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Elive Beta With Enlightenment Is Brilliant, but Don’t Get Lost in the Maze | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Mar 6, 2020 4:00 AM PT

Elive is one of the most multipurpose and different Linux distributions you are likely to encounter.

Elive Linux is an awesome integration of the Debian Linux base and the Enlightenment desktop. The combination provides a uniquely powerful and flexible computing platform.

Its name suggests only a part of what makes this distro unlike the few others that have the lightweight Enlightenment desktop baked in. Elive is actually a live session environment that is capable of providing persistent memory so you can save settings and data without fully installing it to a hard drive. It also is a modern computing platform for full installation to a hard drive.

You can run Elive from a DVD or install it to a USB drive with plentiful options. This makes Elive a portable computing solution. You can plug it into any computer you use and have everything you need at your fingertips.

Persistence set up on a USB drive is a very handy alternative to an actual hard drive installation. The persistent memory feature lets you add and remove software, and keep configuration settings and saved data intact.

I periodically revisit Elive to see what new features are in the distro itself. So a recent update notice prompted me to take Elive 3.8.8 Beta for a test run.

Elive 3.8.8 Beta

Elive 3.8.8 Beta has a look and feel that’s different from earlier editions.

– click image to enlarge –

Elive defies the notion that the distro is lightweight. The Enlightenment desktop is a speed demon. Integrated with Elive, it runs circles around other lightweight desktops that have a lot less functionality.

Getting Enlightened

Samuel F. “Thanatermesis” Baggen, the founder and developer of Elive Linux, created the operating system for his personal use around 2002 and shared it only with family and friends. The first public version of Elive appeared three years later.

The Belgium-based developer’s goal was to make Elive Linux a reliable alternative to other operating systems. Its real attraction, aside from its stellar performance, is the uniqueness of the Enlightenment desktop.

The 3.8.8 beta released late last month temporarily uses the older Enlightenment 16, or E16, desktop to facilitate a faster development of Elive 3.8 before integrating a newer desktop version, according to Baggen.

Enlightenment community is currently at version 0.23, or E23, released in August 2019. I
reviewed Elive 3.8 running E17 last May.

So regressing to the more stable and older E16, even temporarily, was a less inviting test drive. The experience blunted my interest in checking out the E23 desktop upgrade.

However, the otherwise updated base software and the wide-ranging fixes and changes in Elive 3.8.8 itself produced a glimpse of more innovation to come.

The Thought Behind the Process

Before proceeding with my impressions of the Elive 3.8 series, let me share some of an exchange I had in discussing the significance of Elive Linux with Baggen. I was curious about what he sees as the driving force for developing this unique operating system. He provided details about what is different and better in the current beta release.

Knoppix appeared to the world, it was a magnificent concept to run everything from a cdrom and RAM,” Baggen said.

“But just like any other OS, I felt unsatisfied with the desktops provided. So it all started as a customization of a Knoppix using a different desktop,” he told LinuxInsider.

Elive Linux control panels

Elive Linux has separate control panels to handle essential Enlightenment desktop settings.

– click image to enlarge –

Baggen was so satisfied with the result that he wanted to share it with the world, and one month later the first version of Elive appeared. Details about the distro were mentioned in a few publications, making the initial release a big and unexpected success. So he decided to continue improving the system over the next two years, improving every aspect and making it more special.

Developing Elive took a large toll on his personal time and resources. He soon faced a tough decision: Either stop the project to search for “normal work” that paid, or continue working on the project and try to survive by asking for donations.

It was not an easy decision for him to make, Baggen admitted. It was users’ expressions of satisfaction and many urging him not to quit that led Baggen to making a donation part of the process of downloading new ISO versions.

He continues using that approach today, but he also allows donation-free downloads by request. The process requires you to verify your email address and wait for the download link.

“The decision was not easy,” Baggen reiterated. “The ones who really appreciate it would lose if Elive doesn’t exist anymore — if I don’t try at least to keep it alive from donations.”

Since 2005, Elive has been Baggen’s full-time work.

The Purpose Behind the Distro

Elive is not focused on a single goal or a specific type of user. Rather, it is more like a ready-to-use computing system for any type of user. Users can customize it if desired, or they can be productive using the default configuration.

“The main purpose is to have everything working as expected by default, and not need to worry about the details or even knowing how to make things run,” Baggen said.

In the end, the driving force to make Elive is to offer a different computer system that works with everything needed included, he noted. Even users without much experience can use Elive Linux without difficulty.

Why So Desirable

Elive’s development cycle is very fast, thanks to active community support forums and powerful development tools. Big differences occurred between the last beta version and the current release.

Even comparing the current beta release with the Stable version reveals that the full user experience is really different, according to Baggen. That is why he chose to drop back to the E16 desktop while he prepares the debut of the new Enlightenment desktop.

“Nothing is bad about it (E16), and it includes a pleasant different experience, providing an extremely solid and unbreakable desktop which makes it perfect for the daily work,” he explained.

Many of Elive’s unique features are integrated into the E16 desktop as well. Plus, the new beta version includes recent software and drivers, and 64-bit support — something that’s been wanted for a long time.

The beta release includes many updated drivers and a wider range of supported graphic cards. The new beta has newer innovations such as automated, or smart, features. It also offers better compatibility with new specs like UEFI or Nvme disks.

Purposeful Personality

Elive is known but often underappreciated, Baggen said.

