Posted by: duskfire | March 6, 2016

Korora 23 Xfce review

I’m going to start off my 2016 review season by taking a look at the latest edition of Korora Linux, which became available on February 3, 2016. I am using an old Gateway M460 laptop for this review, with 2 GB of RAM and an Intel Mobile 915GM card. This is a review of the 32-bit edition of Korora 23 Xfce edition.

Korora is heavily based on Fedora Linux, but it adds in useful packages that Fedora is not allowed to ship. I haven’t done a review of Korora in over 2 years, since the Korora 19 edition. I chose the Xfce edition because of the age of my laptop and the limited amount of RAM it can use.

Installation

Korora uses the Anaconda installer, the same as Fedora. It works all right, but I still prefer a more linear way of installing the operating system. Installation went smoothly as usual. Korora expects you to pick a root password and then a user, who can be assigned Administrator powers. There’s a strength check on the passwords, which is always nice.

Features and Software

Korora displays 2 virtual desktops by default. The top bar has the main menu on left, then at the right are icons for displaying & controlling volume, network, battery, time, and username (logout/shutdown).

In the Xfce edition, there is a left hand vertical panel that slides out when you hover along it, with 10 icons at the start, to let you open various programs. You start with Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, VLC, a terminal, the file manager, a search tool, Settings manager, the File manager, and the Trash directory.You can remove or add additional applications to this shortcut panel as you wish.

Korora uses icons from the Numix project by default. I haven’t seen them in other distros, but they are simple and attractive.

The indicator icons on the right side of the top menu bar are always white – which means that many themes will make them very hard to see until you hover over them.

desktop

Korora installs a pretty good selection of software – not everything, but plenty to get you started. They no longer install Adobe Flash by default, due to their concerns over continued security problems in Flash, but it’s available thanks to the RPMFusion repositories which are part of Korora’s list of software sources.

Here’s a list of the software you start out with:

Accessories – 14 apps, including a virtual keyboard, calculator, text editor (Mousepad), CD/DVD burner

Administration – 11, including SELinux (if you installed it), a firewall, printer setup, Samba, and package installer (Yum Extender DNF).

Documentation – about Xfce and apps, includes a link to their online help.

Graphics – 7 including GIMP,  Inkscape, LibreOffice Draw, the pdf viewer Evince, and Shotwell

internet – 6 including Transmission, Firefox, Thunderbird, Liferea, and Pidgin.

Multimedia – 11 including CD player Audacious, Audacity, VLC, Handbrake, and a CD/DVD burner

Office – 10 including 4 LibreOffice applications, Evince, and the Xfce Orage Calendar.

Settings – over 20 tools to help you customize and adjust the appearance of your desktop.

System – 13 including Thunar file manager, a live USB Creator, and a bulk file renaming tool.

For playing CDs, I liked using Audacious. It plays the CD easily, and the volume can be changed with the mouse wheel. I usually use VLC, but in Korora it doesn’t show the title and song names by default like Audacious does. I am not sure how to fix that.

Audacious.png

DVD playing – It seems to be fine using VLC. Here’s an early scene from the movie The Hunger Games Part 2, Catching Fire:

VLC-Catching_Fire

Firefox has the extensions Hello, Pocket, and uBlock installed by default. It also has a few bookmarks that are Fedora (carried over from using the Fedora installer) – it would be nice to have some direct links to Korora support and community.

There are no games installed initially. It would be nice if a couple of them could be included but it’s not a serious omission.

To add or remove, or just update software, Korora uses Fedora’s Yum Extender. It could use a quick tutorial and maybe a facelift. Having to mouse over small icons to see which one you wish to use is a minor annoyance. There’s no obvious way to see what kind of updates you are getting – bugfixes, software improvement, or security patches. This definitely isn’t Korora’s fault, but I hope that Fedora puts some major effort into making this tool more easy to use and somewhat less plain-looking.

The side panel you see below can be toggled on or off (to view groups of software).

YumExt.png

My HP Photosmart printer was detected automatically; adding it was an easy process with no need to search a list. That’s always a major plus in my review criteria.

Games

Since Korora adds the RPMFusion repositories to the ones already provided by Fedora, there’s a decent selection of good games available for you to waste time….err I mean enjoy playing.

