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Word of the Week: Linux

Cisco Employee
Cisco Employee

Okay, work with me on this for a minute. There's nothing new about Linux. Linux has been the server go-to for decades now. But I’m talking about Linux on the desktop.

Every year since the turn of the century was supposed to be the year of the Linux Desktop, yet that breakthrough never materialized. The Linux Journal folks launched a PDF magazine called TUX back in the early 2000s to appeal to new Linux desktop users. I was the editor-in-chief until 2005. It folded because advertisers knew Linux on the desktop wasn’t a crowd pleaser yet, so there was no customer demographic to speak of. Linux would have to become far more user-friendly (and become a pre-load option on new PCs) before we could declare a year of the Linux Desktop. 

Our very own David Staudt runs Linux on his work PC. He’s a geek, like I am, so he doesn’t need to wait for the year of the Linux Desktop. Neither do I, but I switched to Windows on my home PC anyway. I built a new PC what seems like ages ago, and it incorporates secure boot. It’s a pain to get Linux to work with secure boot on my motherboard, so I decided to just run Windows. On those occasions when I wanted to test things on Linux, I booted Linux off a thumb drive.  

Well, this past week, I was Jonesing for Linux so much that I turned off secure boot and installed Kubuntu Linux (Ubuntu with the KDE desktop) in a dual-boot configuration.  

After using it daily for a week, I’m shocked at two things: 1) how freaking fast it is and 2) how user-friendly Linux has become. KDE is a fairly resource-heavy desktop environment. It used to take several seconds for KDE to launch, and it was often sluggish. I don’t know if it’s the hardware or KDE that has improved, but it is lightning fast now.

Another thing. Granted, I have a LOT of pictures in my Pictures folder (no porn, sorry to disappoint), and there are times when I open my Pictures folder from within a browser on Windows and it take several seconds to load. The same folder opens instantaneously from a browser in Linux. Is it because of Windows or the browser? Who cares?

As for friendly, I’m in Linux right now writing this in Microsoft Office 365 Word via the Microsoft Edge web browser. I could use the open-source LibreOffice, but I have an Office 365 account, so why not use Word? Webex is available as a native Linux app, so I’m covered there. I have a variety of web browsers installed; Opera, Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, and they all work fine. I run Signal secure messenger and Pulse SMS (an app that lets me do my phone SMS from the desktop). Both are native Linux apps. I don’t use Telegram, but I tested the native Linux version, and it works fine. 

The biggest shock of all is that my favorite Amateur Radio (ham radio) applications run native on Linux, too.  I use wsjt-x, flrig and fldigi, all run fine on Linux. The only apps that I’m missing from Windows is an app called GRLevel3 and WeChat. GRLevel3 is a weather radar app that I use to track incoming severe weather. I found an alternative to it that runs on Linux and is so-so, and I can always use web-based weather apps, but I still miss GRLevel3. WeChat isn't my choice for a messaging app, but when your wife is Chinese and all her friends are Chinese, it's the default. 

Anyway, I’m still not going to declare 2023 the year of the Linux Desktop. Getting all the above working properly was not without a few hiccups. Opera doesn’t play many videos in its default configuration. I had to link or copy an ffmpeg library from another application to fix that. And my ham radio apps refused to talk to my Yaesu FTDX10 transceiver until I added my user to a group called “dialout”. These aren’t things your average user would even think to do. But then your average user probably won’t use the Opera browser, ham radio applications, WeChat or GRLevel3.  

What about you? Are you a Linux desktop user? Which distro do you use? Which desktop environment? Are you ready to declare the year of the Linux Desktop having been achieved, or will that never occur unless you buy PCs with Linux pre-installed?  


4 Replies 4

Cisco Employee
Cisco Employee

In the present day, there is an abundance of Linux distributions and desktop environments to select from. Here are some notable options:

  • Distributions: Ubuntu, Mint, Debian, Fedora, CentOS, Arch
  • Desktop Environments: GNOME, KDE, Xfce, Cinnamon, LXQt

Personally, when it comes to setting up a headless (non-desktop) environment, I prefer Ubuntu or Debian as my Linux installations of choice. However, for desktop environments, I lean towards Kubuntu or Linux Mint with the Cinnamon interface.

If you're new to Linux, a recommended approach to explore the system is by creating a Linux environment using a docker container. Alternatively, if you have access to a hypervisor like ESXi or Proxmox, you can also experiment with Linux within a virtualized environment.  For Windows users, you can use the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) that lets user install a Linux distribution (such as Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Kali, Debian, etc) and use Linux apps, utilities, and CLI tools directly on Windows.

I used to run Linux Mint. It was my favorite for some time. For some reason, it detected all my hardware even better than Ubuntu did (my old PC hardware). I gave Kubuntu a try assuming Ubuntu ironed out those problem since then. I figured if KDE still ran like a pig, I could run Mint again, but KDE shocked me with how fast it is now. 

If I turn back the clock even further, I used to run Gentoo, back when it was THE Linux distribution you compile and build yourself. 

Cisco Employee
Cisco Employee

Here are some resources for you:

Distrowatch tells you all about the available Linux Distributions.

8 best desktop environments

10 best desktop environments

And, by the way, the GNOME desktop name is now a misnomer. The name originally meant the Gnu Network Object Model Environment, but they abandoned the network object model long ago. The name stuck, though. 

8 best desktop environments (different site)

Cisco Employee
Cisco Employee

Cool! A notable mention here must go to TurnkeyLinux.

TurnKey Linux is a collection of pre-configured, ready-to-use virtual appliances and server images based on popular open-source software. It provides a simplified way to deploy various software applications and systems, saving time and effort in the setup process. Here are some key features and aspects of TurnKey Linux:

  1. Based on Debian: which provides a solid foundation of stability, security, and reliability.
  2. Ready-to-Use Virtual Appliances: wide range of virtual appliances, which are pre-configured and bundled with a specific software stack and operating system (ISO, VM, Cloud images)
  3. Wide Selection of Applications: broad spectrum of applications and systems, including content management systems (CMS) like WordPress and Joomla, development platforms like Ruby on Rails and Node.js, e-commerce platforms like Magento and OpenCart, databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL, and much more.
  4. Simple Deployment: simplify the deployment process, allowing users to quickly set up a functional instance of their desired application or system. 
  5. Multiple Deployment Options: run the virtual appliances on local virtualization platform (VMWare, VitualBox, Proxmox), or deploy them to popular cloud platforms like Amazon EC2, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure, or even run them on physical hardware.
  6. Open Source and Free: released under the GNU General Public License (GPL). It is free to download, use, and modify, making it accessible to individuals, organizations, and developers without any licensing costs.
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