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Distro Madness Round #2 Concludes

Round #2 of Distro Madness is now complete and it seems to be gaining momentum. We had more responses and much more competitive voting for most of the matches. Here is a quick recap of where we stand.

Here are my takeaways from round #2.

A more competitive round

Because of the seeding, round #1 had a number of matchups that weren’t terribly competitive. However with the popular distributions advancing the matchups were much more competitive in this round. Only two distributions received fewer than 10 votes and 6 matchups were decided by 4 or fewer votes. Hopefully round #3 will bring more of the same

Mint Mate continues strong performance

Mint Mate was the darling from round 1 winning by 31 votes. In round 2 it was given a stronger challenge from Ubuntu Unity but it still received the second highest total votes with 28. Only Mint Cinnamon received more votes with 32.

Debian GNOME edges Elementary OS

I’m going to take personal credit for this because I voted for GNOME but this was a very close matchup that changed leads several times throughout the week. I’m really happy that Debian advanced and stayed in this competition but it faces a daunting task with Mint Mate up next.

PopOS! takes down Ubuntu Mate

To me this was the matchup of round #2 and it didn’t disappoint being decided by just 2 votes. I will admit that I am a little surprised to see PopOS! advance. I thought that Mate would advance on the popularity of Martin Wimpress in the community but it is possible that there are a lot of system76 fans or gamers amongst our voters.

Incomplete votes abound in round #2

The survey is set up such that voting on each individual matchup is optional. Interestingly, many voters are being selective about the matchups that they are voting on. I think that the most likely explantion is that voters are avoiding voting on matchups when they aren’t familiar with the distros involved. This is probably for the best (every vote we are receiving is an educated one) but it is worth noting so that readers aren’t confused by the different vote totals across the matchups.

There is still interest in this

Once again I want to thank everyone for their participation and kind words in the chat. To see the interest grow in this from round #1 to Round 2 was quite gratifying.

Now, on to Round #3

I’d say that the feature matchups are Ubuntu vs LMDE and PopOS! and MX Linux vs Xubuntu. What about you?

Vote Now for Round 3

Distro Madness Round 1 Concludes

Voting for Round 2 will be open until March 12

Distro Madness- Round 1 Wrap-Up

So Round #1 of Distro Madness 2021 is in the books. Thanks to everyone who took the time to vote.

Before we open the voting for round #2 let’s recap the results of round 1. Here is the updated bracket with voting tally’s and the winners advancing to the next round.

Many of the results were predictable thanks to the seeding system which kept the most popular distributions away from one another, however other results were a little more surprising. Here are my takeaways from round #1.

Every distribution received votes

With 64 distributions to complete the bracket I clearly had to include a number of niche choices. Heck, Rocky Linux is still in beta. Despite this however, every single distribution listed received votes. A common refrain from users lamenting the lack of Linux desktop uptake is that “there are too many distributions” but clearly the efforts of developers are still appreciated by the community.

Mint Mate received the most votes

This was surprising to me. Slax is a pretty cool little distro that has 32 bit and 64 bit versions and can be run directly off of USB. It is incredibly lightweight and flexible. The latest release was 2019 so part of this might be a case of “out of sight, out of mind” but I think that this result is more about people’s love of Linux Mint Mate. It has to be considered an early front-runner in DistroMadness.

Close call for Manjaro KDE

I think that most people would consider Manjaro a top tier distribution and the KDE version of Manjaro the “flagship” at this point. Despite this, it struggled against PCLinuxOS and only advanced by X votes. I know that many in the Mintcast Telegram have been stung by a Manjaro update but this was still surprising to me. Is there just a love for PCLinuxOS out there? Other close calls from Rd1? Endeavor OS edging out Kali, and Kubuntu by 1 vote over Bodhi.

CentOS survives a Rocky challenge

I think that you can probably see what I was trying to do with this round #1 matchup. I was curious how people would vote after the PR disaster that was the transition to CentOS stream. In the end, CentOS still advanced, albeit in a close match. Perhaps the fact that Rocky is still in beta was a deterrent. Or perhaps the Jupiter broadcasting damage control campaign from the past few weeks has been effective?

Slackware upset

Round 1 included few results that I would consider “upsets” but Ubuntu Unity handily winning over Slackware probably counts. Not too long ago Slackware finished second in a poll of best distros on LinuxQuestions.org. Clearly this is a different audience. Feren winning over Redhat might also be considered an upset on first view.

There is interest in this

Finally I want to thank everyone for their participation and kind words in the chat. I started this on a whim and wasn’t sure quite how it would go, but having almost 40 participants makes this worthwhile.

