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The Linux desktop 'mess'

Is the Linux desktop really a "mess" as some pundits call it? Jack Wallen takes issue with this claim and explains why he thinks the desktop is getting a bad rap.

It seems nearly every pundit, every mouthpiece on the planet has decided that the Linux desktop is a "mess." This "downfall" of the Linux desktop started with GNOME 3 and seemed to gain more momentum with Ubuntu Unity. I have a theory -- and an idea for a fix.

Linux is all about choice. It's always been that way; from the earliest inception of the desktop, the Linux community has enjoyed CFE, AfterStep, FluxBox, XFCE, Enlightenment, KDE, LXDE, Cinnamon ...

Oh, and GNOME and Ubuntu Unity.

Actually, the list goes on and on.

I've used almost every Linux desktop -- some good, some not so good. To say that GNOME 3 and Unity are a "mess," well, I'm not sure I get that. When KDE 4 first arrived -- that was a mess (it has, since then, come a long, long way). Windows 8 -- that is a mess. But both GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity? Both are solid, stable desktops that not only work well, but help to make the user focus on the work and the keyboard. Both desktops are efficient. But different and unique.

But wait, doesn't the Linux community thrive on that?

My theory is simple (and it's one I'll probably get blasted for):

The whole "mess" centers on GNOME 3 and Unity. They are the two key players in the battle. If you think about it, it's not that GNOME 3 and Unity are all that different -- it's that they took on one of the favorite desktops (what is now called Classic GNOME) and radically altered it. So users of GNOME 2.x are forced to use something new and change the way they work.

Different.

The majority of Linux users are, at the core, much like other users -- they don't like change. I was always one of those who jumped from desktop to desktop, just for the fun of it. I enjoyed trying new things and seeing what each interface had to offer. Even though Enlightenment still stands as one of my all time favorite interfaces, I use Unity -- because it's so different (and it has some features that I've grown reliant upon). I have fond memories of experiencing the Minimalism of FluxBox and the trickery that can be used with AfterStep. But that's not the way of the average user. The average user (and I don't mean this as if it's a bad thing) gloms onto one idea (or, in this case, interface) and holds on for dear life.

When KDE 4 first came out, the KDE community was in an uproar -- and the differences between KDE 3 and 4 are minimal -- relatively speaking. Eventually KDE 4 won over the hearts of the community and the desktop just keeps getting better and better. When GNOME 3 arrived, it looked as if it could have been a huge success, but then politics came into play, and the users felt like the developers weren't listening to them... and in the end, you have a desktop that is actually quite good, but no one wants to use.

Unity has the same issue -- with the added bonus of being strapped down by the backlash of a community that feels like Canonical is doing whatever it wants to Ubuntu Linux without a care or concern about their users.

Everyone just wants to go back to Classic GNOME and be done with it. Well, not everyone. In comparison to what we have now, Classic GNOME would look and feel like a dinosaur (to me, at least). So, yes, I am saying it seems as if it would take a giant step backwards to appease the majority of the Linux community.

We cannot afford to take even the tiniest step backward.

So, what is the solution? Simple: Merge GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity. Take the best of both and code them into a single, wonder-filled desktop. Bring the minds and talents of the developers of both teams together and have at it. Maybe the layout of GNOME 3, Unity's Dash, the GNOME 3 notification system and pager, the Unity HUD, the GNOME 3 compositor, and so on. Set aside the whole Wayland/Mir debacle, come up with a plan, and create a desktop every member of the Linux community would be proud to use.

I know, the politics of the idea would hit critical mass and it would be nightmare to maneuver. But if done properly, it could win back the masses and continue the forward motion started by both desktops.

There are a lot of Linux users out there holding onto grudges because one desktop or another slighted their project or their favorite tool. It's time we let go of that grudge and start thinking of the future. Linux is on a major precipice that could see it winning over a huge amount of users. With Windows 8 continuing to fail (and Microsoft doing nothing about it), the Linux community needs to look upon the current stagnation at Microsoft and take advantage of it. Merge, work together, accept, move on -- whatever you have to do to look into the future and help the Linux desktop to get back on track.

Personally, I would love to see GNOME 3 and Unity somehow merge together. What could come of that might well blow the minds of desktop users. Will it happen? Probably not. Should it happen? Who knows. But if you wrap your brain around the possibilities, it becomes clear that both GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity both have some amazing features that deserve a chance.

The Linux desktop isn't nearly as much of a "mess" as so many seem to see it. If you've given Ubuntu Unity or GNOME 3 a real chance, you then know both desktops are highly usable, efficient, and very stable. How is that a mess? Yes, the politics of the issue are a mess. But politics, by definition, is a messy business. There always has been and always will be political wars going on in the Linux community. But those political wars cannot trickle out to the users... especially now when it could well be possible the Linux user base expands into the masses.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

186 comments
artsytechlady
artsytechlady

FYI - I bought the Toshiba laptop with Vista already installed.  I also have a HP Pavillion laptop as my "backup" Windows PC with Windows 7 installed.  Since I've been using Linux for 3 years now, I have been enjoying zero viruses, zero defragging and lots of enjoyment from the free programs I've downloaded and tried.  Everything that I did on my Windows 7 laptop I've been able to do on my Linux laptop.  BTW, I primarily use Mint because I just enjoy the ease of use and the beauty of the UI.  That includes working with finances, banking, resumes, design work, development/programming, watching movies and videos, playing games, surfing the net on Firefox or Chrome, Google service activities, editing videos and chatting either on Skype for Linux or Google Hangouts.  If someone wants to seriously move to Linux, they should:  1.)   Keep a backup Windows laptop.  2.)  Buy a Linux laptop for Linux vendors like System76, ZaReason, ThinkPenguin or LinuxCertified.  Or buy a Windows 8 laptop and wipe it out with your favorite Linux distro.

