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I was reading the only Xubuntu themed blog I have ever come across, Living With Xubuntu, and there was a link to a reddit thread about why people are switching from Ubuntu to Debain. The general theme from the thread was one that I’ve heard many times before: Ubuntu is bloated and Debian or Arch or Gentoo is lighter and better and you Ubuntu morons will see the light one day and switch to a real man’s distribution. And not once have I seen anyone mention that Ubuntu can be as light, if not lighter, than every distribution suggested. The trick is not to install the 700 mb GNOME Ubuntu turd that is their main edition, or even Xubuntu (which is a great distro/spin, but is a tad on the bloated side), but install the frickin UBUNTU MINIMAL CD . There’s a reason they call it the minimal cd, it’s only 12.7 mb. You want to avoid bloat, install a 13 mb system.

You want a lightweight functional Xfce system? Install the ubuntu minimall cd and then run “sudo apt-get install xfce4″. That’s it. You get an absolute bare bones Xfce desktop and all the goodness that comes with Ubuntu. Like drivers, tons of packages and a huge support system of forums and blogs. And if you want a GNOME free login manager to round it out, just run “sudo apt-get install lxdm”. And as a free bonus, you get LXDE as well! For all of 9 additional mbs! Not bloated! You get two bloat free desktops, on a system that actually frickin works out of the box.

Stay GNOME free by adding NetworkManager, Chromium, Pidgin, Parole, Aqualung, Mousepad, etc. It’s pretty easy to check and see if you’re “bloating” up your system: after you run “sudo apt-get install whatever” look at the list of dependent packages and the total size of the install. If there are a ton of packages that start with “gnome” or “libgnome” try to find another application. And there you go, a lightweight Ubuntu running a full featured Gtk desktop. This may become more common if the Xubuntu team blimps up their spin at the same rate the Unity team did with the main edition.

And it comes full circle

The first linux distro I ever used was Xubuntu 8.10. That was so long ago, I don’t even remember why I switched. I switched to Crunchbang, Debian testing + LXDE, minimal Ubuntu + LXDE, Linux Mint Debian and then Lubuntu. I would have been fine sticking with Lubuntu if I thought they would have a 64-bit edition out anytime soon, but it doesn’t look like they will. I know I could use the 64-bit minimal Ubuntu and add the Lubuntu-desktop package, but I’m lazy. I wanted to see how much better my 64-bit machine would preform with a 64-bit OS. So I just went with a 64-bit Xubuntu and tacked on the LXDE desktop. At first I started just randomly picking a desktop, then one day I just stopped logging into LXDE all together. This past weekend I formatted both my machines with Xubuntu and have yet to install any LXDE apps other than PCManFM (I need tabs in my file manager), LXRandR and GPicView. In fact, I like the look of the Xfce desktop more.

Openbox was always one of the things I liked about LXDE, but Xfwm is just as good. And as a bonus, I can get a shiki theme for Xfwm to match my shiki gtk theme. I could never get it to quite look right with Openbox, and that always bothered me. Also, LXPanel never looked right with the shiki theme, but the xfce4 panel looks great with it. Xfce looks better, has better default apps and is just as fast as LXDE. There’s also a 64-bit version and the live installer always works (I’ve had some problems with the Lubuntu one in the past).

The final straw was that I got really comfortable using Tilda as a terminal with full transparency. For whatever reason, that just does not work with LXDE. I’m sure there’s a way to fix that, but I don’t have time. Like everything else with Xubuntu, it just works out of the box. Why Xubuntu isn’t more popular, or Xfce is never discussed as being the default desktop for any major distribution is beyond me, I can’t think of one aspect of any desktop that suits my needs better than Xfce. My goal is to make it 6 months without switching, and I feel pretty good about being home again.

I really like LMDE. While I’ve never been a huge fan of Linux Mint in general, I understand that it is a very well run project, with a very loyal group of fans. But I like Debian, and the Mint team seemed to address every issue I have with Debian, so liking LMDE makes sense. For me anyways. But it seems to be a hot topic elsewhere as well. And by hot I mean receiving way more attention than any other community built linux distro that I can remember. Here are some of the links.

Lifehacker rarely writes about distro releases, especially smaller ones like this.

This guy rarely writes about individual distros, and when he does he usually dislikes them.