Now, on to Round #2

Where the feature matchup has to be Ubuntu Mate vs PopOS,

Vote here

Updates 2/22/21

You probably noticed we added Dylan Burger as a writer and admin on this page. As of today, we have also added Dale Miracle as an admin, and he has some articles to contribute, so watch for those. We have other friends talking to us about submitting articles, so it could get really exciting here.

We are hereby updating the license for all articles published on this website. Everything you find here is licensed under Creative Commons/ Share Alike (CC/SA) license. If you borrow it, do not change it, always credit the author and the site you got it from (ItsMOSS.com).

We also have come to a verbal agreement to share articles we (or Ronnie) choose with Full Circle Magazine, whose articles are also published under a CC/SA license. So if you borrow it from us, and we borrowed it from them, you are welcome to credit them or both of us. Thanks, Ronnie!

We are still accepting contributions from anyone. We are limiting this page to hardware and software, review and instruction, mostly not including phones (but we might make an exception for some Pine64 stuff from time to time).

Enjoy!

It’s MOSS Staff

A Simple Guide to Running a Local WordPress using Docker

Dylan in Canada

As I have started contributing to ItsMOSS, one challenge for me has been using WordPress again. I used WordPress briefly about 8 years ago to help maintain a site for an organization I was involved with, but I haven’t touched it since.

So rather than jump back in unprepared, I decided that I should set up WordPress locally and play around to try and remind myself of how things work.

I did some reading and realized that an option is to run this through Docker. I had been wanting to get into Docker for some time now and this seemed like a good opportunity to learn.

So I set out to learn how to run a local WordPress using Docker. It seemed simple enough, and really the process is not complicated. However, I found the available guides did not work for me.

What follows is an amalgamation of several approaches that finally allowed me to get it working. I have tested this successfully on Ubuntu 20.04 and Linux Mint 20.1, and presumably it will work on most distributions (with adjustment for the appropriate install commands).

By no means is this meant to be the definitive guide to doing this, just something that will hopefully help others who want to try this.

Step 1: Install Docker from Terminal

sudo apt install docker.io

Step 2: Install Docker Compose from Terminal

sudo apt install docker-compose

3. Create a folder for the WordPress container and create a Docker compose file for the container

mkdir wordpress-local && cd wordpress-local
touch docker-compose.yml

4. Open your docker compose file (docker-compose.yml) in a text editor

If you used the above commands then the file will be found in home/wordpress-local/docker-compose.yml

5. Add the following text to your docker-compose.yml file

web:
image: wordpress
links:
- mysql
environment:
- WORDPRESS_DB_PASSWORD=password
ports:
- "127.0.0.3:8080:80"
mysql:
image: mysql:5.7
environment:
- MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD=password
- MYSQL_DATABASE=my-wpdb

6. Save your docker-compose.yml file

7. While in your WordPress directory, run docker compose to pull the material for the wordpress container.

sudo docker-compose up -d

Important: You must be in home/wordpress-local/ for this command to work.

8. Run the local WordPress installer by visiting 127.0.0.3:8080 in your preferred browser. 

9. Follow the on-screen prompts to install your WordPress site

10. You can access the admin login for your WordPress site at any point by visiting

http://127.0.0.3:8080/wp-admin/

11. If you turn off or restart your computer, you can re-activate your local wordpress container by simply repeating steps 7-10. 

Distro Madness 2021

Round 1 Voting is closed

Welcome to DistroMadness 2021

What is Distro Madness?

DistroMadness is an effort to understand the Linux community’s distribution and desktop environment preferences that is modelled off of the NCAA college basketball tournament held in March of each year in the United States. That tournament, affectionately called “March Madness” determines the top basketball team in the country through a series of single elimination matchups.

How does it work?

For “Distro Madness” we have selected the most common distributions available and will work through a series of choices between two distributions. Votes will decide which distribution they personally prefer based on whatever criteria they choose. At the end of each round I will tabulate the votes and the distributions with the most votes will advance to the next round and so on for a total of 6 rounds before deciding on the champion distribution.

Seeding

To avoid having the top basketball teams in the country facing each other early, the basketball tournament divides the teams into 4 regions (East, South, Midwest and West) and then further seeds within the regions from 1-16 based on the estimated quality of the team. Similarly, we have divided the Linux distributions into 4 groups with seeding from 1-16. This was done subjectively and is admittedly not perfect at the moment. In future years we hope to use the results from the previous year for seeding.

Enough background let’s see the bracket

Here is the 2021 bracket

How do I vote?

Just click on the link below. We will collect answers using the WordPress plug-in “Quiz and Survey Master”.

