PictureIt should be no surprise that antiX, based on Debian Testing can do it all.
The lack of activity at the blog reflects a lack of change on my desktops. Over the previous three years this blog recorded my gradual migration from a mixed Linux \ Windows (7) to a Linux only computing environment. To be fair this was mostly a flirtation with other distros as I forged a deep respect and liking for Ubuntu which peaked with version 10:10 and was struck dead by 11:04 (the first Unity release). At that point the blog became a celebration of Linux Mint and the 'traditional' Gnome 2 desktop environment, until that desktop was forked was forked and became MATE. Earlier this year I embarked on a side project using antiX Linux M12 Core, based on Debian Testing with an Xfce Desktop Environment, built with performance in mind to serve as many system resources as possible up to Wine to run games (yes, predominantly World of Warcraft).

The reason why activity here has been so low is that antiX was something of a revelation. I was labouring under the misconception that using such a stripped down environment would involve a large degree of compromise and I would have to live without many of the applications and utilities that make computing possible. I would need to reboot to full fat environment, say Linux Mint with MATE.

I've always tried to navigate a narrow line between performance and good looks. I continue to sacrifice performance to Desktop Environments, applications and graphical utilities that are easy on the eye and out performed by uglier examples. If I have to look at it all day it shouldn't make me wince. Stripping everything out of a distro and leaving end users with an excellent network manager (Ceni) and Apt package management, and not a lot else, is a stroke of genius. My first step after deploying a distro is ripping out what I don't want, use or like. The second step is then to install and build things I do use all the time and prefer the looks and operation of. AntiX Core lets me skip step one and go directly to installing only those things I really want, I just don't install anything until I miss it. Xfce is a concession to pretty but it is a lot lighter than KDE, Gnome3 or MATE.

The revelation is that instead of rebooting periodically switching to Linux Mint, to do things I couldn't do in antiX, I gradually learned how to build the missing functionality into my antiX environment. I reached the tipping point and began to actively pursue solutions to the functionality gaps in my installation, there is now nothing I need to do with my PC that I cannot achieve with antiX. I was pleased to get to that point with Linux...but to achieving it with a minimalistic distro that I have had to build up myself, which didn't arrive fully formed 'out of the box' really feels like progress. However, this all sounds very complicated doesn't it? Perhaps it does, but it isn't. Let me show you.
PictureThe excellent Gparted Live CD in action.
The most difficult part of the process could actually be installing the distro. Download the antiX-13.1_386-core-libre.iso from Sourceforge, it's tiny so no need to trouble your torrent application. Either burn to CD or use your favourite USB mutliboot application to create a bootable USB sitck. Boot up to you chosen installation media. You'll be disappointed if you were hoping for a slick GUI installer, but don't let it worry you. After antiX loads you'll see all the information you need right there above the login prompt: log in as root with the password root then you can begin the installation with the command cli-installer. If you know your partition layout the installer presents no problems whatsoever. If you want resize partitions and create a new one to house antiX I cannot recommend the Gparted live CD highly enough. If you don't understand partitioning and you're not simply replacing everything you have on your hard drive (losing all that data) then I'd recommend educating yourself, learning the appropriate use of Gparted, or reconsider adding another distro altogether. Otherwise you will lose all of your data precious.

If you want to get clever, I strongly recommend using Gparted to pre-partition your drive before you start. Split the disk into three. Use a calculator and work backwards, make the last partition on the the disk, sda3/hda3, about 1 gigabyte in size (1024 Megabytes) or three times your amount of physical RAM. The middle partition on the disk, sda2/hda2 should be as large as possible because you're going to use it for data. The first partition sda1/hda1 is for your antiX install my desktop has balloon to 12Gb but the fresh install on my netbook is almost 2.3 Gb, a lot of which is LibreOffice (hey, I like it!) When asked if you want use a separate location for you /home drive select option y and assign it to sda2/hda2 at this point this is a fresh /home. Now if you're unlucky or reckless enough (raise hand) to trash your operating system you can reinstall, choose option y again for separate /home drive but in this circumstance this is not a fresh /home (so don't format it).

If it's simply a question of installing antiX on a new hard drive or a drive you are re-purposing, and don't care about the data on it, then when the installer asks you where you want install to enter hda1 for a SATA (or PATA IDE) drive or sda1 for an SSD drive. For filesystem ext4 is a reasonable choice. After entering a username and a matching pair of passwords for your user and for root the system will install very, very quickly. That last question to answer is whether or not to install the Grub boot loader to the MBR, answer y if unsure. Now you can type reboot and when the PC restarts remove your installation media.

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Now the work begins. Log in with your new user account and lets start working the command line. My first job is usually to enable the Debian Testing repositories, this will give you more flexibility and up to date package choices. Enter sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.d/debian.list and simply remove the hashes (#) from the all three lines in the Debian Testing section. I also enable the Liquorix repo listed in /etc/apt/sources.d/various.list. If you're not using a wired connection or it isn't set up correctly run the excellent Ceni network managment tool and set up your network connection. When you've made a connection and got an IP address let's do a sudo apt-get update.

If (like on my desktop PC) you need to install Nvidia proprietary network drivers I recommend the SMXI script. Simply enter smxi at the command line and navigate through the menus, there are plenty of automation options for installing alternative kernels, Xorg: the graphical display server, as well as a range of desktop managers and desktop environments. If smxi isn't for you your first step is probably installing Xorg: sudo apt-get install xorg. It's not rocket science. Next should probably install a desktop manager which will provide a graphical login prompt. I opted for Slim but it does require some dirty configuration file editing. If simplicity is what you're looking for GDM3 will work out of the box, but it's bloated and pretty slow. Other desktop managers are available. the command to install Slim is sudo apt-get install slim.

PictureThunar - simple and functional.
Now we're ready for our graphical desktop environment. The installation process doesn't get any more difficult though sudo apt-get install xfce4 xfce4-goodies will get you a working Xfce desktop and file manager (Thunar). If you want to mount hot pluggable removable media you are certainly going to need to issue this at the CLI: sudo apt-get install thunar-volman gvfs.  After rebooting and logging in for the first time you'll probably be a little disappointed with a few things not least the absence of themes and more importantly icons in your (not very) pretty (at the moment) desktop. You might want to make your first job sudo apt-get install gnome-icon-theme then get yourself into Applications | Settings | Appearance | Icons and select your Gnome icon set.