Now this is only two sources, but I don’t read alot of linux blogs. And these two pieces hit on my feelings exactly: normal linux users can now test (live media) and easily install (live installer) Debian testing, without having to worry about flash and other codecs, because they’re included. And it’s fast as shit. This could turn out to be huge for the Mint project.

UPDATE – Another one. I have never seen this site write about distributions, impressive.

Linux Mint Debian: fuck, really?

God damnit. The Linux MInt team has released a version of their OS based on Debian. So why does this anger me? Cause it’s freakin’ awesome, and I thought I finally was done shopping around for a distro. I have become a Lubuntu zealot, even going as far as installing it on random computers around the building. And I thought that was the end of it. Because I have tried Linux Mint before, but it wasn’t for me. Now, I think it’s a fantastic distro. When friends ask me which Linux OS should they begin with, I always say Mint LXDE. But for me, I like Lubuntu better. It just feels “tighter” if that makes sense. But like I said, Mint LXDE is great, and I have a lot of respect for it.

The reason I switched from Debian to Lubuntu is that I prefer distros that feel like they have someone in charge; that have direction. And as great as Debian is, the project seems to lack direction. And god damnit, I need my OS to have a clear vision. That’s why this pisses me off. The Mint project has great leadership and vision. So when you combine that with Debian, well fuck, that’s what I was looking for all along.

But, I do really like LXDE. Not that I hate GNOME (I do hate KDE however), but I prefer to use LXDE. And since Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) is GNOME only, maybe I will have a difficult time installing LXDE and gutting out the GNOME schwag? Nope. It’s not only really easy, it’s better than I had expected. To install LXDE, just add the “lxde-core” meta package from the repos and you have an LXDE session ready to roll. There’s no LXDM in the Debian repos yet, but I don’t get too bent out of shape over login-managers, gdm is fine for me. And removing the schwag? Also not hard. Just kill the main mono library, the main compiz library and the main pulseaudio library, and whatever GNOME utilities you don’t need, and it gets pretty lightweight pretty fast. I refuse to uninstall any package that removes a mint package, like I said, I like vision and I want to see where the team takes this project. And one way to monitor that is to see what apps they decide to include. All of this was expected.

What I didn’t expect, is how easy it was to overcome one of my main pet-peeves with Linux. For some reason, all of the gtk themes other than clearlooks annoy me. And nothing really seems to go with my favorite openbox theme onyx. But the mint team has made an openbox theme “Mint” and a gtk-theme “AuroraMint” that look fantastic together. Like I said, I know this is stupid, but when everything looks “themed” it just feels like a real distribution. I feel stupid typing that, but it’s the way I feel. Toss in some Mint wallpaper, and fuck, I have a really slick looking, fast as hell, LXDE/Debian desktop. Which would have been great, if I hadn’t already committed to Lubuntu.

But it gets even better. Much better. The first is, the Mint team made LMDE a live DVD. Works flawlessly. They also made an installer, a really easy to use one to boot. These are two of the biggest drawbacks to other Debian distros. But the Mint team fixed them both.

But it’s not perfect. One, it’s a live DVD, so it’s a bigger file. Kind of annoying, but by no means a deal breaker. And there’s no native LXDE version. Now, with about 30 min of work, you can have a really slick LXDE desktop, that’s about 95% of what an official Mint LXDE Debian desktop would be like (I guess, I have no idea really, but I can’t think of anything else I can do to make it more “LXDE-like”). But that’s it. Everything else is as expected.

So, LMDE is what you would guess: the Debian repos plus the ease of use and enjoyable design that is a Linux Mint distribution. I can see a lot of Linux Mint GNOME, Lubuntu, Crunchbang, Debian and Ubuntu users switiching to LMDE. Mint might soon become known as a “Debian derivative” as opposed to an “Ubuntu derivative”, LMDE is that good.

