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Review: Artix Linux 20200125

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Reviews

This is one of the lesser known distributions but it has garnered quite a few fans in its relatively short existence. Artix Linux, from hereon Artix in short, has a reader supplied rating of 8.4 as an average of 94 opinions on DistroWatch at the time of writing, which isn't bad for a distribution that is slightly more involved in terms of technical knowledge and experience a user should possess. Not to discourage the curious and the newcomers, but it is not an install and forget type of Linux though not really that hard to use either.

Artix is a systemd-free fork of Arch Linux that grew out of the Arch-OpenRC and Manjaro-OpenRC projects joining forces to provide installable images with alternative init solutions to Arch users who were unhappy with the parent moving to systemd. In fact, Arch was one of the early adopters. While in the beginning only OpenRC might have been offered, Artix now also provides install images using the runit and s6 init software, "because PID1 must be simple, secure and stable." [1] There's great variety and choice on the download page, but only the x86_64 architecture is supported. The project provides Artix base images of 520MB each, similar to a net-install or the Arch install image, and with Cinnamon, MATE, Plasma, Xfce, LXDE and LXQt ISO files for almost every major desktop environment. They weigh in between 939MB and 1.1GB depending on your chosen flavour. The page makes it clear what to expect with these, i.e. only a basic set of applications is included to get the user started: a file manager, a media player (MPV), a network manager, a document viewer, a web browser and the graphical installer. It is then up to us to add applications and shape the system to our needs and liking.

There are also community supported images labelled community-gtk and community-qt which are much larger at 2.3GB and 2.8GB respectively.

You can get every flavour with any of the three supported init systems. Official images seem to be respun now and then. At the time of writing most stable images are dated from February 2020, with the Xfce ISO labelled 20200506 apparently released in May. Further down the page there are also weekly snapshots that I guess incorporate the latest package updates, and testing images for GNOME and i3, again for all three init systems. That's a huge library to maintain and gives us a hint of how dedicated folks behind this project are. Should you have trouble with the latest version a few older ISOs have been archived and are accessible at the bottom.

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Jussi Pakkanen: Pinebook Pro longer term usage report

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GNU
Linux
Reviews

I originally wanted to use stock Debian but at some point the Panfrost driver broke and the laptop could not start X. Eventually I gave up and switched to the default Manjaro. Its installer does not support an encrypted root file system. A laptop without an encrypted disk is not really usable as a laptop as you can't take it out of your house.

The biggest gripe is that everything feels sluggish. Alt-tabbing between Firefox and a terminal takes one second, as does switching between Firefox tabs. As an extreme example switching between channels in Slack takes five to ten seconds. It is unbearably slow. The wifi is not very good, it can't connect reliably to an access point in the next room (distance of about 5 meters). The wifi behaviour seems to be distro dependent so maybe there are some knobs to twiddle.

Video playback on browsers is not really nice. Youtube works in the default size, but fullscreen causes a massive frame rate drop. Fullscreen video playback in e.g. VLC is smooth.

Basic shell operations are sluggish too. I have a ZSH prompt that shows the Git status of the current directory. Entering in a directory that has a Git repo freezes the terminal for several seconds. Basically every time you need to get something from disk that is not already in cache leads to a noticeable delay.

The screen size and resolution scream for fractional scaling but Manjaro does not seem to provide it. Scale of 1 is a bit too small and 2 is way too big. The screen is matte, which is totally awesome, but unfortunately the colors are a bit muted and for some reason it seems a bit fuzzy. This may be because I have not used a sub-retina level laptop displays in years.

The trackpad's motion detector is rubbish at slow speeds. There is a firmware update that makes it better but it's still not great. According to the forums someone has already reverse engineered the trackpad and created an unofficial firmware that is better. I have not tried it. Manjaro does not provide a way to disable tap-to-click (a.k.a. the stupidest UI misfeature ever invented including the emojibar) which is maddening. This is not a hardware issue, though, as e.g. Debian's Gnome does provide this functionality. The keyboard is okayish, but sometimes detects keypresses twice, which is also annoying.

For light development work the setup is almost usable. I wrote a simple 3D model viewer app using Qt Creator and it was surprisingly smooth all round, the 3D drivers worked reliably and so on. Unfortunately invoking the compiler was again sluggish (this was C++, though, so some is expected). Even simple files that compile instantly on x86_64 took seconds to build.

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Kevin Fenzi: pinephone: initial thoughts

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Reviews
Gadgets

I ordered one of the ubports editions of the pine64 pinephone and after a small amount of playing around with it, I’d like to share my thoughts.