Office In Linux: What are my options?

by Dylan Burger, Canada

In September of last year I e-mailed the Mintcast team with a question about dual booting Windows vs. Running in a VM. The crux of my question was a desire to switch to Linux while still using the one software package that is absolutely essential to my daily activities: Microsoft Office. While most of the software that one uses on a daily basis has a native linux app or workable alternative, Office is still noticably absent and, in my opinion, this represents the biggest barrier to switching to Linux. It is near ubiquitous in government, schools, universities, and much of the business world. I myself have consistently used Outlook, Word, Powerpoint, and Excel for more than 20 years (following brief stints with Corel Office and Lotus Smartsuite). So when I decided to switch to Linux my primary focus was on identifying a solution that allowed me to maintain my productivity with a viable office suite. Over the past few months I have tested every solution that I could find to the Linux Office conundrum. Spoiler alert: none are perfect. Until there is a native linux option with true feature parity and 100% compatability we will be left to select the best option for our personal needs. Below is a summary of my experiences and when and where each option would make sense.

Option #1: LibreOffice

This is probably the simplest option available. Virtually every distribution is pre-loaded with LibreOffice and it is well maintained and constantly improving. LibreOffice features a word processor (Writer), spreadsheets (Calc), presentation (Impress), graphics editor (Draw), databases (Base), and formula editing (Math). Notably lacking is an e-mail client equivalent to Outlook so if you want a full replacement for Office then you will need to add an e-mail client such as Thunderbird.

Feature-wise, LibreOffice is fairly strong. Things you would expect in a word processor, such as track changes, spell check and thesaurus, are available in Writer, and there is compatability with citation managers (i.e. Zotero) and other add-ons. Calc and Impress also have the expected functionality. Document recovery is available and works as well as that in the Microsoft package in my experience. Draw offers vector graphics editing. Generally speaking I use GIMP as my image editor, but I do appreciate the ability of Draw to edit PDF files easily. I rarely use databases and have not touched Math so I won’t comment on the remaining offerings. Support-wise, LibreOffice is fairly widely used, so there are a large number of resources available for troubleshooting.

LibreOffice by default saves in the open document format (.odt, .ods etc…), however the suite is capable of opening and saving common office formats (.xls/xlsx, .doc/docx, .ppt/pptx) so using LibreOffice will not prevent you from editing documents originally created in Office. Office compatability is good, particularly for Writer, but not perfect, and this is really the main drawback. If you are working with LibreOffice but interacting with others who are using Microsoft Office you will almost certainly run into compatability issues. A few examples of issues that I have ran into:

• Font switching that can lead to loss of special characters in documents

• Embedded images in files from Powerpoint commonly (more often than not in my experience) appear streched or altered in some way. This generally requires me to re-do the slides.

• Calc has a maximum number of columns of 1024 whereas Excel has a maximum of 16,384. Unfortunately this means that I have spreadsheets that I am unable to open in Calc.

• Citation manager compatability. I typically use Zotero but even with the identical database on both systems I cannot create a document with Zotero-embedded references in Word and edit it in Writer or vice-versa. So collaborative writing with this tool was an issue for me.

• [From Moss:] Quite often, bringing an MS Office document into LibreOffice, editing it, and sending it back to the MS Office user results in major formatting issues, as the entire concept of paragraphs is different between the two. I have often had to convert the complete office to .txt and then reformat it in MS Office.[/Moss]

Acknowledging the above and other compatibility considerations, LibreOffice remains a decent option for many productivity needs. If I was generating my documents myself and did not need to share with colleagues using office it might be sufficient. Likewise if I could convince everyone in my work circle to switch to LibreOffice there would be few issues. Unfortunately that is not the case and when I need to share a document or create a presentation that will be delivered in Powerpoint I cannot rely on LibreOffice to yield a product that is without issues. On top of that, the e-mail clients which are available (external to LibreOffice) also fail to replace Outlook adequately. In particular options which have compatability with exchange servers are limited (i.e. Hiri and thunderbird with add-ins).

The Verdict: If I just needed to produce documents on my own and was using IMAP server for e-mail then this might make sense but as it is, this option falls a little short of my needs. That said, for simple tasks, such as writing this article, I still use LibreOffice. [from Moss: Ditto for sharing files — if everyone you are interacting with is using LibreOffice, you’ll be just fine.]

Option #2: Office Online

There is actually a way to use “Microsoft Office” on Linux without any compatability issues. You simply have to use Office 365. Because it is a web application that runs in your browser it will run on virtually any system without any plug-ins and as Microsoft’s own product, compatibility issues are non-existent. There is also an online version of Outlook which obviates the need for a separate e-mail client. Troubleshooting should be easy as this is a widely used product with fair documentation and support from Microsoft. Nevertheless this is by no means a true replacement for desktop Office. First, it still does not have full feature parity: for example Word online can not edit protected documents or run macros. The major limitation though is the total reliance on internet access- there is no editing offline. That’s a dealbreaker for me because I need to be able to work when I travel. I also find there to be lag when working with Office 365 that reduces my productivity (even in a high powered system with a good connection).