Guake is good shit

I work a lot in the terminal, and much like text editors, I like to have a few on hand to keep things interesting. There is probably no lamer way to keep things “interesting” but whatever. I usually scan the Crunchbang and Arch forums to see what the trendy apps are, and while they are usually a great source, they seemed to miss is a very solid terminal, Guake. Guake is modeled after the popular KDE drop-down terminal Yakuake, which apparently is modeled after something in the game Quake. I played that game, and I don’t remember any drop-down menus, but whatever. While a drop-down terminal doesn’t sound like a must have, after playing with Yakuake for a few hours, I was convinced that it was worthwhile. But that was on a virtualbox where I didn’t have to infest my system with any KDE crap. After looking around for GTK based drop-down terminals I found two: Guake and Tilda. I ran my standard heuristic to decide which one I should install: if one has both a cleaner looking webpage that seems to be actively updated AND has less dependencies (relative to what I already have installed) then that’s the winner. Guake won both tests, and thus was installed. Guake has some really nice features that make it better than Yakuake in my opinion.

The first is a tray icon. Since this app pretty much runs in the background, it’s very nice to know when its running. You can also quit it from the tray icon, as well as access the preferences menu.

The second is that it feels like Terminator, my default terminal, which makes using it that much more seamless. It also has keyboard shortcuts, so you can make it feel however you like.

It does get a little intrusive, installing both an icon in the “Preferences” menu as well as setting itself to autostart when logging in. There is also not ability to split the screen, as there is in Terminator, which is probably my favorite feature of Terminator. But these two things aside, Guake is a very nice terminal application, and fits in very nicely into the rest of my Lubuntu configuration. Anyone looking for a nice GTK terminal compliment to Terminator should give Guake a chance.

PDF-Shuffler

I came across a rare problem tonight: I need to merge slides from a Power Point slide presentation and a slide show I made in LaTeX Beamer. I hate the .ppt format, if I ever have to view a .ppt I install Impress, convert the file to a .pdf and uninstall Impress. But this time around I need to teach one lecture for a friend of mine, and she uses slides provided by the text book. About 50% of the slides are usable, but I need to make 20 or so slide of my own and add them. Since the text book slides have pictures and crap I don’t want to redo in Beamer, I needed to find a better way (insert David Cross electric scissors joke here).

PDF-Shuffler is an app I came across in the Ubuntu repos. It has a single python dependency and does a few things, but one thing very well: you can open as many .pdf’s as you want, it displays every slide from each .pdf in a grid, and you choose what order they go in. Any slide you don’t want, you simply delete. You can also resize and rotate slides. And that’s it. But since that’s all I needed it to do, that’s pretty sweet.

PDF-Shuffler

These apply to any buntu actually, but I can’t use any other buntu for more than a few days without replacing it with something using LXDE or Openbox, for me they only apply to Lubuntu. While I think ArchBang, Crunchbang, Debian and SliTaz are fantastic distributions, they all are missing some combination of the following three attributes:

1. Live CD/USB
2. Nvidia support
3. Simple graphical installer

Lubuntu, like all buntu’s, is easy to test, view and install. While SliTaz is easy to boot from a USB, it’s video support is lacking. Debian, and therefore CrunchBang, is sometimes a pain when trying to boot from a USB. And ArchBang itself is easy to boot from a USB, but I last tried to compile and boot the new LXDE version and it gave me some problems. ArchBang could end up being my favorite distro, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The first linux distribution I ever used was Ubuntu, and as it began to annoy me more and more with every release, my frustration finally boiled over and I ended up becoming a chronic distro-hopper. I moved to Xubuntu, then to Crunchbang, then to Debian+LXDE. What I discovered about myself is that I prefer distributions that don’t have a lot of default applications and dependencies. Ubuntu infuriated me with their integration of everything into evolution. I tried to remove the email client and I was told I would also be uninstalling the bulk of my desktop. That was the last straw. Next was Crunchbang, which is awesome, but but not updated as frequently as I liked. I was spoiled by Ubuntu’s 6 month release cycle, and as much as I liked Crunchbang, the old software began to wear on me. I then played around with a minimal Ubuntu+LXDE system, and while the installation was a simple, it didn’t feel like a distribution. That was the same issue that ended my usage of Debian+LXDE, it just never felt like anyone was in charge. That may sound odd, and it’s even a little odd to type, but whoever that Mario Behling guy is, he’s in charge of the project, and if something isn’t right, he’ll fix it, most likely.