PysolFC (a set of solitaire card games) didn’t want to run after I installed it, due to some bug. This is most likely from Fedora, but it means that the only way to have a casual solitaire game is to pull in some KDE libraries in order to play KPat (unless you are using the KDE edition of Korora). For some reason, the “aisleriot” solitaire game cannot be found at all, even from the RPMFusion list. Most other casual games are available, however.
Aisleriot is, in fact, available in the repositories if you search.

[Correction 3/7: The only reason I didn’t see “aisleriot” was that I had only looked in the Games and Entertainment Group. I mistakenly assumed that it was assigned appropriately. When I enabled all packages and searched for it, it showed up. Under the “updates” repo for some reason. So I  guess the lesson is, if you know the name of the package, search with “all packages” enabled, not just the Group you think it belongs to.]

Help and Support

Korora has a forum page, Engage, for people to ask questions and get help, and a Documentation page full of guides, one of which is a video showing how installation is done.

Likes

— Lots of software programs installed out of the box.

— Good default choices.

Dislikes

— Could use a bit more Korora branding, especially bookmarks.

Final Thoughts

I actually really like Korora Linux. I haven’t had any troubles with it, and it does a great job of adding extra value to Fedora. This is definitely one spinoff distribution that refutes the notion that we have too many choices. I will definitely consider reviewing the KDE desktop edition of 24 when that is released.

One word of caution: Unless you have experience using SELinux, do NOT select it during installation. I made that mistake and regretted it all week. SELinux is a powerful and complicated tool that will frustrate you to no end if you don’t know how to properly turn it off. For a home environment, I really don’t think you need to install it.
(I am no longer sure that the issue I was having is due to SELinux, so I removed this caution.)

UPDATE on 3/7:

In an effort to figure out the issue i was having with logging in, I installed Korora MATE edition. Things seem to work with it, and I actually did see the aisleriot card game in the repos. What I will do next is to re-install the Xfce edition and hopefully I will find out whether my laptop is cooperating this time. Korora is a very good edition and I want to make sure that any problems I mention are real issues, and not due to the old laptop.

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Posted by: duskfire | February 28, 2016

Adjustments to my reviewing plans

I just discarded a draft of a review I started for Korora 23. NOT because I don’t want to review Korora Linux – it looks like a fine system – but because it was the KDE version…which on my very old laptop is not doing well (Plasma 5 is the issue, not Korora itself.).

I have reluctantly come to realize that the Gateway on which I have been doing reviews for some time…is no longer suitable to review GNOME or KDE based distributions. It has only 2 GB of RAM and is over 8 years old. It still runs fine, but honestly, no one with a laptop that old ought to be using KDE or GNOME as their day-to-day desktop environment.

In light of this, I am revising the list I made of Linux distributions that I was planning to review. At some point in the future I will partition my primary laptop and review some 64-bit distributions, with either KDE or GNOME as the desktop, but all future reviews on the Gateway (which have to be 32-bit editions anyway!) will be of Linux distributions that offer a lightweight option as the primary desktop, or one of the main choices to install. These would include Xfce, LXDE, OpenBox, Enlightenment, or MATE.

My immediate plan is to re-install Korora using the Xfce edition and do a review that hopefully will be ready by next week. Then I will schedule reviews of some more distributions; some may be well known and some will be relatively unknown. This is a good thing 🙂 Everyone does reviews of the popular distros – Manjaro, Fedora, Ubuntu, Mint, Debian  – but what about Lubuntu, elementary, Salix, or ArchBang?

I hope to provide many useful reviews of lightweight distributions over the next year or so.

Posted by: duskfire | February 26, 2016

Security issues, Linux Mint, and switching distros

I recently switched back to using Linux Mint (17.3 KDE) after over a year using Windows 10. I am used to this particular Linux distribution and have strongly preferred it ever since I began using it back in 2008. I am not a power user, but also not a total newcomer to using Linux. I am 51 and have been using Linux for about 14 years now. Recent events involving Mint have prompted me to think about why I use it, about some of the criticism it has gotten, and whether or not it is time to move on to a different Linux distribution full-time at home.

Short answer: Not yet. But it’s something I will consider carefully for the future.

Last Saturday (2/20/16) the website at Linux Mint was hacked and the download page for the default installation ISO was redirected to point to a malicious specially crafted ISO that included a backdoor. This has been fixed (initially by taking down the page), but meanwhile it turned out that the forum’s database had also been stolen at some point in January and fairly substantial private information from users was obtained (and later apparently offered for sale.) My installation was on February 2nd, so I am fine (and I use KDE, which wasn’t even the edition the crackers had changed). The forum password (for me only) was just a long complex one that Mint had sent me as a reset from a year ago, which I never changed. So I got really lucky – I don’t have to change any other passwords because that one was unique to the Mint forums.

