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VSIDO makes its mark

December 2, 2013 4 comments

Back in March, I had a chance to take a lap or two with Terry Ganus’ VSIDO and wrote about it here. I liked what he was doing — revealing that Debian Sid is not the monster some people make it out to be while proving that it could be used by the average user as a daily distro. Also, I liked the offering back then when it came out.

I gave VSIDO another shot last week, using the 64-bit Raptor, which features Debian Sid under the hood with the Fluxbox window manager on the surface. I ran it on a dual-core Toshiba laptop. Like in March, again I found it a solid distribution which would serve any user well.

A word about Fluxbox: It’s a good call to make this the default window manager. Like CrunchBang’s Openbox window manager, Fluxbox is very lightweight, however the advantage over Openbox is that it does not share Openbox’s starkness. For those who like a little color in their menus, not to mention a lot of flexibility in tweaking their window manager, Fluxbox is an outstanding option.

The lineup of software available also sets VSIDO apart. There’s the standard programs you’d find in Debian-based systems augmented by other programs which are not as well known but are adequately solid. For example, Audacity is present, but there’s also a video viewer called UMPlayer that gives any other player a run for its money. Ceni and WICD star as the network managers (more on this later). There are even a couple of things you may not find on regular distros — Filezilla comes immediately to mind, as well as menu-ized items like the htop command to easily keep track of what’s running on your system.

All of this shows that a lot of thought was put into what VSIDO users might want, and the choices are right on the mark.

One thing that I encountered last time that I encountered again, and I know this is PEBCAK moreso than a reflection on the distro: I have always fought a losing battle with WICD, and this time was no exception. This is not unique to VSIDO, because I’ve lost this battle on other distros as well. White flag, surrender — c’est la guerre. Ceni, on the other hand, came in handy and saved the day when using wireless. I don’t know what the logic is behind having two network managers — and I’m glad to be enlightened here by the VSIDO crew — but this redundancy saved the proverbial bacon this time.

A lot can be said for distros like VSIDO, most of which renders moot those ludicrous complaints about there being too many distros in the FOSS universe. There are currently the right number of distros — as many distros as the market will bear, to echo Adam Smith — and the good ones rise in direct proportion to their commitment to quality.

VSIDO is one of those rising in the Debian constellation. If VSIDO continues on its current course, it has a bright future.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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VSIDO: Sid for Human Beings

March 24, 2013 2 comments

Terry Ganus is a man on a mission — a vast one.

True to Free/Open Source Software paradigm — where if you find you can make something better, you make it so (in FOSS circles, that’s reduced to three words: “scratching an itch”) — the long-time CrunchBang forum moderator and CrunchBang user created a new distro taking the experience he’s garnered over the years working within the wider Debian community.

VSIDO, Terry’s distro, can clearly be declared “Mission Accomplished.”

The genesis of the VSIDO project is twofold: When CrunchBang lead developer Philip Newborough stopped offering Xfce support in CrunchBang, Terry went to work to make a Debian-based distro with the Xfce desktop; more importantly, however, Terry wanted to erase the stigma of Debian Sid as some sort of distro black magic that only the most experienced users can succesfully navigate.

I’ll let him explain. “My main goal with VSIDO is to show that a Debian Sid distro can be fun, powerful and does not break. I am sure you have heard that Debian is being pushed to remove the ridiculous label/moniker ‘unstable’ from the Sid name to something more responsible like ‘rolling’ . . . [and] I also have detailed what and why I did it here in this thread on the [VSIDO] forum (entitled, ‘What is VSIDO? Why Should I care?’).”

VSIDO started out as an Xfce-only distro, “but I got a lot of encouragement to include OpenBox because I had managed to make it look good and not just a bland shell,” Terry explained. “I know this rubs most of the minimalists fans at CrunchBang (and other places) wrong, but I did want to showcase a different view of OpenBox.”

A third option in window management — Fluxbox — is also offered with VSIDO. Terry explains: “Fluxbox became a part of it once I discovered Fluxbox, and honestly if I had known about Fluxbox before I ever used Xfce, I would have never used Xfce. It is that good. There are also very limited distros out there that use Xfce or Fluxbox, so they are both great fits.”

