This is my account of using the Ubuntu and Lubuntu computer operating systems, as well as other free software.
On we acquired a used Dell PC to run the Linux-based Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn. Because of the success in using Ubuntu, on we reformatted the remaining Windows XP computer and installed Ubuntu 8.04 LTS on it, going Windows-free.
I haven't missed Windows at all, in fact I have been far better off without it. Linux is free, works better, is more stable and doesn't run viruses or spyware. It does everything I want to do and has been a perfect solution for my computing needs.
Over the years I have used both Ubuntu and Lubuntu, as well as tested Xubuntu and Puppy Linux. Reviews of those are all here, along with write-ups on applications and other software tested.
I do these write-ups primarily for myself, mostly so I can remember my own "how-to" instructions, as well as pros and cons found, but I post them here to help out anyone looking for information.
I also write for Full Circle magazine and my reviews can be found there. Each archived Full Circle article is also linked from the equivalent article here.
I wasn't planning to do a review of Kubuntu. In fact, I have never reviewed Kubuntu before, or even tried it out. The editor at Full Circle Magazine, Ronnie Tucker, needed a Kubuntu review done, and since I recently did reviews of Ubuntu, Lubuntu and Xubuntu, he asked me to take it on. Since I was writing one review for Full Circle, I thought I would add a separate one here as well.
Kubuntu certainly has its fans, probably to a greater extent than any other Ubuntu flavour, so I was interested to see where the appeal of the distribution lies.
Kubuntu 20.04 LTS was released on the same date as all the other Ubuntu flavours, . Just one release younger than Ubuntu, this is the distribution's 31st release and the tenth with the Qt-toolkit-based Plasma 5 desktop, so you expect a polished user experience. This is a "long term support" release, supported for three years, until April 2023.
25 GB of hard-drive, USB stick, memory card or external drive space
Screen capable of 1024x768 pixel screen resolution
Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB port for the installation media
Internet access is useful, but not essential
All the Ubuntu 20.04 LTS family releases include a new feature: the start-up disk conducts a self-test each time that it is booted. The integrity test can be by-passed, but is good to let it run for the first time at least, to ensure an error-free operating system.
The developer's focus in LTS releases is generally on stability over new features and that is the case with Kubuntu 20.04 LTS. This release does introduce a new music player, though, Elisa, which replaces Cantata.
Unlike Ubuntu, Kubuntu is really highly configurable, more than any other distro that I have seen. This starts with the desktop wallpaper. The default wallpaper is a jagged ice and earth design called "Next", but if you don't like it, then there are 26 other wallpapers provided. You can also set a "picture-of-the-day" which rotates images, or a slideshow, or a solid colour, or there is a plug-in with hundreds of more wallpaper choices, or you can use your own, all selectable via the Desktop Folder Settings. Kubuntu is like that right through, offering almost complete user control over everything possible.
A good example of this is dragging and resizing windows, which produces an annoying transparency effect while moving them. It is easy enough to turn off, though, at System Settings → Workspace Behavior → Desktop Effects.
Kubuntu has a wide array of window colour schemes, too. By default it comes with six installed, but more are available too. Most of the six provided have good active/inactive window differentiation. There are two dark schemes included, too, since those are popular these days.
Kubuntu provides a large selection of desktop widgets. These are small programs that can be added to the desktop for extra functionality, such as an analog clock, full screen application menu, CPU monitor, weather reports, activity managers and even comic strips. I installed the Application Dashboard widget, which puts a single button on the desktop; clicking on it opens a full screen menu. I found this actually works better than the main Kubuntu menu system. That seems to be a Kubuntu weak spot, as the main menu is slow and clunky to use, it looks like Xubuntu's Whisker menu, with sub-menus by category, but cannot be resized and requires clicks to navigate each level, which is cumbersome. Fortunately the most commonly used applications are gathered on the "favorites" menu, which is the first one seen upon opening. Finding more deeply buried, less used applications can be a slower process. The Application Dashboard widget is faster yet.
Kubuntu really feels like it was designed by developers for developers. Almost anything can be changed in Kubuntu, including the panel positions. The default is a panel at the top and bottom, but these can be replaced with side panels, if desired.
The settings menus are actually a bit daunting. There are so many settings, that I think the biggest challenge would be in documenting the changes you make in configuring it, so you could duplicate it all again when you next do a fresh installation. Alternatively you could just make each set-up random.
Some of the applications included with Kubuntu 20.04 LTS are:
* indicates same application version as used in Kubuntu 19.10.
As can be seen from the lack of asterisks, most of the applications included are updated versions, with very few hold-overs from Kubuntu 19.10.
All the included applications at Qt-based, with the obvious exception of Firefox, which is GTK-based. I am sure the KDE developers would like to use the Qt-based Falkon browser, since it is an official KDE project, but it needs more development to be on-par with Firefox.
Like both Lubuntu and Xubuntu, Kubuntu does not include a webcam application by default, although there are several in the repositories, such as the GTK-based Cheese.
Like Ubuntu, Kubuntu omits a default CD/DVD burning application. This actually makes good sense these days, as laptops haven't come with optical drives for a decade and desktops for almost that long. If you do still have an optical drive that you use to burn CDs or DVDs on, then it is easy to install a burner application from the repositories, KDE's Qt-based K3B application being the most obvious choice.
Kubuntu also does not come with an image editor or video editor. There is no obvious Qt-based image editor (GIMP and mtPaint are both GTK-based), but the excellent Kdenlive video editor is Qt-based. I should note that mixing Qt and GTK applications works fine, although they may not integrate into the desktop smoothly, which mostly affects window decorations, icons and theme colours.
Speaking of integration, Kubuntu uses a "global menu" system, as Ubuntu once did with Unity. Under this concept application menu items appear not at the top of the application window, but on the top panel instead. This generally works fine for native KDE applications, but falls down with outside applications like the GTK-based Firefox or even the default Qt version of LibreOffice. This makes it confusing for users - where do you look for menus?
The Kubuntu 20.04 LTS version of LibreOffice 126.96.36.199. is complete, except for LibreOffice Base, the database application. If needed it can easily be installed, though.
The Dolphin file manager has many useful features, including Exif image metadata and a simple file bulk renaming capability. Bulk file renaming requires just highlighting two or more files and hitting "F2" to rename them all with a number sequence.
The Kate text editor has syntax highlighting and, being Kubuntu, it naturally has highly customizable highlight colour schemes. Kate also has spell-checking by default, automatically underlining spelling errors, but it doesn't offer corrections, so is of limited use.
Overall Kubuntu 20.04 LTS works well and offers a reasonably well thought-out experience that allows a maximum amount of user customization, far more than any other Ubuntu derivative, which probably explains its dedicated fans. Its main weakness is a clunky main menu system, but that is easily overcome with the use of desktop widgets.
I had a recent request from a friend for a paragliding article that I had published in November 1992. For me that was "BC" (before computers, at least before I had computers at home) and so I found the article in a binder, in an old collection of paper newsletters, typed on brightly coloured paper. My friend asked for it as in .docx format (Microsoft Word XML-based format), which turned out to be easy to do, although it did require five applications to take it from paper to .docx format.
The first step was to scan the six page story using Skanlite. I chose Skanlite instead of Simple Scan, because it has the ability to directly save scans as .tif files, which would be needed later, as .tif is Tesseract OCR's required input format. I scanned them at 300 dpi and in grey scale, to eliminate some of the coloured paper issue. Testing with Tesseract OCR on the grey scale .tif files showed a very high error rate, of more than 50%. Obviously Tesseract was having trouble with black text on a grey background, which was expected.
The second stage was therefore to edit the .tifs in the mtPaint image editor, fixing the contrast to give them a white background and sharpening them with unsharp mask to improve recognition.
The third stage was to convert them into .txt (text files) with Tesseract from the command line, which produced under a 1% error rate, typical of Tesseract under good conditions, which is why I like it so much.
The fourth stage was to open each .txt file in the FeatherPad text editor and combine the six pages into one, using cut and paste. I then eliminated the line wraps that had been inserted, copy-edited and spellchecked the resulting document, eliminate the few OCR errors that had crept in.
The fifth stage was to copy and paste the text into the LibreOffice Writer word prosessor and save it in the requested .docx format for emailing to my friend.
So it was a complex path, but it was all done in under an hour and all with free software running on Linux. I think this says something about where Linux is today, that even the most complex issues can be easily solved by a user with modest knowledge and skills.
Archive Page is a browser extension, mostly for researchers who need to store archived copies of web pages for future use to protect against link rot. Basically that is where webpages disappear or get changed over time, replacing old versions that had useful information.
One resource, the Internet Archive generally works okay, automatically saving webpages for future reference, but it has its limitations. It sometimes fails to archive pages when asked and has no mechanism to archive new versions of altered pages, when old copies already exist. All of this can be a bit frustrating for researchers, such as Wikipedia editors, who want to make sure that there are reliable references saved, ones that won't disappear over time.
An alternative archiving resource is Archive Today, which allows users to save web pages, even if old versions already exist. It is easy to use: just copy the URL of a page to be saved, open archive.vn and paste the URL in. Archive Today will save it as a web page and also as a screenshot, just in case.
What the Archive Page Firefox extension does is automate that process. Instead of those steps, the extension reduces it to one click. Just navigate to the page you need saved and click the Firefox tool bar icon and the page is saved automatically. It is a real time-saver.
Archive Page is free software issued under an MIT/X11 Licence, available for both Chrome and Firefox. The extension is very small at 59.77 kb and so installs in a second or two.
For researchers Archive Page is a worthwhile addition to Firefox or Chrome.
Keeping control of your privacy is getting harder on the internet these days, as many websites spy on and track users. For quite a while I have been using the Firefox extension uBlock Origin to block ads, malware and many other tracking annoyances. In combination with Firefox's now built in Enhanced Tracking Protection set to "strict", a lot of the spy-junk is cut down, including third party cookies.
Neither of those address the problem of first party cookies, which are cookies for the actual websites you visit. In most cases none of these are needed, unless you have page preferences set or need to log into to the website. In most cases those are again just spying and tracking you.
To combat this I have been opening any website I don't need to sign into in a private browsing window, which will accept the cookies on loading and then dump them when I close the window. That works okay, to some extent, as long as you don't mind have lots of browser windows open. But even that approach doesn't deal with the masses of unwanted "piggyback" cookies that you often get on sign-ins. A good example is that when signing into Gmail you get Gmail cookies (needed) and also cookies for YouTube, Google Search and many, many more (not wanted). Wikipedia sign-ins are particularly bad. You sign into one website and the common sign-ins load 79 other log-in cookies for dozens of other Wiki project websites that you aren't going to need or use. These are intended to be for cross project convenience more than tracking, but it is a crazy number of cookies that most users don't need to have.
There used to be a Firefox extension called "Self Destructing Cookies" that dumped cookies that you didn't need, but during one of Firefox's updates it didn't make the curve and doesn't work on Firefox 57.0 and later. Instead there is now an extension called Cookie AutoDelete. This is Mozilla recommended extension and has 242,000 users. It is written by the CAD Team and is free software under an MIT/X11 Licence, available for both Firefox and Chrome.
Quick to install, Cookie AutoDelete version 3.2.0 is 566.3 kb in size. Setting it up is easy, just click on the Firefox Cookie AutoDelete icon and toggle "Auto-clean enabled" to start it working. By default it provides notifications when it dumps cookies, but these can be turned off with "Notification disable", which is recommended, just because the notifications are distracting. Extension updates are automatically installed.
In testing it out, Cookie AutoDelete works as advertised, quickly dumping any cookies that are not needed for the webpage and then dumping any remaining cookies for that page when then the tab is closed. It actually works better than my previous tactic of using private browsing windows for websites that I am not signing into, because it also blocks those unneeded "piggyback" cookies from the websites that I do sign into. It doesn't seem to slow down page loading, either.
Cookie AutoDelete is a worthwhile addition to Firefox or Chrome.
gedit is the text editor for the Gnome desktop and it comes with Ubuntu. Like most of the Gnome applications it has been rebadged to simplify Gnome menu labelling for the users and so it shows up on the menus as "Text Editor", although its package name remains "gedit". The project's stated aims are "simplicity and ease of use".
I have used gedit over the years when I ran Ubuntu and generally it worked well for tasks like writing web pages, although at least two versions, that came with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and Ubuntu 14.04 LTS suffered from crashes. The current version, 3.36.1, which comes with Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, seems quite stable.
I find its really clean interface and simplicity gives gedit a very "non-geeky" feel, unlike most text editors.
The first gedit release was on , more than 21 years ago, so it is a "mature project". In 2013-2014 it was redesigned with a cleaner interface. It has gone through some ups and downs in its history, even ending up as abandonware" for a little while in the summer of 2017, before some new developers picked it up and continued it.
gedit is written in C and Python. In 2006 the developers at that time, Paolo Borelli and Paolo Maggi, were asked how "gedit" is pronounced. Being Italians they said they pronounce it with a soft "g", as "jedit", but noted that English-speaking users often pronounce it with a hard "g", like "get-it". The developers noted that it is always written with a lower case "g" and no capitals at all, so not "gEdit". That makes the application name and the package name the same, since package names are always all lower case.
I first used gedit 2.12 in Ubuntu 7.04 and was impressed with it then, due mostly to its syntax highlighting and spell checking. Due to instability and crashes, particularly with gedit 3.10.4 running on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, I switched from Ubuntu to Lubuntu and jEdit and more recently to Lubuntu LXQt's new text editor, FeatherPad.
Since I was recently testing out Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, I thought that I would have a fresh look at gedit at the same time.
gedit is the only text editor that I have tested that comes complete and ready to work, right out-of-the-box. Even its gspell-based spell checking works without any set-up. In comparison both jEdit and FeatherPad require spell checking to be installed and then set-up, to work. Compared to word processors, spellchecking on all text editors seems to be a bit quirky and gedit is no exception in that regard. Spell checking is initiated but hitting Shift+F7 and then it runs from the beginning of the document. It is possible to spell check a section of a document, by highlighting the text and then hitting Shift+F7. The spell checking has no keyboard shortcuts while running to skip or change a word, so a mouse or touchpad is needed.
gedit comes with a choice of seven syntax highlighting colour schemes, including three dark themes, that will fit into any dark-themed desktop. It also has an assortment of plug-ins to improve functionality for particular coding uses. Some of the plug-ins are installed and turned on, some not turned on and there are more that can be installed. It also has a side-pane view, that can be helpful for managing a large number of open documents.
gedit has has bracket matching and always shows line numbers and line highlighting. Text wrapping can be selected on or off, although there is no keyboard shortcut to select this. Instead you to haved to go to Menu → Preferences → Enable text wrapping. gedit can be set to do automatic saving and creation of back-ups files, something I have to admit I prefer "off".
When editing HTML documents gedit does indicate when ampersands are encoded correctly, colouring them when properly opened and closed. It does not highlight unencoded ampersands, however.
There are gedit versions for Mac and Windows, too, although these tend to be older versions.
gedit is a great text editor, with all the features needed for writing text documents, web pages, software coding and scripting. It is the only text editor that I have seen that has syntax highlighting and spellchecking by default, making it ready for work on installation. The simple interface gives it a very clean feel.
25 GB of hard-drive, USB stick, memory card or external drive space
Screen capable of 1024x768 pixel screen resolution
Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB port for the installation media
Internet access is useful, but not essential
All these new 'buntu 20.04 LTS releases include a new feature whereby the start-up disk conducts a self-test each time that they are booted. In the past you had to manually select the test and I always tested each one once, after creating it, just to be sure it was good. It is worth letting the test run, at least the first time you use it, to ensure an error-free installation.
When run from a USB the operating system is very fast, just like on an installed hard drive. It is nothing like a DVD live session, which can be quite slow. The only disadvantage of the USB live session is that Startup Disk Creator writes the USB partition in ISO format and thus when you are done with it you need to use Gparted to erase the stick it and return the partition to FAT32.
The focus in LTS releases is on stability over new features and this release offers just that, although it does use the Linux 5.4 kernel and that supports a bunch of newer hardware, including Raspberry Pi models 2-4.
This new kernel version supports Lockdown, a new Linux security module (although it is disabled by default) and the ZFS file system, with a new ZFS version, 0.8.3. It has a new boot-up splash screen with the hardware BIOS logo, plus new Yaru themes. This release is built upon Gnome 3.36, with a new lock screen, system menus, improved performance and, naturally, updated applications. Python 2 support and all 32-bit packages have been removed.
Ubuntu is not known for its wide range of user settings compared to some Linux other distributions and 20.04 LTS is no exception. That said, the singular settings menu is perhaps the best settings control panel available in any operating system today. It has everything in one place and makes setting up your installation really quick and simple.
The new Ubuntu 20.04 LTS default wallpaper predictably is dark purple with a focusing fossa on it, carrying on the long line of release codename wallpapers. There are a total of eight wallpapers provided, one of which is the famous Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron wallpaper. Even 12 years later this one is often thought of as the best Ubuntu wallpaper to date. You can use your own wallpaper, too, of course.
These days Ubuntu is using a modified version of the Gnome Shell that looks and works very much like the old Unity interface. They have also restored the window control buttons, so that Gnome's "close only" button is supplemented by the traditional minimize and maximize buttons. There is also a top bar with the date and time, plus key controls. This is all a good thing, as Unity was quite good in its day, Ubuntu 11.04 to 17.04. The launcher can be set to the left, right or the bottom of the screen for a real Mac-like feel. It cannot be set at the top, though.
There are only three window colour themes to choose from: light, standard and dark. Yes, everyone has to have a dark theme available these days. The "dark" and "standard" themes don't provide much active/inactive window differentiation, but the "light" theme, is pretty good in that area. It renders the active window tops rendered in a medium grey and the inactive ones a much lighter grey, almost white, which does the trick.
Some of the applications included with Ubuntu 20.04 LTS are:
* indicates same application version as used in Ubuntu 19.10.
As can be seen from the lack of asterisks, most of the applications included are new versions, with very few hold-overs from Ubuntu 19.10.
Unlike both Lubuntu and Xubuntu, Ubuntu includes a webcam application, Cheese. This makes sense since most modern laptops and desktops come with an built-in camera.
Also unlike both Lubuntu and Xubuntu, Ubuntu omits a default CD/DVD burning application. This actually makes sense, too, as laptops haven't come with optical drives for a decade and desktops for almost that long. If you do have an optical drive then it is easy to install one from the Ubuntu repositories, the Gnome Brasero application being the obvious choice.
The inclusion of a webcam application and omission of a CD/DVD burner makes Ubuntu feel more modern.
The Ubuntu 20.04 LTS rendition of LibreOffice 6.4.2. is lacking only LibreOffice Base, the database application and Math, the math formula writer, both of which are rarely employed by most users. If needed they can easily be installed, though.
The Nautilus file manager has many useful features, including Exif image metadata and a very intuitive file bulk renaming capability. Bulk file renaming involves just highlighting two or more files and hitting "F2" to start. A few years ago Nautilus became quite bloated and then was put through some serious simplification. One of the things that the developers removed, that I thought should have been retained, was the "up" arrow to move higher in the file system. I actulaly use tht far more often than the "forward" and "back" arrows, which they retained. If you need to get into the system files it can be done at Other Locations → Computer which takes you to the root directory. There is no option to open a folder as root within Nautilus, but this can be done by opening a terminal and entering:
$ sudo nautilus
Clicking on files will then open them for root editing.
The gedit text editor has syntax highlighting, with a choice of seven different highlight colour schemes, three of which are the obligatory dark themes. Of note gedit includes spellchecking by default (at Shift+F7), perhaps the only Linux text editor to do so. It actually requires no set-up at all for web page coding. I did a detailed review of gedit 3.36.1.
I also tried installing some alternate web browsers:
Web (Epiphany) 3.34.4-1, which crashed whenever opening the "preferences" or trying to read a PDF. I think this was a victim of being a Snap package missing a dependency.
Falkon 3.1.0, which refused to open after installation, also a victim of being a Snap package with a missing dependency, I suspect.
It seems that in Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, the Ubuntu Software application installer, is really the snap-store now and it installs Snaps only. This Dave Mackay article provides a very good primer about what is going on here, while this article by Jatan Mehta has some much more serious concerns about how Snaps work and how they can or can't be avoided on Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.
The early versions of Gnome 3 on Ubuntu I tested were not impressive at all, but today it works flawlessly. Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is a solid, mature release and feels very smoothly polished in daily use. In wringing it out during testing, I couldn't find anything to complain about. Everything works out-of-the-box and the suite of applications all fit the desktop really well, feeling very tightly integrated into a neat package that just works.
Xubuntu 20.04 LTS was released on and is the distribution's 29th release. It is a "long term support" release and is supported for three years, until April 2023.
Since I previously tried out Xubuntu 18.04 LTS, 18.10, 19.04 and 19.10, I thought I would test out this new version, too, to complete the development cycle from one LTS to the next.
I did not install Xubuntu 20.04 LTS on my hard drive, but instead tested it as a live session on a USB stick, written using the Startup Disk Creator. These new 'buntu 20.04 LTS releases all include a new feature whereby the start-up disk conducts a self-test each time that they are booted. In the past you had to manually select the test and I always tested each one once after creating it. On first boot this test found one disk error, which was odd, since the ISO file had tested fine on download with a SHA 256 test, so I knew I had a good ISO file. Rewriting the USB with the Startup Disk Creator resulted in a second, error-free write, so the writing, not the ISO file, was obviously where the issue was, validating the need for the built-in test!
7.5 GB of hard-drive, USB stick, memory card or external drive space
When run from a USB the operating system runs very fast. It is nothing like a DVD live session, which can be quite slow.
The only disadvantage of the USB live session is that Startup Disk Creator writes the USB partition in ISO format and thus when you are done with it you need to use Gparted to erase the stick it and return the partition to FAT32.
The focus in LTS releases is on stability over new features and this release offers just that.
Xubuntu 20.04 LTS uses Xfce 4.14, which incorporates GTK3. Xfce 4.14 had a protracted development, but was first introduced in Xubuntu 19.10 and so has had some good testing before this LTS release.
Just like all Xubuntu releases since 14.04 LTS, this one employs the Whisker Menu as its menu system. Whisker is the main feature that makes Xubuntu distinctive from the other Ubuntu flavours. It is highly customizable and can even be resized, which is unique among Linux menus. Most users will usually pick applications right from the "favourites" list, which is the first menu shown, although the other menus, like "Graphics", "Internet" and "Office" make it quick to find needed applications. Whisker also has the shutdown controls, a configuration button, screen locking and an application search box, so everything is in one place. The only thing it lacks is a button to minimize all open windows at once, although there is a keyboard shortcut for this: "Super+D", while "Super+L" locks the screen.