artsytechlady
artsytechlady

I am running Ubuntu 12.04 dual boot with Linux Mint 14 on a Toshiba Satellite laptop that's a few years old.  I also installed Gnome's Classic Menu Indicator on the Ubuntu 12.04 Unity desktop.  Therefore, I have the best of both worlds.  In fact, I demonstrated how to do this on a Youtube tutorial "install and Configure Ubuntu Desktop OS" under my username "artsytechlady".

grenet
grenet

This is what I have now (internal hardware, mostly 6 years old; I bought high quality parts (except for video card) from previous year at the time): -------------------------------------------------------------------------- LianLi aluminum case with 2 120mmBallbearingFans, usb2 & firewire front slots EPoX 9NPA+Sli Mobo (no longer made) AMD 64 Venice CPU 3200+ x_86 (single core processor) Corsair 2GB Mem 1GBx2 D400 184-pin TWINX2048-3200 C2PT (installed May 2008, replacing original Corsair 1GB Mem 512Mx2 D400 TWINX1024-3200C2), I don't think this mobo will accept more than 2GB. InWin 460W PSU w/120mmFan PNY NVIDIA GeForce 210 1GB (installed 2011, replacing original 6600 PCI Express x 16 VideoCard - I don't need fancy video card for what I do) HDD1 Seagate 120GB IDE ATA primary disk, 2 partitions (system & my data) HDD2 WD1 Caviar 320GB 7K 8M backup disk, 2 partitions (system images & data backup) HDD3 WD2 Caviar 320GB (not installed; it didn't want to cohabit with DVD drive on same cable - I should have bought SATA, instead) I will dump the Seagate - this is it's third PC - it's been a great drive; I think putting into a fourth PC would be pushing it (its at LEAST 15 years old) - and install the two WD IDEs and a large SATA drive in the new one when I build it. DVD burner & 3.5 floppy. WinXP Home SP2 Retail LG 19" LCD EnergyStar Monitor Netgear Wireless Firewall Router (installed 2011, replacing original Linksys hardware firewall) Epson Perfection 3490 Scanner Canon Color Inkjet PIXMA 3500 series Brother B&W Laser HL2140 All on UPS 685AVR power regulator (replaced in 2011) ---------------------------------------------------------------- I could probably run some distros as a dual boot, but I doubt a VM would be practical with this elderly machine. I can run a dual boot to learn Linux and find a distro I like, while keeping XP for my vital stuff - bills, etc. Then install Linux on the new PC with XP in a VM, until I get everything switched over. Which distros could I run with this setup (the distro chooser indicated I could only run Mint, & OpenSuse, & something else - but I did indicate that I wanted a stable system and applications on board).

grenet
grenet

Will I still have the interface I have now with my scanner? I don't think that would change with the hardware driver, would it?

Thack
Thack

The idea that all change is automatically good is ridiculous. "Stop fighting change and embrace it" strongly implies that all change is an improvement over what went before. Often that is true, but absolutely not always. Telling people they should embrace change no matter what is tyrannical. We all agree that many people resist change, even when it does represent progress. This does *not* mean that everyone complaining about the W8 Start Screen is stuck in the past and resisting change. They MIGHT, like me, have evaluated it diligently and concluded that it works well on small touch screens but badly on large, non-touch screens. It's an entirely legitimate conclusion to come to.

grenet
grenet

I want the desktop to adapt to ME (as XP will do - Linux should be able to do that too). I, like many other XP users (and Microsoft haters), WANT very much to switch to Linux, but we don't want to adapt to someone else's (anyone else's) desktop. We don't want to be limited to choosing someone else's desktop/interface. We want CHOICES WITHIN the OS 'distro' to modify the interface look-and-behavior details to suit ourselves. If XP could do it, then surely Linux can do it.

grenet
grenet

A stable, file-system-&-app-compatible Linux with a freely customizable interface feature can attract enough users to keep the desktop PC HARDWARE market viable. If we maintain an elitist attitude and the desktop PC market shrinks because Linux was unable to meet a normal user's wants, at least enough to serve as a mainstream desktop PC OS, then desktop PC hardware market WILL shrink and prices for parts or pre-built desktop PCs (if you can find them at all) will go through the roof. Obviously, Microsoft wants the desktop PC to quietly fade away. MAC is a different animal entirely. If we want the PC desktop to remain viable, as hardware, then Linux aficionados need to stop the distro infighting, and stop trying to be so EXclusive and become more INclusive. I'm not understanding exactly what you mean by "focus on features, stability, and freedom". Flexibility and choice WITHIN a distro is a FEATURE desired by many current Windows XP desktop PC users, because they have that with XP. They are reluctant to leave XP for something that doesn't provide that feature. STABILITY is dependably provided by standard, reusable, already debugged, compile-in call modules (file system, interface, etc.) with built-in flexibility for the user. FREEDOM is NOT having to use a pre-set interface that someone else (anyone else) thought was good enough for you (the freedom 'from') - it is freedom to customize the interface details to suit YOURSELF (the freedom 'to'). BTW, it takes a LOT more intelligence and talent to design and program a user-customizable interface than it does to hard-code a "my way or the highway" interface. Especially one with controlled, user-modifiable, callable functions that can be compiled into an OS 'distro' as a module, already debugged and stable.

grenet
grenet

Insisted on something here - no 'delete' provided.

grenet
grenet

Do you mean that LXLE "looks" a lot like XP, or that it WORKS a lot like XP, in that the interface is highly customizable?

grenet
grenet

Which is why I had to build my own PC and purchased a retail copy of XP; I read enough to see the handwriting on the wall for Windows. From Vista onward, Windows removed the "have it your way" customization of XP and began it's "my way or the highway" (MWORTH) designs, along with increasing Microsoft controlware and spyware. I can't use XP forever and I'd really like to switch to Linux, but the complete customization offered by XP, in every little detail, to effectively design my own desktop, easily and elegantly, is proving hard to give up for something with so much less choice. I don't want to have to use someone else's (ANYone else's) idea of a 'best' desktop. NO desktop/interface is PERFECT for ANYONE, a well-designed interface is aware of that and provides enough intuitive customization choices for the user to modify it into the USER's perfect interface.

grenet
grenet

XP was, no question, the flagship of Microsoft - the best OS I've seen. XP provided complete customization to allow the USER to customize the desktop and the windows manager to work EXACTLY like the USER wanted it to work, instead of having to use someone else's idea of a 'best' interface. NO pre-designed interface is PERFECT for ANYONE - the only way to provide a user with TRUE 'CHOICE' is to allow the details of the interface to be MODIFIED BY THE USER to suit how the USER wants to work.