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I'll be honest with you one thing I'm currently struggling with in antiX and Debian Wheezy is Wine. Debian has it's own approach to multiarch and while that might be perfect good even better than the model openSUSE and Fedora are using it presents a problem when you try to install 32-bit Nvidia drivers for Wine on an AMD x86_64 platform. The Liquorix repositories I recommended enabling earlier have pretty up-to-date Ubuntu Wine packages; 1.6 and beyond. The problem doesn't seem to be with Debian multiarch or Wine, but installing the 32-bit graphics drivers required by Wine for DirectX gaming. This is not to say it's impossible to get it working. I have an installation of antiX Linux M13 Core x64 on my desktop PC and Wine 1.6 rc5 that runs DirectX games a treat. I have no idea how I achieved this miracle and I have been completely unsuccessful in replicating this feat. Long story short if you're installing wine: sudo apt-get install wine1.6 for gaming make life easy for yourself and stick with the i686 version and don't go down the x64 route until Nvidia drivers can deliver in a Debian multiarch environment.

Not only is Linux not a politically sound hair shirt, antiX Linux is not a lightweight compromise. It is stripped to the bone, but ready for you to build into something tailor made to your own personal needs. After applying myself to learn more about Linux and Debian antiX Linux has become everything I used to rely on Ubuntu for. So there is no competition this year, antiX is light and flexible and antiX Linux M13.1 Core can build from a network connection and a package manager to be whatever you want, just what you want and no more than that.

 
 
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Why live without your creature comforts?
I've been looking for an elegant solution for my Linux gaming issues. I play World of Warcraft semi-seriously and raid – that is play cooperatively with 10 or 25 other players. When the graphical effects all begin to kick off the PC grinds to a halt. This is due to having to run a game written for the Microsoft Windows platform. This is the handicap Linux currently has with many games and most cutting edge titles from major publishers. They can run, often quite well, using the Wine version of the Windows Application Programming Interface (API). Wine Is Not an Emulator, however in some respects it has the same issues: it imposes a resource overhead in much the same way as an emulator. However, when the graphics really test a Windows installation with a decent graphics card Linux and Wine will shed frame rate until the action clicks along at quite useless sub-1 frame per second for extended periods.

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Ubuntu...but also runs on Mint,
The good news is that Steam for Linux is slowly going to bring native Linux games that should lessen our reliance on Wine. Fingers crossed. Until then, I need a slight, truly lightweight Linux distribution that can offer as many resources up to Wine as possible. On my netbook I've used several versions of antiX and keep going back to it. Being based on simplyMepis and Debian Testing it has some advantages over the competition. When I talk about competition for this distro it's nearest rival is not Lubuntu, Xubuntu and other allegedly lightweight distros like Crunchbang, the only things these distro are light on is features. antiX Linux' nearest competitor is Puppy Linux and it's appropriate to draw comparisons to Linux from Scratch, Tiny Core and particularly ArchLinux.

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Those distros I listed are all great but this review is going to focus on antiX Linux M12 Core. This was my first outing with the Core version of antiX. Basically Core is a kernal, some firmware and a package manager.

Now when it comes to package management I'm neutral, I have no technical preference. The Linux Standard Base lists RedHat's Package Management (RPM) system as the standard. RPM is great, but then Arch use Pacman is also excellent, I have no problem with either. Personally, I like Debian's Apt system, but only because I know it. So the fact that antiX is based on Debian Testing is perfect for me as it inherits Debian's package management system. I was also impressed to discover that Core ships with an installer-stub of the excellent smxi script (see smxi.org for a lot more information).

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Using smxi I was able to simply install a new, high performance Liquorix kernel, version 3.7.0-10, and up-to-date proprietary Nvidia drivers. Simply selecting choices from a menu renders this process simple in the extreme, but that's not all you can do. The script also pulled Xorg v1.12.4 and it's dependencies. If this wasn't enough the script also installs a window manager and desktop environment (DE) of your choice. I went with Xfce v4.8.6 which uses the Wfm Window Manager. Not the latest version of Xfce, but suitably up-to-date. Just for convenience I used the script to grab LibreOffice v3.5.4.2 and Ceni. Ceni may lack a "proper" GUI, but it's “text GUI” is more than satisfactory. Basically if WICD or any other network manager fails to configure your wireless hardware try Ceni, it's a gem.

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Ugly and not much to see...but not much running is good.
So once I installed Gdm3 to handle logging on and I'd rebooted to a graphical desktop I got to work. I changed the wallpaper, priorities – if you're going to hand build your distro from scratch you want it to look a) the way you want and b) good. I could've opted for a lighter DE, but Xfce is complete and simple to use. Simple is a keystone in this review. Arch and Linux from Scratch take similar design routes to deliver desktop perfection, but what antiX offers you is simplicity, Arch users claim, quite fairly, that there is nothing very complex in installing and configuring Arch, but I defy them to claim that building antiX Core with the smxi.org scripts isn't simpler. Thunar and Xfce are lighter than many DE's and much more complete than many lighter choices. A good compromise.

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Blow up shows 51fps...not bad for standing around doing nothing.
Building Wine v1.5 from source presented no problems as with next to nothing installed it was difficult to end up in dependency hell with broken packages and nothing working. The Xfce Terminal Emulator is perfectly functional and will let you sudo apt-get install audacious iceweasel icedove mumble vlc. Then you'll find you're pretty much ready to go, with everything you could need. Just in case you need them grub-customiser and gparted are available in the repos and for remote desktop work my new favourite is Vinigre.

So when playing World of Warcraft in 25 man events, with all the graphical effects in full flow, what is my frame rate? Well, it varies but it rarely dips below 9 fps (frames per second). Windows users with mid range Nvidia cards (like mine) will be laughing their asses off with frame rates in the tens (45 – 90 fps in Windows 7, if not more). However, after having the game grind to a complete halt for seconds on end and report 0 fps, 9 fps is not only a substantial improvement but eminently playable. OK, there is some (minor) visible clipping with only 9 frames every second, but in 10 man, 5 man and solo content the game doesn't need so much processing power and 45fps is not unreasonable. If anyone tells you frame rates above 25fps is absolutely necessary, they need to get out more. 20 fps - is completely playable and we approach the number of frame that the human eye is able discern as being separate at all - is smooth as silk. Linux Mint 14 with Xfce cannot sustain multiple frame rates in 25 man content, 10 man content is delivered adequately with 20+ fps.

Clearly antiX Linux M12 Core with Xfce delivers in terms of my gaming requirements. With your hardware your mileage may vary. World of Warcraft is an eight year old game so any modern title released in the last couple of years, without a native Linux version, will struggle to run on any build of Linux. Wine is a workaround to the problem of major games manufacturers, thus far, refusing to release Linux ports of their titles. The only solution is native Linux titles. If Steam truly delivers it could be a game changer.