Due to its different nature, it never attracted a really big audience. That is probably because people are more used to common desktops or Ubuntu-based systems, he reasoned.

“But that is not really a problem for us. We have a very satisfied, friendly and happy community. Having more users also means more work and more resources, much more time invested. Elive is simply for those who appreciate it, and its own style and personality are probably one of the best things that it has,” Baggen said.

He has experimented many times with usability trials. For example, he gives the system to inexperienced and elderly users to see how they fare with it. Based on those results, he polishes final aspects of a new release.

“So in the end, everybody is welcome to get Elive and use it how they wish,” Baggen said.

Differences Matter

Enlightenment provides an attractive and dynamic environment that runs smoothly on old computers and low-powered systems. On newer, more powerful computers, Elive is extremely fast, Baggen noted.

Elive has its own personality and way of working. It focuses on intuitiveness and productivity, he added. Enlightenment is a different desktop, light and powerful. It provides many possibilities.

“This is important for Elive since it has its own vision of an operating system. The downside of selecting this desktop is that it requires much more work and customizations to make it behave as wanted,” Baggen said.

Elive Overview

This new beta version includes Debian Buster base system updated to version 10.3 with the kernel updated to 5.4.8 and extra drivers updated too. Web browser extensions are enabled by default for ublock-origin to block ads and annoying messages from websites.

A plugin is included to download any media file to your computer. Downloads now are set automatically to the default Downloads directory of the user’s translated directory.

If you are not familiar with Elive and Enlightenment, your best bet is to start with the stable version rather than this beta release. A world of difference exists in the layout and some of the features.

The Enlightenment experience is not for all Linux users, especially less-experienced ones. Learning how to navigate within the Enlightenment shell is where the learning curve occurs. A second, steeper curve involves figuring out how to massage the seemingly endless options to customize the desktop functionality.

The Enlightenment desktop has so many options that you easily can get lost in the choices. The settings panels and dialogue boxes are simple to use. In most cases, the process involves left- or right-clicking on a window or on the desktop screen, selecting the menu and checking or unchecking the choices.

Look and Feel

The Elive desktop view is beyond nice. It is uncluttered. Instead of a traditional panel bar, it has a Cairo Dock centered at the bottom with a main menu button on the far left.

Elive provides animated elements like backgrounds, icons, widgets and the terminal. It makes it possible to have an animated desktop with 3D effects without an accelerated graphic card.

The design of its menu system and user interface are very different. Depending on whether you right-click or left-click on the desktop screen or on a window or icon, a different context-related action menu pops up. Working without a traditional menu system and panel with applets takes getting used to.

Depending on the options you select, the screen can display a systems monitor widget in the upper right corner. You also can opt to have a desktop dragbar.

The gragbar stays at the top of the screen and has up and down arrows at both ends to switch among desks. Right-click on this bar to see a list of open windows on each virtual desktop and navigate to a selected screen.

Desks and Workspaces

If you ever used the Activity panel in the KDE desktop, Enlightenment’s concept of Desk and Virtual Workspaces is less jarring. By default, Elive has two desks by default. These are tab-like panels that jut out from the lower left edge of the screen. You can click on the handle to retract the desk panel or show it.

A thumbnail-sized grid with six workspaces by default lets you move among virtual workspaces and move open application windows to other workspaces. You can change the number of virtual workspaces.

You can add or remove as many desks as you desire. Each desk displays any number of workspaces you set. The number seems limitless. You can run different applications and windows in as many workspaces as you want.

In essence, the concept of desk in Elive, more so than other distros using any of the Enlightenment desktop versions, is a combination of virtual desktops and Activity panels rolled into one feature. The dragbar is akin to using a desktop switcher applet to navigate virtual workspaces.

Taken to the extreme, this desk concept in Elive is like trying to navigate in a huge maze. Used with moderation, the desks can offer the equivalent of having multiple physical monitors to distribute your working windows and tasks.

Bottom Line

If you take the time to fiddle with Elive’s design controls, you can finesse its desktop appearance and functionality like a painter creating a scene on a canvas. Do not get too involved with configuring all of the settings, though, or you will find yourself in a timeless void.

The default settings work fine. Take your time to get used to the default settings. Then investigate all that you can do to modify the appearance and functionality as you become more “enlightened.”

If you have lots of time to devote to learning something new within something old, check out Enlightenment — but do it through a distro built around it. Do not try to do your own Enlightenment integration by manually adding Enlightenment packages to your current Linux distro.

Baggen includes several self-help displays and clear documentation to teach you the basics, along with some advanced tips.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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Netrunner Linux Still Goes Its Own Way at ‘Twenty’ | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Feb 28, 2020 11:11 AM PT

Netrunner “Twenty” is a birthday release offering that makes what was good even better.

Developers released Netrunner 20.01 on Feb. 23 with the latest stable Debian 10.3 “Buster” base and the KDE Plasma desktop. This release marks the distro’s 20th birthday in a way.

Code-named “Twenty,” the 20.01 release is the 20th upgrade of the Netrunner project over its 10-year history. It is packed with the latest KDE desktop packages, new theme tweaks, and a collection of GTK and Qt/KDE programs.

Netrunner’s customized KDE desktop has extra applications, multimedia codecs and Flash and Java plugins. This makes Netrunner KDE a more inviting option than the Plasma desktop other distros offer.