In terms other drawbacks, some users may be put-off by having their files held in the cloud and the notion of having to maintain an annual subscription can also be a barrier for longtime users of desktop office suites.

The Verdict: I’m not personally going to pay for an office suite that I can only access part-time. Individuals who have access to Office 365 through work and/or those who will only be editing when there is access to the internet may still be interested in this option.

Option #3: Google Docs

Cloud-based options are not limited to Office 365. Google Docs also offers the ability to edit .xls/xlsx, .doc/docx, .ppt/pptx and does a fairly good job with respect to the word processor. Gmail is an option as an e-mail client although it does not easily work with exchange servers. Generally speaking there are good online resources for troubleshooting should you run into trouble.

The issue with not being able to use the applications offline comes into play again here. As does any concern that you might have with saving your documents in the cloud. A further issue with Google Docs is that the presentation program is extremely weak and flat-out not an option for anyone used to the functionality of Powerpoint.

The Verdict: Add compatibility issues on top of an online-only restriction? Its a no for me. But individuals who aren’t trying to share across platform, have minimal need to create presentations and will only be working online may turn to this option.

Option #4: Softmaker Office

Softmaker office is a commercially available cross-platform office suite that offers some impressive functionality. It has been around since 1987, predating the Microsoft offering by a full year. The package includes a word processor (Textmaker), spreadsheet editor (PlanMaker) and presentation application (Presentations). Much like LibreOffice, Softmaker’s offering lacks an e-mail client. The Windows version also includes a macro editor (BasicMaker) and a PDF editor (FlexiPDF) is usually thrown in to the package, but that is not included in the Linux version (there is no discount in lieu of this). The office suite is available as an annual subscription (~$30-50 USD/yr depending on setup) or as a one-time purchase (~$80-100 USD/yr). Updates from previous versions, issued every 2-3 years, usually go for half the price of the full license. If you purchase a license it can be used on up to 5 computers in the same household. The manufacturer has fairly decent documentation and support on their web site, however external material is limited compared to LibreOffice, Microsoft Office, or Google Docs. There is a 30-day free trial for those who wish to test before they commit.

The Softmaker Office package features an impressive list of features that are close to on-par with Microsoft Office. The word processor has spell check (in 20 languages), a large library of document templates, and integration with citation managers; Planmaker can work with up to 16,384 columns (the same as excel), and Presentations has a large variety of templates to work from. Softmaker Office works natively in .docx, .pptx, and .xlsx so file conversion is not necessary.

In terms of weaknesses, compatibility remains an issue. In particular I had formatting issues when I tried to open powerpoint files in Presentations and vice-versa. The prospect of paying for the product when a no-cost alternative is available in LibreOffice may also put off some users but others may appreciate the visually appealing and feature reach Softmaker Office. While some macros from MSOffice do not work readily in Planmaker, they are usually easy to convert, but that leaves a task for the person you pass it back to if you’re exchanging files.

The Verdict: To me this offering fits in a very narrow space, it offers a bit better features and compatability than LibreOffice. But given that it still falls shot of feature parity and 100% compatibility I had a hard time justifying a purchase. Cost considerations aside, the use case here is very similar to LibreOffice: if you are just creating documents for your own use and do not need to share with Microsoft Office users then this may be worth considering. At least you can take advantage of the 30 day free trial to be certain. [from Moss: This is my choice, and I’ve been using SoftMaker Office since 2008, 2012 in Linux.]

Option #5: Microsoft Office in Wine

For those who are unfamiliar with Wine: it is a system for running Microsoft Windows applications on Linux. The details on what Wine is and how it works is beyond the scope of this article. If you want further detail then check out the Wine manual or one of the many Youtube videos on the subject.

The promise of using a simple framework to allow Microsoft Office to run within the Linux environment is incredibly appealing. Unfortunately I was never personally able to get Office to work on Wine. I tried with Office 2003, 2013, 2016 and 2019, all to no success. Part of that could be my inexperience, it is possible that with persistance one get this to work. However I have read that Powerpoint and Outlook often have issues even when the other Office programs are able to work through Wine. While there is documentation available across various platforms, it was sufficiently limited that I wasn’t able to get this option to work.

The Verdict: This would be a very appealing option but sadly I couldn’t get it to work. If I could (with full functionality) then might be a preferred option.

Option #6: Dual Booting Windows

Another option is to maintain a copy of Windows alongside your Linux distribution and reboot to Windows as needed to run Office. Of course this isn’t really a true solution since it involves running a full Windows system completely distinct from Linux but it does allow at least allow for the ability to run Linux while maintaining the ability to edit Office documents. Critically, you will not be able to multi-task with Linux applications while running your Windows applications.