Since this attack, I have read quite a few opinions about Linux Mint. As is so often the case with popular things, there seems to be a lot of heat but not a whole lot of light on the question of “Is Linux Mint still a trustworthy distro?”

As I see it, there are three issues here, only two of which are related.

  1. Whether people ought to move away from LM because of the security breach/poor security practices
  2.  Whether people ought to move away from LM because the crew are few in number and have become overwhelmed.
  3.  Whether people ought to move away from LM because the distro devs make technical choices that are poor compared to other distros (outdated kernel, holding back crucial updates, etc)

Taking these one at a time… I think it is still too early to decide whether Linux Mint is no longer trustworthy. They have changed their forum db, they were open about the details of the breaches as soon as they happened, and it remains to be seen if the developers will get overwhelmed.

I also think people need to keep something in mind – breaches do happen. I do not want to minimize the impact at all, but this is hardly the first time a Linux distro has been directly attacked by crackers. Way back in 2003, Debian suffered a breach of their servers. In 2008 and again in 2011, Fedora also suffered some kind of breach. And as recently as 2013, less than 3 years ago, Ubuntu’s forums were hacked into and over 1.5 million user accounts and passwords were exposed. As far as I know, no one is currently saying they no longer use Ubuntu, or Fedora, because of past successful breaches. So I’m willing to give Linux Mint, Clem Lefebvre, and the other developers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to learning this lesson, strengthening their security, and keeping their site software patched properly.

During the last few days, I have also seen references to Linux Mint being a hobbyist distro and implying or stating that its popularity has grown way beyond the devs’ ability to keep it maintained adequately. In my view, when you look at the list at Distrowatch, the overwhelming majority of distros can be referred to as “hobbyist”, including several in the “top 20” of the page hit ranking list. Again, I think it is too early to be sure that the developers of Mint are overwhelmed. Most people who use Mint seem pretty happy, and personally I have not had any issues with it either. Mint has always focused on what is best for their users, and I admire that.

The last point, technical decisions made by the devs, does have some measure of validity. There are certain practices that Linux Mint does that a few people say are bad decisions from a technical point of view. Personally, I either am not bothered by them or have found workarounds past them. The benefits I get by using Linux Mint, together with its stability and lack of issues (for me, on my laptop), combine to make it feel that changing distros would be counter-productive at this time. However, some of the arguments – the ones that refrain from juvenile potshots at Mint – sound like valid concerns and I would be foolish to ignore them.

If I were to change, though, I’d do a fair amount of research. I would prefer to use a distribution that uses the KDE desktop, with a decent sized repository. The concerns over proper security and other issues would apply equally to any new choice. Fedora, Xubuntu, Mageia, or Debian would be among the handful at the top of any list of new day to day Linux distribution, but that would also be after checking to ensure that the KDE or Xfce desktop version was getting adequate attention from the official core community and not just an afterthought. I have tried several distributions who use GNOME 3 and it just is not suited for the way I tend to use my computer. The same goes for Unity – I know a lot of people like it, but I do not.

To summarize, the breach at Linux Mint has hopefully gotten the developers there to be even more security-minded than before. It has again shown the wisdom of not using the same password on multiple sites. And perhaps I am not the only person using Linux who would benefit from taking a more thorough look at exactly why I have chosen the particular flavor of Linux that I use every day. Switching to a new one is not something I’d advise doing lightly for anyone, if the one you use is serving you well.

I also promise that if I do switch away from Linux Mint, I’ll explain the factors that went into my decision and what I like about my new choice for a day to day distribution.

 

Posted by: duskfire | February 20, 2016

MegaGlest review, 2016

Starting a game as the Tech faction.

Starting a game as the Tech faction.

I can’t believe it has been over 4 years since I last took a look at the real-time strategy game MegaGlest. This review is of the 3.12.0 version. Linux Mint repositories only have the 3.7 version at the time of this review, so I downloaded the correct file from the main site’s download page and installed it. (NOTE: If you download the .run package, you need to make sure the permissions are set to allow “Execute” and also, if you do not have all the dependencies, the game will install but doesn’t run. The only way you know what you are missing is if you run it from the Terminal. )

Basic Overview

Magic faction

MegaGlest is a real-time strategy game that can be played vs the computer, or up to 7 other opponents online. It is libre software, which means it is both open-source and free of cost (they do take donations). It’s cross-platform, so your friends who still use Windows can play it as well, or with you online. There are seven factions included in the game, and 17 maps to play on. Each faction has their own set of units and structures, and play somewhat differently than others do. Additional factions and maps can also be installed from within the game’s options menu. You start off with over 20 scenarios of varying difficulty, but no campaign game as of yet. Sometime in the last 4 years, the ability to save a game and come back to it has been added, giving it a massive increase in playability.

