I downloaded the Debian 5.0.5 Net Installer CD (which contains a basic system - the rest is downloaded) and used it to install the basic Debian system we've all come to love and enjoy - no GUI, no extras.
The first time, I played around with the command line. I surfed the web with Lynx, listened to music with MOC (Music On Console) and made text files with Vim. Aside from the issues with Lynx not being able to log into some websites, I was pretty impressed at how well it worked. I even got Gmail working in HTML mode (which is what I always use).
Then I installed Xorg, Flubox, and rxvt-unicode. After creating a file called ".xinitrc" and putting the line "exec fluxbox" into that file, all I had to do was run "startx" (just like the good old days when nothing ever worked!) and I had a desktop.
The second time I installed Debian I decided to make a fully functional desktop that I could use with as little power required. I decided to see how Debian's Gnome was doing, so I installed lynx again along with Xorg and gnome-core.
After throwing "exec gnome-session" into .xinitrc, I ran startx and was greeted with the sight of the familiar Debian desktop, without any applications installed. All I did was use Lynx to download Firefox (which was easier than I anticipated), remember how to unzip the files (bzip2 -d and then tar -xf), make some links to the binary, and I had a fully workable desktop.
It used 100 MB on idle (maybe less on machines with less RAM), 1 GB of hard drive space, and next to no CPU power. I love being an OS enthusiast.
Note that Gnome-shell needs 3D support to run (along with a bit of extra RAM and processor power than typical Gnome). It makes some use of this support by resizing and shifting windows around as you click. I'll try to explain.
The upper bar is now the only bar. On the left there is a button that says "Activities." If you click that, the windows you have open will zoom into a line (I think OS X does something similar with a key press), and your view of the desktop zooms out to show a menu on the left that offers you recent documents, open programs, and a search bar.
The top bar also shows what program is currently open (with a very tasteful faded icon of the app), the date and time in the center of the bar, your notification icons (in my case, sound, wi-fi, and battery life) and then that user drop down menu where you can set your chat program availability or shut down the computer.
I must say, it's incredibly slick. But not only that, it's simple. There are multiple ways to get to almost anything, and they're all very easy to access. The search bar in particular is a friend I plan on exercising regularly - it seems like a tool that could be very powerful.
Note that it is a bit buggy and may not work in all cases. I'm using the Nouveau nVidia drivers that offer experimental 3D support, so I'm not sure if some of the glitches are because of that or because of Gnome Shell. But that's okay, I knew that this stuff was experimental when I installed it.
In any case, this seems very promising and surprisingly forward thinking. Most interesting of all is its minimal nature - it's simple and easy to understand, and eliminates a lot of clutter that you see in some Gnome desktops. Good stuff; worth checking out if you have a spare minute.
Check out some documentation and pictures at the Gnome Shell website. Some of their pictures are a bit old and ugly, though. This version in Fedora looks pretty nice.
I mean, any computer. We're not talking quality here.
I have three computers right now, one assembled from various parts I got for free from various sources, one that I got whole from a family member and one that I'm forced to rent from my campus.
Not only this, but I've got some other computers waiting for me at my father's house when I want them.
Reasons why these computers are now mine:
-Too much software in Windows slowed it down and made the user assume the computer was no longer useful
-Viruses made the user assume the computer was toast
-Didn't run a new video game! Ah, time to upgrade.*
-Needed a new version of Windows for some software (for work or whatever)
-It was running Windows ME, so it was doomed from the start. No, I'm serious, I've gotten a ton of stuff from ME.
Heck, I don't know why I'd be paying for computers any time soon. I've got too many right now.
*I will admit, playing StarCraft II on my laptop made me look forward to the day that a family member gives me a good graphics card.
To quote the post made by minimallinux (note the two L's):
Vintage computing: reduce, recycle, reuse
or Making a virtue out of a necessity.
So I am no longer able to work due to some long term health issues, and I get by on a very little sum of money indeed.
My last computer had broken irretrievably, and I was using my 90 free minutes a day at the public library as my only real access to the internet.
Then one day walking home I came upon a Dell Optiplex GX400 on the street with a free sign on it. It had the power cable, a keyboard, and a mouse. A friend donated an old monitor and I was in business.