The Verdict: I did use this option for several months when I first started but this isn’t really a solution to the problem. You are essentially just sticking with Windows.

Option #8: Remote Desktop

One option that does come with the ability to simultaneously run Microsoft Office and Linux applications is to maintain a separate system running Microsoft Office in Windows (or even Mac) and then use your Linux system to remote desktop (SSH) in to that system. Personally, when I employ this option I use the truly excellent Remmina as my remote desktop client but other clients are probably available. A good tutorial for setting this up on Remmina is available here.

This arrangement offers a number of advantages. First, it does allow you to run Microsoft Office while otherwise using Linux to run your applications. Compatibility is 100% since you are running a true version of Office. Another benefit of this approach is that the additional resources required to run Office come from the host PC rather than the client. This preserves resources for Linux tasks and can make a big difference for low spec systems.

In terms of drawbacks, the need for a second system that is available (and powered on) for remote access will be a barrier to many users. Likewise it will require a Windows license if the user does not already have one. Another drawback is that file transfer between the host and client systems can be an issue. There are ways around this (I, for example, use ProtonDrive to move files) but it is definitely not equivalent to having a native application on Linux. Another issue is that there will be no integration between Linux programs on the client system and Windows programs on the host system. For example, my Zoom client on Linux can not schedule through Outlook on the Windows system.

The Verdict: This is a fairly decent option that I do use on my low spec systems regularly. If it weren’t for option #9 this would be my go-to solution.

Option #9: Virtual Machine

The final option is run your Microsoft Office in a Windows virtual machine. This involves using a software package (in my case VirtualBox) to emulate the functionality of a full computer system within your Linux system. There are a number of ways to do this but I find this guide to be particularly helpful. Don’t forget to install the guest editions package to ensure full screen functionality.

I should note that this is a fairly resource instensive process so you will need a decently specced system. I typically reserve at least 2 cores and 8 GB of RAM for my VM. I have gotten away with 4 GB of RAM but it is a bit slow. Ultimately you want to make sure that while your VM is running there is still enough resources to ensure that Linux runs smoothly.

Once you have your Windows VM set up, boot into your VM and you should be able to install Office the same as if you were on a physical system (right down to the excrutiatingly long wait for download).

As with the remote desktop option, compatability is 100% since it is Office running where and how Microsoft intended. Likewise there will be the same barrier to integration with native Linux applications. This is a good option to run Office alongside Linux applications on a single system. I have had zero compatability issues and, in contrast to remote desktop, there is no risk of losing your connection in the middle of a critical task. Another benefit is that you can share folders between the main system and the virtual machine so accessing files across the two systems if quick and painless.

The Verdict: At the moment I think that this is the best option available for a high spec system. In a dual monitor setup I sometimes even forget that the VM is even running. It feels that close to native. The fact that I have to pay for a Windows license is a little frustrating and there still is room for app integration if a native Linux Office suite does emerge. However this is my choice for the time being.

Review: Odyssey Blue J4105 MiniPC

Dylan Burger, Canada

My transition to Linux has triggered a bit of a hardware buying spree in me over the past few months. It hasn’t been anything crazy (no matter how much I want a Thelio Mega); aside from a work laptop I actually haven’t spent more than $300 USD on any individual item. Nevertheless, what I lack in high end purchases I have more than made up for in volume. Over the past year, along with dozens of peripherals, I have added a raspberry pi 3b+, 4, and Zero W, a Pinephone and Pinebook Pro, and my latest purchase, an Odyssey Blue J4105 from Seeed Studios.

The systems from the Pi foundation and Pine64 have hundreds of unboxings, user guides, tutorials and overviews available from the community and I don’t see the need to add another detailed review to what is already out there. When it comes to the Odyssey Blue system however, I find that there are considerably fewer sources of information. As I’ve had my Odyssey now for about two months and have a good variety of systems to compare to I think that its probably worth taking stock of my experience.

Overview:

The Odyssey Blue J4105 is a single board computer that has several unique features that differentiate it from the Raspberry Pi and similar SBCs. The major distinguishing feature is that the J4105 is x86-based rather than ARM. It is powered by a quad-core Intel Celeron J4105 processor (1.5-2.5 GHz) that significantly outperforms my Pis and opens up a plethora of software options not otherwise available. Like a Raspberry Pi and other SBCs the Odyssey has the classic 40-pin GPIO, but it expands on this with an onboard Arduino controller with its own 28 pin breakout (I must confess i have not used either of these as yet). Finally, the board has a host of storage options available (eMMC, SD card drive, and two M.2 slots- one B-key and one M-key, and a Sata III data connector) and a SIM card slot. All-in-all the Odyssey board tries really hard to be a “Super Pi”.