There is not much new for the user in this release, which is normal for an LTS release, as the emphasis is on stability.
This release allows desktop scaling, making everything displayed bigger or smaller, but it wasn't well thought out, as it only has two settings: 1X (normal) and 2X (way too big). Some users might like 110% or 125%, but that is not available.
Window themes now work with snap and flatpak applications, making them feel more native on the desktop.
This version of Xubuntu once again uses "Greybird" as the default window colour scheme, as the last few releases have done. I have never liked it, as it is very hard to tell "active" from "inactive" windows, as they are both grey. Because dark themes are all the rage these days, Xubuntu 20.04 LTS has a new dark theme, called "Greybird-dark". I tested it out and it does make everything black, including window backgrounds, although it suffers from the same issue as regular Greybird: poor active/inactive window differentiation. It is actually worse than Greybird, as the window titles are almost unreadable, due to being dark grey on grey and shadowed. There are four other themes included, but none of them provide very good differentiation between active and inactive windows. It is an ongoing failing in Xubuntu.
The Xubuntu 20.04 LTS default wallpaper is quite different from the last few releases and features a night sky constellation theme, that looks intended to go with dark window themes. The good news is that Xubuntu 20.04 LTS includes a total of 19 wallpapers to choose from, including some good graphic designs and outstanding photography, so there are lots of choices. You can use your own instead, too, of course.
As with Xubuntu 19.10, I had a repeat issue with the touchpad after boot-up and found that I needed to deactivate touchpad scrolling entirely on my laptop and turn the sensitivity right down to get it working well enough to use. Once that was set the touchpad worked okay. I tested a USB mouse as well and it worked fine as well.
Some of the applications included with Xubuntu 20.04 LTS are:
* indicates same application version as used in Xubuntu 19.10.
As with recent Xubuntu releases, by default there is no webcam application. This is probably a good move as it eliminates camera hijacking risks. If a webcam application is needed Guvcview and Cheese are available in the repositories.
The default inclusion of Xfburn, a CD/DVD burning application, is starting to feel like a bit of an anachronism, since laptops haven't come with optical drives for a decade and desktops for almost that long, now.
Xubuntu 20.04 LTS includes LibreOffice 6.4.2, lacking only LibreOffice Base, the database application. If needed it can easily be installed, though.
The Thunar file manager has many useful features. Thunar is also integrated with the Ristretto image viewer, as both share the same properties dialogue and thus either can show Exif image metadata. Thunar also uses Catfish for file system searches. The new version of Thunar included, version 1.8.4, has some upgrades and new features, including a new look and new file bulk renaming functionality.
As always the Mousepad text editor is worth mentioning. It has syntax highlighting, with a choice of ten different highlight colour schemes, including several dark themes and lacks only spellchecking to be truly a complete text editor.
Xubuntu 20.04 LTS is a good solid, mature release. There have only been small improvements to Xubuntu in recent years, as, after 29 releases, it has reached a state of near-perfection. The only flaw I found was in the window themes, all of which provide poor differentiation between active and inactive windows. Otherwise, Xubuntu remains a great operating system for getting work done; it offers stability and an efficient and elegant design that gives good performance on a desktop or laptop computer.
Despite the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, Lubuntu 20.04 LTS was released on time, on . This is the fourth LXQt release for Lubuntu and the 21st overall Lubuntu release. This long term support release has been eagerly awaited, as it is the first LXQt LTS and represents the culmination of a project that the developers started in 2014, the move of Lubuntu from the LXDE desktop to LXQt.
As an LTS release, Lubuntu 20.04 LTS is supported for three years, until April 2023. The next LTS should be Lubuntu 22.04, due out in April 2022, two years away.
My installation of Lubuntu 20.04 LTS went quickly from the USB that I made up using the Startup Disk Creator. This new version no longer includes a user-selectable "check disk for defects" test on boot up and now does it automatically, although it can be manually terminated, if need be. It slows down installations by a few minutes, but is probably a good time investment to ensure the installation media is all correct.
Installation on my System76 laptop took 14 minutes and on my desktop just 5 minutes, the latter time was a record for installing any operating system. The last time I installed Windows XP it took three and a half hours! I had my laptop fully configured and ready for use in 1.3 hours. The desktop configuration was complete in 60 minutes flat, except for reinstalling my documents. The installation process was very smooth, with no issues at all.
Both my local printer and the network printer, along with scanning set-up automatically.
The Lubuntu developers stopped recommending minimum system requirements, starting with the introduction of LXQt in Lubuntu 18.10. I can tell you that Lubuntu 20.04 LTS runs great on:
2.3 GHz quad core processor
4 GiB RAM
14 GB hard-drive space for the system files (on a 160 GB hard drive)
Here is a comparison of the boot times between recent Lubuntu versions on the same hardware:
Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
Lubuntu 18.04 LTS
Lubuntu 20.04 LTS
The LXQt versions of Lubuntu continue to boot quite slowly and they are getting slower over time, too.
Here is a comparison of RAM usage after a fresh boot:
Lubuntu RAM Comparison
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
Lubuntu 18.04 LTS
Lubuntu 20.04 LTS
The idle RAM has increased in comparison to the LXDE versions of Lubuntu, which is expected, given that Lubuntu is billed as being now "full-featured", instead of "lightweight".
There isn't a lot new in this release, which is a good thing. LTS releases are really supposed to be stable more than anything and that means not introducing a lot of new stuff that could jeopardize that goal.
One new inclusion is a software update notifier, called lubuntu-update-notifier, that was developed by Lubuntu member Hans Möller. It checks for updates and automatically presents a dialogue box when there are any to install. Updates can be installed directly from the Lubuntu Update Notifier dialogue itself, or you can open Muon and do it that way, which gives the ability to examine the updates in detail and refuse any you may not want. Adding the new Lubuntu Update Notifier is is a great move for Lubuntu. It will be especially useful for less sophisticated users, who might have forgotten to manually check Muon on a regular basis for updates. For more regular Lubuntu users it provides a very labour-saving way of handling updates, that allows seeing what is updated, without having to manually check Muon on a regular basis. The Lubuntu Update Notifier can also be found on the "Preferences" menu as "Apply Full Upgrade". Opening it from there will cause it to automatically check and install any updates.
There are also some upgrades. FeatherPad includes several improvements, like ampersand highlighting for HTML writing. Unfortunately we didn't get the current release, 0.13.1, which came out and instead have an older release, 0.12.1, which dates from .
The Lubuntu 20.04 LTS wallpaper was designed by Hudson Bomfim, who placed first in the Lubuntu wallpaper competition held. As in the past, there are other wallpaper entries included in the release from the runners-up, too, which can all be found at /usr/share/lubuntu/wallpapers.
Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 20.04 LTS are:
* Indicates the same version as used in Lubuntu 19.10
Like the earlier LXQt releases, Lubuntu 20.04 LTS does not come with a webcam application, photo editing or video editing software, although these can be easily added from the repositories, if desired.
My chosen applications from the repositories this time round were:
* Indicates the same version as available for Lubuntu 19.10
In configuring and testing the new installation of Lubuntu 20.04 LTS I did not find any issues at all. The LXQt configuration menus continue to be easy to navigate and easy to use use, making customizing Lubuntu LXQt actually an enjoyable experience.
Like all the previous LXQt versions, Lubuntu 20.04 LTS comes with a dark default theme, Lubuntu Arc, which I am not all that keen on. The good news is that it is easily changed. I used Clearlooks 3.4 for my window colour scheme and the "Light" theme for the lxqt-panel, with the panel modified to a colour of #aaaaaa to render it a bit darker grey, to make the white icons, like the audio volume, visible. This has become my favourite colour scheme since the first LXQt release, as it gives really good differentiation between active and inactive windows.
LibreOffice once again did not come with spellchecking, lacking any dictionaries, but it is easy enough to install "English Dictionaries" from the extensions list. Likewise FeatherPad requires Hunspell to be installed for its spellchecking to work.
As noted above, this release of Lubuntu ships with the Firefox 75.0 web browser. This is the version that introduced the much-hated "mega-bar" URL bar feature. I agree with many of the reviewers that it is an ergonomic mess, but the good news is that it can be easily fixed in:
This release uses XScreenSaver 5.42, the same version that has been used for the last few LXQt Lubuntu releases. The difference is this one comes with many more screensavers included, some of which are less dated-looking (yes, it has "flying toasters"), especially the one that is turned on by default, called "flurry". This seems to be based on an old Windows screensaver of the same name, but rendered in blues and mauves. It looks very artistic and modern, so I have left it on.
The mtPaint 3.40 image editor still can't open image files from the PCManFM-Qt file browser, although it works fine if you open mtPaint and then open the image file from there. It's a minor inconvenience and most easily worked around by adding an mtPaint icon to the panel, so it can quickly be opened from there. I have tested this in other distros, including Puppy Linux Bionic 8.0 and Kubuntu 20.04 LTS, and it does open from Puppy's Rox file manager and Kubuntu's Dolphin file manager, so seems to be a PCManFM-Qt-specific issue.
Qlipper Clipboard Copying
The included clipboard utility, Qlipper 5.1.2 missed copying text quite often in 19.10, but seems to be fixed in 20.04 LTS, despite being the same application version.
Lubuntu 20.04 LTS is the release that Lubuntu fans have been waiting six years for, ever since LXQt was first announced. It took much longer than the developers envisioned to get from a concept to an LTS version, but it has been worth waiting for, as this is, once again, the best version of Lubuntu yet. Being an LTS version I hope to be using it for two years, until 22.04 LTS comes out.
Back before Lubuntu 18.10, when Lubuntu used the GTK toolkit, the default colour scheme produced some reasonable differentiation in Firefox between the tab that was active and those that were inactive. Then Lubuntu move to being Qt-based and there was an intention to use the Qt-based Falkon browser, but it didn't quite make the cut for stability reasons. So Lubuntu carried on with the GTK-based Firefox on a Qt-based distribution.
In the Qt-based Lubuntu the three available native GTK themes for Firefox all make the tabs the same colour, whether active or inactive. This is poor ergonomics, as it reduces usability. In looking for a way to make the tabs more distinguishable I came across Tab Colors, a Firefox extension.
When you first install Tab Colors it produces a rather shocking result. Each active tab opens with a new and rather garish tab colour. It not only colours the actual tab, but the whole header area of the browser and each new tab opened changes colour. Truly horrible, as well as really distracting.
The good news is that the extension has a good "preferences" control panel which allows setting the active and inactive tabs to any colour you like via a colour wheel or direct hex value input. So I set the active tabs to #F6F5F3 (a light grey) to match the same background used on LibreOffice, and the inactive tabs to #AAAAAA (dark grey) to match my Lubuntu bottom panel colour. The result gives Firefox much better ergonomics, making it really easy to figure out which is the active tab and which ones are not, while eliminating the default wild colour distractions.
Tab Colors is a tiny extension at 15.9 kb and takes mere seconds to install. Once you have created a colour scheme that you like, it has an "export" feature ("save theme to file") that allows you to save it as a plain text file with a .tabcolor extension. The file is easy to edit, too as it uses standard hex values for colour coding. That means that it is easy to import it and make all your computers running Firefox look the same, again improving ergonomics.
At least on Lubuntu, Tab Colors is a game changer that makes Firefox better. Recommended.
The last time I looked at the Qt-based Falkon web browser was in October of 2018, when it was at version 3.0.0. At that time it worked, but had some problems that made it less than ideal as a daily-use web browser.
Since version 3.0.0, there have been two new releases of Falkon: version 3.0.1 on 08 May 2018 and 3.1.0 on 19 March 2019, both of which incorporated some fixes and improvements.
With the release of all the 20.04 LTS Ubuntu-based distributions now just a week and a half away, I was hoping that there would be a newer version of Falkon released, but the latest release remains 3.1.0, which is now 13 months old. Since it looks like we will have this version for a while, I decided to give it a test and see if it works better than 3.0.0.
As last time, I installed Falkon 3.1.0 on Lubuntu 19.10 from the command line using APT. The installation went very smoothly:
$ sudo apt install falkon
Falkon 3.1.0 opens in about four seconds, about twice the time that 3.0.0 took, but still fast enough.
The menus are still well laid out and it is easy to quickly configure Falkon. Adding search engines works well and is certainly easier than in Firefox, which uses "add-ons" to add search engines. Falkon remains highly customizable.
Cookie blocking seems to be much improved now and third party cookies are actually all blocked. The cookie manager is very easy to find with two clicks and shows the cookies for private browsing windows, unlike any other browser I have tried. The ad blocker still works well and blocks YouTube ads, which I find critical.
This version of Falkon scores 503/555 on the HTML5 test which is odd, as 3.0.0 scored 516/555. Firefox 75.0 also tests lower than past versions, so I suspect the test has been changed over time, making the results not comparable.
User Agent String Problem
When I tried to sign into Gmail, Google would not allow a sign-in, claiming the browser is not supported. I quickly suspected it must be a user agent string issue. Sure enough Falkon 3.1.0's default user agent string is:
Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/69.0.3467.63 Safari/537.36
It reads like it is Chrome 69 running on Windows, which is very odd. The issue seems to be that the current version of Chrome is 81, while Chrome 69 dates from July 2018, making it very old and thus triggering Google's warning.
The good news is that this was fairly easy to fix. Falkon has a user agent string editor built in, which is found at Edit → Preferences → Other. It offers some alternative user agent strings, but all are similarly old and out of date, so I used this one from the current version of Firefox:
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Ubuntu; Linux x86_64; rv:75.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/75.0
That solved the problem and I was able to sign into Google without a squawk. Oddly the user agent string manager only changes the user agent string for normal windows, not private browsing windows, which retain the old string.
As in the past, Falkon cannot remember Google passwords, since it cannot deal with Google's two page sign-in, but persistent cookies keep you signed in, as an alternative.
Spell-Checking remains broken.
Importing bookmarks from Firefox
Importing bookmarks from Firefox still doesn't work, as it still won't find the database file, although it was easy enough to save my Firefox bookmarks as an .html file and then import that instead. The bookmarks still require some organizing after importing.
Speed dial on the new tab page doesn't work. I was happy with that though, as I find it annoying and prefer it to show a blank page, or the Falkon home page.
For these tests, all caches were cleared, Falkon had its AdBlock enabled and Firefox had uBlock Origin turned on.
**I had only got 56 tabs open in Falkon 3.1.0 when it had run though almost all my 4 GB of RAM and the browser started hesitating and was not far from locking up.
The testing shows that Falkon 3.1.0 is similar to Firefox at at page loading speed, but has a slight edge in RAM usage, as long as only a limited number of tabs are open at once. During the test I was able to open 56 tabs, however, in daily usage much more than 20 or so has proved to cause slow-downs, depending on which websites are being loaded, as some websites are more RAM-intensive than others. With few tabs open, browsing with Falkon 3.1.0 feels much faster than it did with 3.0.0, which noticeably lagged on page loading.
I do like Falkon's interface, menus, customization and the overall design. Its page loading and RAM use is much improved over 3.0.0, too, although it still eats up too much RAM with many tabs open. Once I had solved the user agent issue, the one remaining broken feature was spell-checking, which needs fixing.
Falkon still has great potential as a browser and it does seem to be improving over time, but the slow pace of releases seem to indicate that it may not offer any advantages over traditional browsers, like Firefox, any time soon.
This is the tale of two competing scanning applications. I recently had to scan a multi-page document and save it as a PDF file. The default Lubuntu scanning application, Skanlite, wasn't up to the job, so that sent me back to an old favourite, Simple Scan.
Ubuntu originally came with XSANE, an X11 interface for the SANE scanner backend. XSANE works really well, but when you open it, it brings up many interface boxes and offers many more that can be opened, for hundreds of settings. It is complex and daunting for beginners and offers far too many features. Canonical identified the shortcomings of XSANE early on and had one of their in-house developers, Robert Ancell, write a new simple scanning interface for SANE in November 2009, which was aptly named Simple Scan.
Simple Scan first appeared in Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx and was a great improvement for Linux scanning. Later on it was adopted into the GNOME desktop and remains a GNOME project today.
Lubuntu always came with Simple Scan, a GTK-based application, right up until the release of Lubuntu 18.10. That Lubuntu version introduced the Qt-based LXQt desktop and banished all possible GTK applications, replacing them with Qt-based applications instead. This meant that Lubuntu 18.10 came with Skanlite instead.
Skanlite was developed for the KDE desktop, which is a Qt environment. Kåre Särs is the lead developer. It uses libksane, a KDE interface for the SANE libraries.
As scanning applications go Skanlite is fairly simple to use. It has a preview feature that allows a quick look at the document to be scanned and incorporates an automatic area selection tool, that, in my experience, gets the areas you want scanned wrong, pretty much 100% of the time. This means that each area has to be selected "off" and the right area selected, which is needlessly time consuming. I have never seen it work right yet. The good news is that it can be turned off in settings, under "disable automatic selections".
The interface also has controls for the scanner source device, mode (line art, grey or colour), resolution, brightness, contrast and a check box option to invert colours.
Once set up, the scanning actually works fine and then Skanlite allows you to save the scanned item. Possible formats are:
PNG image (.png)
JPEG image (.jpg)
TIFF image (.tif)
Bitmap image (.bmp)
Windows icon (.ico)
Wireless Application Protocol Bitmap Format WBMP image (.wbmp)
WebP image (.webp)
Mac OSX icon (.icns)
Portable bitmap format PBM image (.pbm)
Portable Gray Map format PGM image (.pgm)
The issue for me was that it won't do multi-page documents and won't save as a PDF file. This made it of little value for my task. The only way I could see to create a multi-page PDF document was to scan and save each page as a PNG or JPG image, lay it up, page by page in LibreOffice Writer and then save it as a PDF from there, which is a very slow and cumbersome solution.
Overall Skanlite is okay for some tasks, but its lack of PDF capabilities is a serious drawback. At least its ability to create .tifs makes it useful for OCR in conjunction with the command line Tesseract application, which needs .tif files for input.
I haven't used Simple Scan since Lubuntu 18.04 LTS. Since it has become a GNOME project its interface has been simplified even more, to the the point that when you open it seems almost frighteningly stark.
In keeping with GNOME's recent move to make applications really obvious for users, it shows up on the menus and opens up labelled just as "Document Scanner". The menus are minimal, offering some preferences for choosing the scanning device, page size (default is "automatic") and delay for automatic multiple pages. Resolution, brightness and contrast can also be set. There is no "preview" mode, you just hit "Scan" and it scans the whole flatbed scanner glass. If you want less than the whole document you use the "scissors" crop tool. Scanned items can be rotated or discarded, as well.
Possible save formats are:
PNG image (.png)
JPEG image (.jpg)
WebP image (.webp)
Those are pretty much all the formats most users will need, although it would be nice to have .tif available for Tesseract OCR.
Of course the brilliant feature of Simple Scan is not just that it will make PDFs, but that it will make multi-page PDFs. The procedure is very intuitive and simple: just scan a page, scan another page and keep scanning until done. Save as a PDF and it produces a beautiful multi-page PDF without any fuss or further user input. The menu even allows reordering pages after having scanned them. If the first page is cropped or rotated then the same cropping/rotating is by default applied to all subsequent pages, which helps greatly if copying a book, for instance. If a multi-page document is saved as an image file, then Simple Scan renders each page as a separate image file. Nothing could be more intuitive or simpler.
There are many choices for Linux scanning. XSANE works well, but is for experts or people who need lots of control. Skanlite is okay for general scanning, as long as you don't need to make a PDF file. Simple Scan is the easiest to use, makes PDFs and only lacks .tif capabilities to be the perfect scanning utility.
In November 2019, I had a chance to use nwipe, a handy utility used for disk blanking on rotating hard drives, in the form of a stand-alone package. It is worth noting it does not work on solid state drives (SSDs).
nwipe actually started as a fork of dwipe, the blanking program used in the now discontinued DBAN. A commercial company basically bought out the DBAN free software project and killed it, as it was competing with their products. However the nature of free software means applications can easily be forked and so the dwipe code lives on in nwipe, which is still being actively developed.
nwipe is available as a stand-alone package for installation in a number of Linux distributions
It may be worthwhile to discuss why hard drives need blanking. When recycling an old hard drive that can still be written to, or even recycling a whole computer, proper drive blanking should be considered mandatory. Note that just deleting files doesn't make them unrecoverable, it just makes them available to overwrite; they can still be easily recovered and read.
Your old hard drive probably contains tons of personal information useful to criminals, such as website passwords, banking information, credit card numbers, photos and videos with blackmail potential and perhaps even browsing history, among other data. Proper blanking will eliminate the risk of that falling into hostile hands.
If an old drive can't be run and blanked, then it should be dismantled and then physically destroyed, instead.
Another reason to blank a drive is if you are installing a used drive in your computer. In recent years courts, in at least the US, have held people responsible for things found on their computers, even if they didn't put the data there. Even if you got a used drive from a good friend or even your spouse, do you know 100% what is on it? That makes blanking a necessity for your own protection prior to installing a used drive.
How to Blank
To blank hard drives for recycling it is necessary to run the blanking program from somewhere else, other than on the drive that is being blanked. For the main hard drive the most usual way to do this is from a utilities DVD or USB stick and for that purpose nwipe is included in the All-in-one System Rescue Toolkit (AIO-SRT). Just boot to the DVD or stick, open nwipe and run it.
While that sort of "pre-packaged" blanking program is the easiest way to use it, there are times when it isn't possible. For instance some newer computer hardware may not be supported by the latest release of AIO-SRT, which is currently version 2018-01-02, based upon Lubuntu 16.04 LTS, which is now four years old. Newer hardware may require a newer Linux kernel.
The program is a tiny 32 kB in size, so it downloaded and installed in seconds. On Lubuntu it can also be installed using the Muon Package Manager.
Running it from the USB was equally easy. I just called it up:
$ sudo nwipe
and that brought up the ncurses graphical interface in the terminal emulator. Using nwipe is then a matter of selecting the drive to be blanked, then hit Shift+S to start it and wait until it is done. As I noted previously it was necessary to disable the xscreensaver to get it to complete its task.
nwipe does take a while to complete its normal three US DoD short program blanking passes, depending on the size of the hard drive being blanked and the speed of the computer processor. In my case, blanking a 250 GB drive with an Intel Core i5 dual core CPU running at 2.30 GHz, took about five and a half hours. The interface gives a success report when the task is correctly completed, which provides some confidence. Then using GParted or the KDE Partition Manager to check the disk to make sure it is all "unallocated space", shows that the task was indeed done.