It was a little loud for the first few minutes after you started it up, and only had 256MB of RAM but it was free. It was running Windows XP. After a while the “Blue screen of death” appeared; Windows couldn’t find the hard drive.
I used an Ubuntu Live CD (which lets you run the OS from the CD without needing to install it). With it I was able to recover my files, fix the hard drive and install Ubuntu. Ubuntu is free and updated every 6 months.
Almost a year later, I am still using it. Although I use the Ubuntu OS, I run the Xubuntu desktop environment. It’s designed for older hardware and uses less resources.
I still use OpenOffice, Skype, Firefox, and other “serious” applications, but the combination of the Ubuntu OS and the XFCE desktop let me have a fast, efficient computer. I spent $14.95 for speakers, and that’s about it.
People ask me about getting a new computer. While I might consider moving to one that’s only 5 years old or so, I like what I am doing here.
- I’m using something that would most likely end up as toxic waste in a landfill somewhere
- I am recycling a discarded item
- I am helping the environment
- I am enjoying the challenge of matching hardware and software to do what I need to do, without lots of frivolous bells and whistles
Plenty of people have desktops and laptops gathering dust. They may be “broken,” have a virus, or just old.
If you need a computer ask around, post on your social networks, or go on Craigslist.
Ubuntu is a free open source software that can bring a lot of “dead” machines back to life and make them run faster than they did originally.
Take it easy on the earth, and your wallet.
Reduce, Recycle, Reuse!
This what it’s all about, people. Great story. I also love that term, “Vintage Computing.” Nice…
Now, don't think that I'm advocating OS wars. I've had enough of that. However, I think Linux gets unfairly blasted in the face of propaganda that a lot of people just say, "Oh, I guess that's right."
Is Mac OSX better than, say, a Gnome desktop?
Your immediate answer to that question may be telling. Personally, I don't have an answer. But I will admit that I drank the Apple Kool-aid for a few months, fully giving in to the idea that, yeah, Mac OSX is better than desktop Linux, despite never having used OSX. This was one of the big indicators to me that something was wrong.
I just think that at times we need to remind ourselves of why we use a program. And with Linux, it makes such sweeping changes to the way we use computers that I think this gets swept under the rug in exchange of Windows and Apple fanboys decrying its origins and attacking its philosophy, calling it "not there yet."
I've discussed the nature of not good enough before. But I never really explained why Linux is more than good enough for me. I never really made that motion to stand my ground and say, "this is what I think is good about Linux" even though there are dozens of Apple blogs dedicated to making posts about why I'm wrong.
I've stopped caring about their voice. It's time for mine.
I've thought for a couple of days what I want Minimalinux to be. Is it a celebration of Minimal ideals? Is it a voice box for myself, allowing me to vocalize my feelings and trials? Is it a trumpet for Linux?
I have decided that it can be all of these things.
I would hope that my foray into Minimalism in Linux is valuable enough for other people to read about. There's certainly enough for the Apple side of things. Why not the rest of us?
Linux is great because:
From the highest level of changing wallpapers to the lowest level of modifying the very kernel, everything in Linux is open to my hand. While I rarely take advantage of the low level stuff, it excites me that there's a whole world ready for me to explore. There's still unconquered territory.
I have been using Linux for four years, and yet it took me a short afternoon to learn how to use its desktop. Mind you, this was back when it was still a pain.
I have taught my mother Gnome on my laptop to access her e-Mail in a pair of sentences. I taught my non-tech neighbour how to configure and work Ubuntu on a more fine-grained level in an afternoon (covering basic topics like package management). I helped a fellow Computer Science student migrate to Linux entirely in about a week of answering questions - excited, open, wide eyed questions that had the same eager interest that I had when I first booted up my Linux LiveCD.
Linux can be used by all sorts of people. Don't give a second glance to people who say Linux is "too hard" for the "common user" (a strawman if I ever saw one, by the way). Anyone can learn to use Linux, on the surface or deep within - whatever suits them, once their mind is open.
Closed minds stay on closed systems. If it does them well, then, I have no issues. It's their choice.
-It works now.
I first used Ubuntu at release 7.04. It was fun to play with. However, Wi-fi didn't work. My graphics card didn't work. One of my monitors was never detected properly. So I spent my time exploring, but never seriously considering my migration.
And then, over the years, something happened.
