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ought to move away from LM because the distro devs make technical choices that are poor compared to other distros (outdated kernel, holding back crucial updates, etc)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.


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.


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.


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.


Abiword  – for a lighter word processor

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



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

Posted by: duskfire | February 7, 2016

Getting (re) started

I have been slowly installing a number of games and software onto my laptop now that I re-installed Linux (Mint 17.3 KDE). Of course, PlayonLinux was first, along with Crossover Linux. There are really only 2 games right now that I was hoping to get running again – Star Wars: The Old Republic and Path of Exile. It turns out that Path of Exile seems to run pretty much the same as it does on Windows 10, with some very minor graphics bugs (nothing that affects gameplay).[2/13/16 – The “graphics bugs” were due to not using the proprietary flgrx graphics driver. They have gone away once I installed it in place of the open-source one]

My laptop uses an AMD Radeon card, and Path of Exile tends to really heat it up – both on Windows AND Linux. But it runs quite well and I anticipate many hours of play while I endeavor to finally get a character to the final Act. I had stopped playing a year ago because, while PoE is an excellent game, it really expects you to know where to put your skill points. I got stuck in Act 3 (before there was an Act 4) with a sub-optimal build and just stopped playing because I kept dying in a cathedral area and wasn’t sure how to get past the one boss there.

Path of Exile runs fine so far

Path of Exile runs fine so far

There are also many DOS games I enjoy which run perfectly using the DBGL Dosbox launcher, and I have a number of GOG classics that install easily via PlayOnLinux.

As I mentioned last week, I do plan to look at the latest versions of games intended for Linux such as some cross-platform FPS titles, MegaGlest, and others. I also will probably install another distro on my older Gateway to review.

Posted by: duskfire | January 31, 2016

Coming back to the blog

Yeah, it has been well over a year since I last had anything to say here. That was because I have been using Windows 10 for quite awhile, and wasn’t really testing any distributions on my older laptop.  There are still a few new games that wouldn’t run on Linux and I switched over because my wife was playing them, Trove being the main one. I was also playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, and although I knew some people were running it on Linux I didn’t want to take a chance that I would not be able to.

Falling out of the habit of blogging is pretty easy – getting back into doing it is not so simple. The final item that really provided the push was a comment yesterday on an old article of mine, saying that a game I reviewed 5 years ago, MegaGlest, has a new release. MegaGlest is a cross-platform real-time strategy game.

I decided to install the Windows version and take a look at what it is like lately. That will be one of my next posts (in a few days). In addition, I am at a good point right now to re-install Linux on my primary laptop and use it exclusively. I am on a hiatus from all the games that don’t work on it, and I do miss using it. I intend to install Linux Mint 17.3 KDE edition, since that has always been my favorite distribution.

It has been several years since I looked at the best games in all genres that run on Linux, so MegaGlest will be only the first of many that I will take another look at, to see how they have improved.

There have been a few changes in the Linux distribution community since I last reviewed some – quite a few more distributions no longer offer a 32-bit edition, and until I dual-boot my main laptop that means the first few distro reviews I do will have to be on my older machine. I have been updating the list I maintain of distributions that I would like to review, and will discuss them soon.

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