The current, stand alone, nwipe package gives lots of flexibility in blanking a rotating hard drive. It can be run from a pre-packaged DVD, such as AIO-SRT, or from any bootable Linux distribution that can install it. This is actually an improvement over the old DBAN days, as it can be run in many different ways, plus being able to install it on any Linux distro means never being left short on support for newer hardware.
For the past decade I have been giving away copies of Puppy Linux's 32-bit versions at National Capital FreeNet, as it fills a niche for owners of old 32-bit computers.
Over many years I gained an appreciation for the Slacko series of Puppy Linux releases, based on Slackware Linux, as they have proven very stable and work really well. The only issue with the Slacko series has been that the latest release is Slacko 6.3.2, which dates to and so is now three and a half years old. Its replacement, Slacko 7.0, has been in "testing" since and seems to now be abandonware. I thought it was time to move away from the Slacko series, but there wasn't a 32-bit replacement until recently.
Puppy Linux 8.0 Bionic was released in a 64-bit version on . The 32-bit version of 8.0 Bionic was released much later, on , just in time for Christmas. I thought I would download it and give it a try as a potential Slacko replacement.
The beauty of Puppy Linux is that it doesn't get installed. You just download it, burn it to a CD, DVD or install it on a USB stick and it loads entirely into RAM from there. You can save all changed settings and installed applications at the end of each session to a USB stick or other media.
In the is case I just made up a DVD, using Lubuntu 19.10 and its including DVD writer, K3B and then booted it into RAM from the DVD. Once Puppy is running from RAM everything opens very quickly, giving it a snappy feeling, even on older hardware, as it isn't reading from the DVD or hard drive. In fact once it is loaded the DVD can be removed from the drive.
It is worth noting that a hard drive is not needed to run Puppy. You could have a broken hard drive or even none installed at all.
8.0 Bionic boots up to a nice clean and purple desktop. Many of the packages used are derived from Ubuntu 18.04 Bionic Beaver, so the desktop features a cartoon of a happy little beaver, just sitting there. There are other wallpapers available, and, of course, you can use your own image, too for wallpaper.
Compared to the Slacko series there are not many changes in Bionic. Applications still are still found on one menu, accessed from the bottom left, plus, as on older Puppy versions, it still has a launcher at the top centre, with a few commonly-used applications on it. There is a second menu for "places", which allows direct access to file locations, networking and the drives installed. Gone are the myriad of desktop icons, replaced only with "trash", plus icons for any installed drives. The desktop is clean and the icons all look like they come from the same toolbox, unlike in many past Puppy releases, where the desktop looked more like a hodgepodge of mismatched icons. 8.0 Bionic feels more slick and professional, especially for a community release.
Overall the learning curve for anyone moving from older versions of Puppy to 8.0 Bionic should be minimal, which is a good thing.
Despite its small download size of just 269 MB, 8.0 Bionic comes with a lot of useful software by default. Some of the applications included with 8.0 Bionic are:
AbiWord 3.0.1 word processor
Evince 2.32.0 PDF viewer
Geany 1.29 text editor
gFTP 2.0.19 FTP client
Gnome MPlayer media player
Gnumeric 1.10.17 spreadsheet
Gparted 0.30.0 partition editor
HexChat 2.12.4 IRC client
Inkscape Lite 0.36 vector graphics editor
Leafpad 0.8.18.1 text editor
Light 48.0 web browser
mtPaint 3.49.12 graphics editor
PBurn 4.3.18 CD/DVD burner
PCTorrent bit torrent client
Puppy Package Manager 2.1.2 package management system
ROX-Filer file manager
Sylpheed 3.5.1 email client
ViewNoir 0.6 image viewer
It even comes with five basic games, too. More applications can be installed using the Puppy Package Manager or directly from the repositories, but, as always, the selection is more limited than in the Ubuntu or Debian worlds.
8.0 Bionic seems to be a solid release, well-thought out and well-designed. It feels more professional than some of the past Puppy releases. For anyone running an old 32-bit computer with limited RAM, limited processing power and perhaps even no serviceable hard drive, 8.0 Bionic could be just the operating system to give it new life and new usability.
Based on the results of my testing and finding no issues with it, I am going to start giving away copies of 8.0 Bionic in place of Slacko 6.3.2, as I think it is a worthy successor.
I have now been using Kdenlive as my video editor since version 15.12.3, which was available in the repositories for Lubuntu 16.04 LTS. In regular service it has proven to be easy to use, stable and it produces beautiful videos. After years of trying out many Linux video editors that all turned out to have serious shortcomings, Kdenlive has proven to be just what I was looking for right from the start.
The KDE team that produces Kdenlive started out on a code refactoring (clean-up) project in 2016 and all their work resulted in the release of the first refactored version, Kdenlive 19.04 on . That version was too late for Lubuntu 19.04, which still had Kdenlive 18.12.3a available in the repositories instead, so my first chance to try out the refactored branch has been in Lubuntu 19.10, which has Kdenlive 19.08.2 available, the sixth release since the code rewrite.
Kdenlive 19.08.2 is not even the latest release, as I write this. Version 19.08.3 is out and also a beta for Kdenlive 19.12, which incorporates a new audio mixer, so development is continuing at a fast pace.
The development team noted that the refactoring involved "a 3 year cycle in which more than 60% of the code base was changed with +144,000 lines of code added and +74,000 lines of code removed." They also said of 19.04 (the first refactored release), "this is our biggest release ever bringing new features, improved stability, greater speed and last but not least maintainability (making it easier to fix bugs and add new features)." The refactoring process was obviously a huge developer effort, but it seems to have paid off very well. In many ways Kdenlive 19.04 and its subsequent releases are almost an entirely new video editor, that just happens to have a similar user interface to older versions.
During the six releases from 19.04 until 19.08.2 there have also been hundreds of bug fixes, that have all improved stability and performance with an aim of identifying the causes of each crash and fixing them as they go. In my testing of Kdenlive 19.08.2 I haven't seen any crashes at all.
Since 19.04 many new features have been introduced and most of these involve new ways of carrying out editing tasks. One obvious change is how the time line now handles video and audio tracks, automatically splitting them onto the correct track lines when they are dragged into place, instead of a single, combined video/audio track. Another is adjusting the speed of a clip by ctrl+dragging on the timeline, which also shows the percentage of speedup or slow motion too. Tracks on the time line can also now be resized vertically to see them better. Thumbnails are also much more controllable through settings for visibility. There have been literally hundreds of other changes, improvements and new features.
One is worth detailing here, as an example of a new feature added: the ability to group clips and move them as a group with shift+g. This makes adding a new clip in the middle of the time line easy, without having to separately move each clip that comes after it. This can be done in two ways, with the mouse and now also with the keyboard. The mouse method has been available for a while, just click on one clip to highlight it and then shift+click on other clips and transitions to highlight them and drag them all as a group. Kdenlive 19.04 added the keyboard functionality to do this, which can be more precise. To do this without the mouse, hit + and the clip under the timeline cursor will highlight, use the left-right arrow keys to move the timeline cursor and the up-down arrow keys to select the correct track and then alt++ to select that second clip and so on. When done hit shift+g to grab the clip grouping and then move them with the left-right arrow keys. Hitting shift+g again will then "ungrab" them and return normal arrow key functioning, which is moving the timeline cursor.
Since this keyboard feature was implemented in April 2019 in version 19.04, the next obvious question to ask would be, "has the Kdenlive manual been updated to explain this?" And the answer would be "no". Hopefully the manual will be updated soon. It is not ideal, but in the meanwhile the changes are explained in each version's release notes, often with animated GIFs to show how they work:
Overall the recent work that has been done on Kdenlive has produced very positive results and has made this video editor better than ever. I am looking forward to seeing Kdenlive 19.12, or even a later version, land in Lubuntu 20.04 LTS in April 2020.
This is a video I created on Kdenlive 19.08.2 and rendered in WebM format:
Back in May 2017, I ran into an issue with my desktop computer, when it refused to boot after an update. That turned out to be three bad disk sectors and it was fixed with badblocks.
Recently I ran into a similar problem with my 2011 vintage System76 Pangolin Performance laptop. I was trying to run an update and it wouldn't run, just produced errors, so I rebooted it and it wouldn't reboot, indicating a systemd error issue. So I attempted to reformat the disk and reinstall Lubuntu 19.10, but it wouldn't install. The Calamares installer just wouldn't proceed, giving greyed out buttons on the installer's disk space page, but no explanation.
I decided to blank the disk, so I booted up the All-in-One System Rescue Toolkit from a DVD and ran nwipe, which took about six hours to complete the 250 GB hard drive. Gnome Disks (package name: gnome-disk-utility) showed that I had one bad sector on the disk, presumably where systemd had been written, preventing a boot, new installation or anything else.
So, next I ran badblocks from the All-in-One System Rescue Toolkit command line, to see if the bad sector could be fixed:
$ sudo badblocks -wsvb 1024 -c 512 /dev/sda
It took overnight for badblocks to work through the hard drive, but when it was finished, Gnome Disks showed no further issues. I was able to run the installer from a USB and reinstall Lubuntu normally.
Unlike in May 2017, there was no requirement to turn off the hard drive swap partition with Gparted, before running badblocks, as the disk had been wiped first, so there was no swap partition installed. At least that simplified things.
Taking the same System76 laptop on a trip in December, I shut it down for the journey and when I tried to boot it up at destination it wouldn't boot, showing several systemd errors. This time I was prepared, however, and had a USB with Lubuntu 19.10 on it with me that I could boot from. I installed Gnome Disks (package name: gnome-disk-utility) from the Ubuntu repositories and it showed eight bad sectors now, so my conclusion was that the hard drive was breaking down. It was a SATA hard drive, which are normally pretty reliable, but it was eight and a half years old, so not totally a surprise that would be worn out now.
My next step was to blank the drive for recycling, with nwipe from the Lubuntu 19.10 USB, also installed from the Ubuntu repositories.
While still away on the trip I ran Lubuntu from the USB and it ran very well, as well as it does from the hard drive.
When I got home I swapped out the blanked 250 GB hard drive for a spare 160 GB one I had. The new hard drive had been only used for a year and a half in an Acer Aspire netbook (remember those?) so it was very "low mileage". It had not been blanked so I tried to nwipe it. After a couple of incomplete runs where nwipe didn't complete its task, I determined that the xscreensaver seemed to be crashing it. I disabled xscreensaver, which solved the issue and it then blanked successfully. I then installed Lubuntu 19.10 once again and it seems to work perfectly now.
Lubuntu traces its roots back to 2008, when the developers made the first Lubuntu LXDE packages available to be installed on Ubuntu. It grew from there to a full-fledged stand-alone distro in 2010 and then from LXDE to the current LXQt desktop in 2018. In that decade of development Lubuntu transitioned from a pretty rough desktop into an elegant, complete and functioning operating system. But, until recently, there have been a few things you couldn't do in the Lubuntu world and that included donating to support the project or buying an official Lubuntu T-shirt.
In January 2019 the Lubuntu developers formed an official body to oversee the distribution, the Lubuntu Council and that organization has allowed users to make donations to support the project and also to set up a shop to sell Lubuntu merchandise. The opening of donations and the shop was announced on 27 June 2019.
Donations can be one-time or recurring and via Patreon, Liberapay or PayPal, as listed on the official donations page. Merchandise, including T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, pillows and coffee cups can be purchased through the Lubuntu shop on Teespring. The proceeds from all the merchandise purchases are also donated to the Lubuntu Council.
Where will the money go? Simon Quigley wrote "We have observed with some other open source projects that accept donations that accountability for purchases and transparency in general is lacking. When Lubuntu accepts donations, it is essential to us to publish exactly where money is flowing and how it is being used to help further the project. While the decision-making process is limited to the Lubuntu Council and official members of the Lubuntu project, we see no reason to hide where the community’s money is going … We plan on publishing updates to our donations process, reports on where the money is going, and all other pertinent information directly on the Donations page. Check there for regular updates."
I started using Lubuntu with version 10.10. I figure I have long benefited, so I just made a donation to help the developers.
Xubuntu 19.10 was released on . It is a "standard" release and thus supported for nine months, until July 2020. This is the last of the three "standard" releases before the next long term support release (LTS), which will be Xubuntu 20.04 LTS, due out on 23 April 2019.
I did not install Xubuntu 19.10 on my hard drive, but instead tested it as a live session on a USB stick. I made up the stick using the Startup Disk Creator, which worked well.
When run from a USB the operating system runs very fast, nothing like a DVD live session, which can be quite slow.
The only disadvantage of the USB live session is that Startup Disk Creator writes the USB partition in ISO format and thus when you are done with it you need to use Gparted to erase the stick it and return the partition to FAT32.
Xubuntu 19.10 introduces Xfce 4.14, which has been under development for 4.5 years and uses GTK3. Despite the protracted development involved in Xfce 4.14, its changes are mostly behind-the-scenes, hidden from the user and Xfce 4.14 looks and acts much like previous releases. This "standard" release will give the Xubuntu users a chance to fully test out Xfce 4.14 before it lands in the spring LTS release, which is a good strategy.
Just like all Xubuntu releases since 14.04 LTS, this one employs the Whisker Menu as its menu system. Whisker is the main feature that makes Xubuntu distinctive from the other Ubuntu flavours. It is highly customizable and can even be resized, which is unique among Linux menus. Most users will usually pick applications right from the "favourites" list, which is the first menu shown, although the other menus, like "Graphics", "Internet" and "Office" make it quick to find needed applications. Whisker also has the shutdown controls, a configuration button, screen locking and an application search box, so everything is in one place. The only thing it lacks is a button to minimize all open windows at once, although there is a new keyboard shortcut for this: "Super+D", while "Super+L" locks the screen.
There is not much new for the user in this release, as the emphasis has been polishing for the LTS. Two default application changes are that Atril replaces Evince as the PDF reader, while Pidgin replaces XChat as the internet relay chat client.
The Xfce Screensaver also replaces Light Locker as the screensaver and screen locking application. This is a welcome change, since Light Locker proved quite troublesome and was replaced on Lubuntu as well, starting with 18.10.
The ZFS file system and logical volume manager is available in this release on root, on an experimental basis, although the Xubuntu developers point out in bold lettering: "remember, ZFS on root is experimental, so don’t run it on your production machines!"
This version of Xubuntu again retains "Greybird" as the default window colour scheme. I have never been a fan of it, as it is very hard to tell "active" from "inactive" windows, as they are both grey. Up until Xubuntu 18.10 there was an alternative colour scheme called "Kokodi" which is very similar to "Clearlooks". It renders active window tops blue and inactive ones grey, but it is no longer offered. None of the included six window themes in 19.10 provide very good differentiation between active and inactive windows.
The Xubuntu 19.10 default wallpaper is again very similar to the last few releases and, like the past offerings is quite dull and uninspired. The good news is that Xubuntu 19.10 includes 17 more wallpapers to choose from, or, of course, you can use your own instead.
I had an issue with the touchpad after boot-up and found that I needed to deactivate touchpad scrolling entirely on my laptop and turn the sensitivity right down to get it working well enough to use. Once that was set the touchpad worked okay. This may be the same issue that I found with edge scrolling on Lubuntu 19.10, in which case it is some back-end Ubuntu or even kernel issue.
Some of the applications included with Xubuntu 19.10 are:
* indicates same application version as used in Xubuntu 19.04.
As with Xubuntu 19.04, by default there is no webcam application, although Guvcview and Cheese are available in the repositories.
This release comes with GIMP 2.10.8 and it seems to work fine. The previous clipboard problem with that GIMP version seems to have been fixed.
LibreOffice 6.3.2 is now supplied complete in Xubuntu, lacking only LibreOffice Base, the database application. If needed it can easily be installed, though.
The Thunar file manager has many useful features, like bulk file renaming. Thunar is also integrated with the Ristretto image viewer, as both share the same properties dialogue and thus either can show Exif image metadata.
The Mousepad text editor is worth singling out, too. It has syntax highlighting, with a wide choice of highlighter colour schemes. It lacks only spellchecking to be truly a complete text editor.
Xubuntu 19.10 is a good solid release and a portent of good things expected in the upcoming April 2020 LTS release. As this is the 28th Xubuntu release you would expect it to be very mature and it is. In recent years there have been very few changes between releases, just small incremental improvements and new application versions from the Ubuntu repositories. With this 19.10 release, Xubuntu remains a great distro for getting work done, with solid stability, an unobtrusive, yet elegant design and good performance on a desktop or laptop computer.
I recently moved both my computers to Lubuntu 19.10 and that means I have also transitioned away from the LXDE desktop to LXQt instead.
This change of desktops has been anticipated for quite a while, since work on LXQt was announced in early 2014 and was initially hoped to be included in Lubuntu 14.10, but didn't actually arrive until 18.10, instead. That gave me four years to get ready for the move. In the end it went pretty smoothly, as I installed Lubuntu 19.04 on my laptop, but kept Lubuntu 18.04 LTS on my desktop, just to make sure LXQt was working well enough for production use. By 19.10, it was, and so I switched both computers to 19.10 and bade adieu to LXDE.
When LXDE was first introduced it was lacking some really badly needed features, like file searching from the PCManFM file browser. In those days of Lubuntu 10.10 and 11.04, file searching had to be done from the command line with Find, which was far less than ideal. Features like file searching did get added to Lubuntu by 14.10, though, and LXDE did improve in functionality during its lifetime.
I have been using LXDE since Lubuntu 10.10 and so, when LXQt was announced in 2014, I thought it would feel a bit sad to stop using LXDE, but I actually haven't. One reason was that 18.04 LTS had a very unstable version of the file manager, PCManFM 1.2.5, which crashed a lot. I was in a hurry to move on, for that reason alone.
The other reason was that LXQt introduced some nice features that have been missing in LXDE, such as being able to read Exif metadata in the image viewer. In LXDE you had to use a command line program, exiv2, or else install and then open each image in GIMP to read the Exif data.
LXQt also has bulk file renaming built right into the file browser, PCManFM-Qt, whereas on LXDE I had to use an external bulk file renamer, GPrename. It worked well enough, but it didn't allow you to see the images you were renaming, so it was cumbersome to use.
LXQt has a better screenshot tool, too. In Lubuntu 19.04 it was built into LXImage-Qt, but now is a separate tool, ScreenGrab, which is very flexible.
There are many other small improvements, too, like better customization and a more logical menu, that includes the shutdown and reboot controls. And a very stable file browser, too. It is just neater and more complete.
Overall LXQt is just better than LXDE and a worthy successor. I thought I would be at least a bit sad to move on, but LXQt is such a joy to use that I'm not.
In the last year or two I have had an odd problem with my desktop LG Flatron W1952TQ computer screen. It started just after I installed Lubuntu 18.04 LTS, so I figured it was related to that operating system, but that seems to have been a mistaken conclusion.
When the Lubuntu power manager put the screen to sleep it would lose power. Normally the screen status light showed blue when on and amber when in sleep mode. With this issue it would go into sleep mode, turn amber, then quickly go black (no light on) and the screen was unresponsive to any inputs to its power button or from the operating system, such as from the keyboard or mouse. The only way to get it working again was by unplugging it, waiting ten seconds and plugging it back in again. It did this often, usually several times a day and it was quite frustrating to have to reset it over and over again.
Since the screen worked fine once plugged back in, I thought it was some sort of software or firmware issue. I received lots of updates to both over time, but it kept doing it and I couldn't think what to check to solve it.
I figured that I would fix the issue with a fresh installation of Lubuntu 19.10, but the problem persisted. That made me think it wasn't a firmware or software issue after all. The next time it lost power I removed the power cord from the monitor and used my multi-meter to check it for voltage and found the expected 120 VAC there, even though the screen was dead. So if it wasn't the software, firmware and wasn't the power cord I concluded that it must be the monitor itself. I had a spare, identical monitor, so I swapped them and it worked fine, so I think this can be marked as "solved" as some internal fault with the monitor's hardware or firmware that caused this issue. Eventually I sent the monitor for recycling.
Lubuntu 19.10 was released on and is the third LXQt release for Lubuntu and the 20th release overall. I had been eagerly anticipating this release, as it includes some key improvements that allowed me to replace Lubuntu 18.04 LTS on my desktop computer.
Lubuntu 18.04 LTS has had its share of problems and I will be happy to see it go. In particular the file manager, PCMamFM 1.2.5, crashed regularly, often several times a day, which made using Lubuntu 18.04 a real pain.
Lubuntu 19.10 is a "standard release" and so is only supported for nine months, until July 2020. I will need to upgrade to Lubuntu 20.04 LTS in the spring, but that is my plan anyway. I hope to then stick with 20.04 LTS for two years, if it proves to be free of serious issues.
The installation of Lubuntu 19.10 was very fast!
I had attempted to do an upgrade from Lubuntu 19.04 to 19.10 on my laptop, but there must have been a settings issue as, even long after the new release was out, it insisted it wasn't. I checked my software sources, and it was set correctly, but it still wouldn't do the upgrade from Muon or from the command line. So I installed it from a DVD ISO file.
Installation on my System76 laptop took 11 minutes and on my desktop just nine minutes, far faster than ever before. I had my laptop fully configured in about 1.5 hours. The desktop installation and configuration was complete in 47 minutes, except for reinstalling my documents. The installation process was very smooth, with the only issue getting the Calamares system installer to accept a US keyboard layout.
Here is a comparison of the boot times between recent Lubuntu versions on the same hardware:
Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
Lubuntu 18.04 LTS
The LXQt versions of Lubuntu continue to boot quite slowly, although it is not clear why that is.
Here is a comparison of RAM usage after a fresh boot:
Lubuntu RAM Comparison
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
Lubuntu 18.04 LTS
The idle RAM has increased in comparison to the LXDE versions of Lubuntu 18.04 LTS, which is expected, given that Lubuntu is now "full-featured" instead of "lightweight".
There isn't a lot new in this release. The screenshot tool has been separated from LXimage-Qt and is now ScreenGrab, instead.
There are also some upgrades and fixes:
FeatherPad now includes spellchecking, although you have to install Hunspell through Muon to get it working.
In the PCManFM-Qt file manager, the bulk file renamer keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+F2 now works!
LibreOffice is version 188.8.131.52 and it saves much faster than past versions.
All applications open noticeably faster.
There is a new keyboard shortcut to minimize all windows: "Super+D" (Windows key).
The Lubuntu 19.10 wallpaper is actually quite nice! It was designed by Marcelo D. Moreira of Argentina, who placed first in the competition held for the new 19.10 wallpaper. There are entries from the runners-up, too, along with some older Lubuntu wallpaper, which can all be found at /usr/share/lubuntu/wallpapers.
Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 19.10 are:
Like Lubuntu 18.10 and 19.04, Lubuntu 19.10 does not come with either a webcam application or any image editing software, although these can be easily added from the repositories, if desired.