Specs at a glance:

The Odyssey X86J4105 is available in a number of configurations either as a solitary single board or shipped in a blue computer case with removable acrylic cover. The case is quite slick and I highly recommend it. Side note: The case is actually available separately and is said to be compatible with Raspberry Pi and Jetson Nano boards as well.

The system can be purchased with one of two storage configurations: a 64 GB eMMC or with a 128 GB M.2 SATA SSD. Note that the eMMC slot does not have an easy snap connector (i.e. Pine64 boards) so if you purchase the 128 GB M.2 version then adding an eMMC will require soldering.

The Odyssey boards ship with Windows 10 (unactivated or activated for a premium). Sadly there are no Linux options at ship, but I was able to load Mint, Lubuntu, and Debian without issue.

How do I use the system:

So the appeal of this system to me was its flexibility and portability. Primarily, this is being used as a media centre where it replaces a Raspberry Pi. The benefit of the Odyssey is the ability to have a large amount of storage contained within the single system. I currently have the 128 GB M.2 SATA, 1 TB NVME, and 128 GB microSD card all connected to a single system with no OTGs, external cables etc… To me this has tremendous benefit because it allows me to reduce the clutter around our entertainment unit considerably.

Because of the multiple storage options I have taken the opportunity to set up a dual-boot arrangement with Windows booting off the 128 GB drive and 1 TB running Linux Mint 20.1. Unfortunately the microSD card is not bootable, otherwise I might have set it up to boot a third distro. One mistake that I made in purchasing was not getting the system with the eMMC installed. Unfortunately installing an eMMC myself is beyond my present ability so I am missing out on another possible storage option. The eMMC is also bootable if you select that option.

Extending from the primary use, my family also attaches a web cam frequently to have family calls where we can sit on the couch and converse with grandparents or cousins on the television. This use is by no means unique to the Odyssey system but the dual booting option does ensure that we can use whatever platform we want.

Finally, we are also in the process of adapting this to be our primary retro gaming platform. We are replacing an old Pi3B+ that I had been running for several years. Initially this was with Batocera running off a USB stick but we recently switched to the Ubuntu version of Retropie to free up another port. From what I can tell I can emulate up to N64 and PS1 without issue- I haven’t tried anything more advanced yet.

Strengths:

The main strengths of this system are the flexibility and the power. I said in my opening that it was trying to be a “super pi” and I have to say that it largely achieves that goal. The system is considerably faster than my Pi4 or my Pinebook Pro. In fact, in a pinch I believe that I could use it as a daily driver. The increased speed coupled with the X86 architecture really opens up new uses for the system- which is actually quite crazy when you think of what Raspberry Pis can already do. In addition, despite being something of a niche product I was surprised by the level of compatibility. I have tried 4 distributions at this point (plus Windows 10) and not had any issue whatsoever.

For me the biggest benefit is the on-board storage. The Odyssey replaced two Raspberry Pi’s, and an OTG with three external hard disks. As this setup was in my living room the new purchase has left me with a very happy wife. On-board storage is something that people have long been clamouring for on the Pi and it really is a game-changer. I’d be utterly shocked if the next version of the Raspberry Pi did not have some form of storage beyond the microSD option. While not really my area of interest/expertise, I think that the on-board Arduino controller and Raspberry Pi GPIOs will be of interest to the tinkerer’s.

Weaknesses:

As you’ve probably guessed I don’t have many complaints about the system. The main issue with respect to the system is the limited documentation which does make any changes a challenge. It even took me some time to figure out how to enter the BIOS. I should note that the manufacturer does make a clear effort to provide information. It is just unfortunate that outside of this documentation there is little out there. Hopefully over time this will change.

The other minor issue I would say is that my fan seems a little “trigger happy”. I have yet to have the system heat up meaningfully but the fan still seems to engage fairly regularly. That said this is something that can be adjusted in the BIOS and I just haven’t gotten around to playing with the settings (for now I’d rather have the system cooled excessively rather than not cooled adequately).

Final Thoughts:

Any single board computer will inevitably end up being compared to the Raspberry Pi. In most cases you can identify one or two aspects that are advantageous: perhaps it is slightly faster, or perhaps it has an eMMC chip. The Odyssey J4105 system seems to try and improve on the Pi everywhere all at once. And I have to say that they’ve done a pretty good job of doing just that. The true test will be longevity and power usage because out of the box the Odyssey board serves a very useful purpose for me. It improves upon some of the minor frustrations I have had with other options (clutter, software compatability…). I would definitely not hesitate to purchase the system again.

