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2018-04-27Project Zebra: We are not shipping your machine! (Xubuntu testing)

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This entry is part of my Project Zebra series covering migration to Linux for personal computing use.

I felt rather guilty when I saw this – https://xubuntu.org/news/testing-for-xubuntu/ – and it was unusual enough to be reported by El Reg too; https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/03/14/ubuntu_1804_beta_flavours/ (this "minimal install" option sounds interesting for new or reinstalling folk, since I have quite firm preferences about most apps).

Apart from lack of time, I wasn't sure I was qualified to comment on regressions in default apps since I don't use many of them (including Thunar, I prefer Nemo) – using the software I use every day would include Chromium, Thunderbird, VLC, XnView, Geany, and in terms of automation, FreeFileSync, TrueCrypt, and a few miscellaneous scripts.

Plus the only serious issue I've had (which wasn't of my own making) in the last year-and-a-half and prior to Meltdown that springs to mind was the connectivity issues with 17.04 due to a) someone deciding to ship Network Manager with a default-on feature that randomised MAC addresses, and b) a systemd issue with DNS resolution, both of which were underlying Ubuntu issues.

I wonder what percentage of Xubuntu users (or Linux users in general) opt for Long Term Support releases? For better or worse, it probably attracts a similar audience to Mint (which specifically bases releases off the most recent Ubuntu LTS release) and one that doesn't tinker much and/or are fleeing Windows. Maybe that's being harsh, because Xfce is highly configurable despite using sensible defaults many won't touch.

I looked into it a little, and decided fitting in an hour to test beta milestones in a VM with the live CD option and a whole disk install would be doable, then tried the download page and the ISO download link was dead. It looks like testing of the beta is closed once it's released, and only daily images are then available. So, dusting off an account I used to get an Ubuntu ShipIt disc in 2009 (at the time I was mainly interested in trying it as a recovery disc) resurrected with an XBomber/StarFleet inspired username, I got the daily ISO downloaded and tried in a live session. I've got a feeling that comments about things like the default theme making it difficult to click and resize probably won't go down particularly well, but it's actually one of the first things noticeable in a stock install. The install (full disk) test suite also went okay.

I tested the beta and release candidates since, then decided to take the plunge upgrading to the RC, and it was a smooth upgrade except letting it get on with things without changing selections (the installer does give you the option to refuse actions, I should note) it removed a few things; comix (which hasn't been supported in an age, and Xubuntu already came with Evince, renamed as 'Document Viewer', which handles CBR etc – although the current version supplies Atril from MATE); gksu (apparently sudo -i is an acceptable alternative); virtualbox (newer version available). Allowing config to be overwritten, Lightdm customisation was another thing to redo, and a new kernel means updating Grub settings, and adding back a line for uswusp:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX resume=UUID=[put yours here]

After which hibernation seems okay again now with the 4.15 kernel, which was my reason for taking the risk of upgrading early.

https://securityboulevard.com/2018/01/meltdown-patch-is-causing-problems-for-some-ubuntu-linux-users/

notes that pre 4.14 kernels in particular have problems, and I indeed found uswusp hibernation consistently fails to resume since the patches designed to mitigate Intel's colossal global fuck up.

Something may be a little bit awry with my Grub setup (probably the customisation) as the latest upgrade duplicated some options. I ran into this some weeks earlier as well when I had issues with VirtualBox, which I hadn't used in a few months. It turned out I was booting an older kernel than the latest installed, 4.13 – again, the Spectre/Meltdown situation and hurriedly pushed out patches seem to have been responsible.

Windows had its own March 2018 cluster fuck with patching, which affected some work laptops.

https://www.computerworld.com/article/3216425/microsoft-windows/microsoft-patch-alert-windows-7-takes-the-brunt-of-march-patching-problems.html

Whilst there are plenty of guides and tips out there for upgrading to a more recent kernel, being so close to a distro release date it seemed the best bet to go with that.

Switching to Bionic, LibreOffice 6, VLC 3, Geany becomes GTK3. For the moment I've only enabled PPAs for browsers as Avidemux, Grub Customizer and FreeFileSync are all very periodic updaters and it makes little sense to keep them in a polled list.

For the moment I can't be bothered to upgrade XNViewMP which is on a 2016 version. 0.83 has changed icons to what looks like a default Gnome set – brown folders rather than blue – despite me not having updated it, which suggests the set it was using has been removed. Looks better.

It looks like I'll need to go through and manually remove some of the non-MATE apps such as Archive Manager, Calculator, Document Viewer to avoid dupes, but will wait to install any other updates after the official release, I think.

Another oddity is that VLC isn't playing h264 – but only when trying to open downloads from a particular browser, whereas from Nemo they launch and play fine.

Per some of my earlier notes, maybe I should also try stock Ubuntu with Xfce + Whisker Menu + Nemo, time permitting, or possibly find a rolling release distro. This helpful recent article goes into it a bit, the only thing I'd be wary about is installing a system with Gnome as the default desktop environment and cleaning that off; https://itsfoss.com/install-xfce-desktop-xubuntu/

On rolling release distros, if I was going that route I think I'd want to go with Arch.

http://www.akitaonrails.com/2017/01/10/arch-linux-best-distro-ever https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/11/02/arch_linux_taster/

I should say I'm looking at this as purely as a "migrate if needed" option, and don't really have time to switch any more than I do to do much testing of things. But it's good to have contingency plans, particularly when maintainers are making warning noises (even if it's primarily to get responses).

eg Linux Format has just put Manjaro Linux (Arch-based with some emphasis on user-friendliness) with Xfce on its DVD, which seems a good thing to spin up in VirtualBox as and when I get chance, and to be well-regarded; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manjaro_Linux / https://wiki.manjaro.org/index.php?title=About_Manjaro

Xfce gets a certain amount of doomsaying as well...

Where’s Xfce 4.14? Current Development, Roadmap & Future
https://fosspost.org/analytics/xfce-4-14-development-roadmap-future

Which is overly pessimistic. Other DEs such as MATE have only recently completed migration to GTK3, and Wayland has a way to go with X having stuck around for many years. Xfce component releases seem to be quite frequent, it's just that whole DE releases are a lot less so.


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