I tried using the Wicd wifi manager, but my laptop seems to work better with the default nm-tray instead, so removed it.
Lubuntu 19.10 includes a new version of the Qt-based text editor, FeatherPad 0.11.1and it comes with spellchecking. The spellchecking works, well but takes some set-up and is a bit unconventional to use, compared to other text editors or word processors.
Spellchecking requires Hunspell to work and it doesn't install automatically, or come as an already-installed dependency of FeatherPad. Instead users need to install it from Muon and then go to FeatherPad→ Options→ Preferences→ Text→ Spell Checking and select the dictionary at /usr/share/hunspell/. The good news is that users can install any one of a number of languages with Hunspell. Users can also collect their own words to add to the dictionary. This is saved in a separate user dictionary file found at ~/.config/featherpad/userDict-en_CA (or whatever your chosen language is). Knowing where to find this means that users can open and edit it to remove any mistaken saves, or even add any words they know they will need.
Once installed, spellchecking by default starts from where the cursor is. Users can't just highlight text segments and then spellcheck them. Spellchecking can be called from the "Edit" menu or by hitting F2, instead of the much more expected F7. But once you do hit F2, it works fine, checking from the cursor position. While in the spellchecking every option has a keyboard shortcut, like F3 for "ignore once", F5 for "correct once" and F7 for "add to personal dictionary"!
In configuring and testing the new installation of Lubuntu 19.10 there were no serious issues. The new LXQt configuration menus continue to be easy to find and use, making customizing Lubuntu LXQt actually a pleasant experience.
Like the previous two LXQt versions, Lubuntu 19.10 comes with a dark default theme, Lubuntu Arc. I am not a fan of dark themes, but I easily changed it. I used Clearlooks 3.4 for the window colour scheme and the "Light" theme for the lxqt-panel, modified to a colour of #aaaaaa to make it a bit darker grey, so that all the icons actually show up.
Printing and scanning both set up normally and they both work fine. CD/DVD burning with K3B works well, too.
I upgraded one computer from Lubuntu 19.04 and one from 18.04 LTS.
The GIMP 2.10.8 image editor has a well documented problem across many different distros, so not a Lubuntu-specific issue: it crashes when copying images, or parts of them, with Ctrl+C, or from the menu. It seems to be an interaction issue with all clipboard managers. This is the same version as included with 19.04 and no fix for this seems to exist, so I have switched using mtPaint instead. MtPaint can to do all the basic photo editing that GIMP can do and used to be included with Lubuntu, up to 18.04 LTS. It has filters that work better than GIMP's do, too and work flows are faster and easier in mtPaint than in GIMP, plus it opens faster, too.
LibreOffice once again did not come with spellchecking, lacking any dictionaries, but it is easy enough to install "English Dictionaries" from the extensions list.
The PCManFM 1.2.5 file manager crashed at least once a day, requiring a reboot to restore settings. This was a major issue and the main reason I ditched 18.04 LTS in favour of 19.10. 19.10 fixes this by replacing PCManFM 1.2.5 with PCManFM-Qt 0.14.1, which seems to be much more stable. It is the same version used on Lubuntu 19.04 and I have seen zero crashes on it there.
Audio playback ends on screen blanking
When the power manager shut down the screen, any audio playback stopped dead. The easist work around I found for this was to set the screen blanking to the highest time, which was one hour. The new LXQt Lubuntu fixes this outright with a totally different screen locking system, and audio playback continues after the screen blanks.
The new issues in 19.10 are:
Laptop track pad configuration in "edge scrolling" mode doesn't work right, at least on my hardware, just results in erratic pointer control, however two-finger scrolling mode works fine.
mtPaint file opening
The mtPaint image editor can't open image files from the file browser, although it works fine if you open mtPaint and then open the image file from there. It's a minor inconvenience and most easily worked around by adding an mtPaint icon to the panel. I have tested this in other distros, like Puppy Linux Bionic 8.0, and it does open from the Rox file manager fine there, so seems to be a Lubuntu specific issue.
Qlipper Clipboard Copying
The included clipboard utility, Qlipper 5.1.2 misses copying text quite often. You have to pay careful attention to the clipboard display to make sure it works, which is an annoyance.
Lubuntu 19.10 is even better than 19.04 was and I described that as "a real joy to use". Once again this is the best version of Lubuntu yet and portends good things for the next release in April 2020, which will be 20.04 LTS, a long term support version.
I do a lot of photography and in the past few years much of that has been photographing sailboats for Wikipedia and also for Diaspora, too. It is fun work, but taking the actual pictures is the easy part, the hard work comes once I get home and have to sort them out, process and name the image files, prior to uploading.
The processing is usually done with GIMP, or these days with mtPaint. I often take dozens of photos on a single shoot and sometimes, like when covering a sailing regatta, I have shot over 600 photos in a day. One aspect of photographing sailboats is that they are tall and skinny and thus much better shot sideways in "portrait" mode, rather that in normal "landscape" mode. This means that one of the first tasks to be done after I download the photos from the camera is to turn them all 90°. It is tedious work and very slow using GIMP or mtPaint, where each one has to be opened, turned manually and then saved. Opening many images in GIMP can also quickly eat your RAM up, meaning it has to be done a few at a time, which slows things down even more. mtPaint is much more lightweight for RAM use, but can only open one image at a time. The task is quicker with the LXImage-Qt image viewer, but still takes a while to do each one, plus LXImage-Qt is quite "lossy", reduces image resolution and also automatically strips the Exif metadata out of the image.
I found a simple, bulk image rotator that can also do some other bulk tasks, called imgp (for Image Processor). Imgp is a Linux command line tool written in Python. It was started by SZ Lin at Debian and is now developed by Arun Prakash Jana and Ananya Jana. There have been nine public releases, starting with version 1.0 on 16 August 2016. It is packaged for Arch, Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Raspbian, Slackware, Ubuntu and Void Linux, as well as Macs through homebrew.
Imgp is designed to do a number of bulk image processing tasks, simply and quickly. It can:
resize images by specified resolution or by percentage
rotate clockwise by a specified angle
optimize image size to save storage space
convert PNG images to JPG
erase Exif data, if desired
overwrite source images or create new images from processed ones (with an "IMGP" appended to distinguish them)
process all images in a directory and sub-directories recursively
Imgp is a really tiny program, 13.9 kb to download and 41.0 kb installed.
The main advantage of the program is that it can be set to work on an entire directory of images, including sub-directories and then left to do the work automatically. It is a real labour-saver.
Trying out imgp on folders of test images I found it works as advertised and remarkably quickly, too. In rotating images it can do what would be 30 minutes, very tedious, manual work in GIMP, in a couple of seconds.
I find that while I often shoot many images in "portrait" mode that need turning, in a typical photo shoot I also shoot some that don't need turning. This means I can't just set imgp on the photo folder and let it work. To deal with this I found the easiest method is to simply copy the images that do need rotating into a special folder (which I call "rotate") and then run imgp on that folder. Because I always use the same commands on the same folder, I don't even have to memorize the imgp syntax. I can just open a terminal and hit "arrow up" until the last command instance comes up and then hit "return", confident that it will work like last time; a simple command line trick. For resizing I have a folder called "resize" that works the same way. This method minimizes the opportunities for mistakes, as well as speeding up the process. When they have been processed I can just move them back to the photo shoot folder and replace the original images there.
Here is an example of the command to rotate all the images in the directory named "rotate" to the left 90° (which is right 270°) (-o 270), recursively (-r), with image quality set to the maximum available of 95% (-q 95) and overwrite (-w) the images with the newly rotated ones:
$ imgp -o 270 -r -w -q 95 ~/Images/rotate
This is an example of the command to resize all the images in the directory named "resize" to 700 X 525 pixels (-x 700x525), recursively (-r), with image quality set to the maximum available of 95% (-q 95) and overwrite (-w) the images with the newly resized ones:
$ imgp -x 700x933 -r -w -q 95 ~/Images/resize
This automatically creates webpage thumbnails in a directory named "thumbnail" at 100 X 75 pixels (-x 100x75), recursively (-r) and overwrite (-w) the images with the newly resized ones:
$ imgp -x 100x75 -r -w -q 50 ~/Images/thumbnail
Hit "return" and it is done.
In working with imgp I found it really only has two drawbacks:
Rotating images is a unavoidably a lossy process. Unlike LXImage-Qt though, imgp retains the X-Y image resolution and Exif metadata, but still results in smaller files sizes due to the default being an image quality of 75%. The loss can be reduced to a minimum, however, by setting the “quality” to 95% (-q 95) which is the maximum the program allows, instead.
While imgp rotates images fine, for some reason my file manager display does not show the thumbnails as rotated, too. It's just a minor issue, though.
It is hard to improve on imgp for what it does. It is a simple Linux command line tool that works well. When combined with using a bulk file renamer, as found in PCManFM-QT, it really makes processing a large number of image files fast and painless.
When I installed Lubuntu 19.04, I noted that it did not come with any image editing software. The old LXDE versions of Lubuntu came with mtPaint, but being a GTK-based application, it was omitted from the new Qt-based Lubuntu, along with all other GTK-based applications. No matter, I thought, I always install GIMP anyway. The only issue was that the 'buntu 19.04 repositories came with GIMP 2.10.8-2 which has a bug in it that causes it to crash on "copy". That makes it very hard to use, especially for any cropping of images.
I decided to try mtPaint and see if it could crop images and save them, and, in fact it does that very easily. It is a bit cumbersome to do one operation in mtPaint and then open GIMP to finish working on an image, so I thought I would give mtPaint a bit of a try and see what it can do.
mtPaint is free software under the GPL v3+ and is available for Linux and Windows. It was originally written by Mark Tyler for editing digital photos and for creating pixel artwork. The "mtPaint" name means "Mark Tyler's Painting Program". Initial work on it was started on 07 August 2004 and the first version was publicly released on 13 September 2004. Today it is maintained by Dmitry Groshev. The interface uses the GTK+1 or 2 toolkit. The latest release, version 3.40, dates to 30 December 2011 and the one before that, 3.31, to 16 April 2009, so it isn't under what I would term "rapid development". Rather than "abandonware", it seems to have just reached something like "apex development" at present and so few changes are really needed. It will need updating to either GTK3 or else re-writing in Qt in the near future, though, if it is to stick around.
mtPaint has a pretty good user manual and that is really helpful. Many of the features are different from other image editors and these can hard to figure out on your own. Developer Dmitry Groshev explains this well, pointing out that the features "may look opaque to users who do not like to read docs; but not everything in image processing can be made self-explanatory, particularly if one tries to keep the program small. Those features which aren't obvious, have explanations in the handbook; time spent looking them up will be well rewarded by not wasting time on learning things by trial and error."
In the past the user manual had been incomplete in places. For instance it once lacked information on how to cut and paste an image onto another image (you have to hit "enter" or "right click" to commit it, or "esc" to abort) and some of these deficiencies were addressed by other users creating their own tutorials at the time, all of which is helpful.
My first impression was that mtPaint is very basic compared to GIMP and it is indeed designed to be simple to learn and use. But as I delved into the menus and learned how to use it, it proved to have just about all the features I use regularly in working with digital photos. These include:
Marqueeing areas of photos, cropping and saving
Basic filters to improve images, including "sharpen" and "unsharp mask"
Rotating images, including arbitrary rotation angles
Saving in a wide variety of formats, including jpg, png and tif
The interface is simple with no tabbing, it can only open one image at a time, unless they are opened from the command line.
The filters are worthy of note. In particular the "sharpen" and "unsharp mask" filters actually work better than those in GIMP 2.8, providing more subtle and finer changes, giving better results in both cases. GIMP 2.10 actually eliminated "sharpen" in favour of "unsharp mask", which is often not the best tool to get optimal results, since it often results in black border lines around objects. In this way mtPaint is actually better than GIMP: more useful filters that actually work better.
One thing that is different from some other image editors is that arbitrary rotation can only be specified in degrees and decimals of degrees in a dialogue box and then applied (and not applied as you toggle it), which makes guessing the right angle hard, although it can be accomplished by trial-and-error. You can also measure an angle from the vertical or horizontal with the rectangle selection tool, as the documentation describes and then specify that angle in the dialogue box. It works well and is very precise.
One odd feature (or bug) with mtPaint is that saving an image strips out the Exif metadata from the photo. This could be a good thing or bad thing, depending on your perspective. Some people don't like all that data being available when posting images online, while others do.
During in my tests I only found one issue with mtPaint:
Image files cannot be selected from the file browser and opened in mtPaint. When you try this it indicates that the image cannot be opened, however opening the image from the application's "open" menu dialogue works fine.
mtPaint actually works very well. It is a very mature program with 15 years of development behind it. It is simple to figure out and simple to use and should meet the needs of most users looking for an image editing program to do basic photo editing or make elementary drawings.
It has been a long time since I last used ClamTk, the graphical interface for the ClamAV command line virus scanner for Linux. I previously reviewed ClamTk 2.32 in 2007, but stopped using it in about 2011, because I found ClamAV worked better from the command line instead. One of the main issues was that back then ClamTk could only scan the user's home directory and not the whole computer, rendering it of limited use.
ClamAV is great as a command line, on-demand scanner for desktop users, but it really shines in its role as a sysadmin-configured mail server scanner running in daemon mode, examining incoming and outgoing mail traffic for malware. It's main drawback for desktop use is that it has complex configuration commands for anything other than very basic scanning. The functionality is all there, you just have to learn the command line syntax to make use of it all, so it really isn't a program for Linux beginners.
Recently I was helping a friend with a dozen or so viruses, trojans, etc, that she had on her Windows 10 laptop ("friends don't let friends use Windows") and gave ClamTk another try in scrubbing her files. I found that modern versions have a completely new interface, better features and new functionality, enough to make it quite worthwhile now.
Do Linux Users Really Need Antivirus?
This question always comes up whenever I bring up antivirus for Linux. Linux is pretty well protected against malware, so the short answer is "no", unless you send files to Windows users in any form, then you really need to make sure everything is clean for their sake. So, basically, "yes".
ClamTk's main interface is essentially just a simple menu, with buttons to configure it and carry out on-demand or pre-programmed scans. It is very easy to figure out and use, even for beginners.
Because ClamTk is just a user interface for ClamAV, it can't do more than the command line scanner does, but it does make many tasks quicker and simpler. For instance, if you just want to scan single file or directory, you can click right through to it, rather than having to type out a command line file pathway. It also allows easy selection of features, such as recursive scanning (scanning the sub-directories within a directory), including flagging Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs), if desired. PUAs are suspicious files that may be adware or similar, but not actual malware. It also quickly allows setting up scheduled scans and easy quarantining of identified malware files or just deleting them. Deleting a file means it is gone, not just sent to trash. When files are quarantined they are sent to ~/.clamtk/viruses where they can be just left there and viewed from the interface or directly deleted.
Unlike the much earlier versions of ClamTk, this newer version can scan system directories, without requiring root access, which is handy. Scanning individual system directories is easy, just select them from the "scan a directory" menu. Scanning the whole computer requires a bit more creativity, as you can't click on the "root" directory, but need to specify it to scan location "/".
Virus definition updates are done automatically by default and checked for updates every hour by the freshclam daemon. The updates are for ClamAV, of course, since ClamTk simply runs ClamAV's scanning engine and definitions.
While running ClamTk itself uses about 70 MB of RAM, while ClamAV uses about 25% CPU and 700 MB of RAM. They both run together, of course, because ClamTk is just an interface for ClamAV. On my PC that resource usage is not too excessive and, in fact, I can carry on work normally while it is running, so I rate the resource usage as "light".
One real strength of ClamTk over ClamAV is that it gives complete reports on anything suspicious that it finds, including file pathways. In theory ClamAV does this too, but when doing a full system scan it often just displays long lists of errors that clog the terminal window and that prevents accessing the list of potential malware found. ClamTk does a much better job of presenting this information, including creating human-readable logs that can be accessed from the interface or directly in ~/.clamtk/history.
I only found one fault with ClamTk 5.27. It perpetually shows "an update is available" right on the main interface, unless you turn it off from the settings menu. This is not indicating that a virus definition update is needed, as most users would assume, but that a new version of the GUI is available. It seems that even though Lubuntu 19.04 came with ClamTk 5.27 in the repositories, there is a newer version out now, ClamTk 6.01. This could be installed from a .deb file, from the ClamTk website, but, in general, I prefer to stick with the repository versions to avoid potential incompatibilities. Perpetually showing this warning on the interface is a minor annoyance. The Ubuntu repositories keep the underlying ClamAV engine up to date and the automatic updates keep the virus definitions up to date, so an outdated GUI is a very minor issue and really not worth an ongoing warning about, at least by default. What other application does this?
Overall ClamTk has come a long way in the last 12 years and is now really quite good. The current version allows easy graphical access to the full functionality of ClamAV for desktop use and without any need for technical skills or memorizing long lists of terminal commands. This means that ClamTk is exactly what most Linux desktop users need in a virus scanner.
In May 2019, FeatherPad developer Tsu Jan let me know that he has added spellchecking to the Qt-based text editor.
In an interview I did with him in April for Full Circle, Tsu Jan indicated that spellchecking wasn't on the radar for FeatherPad. Spellchecking would require another dependency for the application and he was trying to avoid further dependencies. In an email today, though, he indicated that he had added spellchecking using Hunspell as a result of my interview question and that it seems to work quite well.
Tsu Jan noted, "the developers of Hunspell had done 99% of the job — I just adapted their work. Actually, when I realized how nice Hunspell was, I thought
I'd be a fool If I didn't add it as a dependency."
Personally I think this is a great move. I use FeatherPad for writing webpages (like this one!) and spellchecking makes that task a lot easier. I am looking forward to trying it out in October and will write more about it then.
LXImage-Qt is the new Qt-based image viewer for the LXQt desktop, as found in Lubuntu 18.10 and later. It was started by Hong Jen Yee (PCMan) and now worked on by the LXQt developer community. LXImage-Qt replaces GPicView, which was used on the LXDE desktop found in Lubuntu 18.04 LTS and earlier.
Image viewers are one of those mundane pieces of software that very few people think about: you click on an image file in your file browser and it opens, showing the photo. All of them allow arrow-keying though the images in any given folder. Most modern ones also have a slideshow feature, that shows each image in the folder for a set period of time, typically five seconds. That is about it for most image viewers, but LXImage-Qt has some unique features that set it apart.
LXImage-Qt includes the ability to annotate images with red arrows, boxes, circles and numbered dots and then save the image like that. This is really handy for drawing attention to items in images you send to people or post on-line.
Exif data display is now included in LXImage-Qt. Exif is metadata, usually included in a photo by a camera or scanner, or added by image editing software. Many other operating systems include this, but usually in the file manager, not the image viewer. Exif data is a welcome addition to the Lubuntu desktop and saves having to use a command line Exif manager, like Exiv2.
LXImage-Qt includes a screenshot tool. In the old LXDE days the Lubuntu screenshot tool was a command line tool, called Scrot, with a key binding to the "print screen" button. LXImage-Qt gives more control over screenshots, including partial screen captures of defined areas and then just opens them in the image viewer, so they can be annotated and saved. It works in a much more integrated manner that the old Scrot did.
In testing LXImage-Qt I have discovered that using it to rotate and then save images greatly reduces the file size, by about 80%, reducing a 300 X 300 ppi image to 96 X 96, for some reason.
Overall LXImage-Qt is a remarkable piece of software, as it does much more than most users would expect. It is just one component that makes the LXQt desktop work so well and why LXQt is a worthy successor to LXDE.
The Discover Software Center is the flip side of the Muon Package Manager, a more user-friendly "software store" sort of application, aimed at beginners. Developed initially by Muon software developer Jonathan Thomas, starting in 2010, it was part of the Muon Suite and has been used in Kubuntu. With the move to the LXQt desktop and its emphasis on Qt-based applications, Discover became the software store for Lubuntu, starting in 18.10.
This application has been though many names. It was initially called the Muon Software Center, later the Muon Discover Software Center and finally the Discover Software Center. It is now usually called just “Discover” for short. The package name is plasma-discover, as it is part of the KDE Plasma 5 desktop.
Discover is the fourth software management application for Lubuntu. The first was Synaptic, a powerful, but not all that user-friendly application. When Ubuntu introduced the Ubuntu Software Center in 2009, starting with Ubuntu 9.10, Lubuntu opted to stay with Synaptic, as the Ubuntu Software Center proved too resource intensive for Lubuntu's lightweight aspirations. The Lubuntu developers decided to write their own software store application instead. In 2012, the resulting lightweight, user-friendly, software store, the Lubuntu Software Center, was introduced as part of Lubuntu 12.04. In 2016, it was replaced by Gnome Software, starting with Lubuntu 16.10, before the move to Discover in October 2018, with Lubuntu 18.10. Synaptic remained part of the default Lubuntu ISO until Lubuntu 18.10, when Muon supplanted it.
Discover has a well-designed, simple and clean interface, which allows easily searching, installing and removing applications, plus it handles software updates, too. In use, Discover works reasonably well, most of the time. In my testing it sometimes failed to locate some installed packages, like Firefox, for instance.
Reviews of Discover have been quite consistent. In a 2018 review, OMG Ubuntu's Joey Sneddon thought Discover was "improving nicely" over time, but still not quite there yet. In reviewing Lubuntu 18.10, DistroWatch's Jesse Smith wrote: "swapping out GNOME Software for Discover feels like a step backwards. The former is faster, has a nicer interface (in my opinion) and I did not run into duplicate entries in the GNOME Software tool. Discover feels like a poorer tool, introduced for toolkit purity rather than capability … I'd like to see Discover replaced with just about any other modern software manager." Most of the users quoted in Gnome Software reviews agreed, indicating it is not ready for daily use yet, involves too much scrolling or has bugs and errors. One user wrote, "nice software manager with pretty GUI and fancy features. Unfortunately it is work in progress and it shows."
Based on my own testing, I tend to agree with all those reviews: Discover has promise, but isn't quite ready for daily production use yet. This is a little disappointing, as it has been under development for nine years, so you would think it would be better by this point in time.
Fortunately there is no need to use Discover on Lubuntu LXQt, as it comes with Muon, which works really well and is quick to learn.
The Muon Package Manager is the new Lubuntu software installer and update application, which replaces the previously default Software Updater (package name: update-manager), as well as Synaptic.
Software Updater has long been the standard application used on Ubuntu, Xubuntu and Lubuntu, but the move to being Qt toolkit-based led Lubuntu's developers to move away from that GTK-based application.