Thack
Thack

I absolutely agree that Windows 8 sets the standard at the moment. I think it is the best mobile touch-oriented OS around. It makes Android and iOS look distinctly last century. BUT, I disagree about the Start menu. The "Modern" interface in W8 is great for small-screen, touch-screen devices, but it's dreadful on a non-touch desktop machine. The fact that "Modern" won't even support overlapping windows makes it a joke on a 30" monitor. No, for that kind of work the desktop analogy is better, and for desktop work the W7 Start menu is great because it doesn't take over the entire screen, like the W8 Start screen does. Apple - who are undeniably good at UI design - hasn't made the mistake of thinking one UI fits all devices from 4" touch screens to 30" non-touch screens. Luckily W8's behaviour doesn't matter, because thanks to Stardock we've got a choice. We can use either the Start menu or the Start screen, just as we please. Perfect.

grenet
grenet

In XP, every little detail about the interface was customizable, in an easy, elegant, and intuitive way. You could make it interface with you exactly as YOU chose, detail by detail, something not available in the new versions of windows OR within any given Linux distro. You want something different in Linux, then you have to install another operating system 'distro' (and still only get whatever the programmer of THAT distro wanted you to have), you can't tweak the details you want to change in the distro you have to make it into something that YOU like. I was hoping that any Linux distro I picked would be MORE customizable, since I kept hearing the word "choice". But apparently "choice" only applies to which one of a big list of other people's choices you want to work around. I couldn't find a distro that as easily and elegantly offered YOU the choice to customize the interface into something that YOU liked.

grenet
grenet

I want very much to switch to Linux (because I don't like Microsoft's increasing invasion of privacy), but I am loathe to give up being able to customize everything about the interface to suit ME, in exchange for having to pick an interface that is someone else's choice - not mine - and that I cannot customize to suit myself. Just ONE example.... I can choose to make a particular folder window always open to an exact size that I choose, in a particular place on the screen, in the format I prefer. Linux doesn't always remember where the folder is supposed to be located. If I pick 'list view' for the folder, I have NO choice as to the size of the folder; it chops off the filenames and I cannot even temporarily resize the folder to show the longest filename, much less have Linux remember it. I can choose everything about what fonts I want the interface to use everywhere individually - can't do that in Linux (at least not the ones I've tried) - the screen font is way too big and cuts off the labels, and I couldn't find any way to fix it, easy & elegant OR awkward & cumbersome. There are a multitude of other examples just like this one. There are a plethora of distros out there, each with it's OWN my-way-or-the-highway interface, but I couldn't find a SINGLE ONE that offered me the choices required to customize the distro interface to work MY way. There is a lot I like about Linux, but the lack of customization of an interface to suit ME, instead of that particular distro programmer, is the sticking point. If a given Linux distro truly provided choice, I would jump on it. I don't want to have to install a whole new operating system when I want to change some little thing about the interface - I want to be able to change it in situ. If Linux can manage an elegant, customizable interface, then it will be unbeatable.

grenet
grenet

If Linux came up with an interface that would allow the user to as completely customize the interface as he can in XP, I truly believe Linux would take over the world. That is the only thing keeping me from Linux (and I really want to get away from Microsoft because of their increasing invasion of privacy), it is that each one of the plethora of interfaces seems to offer NO choice! You get the desktop the designer likes, you can't modify it into one that YOU like (as with XP). Every distro I've looked at so far seems to have it's own my-way-or-the-highway (Mworth) interface. If there is any way to customize any one of them to do it MY way, it is NOT intuitive to find. UPDATE: I'm told that the full capacity of interface customization is not available if you are using a LiveCD; it needs to be installed for that. So I'll quit complaining until I know more - I guess I sound like an ignorant moron (I am ignorant, I guess, about Linux, but I'm not a moron......honest!). I don't have space now for a dual boot, or enough RAM for a VM (2gb), PLUS I'd rather know a little about using Linux as a dual boot before I try XP in a VM - so I've got to build a new machine & put in a dual boot to try it out properly. I'll just keep trying to learn as much as I can until I have TIME to build a new PC & reinstall all my Windows stuff - the Linux part of the dual boot will be easier, right - it comes with the apps on board? Unless, anyone knows of a place to buy a clean PC without an OS? Gateway used to build to specs that way - no more though.

grenet
grenet

Do all the icons have to be large? Is there no 16x16 icon in Linux?

grenet
grenet

The easy customization of the interface is the one thing Windows has done a great job with. Icons can be created/edited and made into UNIQUE representations of a file/item/app, rather than just be a placeholder for text that you have to hover over, or click, to read to find out what it represents, because there are 50 other identical icons. If you want to open a separate window for each 'folder', want it to always open with a certain format, size, and place on the screen, and be able to size the window to fit the longest filename within it, you can do that. If I choose "list view" in Linux, it cuts off the filename and I can't resize the window to show it properly. Linux would be unstoppable if someone came up with an interface that was as fully customizable, especially if they made it into a module that could easily be compiled into any distro design.