It has a unique default look and feel that is very user-flexible in terms of personal customizations. You will not find significant changes from earlier Netrunner versions, but the Netrunner 20’s approach to KDE Plasma will not disappoint.

Even if the KDE desktop is not your preferred computing environment, you will find it simple to use and very flexible to set up your way. The modifications enhance the user-friendliness of the desktop environment and preserve the freedom to tweak, which is a staple of this distro.

Netrunner 'Twenty'

Netrunner ‘Twenty’ has an uncluttered look out of the box with unique features neatly tucked away that provide lots of functionality.

Long Road to Get Here

The Netrunner distro comes with a bit of a troubled history. Its developer team, heavily sponsored by the Germany-based
Blue Systems IT company, released a separate “Rolling” edition based on Manjaro/Arch Linux in 2014. It was discontinued, relaunched in 2017 and discontinued again in 2019.

Last year’s decision to drop the Netrunner Rolling edition was an attempt to eliminate a redundant development cycle. Netrunner’s popular Manjaro Linux-based offering was on a rolling update schedule. That is typical for Arch-based distros like Manjaro. However, Netrunner’s Debian-based distro instead relies on two major releases per year in addition to necessary security updates.

After Netrunner’s developers announced a collaboration with the Manjaro community in October, it made sense not to continue with Netrunner Rolling. However, the team will offer continued support for existing Rolling users through its forums, based directly on Manjaro.

Netrunner Debian, Core and ARM versions are unaffected by the loss of the Netrunner Manjaro edition. The Debian version ships with a full set of preinstalled software for everyday use. The Core edition is a slimmed down version that lets you build your own system or run it on low-spec hardware.

The Maui Diversion

For a while, Netrunner nearly morphed into a Hawaiian delight. In 2016 the Netrunner website announced that Netrunner Kubuntu was discontinued and directed visitors to its replacement distro, Maui Linux.

Maui was based on KDE Neon and featured KDE’s Plasma desktop. The previous versions, up to Netrunner 17, were based on Kubuntu/Ubuntu.

In October 2016, I wrote a
review of Maui Linux for LinuxInsider. Maui was an attempt to continue the Kubuntu-based heritage while adopting some of the latest technologies impacting other Linux distros in varying stages.

That effort was short-lived. The Maui Linux website is still accessible, but the last release was the Maui 17.06 edition on July 9, 2017. That timeline coincides with the resurrection of Netrunner that year.

The Maui website has no information about the current status of Maui Linux. The download link is still active. However, distro tracking website DistroWatch.com lists the Maui Linux distro as “dormant.”

What’s Inside

The new Netrunner release comes with Firefox-ESR and Thunderbird updated to the latest stable LTS (long term support) versions. They get regular security updates provided by Debian security.

This release switches to the Breeze Window decoration with its darker color, which increases the display contrast and makes it easier to distinguish between active and inactive windows.

I like the red colored cursor (RED-Theme). It is a handy way to quickly locate the cursor on the screen. Very retro looking.

Netrunner Twenty has a uniquely drafted wallpaper. It sets a visual marker for the milestone of 10 years of Netrunner and the 20th version release. That, of course, is based on the standard two updates per year and overlooks some of the discontinued activity.

It comes with a nice application mix and a wide variety of tools for doing day-to-day computing tasks. For instance, applications include the LibreOffice suite, and Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program) for tweaking, editing and manipulating images. The mix is a nice exception, as other KDE distros typically are too limited to the KDE family of applications.

Krita lets you draw with your mouse or pen. Also bundled is the Inkscape vector-based scalable graphics editor and the Kdenlive video editor.

GMusicbrowser and Yarock are included to manage music data and listen to songs, along with the SMplayer for watching videos. A nice collection of games and puzzles supplement the largest Linux gaming platform Steam — and there is much more.

Desktop Overview

Netrunner’s main menu display is unique. The bottom panel displays the applications menu at the left end along with launcher icons for the Dolphin file manager and the default Firefox Web browser.

The right side of the bottom panel displays the system notification tray and a launcher for a special screen display configuration bar. Pressing the “Windows” key avoids having to click on the menu button on the bottom panel.

The middle portion of the bottom panel serves as a dock for thumbnails of running applications. Right-clicking anywhere on the desktop pops open a menu to do system-related actions such as configuring the desktop, and adding widgets and panels. So far, that is fairly standard.

You’ll see what’s unique about it when you launch the menu. It fills the entire screen, dividing the view into sections not bordered by columns and divider lines. Two buttons centered at the top of the screen switch between Apps & Docs and Widgets. Depending on your view choice, the content of the display changes.

Netrunner 'Twenty Main Menu'

Part of Netrunner’s uniqueness lies in how it displays the main menu.

The layout itself is unique to Netrunner. A search area sits just under the top two buttons for quickly locating and launching an application. No need to click the search window to position the cursor in order to type an entry. Just start typing. Your entry appears as you type.

Categories hug the right edge of the screen. A vertical listing down the center of the screen lets you scroll through a category’s contents. A Favorites row and buttons for shutdown options are located in the left section of the menu display.

Right-click on a menu item to add it to the Favorites row or place its launcher on the desktop. You also can pin the icon to the bottom panel.

A Better Way

Other Linux distros try similar approaches with the KDE interface, but Netrunner’s developers execute their design better. It can be a bit daunting to work through all the myriad options and configuration settings of the KDE desktop, but this is not the case with the KDE integration built into Netrunner.