We've long argued, quite correctly, that Linux can free you from the bloat of millions of lines of redundant code, services, processes and applications running constantly when not needed. Getting some graphically bleeding edge games titles, written for the Linux platform, will give us the opportunity to demonstrate how Linux can allow games to deliver significantly better frame rates and performance on the same hardware. If Steam makes Linux a viable platform gamers will see the possible performance gains of jumping off the Microsoft ship. If there is ever going to be a Year of the Linux Desktop gaming will be in the vanguard, no other enthusiast computer users consume performance computer equipment consumption that drives games and graphical hardware development. We have reached an interesting juncture.

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Any Linux gaming solution based on Wine is more about the past, I hope, than the future. However in the meantime those of us struggling to play non-native games on Linux could benefit from a solution like antix Core. With the smxi script and Xfce desktop, AntiX Linux M12 Core is simple and pretty. It delivers much improved frame rates in games, which it should as not much is running and anything that is you will have installed yourself.

 
 
I'd like to pretend that 2012 was a year of upheaval and change and that new players muscled their way onto my Desktop, it would make for more interesting reading. However I simply found myself back using the the old reliables. After a brief test drive of Linux Mint 13 'Maya' I'd decided that Cinnamon, as much potential as it demonstrated, was still not ready for prime time and my workhorse computer needed something more solid. I decided that I couldn't stay using Katya forever, even if the distro was near perfect, I needed to push forward, change is good.

I decided to give Linux Mint 13 'Maya' with the MATE Desktop Environment a quick spin, before Nadia arrived...then I could look for another more mature DE, perhaps Xfce, perhaps the Linux Mint variant. So I took out the magazine cover mounted DVD I had and launched the Maya MATE live session and began carving up my drive to make some space. I love that the Mint live session includes GParted, if you're installing a new distro this is the tool, unless you have the good fortune to have access to the KDE Partition Tool. Once your distro is deployed it's value shrinks to almost nothing so saving some precious drive storage is sound idea as most users simply won't need it again, those that do probably won't have any issue installing it.

All my plans to merrily go about thrashing and over-revving several others from the current crop of popular distros promptly fell at the wayside. I really shouldn't have been surprised, MATE is Gnome 2 after all, however it's difficult to convey my feelings about Maya. I loved the simplicity of Ubuntu, it seemed to make everything possible. Some people dislike the on-a-plate delivery of Ubuntu and prefer the power and flexibility of an Arch, Gentoo or Sabayon. Fine, no issue with that, but when you want a distro that's simple to install, simple to set up and gets out of your face so you can work Ubuntu 10:04 was perfection and I hit none of the snags that some experienced from 10:10. When I felt I needed to move and tried Linux Mint 11 Katya for the first time it was simply like coming home, it was all Ubuntu had been and more.

It felt exactly like I'd wanted Ubuntu 12:04 to be, Ubuntu 10:04 only better and more polished. Using Maya for the first time I seriously questioned the rationale of not wanting to backslide into Gnome 2 and a 'legacy' Desktop. MATE is, naturally, as good as Gnome 2.32 but with plans afoot to make use of the Gtk3 tool-set MATE is looking forward as well as back.

2012 has been disappointing and pleasant for the same reasons. The Linux Mint team have delivered a distro experience that has simply been exactly what I was looking for. Cinnamon has pushed the boundaries and made the Gnome 3 tech usable by replacing the Gnome Shell and throwing away the Gnome team's design brief. The Gnome team had announced that they were removing Fallback mode from Gnome Shell, a Gnome 2 panel-like interface for 2D desktop users, then in a belated turnaround they've recently announced a Classic mode return with project maintained extensions delivered in tarball for those who wish to opt for the Classic (read old-fashioned, Gnome 2) experience.

Perhaps we'll now see a gentle repositioning by the community. Old fashioned and traditional might surreptitiously be replaced with standard or user friendly. Modern, fresh and cutting edge may be edged out in favour of bleeding edge. I was (unsurprisingly) insulted by the suggestion (made on the Ubuntu Forum) that 'I simply didn't like change' and found it difficult to 'transition to a modern interface design'. My scorn of Unity (and Gnome Shell) would've been tempered if it was a developmental alternative, the first steps to a new Desktop model and associated way of working. Having someone accuse me of being unable to cope with a bleeding edge interface design would have me responding more moderately that 'for everyday, productive computing that was probably so'. My approach and review of Gnome Shell and Unity would've dwelt on the positives and innovation and not those parts that made everyday use onerous (Global Menus, Overviews or Dashes, appalling task switching, no window controls).

It may well be (two years) too late for the Gnome team to respond to it's user base and survive, but frankly who cares, we have MATE and I frankly can't wait for the next iteration of Cinnamon. As for Ubuntu if the upstream distro continues to ship with as many regressions I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Clement Lefervbre announce the use of Debian across the entire Mint stable and not just for the rolling LMDE.

So for my needs, the undisputed champion and distro of 2012 is the MATE 1.4 sporting Linux Mint 14 'Nadia'.
 
 
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The lovely Katya.
I've been silent for the last few months for two reasons. Firstly server issues tied me up for a considerable amount of time and secondly I've been mostly disappointed with with all the distros and Desktop Environments I've been testing. I have to admit that despite my conviction that moving on from Gnome 2 is desirable only the necessity being forced upon me next month is making me move.

On October 28, 2012, Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) reaches end-of-life. Kate Stewart, Ubuntu Release Manager, announced, on the 9th September, that "At that time, Ubuntu Security Notices will no longer include information or updated packages for Ubuntu 11.04." So my Linux Mint 11 'Katya' install that I have been blissfully happy with all year is about to become obsolete.

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...Lisa...
This really focuses the mind. Linux Mint 12 'Lisa' was to my mind a muddled mess of mixed metaphor. The Mint Team developed MGSE components hashed together the design ideas of Gnome 2 and 3 Shell and delivered at best confusion at worst incoherence. A good Desktop Environment (DE) is not simply a pretty face for a distro. It's also not only a collection of apps. DEs can be simply that, but a  good DE is a consistent interface to aid productivity. How the DE 'hangs together is important. If there are 'jagged edges', each application has a slightly different interface style or layout you're forced to chance gear and focus on how to interact with it to achieve even interactions. A good DE is smooth and everything looks, and much more importantly, works in a consistent way. So you rapid transition from one app to another, learning transferable skill in operating the Environment, without catching and stumbling on jarring difference in use and presentation: jagged edges.

