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Distro Madness: And your champion is…

Congratulations to Linux Mint Cinnamon: our first ever Distro Madness Champion. Cinnamon was a consistent performer, being well liked in every round and eventually coming out on top with 75% of the vote in our final round. Linux Mint Mate was certainly a worthy runner-up but fell just short.

A critic will say that we spent three months finding out that a group largely recruited from the Linux Mint community preferred Linux Mint as its distribution and Mint’s most popular desktop environment amongst the various Mint flavours. Next year I think that we will need to reach out to other communities and restructure our tournament to get the most out of this exercise.

But I personally had a lot of fund watching the results each week and seeing which other distributions had caught our community’s eye. In several cases, such as Feren OS, seeing the popularity of a distribution caused me to give it a second look.

I hope that our readers and voters took as much from this as I did. Now that we are complete I know that many of you will be curious about the results as a whole. While we know that Linux Mint was the most popular distribution, what about the others that contributed multiple DEs to the competition? Ubuntu fairly convincingly finished with the second most total votes but it is worth noting that Manjaro achieved its total with only two entrants (XFCE and KDE). Thus Manjaro seems to be fairly popular amongst our group. I’ve often referred to Manjaro as “Linux Mint for the Arch base”: maybe there is some merit to that?

DistroTotal VotesVotes/DE
Linux Mint424106
Ubuntu22332
Fedora13226
Debian11122
Manjaro11055

For those who really want to delve in to the results I have also included a sorted table with every distribution and the total votes it gained across the whole competition below.

RankDistroTotal Votes
1Mint Cinnamon139
2Mint Mate114
3Mint XFCE100
4MX Linux83
5Solus77
6LMDE71
7Ubuntu62
8Manjaro XFCE61
9Fedora-GNOME53
10Debian-GNOME50
11Arch50
12Xubuntu49
13Manjaro KDE49
14OpenSUSE46
15Kubuntu45
16Pop!_OS44
17elementary OS43
18Zorin OS42
19Debian Plasma40
20Ubuntu Mate40
21UbuntuDDE38
22Ubuntu Budgie38
23KDE neon38
24Lubuntu34
25TAILS34
26Endeavour OS33
27Fedora Plasma32
28Ubuntu Unity30
29Feren OS30
30CentOS30
31Peppermint OS30
32Fedora LXQt24
33Rocky Linux16
34PCLinuxOS15
35Bodhi Linux15
36Garuda15
37Kali Linux14
38Debian Mate14
39Red Hat13
40Mageia13
41Sparky Linux13
42Fedora Cinnamon13
43Ubuntu Studio12
44Linux Lite12
45Slackware11
46Parrot OS11
47OpenMandriva11
48AntiX11
49Fedora XFCE10
50Raspberry Pi OS (Raspbian)10
51Deepin10
52Gecko Linux10
53Puppy Linux9
54Scientific Linux9
55Gentoo7
56Nitrux7
57Debian LXDE7
58Alpine7
59Sabayon Linux7
60Oracle Linux5
61PureOS5
62Chromium OS5
63Ubuntu Kylin3
64Slax1

Thanks again everyone for your participation. Looking forward to bringing this back “bigger and better” in 2022.

Cheers

Memory Usage of Distros

Moss Bliss

Each distro uses RAM differently. How much memory your computer has, and how much your distro uses, are key components in selecting a distro, one which is often overlooked.

I have (and have had) several machines. I have run gobs of distros on each one. There are several programs in Linux which can measure RAM usage, some of which are available for all Linux distros. For the purposes of this article, I have used neofetch.

I have gone into each, with the machine booted at rest and with nothing running except what the distro loads at boot (which may include things you have added, such as Slimbook Battery), opened a Terminal program, and run the neofetch command.

The following file lists my results, with the key below, divided by RAM usage and alpha by distro name. (The terms in parentheses indicate which computer the test was run on, with a key below the table.)