The program choices in VSIDO — one of the things that make the distro both unique and appealing — were just a list of what applications that Terry, as a power user, had used for years to make his desktop a powerful utility instead of just a work space. From a wide range of experiences with the programs included in VSIDO, Terry says that he has “gathered what ‘just works,’ not just for me, but for everyone else I have encouraged to use them.”

The list is filled with programs you already know, punctuated by some you — or, at least, I — may not have heard of.

For advanced users, tools like bleachbit, Disk-Manager, kernel-remover, debian apt protection tools, build essentials and a selection of debian power tools are standard features in VSIDO. For the beginner, everything for connection, multimedia, music, aliases, system panels, tint2 launcher panels and ease of use is standard. SpaceFM is the default file manager, though Thunar 1.6 with tabs is also installed. UMPlayer handles the media play.

What’s more, all of the programs used, like ceni for network management, might be new to some users, but given the fact that they’ve been tested for some time by Terry and others, it makes their addition to the mix.

Giving VSIDO a test drive

Those who regularly read this blog know I’ve mentioned this before: I don’t consider any review that is based on running a distro from a live CD/DVD/USB a legitimate review. It’s akin to sticking your finger in a bowl of cake batter, tasting it and telling us how great the cake is when it isn’t even baked yet.

That said — and bear in mind this is not a review as much as it is a test drive — VSIDO is an outstanding distro running from the USB drive that, if running the live version is any indication, is a solid new Debian-based distro.

VSIDO comes up quickly and provides easy navigation for those who have previously used the Xfce desktop environment. The Conky default in the upper left provides those who wish to monitor their systems an oustanding display of information. From the look of the desktop envirnoment — Xfce by default — it is very easily customizable and much of what you want is at your fingertips with a mere right-click anywhere on the desktop.

I threw a lot at the distro and was not disappointed — monitoring the memory use, the Debian-based distro handled everything with aplomb, never going over 500 MB in memory use (it should be noted that VSIDO is very lightweight in and of itself, coming up at around 170 MB of memory at the start).

The only possible stumbling block, albeit minor, for new users is working with unfamiliar programs. For example, I tripped over ceni since I had never seen it before, and while I picked it up pretty easily, it might be intimidating to some newer users.

The best way to determine whether VSIDO is right for you, of course, is to give it your own test drive.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that Terry is both active in his own distro while continuing to participate in the CrunchBang community, there are misconceptions that somehow VSIDO is a derivative or a descendant of CrunchBang. It’s not. Their sole relationship is that they are both Debian-based distros, despite the fact many CrunchBang users are lending a hand in VSIDO (and, conversely, vice-versa).

“I truly admire corenominal (Philip Newborough) for what he did with CrunchBang and if it were not for my passion for Sid and all it’s strengths, I would have never looked at VSIDO as an alternative,” Terry said. “My ‘following’ of smxi, tint2, xfce4, conky and lua for 18 music apps, netinstall scripts and of course GMB fans, all encouraged me to take that knowledge and experience to another level and VSIDO was born.

“More than anything to me, it is important that a user has fun, has the tools, has a vision and a strong community to rely on.”

Having used VSIDO for several days, albeit booting from the USB drive, it’s evident that Terry has taken Sid and made it the basis for a workable, and enjoyable, distro for everyone — beginner and seasoned user alike. If I had a second 64-bit machine to run it on (I only have one in an arsenal of 32-bit hardware, and VSIDO only comes in 64-bit), I wouldn’t hesitate to install it for a more in-depth look.

I will continue to use CrunchBang as my primary distro. Yet seeing and saluting the similarities between both the CrunchBang and VSIDO methods of augmenting a distro with a knowledgeable and helpful community — again, to both distros’ credit, there are many crossover personnel in both forums — I would gladly urge those who are curious to give VSIDO a try and would recommend folks who have an affinity for the Xfce desktop to use VSIDO.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software in his individual consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Stop the presses

February 24, 2012 6 comments

It consistently awes me, sometimes to tears, to see how consistently wrong some Free/Open Source Software commentators are about things like the current state of the desktop. To hear some of them tell it, it’s a hand-wringing, brow-furrowing situation in which the fate of the entire paradigm rests in the delicate balance.