Now there are other distributions that fit that description, Crunchbang and all the buntus comes to mind, but they both have their drawbacks. The new Crunchbang is built from Debian and I like the Ubuntu repositories more because of their inclusion of “non-free” packages. Linux nerds redefining the meaning of the word “free” drives me nuts. Free means I don’t have to pay for it. Free doesn’t mean I can sell it as my own as long as I credit the creator. Example: if some gives you a book at no cost, it’s free, even though you’re not allowed to copy it and sell it for profit. So the intel wireless driver I need during installation, but isn’t included because it’s not “free”, actually is free douchebags. But I digress. The other members of the buntu family are the reasons I have become such a huge fan of the LXDE desktop: they come with so much crap I don’t need and can’t easily remove that I just get angry. Lubuntu is truly lightweight, and flat out works. I’ve installed it on my media center, netbook, laptop and desktop, each one without a hitch. Yes, I know that sounds nutty, to install it on every computer I own, but it’s just that good. It’s both the best Ubuntu based distribution AND the best LXDE distribution.

I’m probably jinxing myself, but there is not one thing about Lubuntu I don’t like. Easy as hell to install? Check. LXDE desktop? With the latest components? Yep. Access to the Ubuntu repos? Uh hu. A minimal amount of applications in direct conflict with what appears to be the Ubuntu mission statement? You betcha. Fast as hell? So fast, it’s kind of odd. Why aren’t other distributions this fast? Hell, it even looks nice. The new Ubuntu and Xubuntu are ugly as hell. Lubuntu is a very pleasing blue. This is so weird for me; I used to strongly dislike Ubuntu. And now? I can’t shut up about are awesome one of it’s derivatives is. I attribute most of it to the use of LXDE, and what I can only assume is the amazing vision by that Behling fellow.

Adobe vs Apple

Oh man I am torn on this one. Usually I agree with any argument that is anti-Apple, just on principal. Apple makes inferior products but is able to remain in the market because they target a group of people dumb enough to believe Apple is “cutting edge”. What’s so special about Mac OS again? It has an animated task-bar? And? That’s it? You’re shitting me, you paid how much for an animated task bar? Oh, and you like the keyboard? I guess that’s worth the extra $800. There flagship products the iPod and iPhone force you to use the steaming pile of crap that is iTunes, while offering nothing extra to offset that huge pain in the ass. So I root for Apple to fail at everything they do, which is why the iPad is currently making me so happy.

But Flash on websites sucks. I use FlashBlock for Chrome, and when it’s not installed it takes me a few minutes to figure out why I’m so angry. It’s because Flash slows down sites to the point of frustration. I’ve even begun using the text only browser Lynx, to avoid my interaction with Flash. So Apple essentially blocking Flash from the iPhone and iPad doesn’t bother me all that much. Even if Apple adopts a competing technology, such as HTML 5, web developers will be forced to give pause before deciding to add some crappy animation to their site. Apple playing hardball with Adobe should at the least slow down the proliferation of Flash across the web, and that’s great. Because Flash is bad for the web. Some critics of Flash blockers have argued that you’re hurting the sites you visit by blocking Flash based ads, because those ads pay for the site. That’s partially true. Those ads pay for sites only if WE visit the site. No traffic equals no revenue. And I’m not going to visit a site that I know will piss me off. The use of Flash blockers at least allow me to visit sites with the possibility that I might click on a non-Flash ad. Flash blockers don’t cost websites money, shitty Flash ads cost websites money.

So for the first, and probably last, time in my life I’m siding with Apple. Weird.

I can’t believe I just came across something so simple, but I’m glad I did. I do all of my plotting in gnuplot and all of my presentation in LaTeX with the Beamer class. Here is what I do to get plots from gnuplot into LaTeX and it’s much simpler than what I used to do (it should be noted that I do all of my LaTeX in gedit, this might not compile the same way in other programs.

1. Output the plot from gnuplot as an .eps image with the following added at the beginning of your .plt file:

set term postscript
set output “/home/user/plot.eps”

2. Move the image into the folder where your .tex file is and run:

epstopdf plot.eps

to create a .pdf of your image.

3. Add the new .pdf as you would any graphic in LaTeX.

Why would I even bother writing something so simple? Because before I tried this I was compiling my LaTeX file like 4 times while also running some other scripts that converted the .eps file to a .ps then to a .dvi then finally to a .pdf. This cut out all of those steps, AND, the resulting .pdf from the epstopdf script looks much clearer than any method I have tried previously. If anyone knows anything simpler, please let me know. The Debian package that contains the epstopdf script can be found here.

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