Muon has an interesting history. It was started by Jonathan Thomas in July 2010, with the aim of addressing the dearth of Qt-based package managers that were available for the KDE desktop at that time. Thomas first developed QApt, a package management framework, designed for graphical interfaces to be written to use it. His own GUI was written after that and was named after the muon elementary particle.
Muon's role was later complimented by a new application, initially named the Muon Software Center, a "software store" aimed at beginner-level users. The Muon Software Center later became the Muon Discover Software Center and finally just the Discover Software Center (package name: plasma-discover), part of the KDE Plasma desktop. The two applications, along with some other utilities, were initially known as the "Muon Package Management Suite" or just the "Muon Suite" for short. Starting with Kubuntu 11.10 in 2011 the Muon Suite became the default Kubuntu package management system. Today Muon is still found in Kubuntu 19.04. Eight years after they were both started, Muon and Discover came to Lubuntu in 18.10.
Muon is used to manage and install software updates, as well to find, install or remove software packages. It can purge configuration files and and also remove no longer needed packages. In many ways Muon is similar to Synapatic, which it was patterned after, although Muon is easier to use. Thomas says that Muon is "targeted for the intermediate to power user range", which seems about right.
I first encountered Muon after installing Lubuntu 18.10 in March 2019. Usually the first thing that happens after installing Lubuntu, Xubuntu or Ubuntu is that the Software Updater pops up and offers the latest updates (unless you set the installation to download those automatically). That didn't happen and sent me searching the menus to find out out why not. I quickly found Muon on the System Tools menu and opened it up. Muon was easy to figure out: I just let it index the package list, which it did automatically and then ran "check for updates", "full upgrade" and then "apply changes" and it retrieved and installed all the available updates.
Muon gives the user a lot of control over the updating process, including deselecting packages, and also shows in detail what is happening at each step. In this regard it is much better than the Software Updater, which is aimed at beginners, who can just wait for it to pop-up, indicting updates are available and then just press "install now". The one thing Muon doesn't do is automatically check for updates. I actually find this a bonus, as I can check it when I want and not have to deal with it popping up when I am doing other work. Some users, particularly Linux beginners, might forget to check it regularly, however, which could be a problem as their system could be missing important security updates. Perhaps those users need to just check it on a regular schedule, such as every Friday, or whenever they run their back-ups or similar.
Overall I like Muon quite a lot. It has a nice geeky, serious feel to it, while being easy to use and it gives the user a lot of control over updates. It is an improvement over the both the previously used Software Updater and Synaptic on Lubuntu. It does everything a package manager needs to do, in a user-friendly manner.
I did not install Xubuntu 19.04 on my hard drive, but instead ran it for a few days as a live session from a USB stick. I made up the stick using the Startup Disk Creator and ran it from there. When run from a USB the operating system runs very fast, nothing like a DVD live session, which can be quite slow. The only disadvantage of the USB live session is that Startup Disk Creator writes the USB partition in ISO format and thus when you are done with it you need to use Gparted to erase the stick it and return the partition to FAT32.
Xubuntu 19.04 represents a steady and incremental development of the Xfce desktop. Just like all releases since Xubuntu 14.04 LTS, it employs the Whisker Menu as its menu system. Whisker is the main feature that makes Xubuntu distinctive from the other Ubuntu flavours. It is highly customizable and can even be resized. Most users will usually pick applications right from the "favourites" list, which is the first menu shown. Whisker also has the shutdown controls, a configuration button, screen locking and an application search box, so everything is in one place. The only thing it doesn't have is a button to minimize all windows at once, which would be nice to have.
Xubuntu 19.04 uses Xfce version 4.13, but it incorporates some advances backported from the next release, Xfce 4.14. It also includes a few new applications: AptURL, a graphical mini-program for installing packages, the GIMP graphics editor, LibreOffice Impress slide show application and LibreOffice Draw vector graphics editor. LibreOffice Writer and Calc were previously included, but not Impress or Draw. LibreOffice is now complete in Xubuntu except for the database application, LibreOffice Base, which can be easily installed if needed. The Orage calendar application was replaced with a simpler display calendar in Xubuntu 19.04.
This version of Xubuntu retains "Greybird" as the default window colour scheme. I have never been a fan of it, as it is very hard to tell active from inactive windows, as they are both grey. Up until Xubuntu 18.10 there was an alternative colour scheme called "Kokodi" which is very similar to "Clearlooks". It renders active window tops blue and inactive ones grey, but it is no longer offered in 19.04. None of the offered six window themes in 19.04 provide very good differentiation between active and inactive windows.
The Xubuntu 19.04 default wallpaper is very similar to the last few releases. It is a bit dull and uninspired, but Xubuntu 19.04 has a total of 17 wallpapers to choose from, or you can use your own instead.
Some of the applications included with Xubuntu 19.04 are:
* indicates same application version as used in Xubuntu 18.10.
As with Xubuntu 18.10, by default there is no webcam application, although Guvcview and Cheese are available in the repositories.
As in my last look at Xubuntu, the Thunar file manager is a bright spot, with nice features like Exif data and bulk file renaming. The Mousepad text editor is notable, too. It has syntax highlighting, including a wide choice of highlighting colour schemes. It lacks only spellchecking.
Xubuntu 19.04 is a good solid release. As I have noted before, Xubuntu and the Xfce desktop are very mature and so there very few changes between releases, just small tweaks and new application versions from the repositories. Overall Xubuntu remains a great distro for getting work done - no flash or bling, just solid stability, an elegant design and good performance.
Lubuntu 19.04 was released on . I had not planned on installing it and instead intended on sticking with Lubuntu 18.04 LTS until the next LTS in a year from now, but in testing 19.04 in a series of DVD live sessions, it was so good that I decided to give it a try. I installed it on my System76 laptop, while keeping Lubuntu 18.04 LTS on my desktop.
This is a "standard release" and so is only supported for nine months, until January 2020. So I will need to upgrade to Lubuntu 19.10 in the fall to bridge the January to April gap to reach Lubuntu 20.04 LTS without losing support.
This release is the second LXQt-based release for Lubuntu. Moving Lubuntu from LXDE to LXQt was announced in 2014 and was initially intended to be included in 14.10, but it actually took four years to get to the first release. That first LXQt version, Lubuntu 18.10, wasn't all that good, with several serious problems, but 19.04 has addressed all of them and is much improved.
The actual installation of Lubuntu 19.04 took 15 minutes, which is faster than any recent installations, although configuring it and re-installing documents took an hour or so. The installation process was relatively smooth, with the new Calamares system installer working fine.
Here is a comparison of the boot times between recent Lubuntu versions on the same System 76 Pangolin Performance laptop hardware:
Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
Lubuntu 18.04 LTS
This is the slowest boot time for any version of Lubuntu yet. I am not sure if this is a SystemD issue or LXQt.
Here is a comparison of RAM usage after a fresh boot:
Lubuntu RAM Comparison
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
Lubuntu 18.04 LTS
As can be seen, the idle RAM usage is up 46% over Lubuntu 18.04 LTS, which is actually unsurprising, given Lubuntu is no longer aimed at being "lightweight".
My first task, after installation and a reboot, was to update the software. The new software updater is the Muon package manager. Updating required letting it catalogue its search index and then hitting "check for updates", "full upgrade" and then "apply changes". Unlike the previous Software Updater (package name: update-manager), there is no automatic checking for changes and notifications, you have to check manually, which I like, as it is less intrusive. Muon is a bit geeky, its website says that it is "targeted for the intermediate to power user range." It works well, though and seems to fit the new LXQt environment. I like the much greater control it gives users over updates. I have written a separate review of Muon.
The Lubuntu 19.04 wallpaper is the same as that used on 18.04 LTS and 18.10, but with a brightly coloured hummingbird added to the "star field". This actually really dresses up the previously uninspiring design a lot. The hummingbird is the emblem of LXQt, so the tie-in there is obvious. What isn't obvious is why this wallpaper wasn't used in 18.10, since that was the first LXQt release.
Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 19.04 are:
Like Lubuntu 18.10, Lubuntu 19.04 does not come with either a webcam application or any image editing software, although these can be easily added from the repositories, if desired.
This release comes with FeatherPad 0.9.3, the LXQt default text editor. This version incorporates some small changes over the last version, all just incremental development. After having used FeatherPad for the past seven months I think it is the best text editor available today. It is lightweight, fast, easy to set-up and use, has syntax highlighting and an amazing array of keyboard shortcuts and other features that makes writing code fast and fun.
This Lubuntu release comes with LXimage-Qt 0.14.1, which is the LXQt default image viewer. Like most image viewers it is intended to be a simple application that allows picture viewing, including slideshow capabilities, but it also has some nice additional features not often found in an image viewer. These include the ability to display Exif metadata (like photo shutter speed and aperture), which saves having to install a command line metadata reader, like Exiv2. LXimage-Qt also has the ability to add simple image annotations including being able to add a red box, circle, arrow or numbering dots to any photo and then save the image with them. This makes highlighting or numbering features on any image very easy and fast. It also saves having use a separate image editor like GIMP for these simple tasks. LXimage-Qt is also the screenshot utility on Lubuntu, now, giving more options when making screenshots, including shots of part of the screen, which also saves later editing in GIMP. I did a separate review of LXImage-Qt.
Lubuntu 19.04 includes the PCManFM-Qt 0.14.1 file manager. This version has one nice new feature: a bulk file renamer that was written by Tsu Jan. It is supposed to be called up with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F2, but it doesn't seem to respond, so has to be called from the menu. To use it just select two or more files and then choose the bulk renamer from the "edit" menu. You can then type in a new file name, select the numbering, the file extension and it will rename them all. It is simple, but works well and saves having to install a separate application for bulk file renaming, like GPrename. One enormous advantage over GPrename is that when bulk file renaming in PCManFM-Qt you can adjust the view so that you can see the files to be renamed, in the case of images. This greatly simplifies renaming photos, the most usual use for bulk renaming.
PCManFM-Qt 0.14.1 has proven to be a lot more stable than PCManFM 1.2.5 which is the file manager used in Lubuntu 18.04, the most recent LTS release. PCManFM 1.2.5 crashes often, whereas PCManFM-Qt 0.14.1 doesn't.
Lubuntu 19.04 uses the XScreenSaver screensaver and screen locker. This is a project that was first released in 1992, so it dates from the dawn of Linux itself! It hasn't been seen in the Ubuntu world for many years, probably due to its dialogue box that is rendered with Xlib and not GTK or Qt and so looks a bit unsophisticated. Given the issues with light-locker in Lubuntu and Xubuntu 18.04 LTS, XScreenSaver is a welcome addition as it works well and hasn't caused any problems.
In configuring and testing the new installation there were no serious issues. In fact the new configuration menus are both easy to find and use. That makes customizing Lubuntu LXQt a breeze.
Lubuntu now comes with a dark theme, Lubuntu Arc, by default. I am not a fan of dark themes, but it is quick and easy to change it. I used Clearlooks 3.4 for the window colour scheme and the light scheme for lxqt-panel, modified to a colour of #aaaaaa to make it a bit darker grey, so that all the icons show up. Printing and scanning both set up smoothly and work fine.
My laptop track pad now works great and has many more configuration options. This is fixed!
LibreOffice did not come with spelling, lacking any dictionaries, but it was easy enough to install Hunspell this time from the extensions list and that fixed it.
Internet connectivity is working fine in 19.04, although it isn't clear why. It is unlikely to have been the gateway firmware, as was suggested and much more likely to have been something in the Ubuntu back end, perhaps in the Linux kernel itself, that was to blame there. Regardless it is now fixed.
There was one new glitch that has been widely noted on-line:
GIMP crashes on copy
The GIMP 2.10.8 image editor has a well documented problem across many different distros, so not a Lubuntu-specific issue: it crashes when copying images, or parts of them, with Ctrl+C, or from the menu. It seems to be an interaction issue with all clipboard managers. No real direct fix for this seems to exist, although I found a work around using the simple mtPaint image editor instead. MtPaint seems to do just about all the basic photo editing GIMP can do. It used to be included with Lubuntu, up to 18.04 LTS.
Lubuntu 19.04 is actually a real joy to use and is the best version of Lubuntu yet released. It is well thought out and everything works well. This release is good enough to be an LTS release, if it wasn't for the nine month support window. I expect to run it on my laptop until October 2019 and then update to 19.10, before Lubuntu 20.04 LTS comes out in April 2020. I then expect to be running Lubuntu 20.04 LTS on all my computers.
Firefox 66 arrived on 19 March 2019 and brought some good news! This version included audio auto-play blocking by default.
When I first heard about this feature coming I thought it wouldn't be a big deal, but it really is. Suddenly video and audio cannot auto-play, making the web a quiet place, at long last. This makes browsing a much calmer experience; no more scrambling to make it shut up. Probably the worst case has been something like this: you get up early on a Sunday morning and leave your partner slumbering fitfully in bed. You make your way to the kitchen, make coffee and decide to check the news, while your partner sleeps on undisturbed. You click on a news article and ... instant noise, as some stupid, unwanted video auto-plays. Well, not any more.
From a user point of view it works very easily. All audio and video is blocked by default. If a video is playing with muted sound then it will be allowed. If you want to play the content just hit the "play" button and it will play normally. Ctrl+m still works to mute a tab, too. You have control back at last. If videos or music are sequenced for playback, then once you hit "play" once it will continue to play, as the site intended. The content is only blocked initially.
Websites can be "whitelisted", if you really want auto-play enabled, simply by clicking the URL bar playback icon and then "permissions".
Mozilla has made a number of missteps in recent years, but this wasn't one of them. Preventing auto-play audio and video is a good move and makes the web a better place. Most of all, it gives uses control back of their on-line experience.
Xubuntu 18.04 LTS was released back on . I hadn't used it before this, but my recent troubleshooting gave me the opportunity to give it a try for a few days, at least. I also later upgraded 18.04 to 18.10, but that didn't work out so well, introducing an internet connection problem.
As a long term support release, Xubuntu 18.04 LTS is supported for three years, until April 2021.
I did a fresh installation of Xubuntu 18.04.2 LTS, the second point release of this version. The installation from the DVD went smoothly and only took about 17 minutes to complete.
The use of Xubuntu 18.04.2 for the installation resulted in one issue, a crash on screen locking that I described previously. Once it goes into "lock" it does not come out without a system reboot. This seem to be an issue for all the 18.04.2 installations that use light-locker, including Lubuntu and Xubuntu. If I had known that I would have installed 18.04.0 instead, the original ISO from April 2018, because I was able to prove it doesn't include this bug, even when fully updated. The issue is bug 1817922, which I have added some contributions to.
It is probably worth noting that Xubuntu can also be installed on top of any other 'buntu flavour, as an alternative desktop with:
$ sudo apt install xubuntu-desktop
or for a minimal installation:
$ sudo apt install xubuntu-core
and then chosen at log-in.
Xubuntu features the Xfce desktop. Since Xubuntu 14.04 LTS this distro has used the Whisker Menu as its default menu system. Prior to that it had a two menu system and Whisker was an optional add-on installed from a third-party Personal Package Archive (PPA). The Whisker Menu makes Xubuntu a bit unique and also makes it fairly efficient to use. It displays applications by category, such as "accessories", "internet" and "office", but also collects "favourites", which can be customized by adding or removing items. "Favourites" is the first menu page users see, and so it is usually two clicks to find the application you need. The Whisker Menu also includes screen-locking and logging out/shut down, so everything is in one place.
The desktop panel used is the Xfce4 Panel, which is by default located at the top of the screen. The context menu Panel→ Panel Preferences → uncheck Lock panel, allows grabbing it and moving it to the bottom or sides, allowing lots of customization.
I prefer window colours that give a clear indication which window is active and which other ones are not, like "Clearlooks" does, with blue for active windows and grey for inactive. The default "Greybird" window colour scheme doesn't do this and that makes it very hard to quickly pick out the active window, since active and inactive windows are all grey. This means when using keyboard shortcuts it is easy to close the wrong window by mistake. There are additional window themes available though, and "Kokodi" is very similar to "Clearlooks".
The native Thunar file manager now has many nice built-in features, such as bulk file renaming. To access that just highlight two or more files, hit F2 and the dialogue box appears. This is quite brilliant and eliminates needing a separate bulk file renamer, such as GPrename.
Thunar also includes Exif metadata for image and other files, a nice feature to have. It integrates Catfish for desktop file searches.
The included Mousepad text editor started off as a fork of Leafpad, but was later re-written from scratch. It has some nice added features, such as syntax highlighting, including a wide choice of highlighting colour schemes. It is very close to FeatherPad for functionality and, like that other text editor, lacks only spellchecking.
Because I installed 18.04.2 and not 18.04.0, it resulted in the light-locker issue described earlier. In a test to see if it could be fixed, I upgraded Xubuntu 18.04.2 to 18.10. and that not only didn't fix the issue, it introduced the same internet connectivity issues that Lubuntu 18.10 did. This resulted in me installing Lubuntu 18.04.0 LTS and that fixed my problems, at least for now. Based on the evidence, I am fairly certain that if I had started with Xubuntu 18.04.0 and not 18.04.2 it would have worked 100% fine.
Xubuntu 18.04 LTS is a good solid release. These days Xubuntu and the Xfce desktop are very mature and so there are not a lot of changes between releases, just small tweaks and new application versions from the repositories. Overall it is a great distro for getting work done and it would be my second choice for my own personal use behind Lubuntu-LXDE. Once Lubuntu 20.04 LTS comes out I will have to have a close look at it and see how mature the new LXQt desktop is and whether I want to stick with Lubuntu or not.
Distrohopping is the practice of installing a string of different Linux distributions (distros), one after the other, in the hopes of finding the right one. For many Linux users this is an almost endless pursuit of the holy grail of Linux distros, always finding a new distro to try, that promises perfection. I found myself distrohopping recently, to try and solve a problem and it led me back to my starting point in the end.
As I described recently, I had what seems to have been a software corruption on the Lubuntu 18.04 LTS installation on my System76 Pangolin Performance laptop. It just wouldn't boot. While annoying, this is usually easy to resolve by just reinstalling the operating system.
I thought that this might be a good opportunity to try out Lubuntu 18.10, since it is very different from 18.04. Lubuntu 18.10 introduced the LXQt desktop, in place of the LXDE desktop used since Lubuntu's inception in 2010. Installing Lubuntu 18.10 turned out to be a mistake, as it doesn't work very well, at least on my hardware, as I documented. This was mostly due to a networking issue, whereby the browser loses the internet connection, while the PC remains connected, something one review briefly noted and at least one other use found.
It is also seemed possible that this internet connection issue was a firmware incompatibility between 18.10 and my TP-Link 8951ND gateway (router-modem), which some users had encountered, or at least thought they had:
No matter, I thought, I will just reinstall Lubuntu 18.04.2 LTS, the current point release version of 18.04. The installation went quite smoothly and the internet connection problem disappeared. The only problem was that when the laptop apparently went into "suspend" it locked up and could only be recovered by a hard reboot.
I thought it might be a residual issue from the previous file system, so I used the All-in-One System Rescue Toolkit'snwipe to blank the hard drive from a DVD live session and start over again, with literally a blank slate.
I reinstalled Lubuntu 18.04.2 LTS again from scratch ... and the problem persisted.
So next I decided to try a different distro, Xubuntu 18.04.2 LTS, the Xfce desktop relative of Lubuntu. Xubuntu would be my second choice, if I couldn't use Lubuntu. The installation of that went well and I started testing. Lo and behold the suspend problem appeared there as well! In doing more testing I discovered that it was not "suspend" that was crashing, it was the screen locker, light-locker, that seemed to be causing the problem. Once it went into "lock" it would not come out without a system reboot. If I had known that, I wouldn't have installed Xubuntu 18.04.2, because it uses the same application and version, light-locker 1.8.0, as Lubuntu. It may be bug 1802413, but there isn't enough information to be sure. It is definitely bug 1817922, which I added some information to.
Next I tried downloading and testing Xubuntu 18.10. In two DVD live sessions 18.10 seemed to solve the screen locking issue, while 18.04 didn't, but it is hard to tell on a live session as the screen blanks but doesn't lock. I decided to try to upgrade my installation of Xubuntu 18.04 to 18.10 and see if that solved it, or if it introduced new problems, which it did. Xubuntu 18.10 turned out to have the same screen locking problem as 18.04 and also duplicated the browser internet connection issues of Lubuntu 18.10, making it unusable.
Lubuntu 18.04.2 should be exactly the same as 18.04.0, plus all its updates, but by this point I was suspicious that was not the case. I thought I would try a scratch installation of 18.04.0 and then update it. Fortunately 18.04.0 is still available on the Lubuntu releases website and so I downloaded it. The installation worked fine and solved both issues, so I think that this proves that there is actually something different between 18.04.2 and 18.04.0 plus updates, probably some dependency somewhere that is causing the issue.
So the problem was fixed, although it took five days to get there. If I had just known that I needed to install Lubuntu 18.04.0, I could have been done in an hour. All of this was eerily reminiscent of a past experience I had with Lubuntu 11.10, back in October 2011, which took three days to solve.
The internet connection issue remains an oddity. In April 2019 installed Lubuntu 19.04 on my laptop after days of testing it on DVD live sessions and seeing no connection issues at all. It has continued to work fine, which seems to rule out a gateway issue and points to some software issue present in Lubuntu/Xubuntu 18.10 and fixed in 19.04. As a bonus Lubuntu 19.04 does not use light-locker for screen locking, it uses xscreensaver instead, so that issue has been solved as well.
Lubuntu 18.10 was released back on , but I decided back then to not bother upgrading from 18.04 LTS and stick with long term support instead. That plan went great until when my laptop refused to boot. Testing showed something was wrong with the software, not the hardware, and that meant a quick operating system re-install was the easiest way to fix it. The date was only six weeks until the release of Lubuntu 19.04, but the opportunity seemed worthwhile to at least give 18.10 a try in the meanwhile.
As a regular release, Lubuntu 18.10 is supported for just nine months, until July 2019.
This release is, of course, a milestone version of Lubuntu, being the first LXQt-based release. Moving Lubuntu from LXDE to LXQt was announced in 2014 and has taken four years to develop to the stage of first release. This means that Lubuntu 18.04 LTS is the last release with the LXDE desktop and all future versions of Lubuntu will be based on LXQt.
The actual complete installation of Lubuntu 18.10 took just 16 minutes, which is quite fast, by recent standards, although configuring it and re-installing documents took an hour or so. The installation process was relatively smooth, although the new Calamares system installer is quite different from the old Ubiquity installer and takes a bit of learning.
It is probably worth noting that Lubuntu can also be installed on top of any other 'buntu flavour, as an alternative desktop with:
$ sudo apt install lubuntu-desktop
or for a minimal installation:
$ sudo apt install lubuntu-core
and then chosen at log-in.