By Size
Bodhi 5.1 (Mini) 269 MiB
Bodhi 5.1 (Z400) 269 MiB
Bodhi 6 RC (Dell) 281 MiB
Bodhi 5.1 (Kudu) 292 MiB
Bodhi 6 RC (Kudu) 329 MiB
ExLight 2021.1 (Kudu) 340 MiB
Endeavour OS (Z400) 360 MiB
Bodhi 6 Beta (Z400) 366 MiB
Peppermint 10 (Mini) 368 MiB
Peppermint 10 (Kudu) 411 MiB
Lubuntu 21.04 (Kudu) 461 MiB
Linux Mint 20.1 MATE (Z400) 469 MiB
PCLinuxOS 2020.10 MATE (Kudu) 483 MiB
Lubuntu 20.10 (Kudu) 486 MiB
UbuntuDDE Remix 21.04 (Z400) 490 MiB
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 (Mini) 513 MiB
SolydX 2021 (Dell) 522 MiB
Mageia 8 XFCE (Dell) 526 MiB
OpenMandriva Lx 4.2 (Z400) 557 MiB
Linux Mint 20.1 MATE (Dell) 560 MiB
UbuntuDDE Remix 20.10 (Dell) 562 MiB
UbuntuDDE Remix 20.10 (Z400) 590 MiB
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 (Kudu) 601 MiB
Linux Mint 20 MATE (Mini) 603 MiB
Emmabuntus DE3 LXQt (Kudu) 606 MiB
Linux Mint 20.1 MATE (Kudu) 619 MiB
UbuntuDDE Remix 20.10 (Kudu) 626 MiB
Mageia 8 Plasma (Kudu) 689 MiB
Linux Mint 20.1 MATE (Z800) 691 MiB
MakuluLinux LinDoz 2021 (Z400) 698 MiB
Manjaro 20.2 Cinnamon (Mini) 721 MiB
Robolinux 12 MATE (Kudu) 754 MiB
MakuluLinux LinDoz 2021 (Dell) 794 MiB
Feren OS 2021.01 (Kudu) 811 MiB
Pop!_OS 20.10 (Kudu) 822 MiB
MakuluLinux LinDoz 2021 (Kudu) 826 MiB
Ubuntu Unity 21.04 (Kudu) 815+ MiB
Manjaro 20.2 Cinnamon (Kudu) 906 MiB
Ubuntu Unity 20.04 (Mini) 941 MiB
Ubuntu Web 20.04 (Kudu) 1137 MiB
By Name
Bodhi 5.1 (Mini) 269 MiB
Bodhi 5.1 (Z400) 269 MiB
Bodhi 5.1 (Kudu) 292 MiB
Bodhi 6 RC (Dell) 281 MiB
Bodhi 6 RC (Kudu) 329 MiB
Bodhi 6 Beta (Z400) 366 MiB
Emmabuntus DE3 LXQt (Kudu) 606 MiB
Endeavour OS 2021 (Z400) 360 MiB
ExLight 2021.01 (Kudu) 340 MiB
Feren OS 2021.01 (Kudu) 811 MiB
Linux Mint 20.1 MATE (Z400) 469 MiB
Linux Mint 20.1 MATE (Dell) 560 MiB
Linux Mint 20 MATE (Mini) 603 MiB
Linux Mint 20.1 MATE (Kudu) 619 MiB
Linux Mint 20.1 MATE (Z800) 691 MiB
Lubuntu 20.10 (Kudu) 486 MiB
Lubuntu 21.04 (Kudu) 461 MiB
Mageia 8 XFCE (Dell) 526 MiB
Mageia 8 Plasma (Kudu) 689 MiB
MakuluLinux LinDoz 2021 (Kudu) 826 MiB
MakuluLinux LinDoz 2021 (Z400) 698 MiB
MakuluLinux LinDoz 2021 (Dell) 794 MiB
Manjaro 20.2 Cinnamon (Mini) 721 MiB
Manjaro 20.2 Cinnamon (Kudu) 906 MiB
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 (Mini) 513 MiB
OpenMandriva Lx 4.2 (Z400) 557 MiB
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 (Kudu) 601 MiB
PCLinuxOS 2020.10 MATE (Kudu) 483 MiB
Peppermint 10 (Mini) 368 MiB
Peppermint 10 (Kudu) 411 MiB
Pop!_OS 20.10 (Kudu) 822 MiB
Robolinux 12 MATE (Kudu) 754 MiB
SolydX 2021 (Dell) 522 MiB
UbuntuDDE Remix 20.10 (Dell) 562 MiB
UbuntuDDE Remix 20.10 (Z400) 590 MiB
UbuntuDDE Remix 20.10 (Kudu) 626 MiB
UbuntuDDE Remix 21.04 (Z400) 490 MiB
Ubuntu Unity 20.04 (Mini) 941 MiB
Ubuntu Unity 21.04 (Kudu) 815+ MiB
Ubuntu Web 20.04 (Kudu) 1137 MiB

My machines:
2014 System76 (Kudu) 3, i7-6700HQ, 16 Gb RAM, 1 Tb SSD
2014 Gigabyte (Mini) Box, 4th Gen i3, 16 Gb RAM, 512 Gb SSD (retired)
2010 HP (Z400) Workstation, Xeon W3565, 16 Gb, 512 Gb SSD
2010 HP (Z800) Workstation, dual Xeon X5570, 24 Gb RAM, 1 Tb HD
2016 (Dell) Inspiron 7353 2-in-1, i5-6200U, 8 Gb RAM, 128 Gb SSD

+ Every time I ran neofetch on Ubuntu Unity the number was higher than the last time. The lowest number is reported

Of course, how much RAM is used when you load your browser (and how many tabs) or other programs will also vary from distro to distro, but the ones which manage RAM better probably are the ones which boot with better RAM management.

