picture of yourself 🙂 ).

Step Seven: Reboot when finished

If you’ve plugged in a flash drive to install the OS you may want to choose to continue playing with the live so you can do a full shutdown rather than just a restart. Otherwise you might boot back up into the live system instead of the one you just installed.

Step Eight: Run updates

The shutdown icon in the bottom left will have a menu option that says either “System Up To Date” or “Check For Updates”. Click this either way, and then click “check” on the screen that comes up.

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 19_07_00

Zorin 6.4 had 337 updates as of this writing. After you click install you’ll be asked to authenticate:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 19_07_23

Get used to doing this, this is linux’s user account control.

You may see this screen:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 19_20_05

“If you don’t know why the file is there already, it is usually safe to replace it”. Not a great habit, but seems okay in this case.

Step Nine: Enjoy!

Here’s a few things to try:

  • Click on the internet category and use Zorin’s internet manager to install the browser of your choice.
  • Click on the system group to change the look and feel of zorin.
  • Take screenshots and see them auto appear in your pictures folder.
  • Try to use WINE to install a windows program (more on this another time).

This primer should get you started at least. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, or show me something cool you’ve done with Zorin.


Disclaimer: Any advice or tips given here will not be valid for all users in all circumstances. Do what makes sense to you and don’t do what doesn’t make sense. These posts are for educational, informative purposes only. Show these posts to your computer friends and have them tell you if I’m right on the money or out to lunch. In any case, please realize that anything you do to your computer is your responsibility. If you have a specific problem and need help, shoot me a comment, but if your computer bricks you were warned.

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Know when to hold ’em

Know when to fold ’em. When to cut bait, cut your losses, quit while your ahead, etc.

This is a good skill to know in general but one that applies specifically to me with gadgets.

I heard about the Raspberry Pi from a friend in church. For those who are not aware, it’s a credit card sized computer with an HDMI out, 2 usb ports and a SD card slot for booting from linux. Basically you buy the thing to play media or access the internet through your TV without having to plug in a big laptop, or for dozens of other interesting projects. And best of all it’s only $35 ($39.99 at my local MicroCenter).

Except you need an HDMI cable, some kind of monitor, SD card, power adapter, enclosure (cause all you get for $40 is the board). All told the accessories tacked on another $30 (and only because I’m the kinda guy who already has a monitor, spare SD card, usb mouse and keyboard and a powered usb port lying around).

And it doesn’t work, at least not for me.

See the trick is the adapter. I encountered a problem that is actually quite common where my red power LED comes on and stays on and I basically get no other activity. You need a really consistent 5V and at least 700mA (but realistically 1A). To get the thing to (maybe) reliably run, I’d need a new adapter, and the official one would be another $10 (assuming I can get the $5 back for the first one I bought). This would bring my total cost into the neighborhood of $80, not all of which is easy to return since I had to buy some stuff online.

I’m returning everything today.

I’m not saying the Raspberry Pi is not a fine product, but it’s not for me. I’m a software oriented guy to begin with, and I’ve always been a little wary of directly handling circuit boards. But the bottom line is, this was a thing that cost one price and then started costing more and more and more. We have to determine the same line with cars, with washing machines, with couches, and hell even with people, when are we getting diminishing returns?

Bottom line, buy the Pi if you’re willing to take on more of the risk (or expense). It’s made a lot of people very happy. Me, I think I’ll go back to lusting after a Chromebook.

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