Let me explain this in simple terms: It’s not. If anything, it’s an invitation to a front-row seat to witness digital Darwinism at its finest.

So stop acting like this is a crisis. It’s not.

Unity is a dog — it’s a textbook case of incredibly bad judgment by The Mark to make a cookie-cutter, all-in-one user interface across a wide range of different hardware. But that’s all it is. Is it the death knell of the desktop? Hardly. It’s not even the death knell of Ubuntu.

The same with GNOME 3: Arguably a bad move, but not one that is forcing GNOME to fold up the tents and go the way of the Studebaker or the hula hoop.

KDE thriving? In my opinion, it is. That’s a good thing, and they have weathered some bad times recently to come out stronger and with a good product for those so inclined to use it.

Xfce making progress at GNOME’s expense? Tough if you’re a GNOME guy or gal, but not bad in the grand scheme of things. Xfce has always been a good desktop environment which is finally getting the recognition it deserves — it will be interesting to see how they take advantage of this (and good luck, guys and gals).

There is even more attention now toward window managers like Openbox and Fluxbox, as the current desktop environment “crisis” ushers in a sort of renaissance for window managers that gives users a new look at a facet of Linux that is not often discussed.

The bottom line is that’s what it’s all about: choice. Choice is good. Having choices is a virtue, not a vice. It’s simple: Get that and you get FOSS.

[Note to the Linux Foundation: You may think that events@linuxfoundation.org works, but I’m still getting bouncing e-mails across a wide variety of machines using various e-mail programs on FOSS and non-FOSS platforms. Tell you what: I’ll just print out my blog from yesterday and mail it to you. Watch your mailbox.]

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Taking a look a Salix

September 13, 2011 6 comments

There seems to be a mad dash lately of bloggers tripping over themselves to write reviews of Bodhi Linux. Jeff Hoogland and his merry band of developers have come out recently with version 1.2.0 and I’ve put it through some paces. Overall, I like it, but rather than yet another Bodhi review getting lost in the shuffle, I thought I’d put that one off for another time.

I have a MicroPC TransPort T2200 laptop on which I change distros as often as I change socks. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it is pretty much a test bed for distros I try out.

Several days ago, I was thinking about how I had not really done a lot with Slackware-based distros other than OpenSUSE. I looked for the latest version of Wolvix, which I had written about a few years ago, but found it was discontinued. This is unfortunate, because while writing that blog item a few years ago, I got the sense when talking to lead developer and new-dad-at-the-time Kenneth Granerud that he was on to something.

So after doing a few laps on Distrowatch.com, I settled on Salix, a Slackware-based distro from Europe. According to its Web site, Salix is a linux distribution based on Slackware “that is simple, fast and easy to use.”

No truer words were spoken. After a relatively quick download and installation, Salix flies on the MicroPC laptop.

I opted for the Fluxbox version of the distro — it also comes in Xfce, LXDE and KDE flavors — and the lightweight window manager version does not disappoint. While it might be objectionable to free software purists (and I’m a little flexible on this issue, though I’d prefer the decision of installing it be given to the user), the presence of Flash on the distro out of the box is a plus for those who want to get online and straight over to YouTube. With the Gslapt Package Manager, you can dig around for programs you’d like to add.

It’s refreshing when you don’t have to pop the hood right away. Right out of the box, so to speak, the distro ran flawlessly. Connectivity is a snap, and there have been no glitches with the wireless since using Salix. I added Conky because I enjoy having a rundown of what’s going on beneath the keyboard that sits on my desktop, and I also added Irssi, because that’s what the “cool kids” use to talk on IRC. Why these two programs aren’t already included on distros — I’ve only encountered Irssi being native on Debian — is a mystery.

As a matter of personal preference, I changed the cursor. I have seen this before on Fluxbox-based distros: It comes with the cursor that has a large black arrow and I prefer the smaller white one. With this exception, there was nothing I needed to tweak right away.