Linux started working.
Ubuntu 8.04 brought graphics card drivers that worked. 8.10 brought Wi-Fi for nearly every one of my computers and cards. 9.04 brought a monitor detection that worked out of the box.
The evolution was astounding, and at times I can barely believe the amazing distance Linux has crossed in such a short time. Three years. A step that has brought a change in the way the tech industry works, inventing a new category of computers (the netbook and nettop) and creating competition so fierce that even Apple has been forced to copy ideas from desktop Linux.
I've heard so many fanboys from every world of the computer lands tell me that my desktop of choice, Gnome, is not a good one, or that Linux is not ready for the desktop.
The Windows and Apple fanboys rant about how it's simply not there yet. The Apple fanboys in particular are quite vocal about how ugly it looks, and how "difficult" it is to use.
The KDE fans rant about how hard it is to use Gnome because you can't configure anything, and the settings are all hidden away. The command line junkies and fluxbox/openbox fans rant about how bloated it is. And so forth.
But none of that matters when I turn on my laptop and my Fedora desktop, with Gnome, greets me at the door.
None of that matters when Ubuntu boots in five seconds to show me Firefox's latest updates in Google Reader, or play some music in Rhythmbox with such ease that I cannot believe that anything is easier.
The greatest complement for a desktop is to call it an enabler. To enable me to experience my content, websites and create new words and code is simply enough. The mere fact that Gnome is able to look great doing it, well, that's just a perk.
You say Linux isn't here yet? That's like calling my house a dump. You can stomp your feet and complain about it all you want.
It's still my home. No stomping will ever change that.
Instead of thinking of a program as a task, think of it as a product.
Every so often I will ask myself, "Why am I using this?" I think this is healthy. Does this program stand up to my principles and demands of quality? Sometimes it doesn't, but I'm so far removed from the program that I cannot make an unbiased decision.
Why am I using Fedora, for example. Well, on the laptop, Fedora gets 3.5 hours of battery life where Windows Vista gets 2 hours and Ubuntu gets 2.5 hours. That's a big deal to me. Furthermore, Fedora is the basis for Red Hat's products, which allows me to familiarize myself with the future of their development. Red Hat does a lot of work with Linux and their path will soon become everyone's path, due to the nature of their upstream development. I think that having skills in this sort of work is very valuable, especially with my chosen path of computer usage.
I did this long ago with most operating systems. When I had more time I tried many Linux distrs for fun, but also because their hardware support used to vary much more than they do (nowadays most hardware support is not only fairly widespread for all but the most obscure, but also pretty level among distros). I even gave a good hard look to Apple's website to consider buying their products. It's not that I never had the money to buy their machines. I did and I still do. But once I stripped away the emotional aspect of the OS and stopped thinking about it as a task, then I was able to more correctly and easily make a value judgement.
My comparisons between OS' are fairly in depth, especially by debates between Fedora and Ubuntu. They serve different purposes, certainly. The best way to debate between these OS' is to not debate their strengths, but to debate their weaknesses. If you are going to debate a program (especially something as important as an OS) it's better to debate the weaknesses of the platform, because those are what you will have to deal with in the long term.
Ubuntu: not always the best or most stable releases, few updates for new programs, often behind the curve, mediocre battery life, includes difficulties in making sweeping desktop changes
Fedora: requires more effort to get the desktop where I want it, doesn't have a one-stop-shop for restricted codecs like ubuntu-restricted-extras, sometimes more bloated than Ubuntu and doesn't boot as fast
First you acknowledge that the program is not attached to the task at hand. While I like Firefox, it does not equal Internet. While I use Rhythmbox everyday, it does not correspond with music.
Second, you begin to consider the program as a product. Sometimes I let the program try to convince me it is the best choice for the job. I watched all of the Apple commercials on their website and let their propaganda wash over me. But after the pleasent advertisements, it's best to focus on the weaknesses, because those are the things that will bother you most about the platform.
Then you should be able to make a judgment. Sometimes you simply strengthen your resolve to stay where you are. Othertimes you find yourself having to pick up your things and move.
Both are healthy experiences to have now and then, which is why questioning your programs is a good exercise to keep in mind.
