Saturday, April 24, 2021

Debian Unstable and Brave Web Browser

 Last week I install Debian Unstable on my test machine and as usual, I try new software as well. I find it useful to try other things, because you never know what might end up being useful. In this case I decided to try LXQT as my windows manager and the Brave web browser. None of these things were life changing, but rather mildly interesting.

Ubuntu at its core is based on Debian Unstable, Cannonical grabs Debians development branch, fixes some bug, picks out some reasonable defaults for installed software, adds some shine and calls it a day. I make this sound cheap and easy, but it really isn't, Cannonical does a real service to the Linux community by providing a stable new user friendly distribution. I personally use because it just works. Debian Unstable is not too unlike Ubuntu once it is installed. I update the system in exactly the same way, I have access to exactly the software. The only real difference is, with a default install of Ubuntu I can expect most of the software I use to already be there, with Debian I have to install it after the fact. This is not a big deal for me, because I know what I need and can crank out a script to finish installing everything. For a new user this would likely be a challenge. Otherwise, I found the experience to be or less the same.

LXQT was a bit of a challenge. Mate Desktop is pretty easy to configure, generally I have what I want in 2 minutes on a fresh install. LXQT does not have the easy to configure interface and I had to dig for things, even adding a launcher icon to my taskbar was way too many steps. It is also mildly annoying that it does not automatically enable wireless networking on boot up, I am sure there is a place to change this, I just have not found it yet. The big draw here however is just how light on resources this window manager is. As I have said in the past, Mate on a fresh boot up takes up more than a GB of RAM and once I start opening applications, that can quickly build up to 5 GB. I have a 16 GB machine as my daily driver, so this is not really much of a problem, but if I were using an 8 GB or god forbid a 4 GB machine, this would quickly get get tight. On boot up LXQT takes up around  250 MB and even after I start running applications, does not seem to exceed 1 GB very often. It also does not seem to eat much CPU time either, which is a nice bonus. The affect all this has is a much more responsive system, even large bloated applications like Firefox feel snappier

Finally, the Brave web browser. I have changed web browsers pretty regularly over the years, I am not a madman fan boy about this, I simply want a web browser that gets me where I want to go, I really do not care how it gets me there. Like most of us older computer guys, I started out using Netscape, moved to Mozilla and then Firefox. Once Chrome fixed all of its annoying problems, I started using it, and I used it for a couple of years before Firefox did a near complete rewrite of its code base and caught up with Chrome and surpassed it in many ways. I had heard some nice things about Brave, it is based on the Chrome and has a built in ad blocker, well not quite an ad blocker really. What it does is, it strips out ads from the website you are on and puts in ads of its own. This does not bother me, mostly because I block ads before they ever get to my browser, so even this has little or no affect on me. I have to admit, Brave renders web pages significantly faster that Firefox, I mean seriously, it is noticeable, even javascript heavy web sites load fast. Brave consumes less memory than Firefox, even with 6 or 7 tabs open, it consumes half the RAM Firefox does. While I am not ready to switch my daily driver over to Debian or LXQT, I am switching to Brave, I am impressed with it in almost every way.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Trying out Debian Linux

 So I had some questions about my blogging about trying out different Linux Distributions, along with FreeBSD. The questions mainly concerned why I swapped OS's a couple of times a year. The answer is, I don't. My daily driver machine has been running Ubuntu since I bought it and has only been reinstalled when new Long Term Support (LTS) versions come out. The laptop I carry with me when I travel, closely mirrors my desktop. I have a 2nd laptop, which I refer to as my flop around the house system. This is an older i5 system without an SSD or M.2 card, this is the system I try these different OS's with. There is rarely anything important on it and if there is, it is usually backup to Dropbox, so wiping the OS is never an issue.

Having clarified that, my latest adventure has been installing Debian Linux. I figured having some insight into this was a good idea, since Debian is the upstream provider for Ubuntu. This basically means, the Ubuntu team simply takes the latest testing or unstable version of Debian, add some flash to it and call it Ubuntu. The idea being that if I ever need to, I can always fallback to Debian if Ubuntu fails me.

You would think this would be easy as pie, but there are a couple of bumps in the road. My first instinct was to install a very minimal amount and then build up from there. This was a mistake, I should have installed the GUI upfront, trying to install it afterwards was to be blunt, a shit show. The second thing is, the basic install of Debian does not include the proprietary drivers for common wifi cards, skipping the step where you provide them upfront, makes it geometrically more difficult to get wifi working after the fact. The first install was a terrible pain in the ass.

The second time I did the install, I also downloaded the firmware package and extracted it to a separate usb key and when the installer asked for it, I plugged it in, the firmware was installed and all was good. The next thing I did was during the install it asks you if you want to install a desktop environment, unless you plan to work solely from the command line, you should definitely do this. They give you a choice of several, I chose LXQT, although I could have just as easily chosen Mate, Gnome or KDE. I did have to install the gnome-network-manager package to get the wireless configured properly once I was into my desktop, but otherwise it was pretty painless compared to the first time around.

Once this was done, the next step was to upgrade to the unstable version, the reason for this is, the stable version is geared towards old, tried, tested and stable as fuck. I wanted access to newer software and stability is not necessarily my main concern here, Keep in mind, unstable in Linux does not mean the same thing as it does in the Windows world. Doing this is fairly easy all things considered, I simply updated the repository links from stable to unstable.

Original:

deb http://deb.debian.org/debian/ buster main non-free contrib
deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian/ buster main non-free contrib

Unstable:

deb http://deb.debian.org/debian/ unstable main contrib non-free
deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian/ unstable main contrib non-free

After that I simply did an "apt update" and "apt full-upgrade", a little while later, it was done. Start to finish, this took me around 3 hours, including the the first install. I think had I started out following the instructions properly, I think this would have taken me maybe an hour or an hour and a half. In my next post I will let you know what I think after I have had a chance to mess around with things and configure things to my taste.