Everything is new in 18.10, so I was learning from scratch. My first task, after installation and a reboot, was to figure out how to update the software. The software updater is built into the Muon package manager. Updating required letting it catalogue its search index and then hitting "check for updates", "full upgrade" and then "apply changes". Since I am really quite "late to the party" with 18.10 there were 404 MB of updates to download and install, followed by a reboot.
The Lubuntu 18.10 wallpaper is the same as that used on 18.04 LTS, a "star field" design that is okay, if a bit uninspired.
Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 18.10 are:
In configuring and testing the new installation it quickly became apparent that there were a lot of new and serious issues.
My laptop track pad would not work right and no settings were available to fix it. The issue was that tapping for click and scrolling does not work. This can be "worked around" using the buttons, but this certainly slows workflow down.
The LibreOffice installation would not read any dictionaries and even installing new ones did not resolve the issue. Without spellchecking LibreOffice is of very limited use.
At least one review noted WiFi networking issues with the default nm-tray network manager and recommended wicd as an alternative. It hinted that might not work either and it didn't. What I saw was a solid wifi connection on wicd, command line ICMP pings working flawlessly, but all browsers (including the default Firefox and installed Falkon) would load webpages fine and then suddenly show no network connection found, requiring a system reboot to resolve this and then only for a minute or two until the problem reoccurred. My FTP client, FileZilla, would not complete a connection at all and even command line downloads didn't work right. The review only suggested using smartphone USB tethering, instead of WiFi as a solution, which is useless for me, not having a cellphone. Testing showed it wasn't just WiFi affected, but ethernet connections as well. Testing Xubuntu 18.10 showed that it seems have this problem as well. The problem can also be seen on a DVD live session. It is possible that it only does this on certain hardware, as it may be related to software interaction with the network controller. It seems unlikely that it is impacting all Lubuntu and Xubuntu 18.10 users or there would be much more noise about this. One other user also reported this issue, but no answers were been found. Notably, in later testing, this problem is not found in Lubuntu or Xubuntu 19.04, so whatever it was has been fixed.
There was also one repeat minor glitch that has existed since Lubuntu 15.10, that was easily fixed:
GPRename not on the menus
The GPRename bulk file-renamer once again did not show up on the Lubuntu main menu or the PCManFM application menus, due to lacking a desktop config file. It can still be run from the main menu run command, though, so this is an easy work around. As with Lubuntu 15.10 and 16.04 LTS, I installed it on the menus. I used an old GPRename desktop file and tried using Run → gksudo pcmanfm to act as root, but it seems to be no longer supported, but sudo pcmanfm in a terminal worked just fine. I dropped the file into /usr/share/applications and that resulted in it immediately showing up in the accessories menus.
As a result of these issues I found that Lubuntu 18.10 is not usable on my laptop and so I was forced to replace it with Lubuntu 18.04 LTS, although even that proved to be a complex fix.
Lubuntu 18.10 has some serious flaws for my use, notably that the internet connection isn't working on WiFi or ethernet. That makes it unsuitable, at least for use on my current laptop hardware. There are also some minor annoyances with the LXQt desktop that I hope are fixed before its first LTS version, Lubuntu 20.04 LTS, due out in April 2020. In the meantime Lubuntu 18.04 LTS is still working well and is supported until April 2021.
When I upgraded to Lubuntu 18.04 LTS my CanoScan LiDE 20 flatbed scanner stopped working properly.
With all past versions of Lubuntu and Ubuntu, back to Ubuntu 7.04, this scanner has worked fine with Simple Scan and also XSANE. With 18.04 it started acting odd, sometimes scanning normally and other times balking, only working on one USB port and not another, or insisting that new firmware was needed. Sometimes it recognized the scanner and scanned fine, other times it recognized it and wouldn't scan and still at other times it wouldn't recognize the scanner.
I wasn't sure if it was a hardware or software issue, so I did a lot of troubleshooting, changing cables, trying different computers, etc, and traced the issue down to some sort of software problem affecting Simple Scan 3.28.0, XSANE 0.999 and even Skanlite 184.108.40.206, the Qt-based scanning application used in Lubuntu 18.10. All of these use the SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy) back end, in one form or another. Simple Scan and XSANE both use libsane1and Skanlite uses libksane. These all use the current version of SANE, which is 1.0.27. It turned out that with that version of SANE my CanoScan LiDE 20 scanner is no longer supported, which explains the issues, although it is odd that it will scan even intermittently. The LiDE 20 model was introduced in 2002, 17 years ago and I purchased mine in 2004, so it is not really surprising that it is no longer supported.
I booted up Puppy Linux Slacko 6.3.2 from a DVD and tried two older application versions, XSANE 0.997 and Simple Scan 2.32, which use older versions of SANE, and they both worked fine, proving that this is a software support issue and not hardware. I don't do much scanning, but this at least provided a temporary workaround.
A more permanent solution turned out to be easy. Kathryn has a very nice HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 printer/scanner on our internal router network. My scanning applications weren't locating it until I actually added the printer to my list of printers. After adding the printer and setting it up, that scanner now shows up in both Skanlite and Simple Scan. Tests show that it works fine and even scans more quickly than my old LiDE 20 flatbed scanner. Oddly enough the HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 is not listed as supported by SANE, although it is listed as supported by HPLIP for printing.
Given the age of the LiDE 20 flatbed scanner, it is unlikely to come back into support by some future SANE version, so I decided to clear up some desk space and sent it for e-waste recycling.
I have been using Kdenlive as my video editor since Kdenlive 15.12.3 in December 2016. This was after going through a whole series of Linux video editors that didn't work for a number of reasons, in particular poor stability, such as with Pitivi, which consistently proved useless, due to its endless crashes.
I upgraded my operating system to Lubuntu 18.04 LTS in May 2018 and it included Kdenlive 17.12.3 in the repositories. Of course, today 17.12.3 is no longer the current version. As I write this the newest version is 18.12.1, but as always, older versions remain in the Ubuntu LTS repositories. In most cases this is not a bad thing, as a stable version is what you want, especially for video editing. In the case of Kdenlive, the team at KDE started a feature expansion and GUI re-write, starting with version 18.08 and is planning to introduce a complete code refactoring starting with version 19.04. It is probably a good idea to let these new versions come out, be tested and then fixed, before making the jump to that series for production use. All of that means that I am happy to use 17.12.3 for now.
In comparing 17.12.3 with the last version I used, 15.12.3, there have been some changes to the interface, moving some buttons around and such. Overall small changes, but they do improve usability, once the learning curve is overcome (where is that button?) As in the last version I have found stability to be rock-solid, with zero crashes and all features working. Creating videos from clips is fast and easy, especially using the keyboard shortcuts to change from the section tool (s) to the razor tool (x) and the spacer tool (m). The selection tool allows grabbing and moving clips around on the timeline, the razor tool allows cutting clips up, to delete or move sections of the clips and the spacer tool allows moving groups of clips as a package, which saves a lot of time when you need to insert or remove a clip in the middle of the timeline. For any unknown features, Kdenlive has a good, easy to understand on-line user manual, which is a great help.
Transitions are very easy to add. A single click at the corner of an overlapped clip inserts the default dissolve transition. The dissolve transitions are beautifully done, too, so well, in fact, that the viewer won't notice them, which is what you want. In this new version moving clips also adjusts the transition, which makes editing faster.
The rendering menus have been greatly improved in 17.12.3. They have been all consolidated and now present all options on a single menu page, making it easier to find formats to render in. As a bonus, Kdenlive now supports WebM in both VP8/Vorbis and VP9/Opus formats and are the first choices presented. It is great to have an open format available and prominently displayed. WebM is Google's open format that is used on YouTube. So, while YouTube accepts many video input formats, it makes sense to use its native format as it then requires no conversion at the server end. Rendering on Kdenlive is always fast too. Typically for the 720p videos of 5-6 minutes that I create, it takes 3-5 minutes to render. Some past editors I have used, notably Pitivi, took many hours, sometimes over ten hours, to render a video of this size.
As an aside, as I get ready to move from the LXDE-based Lubuntu to the LXQt-based Lubuntu (I will probably make the switch with Lubuntu 20.04 LTS), it is great that Kdenlive, coming from the KDE universe, is Qt-based and will thus fit into the LXQt desktop seamlessly.
Overall I am very pleased with Kdenlive 17.12.3. It is quick and easy to use, well documented, has easy keyboard shortcuts, renders quickly, has nice and smooth transitions that are easy to add, produces a smooth, good quality end result and, best of all, has great stability. That is everything I need in a video editor.
This is a video I created on Kdenlive 17.12.3 and rendered in WebM format:
I have been using LibreOffice and its predecessor, OpenOffice, for more than ten years now. I make daily use of the suite's word processor, LibreOffice Writer and the LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet, too, but until recently I have never had a reason to try out LibreOffice Impress, the slide show creator. Then, recently, I was asked to do some volunteer work for National Capital FreeNet in the form of a public presentation about Free Software at a branch of the Ottawa Public Library. So I opened up Impress for the first time and gave it a shot.
The presentation came together very easily, starting with a choice of 23 colourful templates, which made for a quick start. From there I was able to easily add titles, text and screenshot pictures. Resizing text and pictures was a snap and it all took less time than I thought it would. When done, I used the outline view and copied all the text into LibreOffice Writer to create a summary document for printed handouts. It was all surprisingly fast and seamless.
It has been a few years since I last used any presentation software, but my memories of creating shows on the competitor's software were that it wasn't this fast, smooth, easy or intuitive.
I took the saved Impress .odp Oasis open document file on my System 76 Linux laptop (running Lubuntu 18.04 LTS) to the library and plugged it into the projector via a supplied VGA cable. Once open and in slide show mode, Impress leapt into action, putting the presentation on the screen without any button-pushing and giving me a current slide and next slide view on the laptop screen. The show went flawlessly.
Now that I have my slide show all done and presented once, I may get a chance to do it again at other library locations. To be honest putting this show together was so easy with Impress, that I may volunteer to do some new shows for NCF, just to have the chance to create new presentations.
LibreOffice Impress is very impressive. I can't think of any improvements it needs and thus it rates 10/10.
Falkon is a new Qt-based browser that had been proposed for Lubuntu 18.10, but didn't make the cut. The new Lubuntu philosophy is to use Qt-based applications wherever possible and avoid GTK applications. The Lubuntu developers really wanted a Qt-based browser, but Falkon wasn't included in Lubuntu this time around, due to stability concerns and so they went with the GTK-based Firefox browser instead.
Given the recent trial balloon about charging money for Firefox, my usual browser, I thought it was worth trying out Falkon, to see how well it works. Of note there are several bugs filed for crashes, not storing passwords and spell-checking not working. I particularly wanted to check those issues out.
Falkon was started in 2010 as an educational project, under the name QupZilla. Its aim is to be "a lightweight web browser available through all major platforms". There are versions currently available for Linux and Windows.
Originally QupZilla was written in Python with PyQt4 bindings, but was later completely rewritten in C++ for the Qt environment . Early versions used the QtWebKit rendering engine, but this changed to QtWebEngine with QupZilla version 2.0. QtWebEngine is based on the Chromium back end.
On 10 August 2017, QupZilla became part of the KDE project and at that point the name was changed to Falkon. The Qt-based KDE desktop currently does not use Falkon as its default browser, supplying the GTK-based Firefox instead. I am guessing that they would like to have a good Qt-based browser, though, just like Lubuntu would.
Project version numbering has remained consistent through the name change from QupZilla and 3.0.0 was the first release under the name Falkon, made on 27 February 2018.
I installed Falkon 3.0.0 on Lubuntu 18.04 LTS from the command line using APT and, as usual, the installation went very smoothly:
$ sudo apt install falkon
Falkon does not seem to get updated in between Lubuntu releases, so this may be the version I have to live with until the next Lubuntu version comes out. Development on Falkon continues though and version 3.0.0 was superseded by 3.0.1 on 08 May 2018 and it is available for Lubuntu 18.10, but not 18.04 LTS.
Spell-Checking on Falkon is a known issue, but instructions are supplied there to get it working. There is also an Ubuntu bug report on this, with a similar suggested solution. None of those worked, however, and spell-checking remained broken.
Falkon opens quite quickly, in about two seconds, which always makes a good first impression.
I went through the menus and discovered that they are nicely laid out. They are clear and it is easy to find things. The "Preferences" menu is one of the best found in any browser and makes it easy to configure Falkon quickly. The browser is highly configurable.
I did an "import bookmarks from Firefox", but that didn't work well, as it needed me to know where the bookmarks file was located. Instead I opened Firefox and did a bookmarks "export as html" and then imported that into Falkon. After a bit of rearranging them, they all worked fine. Falkon has a library application that handles bookmarks and history; it is very similar in look and function to Firefox.
Falkon 3.0.0's user interface is fairly clean and uncluttered. The preferences menu includes a small choice of extensions, including a native ad-blocker called "AdBlock", which is "on" by fault. It works well, too, blocking pretty much all the ads, including on YouTube. I find YouTube unusable these days without ad-blocking.
There is a choice of three search engines: DuckDuckGo, Google Search and StartPage, with DuckDuckGo as the default. Other search engines can easily be added without much fuss, too. This is far simpler than Firefox's use of "add-ons" to just set a search engine.
There is no third party cookie blocking available, which would be a very desirable feature. Instead it allows blocking "tracking cookies", but this feature doesn't work well and cookies from the usual culprits, like Facebook, get saved regardless. Private browsing can mitigate that to some extent and Falkon does not share cookies between private browsing windows, the only browser I have found that does not do that. Like Firefox, however, Falkon opens private browsing selections all in different windows and not all in the same window, which can be messy. On the plus side, Falkon actually shows the cookies in the cookie manager for each private browsing instance, so they can be reviewed and deleted. This is also unique among browsers that I have seen as neither Firefox nor Chrome/Chromium allow you to see the private browsing cookies. Of course all private browsing cookies are dumped when the window is closed.
One nice feature is that the cookie manager can be very quickly accessed from the menu bar under "Tools" in two clicks. This is faster cookie access than any other browser and hugely superior to Chrome/Chromium, which hides cookie management a long way down in the menus, seemingly to make it as hard to find as possible.
PDF files can be either downloaded and saved or else opened in the operating system's default PDF viewer, in my case Evince. This is different from Firefox and Chrome, which have built-in PDF viewers, but it works fine. Web page coding (Ctrl+U) opens in a new tab and displays, complete with syntax highlighting and line numbers.
Downloads are well handled and Falkon allows you to choose where to save downloads individually or designate a single place for all downloads in the settings.
Falkon 3.0.0 supports most common browser keyboard shortcuts, including Ctrl+Shift+T to reopen the last and subsequent pages recently closed, but only in normal browsing, not private browsing. Text drag-and-drop in web forms works, although there is no saving of auto-fill data.
Falkon displays a "speaker icon" in any tab that is playing audio and also has Ctrl+M to actually mute the tab, just like Firefox. This is a nice feature.
The new tab page includes a browser-collected selection of "most visited" pages they call "speed dial", or a home page, or a blank page. The default is the Falkon start page which includes a search bar for DuckDuckGo. Again this is highly configurable. Personally, I prefer the blank page.
This version of Falkon scores 516/555 on the HTML5 test which is a high score for HTML 5 support.
The Falkon password manager does work and works well, although it can't figure out Gmail's two-page sign-in and save the password, but other browsers have that same issue, including Epiphany 3.28.1. There is one work-around for this, though, to not set Falkon to clear cookies when it is closed and then it will open again already signed into Gmail.
Tab overflow on Falkon works similarly to Firefox, shrinking tab widths and then scrolling tabs off screen with more than about ten open. There is no ideal solution to tab overflow, all are a compromise, but this follows Firefox's pattern and it works as well as any system does.
On the subject of stability, over several days using Falkon 3.0.0 on Lubuntu 18.04 LTS I didn't see any crashes at all, which is a good sign!
I have to mention the Falkon logo, which is very distinctive, simple and well-designed. It is probably the best browser logo out there today! This bit of art work reflects well on the project.
For these tests all caches were cleared, Falkon had its AdBlock enabled and Firefox had uBlock Origin turned on.
**Falkon 3.0.0 only got 23 tabs open in 24 processes when it ran though almost all my 4 GB of RAM and the browser started hesitating and locking up. Being based on the Chromium back end, it opens each tab in a new process, which eats up the RAM.
The testing shows that basically Falkon 3.0.0 is quite slow at page loading, a RAM hog and can't handle many open tabs without running out of memory, even with 4 GB of RAM available. When browsing with Falkon 3.0.0 it feels slow, too, as some pages take a long time to load. This version certainly cannot be considered "lightweight".
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Falkon/3.0.0 Chrome/56.0.2924.122 Safari/537.36
While I like Falkon's interface, menus, customization and the way it works, overall Falkon 3.0.0 has limitations as a browser. It is slow to load pages, uses a lot of RAM, can't handle many tabs open and lacks basic functionality, like spell-checking and effective third party cookie blocking. It does show real potential, though, more than any other "minority browser" around these days, including Epiphany and Midori. I am hopeful, now that it is part of KDE, that additional work will be be done and development accelerated in addressing its outstanding issues. It could become a truly great browser, potentially better than both Chrome and Firefox, if the developers can get the issues solved.
Mozilla has an ongoing system of user surveys, part of heartbeat, that asks a small random sample of Firefox users to rate Firefox and then complete a user experience survey. I got one of these on my desktop PC yesterday, just after Firefox 63 Quantum arrived via Ubuntu updates.
The survey was actually very extensive and seemed well-designed, gathering opinions on the browser, Mozilla, corporate and user values about non-profits, trustworthiness, privacy, browser extensions and usability, among other subjects. It also asked for demographic and computing device information. A significant number of the hundred or so questions I answered were about the value to me of having software developed by non-profits, corporate ethics, privacy and whether I was willing to pay for that. One question asked whether I would pay for Firefox or at least a "premium" version of it with extra features. A price of US$10 per month was suggested. In the survey I indicated that I was not willing to pay for that.
It is pretty obvious what this is all about, Mozilla has fallen on hard times. Their market share for Firefox has dropped greatly since 2010, partly due to competition from Google Chrome and partly because of a lot of very bad management decisions at Mozilla. Market share data from the W3Counter shows that Firefox is down from a peak market share of 34.1% in July 2010, to 7.1% at the end of September 2018. At the same time Stats Counter shows a drop from 31.82% in November 2009 to 5.01% at the end of September 2018. A level of 5% is pretty close to irrelevance in the browser market.
Back in 2011, when Firefox had about 1/3 of the global browser market, Google paid Mozilla US$300M per year to have Google Search as the default search engine in Firefox for three years, three times the US$100M annually that it had been paying Mozilla previously. When that deal expired in 2014 Mozilla signed a five year deal with Yahoo for US$375M per year, that was to run to 2019. It is no surprise that as Firefox's market share tumbled that its value as a search platform fell too. By 2016, its market share had dropped to about 10%. It was reported in late 2017 that Mozilla had terminated the Yahoo deal and returned to Google Search for an undisclosed amount. "We exercised our contractual right to terminate our agreement with Yahoo! based on a number of factors including doing what’s best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search, and the broader content experience for our users..." Mozilla Chief Business and Legal Officer Denelle Dixon said in a statement. TechCrunch writer Frederic Lardinois noted that while the switch to Yahoo Search "was a small change, it was part of a number of moves that turned users against Firefox because it didn't always feel as if Mozilla had the user’s best interests in mind."
The question that has to be asked is why has Firefox's user share fallen so dramatically since 2010? There is no doubt that part of that was due to competition from Google Chrome and its free software twin, Chromium. Today they own 61-62% of the global browser market and they were in a steep climb back in 2010. They didn't just take users from Firefox though, but almost every other browser on the market, in particular tumbling the then-field leader in 2007, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, from 67.8% to 6.3% by September 2018. But part of the loss of market share was undoubtedly Mozilla's direct fault, too. The switch from Google Search to Yahoo Search in 2014 was just one mistake that cost them users. There have been lots of others, like the lack of support for their long-term projects like Thunderbird and SeaMonkey, the cancellation of Firefox OS for phones and especially screw ups like the Looking Glass affair in December 2017, where Mozilla installed an add-on promoting the Mr. Robot TV show on some users' browsers without their permission. Mozilla developer Steve Klabnik wrote about that, "How can we claim to be pro-privacy while surreptitiously installing software on people’s computers? More importantly, how did management not see this as a problem?” Then there was abandoning of ALSA sound architecture on Linux in March 2017. That one single incident shows where the management problems at Mozilla lie. It could have been done well, based on good data, announced in advance and coordinated with the Linux distros that would be affected. Instead it was not even mentioned in the release notes until users complained and debate on the issue was shut down in an attempt to stifle discussion in a move that was widely perceived as draconian, undemocratic and really arrogant. You may be able to get away with that behaviour with Windows users, but not Linux users. That one incident may have cost Firefox a quarter of its users and the stats show that they haven't come back. These are just a few instances where the company has acted in ways that let users know that they don't count.
The introduction of the Firefox Quantum series of browsers, starting with Firefox 57 in November 2017, hasn't brought users back, either. The data shows that after an initial curiosity uptick, that the user base fell about 10-25% in the year since then.
So now we have a "trial balloon" survey suggesting charging Firefox users money for the browser or at least a "premium" version of it. Will this save the company's flagging fortunes?
Since Firefox is open source, charging people will just result in the source code being forked and a new browser being produced and distributed for free.
If Mozilla decided to protect the browser source code, or the source code for the premium features, by making it closed source, then they will lose all their users right away, since being free software is one of their few selling points.
Any other organization could make a case for asking for donations for their browser development, but Mozilla has squandered a lot of its previous user goodwill and I am not sure donations would amount to more than a trickle.
Overall the survey questions were disquieting and a cause for concern. The company history in recent years looks like an organization with management problems that has lost its way.
As I noted recently, a Java-based issue with my usual text editor, jEdit, left me using Leafpad for writing HTML on. Leafpad is okay as text editors go, stable and easy to master, has low RAM use, but it lacks some features, like spell-checking and syntax highlighting. The recent release of the new LXQt-based Lubuntu 18.10 changed almost all the applications included from GTK-based to Qt-based ones and that meant that it came with a new Qt text editor, FeatherPad.
FeatherPad is developed by a team of developers led by Pedram Pourang (also known as Tsu Jan). The project is quite new, with the first public release being version 0.5.8, made on 15 October 2016. To date there have been nine releases, the latest being 0.9.1. The Ubuntu repositories first started offering it for Bionic Beaver, with version 0.8.