This article will be updated with new information. First post 04/26/2021

Linux and Open Source Podcasts

Linux podcasts are a wonderful thing, and are underappreciated in my view. I started listening to Jupiter Broadcasting podcasts way back when they were independent (they are independent again, after separating from their corporate overlords), like 2015 or so. I wanted so badly to get Jupiter to start a new podcast on desktop Linux, and was rebuffed because there are so many desktops Chris didn’t know how to handle that in a podcast.

In October 2018 I was named part of a new team taking over mintCast, a long-running podcast. I’m still on that team, and it’s a lot of fun to do as well as to listen to, as indicated by our 3300-4000 weekly listeners. It runs pretty long; we record it every other week and split it into two podcasts, so it turns out to be a weekly show.

In April 2019, one of my mintCast co-hosts agreed to start a new podcast with me, Distrohoppers’ Digest, and we’ve been doing it at about one episode per month with some slippage. It’s MOSS admin Dale Miracle has joined Tony Hughes and I on that podcast and is now a team member. We try to keep Distrohoppers’ down to 45-60 minutes for a variety of reasons.

And I have just done my 4th weekly podcast of Full Circle Weekly News. This is required to be under 10 minutes, although I’ve been pushing it lately.

Other podcasts of interest include Crowbar Kernel Panic, a podcast on Linux gaming by two others of my mintCast cohort, Josh and Bo; The Linux Link Tech Show and Linux Lugcast, which include mintCaster Joe Boyland, Hacker Public Radio, which is open to anyone to talk on any topic with approval of the host and including Tony Hughes as a correspondent. You might call this my current family of podcasts, although there are no contractual ties among us.

I already mentioned Jupiter Broadcasting; they have a pretty good selection of shows. Destination Linux Network is another group of people working together. Linux4Everyone has resurged of late, and is or used to be part of Destination Linux Network.

There are a number of popular UK podcasts, including Ubuntu Podcast, Linux Lads, and Late Night Linux.

I have been reminded by friends that I missed Going Linux, Linux Journal: Reality 2.0, Sunday Morning Linux Review, and Linux For the Rest of Us. I will point out that my comments to the makers of that last show mentioned have been met with less than respect. Also Linux User Space, a show I listen to regularly although it is currently on end-of-season hiatus, and there is even a podcast for Distrowatch. There is another podcast which frequently walks on Linux-based ground, Bad Voltage.

This is still only a sampling of English-language Linux and open source podcasts, although we are approaching completeness. Feel free to mention who we missed, and we’ll add them to the list. This is not intended as a full-fledged directory, but may evolve into one.

Many of these shows are supported by donations; most are also supported by advertising revenue, supported by companies like A Cloud Guru, Linode, Digital Ocean, Ting and the like. All of those listed are audio; some are also available in video from YouTube, Odysee, PeerTube or other sites. At present, none of the podcasts I’m on feature any advertising, although I do have a Sponsus and all are welcome to donate to it; the link can be found on this site.

Moss

Choose your champion- Distro Madness Finale

It took 5 rounds but we finally had a Linux Mint DE exit Distro Madness. Of course it only happened once every other distro had been eliminated, but it still happened.

Our semifinal matchups were not particularly close in the end. I can’t say I was surprised by the result for Cinnamon vs LMDE. LMDE evolved as a backup plan and I think that it tends to be viewed as such by many. That’s not to diminish LMDE in any way, I think it serves a very important purpose, but I don’t think that you can call the result a surprise.

The dominance of Mate over XFCE was a bit more of a surprise to me, both had been equally dominant leading up to the semifinal so I expected a little more competition. Given this result I honestly don’t know what to expect in this final matchup but I am excited to finally be able to choose our champion. As always thanks for the participation and support.

Vote here

Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe in Black

Updated 4/28/2021
Updates are available at the end of the article.

I travel for my job, so I need to be able to carry a lot of personal belongings. I’ve had that taken care of for quite a number of years. I have always carried my laptop with me in the typical laptop carrying case. Since the size of my laptops over the years haven’t changed much, I’ve been able to reuse the carrying case, only replacing them due to wearing out.

I acquired another laptop in the past couple years for the purposes of trying different Linux Distros AKA Distrohopping. The laptop was staying at home until last fall, which is when I started doing reviews for the Distrohoppers’ Digest Podcast. I would pack the laptop with my clothing for protection because I didn’t have a case for it. That was a workable solution and kept the laptop protected.