So Long, and Thanks for all the Phish

(and worms, adware, and spyware…)
Dylan Burger
Canada

I am (was) a lifelong Microsoft user dating back to the DOS/Windows 3.1 days; never really wanted to switch. For the longest time Windows didn’t just serve my needs, it excited me. I can remember getting Windows 95 on release day and having the sense of wonder exploring for hours culminating in the discovery of the Buddy Holly Easter Egg. The value of “plug and play” was immediately obvious to me although there were significant growing pains and it wasn’t fully actualized until future versions. Windows 98 was a worthy successor to 95 that began to show us the true potential of the internet. For me, XP was probably the pinnacle of the Windows experience. It had finally matured enough to be stable, hardware compatibility was excellent, and internet usage felt fully integrated into the OS for the first time. Nobody wanted to replace XP! But since XP my love for Windows has slowly eroded- Vista and Windows 8 were particular annoyances: overpricing, excessive hardware demands and a forced move to cloud profiles being my main complaints. Despite these issues, I always managed to stick with Windows. I tolerated the security vulnerabilities that cropped up and rationalized that it was a product of being the most popular OS in the world. I justified the exponential increase in trackers over time as a trade-off for better security and stability (not that it ever felt more secure or more stable). Even frustrations and inconveniences like untimely forced updates, OneDrive, and the Windows store were not enough to push me to change.

One reason that I stuck around has been my career. I’m in medical research and I am heavily tied to Windows due to our reliance on Office Suite and several proprietary software packages for data handing and analylsis. Some in my field have switched to Apple but I’d see compatibility issues crop up during presentations or issues working in shared documents and I can’t afford to have that. Plus, I hate Apple. My God do I hate Apple. Literally every Apple product I have ever used felt like it was built specifically to

p!$$ intelligent people off. No, Apple was not, is not, and will not be an option. Chrome? I do too much work offline for that to be a pleasant experience. Plus I’’m trying to reduce the amount of data I give google, not increase it.

Throughout this process I was aware of Linux, but had not seriously considered it as an alternative. I had briefly used Ubuntu on a friend’s netbook in the late 00s and I owned an early generation Raspberry Pi, but these experiences failed to convince me that Linux was a viable option as a daily driver. So I never seriously explored other Linux distros. As a result, like many a divorcee before me, I stayed in my relationship for far longer than I should have.

The final straw with Windows came in March when the COVID pandemic forced me to face my complacency head-on. A little background: I do the vast majority of my computing on my desktop at work. I run an I7-7700 with 32 GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD on that and I have generally kept my primary system fairly up to date over the years. But my work needs outside of the office (pre-COVID) were limited to use of the web and word/powerpoint. My limited home computing needs coupled with frequent travel have led me to use Windows-based netbooks as my sole home PC for over a decade. At the time of the COVID pandemic I was using a Dell Inspiron 11 3162 with 2 GB of RAM and a 32 GB SSD. The system shipped with Windows 10 taking up approximately 11 GB worth of space. This allowed me to run Office and a handful of applications for basic data analysis and productivity (PDF writer, R, Zotero, Dropbox). It was surprisingly fast for such a low-spec system and the battery life is amazing (I can work for a full transatlantic flight without needing a charge). The problem was that the updates to Windows 10 got progressively larger and larger and my system became bloated. Eventually, even after removing all non-essential software and storing all files/folders on an external drive, I still didn’t have enough available space to download and update my system. At the same time, performance suffered and the lag began to frustrate. Call me crazy, but if a system ships with an operating system then I feel like it should work for the lifespan of the computer.

So COVID-19 hits and now I have to face the reality of working full-time on a system that isn’t receiving security updates, lacks the space needed for any additional software, and lags significantly. I nuked and paved, which recovered some of my space but very soon I was lacking the space to update once more. At this point I decided to look into other options while I purchased a new system. I read from several sources that Linux was quite effective at getting the most out of older hardware and I decided to give it a chance. Worst case scenario I’d just put Windows back on.

For to the uninitiated, installing Linux is quite simple. There are hundreds of guides out there but I find this one to be quite good. My first venture into Linux desktop was with Lubuntu. From my initial research this seemed to be a strong option for older systems amongst the popular distros. This proved to be true and in retrospect it was a perfect choice for an introduction to Linux. I was able to get familiar with the “live” usb process and installing over the existing operating system. I ran into zero issues with the process and was soon exploring the new system. I immediately realized a profound speed difference and I was suddenly space rich (even after installing LibreOffice, and moving my documents folders over). I also really liked the look of Lubuntu (at least compared to Windows 10). I saw enough to hold off on reinstalling Windows for a few weeks and from there I was down the Linux rabbit hole.