grenet
grenet

...to me having to install a whole new OS (distro) is not a very good 'choice'. I want choice WITHIN a distro, to change things to MY WAY, not be stuck with the distro's designer's way. An interface should be fully customizable.

grenet
grenet

There should be a line of Linux that adheres to some agreed-upon dependable standards. This doesn't mean others can't go off on tangents, if they wish. The thing people hate most is having to learn a new 'desktop' and that seems to be the primary focus of having so many different 'distros.' NO 'distro' (interface) is going to suit EVERYONE's working style (or COMPLETELY suit ANYONE's working style, except it's creator). So, I would add to what you suggest, (3) a completely customizable interface, (including an icon creator/editor, like icoFX, so icons can be made UNIQUE, instead of just being a placeholder for a text description that you have to hover over and read, or click and read, because it looks exactly like 50 other icons). This would let the USER effectively design his OWN interface so programmers could concentrate on great applications. NO hard-coded (my way or the highway) interface is going to suit EVERYONE even fairly well, and NO fixed (my way or the highway) interface is going to suit ANYONE PERFECTLY (hence the proliferation so many different similar-except-for-desktop-interface 'distros'), so a "user choice" interface that is fully customizable and would allow a given Linux distro to REALLY offer CHOICES, instead of there being just a confusing, and proliferating, multitude of different, separate, "my way or the highway" distro interfaces. You shouldn't have to install a completely different desktop interface to change things about how the desktop interface you have looks and works; you should be able to customize details and alter them as your preferences change. Your two suggestions would make Linux easier and more dependable to PROGRAM - these unseen vital components could be available in a plug-in library module for the OS compiler. The third suggestion would make the Linux OS much more elegant, attractive, and enjoyable to use for a multitude of people - who like their interface to work THEIR WAY, instead of ONLY some particular desktop designer's way. This could also be available as a plug-in library module for the OS compiler. UPDATE: I have been using LiveCDs to try Linux until I can get to building a new machine that can run Linux and XP in a VM. I now understand that actually INSTALLING the distro is necessary to see the interface customization that actually is available in many of them. My brain was on vacation - of COURSE you can't 'modify' a LiveCD....duh! I'm so glad it was just me - now I'm looking forward to trying Linux properly.

wanderson
wanderson

The statement(s) by dcolbert@ that ....."Linux needs to stand on its own, instead of constantly admitting by comparison that it stands in the shadow of Windows" and .."Microsoft innovations were far ahead of anything today" demonstrates his complete ignorance about the GNU/Linux ecosystem and how he, as one of the many people on ZDNet and other threads are fruitless attempting to prop up Microsoft's products and reputation, without referencing and facts or common sense in support. Being a Microsoft dupe cannot be easy and requires constant exaggeration and false claims. For example, GNU/Linux is "software" developed by dozens of entities from individuals to schools, organizations to corporations. There is no unilateral spokesperson for the Operating System (OS), and even Linus Torvalds who developed the Linux kernel admittedly only speaks for himself, and not other members of the Kernel development team or any corporation. So it is impossible for "Linux" as software code to feel anything, particularly as second rate to another OS software - which dcolbert@ snidely intimates is Windows. In regards to Microsoft innovation superiority (sic), here are some "facts" for dcolbert@ to consider. Microsoft Windows uses the ResFS file system in Server 2012 and 'NTFS' for just about everything else. Maybe even a little DOS sneaked in I am sure. Both of these file systems are proven in every credible independent test to be vastly inferior to the ZFS and btrfs file systems used predominantly in GNU/Linux and someUNIX/UNIX-like OS. Microsoft wished to and made attempt to license ZFS file system from Oracle, but could not abide by the controlling Open Source (FOSS) license. Example 2. Since the integrated Windows Internet Information Server (IIS) was so terribly flaky and insecure as compared to the Apache HTTP server, Microsoft has made substantial 'financial' contributions to the FOSS software project so that Windows users at least have a robust and secure Web Server. Example 3. Microsoft knows' didley squat' about virtualization and cloud computing, and therefore secunded much of the FOSS Xen virtualization code and FOSS cloud Computing code from Eucalyptus and others. I could go on and on and on, but I challenge dcolbert@ to refute any of the thre "facts" above with "documented, verifiable, certified" information from a non-Microsoft paid for, supported on controlled source. It is sickening how stupid and shallow the Microsoft apologists and minions are, and have become since start of the gradual decline of Microsoft in the mobile age.

bischoffderek
bischoffderek

All you really are suggesting is YAWM (Yet Another Windows Manager) be created. If there is a need and a group of skilled programmers who want to see it happen, then yay. This won't get rid of the old ones, nor should it. The fact that some people are passionate about what they are used to is fine, and those that are like yourself that will try everything and keep the best, are fine too. So to that end, I agree, It's not a mess, it's a melting pot of ideas. Hurray! And as for unified administration, you have so many options there, you needn't worry about the desktop a user has identified with, any more than what images they like on their wallpaper. Now, as someone who administers Windows of all flavors... change isn't so good. Let's change my IP address shouldn't be followed by "what version are they running" to figure out how to do it. Now let's talk a second about passion over a Desktop, Operating system , computer, truck, music band, car, music genre, color , country, etc.... on the internet. Be passionate, but please be civil....