Again, I can’t get over the speed of this distro. Salix flies on this laptop, even with multiple programs running simultaneously. I cannot say that for every distro that has graced this laptop. Salix is clearly one of the better distros I’ve come across.

I am not completely up to speed on Fluxbox and its nuances, but I’m getting there. In the hubbub that is known as the current desktop environment soap opera, I’m starting to like window managers more, and you may find that more distro test drives will include them.

The symbol for Salix is the bonsai. Like a bonsai, Salix is small, light and the product of infinite care.

If you have the time and the inclination, give it a try.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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Hey, your distro sucks!

March 26, 2009 17 comments

I’m sitting in a room at HeliOS Solutions West/Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with computers running primarly Fedora. However, there are also boxes (going clockwise from where I’m sitting) running OpenSUSE, AntiX Mepis (it’s old), Debian, Xubuntu and Ubuntu.

“So?” You’re asking yourself, and that’s a valid question. This first-paragraph revelation will make more sense at the end.

Having said this, there are few things I like more than working a booth — usually dbEntrance or Fedora — at various shows, whether it’s a large one like LinuxWorld or the Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE), or even talking up Free/Open Source Software in the minuscule venue of a LUG meeting.

Discussing in good faith the likeness and difference between distros, between desktop environments, and between FOSS programs is something that is part of the process; the process that helps uplifts all of us — those using different distros, different desktop environments and different FOSS programs — in this thing called the Free/Open Source Software community.

Helping in good faith people who ask — whether it’s something in Fedora that doesn’t work for a user or something in another distro that is not working — is a common and unavoidable occurrence at all show levels, and it’s good to be able to get someone’s problem solved, assuming you show him/her what’s wrong. It’s the teach-a-man-to-fish-and-feed-him-for-life concept in action.

In good faith: Those are the three key words here.

I bring up those three simple words because invariably at Linux shows like LinuxWorld and SCaLE you have some who don’t follow the “in good faith” part of this equation. You know who they are (and you know who you are): These are the folks who will come to any given booth and essentially tell you what’s wrong with your distro/software/hardware, without offering a shred of evidence, an inkling of cause, or the remote possibilty of a solution to their, um, “revealing discovery.”

They’ll continue by asking why your distro/software/hardware can’t solve world hunger, put astronauts on Mars and cure cancer, among other impossibilities.

In short, their schtick is simple: Your distro/software/hardware sucks and you’re pretty lucky I’m here to tell you why.

A word to those who persist in this behavior: Stop.

It may come as a shock to you that you — and you alone — are the only one impressed with your knowledge and self-importance. In reality, everyone else thinks you’re a world-class, Olympic-caliber annoyance. Rather than helping, you’re getting in the way of those who are trying to assist others who may not be as experienced, and certainly aren’t as arrogant, as you.

So either help us with your degree of knowledge without rubbing anyone else’s nose in it, or just step the hell aside.

Folks tried to spar with me at SCaLE last month, but I blew them off — different strokes for different folks. This issue, however, actually came to a head when Red Hat’s Karsten Wade and I were getting dinner to take on the road on Sunday evening and I was confronted by one of the dogmatards whom I had spoken to earlier in the day. Not being in the mood for hearing an additional litany of what was wrong with Fedora, I just nodded and shrugged while being “schooled” about what was lacking in the distro. But Karsten took a more proactive approach, which was described by Karsten’s response to an item in the previous blog post.

Now the reason I brought up Felton: I’m primarily a Fedora user and prefer Fedora over the rest of those mentioned in the first paragraph. However I use the other distros mentioned above. I’m also game to try others; the history of this blog bears me out — google “eight distros a week” and see what you get. Some of the machines here run GNOME, some KDE, some Xfce, and one on Fluxbox. I’m not an expert at any of them, nor am I married to any of them.

Naturally, I’m open to sharing what I do know with anyone who asks. With nearly three years under my belt on the GNU/Linux side of all things digital, I realize that I’m a relative “newb” at this. Surprisingly I’m at peace with that, despite the fact I continue to learn.