Over the next few weeks, I started reading, watching countless Youtube vidoes and listening to Linux-related podcasts such as MintCast and Linux for Everyone (and later Distrohoppers Digest). I began to learn of other distros and the concept of “distro hopping” to find one’s preferred Linux environment. I was generally happy with Lubuntu but wanted to see what others had to offer. My own distro hopping period was shorter than most. I spent about a week trying everything that I could think of: Ubuntu (all official versions), Manjaro (both KDE and XFCE), Fedora (GNOME), PopOS, Zorin, Debian, and finally Linux Mint. Once I tried Linux Mint (Cinnamon version) I was done searching. While I could happily use every single distribution I tested, Mint is far and away my preference and Cinnamon is very much my preferred desktop environment. I love Mint’s look and feel: familiar, yet modern looking and smooth. Most importantly, everything about it is simple. Immediately after the install, everything worked without issue; my printer was working without so much as having to click an icon. If I want to change a setting, the option is always right where I think it should be. Beyond setup and configuration I find Mint to be incredibly reliable: updates have yet to cause any issues for me and the software management system is fantastic.

At this point I had realized that Linux was a better option than Windows for my Pre-COVID needs on my home system. The system was running far better than it ever did on Windows, particularly when browsing, and Libreoffice was an adequate substitute for Microsoft Office. However I now had a strong desire to move on from Windows 10 completely. So I began to search for options for all my major software needs. And while my distro-hopping days were short, my “FOSS-hopping” has been much more extensive (and is still ongoing).

For the sake of brevity, the table below summarizes my personal software needs, the previous software that I employed on Windows, the software that I now employ on Linux, and other options that I evaluated. Perhaps down the road I will write separate columns about my software choices on Linux. For now this is just to illustrate that there are software options out there that have allowed me to move over on a near full-time basis.

As you can see I have found a Linux version or a free and open source software [FOSS] equivalent for almost of the software that I use. I am, as they say, a “Mostly Open Source Software” user at this point. If you are a Windows user still on the fence about switching then I would point out that most of the software above has a Windows version that you can try while still on Windows. For the very rare situations where my current software solution isn’t perfect I currently use Remmina to remote desktop to my work computer. Going forward I plan to try Wine and virtual machines as other options for those tricky Windows software needs but for now I am happy with my setup.

So after a 28 year relationship with Windows I am moving on. Like all separations after a lengthy relationship I anticipate a period of time with some interaction while I sort things out, but I don’t anticipate that taking long. I know that there are Windows users out there who are frustrated. It is easy in that situation to feel like there are no alternatives. But the reality is that there are perfectly viable free alternatives to Windows and many major software packages. Give them a try.

Distrohoppers’ Digest Rolls On

This past Friday (12/11/20), I got together with my friends Tony Hughes and Dale Miracle through the miracle of the Internet and recorded a new episode of Distrohoppers’ Digest. Tony and I started this show in April of 2018, just barely making it the first distrohopping show or segment in podcasting, and we are the only one remaining other than the frequent forays into distrohopping by Big Daddy Linux.

At the end of the episode, we made it official. Distrohoppers’ is no longer a 2-man team. Dale is now on the team, after having submitted 3 prior reviews. This was his second episode “in studio” with us. It’s great having Dale on the team, mostly because he is willing to delve into the distros Tony and I would feel unequipped to review due to their complexity; we’re both sort of Extended Release Newbies.

What will we review next? I think Tony is going to finish his review of Ubuntu Studio and Dale is looking at Garuda Linux. I’m taking a look at Mageia 8, but have not decided whether I will review that one; I’m not having a good time with it at present, compared to its PCLinuxOS and OpenMandriva cousins.

You can find Distrohoppers’ Digest at most podcatchers, or you can use the Feedburner link found on our website, https://distrohoppersdigest.blogspot.com .

Mageia 8 Beta 2

I was looking for a distro to try for the next episode of Distrohoppers’ Digest (https://distrohoppersdigest.blogspot.com) and thought I’d revisit Mageia, currently in a Beta 2 of its next version. Mandrake was my first successful installation of a Linux distro, so I like to check up on how things are going. Mageia appears to be produced by the remnant of original French developers, so by all accounts should be the closest to pure Mandrake. Considering how much I like OpenMandriva and PCLinuxOS, how bad could it be?

I found a home-grown installer which wasn’t bad but needed work to make it as accessible as Ubiquity (let alone Calamares, still the gold standard). I did get through it, which is more than I have been able to say about installers for Fedora or OpenSUSE.

After installation and rebooting, it wasn’t all that inviting, although it looked like they had put a lot of effort into trying to make it so. One of the first welcome screens asked if I wanted to use their default package management or dnfdragora? I tried to select dnfdragora, as it works so well in OM. But no, they do not include that in the package, or even in the repos — or they hide it to where their package manager search function can’t find it.

I have tried a few other things, but it is admittedly still early in my foray into this distro. Nothing seems to feel right yet, and I hope that improves soon.

This is a 2nd Beta of their 8th official version, you’d think they’d have ironed out issues like this. Am I expecting too much?