grenet
grenet

I restore images all the time, catch up any system changes I've made since (I keep a log on the Quicklaunch toolbar for any system alterations/installations/removals, etc.), and then I reimage. This is the best way I've found to keep the system partition clean. I use a different sort of backup for my documents partition, which is also where my email store, templates, and application data, etc. are located. Can I create/restore a partition/drive image of a VM? Thanks, Anna

grenet
grenet

Thanks pgit, Does GParted come with these? What software is included? Ann

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Hi Ann, it's perfectly understandable about feeling somewhat lost with sysadmin things... Like anything, it takes exposure and practice to become familiar and comfortable. But it certainly is something you can become good at. You have what you need to get there: an interest (along with your need) and perseverance. GParted should be included by default on any Debian-based Linux LiveCD (which, for consumer-oriented Linuxes, would be the Mint and Ubuntu varieties). I'm not familiar with Mageia or Manjaro, so I can't speak for them. Note that for the *installed* Ubuntu Linuxes, they will usually *not* include gparted; however you can easily install it after you install the system, as I always do. (It's still useful to have on an installed system, so I'm not sure why they don't add it by default. It should be obvious why it's on the LiveCD...) So, to run it, you only need to boot an Ubuntu/Mint LiveCD to "Live" mode. I'm not sure why you are having drive letter problems... But I doubt it involves the MBR. For the most part, the MBR holds a table of the 4 primary partitions and their location on disk. (Extended partitions are actually a chain of references from partition to partition; only the head is stored in the MBR as one of the primaries.) It's likely an issue within WinXP. Hopefully you can limp along until you're able to rebuild in a VM... RAID --and I'll restrict the discussion to RAID-1-- is a technique of keeping one disk/disk partition continuously synchronized with that on one or more other disks. It's not recommended to RAID at the disk level, though that works; it will confuse other OSes such as Windows into thinking the disk is blank, when it's not. Better to RAID at the partition level. I.e., create matching partitions and RAID them together. E.g., /dev/sda1 and /dev/sdb1 would specify the first partition ("1") on devices (disks) /dev/sda and /dev/sdb, which are the first two hard drives your BIOS detects and presents to the OS. (Partitions 1-4 are primary; 5 and up are 'logical', i.e., extended partitions.) The purpose of RAID-1 is *strictly* to protect against hardware failure; it is NOT a means of backing up. It saves your day (and maybe your data) if/when a hard drive fails. RAID-1 is implemented for disk writes by writing to both drive partitions simultaneously; reads are usually done by alternating reading between drive partitions (which speeds things up). It is, as you surmised, a means of real-time mirroring -- and it does it in Linux with no performance penalty, and is completely transparent to you, all your apps, and nearly all the OS operations. And you still need to back up... One thing that LVM will allow you to do --if you choose-- is to have a logical volume span physical volumes... or span partitions on the same or different volumes. For example, let's say I have some 500GB, 1000GB, and 2000GB hard drives, and I want to RAID them together -- yet maintain flexibility in case I have to replace hard drives that fail. The lowest common denominator is 500GB. So I could partition all my drives into sets of 500GB partitions, and RAID them together in pairs (necessarily keeping each member of a pair on a different disk). I then have the flexibility of substituting any failed partition (or disk) with anything I buy to replace it, provided my replacement disk is at least 500GB in size. But what if I want a file system that uses the above to be greater than 500GB? (This is realistic if you implement a server with terabytes of space...) This is where LVM makes your filesystem and volumes simple and easy to manage. You will end up with a set of (logical) RAID drives that are numbered /dev/md1, /dev/md2, /dev/md3, etc., each 500GB in size. You then make all of them LVM "physical volumes" (PVs), and group them all into the same Volume Group (VG). At that point you simply have "drive space"; the physical locations begin to lose their importance. You then "carve up" logical volumes (LVs) from this pool of space. And since it's all one big pool, you can add space to an existing volume, or remove space from an existing volume, as well as make more volumes (or delete a volume to return its space to the pool) -- easily. By starting with RAID, then LVM, you can restructure your drive scheme as well as replace failed hard drives without impacting your filesystem, your OS, your apps, files, etc. and without needing to rebuild or roll back from a backup. You can backup VERY quickly by "splitting the mirror", putting the second hard drive set in a vault, and replacing them with fresh, blank drives; adding them back into the RAID array will cause the system to re-sync the disks in the background while you continue to use the system. By the time the sync is complete, you're back to where you started, but you have a copy on the shelf -- all without every needing to "stop and wait for the backup to complete". However, LVM gives you a simpler option: One of the nifty things that LVM can do is to make a "snapshot" of any LV. What this does is present a "frozen" copy of your entire LV as a new volume; you can continue to use the volume, but the snapshot does not change. It does NOT do this by copying the LV -- that would take a lot of time! Instead it writes any changes that occur as you use it to a new (special) LV partition you define when you take the snapshot. (Your changes usually amount to small percentage, so this is efficient.) The value? You can start a backup process on the snapshot (which is static) while you continue to use & change the files on the volume. When the backup is complete, you delete the snapshot LV and reclaim the space (in your VG). In this way, you do not need to wait for a backup to finish in order to use your system. Another thing you can do with LVM is to "migrate" the space a LV uses from a given physical volume to another -- all while you continue to use your machine. Suppose you suspect a PV is going bad, or you want to upgrade a PV to a bigger disk. You can migrate your LVs off the old/small disk to the other disks in your system (assuming you've left scratch space), then once it's no longer in use, power down, swap disks, power back up, and you now have a newer/bigger PV to work with. No rebuilds, no rollbacks, no waiting. And there are commands (and GUI apps) that let you monitor "what's installed where". You can even create LVs that store nothing but virtual machines, if you wish. Lots of flexibility and ease of changing things relating to your file systems, partitions, and disks, with minimal downtime or waiting -- that's what LVM is about. It's been around a LONG time and is very reliable, as is RAID. Linux does use a pagefile, called "swap", which is required to be in one or more dedicated partitions that contain nothing else. (It *can* be set up to be a file in your regular file system, but that's not a good idea; pretend that you can't do that...) There are a lot of heuristics about what size to make your swap partitions, but it's easiest to just make it the same size as your RAM; you'll have enough, and you'll have space to suspend/hibernate to (should you wish to do that). Note this restriction: 32-bit Linux can only use a maximum of 2GB of swap space in a given swap partition. You can nevertheless increase your swap space by simply defining more than one 2GB swap partition; the OS will automatically use them all, and even 'stripe' them together for better performance (like RAID-0). It's all done transparently; you only need to be aware of the 2GB limit so that you don't waste disk space. 64-bit Linux has no restrictions on swap partition size. Here are some helpful web pages for learning the ins & outs of these topics -- including step-by-step recipes for how to do them: General questions (search these sites, post a question on them, or Google topics using "site:" with these web sites to find things on them, e.g., Google "site:superuser.com lvm partitioning" to find posts specific to that subject, etc.): http://stackoverflow.com/ http://superuser.com/ Linux-related HOW TO sites: http://www.howtoforge.com/ http://www.tldp.org/HOWTO/HOWTO-INDEX/howtos.html which have useful how-to's such as: http://www.howtoforge.com/linux_lvm http://www.tldp.org/HOWTO/LVM-HOWTO/index.html http://www.tldp.org/HOWTO/Software-RAID-HOWTO.html http://www.howtoforge.com/setting-up-lvm-on-top-of-software-raid1-rhel-fedora http://www.howtoforge.com/the-perfect-desktop-ubuntu-12.04-lts-precise-pangolin http://www.howtoforge.com/the-perfect-desktop-ubuntu-13.04-raring-ringtail