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Being able to customise the interface to an extent, without breaking this flow, is essential. While Gnome 3 Shell is a smooth and even good looking interface, it is lacking in customisation options to the point of forcing you to work a certain way. Frankly I could love Gnome Shell but it would involve me buying a touch enabled monitor and ditching my mouse. If games developers can alter the way their interfaces are currently designed then that might work. Until then I need and want a mouse driven interface to be productive with my PC.

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...and Maya. Yeah, they do all look the same...
I passed over 'Lisa' quickly. However, I was very interested by the news that Linux Mint 13 'Maya' would actually ship in MATE and Cinnamon flavours. Mint now consider the two desktops to be ready for prime time. Cinnamon will likely be my shell of choice and being built on the newer tech of Gnome 3 promises much for the future. However until they give the 'mouse down' animation it badly needs I'm still waiting (it's always the little things). MATE is, as you probably know, a fork of Gnome 2. MATE 1.2 I can report is lovely. Call it what you like it's Gnome 2 and I love it. I can't help feeling a little retrograde using it, but then I'm running 'Katya' as my main desktop and that truly is retrograde.

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MATE 1.2 isn't quite all the way there. It's support for Gnome 2 themes (Darklooks, please, I just want Darklooks back) isn't at 100% yet. I hear it's improved in 1.4 so that's enough for me really. It looks like this year will see me finishing on a Mint note and forging ahead with a (sort of) Gnome 2 interface oblivious. Well, not oblivious because I keep trying competitors. I had the misfortune to install Ubuntu 12.04 on my server (see above) and it wasn't Unity that drove me back screaming and cursing to Fedora, but it didn't help any. So I am eagerly awaiting Fedora 18 now which the good Red Hat folks have announced will ship with MATE! Who needs APT, I mean really?

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Could this be made to look good? Really?
So what else have I looked at apart from Gnome 2 wannabes? Well, Unity for one. That's all I'm saying about it now.

I installed the lightweight champion Bodhi Linux 1.2 and all I can say is "really?" Enlightenment is...rubbish. It looks like the worst of homebrew (Windowblinds style) interfaces glued together and served up like a dogs breakfast. It's clunky. To sum up my feelings about Bodhi I'll report that I tried one of the options, Profiles they're called, Fancy or something. It features a ridiculous background process that drops random penguins down the page. I succeeded in changing the penguins to lemmings and reducing the drop rate, BUT I COULD NOT TURN IT OFF. So I reinstalled a different option and was still unimpressed with Enlightenment. No. Just no.

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KDE...or widget city as you may call it. I don't really like the Plasma desktop, and I do not like the Oxygen theme. Of course you can change these things but default out of the box openSUSE and Kubuntu just look so...Anyway. The Windows inspired (nothing wrong with that) Start Panel is a mess, the navigation up and down the folder structure is fiddly and unintuitive. I know how it works, but I often find myself struggling to find what I want. In frustration I often resort to using the search functionality to find things I know are installed but I cannot find in the folder structure.

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Now I know it's here somewhere...
Lancelot is no better than the default Kickoff start panel, can no one sort this mess out? I'm sure I could probably edit it into shape but it's just one of the niggles with KDE I lose the will to address after one of two  uses.

I have had a Kubuntu install on my PC for months but I lack any motivation to use it even enough to review it. It's alright...I do I have to admit that some of the KDE tools like the Partition Manager, despite my love and familiarity with gParted, are better and more powerful..but it just not right for me.

There is a lot to respect in KDE, but I just can't love it.

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Xfce is another matter altogether. Someone needs to stick this on a distro with teeth and make it shine. I'd like to say that the new version with pretty in it feature set is very, very good. Somehow Xubuntu doesn't really sing. OK it's reasonably tidy and well presented. I've been using it on my laptop and netbook for months very happily but it just doesn't feel large or beefy enough for the warhorse PC. I can't wait to see it on top of Debian 7 and Fedora 18. These are good times. Xfce has really stepped up to the plate and many ex-Gnome 2 users (Linus included) have migrated to it.

When I jump ship to Linux Mint 14 'Nadia' I'll write an in depth review of what the distro offers. Expect the same for tests of Fedora 18, Debian 7 and Xubuntu 12.10 to follow. For the time being I'm enjoying my last days with Katya with a bitter sweet feeling and some very good memories.
 
 
Never mess about with working SQL databases, you'll fuck yourself up, I promise you.

Create a new wordpress database, say wordpress2, and then make offline modifications of the exported SQL files and then re import them into the new database, wordpress2, until it's right and complete.
  • Log into phpMyAdmin; select the Databases tab; at the top under Create Database enter wordrpress2 and click the Create button.
  • Browse to wordpress the default name for a Wordpress installation (on Amahi server at least) and click the Export tab.
  • Browse to wordpress2 and click Import and browse to the folder on your local PC with the your exported wordpress.sql file.
  • Edit your wordpress installations config.php (.../var/hda/web-apps/wordpress/html/config.php), with any editor, such as gedit. You'll find a line referencing you wordpress database, in the default case wordpress. Simple change this to wordpress2.
  • Refresh your Wordpress Blog to establish the new database is working correctly.

I found one of the best editors for hacking about huge .sql files to be the Windows based Notepad++, it also run pretty well through Wine.
 
 
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Microsoft lost the initiative with innovation on the Desktop in 2001 when Windows XP rolled of the production line. XP was such a good operating system. Windows ME had truly sounded the death knell for the Windows 9x operating system. For five years Microsoft have developed their already polished and well presented OS, Windows 98 Second Edition was the zenith of this family but the 2000 Millennium Edition was truly awful the nadir and swansong for 9x.

Windows XP was a key release for Microsoft. Each successive release of Windows built and improved on the last. 95 finally unified Microsoft DOS and the graphical Windows environment. ME was a massive dip in quality. Windows XP needed to shine and blot out the recent memory of ME and finally jettison the DOS underpinnings and bring together the consumer operating systems lines and the New Technologies of the enterprise grade operating systems.

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,The moment XP launched it was as if Microsoft took their eye off the desktop ball to focus on server systems. To be fair if that was the case server 2003 was excellent. It was six years before Microsoft looked to update their flagship product. Boy did they drop ball in January 2007. Not only was Vista poorly finished, unstable and flaky it was also no great advance on Windows XP...more of a facelift.