This past March I purchased a new laptop, a System76 Pangolin. My first impression review is available via this link. It is 15.6 inches in screen size; my existing case only supports screen sizes up to 14″. So I started looking at new cases. My first thought was to get the same brand of case I’ve been using. I saw many other good options while browsing online. The next day while working I started to think about how I would carry another laptop case. Then I thought about my other laptop that doesn’t even have a case. I surely am not going to have 3 laptop cases hanging off of me.

That evening I looked at the System76 website to see what accessories they have. I noticed they had some carrying cases. Personally I didn’t care for the design. I saw they were selling the Timbuk2 brand. Having never heard of them, I looked at their website. They had quite a selection; I narrowed my choices to the backpack style of laptop cases. I read through some reviews on their site and others.

Well, after looking for a couple more days, I decided I would give them a chance. The specific model is 1825-3-1358. As of the date of purchase – March 25th, 2021 – the price was $139.00. I was a little surprised at the price, as I have never paid that much for a backpack or laptop case. Actually if you added up the cases I’ve had the past 20 years, I don’t think it would add up to $139.00.

Details

  • Product Style Pack
  • Total Volume (liters) 28.00 L
  • Weight (lbs) 2.4 lb
  • Avg. Laptop Fit (in) 15”

Further details are available from this link.

The material has a smooth but textured feel to it. They mention using Canvas, Twill, Polyester and other Polymer based material. Timbuk2’s craftsmanship doesn’t look or feel cheap. Stitching is neat and tight, all of the zippers have pull tassels and use nylon metal teeth. They move freely with minimal effort of one hand. I was able fit my 15.6″ System76 Pangolin in the rear sleeve and my Lenovo ThinkPad T430 in the middle compartment sleeve. There is plenty more room for a 8″ or 10″ tablet along with notepads and books. I put the power adapters in the bottom of the middle compartment.

There is a front zippered pocket with a lanyard which has a clasp for keys. Below is to allow the width of the pack to expand.

On the back you can see the padding and the adjustable shoulder straps. There is a clasp that can cinch the two strap closer together. In the bottom third you can see a horizontal piece sewn into the backpack; this is for attaching the backpack to a rolling piece of luggage, where you would slide it over the handle of the luggage.

There is an expandable pouch on the right side.

There is nothing on the left side to mention.

Here is the front compartment. There are pockets sewn in with a zipper compartment 5 or so inches deep. In front of the sewn pockets, there is a deep pouch that could hold notepads or books. A 14″ laptop would fit but anything smaller would move around slightly.

Here in the middle compartment there is a sleeve; I keep my 14″ Lenovo ThinkPad T430 in there. There is more space in the pouch in front of it. Keep in mind that anything you put in the front compartment, though separate, shares the same volume as the middle compartment. Flat items such as books or notepads would work best.

Here is a view looking into the middle compartment. You can see the ac adapters for the two laptops laying in the bottom.

This is the rear compartment. The main laptop sleeve is located here. There is only room for the laptop. The laptop pictured is my 15.6″ System76 Pangolin. It is a pretty snug fit and takes two hands to slide it out.

Another feature I like is the handle on top of the backpack, which has a nice firm but spongy feel. It makes lifting the backpack fully loaded very comfortable. The underside of the shoulder straps are padded the same as the back of the backpack. The top side is a stiff but flexible canvas type material. The adjustments are at the bottom of the straps. I wore backpacks all through school without ever having an issue with discomfort other than having 20 to 30lbs of books and notepads to carry around. Fast forward into my mid 40’s and my occasional back pain due to hours of driving over the years. I may not be the best judge of comfort when it comes to backpacks. With that said, I will say that the Authority is decently padded. I personally would have liked a little more.

Conclusion

Overall I am pretty happy with the Authority. I can carry and protect two laptops. Along with other items I didn’t have space for in my roll-able luggage. The upright form factor of the backpack is easy to stow away, while still having access to the compartments without needing to move it. This is in comparison to common laptop bags. I have no concerns about it not protecting the contents; it is decently padded through out the backpack. So far my only complaint is the nylon teeth of the zippers (See update below). They function well and don’t snag while being used, but my concern is after many years of use, they might wear down and not mesh completely, resulting in the zipper track separating. That can make moving the zipper’s slider difficult if not impossible. That has been the failure of laptop bags, clothing, and toiletry bags I’ve had in the past. I have found metal teeth to be more reliable and last for many more years. I will write a follow-up review of the Authority in 6 months and possibly a year to see how it is working.

Update 4/28/2021

I emailed Timbuk2 to inquiry about the material used in the zipper. They informed me that the zipper on the Authority and Authority Deluxe are made of metal. They did not specific what type of metal. I know it is not a magnetic metal. Because I tested a magnet on the zipper. That only leaves aluminum, brass and nickel. With nickel it depends on how it was made to determine if it is magnetic.
Personally the zipper doesn’t feel metal to me. As I stated in my conclusion the material feels like nylon or a polymer based material. Perhaps they are coating it with something for weather protection. That may make it feel like nylon/polymer based material..