FeatherPad has obviously been designed for developers, although it makes a good general text editor for anyone to use. It is quite lightweight and has a nice simple interface, but packs some useful features, like context-sensitive syntax highlighting, a large number of keyboard shortcuts, drag and drop, side pane or tabs for navigation, search, replace, automatic page encoding detection and a wide choice of composing fonts. All it really lacks is spell-checking to be an ideal text editor.
FeatherPad's syntax highlighting is fairly basic and certainly not as sophisticated as jEdit's is. For instance jEdit picks up unencoded ampersands, whereas FeatherPad does not. On the plus side FeatherPad has a cleaner interface than jEdit, opens much more quickly and uses a lot less RAM, likely due to being Qt-based instead of Java-based. FeatherPad is also a lot easier to configure than jEdit; it works great right out of the box. jEdit is actually the most complex application I have to configure, it takes a while to get set-up on installation.
According to the change logs FeatherPad is under rapid development these days, so I expect new features and updates will happen quickly, which is always a good thing.
Overall I rate FeatherPad as 9/10, its only drawback being the lack of spell-checking.
Lately I have been writing my webpages on Leafpad, the very simple text editor that is native to Lubuntu. This switch in text editors, from my usual jEdit, wasn't made by choice. A bug, introduced in a 21 August 2018 Ubuntu "system-breaking update", rendered all java-based applications unable to be launched. The "j" in jEdit stands for "Java", so it was affected. The bug was finally fixed by an update on 12 September 2018, 24 days later.
I normally compose my webpages on jEdit, because it has some good features that make web pages easy to write on it, but, with jEdit broken for 24 days until the bug was fixed, I switched to using the text editor that came with Lubuntu, Leafpad.
Leafpad is a very simple text editor. It opens very quickly, uses very little RAM, has very few dependencies, a nice, clean interface, but not a lot of features. It does have "drag-and-drop", choice of display fonts, optional line numbering and also selectable word wrapping. It has codeset auto-detection and the ability to save in different codesets (like UTF-8). The character coding selection is a bit hidden away, though, located in the "save as" dialogue box.
For my purposes, what Leafpad lacks is just two features: spell checking and syntax highlighting. If it had those it would be my perfect text editor. Of course both can be compensated for, the first with careful copyediting and the second by validating web pages.
I have always made use of Leafpad on Lubuntu, but usually for other, less complex tasks, such as for Wikipedia page template development, but with a bit of care it can be used to write web pages and other more complex coding tasks as well.
This period of not being able to use jEdit has given me a new appreciation for Leafpad, its simple, uncluttered interface and basic features. It has a low learning curve to master it, too!
Overall I rate Leafpad as 8/10, its only drawbacks being the lack of spell-checking and syntax highlighting.
Epiphany seems to be the browser that I just can't completely give up on. Every couple of years I come back and give the newest version offered a try. The last version I tried was Epiphany 3.16.3, which came in the Lubuntu 15.10 repositories.
As I have noted before, Epiphany is now called Web in the new Gnome naming scheme, although the Linux package remains epiphany-browser, so that is what I call it. I maintain that it is far too confusing to call a web browser Web. Just try doing a web search for information on "web" or "web browser" and you will see why this is a bad idea.
I installed Epiphany from the command line using APT and, as usual, the installation went very smoothly:
$ sudo apt install epiphany-browser
Epiphany generally does not get updated in between Lubuntu releases, so this is the version we have to live with until the next Lubuntu comes out. Development on Epiphany continues though and version 3.28.1 has already been superseded by 3.29.2 this week, although, as noted, the repositories won't get a new version until the next Lubuntu release.
Getting Video Working
Out of the box Epiphany 3.28.1 would only play the audio for videos on sites like YouTube and Vimeo and not the video portion. I tried a number of fixes that worked in the past, including the files from ubuntu-restricted-addons in a live session, but that didn't work. I posed the question on The Ubuntu Forums, which usually produces good answers, but not this time. My next place to try was the Epiphany-List and the developers there were very helpful in solving the issue.
I added that information to the Ubuntu Forums post, in case anyone else runs into the same issue.
With Epiphany 3.28.1 then functional, I moved onto seeing how the browser worked in daily use.
First, I went through the menus, to find that they have been re-arranged again. They aren't that easy to find now, either, you have to click on the Web globe and pointer icon in the top left corner to access them, but once you find them, they are easy to configure.
I did an "import bookmarks from Firefox" and that automatically grabbed them and set them up. Bookmarks can now be exported to a .gvdb file, instead of the previous .rdf file. Both of these formats have disadvantages if a user ever wants to move their bookmarks to another browser, as there is no easy way to do so. Both Firefox and Chrome/Chromium allow exporting as simple HTML files, which is more universal. The new bookmark manager is also very spartan and doesn't make it easy to sort or organize bookmarks. The old manager was much better.
Epiphany 3.28.1's user interface is even cleaner and simpler than earlier releases. As in version 3.16.3, the preferences menus includes ad-blocking, pop-up blocking, blocking third party cookies and a choice of three search engines: DuckDuckGo, Google and Bing, with DuckDuckGo as the default. Spell-checking is enabled by default, with no menu selection to turn it on or off. With ad-blocking and third party cookie blocking both enabled, some third party cookies still leaked through, though.
PDF files are now displayed in a browser tab, like other modern browsers, although the PDF reader display was quite shaky and does not work well. There is an easy option for downloading the PDFs, though. As in past versions, web page coding (Ctrl+U) opens in the default text editor, in my case Leafpad, which is a good solution.
Downloads are reasonably well handled, but as in the past, the only option is to designate one place to save them, which lacks flexibility. In comparison, Firefox allows you to choose where to save downloads individually, if you like.
Epiphany 3.28.1 supports most common browser keyboard shortcuts, including Ctrl+Shift+T to reopen the last and subsequent pages recently closed. This is a feature that was introduced in 3.16.3 and makes the browser a lot more useful.
Text drag-and-drop in web forms works in an unexpected manner: the dragged text moves and drops, but a duplicate remains in the original location. This is a surprise and different from any other web browser behaviour.
This version still has a "speaker" icon displayed in a tab when audio is playing. That is useful to show where the unwanted noise is coming from, but not as useful as Firefox's Ctrl+M to actually mute the tab.
I had to stop using the previous version of Epiphany, as a Lubuntu update killed its scroll bars. This time right from installation the scroll bars acted a bit odd in their display, showing random bars, but worked okay in use. This may be an artifact of running Epiphany away from its designed Gnome desktop environment, though.
As in all the more recent versions of Epiphany, this version has no "bookmarks bar", although bookmarks can be called from the URL bar by starting to type one. The new tab page includes a browser-collected selection of "most visited" pages. As in 3.16.3, the selection is still pretty random and many end up with no images. The only only user control allows deleting unwanted ones, one at a time. I still think this feature lacks any usefulness and unlike on Firefox, cannot be turned off. Personally I would rather have a blank page.
This version of Epiphany scores 407 on the HTML5 test which is an improvement over the 386 score for Epiphany 3.16.3.
Epiphany 3.28.1 opens very quickly, in under one second. Its stability is good, too, as long as you don't run out of RAM, as noted below.
While the password manager generally works, it can't figure out Gmail's two-page sign-in and save the password. In fact Epiphany has a lot of trouble rendering Gmail's complex interface correctly and loses some functionality in the result.
Tab overflow has never been a strength of Epiphany and this new version does no better than past versions, scrolling tabs off screen with more than about six open.
For these tests all caches were cleared, Epiphany had its ad blocker enabled and Firefox had uBlock Origin turned on.
**Epiphany 3.28.1 only got 46 tabs open when it ran though my 6 GB of RAM and then the browser crashed, all open applications crashed, along with the X server.
The testing shows that basically Epiphany 3.28.1 is quite slow at page loading, a RAM hog and can't handle many open tabs without running out of memory, even with 6 GB of RAM available. When browsing with Epiphany 3.28.1 it feels slow, too, as the pages take a long time to load.
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Ubuntu; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/605.1.15 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/11.0 Safari/605.1.15 Epiphany/605.1.15
Overall Epiphany 3.28.1 is not very useful as a browser, which is disappointing considering it has been under active development for 16 years now. It is slow to load pages, uses a lot of RAM, can't handle many tabs open and lacks basic functionality, like a useful new tab page, effective tab overflow and password manager, predictable scroll bars and a stable PDF reader. Overall the experience is sub-optimal and it is better to give this version a miss.
Lubuntu 18.04 LTS was released on , but I waited two and a half weeks to update my laptop until , followed by my desktop on . The delay was mostly due to being busy in RL, as much as giving the release a few weeks to mature and work out any bugs.
Being a long term support release, Lubuntu 18.04 LTS is supported for three years, until April 2021.
This release was once again only a very minor update, just a bug-fix really, with just some updated applications and some new artwork, as the main development effort still continues to be towards the future LXQt-based version of Lubuntu, currently referred to as "Lubuntu Next" and scheduled for release in October 2018 as Lubuntu 18.10. This upcoming LXQt-based Lubuntu was announced in 2014 and has taken four years to develop to the stage of being ready for use. That is actually not a problem, as LXDE is so stable and mature that it really doesn't need any serious improvements. Plus it is better not to rush a new desktop into service, but take the time to get it right. If events unfold as planned, Lubuntu 18.04 LTS will be the last release with the LXDE desktop.
As I usually do, I elected to do a fresh installation from a DVD on both my computers, laptop and desktop, rather than an upgrade. The actual complete installation took just 18 minutes, which is quite fast, with all configuration and such done in about an hour and a half on each computer. The installation process was very smooth, with only one issue. On my desktop computer the Xfce4 Power Manager failed to work and after some troubleshooting I removed it, purged it, deleted the configuration files at ~/.config/xfce4 and then reinstalled it and it now works fine.
*Indicates application versions not upgraded from Lubuntu 16.04 LTS.
LXpanel 0.9.3, the desktop bottom panel used in LXDE, includes a number of changes from the previous version used in Lubuntu 16.06 LTS, which was LXpanel 0.8.2. LXpanel 0.9.3 moves the desktop pager and iconifier to the right and introduces new icons for battery and Bluetooth. It also handles open applications differently, grouping multiple instances of the same application, instead of having each one separate.
The Lubuntu file browser in this release PCManFM 1.2.5 suffers from instability and exhibits frequent crashes. I have seen this on several installations on different devices. When it crashes it loses its user settings until the system is rebooted, so it is an annoying problem when it happens. Since PCManFM has been replaced with the much more stable PCManFM-Qt in future releases of Lubuntu this will not be addressed with a new version in 18.04 LTS.
Audio playback ends on screen blanking
When the power manager shut down the screen, any audio playback stops dead. The easiest work around I found for this was to set the screen blanking to the highest time, which was one hour, which is not really ideal for a number of reasons.
There was also one repeat minor set-up glitch from Lubuntu 15.10 and 16.04 LTS, that was easily fixed:
GPRename not on the menus
The GPRename bulk file-renamer once again did not show up on the Lubuntu main menu or the PCManFM application menus, due to lacking a desktop config file. It can still be run from the main menu run command, though, so this is an easy work around. As with Lubuntu 15.10 and 16.04 LTS, I installed it on the menus. I used an old GPRename desktop file and tried using Run → gksudo pcmanfm to act as root, but it seems to be no longer supported, but sudo pcmanfm in a terminal worked just fine. I dropped the file into /usr/share/applications and that resulted in it immediately showing up in the accessories menus.
Lubuntu 18.04 LTS was a flawed release, due to file browser instability that made it quite annoying to use. I was happy to replace it with Lubuntu 19.10.
We have now had three new versions of Firefox under the "Quantum" program, which started with Firefox 57.0. The release notes for Firefox 59.0 claim that it is getting faster and more efficient with each release, so I thought I would test the latest version, 59.0.1 and it and see if it is or not.
User Agent String
For Firefox 59 the user agent string transmitted is:
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Ubuntu; Linux x86_64; rv:59.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/59.0
For these tests all caches were cleared and Firefox had its "tracking protection" feature turned on.
So it is easy to see that the latest Firefox version is 29% slower, uses 2.5% less RAM on the four page test and 27% more RAM on the 98 page test.
I am not seeing a real improvement here in the new releases of Firefox, in fact it seems to be getting slower and using more RAM over time, not less. I am still using Firefox as my main browser, however, as it still uses less RAM than Chrome/Chromium, which can use up all the 6 GB of RAM I have. For me that still makes Firefox the better browser right now.
Chromium 63 arrived in the Ubuntu repositories on and included some new user interface changes, not all of them popular with users.
Since both Chromium and Firefox are good browsers, I thought it would be worth comparing the latest versions.
Chromium 63.0.3239.84 is mostly a bug fix version with 37 security issues addressed. It also introduces a new modern-looking design for the bookmark page, as well as the "clear browsing data" dialogue box. The design is more in line with the look of the existing downloads and history pages.
At least one user didn't like the changes and wrote, "HATE bookmarks change, how do i go back to previous update?" It is apparently possible to revert this change: "go to the address bar, and copy/paste chrome:flags#enable-md-bookmarks, select "Disabled" from the drop-down, and press "Relaunch Now"."
Personally I quite like the new look of these pages, as they are more in keeping with the rest of the browser layout and design. My only complaint is that it would reduce scrolling on the bookmarks and history pages if the entries were single-spaced instead of doubled-spaced. Perhaps this is a concession to touch screens, though?
User Agent String
The Chromium 63.0.3239.84 user agent string is the rather verbose:
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Ubuntu Chromium/63.0.3239.84 Chrome/63.0.3239.84 Safari/537.36
This new version of Chromium has some performance enhancements, so I tested it out against Firefox 57.0.1.
For these tests all caches were cleared and Firefox had tracking protection on, while Chromium used uBlock Origin for similar parameters.
Once again in this test Firefox was slower at page loading, but used less RAM than Chromium. Chromium 63.0.3239.84 also showed a lot less RAM use than Chromium 62.0.3202.89 did in a previous test.
Here is a summary of the reasons to use each browser:
Firefox 57.0.1 is better because:
Lower RAM use when opening a large number of tabs
Integral ad-blocker (except YouTube ads)
Menu organization is better
Better interface customization
Drag & drop works far better
URL highlighting works better
Bookmark searching works better
Tab audio muting feature
Chromium 63.0.3239.84 is better because:
Private browsing links open in one window, instead of many
Spell checking does not run out in long form pages
Tab overflow handled better
Has page translation feature
Has "paste as plain text" feature
Both of these are good browsers, although neither is perfect. Both have advantages, but both have work that could be done to make each one better yet. Which browser you choose will depend on which features you value over others.
Firefox 57 Quantum arrived in the Ubuntu repositories yesterday, on , just on the heels of a nine month effort by the Lubuntu developers to fix the broken audio in Firefox on Lubuntu 16.04 LTS was successfully concluded, so the timing was good.
This new version of Firefox includes many changes, including to the user interface (UI), rendering engine, menus and features. Mozilla has emphasized this release's speed, new "photon" UI and lower RAM use. Mozilla says: "You get a browser that is 2x faster, and that uses 30% less memory than Chrome." So I was interested to test it out and see what it has to offer.
The new UI is obvious as soon as you open Firefox 57. It has returned to the old-style square tabs, dropping the rounded tabs introduced with the Australis interface in Firefox 29 on 29 April 2014. The rounded tabs were never very popular with Firefox users and the Pale Moon fork of the browser avoided introducing them. I think users felt it made the browser look too much like Google Chrome.
Firefox 57's menus are an evolution of the older menus and are quite easy to navigate and set up. They are a great deal better than Chrome/Chromium's mess of a menu system. Chrome/Chromium requires five clicks to find your stored HTML cookies, whereas Firefox shows them in three clicks. With Firefox you don't get the idea that the cookies are being intentionally hidden.
Firefox 57 is actually more customizable than recent versions have been, offering features such as being able to hide the search box and just use the URL bar for all searches. It also allows users to add or remove as much clutter as they like. I prefer a really clean interface and that is easy to achieve in Firefox 57. They even allow inserting blank spaces into the browser chrome to make it neater in appearance.
Text "drag and drop" works better in Firefox 57 than in Chrome/Chromium. Chrome/Chromium's drag and drop actually works quite poorly with the text transparency missing, making it hard to accurately position the text and, as a result, drag and drop is almost unusable. Firefox gets this right, allowing the text to be dropped accurately.
URL highlighting also works much better in Firefox 57 than in Chrome/Chromium, which often takes multiple clicks to allow manually editing a URL. Firefox does it in one click. Bookmark searching also works much better in Firefox. Chrome/Chromium often fails to find bookmarks and makes weird suggestions.
Another nice feature is the ability to mute a tab, by clicking on the speaker icon in the tab or hitting ctrl+m. It makes it easy to kill those auto-play videos. Chrome/Chromium indicates when a tab is playing audio, but there is no way to mute it.
There are lots of small UI changes, too, like a new "left-right dot" indicator to show in the tab when a page is loading. It all feels sparkling and new. I like the new interface a lot.
The new Servo rendering engine gets the credit for Firefox 57's increased speed and it does feel fast when you click on links and load new webpages.
This version also brings the previously advertised "Tracking Protection". This is touted as protection from websites tracking you via ads, scripts and such. It seems to work much like any ad-blocker and is quite effective at blocking most ads. This probably means you don't need to install an ad-blocker, like Privacy Badger or uBlock Origin. It doesn't block YouTube video ads however, unlike uBlock Origin. By default Tracking Protection is not turned on for regular browsing, so users need to set it in the menus at Preferences→Privacy & Security→Tracking Protection→Always.
User Agent String
For Firefox 57 the user agent string transmitted is a very concise:
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:57.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/57.0
Since Firefox 57 is being promoted for its speed and memory use, I tested it out in comparison to the current version of Chromium. For these tests all caches were cleared and Firefox had tracking protection on, while Chromium used uBlock Origin for similar parameters. Four standard web-pages were loaded and the results compared.
Loading four web-pages
HTML5 test score
So in this test Firefox 57 was 15% slower at page loading, but used 1% less RAM than Chromium 62.0.3202.89. This didn't seem to accord with what Mozilla had claimed, so I tried another test, opening 97 tabs from a fixed series of Wikipedia pages to see how each browser in turn handled a large number of tabs.
Firefox-Chromium 97 Tab RAM Comparison
This sort of task usually causes Chromium to use up all my desktop computer's RAM and these 97 tabs were no exception, as the system started to run out of RAM, swapping and lagging. Even though Firefox runs each tab as a separate process now, just like Chromium, the RAM difference was quite striking, using only 35% of the RAM that Chromium used for the same task. Put another way that is 65% less RAM, far better than Mozilla's claim of 30% less RAM than Chrome/Chromium.
Firefox 57 still has some things that don't work very well, the same as earlier versions.
When you open links in private browsing it opens each one in a new window. If you are opening a bunch of them this can get pretty annoying. All the private browsing windows share cookies, so that isn't the reason to make them separate windows. Chrome/Chromium gets this right by opening each one as a new tab in a single incognito window, keeping things much neater.
Spell checking still fails in long form pages. This means that in a long form page the spell checking starts off working fine, but then the spell checking just stops at some point down the page, usually quite early, too. This is a big annoyance for users who are Wikipedia editors and regularly have to spell check long form pages. In Firefox 57.0 spell checking had to be selected "on" from a right click, for each single-line submission box (like Wikipedia edit summaries), but this was obviously an error and was fixed in Firefox 57.0.1 so that spell checking is always on in these boxes.
Tab overflow has also not improved in Firefox 57. When opening more and more tabs, at some point, depending on the browser width on the screen, they start moving off screen with an arrow showing where they went. Again Chrome/Chromium handles this better, shrinking the tab widths instead and always showing all tabs.
Firefox lacks the ability to translate webpages, without cutting and pasting into a translator at least. Chrome/Chromium offers to translate webpages that aren't in the user's set language, which is helpful.
Another "nice to have" feature that Firefox lacks is "paste as plain text", something that is very useful when copying news items, etc, into emails while trying to avoid formatting messes. Chrome/Chromium has this and I use it quite often. The workaround is to paste the text into a text editor first and then copy from there in UTF-8, but that adds extra steps.
In comparing Firefox 57.0 to Chromium 62.0.3202.89:
Low RAM use when opening a large number of tabs
Integral ad-blocker (except YouTube ads)
Drag & drop
Tab audio muting
Private browsing links open multiple windows instead of one
Spell checking still fails in long form pages
Lacks page translation
Lacks "paste as plain text"
With the Quantum changes Mozilla has made are a good start in updating Firefox. The changes are all very welcome, including the new level of interface customization available, rendering engine, plus the integral ad-blocker. Overall whether you like Firefox over Chrome or Chromium comes down to personal preference, as they are fairly equal.
The good news is that Firefox 57 is not the end of Project Quantum, but in fact the first in a series of releases Mozilla has planned. Hopefully future ones will continue to improve performance, plus some of the other areas I have noted and thus provide a compelling case for users to to switch to Firefox.
It does look like Firefox needs the user boost these days, as its stats on W3Counter show that it is down from a peak of 34.1% in July 2010 to a market share of 9.01% at the end of October 2017. At the same time Stats Counter shows a drop from 31.82% in November 2009 to 6.08% at the end of October 2017.
I will keep testing new versions of Firefox as they come out and see how the new versions impact user uptake, too.
I have long criticized the settings menus used in Chromium (and Chrome) as "messy, poorly laid out, confusing and seem to be designed to make sure users can't find where the cookies are stored and manage them", so I was quite exciting to find that Chromium 59 shipped with redesigned menus. It really is long past time to fix this problem once and for all and make the menus easier to use.
The new menus have a very sleek-looking design, but is is readily apparent that it is mostly just new packaging on the old poor organization. In fact the new menus now bury stuff in multiple menu layers, if anything making it harder and more confusing to find things like where the cookies are stored.
These new menus are not an improvement and Google and the Chromium developers really need to go back to the drawing board and start over from scratch, this time designing the settings menus to allow users to actually use them, instead of preventing it.
My desktop computer has been giving me trouble since 09 August 2016 when it refused to boot after an update. It did it again on 12 April 2017. In both cases I had to re-install the operating system to get it working right again.
I had assumed it was a software issue, but it seems instead to have been hardware. One clue to the problem was that Disks showed three bad sectors on the hard drive. Presumably when an update was written to one of those, it resulted in a no-boot condition.
The best idea was to make a disk image, run Badblocks from the command line in a live DVD session to check and hopefully repair the hard drive and if that didn't work, replace the hard drive instead.
I tried using Disks to create a disk image, both in regular session and from a Lubuntu live DVD session and it just created errors instead. I just did several back-ups and decided to press on.