First a little background. I’m very big on open source for many many reasons. I use Fedora rawhide for my laptop day to day and in general try and use free software wherever else I can. My phone has been a annoyance to me for many years now. Being completely closed source, apple/i-phones are right out for me, which basically just leaves android. Now you might think “Thats great, android is open source”, but it’s really not. While the source is indeed available, development is done by google in secret and dumped into the open after release. This means you don’t get a lot of the advantages of open source for android. Other forks/projects do take that android source and clean it up and make it nice, but they too are at the mercy of upstream that may change things in a new release drastically, leaving them to try and catch up for months after a new release. I’ve been using /e/ on my trusty one plus 3t for the last 3-4 years. They are based off lineageos and ‘de-google’ things from there. I’ve never found myself very excited by it, they too are trapped by the android development all taking place elsewhere. I’ve looked at other possible software, but they all have their issues.

3 or so years ago, Librem announced they were going to make a phone that was as open as they could make it, with high end specs. As far as I know some few batches have been made/distributed, but it’s still not a realized product. As part of this push however, software was created that could run on most normal linux distributions that could handle phone specific workflows. See https://source.puri.sm/Librem5 for a long list.

Fast forward to late last year: The pine64 folks, who have made a number of aarch64 based products successfully announced the pine phone. They produced a prototype like developer version and then, early this year announced the ubports version (some $’s of each phone would go to the ubports folks), cost: $150. The ubports version sold out and they have now announced a postmarketos version, also with a usb-c “dock”, more memory and a circut board fix to allow usb-c to work right. cost: $200 with dock, or $150 without.

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Managing tasks with Org mode and iCalendar

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GNU
Reviews

Org mode is an Emacs mode for note-taking and project planning, though Org's workflow and file format have found adoption outside of Emacs, as we'll see. Org mode makes it easy to keep notes, maintain to-do lists, plan projects, and more in Emacs. Worg, a community site for Org, describes it as a "powerful system for organizing your complex life with simple plain-text files". This sounds rather appealing since many readers probably appreciate the power of simple text files and might agree that modern life is getting increasingly complex.

What makes Org mode interesting is that it's not merely a task manager, but a system to organize your life. Org mode can also be used to keep a variety of notes, such as ideas, quotes, a list of links, or code snippets. What I noticed is that I often jot down thoughts and ideas throughout the day as I perform a range of activities, such as working on a problem, reading articles, or interacting with others. Some of those notes might just be random observations that I want to preserve, while others may lead to specific tasks later. Keeping both notes and tasks in the same document seems natural from this perspective.

Org mode offers a rich set of features, such as folding sections (i.e. hiding information under a particular heading), keeping a time record for tasks (clocking in and out), capturing notes or tasks from within Emacs or other applications (such as a web browser or PDF viewer), maintaining tables (including support for text spreadsheets), and exporting to other formats (such as HTML, LaTeX, or Open Document Format). In terms of tasks, Org mode sports features commonly found in task managers, such as states (e.g. TODO and DONE), task dependencies (expressed via sub-tasks), priorities (e.g. [#A] for the highest priority), and tags (e.g. :@home:).

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Xfce Review: A Lean, Mean Linux Machine

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GNU
Linux
Reviews

One of the best parts about Xfce is that it’s flexible enough for anybody. Whether you’re a GNOME user looking for something lighter, someone with an old machine that struggles under heavier Desktop Environments, or just looking to keep things simple, I cannot recommend Xfce enough. It will serve you well, and with just a little customization and tweaking, it can look and work however you want it to.

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System76 Lemur Pro review

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Linux
Reviews

I loved my time with System76’s Lemur Pro. This is an amazing Linux workhorse built by Linux people for Linux people. I know it’s not for everyone, but I hope I was able to raise some awareness to some of our Android and Chromebooks fans that may have never considered Linux as a viable option.

With that said, it’s also not for everyone’s wallet. The Lemur Pro starts at $1099 and can be configured all the way to over $3000. That will run many off but is in the same starting price of Galaxy Chromebook, Pixelbooks, Macbooks, and many high-end Windows machines. The Lemur Pro is also similarly priced to it’s main US competitor, the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition.

Despite these hurdles, System76 has built an incredible marriage of software and hardware with the Lemur Pro. If you want a full development rig or a completely open-sourced premium laptop, this device should be on your shortlist. You can find more information and configure your own at System76’s website.

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TrueNAS Core will soon replace FreeNAS—and we test the beta

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Reviews
BSD

Earlier this week, network-storage vendor iXsystems announced the release of TrueNAS 12.0-BETA1, which will replace FreeNAS later in 2020. The major offering of the new TrueNAS Core—like FreeNAS before it—is a simplified, graphically managed way to expose the features and benefits of the ZFS filesystem to end users. In the most basic environments, this might amount to little more than a Web front-end to ZFS itself, along with the Samba open-source implementation of Microsoft's SMB network file-sharing protocol.

Although this might be sufficient for the majority of users, it only scratches the surface of what TrueNAS Core is capable of. For instance, more advanced storage users may choose to share files via NFS or iSCSI in addition to or in place of SMB. Additional services can be installed via plug-ins utilizing FreeBSD's jail (containerization) facility, and the system can even run guest operating systems by way of FreeBSD's BHyve virtualization system—all managed via Web interface alone.