When acquaintances asked me whether to upgrade or not I told them “There is no compelling reason to upgrade to Vista and, given how flaky it is, every reason to stick to XP.” Acquaintances are great. All to often they prefer to listen to advertising hype and reviews written by no nothing bloggers (like myself) who have no support experience rather than IT professionals. We will often get the OS early, install it on the legacy equipment most home users will have themselves and get to see all hoops you will need to jump through just to get it to boot. You're a fool if you don't listen to the professional. I often get to have a good laugh at the expense acquaintances that refuse to listen. Vista was no exception. Downgrade became a popular word during the short-lived Vista years. Downgrade and shambles.

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In 2004 I installed Ubuntu Linux 6:04 and apart from some frequent, but short duration, back sliding to Windows XP I haven't really looked back. I haven't used Ubuntu since version 11:04 (April 2011) and to be honest I feel the better for it. Ubuntu, right up to the excellent if not massively innovative 10:10 (October 2010), was a comfortable rut. The only difference between a rut and a grave is depth, so maybe I should be grateful to Canonical for Unity. I was initially livid with Ubuntu for abandoning Gnome and employing it's touch phone interface, but you get over these things...it's only change after all. I am disappointed, I used to say to people “Please! Just try Linux, use a Live DVD. Try Ubuntu.” Now I recommend Mint, but it simply doesn't have the penetration or support of it's bigger, upstream relative.

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Windows 7 sadly offers nothing particularly innovative. Microsoft fixed the stability problems with Vista for the most part and used it's pretty new face. The Desktop Environment is still essentially a Windows XP facelift, an interface that is essentially unchanged since 2001 and very little changed since 1995. It's definitely time for a change, an opportunity for Microsoft to take the Desktop metaphors it created with Windows 95 and rip them up and replace them with a more intuitive and productive interface. I don't think the Metro UI is it, time will tell, what's worse is that enterprises are unlikely to adopt it at all. Due to that fact I think many home users will reject it altogether.

I won't be going back to Windows. 7 is dull and uninspiring, not as stable and robust as it 2001 predecessor XP. Windows 8 has a GUI that will only excite Windows Phone users'. With Linux, if a distro (like Ubuntu) gives me an interface I don't like (like Unity) I can switch distros (to something like Mint) or just install another interface myself (like Xfce).
 
 
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Building your own PC is easy. The Internet is awash with guides and videos showing you exactly how to go about it. If the nuts and bolts of screwing the nuts and bolts together is thoroughly dealt with then the amount of advice on which components to fill your case with are just as well covered. There really is no excuse not to.

Oh, except one. Received wisdom is that self build PCs are no cheaper than off the shelf PCs from big name vendors. The point of this article is to give the lie to this oft quoted theory.

The erroneous assumption that this theory is predicated on is that you only ever build or buy one PC and that you  never reuse any of the parts. To be strictly fair your first self build will cost you the same price as a comparable big name vendor's computer. Don't be put off, however, if you build judiciously first time around you will save yourself a small fortune going forward. If that wasn't enough it will also enable you to upgrade much more often than you would otherwise, regardless of your budget.

I build myself mid range, gaming PCs, because that's all I need, so I'm going to discuss the philosophy. This is an exposition of the thinking behind building a new rig rather then a recommendation of which specific components to buy. This guide is still going to be as sound in a few years time as it is now.  Let's look at the reasoning behind the choices for assembling your first self build.

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Some people might be tempted to cut corners on a cheap case, but this is short-sighted. A good case won't cut you on every edge and corner. A well made, large case will give you space in which to comfortably work and with well finished edges it won't cut you hands to ribbons. In addition a good solid case, with effective cooling and room for extra drives and expansion cards, will outlast many future upgrades.

This is my Coolermaster Stacker and it's now got it's third set of guts and I don't anticipate buying a new case for the next set. It has two quiet 12 inch fans: one front facing drawing cool air into the case across the hard disk drives; the other rear facing to vent hot air. Two smaller 10 inch fans vent dead, warm air out of the top of the case and out of the large circular vent hole you can see in the side above. If that wasn't enough a long cylindrical fan blows cool air across the length of the motherboard from a long vent under it in the right hand side of the case. Click the image above to see the fan layout.

The case is big enough to lower in a full ATX size motherboard, hard drives are mounted in a case that slides out of the front of the case, the optical media is fitted with rails that allow quick release and also slide out of the case front. A good case is worth it's (considerable, if steel) weight in gold.

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A good case requires a good power supply. Invest in a supply with at least a 400 watt output and with as many power connectors as you are likely to require. This is not a component you want to cut corners on, get a quality supply bolt it to your case and forget about it.

Let's talk monitors next. Or monitor if you're on a tight budget. 21" is excellent starter size and for just over a ton today they offer great value for money. Furthermore you can upgrade any component or peripheral of your computer but upgrading your eyes is more expensive and slightly more risky. Your monitor, provided you invest well, can last you a good many years, perhaps not as long as your case but this is the component you're going to be staring at the most. Oh and get two.

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Here I'm going to talk about where, if anywhere, you can compromise and get cheaper components. RAM is an excellent target for cost cutting. I tire of reading about low latency RAM with huge heat sinks. The bottom line is that a PC is a set of bottlenecks, you upgrade one component and you never get the full increase in speed that that component on it's own should deliver. You simply hit the next slowest component bottleneck. Plus top drawer, high speed RAM comes at a premium price, a price that can buy you more slower RAM. In this case more is more. 8 GB of high speed RAM is always going to be less, slower than 12 GB of avarage journeyman RAM. Think on.

Graphics cards seems to get faster and faster. Today's bleeding edge £300 plus card is tomorrow's mid range high bang for buck star. So why pay so much for something that will depreciate in value so quickly. This is one situation where yesterday's men are a better choice. You don't need all the graphics settings turned up to 11. Trust me if you're upgrading your whole rig, as we're discussing, the leap in graphics processing, a quality mid range card will deliver, won't leave you feeling short changed.

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Cut corners on your CPU? Why not, unless the fastest possible processor for your motherboard is already available (upgrade path, hello!)? Save money here and opt for something more laid back and cost effective. This might make more sense further down the page, so read on. Intel CPUs are currently much faster than AMD so why even consider AMD processors? Price again. Intel processors are usually more expensive. Decide your budget, then buy the fastest AMD processor you can afford. I guarantee it will be faster than the Intel processor you can buy for the same money. Yes Intel make faster processors, yes AMD give you more processing power for your money.

The first thing to do when unpacking the CPU is to throw away your stock fan. Coolermaster can step in again here. Get some quality cooling it's worth an extra twenty quid or more. Good cooling like a good power supply needn't be expensive and is a great investment.