I stole this idea from USESTHIS.com so go ahead and steal my stealing. I think it's massively fun when you don't lust over the Apple stuff like all but two of the inerviews on there do. Also, you may finally get to understand which machine I'm talking about when I mention my various computers.
WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO
I am Aberinkulas, a blogger by night and a student by day, currently on summer vacation, working his tail end off.
WHAT HARDWARE ARE YOU USING
My main machine (aka Tycho): My campus forces all students to rent a laptop. I chose the Toshiba R10 (Core 2 Duo E9300, 4 GB of RAM, 160 GB hard drive, GeForce Quadro 150M, 14.1 inch screen). It's a lot of power that I don't need, sure, but it uses under 20 watts.
My desktop (aka Durandal): A custom built computer using parts that I picked up in various thrift stores, friends houses and Newegg if necessary. It has a 2.5 GHz Intel Pentium E5200, 1 GB of RAM, a GeForce 210 with 512 MB of RAM, a 320 GB hard drive, and a 1280 by 1024 monitor. The hard drive, monitor, power supply and chassis were all leftover parts from other computers that I got for free; thus, the computer cost me less than $150 to build.
The graphics card has HDMI and DVI ports, so it also functions as a good media center.
My MP3 Players: A Sansa Clip+ with Rockbox installed.
Other: A 320 GB portable hard drive, the brand of which I constantly forget. I also have various flash drives that usually have a Linux distro on them.
I also have a Playstation 2 that I play games and watch old DVDs on sometimes. We have a family owned Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii that I mess with occasionally.
AND WHAT SOFTWARE
The laptop is running Debian 6.0. Both desktops are both running Ubuntu Linux 10.04 LTS in varied forms. I use either Gnome or a straight command line.
The main desktop has a Windows 7 professional installation that I got for free through MSDNAA and use for the occasional game.
For web browsing, Firefox. For music and video, Potamus or VLC, sometimes Rhythmbox for the iPod nano. For text, Gedit. That covers the majority of my computer use; the rest of the things I do on computers are accomplished by random command line programs in Linux (like the glorious download manager Axel or the torrenting program rtorrent).
I strive for portability in all software and data; therefore, all text is saved as plain text files. Music is encoded in MP3 using LAME, though I use FLAC or OGG sometimes.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DREAM SETUP
I've got it right now.
Well, okay, I wish I had a Linux compatible Wi-fi card for the desktops. But hunting for the card is half the fun!
But, all joking aside, I want to keep using this for years. I designed the desktop to be low power consumption, compatible with Linux (and Windows if needed), and easy to replace broken components. There's simply no reason why I can't stay here forever, and you bet that I want to!
So here are terms that I would associate with my form of minimalism.
I've probably already made this part of my opinion dreadfully clear, but I don't like to buy things. I think this comes from working two retail jobs. Eventually you start to become disillusioned with the field, to the point of repulsion.
By this I mean, when I find something that interests me, I focus deeply on it. I eliminate things in my life that separate me from my focus, either permenantly or temporarily.
For example, I do enjoy the occasional video game. Perhaps in the future I will shed it as a hobby, but for now I enjoy it as long as the game in question is engaging enough that I have to work my mind to solve its puzzle. Action games such as SOCOM or simulation games like Persona allow my mind to create elaborate strategies to solve difficult situations.
Once I stopped buying video games (anti-consumerism) I was able to focus more carefully on the games that interested and stimulated my mind the most. I enjoyed games much more after I applied focus than before.
I extend this example to all points in my life, from work to books to friends and objects in my room. Quality over quantity.
I have mentioned this in a computer aspect and it can extend elsewhere.
Basically, I never lock myself into anything. In an ideal sense, I would be able to flow like water out of any situation or mindset if needed.
Wikipedia describes simplicity as:
"Something which is easy to understand or explain is simple, in contrast to something complicated. In some uses, simplicity can be used to imply beauty, purity or clarity."
On that note, something simple should be easy to understand. Therefore, if I consider it minimalist, I consider understanding fundamental.
Too often I see evidence of people who only care for a process' output, not the process itself. To that I argue, how can you fully understand the output? There is nothing without an origin.
Here are some minimalist ideals that I have seen before but reject. I do not attack the author, only the idea.
As much as I like unadorned or featureless art and design, I don't consider it a priority and will not going out of my way to make sure that I have it.