One of the first things you should do is go to the Plasma Tweaks tool in the main menu. All user interface-related K desktop modules are located there. Overall, the menu layouts for the system settings and other areas of personalizing the look and feel are well designed and uncluttered.

One of the really nice features of KDE in any distro integration is the Activities desktops. No other Linux desktop environment has an Activities-style feature. Netrunner’s inclusion of screen edge and corner hotspots provides quick access to this functionality, as well as scale and expo views of Activities and Virtual Desktops.

Activity screens are similar to virtual workspaces, only with more options. While virtual workspaces is a common feature in several desktop options, only KDE adds the additional functionality that Activities desktops provide.

Each Activity workspace can have any number of additional virtual workspaces. Each Activity screen can have its own background image and widgets. These are totally separate from using virtual workspaces. So KDE offers both options.

Easy Peasy

KDE offers the best of both functional worlds when it comes to widgets or applets. You can place specialized displays and tools on the bottom panel and the desktop.

You can be very flexible with this functionality. You can designate widgets to be available on some or all Activity screens. You can place them on a default screen that makes widgets visible on all of your virtual workspaces.

It is easy to place widgets where you want them. It is a two-step process after you right-click on the desktop or the panel. Scroll through the list of available widgets in the pop-up panel. Then drag the item to where you want it.

Bottom Line

The Netrunner distro used to be a bleeding-edge choice among KDE options. With little that’s new and must-have, this release takes the edge off the bleeding.

I wasn’t nudged away from my preferred competing KDE distro — the new Feren OS Plasma edition.

While Netrunner 20.01 provides a fairly solid integration of classic KDE desktop performance, this release is a departure, in that it is not a step or two ahead of most other KDE-integrated Linux OSes. I

Netrunner attracts two types of typical users. One fancies a more friendly desktop environment. The second wants the freedom to tweak more extensively than other desktop environments allow.

Hardware requirements include a minimum CPU of 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 or greater and at least 1 GB of RAM with at least 10 GB hard drive space. Also, the computer should have Intel GMA 945 graphics card support with 128+ MB of video memory.

Netrunner is a unique distro with its own spin on the K Plasma desktop environment. Seasoned Linux users who like to fiddle and tweak an OS into their own platform will love how this distro integrates the KDE Plasma desktop. Newcomers can be quite content using the out-of-the-box settings.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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Freespire 6.0: A Return to GNOME2’s Simpler Linux Days | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Feb 21, 2020 11:36 AM PT

If you are tired of distro hopping and want a computing platform that works without drama, check out the latest
Freespire Linux release. Freespire, a U.S.-based distribution built on Debian/Ubuntu, is a no-nonsense operating system that is uncomplicated to install and use.

Freespire is released biannually. Developers on Feb. 11 released the latest MATE edition, the first of two updated versions. KDE will come out soon.

Two age-old sayings are apt when it comes to Linux distributions: “Something old is new again,” and “What goes around, comes around.”

Their literal meanings actually have nothing to do with Linux technology, but after two decades of reviewing computer operating systems and applications, I often get the feeling that I am in some Groundhog Day loop.

That was the case as I worked with the Freespire 6.0 release. Freespire is the free open source version of the commercial Linspire operating system developed by
PC/OpenSystems. Both provide a very pleasant computing experience.

Freespire contains many of the same software packages as Linspire, but it strictly follows the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) philosophy of providing only license-free software. So any Linspire packages that require the community-based Freespire developer team to purchase a license to redistribute the distro are left out.

Freespire 6.0 MATE Edition classic panel and GNOME 2-style controls

Freespire 6.0 MATE Edition keeps Linux simple with a classic panel and GNOME 2-style controls and window styling that resembles Windows 7.

– click image to enlarge –

Familiar Name-Calling

The Linux desktop has been the wanna-be replacement for Microsoft Windows for more than a decade. Some software developers are vocal about how ideally suited their distributions are to serve as a Windows clone.

Saying that a particular distro has a look and feel familiar to Windows 7 users, for instance, easily can be misunderstood by Linux newcomers. Saying that a distro frees users from the agonies of Windows is much more accurate. However, compatibility with Windows is quite a different marketing push.

Freespire goes a long way toward avoiding those advertising pitfalls. Yes, Freespire 6 has a clean and simple look that does resemble Windows 7. Freespire is also easy to install, use and maintain.

The distro’s current open source team avoids the generalizations that compare this OS to Windows. The developers make good on their assertions that users can enjoy trouble-free computing with Freespire Linux. That is a big improvement that sets proper expectations.

Freespire Linux selection of background images

Freespire Linux has a well-stocked selection of background images and simple desktop layout.

– click image to enlarge –

Going Separate Ways

In the early 2000s, a company named “Linspire” released a Linux distro called “Lindows.” It contained tools for running actual Windows programs and tools for more easily handling Linux package management.

Do not confuse this Lindows distro with the
LinDoz edition of the MakuluLinux upgrade I reviewed a few weeks ago. There is no connection between the two.

The “Lindows” moniker triggered trademark complaints from Microsoft. So the third-party developer rebranded its Linux OS as “Linspire.” It used its OS to run a line of Linux-powered desktop computers sold through Walmart.

That marketing venture largely failed. Shoppers thought they were buying a bargain windows computer, according to various reports.

Linspire vacated store shelves and faded away.