We're on the home straight now. Motherboard: you want three things. First you need a decent sound chip, on-board graphics is a no no if you're going to do any serious gaming, but on-board sound is of a very high standard these days and the amount of processing required to render quality HD sound is negligible compared to graphics. Second you must get a board with a myriad of overclocking options. Finally you really need a board with some CPU upgrade headroom. Remember we're building a mid range rig this time around and having saved money in the right places will give a chance to reap the rewards later.

The philosophy underpinning this approach is constructing a heavily future proofed bang for buck midrange, gaming PC. By cutting corners on the components most people might mistakenly prioritize we can expend more of our budget on the less glamorous components. The reason for this emphasis is the base it gives us to build on going forward.

Three years after I built my Stacker PC I made some minor upgrades to keep it competitive. I added 4GB to take it to 8GB of RAM, I invested in a new graphics cards and, for next to no money at all, picked up the biggest processor my board would support. I extended the life of my self build by a few years for couple of hundred quid.

Easily pleased I didn't feel the need to upgrade my main box again until this year., six years after I first built the stacker. Even my more frugal friends were considering upgrading, which of course for them means buying a new off the shelf PC. Some less cost conscious people will only be on their second new PC since I first built mine. If they spent as much as I did on my original Stacker build, from £750 - £900, if they're buying a new PC this year they'll be tearing their hair out when they hear my new upgrade. For a mere £300 I've gutted and upgraded my PC: new motherboard; CPU; and 16 GB of RAM. Effectively a new computer. I might do the same in a couple of years...

If you upgrade to a new gaming PC three years or so you will have spent in excess of £2500. If you only upgrade every six years (which is what I've done, to be fair,) you'll have spent over £1500. In the same time I have spent a little over a grand. Honestly my new PC, if bought off the self with my monitors and graphics would probably cost almost as much.

So here is the moral of my little tale. For about a thousand quid I've built upgraded and rebuilt my box. My big vendor, off the shelf PC, buying friends could easily have spent two and a half grand in that time. My PC is rock solid and very powerful and I have saved a small fortune by buying wisely years back and being able to utilise and recycle whole sections of my PC.

 
 
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I love Linux Mint 11 "Katya", but then I would it's Gnome 2. Eventually I would have to face the challenge of adopting Gnome 3 Shell or quitting Gnome distros for good, or more likely until Gnome Shell gets properly fixed with a whole slew of extensions. So here we are...

The first thing that greets the new user when they spin up the Mint LiveDVD is a rather fetching boot splash with the Linux Mint 12 branding. This branding looks both funky and professional which gives you great hope for the distro that you're just about to install.

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The LiveDVD detected my wired and wireless network connections without problems or difficulties. That let's you test drive the live environment, but I skipped directly to installation. The main reason for this is that I wouldn't learn anything from what is essentially a legacy Desktop Environment and not the full Gnome Shell experience that will define your experience of the distro.

The installer is very polished, being stock Ubuntu one, with the inevitable green touches where Ubuntu would use orange. The installer offers two partitioning choices: using the entire drive, formatted for Mint's use or Something Else. I think this is perfect: one option for the novice; and another for those who want or need to to take charge and specify more advanced partition layouts.  All you need to do then is select your time-zone, location and keyboard layout and then the installer deploys the OS for you. Even Grub is configured for you and a good job it did too, picking up all my other operating systems.

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Once you've completed the installation you log into a desktop exactly like the legacy Gnome from the live CD, I was actually hopeful that this would be the desktop but after you've installed the appropriate graphics drivers with the System Settings | Additional Drivers applet you get to the default desktop...

It looks like exactly what it is...a mesh of new Gnome Shell tech and old Gnome 2 panels style. If you click on Menu in the bottom right corner the Gnome Tweak tool will open and you can see what's going on.

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The most obvious additions are the Bottom Bar Panel Extension, with a button to open the so-called Mint Menu, and three window controls. In Lisa, unlike default Gnome Shell, you have two button to minimise and maximise windows respectively...how old fashioned. After the joys of the hiding, pencil thin, scroll bars in Katya another welcome improvement is the restoration of a normal scroll bar. Innovation for innovations sake anyone? The bottom bar also takes on the traditional role task switching.

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All in all what the new Linux user gets is a very simple and straightforward desktop not a million miles from what they're used if they arrive in Lisa straight from Windows 7. The seasoned Gnome user get a familiar environment they can quickly adapt to while assimilating the new way of working that Gnome Shell provides.

The infinity symbol on the Gnome panel, or mousing up into the very top left corner, gives access to Gnome Shell task switching, the favourites panel (that is duplicated down the left hand side of the Mint Menu) and all installed applications.


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I found myself using this dash a lot to launch applications as was trying to get to grips with Lisa. I covered some mouse miles running into the top left corner, down to click applications then scrolling through every single app I had installed. Of course I should be using keyboard commands and typing...but then I never have before.

This goes to the heart of the debate surrounding the new wave of Desktop Environments. They feature new and often more efficient and faster ways of working and accessing common tasks. This demands that the user be flexible and adapt themselves to the new way of working.

Personally, I've always felt that Desktop Environments should be flexible. Each user should find an environment that enables the way they want to interact with the operating system and thus promote productivity. The Linux approach with it's multiple choice of ways to achieve the same end has always been in step with this concept. The current paradigm seems to be a switch to imposing a clever and consistent design that the user must adapt to to get the best and most productive use of their OS.

Let's explore what Linux Mint 'Lisa' offers out of the box. The application suite seem comprehensive but lighter than I'm used to: both positive and welcome. There are no shocks in choices the Mint developers have made. Applications rise to popularity with the community usually through ease of use and stability so why fight it?

Brasero is the CD/DVD burning package, you do get typical gnome applications, all of which I love, including gEdt, gCalctool and the invaluable Gnome Character Map. Tomboy Notes is included everywhere apparent so I can practice removing software. gThumb is present but if you need a graphic editing app you'd install GIMP, so it's included by default. XSane is installed and ready to roll as nearly as many people have scanners as printers let face it.

I think Firefox 10 ships, but my initial, post install, update upped to this to 11.0. It's good to see distros get on top of the new Firefox release schedule and push new versions out punctually. I'm pleased that Firefox is still Mint's default though it would be a simple matter to remove the dull looking and less extensible Chrome and install it if I had to. Pidgin, Xchat IRC, Thunderbird and Transmission complete the Internet category. A small selections that covers the bases I approve. Transmission is an excellent example of the Mint Team's approach here: this app is simple and just works. really well too. It's well know and easy to use and if you want to use your Torrent client of choice it will most like be available in the repositories.

Office productivity is addressed solely by LibreOffice. No Abiword or Gnumeric clutter: most people will ignore them, some will remove them, both will probably deploy LibreOffice. Does anyone love Abiword and would rip out LibreOffice Writer in favour of it? Surely not?