System76 Pangolin : First Impression

Among many Linux enthusiasts, System76 is an aspirational brand. I’ve known of them for several years. I have been a huge fan of the ThinkPad laptops currently made by Lenovo; my interest dates back to the mid 90’s when IBM created them earlier in the decade. I repaired them professionally from the mid 90’s until the early 2000’s, so I grew quite fond of their quality and later compatibility with Linux. Out of all the System76 reviews in print and video, one of the most common criticisms has been that the keyboards do not compare favorably to those of the ThinkPads. I will agree that the ThinkPad keyboard is one of the best compared to other brands. But I’ve been quite curious about the System76 laptops and how they compare to my ThinkPads.

There were only a few things holding me back. First, obviously, was the keyboard, and secondly was NVidia graphics. I knew System76’s Pop!_OS has some of the best NVIDIA support in Linux, however that would still cause issues when wanting to dual boot another distro without included drivers. I personally have not had good luck with NVidia under Linux. I have never been a fan of touchpads and also have a problem bumping them while I type. I usually disable them on my ThinkPads and use the TrackPoint. When System76 announced an all AMD laptop, I was very interested, and signed up for email notifications on it.

Like many others, I received an email in mid-March of this year, stating that the Pangolin was available for purchase. I immediately looked over the specs and pricing. After sleeping on the decision, I configured and ordered the laptop the next day.

My configuration

  • Base System Price $849.00
  • Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS (64-bit) with full disk-encryption
  • 4.0 GHz Ryzen 5 4500U (2.3 up to 4.0 GHz – 8MB Cache – 6 Cores – 6 Threads)
  • 16 GB Dual Channel DDR4 at 3200 MHz (2 x 8GB) $89.00
  • 240 GB Seq Read: 540 MB/s, Seq Write: 465 MB/s
  • 1 Year Limited Parts and Labor Warranty
  • United States QWERTY Keyboard
  • WiFi 6 + Bluetooth
  • 15.6″ Matte FHD FHD Wide View Angle Matte Display
  • Subtotal: $938.00

All features and options are listed below.

Operating SystemPop!_OS 20.10 (64-bit), Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS (64-bit), or Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (64-bit)
ProcessorAMD Ryzen™ 5 4500U: 2.3 up to 4.0 GHz – 6 Cores – 6 Threads AMD Ryzen™ 7 4700U: 2.0 up to 4.1 GHz – 8 Cores – 8 Threads
Display15.6″ 1920×1080 FHD, Matte Finish
GraphicsAMD Radeon™ Graphics
MemoryUp to 64 GB DDR4 @ 3200 MHz
Storage1 x M.2 SSD(SATA or PCIe NVMe). Up to 2TB total.
Expansion1× USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 1 × USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, 2× USB 2.0 Type-A, MicroSD Card Reader
InputMultitouch Clickpad, Multi-Color Backlit US QWERTY Keyboard
NetworkingGigabit Ethernet, Intel® Dual Band Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5
Video PortsHDMI(w/HDCP)
AudioStereo Speakers, 1× Headphone/Microphone Combo
Camera1.0M 720p HD Webcam
SecurityKensington® Lock
BatteryLi-Ion – 49 Wh
Charger65 W, AC-in 100–240 V, 50–60 Hz
Dimensions14.19″ × 9.42″ × 0.78″ (36.0 × 23.9 × 1.99 cm)
Weight3.64 lbs (1.65kg)
Modelpang10

First Impression

Upon removing it from the box. My first thought was it looked far more expensive than the configured $938. The build quality was as good as my ThinkPad T460. They sell new for around the same price range of the Pangolin. When I pick up the laptop, holding it from the palm rest, it doesn’t flex and feels very rigid. The LCD hinges offer just enough tension to allow adjustment with one hand, although moving it back does require holding the base down with my other hand. It is no different on my T460; both have similar amounts of flex in the LCD. I will say that the T460’s LCD is slightly more rigid. Keep in mind that my T460 has a 14″ LCD and the Pangolin has a 15.4″.

The first couple days typing on the keyboard was quite an adjustment for me. The key caps are flat but have a good texture to them, whereas the T460 is smoother and the key caps have a slight bow to them. The key travel is slightly more than that of the T460 keyboard. So the first week was interesting when you add the flatness, smoothness and deeper key travel. Oddly enough after typing on the Pangolin’s keyboard for 2 weeks, I honestly can say I am kind of preferring it more. The bump I get using the T460’s keyboard is more pronounced than the Pangolin’s and I find myself typing as fast or slightly faster on the Pangolin. Go figure.