Sold, Buried, Resurrected

In July of 2008, I wrote a news article for LinuxInsider about then custom Linux provider Xandros announcing that it
acquired the Linspire and Freespire Linux desktop operating systems from another developer company. The plan was for Xandros to combine technologies, expertise and market presence to become a one-stop Linux solutions company.

I lost track of the developments after that and could not find any record of product releases or additional corporate purchases until December 2017. That is when PC/Open Systems announced that it had
acquired the Linspire and Freespire marks. The company was considering what to do with the properties and whether “it could successfully bring to market these products and shed the controversy and bad decisions of the past from Linspire Inc. and Xandros without abandoning [its] current customer base.”

That led to Freespire becoming a free operating system based on Ubuntu. An open source community took over development as the free distro transitioned to Freespire Linux. PC/Open Systems continued the commercial development and marketing of Linspire Linux.

PC/Open Systems still has a hand in the separate Freespire distro, however. The community support forums for current Freespire releases are maintained at the
Linspire community support site run by PC/Open Systems.

Parallel Paths

Especially with Microsoft no longer supporting Windows 7, Freespire is an attractive Linux distro for users wanting a reliable and similar desktop environment for free.

Meanwhile, the Linspire Linux commercial version is available under PC/Open Systems’ Windows 7 Refugee Program. Consumers can purchase a boxed set of the current commercial Linspire Linux version for US$30.99.

The non-commercial open source Freespire 6.0 distro is a free download, but you can order an installation disk if you choose to pay $15.99.

Be careful if you look for the free download. I found numerous older websites still available that have only outdated Freespire versions.

Use the current “active” website
freespirelinux.com and not the defunct website — freespire.org — which has version 2.0.

You also can
get Freespire 6.0 here.

Freespire Linux Unboxed

Freespire 6.0’s MATE release has an appearance that will appeal to Windows 7 users. That same look and feel also will be reassuring to the distro-hopping weary.

The MATE desktop is a continuation of GNOME 2.0 simplicity. It provides straightforward functionality without the craziness of drop-down and slide-out antics and other eye candy embellishments proffered by the growing array of so-called modern desktop screen displays.

Freespire 6.0 MATE Edition two-part main menu

The Freespire 6.0 MATE desktop is uncluttered with a two-part main menu that makes finding everything quick and simple.

– click image to enlarge –

The default desktop view is uncluttered. Four Windows 7-style system icons are pinned to the upper left edge of the screen. These give you instant access to the Home and Computer directories. Both icons open the Caja File Manager. A trash icon and an icon to open the Network Servers panel complete the view.

The classic Linux panel is anchored across the bottom edge of the screen. It has right-click menu access for adding applets, icons and launchers to the panel, including the Virtual Workspace Switching tool.

The right end of this bottom panel displays the expected notification icons. The main menu button is on the left end of the panel.

The main menu is a single panel with three columns. Places and System categories fill the left column. The Favorites column fills the middle and right column areas. A search window lies across the bottom of the menu panel.

A button in the upper right corner of the menu panel switches the view to all applications. That button changes to a Favorites switch to return to the previous panel view.

The All Applications panel view displays three columns. On the left are Places and System icons. The center column lists the menu categories. The right column shows the application entries for the designated category selected.

Right-click on any application title to access a pop-up display to place that item on the desktop or panel, or to show in Favorites. Right-click anywhere on the uncovered desktop to access options to create folders, launchers or documents, or to change the background or organize desktop preferences.

The one option missing is a launcher for the menu, such as is available in the Xfce desktop.

Software Levels

This release has MATE version 1.20. and Linux Kernel 5.3.0-28. The distro uses the Synaptic Package Manager to add/remove software and receive system updates.

The Control Panel is a separate entry within the main menu. It has a well organized layout with a search window that makes finding settings options a breeze.

The preinstalled applications are what you typically find in lightweight systems. That surprised me since MATE is not an underpowered desktop environment. Included are basic programs for everyday computing tasks: surfing the Web, writing, handling email, and playing music and videos. Other basic graphics programs and editors are not the best of what is available in other distros.

Having to obtain and install better quality applications is a mere annoyance for experienced Linux users. For a Linux user migrating from Windows or Mac, however, not knowing what to look for can be a bigger problem.

Here is a sampling of the bundled software titles:

  • Chromium Web Browser (the open source version on which Google Chrome is based)
  • Abiword — a really lightweight junior word processor
  • Gnumeric — a lightweight spreadsheet
  • Parole media player
  • Shotwell photo organizer

I was pleased to see Ice SSB included. This is an integrated website launcher that lets you access preselected websites to run as Web apps without having to use a standard Web browser. Not everyone is a fan of Web apps, but being able to “run” Web-based computing tools as if they were locally installed programs has its advantages.

The distro maintains a Software Center application that functions as a front end to the community’s software repository. It is an alternative to using the Synaptic Package Manager.

Bottom Line

Freespire Linux 6.0 is a solid performer. I have not used the MATE desktop in quite a few years, but checking it out for this review instantly returned me to simpler days of using the Linux OS . I was a dedicated fan of the GNOME 2 desktop years ago and followed along with MATE rather than put up with the unsettling changes in the early releases of GNOME 3.