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In Sound and Video just guess what you'll get. Did you guess Gnome Mplayer and Totem? You were right. Did you hope for   VLC? It's there. Music Library/Manager? Well there are usually two or three choices. Rhythmbox is constantly improving, but Banshee is lighter. Clementine is very good, but feature light for some, refreshingly light for others. You'd be drawn to guessing Banshee as the safe and intelligent choice that would suit most people. Banshee also integrates well with Gnome Shell so it's really not a bad choice.

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As you'd expect from a Linux Mint release 12 "Lisa" is polished and well put together. All the software selections are sensible and safe and if you want to replace any, this being a Debian downstream, you have apt-get, Synaptic and, additionally, the simple to use, new user friendly, graphical Software Manager.

Choices are always good and Mint has everything for everyone.

So why I am still using Linux Mint 11 "Katya"? Well, as you probably guessed, it's for one reason and one reason only: Gnome.

Gnome Shell is alright, you can use it. It's frustrating that some of the simple things are either or complex now. The Mint Gnome Shell Extensions (MGSE) bottom bar with Mint menu and task switching doesn't simply restore the missing functionality it mixes two interface styles. Gnome 2.x panels style with Gnome 3 Shell minimalism and give you a third interface which is best describe as inconsistent. You may not like Gnome Shell's minimalism, losing the minimise/maximise buttons and having to launch applications from the Dash / Favourites bar, as you cannot create custom launchers on the panel, might feel restrictive but it is coherent. Gnome Shell has an internal logic in it design objectives, it may yet develop into a very usable and sophisticated interface. Watering down and subverting the design goals of the Gnome Team and mixing in designs abandoned from Gnome 2.x Panels hasn't created the perfect interface. It's created a dog's breakfast of ideas.

In developing an interface I was comfortable with I've revised the way in which I use Gnome 2 Panels in Katya. After trying to work with the default Lisa interface for a while I installed some of the Gnome Extensions. I didn't want both the Dash and the Mint Menu. I decided to go with the Dash and lost the whole bottom bar.

I now use one panel in Gnome 2 Katya and have task switching on that bar. Of course I don't use virtual workspaces, I found it added very little to my user experience, so I now disable them and remove the switcher interface.

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So I installed the Gnome Extension Frippery Panel Favorites which duplicates the Favourites bar from the Gnome Shell Dash. I couldn't find an obvious and intuitive means of installing custom shortcuts onto the Dash I had to use QuickLaunch to get Wine shortcuts and -jar files launched. Having to launch shortcuts to applications from two locations is far from ideal. After finding an extension that could launch most of my applications from the panel I was frustrated to find that there was no 'mouse down' animation a la Lubuntu 11:04. So inevitably with a slow loading app...I'm looking at you Firefox...you don't know if you've clicked the icon or not. So you either end up with nothing or three come along at once.

This is hardly a deal breaker. It is, however, another paper cut from a user interface that is badly finished and like a cheap computer case cuts your hands to ribbons every time you poke around inside. (Another example: using two monitors in Twinview caused issues when trying to unlock the screen after the screensaver kicked in. The login box was displayed on the screen that remained shut down until you logged back in!)The analogy is quite a good one. The core of the distro is excellent and the Mint Team have tried really hard to make Gnome Shell into something more flexible and usable for the majority of users. The wrapper, the way in which user must interact with their applications, periphals, hardware and software configuration doesn't hang together in a consistent and coherent way. Although the MGSEs demonstrate potential it's transforms the Gnome 3 Shell into something which is neither one thing nor another and for that reason alone leaves itself less that both. At the moment the MGSEs try to take the best of Gnome 2 and 3 three and cobbles together something ugly and ill fitting.

Fedora's pure Gnome Shell experience beats the jumbled MGSE environment of Linux Mint 12 "Lisa". There is much to like in Lisa, but the user interface ultimately sends me scurrying back to the security of a flexible and configurable Gnome 2.x interface and Katya.

 
 
The desktop wars of 2011 seem to have fought themselves to a standoff and development continues apace. KDE 4.7 is bringing more plaudits to the Desktop heavyweight and the distress of the 4 release seems to be well a truly over. Unity is what it is and Canonical are committed to it. I've watched and read quietly over the last few months and 12:04 is not worth a test as it hasn't changed in it's fundamentals and any review would simply be a rehash of the one I did for 11:04. Xfce fills a void left by Gnome 2 for many people, including Linus Torvalds, essentially due to it's ability to mimic Gnome 2 panels in most respects.

Gnome 3 continues to evolve. The Gnome developers have a clear idea of what they want to achieve, however they aren't carrying the whole user base with them yet. The Gnome Extensions site, although still in beta, has demonstrated that there are some (myself included) who are happy to migrate, but require some the functionality we had in Gnome 2.x. Top of my list was a 'quick-launch' bar. I have Cinnamon installed and enjoy an “old fashioned menu” with my new gnome tech. Gnome Extensions is slowly giving us back all the features (including three window controls) that Gnome 3 Shell took away.

A few distros have either moved directly to Cinnamon or moved to it from Gnome Shell after a couple of releases. I only see one of two ultimate outcomes if this trend continues. Either default Gnome Shell will become less and less relevant as more and more distro's and users reject it in favour of a fork. Alternatively, more and more of the Gnome extensions will be built directly into the Shell watering down the intent and design goals of the Gnome Team and transforming the project into new Gnome 2. As it stands the default Gnome 3 Shell is a pretty curio but tedious to use in any for any length in a productive way. After switching back to the Dash of opening up an Alt-Tab sub-menu a number of times makes one wish for the “old fashioned” simplicity of a task switching bar and quick-launch (or even chaotic and disorganized desktop icons, god forbid).

After the success of Debian Squeeze last year and my pleasure using it I concluded that Debian was not, as I had imagined, Ubuntu's spartan and more difficult parent but a flexible and capable distribution that had none of the rigidity or indeed complexity I'd feared. Foolishly emboldened I now plan to install, break and reinstall Arch Linux until I can make anything out of it. Ultimately I'd like to make a desktop I can work on and not just play with. The same goes for Gentoo and the Gentoo-based Sabayon.

I slated Sabayon 6 not long ago because I approached it as an beginner/intermediate user. I think that this is a little unfair. Sabayon is cutting edge and so you need a more relaxed and pragmatic approach. I went looking for 'the best user experience "out of the box"' and found nothing of the kind, this time I will hunting 'a bleeding edge operating system that is both stable and reliable'. Some of us do want to push the envelope, in which case Sabayon Linux 8 may be a very strong contender in that arena.