One thing I really like about the keyboard is the addition of the 10 keypad AKA the number pad. That is something I missed using my ThinkPads. It has resulted in me re-learning where some keys are on the keyboard.

The backlit keyboard on the Pangolin is much brighter than the T460, which only has two brightness levels. The Pangolin has the default lowest level plus 5 brighter levels. The backlight colors are Magenta, Green, Cyan, Yellow, White, Blue and Red. All are accessible via Fn + marked key caps.

The TrackPad for me has been a big surprise; I must be more self aware about not bumping while typing than I use to be. I still did a couple times but not often. It supports multi-touch gestures, including two finger scrolling and right mouse button usage. I am sure there are more yet to be discovered.

Here are some images of the sides of the laptop.

Right Side showing the USB 3.2 Type A and C ports, full size HDMI and barrel type power socket.
Left side showing Kensington Lock, RJ45 Ethernet, 2 USB 2.0, 2 card readers and the microphone/headset connector.

The battery life so far is decent. With the screen brightness at about 1/4 or so and the keyboard backlight at its lowest setting, I’ve used it for 2 hours and still had 80 to 85% battery. I used it throughout the past week without plugging it in, probably around 4 or 5 hours at about 50%. I will monitor it some more.

A brief mention on Pop!_OS. It has been a good experience. I am not much of a Gnome fan and I haven’t used Gnome 3 much since its release a decade ago. I can’t really give any comparisons to Pop!_OS at the moment. I will speak more on this on the next Distrohoppers Digest, Episode 022. https://distrohoppersdigest.blogspot.com/

Final Thoughts

After two weeks of use, I can say that I am very pleased with the Pangolin. My apprehension over the keyboard and touchpad is pretty much gone. The fact that I am tending to prefer the keyboard on the Pangolin over my much-loved T-series ThinkPads really says something. I will write a follow-up article after I use the laptop for a few more weeks, probably around the time DHD Episode 022 is recorded.

Review: RoboLinux

Moss Bliss

I am running out of time on Distrohoppers’ Digest for more reviews. There surely will come a time when I will not have anything to review, but this is not that month.

This is a Q&D (Quixk & Dirty) review of RoboLinux 12.3 MATE

As this is essentially Ubuntu, it uses the Ubiquity installer. Most people are familiar with this, and it’s easy to learn if you’re not.

Everything looks 3-D metallic, kinda nice if you’re into that, and I am.

There were no surprises during installation. It did not steal GRUB for itself and many distros do, so I had to boot to Mint and run Grub Customizer so Mint would have it in the boot menu. GC identified it as Robolinux, not Ubuntu, so Robo did his background work, which even some of the major distros don’t bother with.

The desktop looks clean, with everything I have come to expect in Ubuntu MATE, with the taskbar on the bottom. The only change I had to make for my machine was to lower the resolution to 1368 from 1920; most users would keep the higher res.

The distro does not supply an office and has a good but light selection of tools. When you update it, you see there are only 5 feeds to upgrade from, which is also light and nice; some distros are searching 30 or more for updates.

I added Ubuntu Restricted Extras, neofetch, Stacer, Audacity, my four games, SoftMaker FreeOffice, gDebi, Slimbook Battery, and flatpaks for Element and Discord. Total disk used is 8.2 Gb. With Slimbookbattery running, RAM is 743 MiB.
A lot of people will like the fact that almost everything is dark mode, but this makes a bit of an issue as the status bar for downloads comes out dark gray on black.

I don’t know what the issue is, but the longer I keep this distro running, the more it seems to slow down.

So basically, this is a slimmed-down version of Ubuntu MATE, and I mostly like it. However, what makes it unique isn’t here, and you’ll have to spend $130 (per year, I think), which will get you some specially-developed White Hat hacking tools.

The developer appears to be a missionary for a rather fringe US/World Christian group, and spends his time either in Michigan or Cambodia, where he has a family.

I still have this installed, so if you have any questions, let me know, and I’ll add on to this.

Distro Madness reaches its final four

Not much to say as we reach the final four of Distro Madness. Linux Mint has clearly dominated from the start thanks to some heavy involvement from Mintcast forums. However there is no longer anywhere to hide with an all Mint semi-final.

Here are my key takeaways

Voting was way up

The Elite 8 was by far the highest number of votes we have received with almost 50 responses. Thanks again to everyone who is participating. I think that it has been a fun exercise.

Solus puts up a noble fight

The community’s love of Solus has been one of the key takeaways of DistroMadness and even in defeat Solus still got plenty of love (22 votes). Yet it was not enough to get past the Linux Mint warwagon as LMDE eeked out the win with 25 votes.

Manjaro XFCE does not

Contrasting Solus’ performance was Manjaro XFCE which lost to Mint Cinnamon by 43 votes. A tough result that I think is due to the popularity of Cinnamon and a preference for Manjaro KDE by our community.