grenet
grenet

I am so grateful for all of the information and suggestions. I don't consider myself an "expert" by any means, except as an APPLICATION designer/programmer. When you get into system programming, RAID, LVM, networking, hardware beyond the basics, I'm a little lost. I will definitely stop ignoring these topics now, and learn about them, since they sound more useful than I thought. My data is on a separate partition, so it doesn't get imaged with my system partition - I have images back to my original installation & an MSWord system-changes-diary that go with them; I have software that just maintains a second copy of my data on a separate partition, updating changes on demand. At one time I used real-time updating "Go-Back," (my current software will do it too - I've just never used it that way), I found the real time updating slowed disk I/O way down, especially since there were some operations I didn't want monitored until I was finished with them. Disk-thrashing, as you say, so now I do the data partition update on demand at the end of the day with 3 clicks. My page flle is a separate partition on the backup drive, which I only use at the end of the day. For example: I keep any sensitive data zipped in encrypted files and often make small changes during the day, particular to financial files. Sometimes I'm just editing/changing filenames/dates within the file. I don't want these files rezipped/re-encrypted, or replaced with every little change - just at the end of the day when I decide to do it. Would RAID be better than my current method? I like the real time aspect for some things, but there are some disk-intensive things I do that I wouldn't want monitored/mirrored in real time. I do see an advantage of real time mirroring of the system partition, however. That would be a this-minute safety measure as now I only image the c partition every week or so, when I have actually made changes that affect the system. It wouldn't negate my wish to have images far into the past, but it would protect my system from major downtime in case of a sudden drive failure. GParted was one of the CDs I ordered from OSDISK, but that was one of the ones that would not boot. Is there a place I can download it? Is there a version that works under XP? I tried Easeus Partition Manager and it apparently royally messed something up; Windows disk manager no longer allows me to CHANGE a partition letter (although I can ADD a letter). The drive shows up in the manager without a letter and asks if I want to assign one, but the letter that should already be assigned is not available. Still same problem after I uninstalled EaseUs - even after I imaged the system drive back to a place BEFORE I installed EaseUs - I'm thinking it maybe messed up the MBR (don't know exactly what's in there, but partition information would make sense). The drive letters show in the My Computer folder, but nowhere else, and they appear to WORK okay; I just can't change them. I'm actually just limping along with this system until I can reinstall. I just don't have time to reinstall Windows now, with the home remodeling demanding so much of my concentration and I can't afford to lose access to my email/bills/remodeling info, etc. right now. I wish it was all finished, so I could play with my computer. I AM going to at least to move my c-images to an external drive and use that partition to install Linux. That partition is 172 GB, so I can further divide it to put /HOME on a separate partition from the Linux system. Or maybe make one /HOME partition and several Linux system partitions. I'll get a version that comes with GParted, so I'll gain control over my disk letters and partitions again. Windows will still work if I partition with Linux?? Or I guess I have to leave the Windows partitons alone - no real reason to mess with them at this point. With LVM, are you saying that a logical partition can span more than one hard drive? That sounds confusing to me. Now I know which physical drive contains my system, my system images, my pagefile, my data, and my data backup. Or does it just mean, that on a given drive, the logical partition sizes are not locked into the physical partitions on that drive? Does Linux use a pagefile? Do it's partitions need to be defragmented? You are a fountain of information and I'm very grateful, ignorant of so much of this stuff as I am. I am loathe to start something until I understand it at least minimally. I'm one of the goofballs who actually read the instructions first. Ann

pgit
pgit

2 distros with excellent installers that automatically set up dual boot for you are Mageia and Manjaro. The later blew me away with how well it configured all my older hardware, a Linux install doesn't get any easier.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

You can pretty much run any distro of Linux on that hardware. Linux can run in as little as 384-512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of hard drive space. (Some distros that have been developed specifically for VERY old hardware can run in 64MB RAM and

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

change the style of the window frames, the desktop colourts, the location of the bar, what's on the bar, select different icons. I never did get into the make your own icon from scratch, but I did used to go through the list of available icons and select one, can do that in Zorin as easily as I did it in XP. It's all through the System Settings. When you switch to Linux you have some learning as some items are accessed a little different to the way Windows did it - much like the jump from Win 3.11 to Win XP, the settings are there, just a slightly different path.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

..is supposed to be very customizable. There's a derivative of Ubuntu that uses it as its default UI, Bodhi Linux. I've played with it a little, but it was too customizable for my tastes.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

and it can be set up to look and act a lot like Windows XP

pgit
pgit

...I think you are missing the capabilities of KDE4, my every window, dozens of apps, folder views, open exactly where I want them and in the size I set ONCE, every time. Reboot after reboot. You're not getting good info on how to configure KDE4, which is understandable, developers would rather develop their core than write documentation. Still, I poked away, asked questions and finally got to where I understand a few of the things important to me. As for fonts, not sure exactly what you're getting in xp that Linux isn't doing for you...