I also want compare several KDE dstros, back to back, and see what gives. When I first started using Linux seriously in 2005/6 SUSE and KDE offered a post-Windows reassurance, I loved Kopete and Kate, KDE's menu and task bar offered tools and a layout that seemed intuitive (read familiar). After using Ubuntu 06:04 with it's Gnome 2 panels I abandoned KDE and haven't given it much attention until last year when Ubuntu abandoned Gnome. I heard all about the furore surrounding KDE4, but when I installed openSUSE 11.1 last year it seemed just like SUSE of the past, except perhaps for Oxygen. It's time to test drive the interface in several distro iterations and see how it performs.

I'm hoping to have as much fun on the desktop in Q2 as I did in Q1. What was I up to? Wait and see.
 
 
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VectorLinux is not actually described as a lightweight distro at the the team’s website. Rather VectorLinux is presented as the result of a development philosophy that aims to “keep it simple, keep it small and let the end user decide what their operating system is going to be.” Admirable goal, as is the aim to be deliver on three key attributes: speed, performance, stability. This has led to a lightweight distro, an operating system that gives the end user scope to design a Desktop Environment suitable to their needs.

With this in mind I tested Vector on my handy but underpowered Acer Aspire One. This is what I found.

The Linux kernel is version 3.0.8 so while not bleeding edge it is quite up-to-date. The default DE is Xfce, featuring a top panel with Application menu, task switching and notification area and a Cairo Dock adorns the lower part of the screen. Xfce is chosen for its lightweight nature in order to facilitate a fast graphical environment low on system resources. Cairo dock is surprisingly responsive and very attractive, but it was still the first feature I removed as sadly it's a huge waste of screen real estate. it's good having a top panel though it's like having Gnome...with none of the bloat.
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The development team have made some very sound component selections. The bedrock of any distro is the file management and many lighter distros have leant toward pcmanfm, but I usually rip htat out and install Thunar myself. Thunar is solid and comprehensive (even AntiX has moved to using it) its definitely worth any extra system resources it might consume.

The same goes for Wicd, I've used other GUI and non-GUI wireless networking apps, but to be quite honest when I see that Wicd is employed I give a sigh of relief. Wicd just works and gives me useful feedback. Why use anything else?

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DVD playback works out of the box and all the codecs are already included. Xine, MPlayer and Gnome Player are all available, but I still pulled VLC media player out of the repositories. The execrable Abiword, v2.8.6, and (not so bad) Gnumeric, v1.10.12 ship by default. Epdfview is available as PDF viewer. I understand why lower size, lighter distros choose Abiword and Gnumeric over Libreoffice, however I find Abiword so awful that the additional space used but Writer and Calc is well invested. Firefox and Opera are included with Flash support and Pidgin is the multi-protocal instant messenging choice and as it looks great and works so well why not? Graphics apps include Gimp 2.6.11, Inkscape and Shotwell photo manager.

Package management is with Slapt-get which makes the installation of extra software remarkably similar to using Apt. There is even a Synaptic-like GUI package manager: Gslapt. Having Apt-alike components is no bad thing as Apt manages packages superbly. Everyone seems to have their favourite, however I think on reflection that all of the best perform sufficiently well and have an appropriate range of functionality. Slapt seems to have no idiosyncrasies or peculiarities (I'm looking at you Sabayon), it just works.

VectorLinux' approach to distro design is well expressed through the choice of packages it ships with. It hasn't burdened itself will lightweight alternatives but jumped right in with the popular choices where appropriate. Hence Firefox ships with the distro and not Midori or some other (good, but less functional) lite variant, Pidgin is the default for chat. If you want a particular app it's often packaged and simple to get. Abiword and Gnumeric ship but Libreoffice is packaged and no compiling from source malarkey is required. Photos are managed by Shotwell by default and videos play back through Gnome Player, but VLC is available. This approach extends beyond applications. Wireless networks are managed by the excellent Wicd module which injects simplicity into a process that can often be too complex. Yes, there are less resource hungry alternatives but Wicd is simple and works well.

No review of any distro can avoid addressing the Desktop Environment. I've reached the point where I am happy to try anything, I just want an interface that works. I need to launch applications and switch between them. I also enjoy having some control over aspects of the system directly from an interface visible at all times. This is why I find the panel and notification area so appealing. Panels address this requirement and Gnome 2 did it extremely well and Xfce makes no bones about using this interface style.
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The Xfce top panel does it all. It has a menu to launch all applications and has menu's for Settings, Preferences and System tools. OK, these three entries could be conflated into two, or perhaps even one but I can quickly find, launch and achieve what I want to do. This is the role of the Desktop Environment after all. The top panel also has a task switching and a notification area, with clock. Some may describe this as old fashioned, but when Windows 95 was released everyone saw the sense and value in the bottom bar Microsoft introduced with it's button for accessing all apps and utilities, a task switching and notification area...no one rejected the new design as overly complex, lacking in functionality, too inflexible and insisted on using the Windows 3.x Program Manager GUI (which Windows 95 also had). Windows 8 isn't released yet and already the Metro UI has been hacked away. Ubuntu 11:04 users complained bitterly about Unity and used the legacy Gnome Classic interface until they were prevented in 11:10 and left the distro en masse. Even Linus Torvalds rejected Gnome 3 and other alternatives and opted for using Xfce.

Which brings us neatly back around to VectorLinux. Gnome 3 has removed and moved so many elements of the Desktop metaphor as to alienate long term users. Linux Mint's brave efforts to salvage Gnome 2 functionality and apply it to Gnome 3 tech with Cinnamon is still not all there. Unity is as bad if not worse in many ways than Gnome 3 Shell. If anything the difficult birth of KDE 4 looks well managed and in openSUSE 12:04 looks and works magnificently. Xfce may look like a safe choice. It can and does behave like Gnome 2 used to and is compatible with Gnome apps and extensions. It's also light and less bloated than Gnome 2 ever was. What's not to like. VectorLinux also offers you a flashy launch bar that makes Unity look drab and uninspired (no really).

A distro that runs on old and underpowered equipment, that looks and feels like a without compromise, distro heavyweight? VectorLinux is all that and more. It features a familiar and flexible DE that you can quickly modify to work your way. A sensible and pleasantly surprising software selection is allied to a comprehensive package repository so you can "decide what [your] operating system is going to be." I like VectorLinux so much I'm even considering it as realistic option for the PC as well as the netbook.

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This is a distro you really should take out for a test drive, it will not disappoint.