So while I’m always interested to hear the error of my ways, whatever they may be, I’m really not interested in matching wits for the sake of matching wits. You want to prove you know more than I do? If that’s the biggest challenge of your day, then let me make this easy for you: You win.

Like most others, I have more important things to do.

[FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs HeliOS Solutions West/Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Eight Distros a Week: AntiX ‘Spartacus’ / ‘Lysistrata’

February 8, 2008 Leave a comment

[This is the first in an eight-part series on distros I use. These reviews come using one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 PII, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary, and our opinions may not agree. But then, that’s what freedom is about, no?]

Let’s start with a question: How hard is it to resist trying out a distro that is named, arguably, after Kirk Douglas’ greatest movie role (not to mention one of Stanley Kubrick’s best films)?

[For those who need a refresher, go out to your video store and rent “Spartacus,” or if you’re too lazy, here’s a clip from a Pepsi ad parodying the climax scene in the movie. Of course, my favorite line of the movie is Laurence Olivier chirping, “I’m not after glory. I’m after Spartacus,” and I drive co-workers nuts with it. But I digress . . . .]

Hard to resist, I know. And naturally, a good name does not a good distro make. However, in this case, AntiX 6.5 “Spartacus” and it’s younger sister 7.0 “Lysistrata” are two admirable distros that run well on older machines, and absolutely fly on newer ones.

Taking the lead in developing AntiX — pronounced “antiques” — is a British teacher living in Thessaloniki, Greece, who goes by the name of anticapitalista. It comes as no surprise — at least not to those of us who stayed awake in ancient history class — that anticapitalista has chosen to name version 6.5 after the Roman slave who emancipated his bretheren, and has chosen to name 7.0 after the heroine in Aristophanes’ play who urges the women of Sparta and Corinth to withhold sex from their husbands in order to stop the Peloponnesian War.

No, there won’t be a test on this at the end of the blog.

AntiX is based on Mepis, stripped down and built for older machines. I don’t want to keep harping on this, but a lot of times that old Pentium II box faces a landfill death sentence when it could easily and flawlessly run a distro of this caliber. So AntiX not only is a quality distro, it also helps society in general, and the environment in particular, by keeping older machines working.

While AntiX could be the best “light” distro — light in a way that older machines with limited memory can use it — AntiX absolutely flies on newer machines. The speed with which it booted — a personal-best 48 seconds — on a Pentium III-based Dell laptop was the fastest I’ve seen on any machine I’ve ever owned.

The Fluxbox desktop — although AntiX also includes the IceWM desktop, and Xfce is available (though not supported yet) on a recent Lysistrata ISO release — could take some getting used to for new users, but the Fluxbox learning curve is not that steep, and coupled with Conky (which I’ll get to later), the desktop environment and its monitors make for an interesting foray into more hands-on computer use for new or intermediate-level users. I’m new to programs like Dillo and Leafpad, and find that I like them a lot. In fact, after spending some time fiddling with Fluxbox, I have to say that this desktop environment is growing on me more and more.

As for Conky — as I mentioned when I talked about Wolvix GNU/Linux a few weeks ago, I don’t know why this small but effective program isn’t in use in more distros. You wouldn’t drive your car without gauges, so it stands to reason that Conky serves in the same manner as a dashboard on a car, and an adequate one at that.

AntiX gets high marks across the board — for usability, speed and stability — and while I would tell new users about it, I think it is geared toward those users who have a fair amount of GNU/Linux experience under their proverbial belt by virtue of the fact that it natively runs Fluxbox (although, again, the learning curve for Fluxbox is not that steep, and that of Xfce is less). For those who are more experienced with GNU/Linux, by all means try this distro. If you’re a newbie and you feel daring — like its namesakes, who took chances of historic proportions — by all means give Spartacus and/or Lysistrata a try.

A tip of the hat and thanks to anticapitalista and the crew at AntiX for making such a great distro. Keep up the great work.

Coming tomorrow: Debian 4.0

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: AntiX, Conky, Fluxbox, Xfce
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