Some More Reflections on Linux (Xubuntu 8.04.1)

I couldn’t resist any longer. After a few months of using Elyssa (Main Edition) on my old Dell Latitude D505 laptop, I could not bear the system hog duo that is the GNOME desktop environment + compiz-fusion. Yes, I could have removed compiz-fusion, and that by itself would have probably speeded my aging laptop significantly — but why slice one head when you can slay the hydra?

So I installed Xubuntu 8.04.1 32-bit yesterday on my laptop. This is, oh dear, my 6th Linux installation, if I’m counting correctly! So everything went really really fast. I love XFCE. The speed, and the simplicity, is beautiful. Well, I’ll be honest: I first welcomed GNOME’s user-friendliness combined with Elyssa’s own user-friendly customizations on top of the Ubuntu base, like how Elyssa grouped together all the administrative programs (the “Control Center” equivalent programs) neatly in its Panel’s Menu and all. But after reading tens, if not over a hundred, tips on how to fix things or customize this-or-that using the trusty terminal, and also learning that GNOME’s “look and feel” has nothing to do with GNOME, but rather, the GIMP Toolkit, more commonly known as “GTK+”, I realized that I had zero reasons to choose Elyssa over Xubuntu. Xubuntu is not well known, I don’t think, but do realize that it also uses the GTK+ GUI toolkit — this means that, yes, you can install fancy shmancy things like the Aurora GTK+ Engine if you want on Xubuntu (although, because of a tiny bug in right-clicking menus when using Thunar, I’ve decided to go with a similar, Aurora theme derivative on my desktop machine).

Here are some other “realizations” that dawned upon me after prolonged Linux usage:

  • Do not trust your Panel’s “Menu” or “Start” button. You have numerous applications already installed (usually in /usr/bin) that may not show up in that menu, and you can start any of them by simply typing in their executable’s name in your terminal. Case in point: Linus Torvald’s fashionably high-tech git source management program after you install it with apt-get. This is because the “/usr/bin” directory is in your PATH environment variable. (Open up the /etc/environment file if you’re curious.)
  • Ninety-nine percent of everything is customizable in Linux. To me, this means that you shouldn’t depend on your distro to set up all the bells and whistles for you. It’s much more rewarding if you do it on your own. A good example is customizing, say, conky.
  • Packages (one or more components that make a program work) are designed around a good software philosophy, in that generally you won’t find one giant package that is the only thing you’ll ever need for a particular program. Usually, if you install a new program with get-apt or Synaptic, it will notify you of 3, 4, or more so-called “dependencies” that are required to get that program to run. This is a good thing, because this means that, generally, a single package is specialized, and modularized, to do few things well. This also means many people are involved to get one thing to work if there are many dependancies involved. The end result is that, if any “core” or very basic dependency that many programs use gets a bug, it will be notified immediately and fixed. I doubt it even gets to this stage for some of  those really important packages, like gcc. But ultimately, this all boils down to one thing: software reliability.
  • Aesthetically, compiz-fusion and things like KDE4 are visually impressive, but in the end, only just that: visually impressive. They ultimately slow your system down unnecessarily, and introduce more variables to your X window system (Yes, for you Linux total newbies out there: Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint — all of these distros use the X window system, on top of which they use GTK or QT or whatever else GUI they happen to prefer). I have to admit, I really liked using compiz-fusion with the desktop cube plugin the first month or so — but then I realized that using the cube with compiz-fusion actually slowed down my productivity. To compare: in Xubuntu, by default, all you have to do is scroll your mouse wheel down one notch (when hovering over the desktop) for the next workspace. And it happens almost instantly. Unless you want to watch your favorite DVD movie mirrored horizontally, I just don’t see the benefit of compiz-fusion and all that.
  • Lastly, your Linux customizations really depend on what you like to do and want to do on your computer. Don’t get carried away at what other users are boasting about on forums about their latest trick or customization. Fit Linux to serve your needs. Take what you need, and discard everything that you don’t need. Thankfully, FOSS lets you do this painlessly, since, nothing is impossible — all the source code is there, and you can do whatever you want with it!!

So anyway, both my desktop and laptop are using Xubuntu now (64-bit version on the desktop and 32-bit version on my laptop), and my Elyssa usage is pretty much dead. Still, I’d like to thank Linux Mint for letting me first get my feet wet in the wonderful world of Linux computing. I’m somewhat of a reasonably competent Linux user now, especially with all those helpful forum posts readily accessible on Google.

So yeah, I’m a Xubuntu user now. Hooray.

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