Basically, the way I see it is that if you have to use a toolbox, it doesn't matter if the toolbox is white and shiny or gray and blocky. What matters more are the tools inside. For me, if I were to use a white and shiny toolbox, it would have the exact same tools that my gray and blocky toolbox would have. So while it would be a prettier toolbox, it would not be functionally more powerful.
I value functional minimalism over aesthetic minimalism. It would be better to make the tools inside more powerful, easier to wield, and tailored to the user that is using them rather than just make them visually appealing or aethetically stripped clean of excess. Often this can help functionality, but not always.
While removing objects from your house/computer/mind is often a good way to increase focus, it is not the nature of miniamlism for me nor is it a pillar of my ideals.
Subtraction is merely a means to get to focus, but it is not focus itself. It's not enough to say, "Oh, look at my desk, I have no papers on it now." You need to put that desk to good use and better use after it has been cleaned to really make your focusing work.
I am wary of websites that say that having less items in your home is a way to help you achieve minimalism, because while that may be helpful to some people, for others that is not what they consider minimalist at all.
Additionally, a stigma against minimalism is that it is subtraction simply for the sake of subtraction, which is wrong on several levels.
When I say self contained, I mean it. I don't transfer anything but the most essential files. If I listen to music, I re-encode it from the CD. If I need a to do list, I make a new one.
I think this is healthy for me, especially when I start getting more and more work on my plate and I forget to keep my workspace clean. My data accumulates. By starting over, from the very basics, I can re-assess what I think is the most important.
Uusually these self contained installations become my main OS, and then the old one gets reinstalled to become a new one, and so forth. Maybe I've been reinstalling tool much? Ah well, it keeps me where I want to be.
I left my Sansa Clip+ plugged into a USB port overnight and that brought it back from the dead. However, I cannot reccomend such a product, even if it's not out of the game - too unreliable.
“ There's been an awful lot of discussion about what is or isn't simple, and people have gotten a pretty sophisticated notion of simplicity, but I'm not sure it has helped. ”— Ward Cunningham
Yes, I came into possession of a Sansa Clip+, a small, lightweight little MP3 player that does everything I wish the iPod nano did.
-OGG/FLAC support (along with the standard LAME MP3 support as well)
-Drag and drop music libraries (like a flash drive, not with all that iTunes mess)
My only gripe is that the firmware's set of menus and systems isn't exactly perfect, but then again, there is a Rockbox port for the little Clip+. Rockbox makes the interface even better, adds support for AAC and other codecs, and increases battery life to around 15-18 hours.
My only complaint? It's not the software, it's the hardware - it's not big enough. It's too small. It weighs next to nothing and I'll probably end up losing it on myself at some point.
I'll skip discussing the open source ideology attacks because there are no pieces of evidence to back up the author's claims; just opinion. I see no point in discussing it further than the token "I disagree, here's why, blah blah blah."
"might never be there is bad for the users of those phones."
You think the iPhone is "there." Congrats. Here's a cookie. Now stop bashing everything around you as if you're ripping the curtain off of some enlightened encyclopedia that everyone seems to be ignorant of but you. I don't see the point in an iPhone at all, but you don't see me making snarly comments about its development theory like it called my mother a bad name.
Minimalism is finding what YOU find the most important and eliminating the rest. Not what Apple or Steve Jobs thinks. Not what hipsters at Starbucks think, or some blogger ranting about Linux (both in the good or in the bad). If you agree with their philosophies, that is fine. Jump on the train.
But it's not about which train you jump on. It's about finding the very core of what makes you happy, and focusing on that very thing. Not just looking and appearing minimal on the surface, but being functionally minimal deep within.
Through Linux, I have found minimalism. It contains the core of what I believe to be the most important computing principles. And that is why I stay.
Now stop attacking me and my platform! Let's discuss ideals, not OS zealotry wars.
Yet, sometimes, I find myself backing off of my stance for the sake of minimalism as a whole, and the idea that, well, I take what I get without complaining too bitterly.