I like the simple approach Freespire brings to using Linux, and I’m anticipating the release of the KDE version. Check back in upcoming weeks for an update when the KDE version of Freespire 6.0 is available.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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Simplicity Does More Than Simplify Linux | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Feb 14, 2020 11:34 AM PT

If you want a new Linux distro catering to gaming, check out the Simplicity Linux Gaming release. If you prefer a general-purpose computing platform without a gaming focus, try Simplicity’s revamped release. Either way, you will experience a no-nonsense Linux OS that requires no assembly.

Simplicity Linux, originating in the UK, is a Devuan-based distribution with Cinnamon as the default window manager desktop environment. Devuan is a fork of Debian Linux that replaces the systemd initialization processes.

Disgruntled Debian community members rejected a Linux-wide trend to replace older init processes such as Upstart and System V with systemd. Initialization is a background process that starts when the computer boots and runs until the computer shuts down.

Init oversees all other running processes. Debian developers in 2014 mandated the adoption of systemd as the init process. Simplicity uses a special init method borrowed from AntiX Linux that replaces systemd with the elogind session management daemon.

This latest Simplicity Linux release, version 20.1, is a major change for this distro since I last reviewed it in May 2016. Prior to this Feb. 5 release, Simplicity was based on Puppy Linux and the Xfce desktop.

Now Simplicity is based on the Debian Buster branch without systemd. BusterDog is an offshoot of Debian 10, codenamed “Buster.” Buster Dog is a small Debian-based live system designed to look and act like Puppy Linux.

Simplicity Linux root screen

Simplicity Linux has a limited collection of background images to reinforce its simple style.

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A New Dog Pound

The transition from Puppy Linux with the Xfce desktop makes Simplicity Linux a major change for users of earlier Simplicity versions. However, Linux users already familiar with Cinnamon, as well as newcomers to Simplicity Linux, will enjoy an easy-to-use computing environment.

The previous pairing of Puppy Linux innards and the Xfce desktop firmly put Simplicity with the collection of Linux lightweight distributions. One big advantage to that structure meant the distro consumed less system resources and thus ran well on older hardware.

Simplicity Linux’s retooling with a Devuan base and the Cinnamon desktop brings a more modern appearance and different computing tools. Cinnamon, while more resource-heavy, brings more features to the desktop environments.

For instance, Cinnamon is loaded with configuration options that let you adjust how the desktop looks and works. The ability to add applets to the panel and desklets to the desktop screen makes the Simplicity OS much more feature-rich.

Family Affair

In this release cycle, developer David Purse set aside the usual X Edition in favor of a surprise newcomer, the Gaming Edition. The X Edition served as a showcase of features that might show up in future editions. It initially was designed to appeal more to Windows users looking to cross over to the Linux side of computing. The goal was to make Linux a little less scary for new users

This Gaming Edition comes with Blacknut Cloud Gaming. The developer initially planned to include Vortex Cloud Gaming, but Blacknut offers a more suitable performance.

The Gaming Edition also comes with Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) for streaming and recording. A third component is the Steam Launcher, which downloads and installs the latest version of Steam Client from Valve on the first run.

Beyond the Steam and cloud gaming entries, the new Gaming Edition does not come with any Linux games. The Mini and Desktop editions also are devoid of a Game category in the main menu.

General Purpose Appeal

The Simplicity Linux family also includes Mini and Desktop editions. All three editions in the 20.1 release run the Cinnamon desktop.

The Mini Edition is more of a lightweight Linux distro in terms of its software base. It features minimal preinstalled software and supplements with cloud-based software.

The Mini Edition uses Google Chrome as the main portal to software. It has shortcuts to commonly used cloud-based tools.

The Desktop Edition offers a broader collection of general-purpose software. It comes preinstalled with Chrome, LibreOffice, Claws Mail, GIMP and VLC.

More software is available via the Synaptic Package Manager. Also included is Catfish to find any files on your system.

The Desktop Edition features PulseAudio preinstalled rather than the usual ALSA. ALSA was causing problems with a few modern apps, according to the developer.

Appearance Matters

This latest release of Simplicity Linux comes with a much different look and feel. Unless you are old-school Linux and prefer to dwell in the Terminal window, the desktop appearance is often a make-it-or-break-it encounter, especially for new users.

This is where Simplicity Linux really delivers. I am impressed with its new look and feel.

If you prefer things to look plain and simple, then you do not have to venture far beyond the default black desktop view. Simplicity’s Cinnamon layout does not provide a right-click menu option.

Simplicity Linux desktop

Simplicity Linux starts with a stark, simple desktop view.

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Click on the settings icon on the bottom dock or in the main menu up top on the panel to access the Background control. There you can change the background image.

With the Settings Control Panel display you can click on numerous icons to change the color, desktop effects, themes and window behavior options. The Cinnamon desktop provides a wealth of personalization choices.

Have It Your Way

I was very pleased with Simplicity Linux’s new capabilities with the Cinnamon desktop. The combination maintains, maybe even expands, this distro’s ease-of-use potential.

My first encounter with the Linux OS years ago got me used to a panel bar across the top of the screen. Using the new Simplicity returns me to that desktop layout.

My current Cinnamon distro has the panel bar on the bottom. Simplicity provides both options by placing a dock bar at the bottom as a favorites app launcher and an anchor spot for pinning quick access to essential system controls.

Simplicity Linux Cinnamon panel and dock

Simplicity alters the Cinnamon panel placement and adds a dock.