HAL 9000
HAL 9000 moderator

It's Ubuntu with the KDE UI though I'm not sure that it's available on a Live Disc. www.kubuntu.org/getkubuntu Trying any Live Linux and then saying that you need to change the entire OS because you don't have the UI you personally like will never get you to the point where you can install anything. At best it will show you one or two UI's that is commonly used and leave you with the impression that is all that is available when it's not correct. Actually for that matter it will never get you to the point where you can save any Changes that you make to the UI either and I suppose there is a very good reason why Windows can never be used as a Live Windows OS because it's simply not made. Of course there is always a Ditro Chosser to gide you to which Linux Distributions to look at and not leave you in a position of trying them all trying to find one you like. Col

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

You might prefer the window manager called "Enlightenment", which allows you to create custom desktop interfaces with greater flexibility. I don't know that much about it, other than having played with it a little. It was *too* flexible for my taste. (I'm not into detailed customization myself, but it might help you get what you want.) There's an Ubuntu derivative that uses Enlightenment, Bodhi Linux (http://bodhilinux.com/). There's also a Debian distro Live CD that uses it, too, Elive.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

My system shows a wide variety, from 8x8 up to 256x256. Most icons are in sets of different sizes, so that a given icon will look good at each size. Some icons are also specified as "scalable", rather than bitmapped.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Each distro has a *default* interface, but you can change it by installing a different one. You don't have to shop around for a distro whose default UI is what you want. Pick a distro you (otherwise) like, and install the UI you like.

Robynsveil
Robynsveil

... backing up and restoring Win7 or WinXP Pro VMs is a simple matter of "Export Appliance". Wish that the driver thing was a bit more robust - for running Office, Photoshop and that sort of thing, this solution is ideal. However, for graphic-intensive software like Poser Pro 2012, the hardware acceleration/graphics driver emulation isn't quite there yet. But then, that's about all i really need Windows for, anymore -- 99.9999% of everything else I do can easily be done in Mint 64-bit.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Using VMWare or VirtualBox, both of them created 'hard drives' as groups of files that act similar to a "ghost" of a physical hard drive. Each VM instance you create is the name of the folder the specific drive images for that VM are stored in (like storing and sorting regular files). To backup a VM instance, one simply pathfind to the storage folder used by the VM program and copies the folder holding the drive images elsewhere. If you want to 'import' or replace a VM instance with a backed-up copy, pathfind to the spot the instance folders are (as before) and copy IN the backup instanced and overwrite the files if asked (presuming you want to overwrite the instance already there). ................. The above was written by my son who uses VMs all the time, usually to do VMs of Win XP or Win 98 or Linux on a Win 7 system. I would think a good ghosting program would also do VN back ups for you.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Yes, you can, and there's more than one way to do it: 1.) You can image your drive and store it somewhere external to your system (ext hard drive, on a server, etc.) just as you do with a physical machine with a native OS installation. (I.e., the fact that it's a VM is irrelevant to the imaging software, since the VM looks & behaves just like a physical machine.) 2.) You can copy the VM files to a backup location. Typically, a VirtualBox VM consists of a folder containing 7 files and 1 folder, which is easy to copy & keep track of. This is similar to #1, but the fact that you have a VM gives you this option -- something you can't do with a physical system. 3.) You can make use of the "snapshot" feature that VirtualBox, et al. support. In this case, you build your VM and customize it the way you want it, then make a snapshot. If something get infected, corrupted, etc., you can roll back to the snapshot. However, this does NOT back up the VM! (It's still at risk of its files becoming corrupted.) It's really mostly useful to testing something, or doing something risky, such as trying new software or surfing to a website you're not sure is safe. 4.) If your host or your VM is Linux, then you have the ability to make snapshots of your hard drive partitions themselves. This is similar to #3, except that it takes place at the OS/filesystem level, and does not depend an a VM Manager, so it works with physical systems as well as VMs. To make this work, you need to install your Linux system using LVM, Logical Volume Management. (Red Hat Linux has defaulted to using this for years, and Ubuntu 13.04 now finally offers it for 'desktop' installs.) LVM is a good idea, as it offers many advantages for administering your system. It adds another layer between your filesystem and the physical storage, which effectively removes dependencies between the two, by mapping 'chunks' of the FS to 'spaces' on the HDD (called 'extents' in both cases). Once set up, it all happens completely transparently. It not only allows you to move your FS between/among multiple HDDs, it also allows you to make snapshots of partitions. In addition to the reasons in #3 above, you can make a snapshot while a partition is in use, then back up the snapshot without concern that the FS is being changed -- because the snapshot is 'frozen in time'. (This is very typical for servers, which must remain up & in use while they're being backed up.) Note that you can not only easily backup a VM, you can easily clone it, too. You can also clone/copy a VM and then move the files not just to a backup drive, but to another PC you have -- allowing you to then run the copy of the VM on the second machine. (Obviously another thing you cannot do with a physical PC.) Virtual machines are VERY handy indeed! :^)

grenet
grenet

Thank you. I'll definitely try these two distros. Picking what to try is the hard part. Apparently I can't really tell a lot about them unless I install them; I'm told options are limited with a LiveCD.