TrueNAS Core will be what FreeNAS is now—the free, community version of iXsystems' NAS (Network Attached Storage) distribution. End users—and system administrators who aren't looking for paid support—can download FreeNAS or TrueNAS Core ISOs directly from iX, burn them to a bootable optical disc or thumbdrive, and install them on generic x86 hardware like any other operating system.

We've been kicking the tires on early versions of TrueNAS Core since its announcement in March, and we see no evidence of any FreeNAS functionality slipping away behind "premium only" paywalls. The dividing lines between TrueNAS Core and TrueNAS Enterprise are no different than those between earlier versions of FreeNAS and TrueNAS itself.

Due to the sheer breadth of TrueNAS Core's offerings, we can't walk you through everything it's capable of in a single article. But we will hit the major highlights along the way—we'll install the distribution and set up a storage pool on eight physical disks, join TrueNAS Core to a Windows Active Directory domain, set up some file shares, and play with ZFS snapshot and replication facilities.

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Review: Linux Lite 5.0

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Reviews

Linux Lite is an Ubuntu-based desktop distribution featuring the Xfce desktop. The project includes several "Lite"-branded tools to make system maintenance easier. The project also provides a good deal of documentation that covers how to perform common tasks and customizations.

[...]

One of the reasons I wanted to test Linux Lite 5.0 was to see how it would compare to Ubuntu 20.04. In particular I was curious to see if both distributions, installed with all the default settings (and on ZFS) would encounter similar problems or not. As it turned out, Lite ran smoothly and rarely gave me any issues, regardless of the test environment or filesystem being used.

In the past I have found Linux Lite to be a solid desktop distribution, the sort of project I tend to suggest Linux newcomers try, especially if they are on older hardware which might not be responsive when tasked to run the Cinnamon or GNOME desktops. The project's team does a nice job of communicating well and this tends to show itself in the documentation. There are often clear examples or screenshots in the project's release announcements and documentation. The welcome window presents common tasks we might want to use, and I feel the distribution does a fine job of walking the line between streamlining the user experience and providing enough options for more advanced users.

I like the distribution's hardware support, its documentation, its responsiveness, and its custom "Lite" tools. During my trial there was little for me to complain about as I was generally able to dive in and get work done with minimal fuss. I might prefer a friendly software manager with a wider range of applications, or a logout menu with fewer options, but these are tiny nit-picks.

Some of my few complaints or suggestions were with features which were mostly good, but could be improved just a little to make for a smoother user experience. For instance, the firewall service is disabled by default. This is certainly a valid default configuration for a lot of home users. However, when the user tries to launch the firewall tool, it exits with an error saying it cannot connect to the service. This seems like a great opportunity to give the user a choice - close the firewall tool or start the firewall service. This would save them a trip to the command line to enable and start the firewall, which is not something less experienced computer users will be comfortable doing.

Likewise, the Timeshift tool can be very useful, but it only works with rsync and Btrfs. It would be great to have this tool, or a similar one included, that would handle ZFS snapshots since ZFS is a new feature.

I'd like to note that I'm not necessarily suggesting the small Linux Lite team address these missing features, it's probably work that needs to be done upstream as the distribution's developer efforts are limited. In this case Lite is just the vehicle that displays these powerful tools and some areas where they could be improved. Still, I hope these are changes which will show up in a future version as little features like this can make the difference between a good user experience and a great one.

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Linux Mint 20 Continues to Excel in All Tasks

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Linux
Reviews

The Linux Mint distribution has always shipped with a classical desktop layout through its history all the way since 2007; A panel on the bottom having a menu, launchers and opened windows on the left side, with system tray icons on the right side.

The consistency of the desktop design and the general workflow in Mint is an invaluable comfort for most average PC users and even advanced users who do not want to bother with their desktop environment’s philosophy, and instead, prefer to use a practical one throughout the ages to just do their work on their PCs. It is more important especially these days where other Linux desktops/distributions typically destroy the entire UX consistency in each few releases.

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ArcoLinux Review – A Bloated Arch Linux-Based Distribution

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Many distributions like Ubuntu and Fedora have different flavors (mainly different desktop environments) of the same Linux core. ArcoLinux, on the other hand, has three different versions – ArcoLinux, ArcoLinuxB and ArcoLinuxD – which serve different needs. The main ArcoLinux comes with all the GUI and niceties, while both ArcoLinuxB and ArcoLinux D are minimal distributions that either come with one desktop or none. They are more similar to Arch Linux and are designed to help users learn more about Linux so that they’re able to handle a more command-line based experience in Arch Linux.

[...]

ArcoLinux’s aim of “educating users about Linux” is mainly about installation of software and packages, not the usage of the desktop. I would appreciate it more if they would provide on-screen tutorials on how to use Xfce, Openbox or i3. While the ability to select (tons of) applications during installation is good, it can be overwhelming for beginners.

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