Time for some Mint on Mint crime.

There is nowhere left to hide at this point, we are down to brother vs brother, to decide which DE is the best.

Vote here

Review- Manjaro Mate 21.02 for Pinebook Pro

Dylan Burger (Canada)

I love Pine64. I love how they are making quality hardware available for reasonable prices, I love how the community shapes their decision making and the degree to which they communicate with me as an end user. At the moment I own both a Pinephone and a Pinebook Pro and the build quality on these items relative to the price is just amazing. I will 100% be buying more Pine64.

I purchased my Pinebook Pro (PBP) in August of last year. I needed a laptop for my daughter’s online schooling and I decided to buy a PBP instead of a low-end chromebook. When my daughter returned to in-person schooling later in the fall I claimed it as my own.

As stated above, I think that the Pine64 hardware is simply outstanding. It makes me wonder what they could do for $1000. However I find that the software options have yet to catch up to the hardware. That’s not to complain, I knew that I was purchasing a work-in-progress when I ordered my PBP and the developers are constantly improving things. However in the past 6 months I must admit that I have found myself looking forward to the day when the software catches up to the hardware.

When it comes to evaluating a distro for the Pinebook Pro it is not as simple as on a conventional x86 system. The system uses UBoot instead of UEFI/Grub and it is built on ARM architecture. This means that you have to write the image directly to your eMMC or to an SD Card (the PBP can boot off of either with the SD card superseding eMMC when loaded). Essentially the process of loading a distribution more closely resembles the process for a Raspberry Pi than a conventional laptop or desktop PC.

My typical distro testing process (for PBP) is as follows: I boot into my main driver running off of my eMMC. Then I use GNOME Disks to “restore disk image” on a microSD card. From there I boot off of my microSD card into the new distribution (going through the installation steps such as time zone and user name/password on first boot). If I really like the new distribution then I will install to my eMMC. For that I use GNOME Disks while I am running off of microSD to “restore disk image” onto my eMMC . There are certainly other approaches to getting a distribution onto your PBP (the Pine64 forums are quite good for advising on this) but this process has worked quite well for me.

The ARM architecture, small-ish user base and relatively recent release also means that there are fewer distro options available. In particular there is no “official” Ubuntu release (although there is a community build of 20.04 and the reasonably good Armbian releases rely on Ubuntu). Sadly that means no Linux Mint Cinnamon (my first choice Distro)), or Lubuntu (second choice distro)for me.

Because my top choice distributions are not available I have been searching for an offering that I can use as a daily driver for the entirety of my PBP ownership. At this point I have tried every distro image listed on the Software Release Page at least once. I always manage to find an issue (either major or minor) that keeps me searching. However I recently installed Manjaro ARM 21.02 (MATE version) on my Pinebook Pro and I think that my search for a daily driver may be over. Here are some thoughts on Manjaro Mate for the Pinebook Pro and how it compares to some of my other experiences.

Background

My system initially shipped with Manjaro KDE 20.04. This was sufficiently functional to get my daughter started in her online schooling. It looked professional with a nice Splash screen and background options but I hate KDE and in particular the Manjaro take on KDE. It was a large amount of work to get everything to look and work well for a grade 3 student (i.e. really simple). But my biggest problem with Manjaro 20.04 was that I had an update completely wreck my system . I reported the bug and booted from SD to reflash with Manjaro XFCE 20.04 but about a week later I ran into the same problem.

I then switched to the Fedora 32 Community build because at the time it was the only offering that had the Cinnamon DE. This allowed my daughter to get through her schooling without any further stability issues and I continued to run this until January without any major complications. I did have two issues with Fedora. First, the fact that it was a community build showed through (i.e. no splash screen, limited background etc…). I suspect that this will be addressed if and when the official release comes available (there was some talk about this with Fedora 33 but I haven’t seen any update on this in quite some time). The bigger issue for me, and the one that pushed me to try other options, was the fact that the Fedora build uses DNFdragora as a package and update manager. DNFdragora was SLOW; by far the slowest update process I have ever had for any distribution on x86, RPi, or Pinebook Pro. It is also extremely difficult to browse/search for software. To me this is significant because the PBP is ARM-based. Since not all software is available for ARM architecture, I often find myself looking for alternative programs and DNFdragora makes this challenging.

So in February when Manjaro released their latest offering for the Pinebook Pro I was excited to have a fresh look. The big news for me with this release was that Manjaro added a Mate offering in addition to the KDE and XFCE versions that had been available. XFCE and KDE are my two least favourite desktop environments so having MATE as an option was extremely welcome news. I am still holding out hope that they will eventually offer Cinnamon or LXQT, however Mate is a DE that I quite like and am comfortable with.