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I also like the flexibility to add special effects and other tools, such as Scale and Expo views, to the desktop display options. That type of animation is missing from the otherwise very capable Xfce performance of earlier Simplicity Linux releases.

Of course, using the Gaming Edition may make such display features of secondary importance to full-screen gaming windows. Not being a heavy game player, I am more than happy to have this enhanced feature set available.

Dog-Gone Missing

Simplicity Linux can be a good computing platform whether your needs are gaming-specific or more general purpose. Still, I can not help but confess to a measure of disappointment in using this latest release.

I have used a variety of Puppy Linux variants over the years. These Puppy-based distros bring a distinctive look and feel to the screen. The Puppy computing world includes a unique set of apps and tools that set Puppy Linux a step apart from other Linux options.

This latest Simplicity Linux release, at least for me, seems to have put a muzzle on that doggy Linux style. The change to a more powerful and more modern desktop is no doubt the culprit. Some of the dog distro-specific computing apps and tools are scattered in the Debian-stuffed menus, but the Puppy-style architecture is much less prevalent. I miss it.

Bottom Line

Simplicity Linux, even with its more modern retooling, maintains the distro’s earlier goals of providing a simpler way to run a fully powered Linux desktop. The addition of the Gaming Edition makes it easy to get started with computer gaming.

This new offering no doubt could be merged with the Desktop Edition for a more compact selection. That might allow the developer to release a new X Edition offering in the next release cycle.

I am not sure if the Mini Edition needs a full-function heavyweight desktop the likes of Cinnamon. I would like to see a return to the Xfce desktop there.

Either way, I look forward to the next release of Simplicity Linux. This distro holds considerable promise.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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MakuluLinux LinDoz Offers Windows Comfort Zone, but It’s All Linux Under the Hood | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Feb 7, 2020 9:00 AM PT

After a long delay, a new
MakuluLinux LinDoz release is pending last-minute finishing touches and is a week — if not days — away, according to developer Jacque Montague Raymer.

Over the last few months, I have been testing what is now the final build of a new upgrade designed to make using Linux easier than ever. I have reviewed a variety of different desktop versions of MakuluLinux since this Linux newcomer debuted a few years ago.

Recently, I discussed with Raymer the trials and tribulations he faced in maintaining and advancing his Linux line of distros. He revealed a process that no doubt is similar to what confronts many software developers who step into the crowded and financially challenging field of Linux operating system creation. Woven into our conversation is a preview of the next Linux thing.

MakuluLinux is a partial rolling-release operating system that debuted in 2015 with a different approach to implementing Linux OS features. The last few years have brought considerable change and new development to this Linux family.

Family History

The LinDoz distro uses Microsoft Windows themes integrated with superior Linux functionality. It provides a comfortable, familiar computing platform for those looking for an easy-to-use alternative to the Windows OS platform. It runs a heavily tweaked version of the Cinnamon desktop.

MakuluLinux Theme Manager

The MakuluLinux Theme Manager offers a choice of Microsoft Windows-style layouts along with other configuration options. The Desktop Clock Color Scheme lets you switch between light or dark clock applet displays with a single click to match the selected background image.

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The LinDoz and Flash distros have been solid performers since MakuluLinux arrived in 2015. Along the way, Raymer rebuilt them. He completely reworked the distros. Flash runs a strongly tweaked iteration of the Xfce desktop. Core is an innovative distro he introduced early last year.

The Core distro has a totally radical desktop design built on a homegrown user interface centered around a spin-wheel style circular menu display. MakuluLinux Core was something entirely new.

All three distros blended Microsoft Windows traits and Linux functionality into one solid Linux OS. They are not Microsoft Windows clones. LinDoz is designed to make Windows users feel comfortable transitioning to a Linux operating system, according to Raymer. Longtime Linux users also praise MakuluLinux’s different approach.

“There is just enough Windows in LinDoz for them to feel comfortable, but it is all Linux under the hood, Raymer told LinuxInsider.

Planning to Re-Plan

Previous versions of MakuluLinux LinDoz were based on the Debian Testing branch. Raymer, who previously lived in South Africa and relocated to Da Nang, Viet Nam, decided to retool LinDoz to be based on Ubuntu Linux.

That process slowed down the new build. So did discussions by his team about the future directional path. Up for discussion was potentially dropping one or more of the distros.

The release schedule delays were in part the result of deciding to first rebuild the in-house Constructor Tool packaged with the distros. Another cause was the need to resolve changes to the Calamares graphic interface installer that open source community members made to the installer in December.

The last-minute change was crucial because MakuluLinux uses the Calamares installer. Until the rebuild of LinDoz on a Ubuntu base and a port to a Debian base was completed, new releases for the Flash and Core distros would remain on hold as well.

The Linux development world is made up of many small software communities dedicated to specific distributions. Most are not larger business organizations the likes of Canonical, RedHat or Linux Mint. Limited time and money often impede progress.

Maintaining and upgrading releases is often a time-consuming and thankless job that never ends. Raymer found himself at such a crossroads. He had the potential to pursue a spinoff software creation at the expense of continuing his diversified operating systems.

Factoring in Changing Pace

The team met to discuss potentially putting more work into turning the Constructor Tool into some sort of kit for other developers to build their own modified distros. The existing Constructor Tool bundled in MakuluLinux lets users clone the configurations and installed applications to duplicate exact installation copies of their MakuluLinux systems.