If you prefer human opponents, you can also play on a LAN or over the internet.

There is a wiki for MegaGlest, as well as forums, and the game’s manual  and faction techtrees are available online from the main page.

Options

The options page includes tabs for Audio, Video, Keyboard setup, Network, and Misc. You can rename yourself, pick what format screenshots are saved as, choose one of 16 resolutions, and there are separate volume controls for the music, effects, and ambiance. Many other settings can be tweaked on this page.

Gameplay

Like many other RTS games, you typically start off with a building or two, some resources, and units. Creating more units, gathering more resources, and sending your combat guys against the enemy is pretty much it. The strategy comes in finding out the best mix of “get more resources” vs “more troops” vs “upgrade troops and buildings.” This of course can vary depending on your own preference of defensive or offensive style of play. There is a minimap in the upper left corner, and you can group units by collecting them in a mouse drag, or assign some to a numbered group. MegaGlest provides you with both audio & visual indicator of incoming attacks on your units. Provided you have enough resources, you can queue up more than one “build unit” order.

You can also create a Custom game when you become tired of the included scenarios. This is the only way I can see to lower the difficulty, by adjusting the CPU’s speed/AI number (it’s not clear what the number does, exactly)

creating a custom game

creating a custom game

Graphics and sound

MegaGlest uses 3d models, and it doesn’t look too bad. You can zoom in closer to see things, in a similar way as the game Path of Exile  Also, the game’s viewpoint can be rotated by holding down your middle button and shifting the mouse. The graphics are not the very best, but this also means it should play easily on most laptops, regardless of your graphics card.  The factions seem to each have their own music theme playing on a loop.  I liked the music used in the game.

Fun Factor

I am enjoying the time I spend playing MegaGlest, but it’s kicking my butt, even on “Easy” difficulty. I had to create a Custom game and turn down the CPU number from 1.0 to 0.5 in order to feel like I had a chance to get started before the enemies come calling. Like other RTS games I have played, I got the feeling that there’s an optimal build order that will maximize my chances of defending my base and reaching the enemy before her numbers become too overwhelming to beat.

Adding mods to the game

Adding mods to the game

Overall, I would say that if you enjoy real-time strategy games, definitely install MegaGlest and try it out. I expect that I’ll be trying to beat the AI for a few more weeks.

Posted by: duskfire | February 13, 2016

The software I usually install

Before I spend the rest of the year talking about games I enjoy on Linux, I wanted to discuss the non-entertainment applications that I almost always install on whatever laptop becomes my primary machine. When I’m using Linux every day, the distribution I prefer is Linux Mint. That has been the case for many years now. It is based mostly on Ubuntu, with a few home-grown changes, which means it effectively has support from two distributions (Mint and Ubuntu), and has Debian as a base which means the “app store” is one of the biggest in the Linux community. This repository is the central location to get nearly all the programs you use every day, as well as many (or most) games that you would want to play.

I also strongly prefer to use the KDE desktop. I have tried most of the others, and can deal with each of them, but I got my start with Linux via Mandrake Linux, using KDE 3, and have loved it ever since.

Programming:

I don’t do a lot of programming, but I always make sure to install the following:

KDevelop  — I haven’t written any KDE software yet, but if I want to, this is where I’d work from.

Qt Creator  ––  another IDE

Code::Blocks  — Over the last few years I found I really like the way C::B is laid out and helps you write C and C++.

Idle3  — to help me when I want to work with Python.

I haven’t really settled on a version control system yet, because I haven’t done enough programming to really know my preference.

Office:

Abiword  – for a lighter word processor

Calligra Suite  – this is the KDE-based alternative to Libre Office.

 

Creativity:

Calibre  – an ebook reader and format converter

Hydrogen  – a drum machine I like to fiddle with

lmms – Linux Multimedia studio

Inkscape – a vector graphics drawing program

Krita (part of the Calligra Suite) – a drawing, sketching, and painting program

Karbon – another vector graphics drawing program, also part of Calligra

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