I'm a college student. Family members seem convinced I want Apple products, notably the iPod nano and some iTunes gift cards (as well as that iPod touch I mentioned a few blogs ago, which I no longer have). Well, should I refuse to use the music because Apple sells their files in the patented and difficult-to-keep-portable file format AAC? Should I discard my iPod nano because it was designed, from the most integral software in the device, to be a pain in the rear for anyone who doesn't use iTunes on Windows or Mac?
iTunes and iPod are not "portable" pieces of software, in my definition of OS and program agnostic behavior. In fact, they are the exact opposite, going out of their way to make life difficult for people who try to be portable. Especially the iPod, whose anti-portability has thrown me into more than a number of furious rages.
I can deal with this, sure. Linux works nicely with both AAC files and the iPod nano*. But the theoretical side of things - what the company and devices stand for - has made me consider moving out of said platforms more than once. I've been telling relatives to please give me Amazon MP3** gift cards instead of iTunes, but Apple's tantalizing advertising has forever linked my demographic with their ubiquitous gift cards, and so I continue to rack up money on my account. Good music, but annoying platform. And that doesn't even begin to cover my irritation at needing a Windows partition for iTunes' sluggish and user unfriendly behavior.
Would it be a waste to go out and buy a Cowon audio player that supports OGG and MP3? I'm undecided. My annoyance at new gizmos and gadgets is almost as strong as my irritation at iPod's lack of portability (and it's not as if I really care for the iPod;s features above anything else - the Conwon looks just as nice and has radio). They almost cancel each other out, and so here I stay.
*I'll note that this integration is not quite as nice as iTunes is. Cover art gets messed up sometimes, and Podcasts get scattered throughout the device. Nothing to cry about, though.
**Amazon MP3's lack of support for recent Linux distros is getting ridiculous. A quick compile and repackage wouldn't take more than an hour of their time.
Clamz is a good project to deal with such foolishness. I try to use 7digital as much as I can, because they seem to be the only MP3 site that doesn't try to shoot itself in the foot with downloaders and other nonsense.
It's a program that, when run in the terminal, will tell you what non-free software is installed on your machine, so the discomfort of FSF supporters everywhere.
The name stands for Virtual Richard M Stallman, naturally, and it's an amusing one-note Linux program. It won't spice up your desktop or even make you want to use gNewSense instead, but it will make you smirk for a few brief seconds.
When you start with a small base and build up (or set up any other sort of arbitrary limits) then you find out what music you listen to a lot, and what music you do not.
Naturally this is hard to maintain over many computers. My music library is somewhere between 500 MB and 12 GB depending on what computer I'm on. And while I'm pleased with my iPod on the hardware level, it is difficult to keep that poor player managed on the software side, especially when I'm using iTunes (which likes to delete an iPod's library if it smells something foul). Linux is quite good at syncing with the iPod, though there are flaws sometimes.
There's also the notion of what kind of music software to use. I'm a large fan of simple, single playlist windows like Audacious, but the visual database look of Rhythmbox helps me find songs in a large set.
All of this is a bit hard to manage at times (though for music, I make an exception in my minimalist philosophy!) so I'm trying to standardize some sort of middle ground that I can agree on house-wide. It will probably involve syncing my computers with my portable hard drive in some fashion.
This is a Linux website after all, even if the trouble of music management is an OS agnostic one. Is there a Linux solution? Maybe a small bash script that copies over any new files automatically? Perhaps I can even turn one of my less used desktops into a Vortexbox installation.
As much as I love playing with Linux distros, I'm not about to run to the local store to buy CD's or a DVD to burn! I have USB drives that are ten times more reliable and faster than the CD drives, and I don't want to buy yet another disc that will end up in yet another landfill.
Ubuntu and Debian's text installer also don't support USB. You can have the files all there, ready to be used. But the installer only checks for discs, not USB drives.
USB dirves are the present of Linux distro installation. With programs like UNetbootin and the Fedora USB Creator, it's a future that needs to be fully embraced. Support it.
I came into possession of a "new" old computer whose motherboard doesn't support booting off of the USB ports. Rather than try and burn an army CD-R discs again (which I try not to do, those miserable things) I used Plop, which K Mandla suggested a few blogs ago.
Try it now.
After you burn its 2 MB disc image to a CD-R and boot it in your drive, you'll see a very neat star screen saver with a futuristic menu to the left, offering to boot off of, among other things, USB.
This is perfect for old computers that have slow hard drives. USB drives are almost always faster than discs, and they're more reliable. Just use UNetbootin to put the distro on the USB drive and you're set to go.