With this tool expanded and redesigned, Linux developers then could compile all of the coded components to build their own distros easily, with virtually no knowledge or any coding experience needed, and put out a very professional distro with no effort at all, explained Raymer.

“We were going to start working on the Constructor Tool, build the kit, and start putting all effort into that. After all, with distros we have plenty of competition, and the workload is massive. Whereas if we become the builder of the builders — we build the tools that builders use — we have no competition, at least nothing near as nice as this tool we created. So, this was the plan. This is what we discussed,” he said.

The MakuluLinux team at first planned to phase out the MakuluLinux distros and focus on making “community” builds. The team would release a distro but would not work on it around the clock, Raymer disclosed. Instead, a support community could assume the tasks of editing and maintaining the selected distro with background assistance from the team as needed.

“We will assist as much as we can, to put it bluntly. We would still make distros, but not commit to full-time patches and maintenance unless there was an issue that really required us to step in,” he said.

Raymer and his team got caught up in a whole cycle of releasing distros. Many on the diverse, remotely operating team seemed to force staying on that path because they did not see the potential or Raymer’s vision of things that could be.

“So here we are nearly three years later, and I find myself reflecting, looking both back and looking forward,” he admitted.

Moving Forward, Cautiously

Raymer has weathered the near breakup decision and is ready to advance the growth and development of all three MakuluLinux distros. However, he is not yet committing to any specific dates. That said, he is firm about releasing new editions this year.

The first upgrade is the pending LinDoz release. It is nearly ready to go. It definitely will be based on Ubuntu with a Debian-based release to follow. You can expect the Ubuntu-based version of LinDoz between now and the end of February.

Upgrades for Flash and Core still need quite a bit of work. A last-minute breakthrough on revamping the Constructor Tool this week led to Raymer pushing out the first Flash upgrade build for testing. He still has no clear release date for the Flash distro upgrade. The team will begin working on the Core distro upgrade once LinDoz and Flash are released.

LinDoz First Look

LinDoz is not a Windows 7 or a Windows 10 clone, but users coming from those operating systems will feel right at home as a result of the Windows-style themes.

Combining that look and feel with the inclusion of Q4Wine, a GUI app to manage Wine, lets you bring your essential Microsoft programs to this Linux OS more easily than with other Linux options. Q4Wine enhances the functionality of the WINE Windows emulator.

However, users already familiar with Linux who have no need for Wine can just ignore or remove the emulator. They can change the theme choice to make the desktop view less like Windows. LinDoz is highly configurable beyond the look and feel of the themes.

MakuluLinux  LinDoz desktop

The LinDoz desktop displays all the essentials for Windows or Linux users. It has the bottom panel, an attractive choice of backgrounds, an updated menu, and top-caliber applications.

– click image to enlarge –

For instance, LinDoz has vivid backgrounds, a classic bottom panel, and a preconfigured workspace switcher applet with a nice collection of desktop desklets. It also uses a nicely tweaked version of the Cinnamon desktop with a unique menu.

The new menu blends both Windows and Linux functionality into one OS. The tweaks to the menu layouts make using menus much neater and more complete to provide a smoother user experience.

The tweaking that the Cinnamon desktop provides lets you substitute menu styles, place a variety of applets on the panel, add more panels, and position them wherever you like. Similarly, you can enhance the desktop’s functionality with desklet displays.

Upgrade Highlights

If you have used earlier versions of LinDoz, you will not see much in the way of new looks and major new features. Overall, this latest upgrade contains a tremendous amount of tweaking throughout the distro.

One of the key improvements is centered around changing the base code to Ubuntu, which also is based on Debian. To follow soon is a version based entirely on Debian Linux. The difference rests on Ubuntu being regarded as being highly stable with more current updates.

A new introductory video pops up only in Live mode. This is handy for new users, nice and neat and functional.

A new set-up manager is present in the Ubuntu-based version that is not the same as the intro manager in the existing Debian LinDoz version. It is laid out to go through a step-by-step process to set up things like WiFi, system updates, drivers and more.

You will find a new entry added to the right-click context menu on the desktop. This lets you right-click to open system settings.

This change makes up for removing the system settings launcher from the panel. Other improvements include an update manager shortcut added to the panel, and more Wine entries added to the right-click menu.

It has been years since I used Wine to load Microsoft Windows programs in any Linux distro. It was nice to discover that the configuration hassles and usability frustrations I recall when I did use Wine are not present in the new LinDoz release.

Windows Apps work out-of-the-box more reliably by simply double-clicking on EXE, MSI or COM files. The Windows programs loaded automatically open in the Wine environment.

Also present in this upgrade is a better selection of productivity software and games. The redesigned menus have new categories and content. For instance, apps include a system monitor and the Gnome software center.

Bottom Line

Overall, I am very impressed with the new LinDoz release. It is essentially designed as an easy-to-use operating system that feels comfortable for both Windows and Linux users.

In fact, it even makes using Linux easier for those with disabilities. LinDoz fully supports accessible options to cater for disabled or the elderly that may not see well. It now has a built in Screen Reader, Magnifier and On Screen keyboard. These features are neatly laid out with easy access.

I do not expect an automatic update from the still current version, however. Way too many changes are built into this LinDoz release. So grab the new ISO and experience an effortless fresh installation.

As of this writing, the upgrade was not yet posted for download. But Raymer’s targeted date is between mid February and the end of the month.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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