Hardware Details

My PBP is essentially as originally ordered. The only modification is that I purchased the 128 GB eMMC to replce the stock 64 GB (it is a simple install that just snaps into place). I also have the NVME adaptor and for a time I had a 256 GB NVME drive installed as well but I found it to be too taxing on the battery and eventually removed it. One of the nice things about the Manjaro release on PBP is that it is an official release designed specifically for PBP. As such I have had no hardware compatibility issues whatsoever. Mind you the only peripheral I have used is a wireless mouse.

My User Experience

My first impression of Manjaro Mate 21.02 was that it was far and away the most polished distribution available for Pinebook Pro. The splash screen looks smoother than the previous iteration and the background options are visually appealing. The menu system is familiar and everything works well.

Setup (i.e. language selection, keyboard layout, region and user details) went smoothly and I was able to get my VPN up and running (a common roadblock with other PBP distros) on first boot. I have been able to run my typical compliment of software: Remmina, Plank, Telegram, Chromium, Shotcut, LibreOffice and Evolution Mail without a single issue over several weeks. I’m particularly happy to have LibreOffice running smoothly as in the previous version of Manjaro (and a handful of other distros) I have had display issues (phantom text disapperances/reappearances). Another issue that I have had with other distros (notably OpenSuse) is with the touchpad sensitivity and button recognition but, again, this has been issue free in Manjaro 21.02.

I also can’t say enough about Pacmac as the package manager. It is loaded with every (ARM-compatible) software you could possibly need, has an intuitive interface with rapid installation and updating. It is on par with the best software centres/package managers that I have used and really makes Manjaro accessible. My primary goal for this system is stability so I am still a little leary about using a rolling release but I’ve had almost two months worth of issue-free use thus far.

From a resource perspective, Manjaro Mate runs fairly lean. The PBP has 4 GB of RAM and at rest it uses about 550 MB. With LibreOffice and two browser windows open it goes up to 1.1 GB. This is fairly similar to my experience with Mate-based distros on my x86 systems and leaves plenty of resources for more intensive use. When my daughter was using Google Meet alongside Classroom there was the occasional frameskip but the sound was smooth and there was no mouse lag.

If you run into issues with Manjaro on PBP, finding help is fairly easy. Those used to a Ubuntu-based distro on x86 architecture may find the material limited but when you consider the PBP specifically then I would put Manjaro at the top of the list. The Pine64 forums have a fairly active base of users who are extremely supportive. There is also a Pine64 podcast “PineTalk” that just started. The focus is more often on the PinePhone and the hosts are developing but new users may still find some nuggets in the episodes. Outside of Pine64 the Manjaro forums are filled with people who are quick to respond and supportive although I personally hate how they are structured. Finally, to avoid hate mail I will add “there is always the Arch Wiki”.

Final Thoughts

The Pinebook Pro is really an excellent piece of hardware that deserves a distribution that can fully realize its potential. My first choice for any system would be Ubuntu-based; and that may eventually be an option now that Ubuntu has an ARM distribution for the Raspberry Pi. But in the meantime the new Manjaro is a smooth and polished distribution that solves all of the major issues I have had to date. It is a no doubt daily driver for a system that didn’t really have such an option until now.

Distro Madness Reaches the Quarterfinals

Distro Madness- Round 3 Wrap-Up

And with that round #3 of distro madness comes to a conclusion. Thanks to everyone for their support and participation. Here is where we stand going into the “Elite 8”:

Here are my key takeaways

The Mintcast Community Continues to Show Up
After 3 rounds of voting, all 4 offerings from Linux Mint remain in the competition. Only LMDE has had a close matchup to date (narrowly defeating Ubuntu in the latest round). Clearly our audience has a preference. Going forward this competition will be more interesting if we can branch out to include other communities but for now I’m curious as to which DE will reign supreme and whether one of our other distros can knock off one of our Mint DEs before the final 4.

Manjaro continues strong showing
Manjaro also brings multiple DEs into the elite 8 with the flagships XFCE and KDE advancing. Manjaro XFCE did so at the hands of its parent distro Arch. On a personal level I have to say that I have historically been quite negative on Manjaro (issues with updates in the past) but the latest edition of Manjaro-MATE on my Pinebook Pro is starting to change my perspective. I’ll likely have a review with further thoughts on this in the coming weeks.

Solus continues Cinderella run
Amongst the final 8 distributions Solus is a bit of an outlier. MX Linux, Manjaro, and Mint are 1,2,3 on DistroWatch rankings while Solus sits 11th. It has managed to outlast Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, despite the fact that each of those had multiple entries. It is in tough facing LMDE for a slot in the final 4 but, regardless, it has been a strong performance.

Now, on to Round #4
Can anyone prevent an all Linux Mint final 4?

Vote here