grenet
grenet

I use a high resolution 1280x1024, but I couldn't get Linux (Mint LiveCD) to do that; all the icons and labels on the screen were huge and clunky. It wouldn't even let me widen a 'list view' folder window so I could see the full name of the files in that folder. All the icons were identical in color (grey and green - very depressing) and appeared to indicate only the TYPE of file so that you had to hover over each one to read text to find out what the duplicate icons represented - they were not unique icons, but were merely placeholders for text that you had to read. That's just two items in a long list. Perhaps I just don't know HOW to do it.

grenet
grenet

...apparently my machine isn't good enough to use very many of them (and still have an XP VM, which I will need for a while). I put two hard drives into this machine, but the system drive is very small (120gb Seagate) and the (500gb WD) backup drive is nearly full (I keep system partition images on one partition of this drive and maintain a straight uncompressed copy of the documents partition on the other partition. I only have 2gb of RAM (XP can't access much more). It's definitely time for a new machine. I've received so many good distro suggestions here, I'm anxious to try them - installed. Of course it makes complete sense that a LiveCD cannot be modified - duh! Now I feel like an idiot!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

I've been using Libre Office for a number of years and found it to be a lot better than MS Office with one exception - if you have some tricky macros that use VB they won't work in Libre Office but you can create something to do the samething with the Libre Office macros, it just takes the time to recreate it. Libre Office is very like MS Office 2003, that is the pre-ribbon Office. I write stories and have no troubles working on the same files in the Libre Office I have at home on my Zorin Linux system and the Windows version of Libre Office on the Win 7 system I use where I do some volunteer work when I work on the stories during lunch. I've used GIMP for many years as well, and for basic image editing I prefer it to Photoshop (which I used for many years in the 1990s). There are a few very advanced things you can do in Photoshop that GIMP doesn't do, but I've never used them in either - ex

daboochmeister
daboochmeister

Main difference is that you can't have both active at once in a dual boot (which you seem to already know). I run Xubuntu (XFCE desktop) on 2GB machines, and am able to run Virtualbox or KVM VMs that are allocated 1GB of memory without issue (XP would be fine with 1GB, right?). So unless your processor is very slow, this would still be an option -- though if your processor doesn't have the hardware virtualization interfaces, it would be noticeably slower.

grenet
grenet

I think my brain has been on vacation. Of COURSE you can't modify a system running on a LiveCD. I feel like such an idiot. I'll shut up now about customizing the interface until I can do a full installation. I was trying to see from the LiveCD if I could live completely without XP. I realize I won't be able to tell that until I actually install Linux. It's time for a new machine with lots more memory. I was going to cannibalize this one for a few parts for the next one, but I think I'll just keep this for now and build one for Linux with enough RAM to accommodate XP as a VM. I don't want to just dump XP, until I have everything, particularly my bills and banking & such, working well on Linux. Or - I just now thought of this - I might dump my C-partition images off onto a Passport ext.drive and install Linux as a dual boot on that partition, for now. I only have 2gb of memory, but that won't have any effect on a dual boot, will it? Not like a VM - only one OS is running at a time. Then I can figure out which distro I want while I order the parts & start on the new machine. This way the new one won't take so long to get up and running - I'll already be through the learning curve on Linux. What are the pros and cons of running XP in a VM and running it as a dual boot? Thanks, Anna

grenet
grenet

I'm so glad to hear that the lack of customization choices is just because I'm using the LiveCD and is not endemic to Linux distros. When I get my new PC built, I'll try some Linux INSTALLS. I really want to dump Microsoft as soon as I can. XP is hard to sacrifice; I'm not concerned about Microsoft support, but Microsoft is determined to force people off of XP and some things are beginning to require items (like latest Java) that say the system requirements are XP SP3 as a minimum for 32bit XP. I don't want to put SP3 on my PC because it isn't just fixes - MS tried to use it to push as much of the later versions' spyware/controlware as they could onto XP because people were holding on to it, rather than installing later versions of Windows. Now they seem to be trying to push everything off the Desktop PC and into "the cloud." I'm excited again about Linux. I'm so glad the fixed interface was just because of the LiveCD. Thanks.

pgit
pgit

A) live cd's have NO options compared to a fully installed system. There just isn't room on a cd/dvd to have tons of eye candy options. You're lucky the dang system works at all... B) you haven' t looked. I have seen scalable icons that'll go as low as 8X8. There's TOO MANY ways to change colors, fonts, styles etc etc in my opinion. You haven't begun to try to customize, II can assure you.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

good website to keep in mind is osliving dot com (replace dot with . and remove spaces) as it lists lots of open source software. I can't remember the name, but I did here of a proprietary Unix/Linux based image manipulation program that was touted as better than Photoshop for about a tenth the price a few years back, maybe a Google search could find you something. Pity about the VBA, I once had a very extensive Excel spreadsheet program full of macros and formula for finiancial analysis that I ended up converting to SQL to get better performance out of when it grew to big for excel. But that was a few years back and onyl worth the effort then because of the work I was doing and it was starting to fail to work in Excel due to the size limitations of Excel, thus I had to move on from Excel - but it was a lot of work.

Robynsveil
Robynsveil

...and for most purposes, LibreOffice is an elegant, very fully-featured alternative to MS Office. Indeed, for 99% of things I do, it's the better solution. However, for creating VBA solutions for Excel -- I wrote a Asset Management app that uses an Excel spreadsheet as data source, only because that was what was available to me in this work environment :( -- the IDE is a bit awkward and a lot of the MS functions aren't supported. So it is for editing and developing in this environment *only* that I still use MS Office, and then, certainly not 2007 or up, with that idiotic ribbon thing. Photoshop? I go back and forth. Some things are easier and more intuitive in GIMP, some things I can only do in Photoshop CS3 (not about to upgrade and pay Adobe's extortionary AUD$ 1700 cost *more* for the same product only just because I happen to live in Oz!!)... I do still like GIMP, even despite their last UI decisions regarding "Save".