Badblocks would not run until the hard drive swap partition was turned off using GParted, right clicking on the partition and selecting "swapoff". I then ran Badblocks from the command line in a live DVD session:
$ sudo badblocks -wsvb 1024 -c 512 /dev/sda
It took about 20 hours to do its prescribed eight checks on the 1TB hard drive, so it ran all day and overnight. The next day it reported no errors and Disks also reported that the three bad blocks were no longer there, so presumably Badblocks fixed them. I re-installed Lubuntu 16.04 LTS and my documents, and everything seems to be working fine now.
Some people have tried to make a case that using blockers is "censoring" what the webpage designer intended or even "theft" of revenue from web companies. Raymond Hill says:
using a blocker is NOT theft. Don't fall for this creepy idea. The ultimate logical consequence of blocking = theft is the criminalisation of the inalienable right to privacy. Ads, "unintrusive" or not, are just the visible portions of privacy-invading apparatus entering your browser when you visit most sites nowadays."
While it is tempting to go without some sort of blocking extension, these days it just isn't safe to do so. The proliferation of "malvertising" (malicious online advertising) that exploded in 2016 just makes that a non-starter. In one particularly ironic case, involving Forbes, the website begged people to turn off their ad-blockers or risk putting the site out of business through lack of advertising revenue and then when people turned it off, they got malware served up, via pop-up ads.
Advertising networks don't properly screen what their customers upload and many websites just indiscriminately subscribe to multiple advertising networks. That all means that advertising networks have become the new malware vector of choice and blocking them is the only sensible way to go. On top of that, a good blocker makes pages load faster, without the extra junk being loaded and cuts down on-line tracking.
A friend in the UK recommended uBlock Origin and so I recently gave it a try.
uBlock Origin is a fork of the now-no-longer-developed uBlock. Raymond Hill was founder of both. uBlock Origin was originally called µBlock, for its "micro" footprint, but that name confused people how to pronounce it. It is often referred to as uBlock0 or even uBO, for short.
Hill says of the project's aims:
uBlock Origin is NOT an "ad blocker": it is a wide-spectrum blocker -- which happens to be able to function as a mere "ad blocker". The default behavior of uBlock Origin when newly installed is to block ads, trackers and malware sites.
uBlock Origin is free software, released under a GPL 3.0 licence and is available for Chrome, Chromium, Edge, Firefox and Safari. Of note, Hill and the team refuse all donations. He explains this:
I don't want the administrative workload coming with donations. I don't want the project to become in need of funding in any way: no dedicated home page + no forum = no cost = no need for funding. I want to be free to move onto something else if ever I get tired working on these projects (no donations = no expectations).
Now that is what I call being independent, even of your users!
Firefox currently indicates that the extension has 3,445,467 users, while Chrome/Chromium has 8,484,135 users. That is 12 million users on just those two browser families.
Installing uBlock Origin is simple, as it is in the Chrome Web Store and the Firefox Add-Ons. One pitfall if you search for it is that there are imitators, some of which may be malware, so beware and ensure you get "uBlock Origin offered by Raymond Hill (gorhill)".
As with all Chrome/Chromium extensions, the user has to enable uBlock Origin for incognito pages on the Chrome/Chromium extensions page at Menu→More Tools→Extensions.
uBlock Origin has a lot of available documentation all linked from the Git Hub page including a complete help wiki.
The interface allows a lot of customizing, allowing many block lists to be added, blocking modes to be chosen and lots of settings to be tweaked, but fortunately it works just fine in the default Easy Mode. It is quite possible to just install uBlock Origin and then forget about it, as it works in the background.
After some testing on some stubborn websites, I decided to activate all the ad, privacy and social filters and those seem to have improved the blocking performance quite a bit. The interface does allow the easy addition of extra filters, with just a few check-boxes clicked.
In operational use uBlock Origin works at least as well as AdBlock Plus does. Even though Hill describes and provides graphs showing that it has lighter RAM usage than AdBlock Plus, in my own testing I have found some situations where that isn't the case. uBlock Origin's use of separate processes in Chromium's regular and incognito modes means it sometimes uses more RAM than AdBlock Plus does under the same circumstances.
In testing it against AdBlock Plus I found in general that uBlock Origin is comparable, but it does offer more customization and so is worth switching to for that reason alone.
The first thing you will notice is that [uBlock Origin] uses less memory than HTTP Switchboard and a lot less than AdBlock Plus...The extension's main appeal is its ease of use and its low resource usage. If you run Chrome on a low to mid-end device and notice slow downs while running AdBlock Plus or another adblocker of choice, you may want to give this a try to see if it improves the situation for you.
There's no getting around the fact that as useful as AdBlock Plus is, it's probably one of the most memory-intensive add-ons you can install. In Chrome, [uBlock Origin is] a dramatic improvement in memory usage, and you get the same protection, to boot.
uBlock Origin, for desktops and mobile, has seen the fastest growth of any such blocker in the 10-month period from November of last year to this past August: a whopping 833 percent, per the comScore survey.
Daniel Rubino of Windows Central wrote in 2016 about it being made available as an extension for Microsoft Edge:
The popular alternative to Ad Block and Ad Block Plus used less CPU and memory and was ported by Nik Rolls as an open source side project.
So far uBlock Origin seems to be a very good blocker for Chromium, with only advantages and no disadvantages in its use.
Firefox 52 arrived in the Ubuntu repositories on , and so I took some time out from testing Chromium to see how it worked. It didn't take long to discover that the audio was broken, with Firefox suggesting, via a browser pop-up bar, that I needed to install PulseAudio to the fix the problem, as ALSA audio is no longer supported.
Doing some digging around I discovered some background on this issue:
There was nothing initially in the release notes for Firefox 52 about the dropping of ALSA audio, although Mozilla later added it, after protracted user complaints.
There were some advanced warnings on a Firefox developer mailing list, from , that Firefox was going to drop support for ALSA-only audio in favour of PulseAudio on Linux at some point in time, but not when that would happen. Very few users seem to have known about this.
All flavours of Ubuntu already use PulseAudio, except Ubuntu Server, Lubuntu 16.04 LTS and earlier versions of Lubuntu. Lubuntu 16.10 and later include it.
Many people in the various bug reports and discussions have noted that PulseAudio has problems with things like latency and lagging, resampling side effects, high RAM usage and stability that make it undesirable to install. Some users report that even with PulseAudio installed, Firefox still has no audio, while others say it works. Most of the people on the forums and bug reports are just indicating that they have switched browsers to Chrome, Chromium, Vivaldi, Palemoon or other alternatives.
In a Firefox bug discussion Thomas Wisniewski said:
I'm sure I'm not the only one would rather not suffer PulseAudio on their systems, given that Firefox would be the only software (including other browsers) that would have it as a hard requirement (and given that PulseAudio still does not run well on some of the systems where I use Firefox as my main browser).
In a forum discussion Hugh Jorgen summed up many Linux users feelings:
"[Mozilla] are trying to deprecate ALSA support and make people use PulseAudio. New binaries don't have ALSA. I'm really starting to dislike those zealots...they deliberately sabotaged ALSA for my build (well, surreptitiously disabled), So thanks assholes, I now have no audio. I'm not recompiling this again... I'll just use my old Chromium, which actually works better because I have some working hardware acceleration. They are leaving no reason whatsoever to use their software. Pretty soon I won't even be installing it on Windows XP computers, because they are dropping support for that too...they don't think it's a significant enough number to care about. For many years they've cared more about development on Windows anyway. The Windows binaries are their primary product."
Mozilla's issue handling
The bug seems to be quite political in nature. Mozilla made the decision to drop ALSA support, knowing that some Linux users are not using, or cannot use, PulseAudio. The decision was made mostly based upon data obtained from Firefox telemetry. However this data turns out to not have been reliable, as the Mozilla developers were not aware that many Linux distributions turn off telemetry for privacy reasons, including Puppy Linux and the Ubuntu family, including the version supplied to Lubuntu users. Lubuntu 16.04 LTS users probably make up the largest single group affected by this bug and probably number about two million people. Many of these users affected are very long term Firefox loyalists and naturally those users now feel abandoned by Mozilla.
The Mozilla developer responsible for originally spearheading the drive to remove ALSA support, Anthony Jones, has been completely dismissive of the issue. He replied on 15 March 2017 to many of the comments and questions raised in Mozilla Bug 134661. His opening statement summarizes where Mozilla is going with this as he says, "TL;DR We're trying to do what is best for Linux and Firefox, so please file bugs if you have Pulse Audio issues." Jones has made it clear that Mozilla isn't going to fix this; they want users to install PulseAudio.
On 15 March 2017, Mike Hoye, Mozilla's engineering community manager, wrote that he didn't like the community response to the bug and that he would close the bug to outside contributors if people continued complaining. Just six hours later he cut off all outside input to the discussion. This all seems to contradict Mozilla Manifesto Principle 8, which commits the organization to "transparent community-based processes [that] promote participation, accountability and trust." With all user input to the bug cut off and only Jones allowed to post to the bug, he was able to dismiss everyone's objections in a response post that will probably be the "last word" on this bug. About restoring ALSA support he said "That isn't going to happen. Sorry." He also says "the machine I use most often is a 3 year old $500 HP Pavillion i3 based machine running Windows 10". It seems that the Linux users just got steamrollered.
On Mozilla's Botond Bello asked the developers to reconsider the decision, on the original discussion group, based on all the new information now available, but Anthony Jones simply replied, "No. It is now too late."
On 29 May 2017 Jones closed the Mozilla bug as "wontfix".
Given that the default browser in Lubuntu 16.04 LTS, Firefox, was left with no audio with the default audio installation, ALSA, it was pretty clear that the Lubuntu development team had to take steps to fix this in the LTS release, since Mozilla wasn't going to fix it.
One member of the Lubuntu developer list agreed that Lubuntu action is needed, as Simon Quigley brought it up there on 22 March 2017. By the next day the developers had discussed it off line and come up with a plan. This involved re-enabling ALSA support in Firefox as a temporary measure, checking that it stays enabled in future builds and looking at a permanent fix for for Lubuntu 16.04 LTS for when the Firefox ALSA coding is removed, scheduled then for .
This solution was actually implemented late on when the Ubuntu package maintainers released52.0.2+build1-0ubuntu0.16.04.1 which had been recompiled with ALSA re-enabled. Since this problem started with the release on 08 March 2017 of Firefox 52.0, this fix happened in 22 days, at least for Lubuntu users.
Predictably that fix also turned out to be temporary, as Mozilla went ahead with its plans to remove the ALSA code in the release of Firefox 55, which Ubuntu users got on 15 August 2017. This made it impossible for the Ubuntu developers to put out a fixed version of Firefox for ALSA users. The Ubuntu developer's build notes said, "Disable ALSA backend for Firefox 55 because it makes the build failure. This will remain disabled until somebody steps up to maintain it."
In October 2017, the Lubuntu developers, led by Simon Quigley, decided to use PulseAudio as the final fix for this issue for Lubuntu 16.04 LTS users and commenced testing of that solution, including the related audio controller changes that had to happen. The final fix for this was sent out through the update process on 15 November 2017. After it was installed I did some testing and it seems to work, without any crashes so far. With PulseAudio, Firefox once again has sound and nothing else seems to have lost audio in the process. This whole process took from 08 March to 15 November (252 days) to permanently fix and a lot of Lubuntu Team developer time.
During the 22 days that this issue was initially outstanding on Lubuntu, users had the choice of installing PulseAudio and seeing if it worked or not and filing bugs if it didn't, or switching to another browser.
When this issue first came up, my first inclination was to just install PulseAudio, but I didn't do this on the basis that there was a reason that the Lubuntu developers didn't just include it with Lubuntu 16.04 LTS. Since I was already testing Chromium, which was just upgraded to version 56, I checked it and its audio works fine with just ALSA.
I decided that it would be better to just keep using Chromium and see what happened in terms of updates and fixes for Firefox on Lubuntu, rather than try to fix this myself, mostly because I didn't have to rush into it, having a serviceable alternate browser to use. Once I started using Chromium I quickly discovered that I liked it better than Firefox and just kept using it.
It is interesting to look at the browser market share data for the month when this issue hit users and see what impact it had on Firefox use.
Stats Counter data shows that between the end of and the end of , Firefox's market share fell from 6.73% to 6.30%, a loss of 0.43% of the total browser market, indicating about 6% of Firefox users stopped using it in those two months. The Stats Counter data shows that Firefox has lost half its market share since August 2014, a period of 21 months.
In the same period W3 Counter showed a rather sharp drop from 9% to 6.3%, a loss of 2.7% of the total browser market, indicating 30% of Firefox users stopped using it during the two month period. The W3 Counter data also shows that Firefox lost more than half its users between September 2016 and April 2017, a period of only eight months.
In the same period Chrome and Safari use were up.
It is worth noting that StatsCounter shows Firefox had a peak market share of 31.82% in and W3Counter shows Firefox peaked at 34.1% in .
The Mozilla developers broke Firefox for ALSA users and the Lubuntu developers, in conjunction with the Ubuntu package maintainers, fixed it.
Overall this was a fairly minor technical issue that was not that hard to fix, but Mozilla handled this very poorly right from the start and has now lost the confidence of a portion of its Linux user community over this. They should have communicated this impending change to the users in advance, as well as reached out to main distros that would be affected, like Lubuntu and Puppy Linux, and let the developers there know, so operating system fixes could have been made coincident with Firefox 52's release. Then they could have also at least described what they had done in the Firefox 52 release notes at the time of the release and not wait until user complaints compelled them to add that. These small steps could have mitigated much of the bewilderment and anger expressed and much of the loss of market share Mozilla is now seeing as a result. Instead this whole issue was done almost in secret, no notice given and then when a bug was opened, the users were basically told to shut up. Linux users don't respond well to that sort of approach, as it is perceived as being arrogant. For a non-profit company that relies on a large user base for donations and also to be able to get corporate search sponsorships, this seems all very shortsighted. As one OMG commenter said, "what a fiasco was the bug tracker [response] about it. [Mozilla] pretty much consider their userbase THE dumbest individuals in the universe."
It has been three and a half years since I last used Chrome or Chromium. Back then Chrome was at version 29.0.1547.57 and I wasn't all that impressed with how far it had been developed and indicated then that it had too many drawbacks to be recommended over the current version of Firefox, which was then 23.0. I haven't used it since then.
Recently though I had trouble with a web page for changing a password in Firefox 51.0.1, as the page would just not display. I tried it in Chromium via live DVD session and it worked. I thought it might be time to give Chromium another try and see how far it has come in addressing the problems it had.
I should point out that Chromium is the free software version of Chrome. Chromium is released under a BSD licence, whereas Chrome is under Google Terms of Service, making it proprietary freeware. The main difference between the two browsers, other than the logo, is that Chrome includes Pepper Flash, a non-free version of Adobe Flash.
I installed Chromium from the Ubuntu repositories from the command line, which was as easy as:
$ sudo apt install chromium-browser
I went through Chromium's menus and set it up to work the way I like, setting a home page, search and so on. As in 2013, the menus are still messy, poorly laid out, confusing and seem to be designed to make sure users can't find where the cookies are stored and manage them.
I selected Menu→Settings→Show advanced settings→Privacy→Content settings→Block third party cookies. I also set Chromium to clear cookies when the browser is closed and checked "Send a 'Do Not Track' request with your browsing traffic", for whatever that is worth.
I also disabled the following settings as they transmit data to Google, which can be a privacy issue:
Use a web service to help resolve navigation errors
Use a prediction service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar
Automatically report details of possible security incidents to Google
Use a web service to help resolve spelling errors
I also disabled "Use a prediction service to load pages more quickly" as it just wastes bandwidth pre-loading pages you will probably never visit.
Setting up search for anything other than the default Google Search can be quite hard to do and requires some persistence. I did finally get DuckDuckGo set, using DuckDuckGo's own instructions.
Initially the only extension I added was Privacy Badger - the web browser privacy extension, which I also have on Firefox. It has to be configured to allow it to also work in Chromium's incognito mode in Menu→Settings→Extensions.
Over a few weeks of using it Privacy Badger has been behaving oddly on Chromium for me, so I did some experiments. What I have noticed in checking the cookies saved is that with Chromium set to block third party cookies and Privacy Badger "on" I was seeing quite a number of third party advertising and tracking cookies showing up as "saved" anyway. Privacy Badger also indicated that it never blocked any cookies at all, always showing "green" for everything. I ran it for a few days with Privacy Badger "off" and Chromium alone is keeping all those cookies out. I think that there is some odd interaction between the Chromium cookie settings that I have and Privacy Badger that is causing a sort of "cookie leakage". Chromium seems to do a better job alone, without Privacy Badger installed.
With Chromium's settings blocking all the third party cookies and Privacy Badger not working well, I decided to try AdBlock Plus to gain some of the advantages that Privacy Badger provides on Firefox. AdBlock Plus is free software under GPL v3, that blocks most advertising, including banner ads, pop-ups, Facebook tracking and YouTube video ads as well. In fact it blocks more than Privacy Badger did on Firefox. One good feature is it blocks potential malvertising which has done things like spread ransomware through infected web ads. It also causes pages to load faster, since much of the non-desired advertising doesn't get loaded and that saves bandwidth too. Its only downside is it can use a fair amount of RAM and also spikes the CPU as pages are loaded.
I also tried out uBlock Origin, a lower resource blocking extension, and have a separate write-up about it.
While Chromium has a generally nicely laid out and simple interface, it not very customizable, with only a few elements that a user can change. I like a very clean interface, so it would be nice to remove a few of the extra UI elements.
Spell-checking on longer form pages works just fine, something that Firefox can't handle. Firefox just quits spell-checking at some point down the page, while Chromium keeps going to the bottom of the page, no matter how long the form data. This is very handy for editing things like Wikipedia articles, especially long ones.
Chromium 55 includes an integral PDF reader that has been part of the browser since Chromium 47, after Google open-sourced its previously closed-source PDF viewer. The PDF viewer is very simple with minimal controls, but it works well. A number of features are not indicated in the on-screen controls, but are accessed by right-click menus. This goes for a number of features in Chromium, like title bars and such. If you can't find the control listed in the menus, try a right click, as a control just might be there.
Tab overflow on Chromium is well-handled. Adding lots of tabs keeps each one visible, but they get smaller and smaller. Other browsers. like Firefox, will compress the tabs for a bit and then move them off to the right out of sight, which is not as good a solution.
One nice feature is when using right click to open new links in an incognito window, Chromium makes them all new tabs in a single incognito window. Firefox makes each one a new window, which is messy.
Another nice feature is "paste as plain text", available from a right click. This allows copying website text into emails with making a formatting mess of them and saves having to use an intermediary application, like a text editor to do this.
As in the past, Chromium often doesn't find bookmarks when searching from the URL bar. Sometimes you have to type in the whole URL complete before it will find it in the bookmarks list. You can always pick it from the bookmarks menu, which is displayed in a tab from Ctrl+shift+O or from the "other bookmarks" menu on the bookmarks bar.
Chromium uses most of the normal browser keyboard shortcuts, such as Ctrl+shift+T to reopen a recently closed tab, although a new incognito window is Ctrl+shift+N, whereas Firefox is Ctrl+shift+P. In Chromium that brings up the print dialog. Chromium does lack a user warning before you close multiple tabs, although it makes it hard to accidentally close it by disabling Ctrl+Q and using Ctrl+shift+Q to close everything instead.
Chromium includes the option to translate pages from other languages into the browser's user system language, in my case, English. It should be noted though that this uses Google Translate and so lets Google know what web page you are on, which could be a privacy issue. Using the service is optional on a page-by-page basis, though, and it can also be turned off at Menu→Settings→Languages.
The browser's user agent string seems to be intended that it will be picked up and treated by websites as "Chrome":
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Ubuntu Chromium/55.0.2883.87 Chrome/55.0.2883.87 Safari/537.36
Chromium 55.0.2883.87 tests as 505/555 on the HTML5 test, versus 469/555 for Firefox 51.0.1. Chromium 55.0.2883.87 has good video support without Flash installed and most video, like You Tube, works fine in HTML5 mode, without additional codecs installed.
With a standard six tabs open Chromium 55.0.2883.87 used 1.459 GB of RAM, compared to Firefox 51.0.1 which used 1.115 GB for the same web sites. Chromium runs each tab as a separate process, which prevents one tab crashing the browser, but this does use more RAM, 24% more in this test.
In a page loading speed test of four standard large web pages Chromium took 13.0 seconds, as did Firefox, making both browsers comparable in speed. Chromium does load long form pages for editing noticeably more quickly than Firefox and also does not lag when adding text to these sorts of pages, which makes editing things like big Wikipedia pages easier.
So here is what was good about Chromium 55.0.2883.87:
Clean, simple interface
Tab overflow handling
Long web form spell-checking
Incognito tab opening in a single window
Integral language translation
Ability to "paste as plain text" with a right click
Loads and edits long form pages quickly
And here is what was bad about Chromium 55.0.2883.87:
Hard to set search to anything other than Google
Poorly laid out menus that seem to intentionally make it hard to find cookies and other privacy controls
Poor bookmark searching
Much less customizable than other browsers
Uses more RAM
Overall Chromium 55 has some advantages over Firefox 51 and some disadvantages. In many ways both browsers are comparable and which one you use will largely be a matter of which one you like more and which disadvantages you can live with.
I seem to be writing far too much about video editing these days!
Pitivi 0.98 was released on 05 December 2016, but only became available via Flatpak today, when the python script was updated.
Pitivi 0.98 is the eighth beta release on the pathway to produce a stable 1.0 version. It includes 35 tasks that have been completed, plus fixes, over 175 commits, with most of work done by Alexandru Băluț. It includes some fixes to the timeline and a new preferences page that allows customizing the keyboard shortcuts, work that was done by Jakub Brindza, a summer student working under a Google Summer of Code sponsorship.
The Pitivi 0.98 release notes warn, "one nasty bug you might hit is the timeline freezing when you work with file formats which are not officially supported. To workaround it you have to allow the app to create optimized media proxy files when importing the files, and wait for the transcoding to finish before adding them to the timeline."
Installing the new version of Pitivi under Flatpak and Curl is very easy. I just re-ran the python script as suggested, and it updated quickly:
I was quite interested to see if this version improved on the endless crashes I saw in 0.97, so, once it was installed, I created a fresh editing project using the same .mov files and an .mp3 soundtrack that had caused so much trouble before. Interestingly Pitivi 0.98 created a proxy file for the .mp3, but not for the .mov files. There doesn't seem to be any way to force it to create proxies, either, which would probably solve the problem.
I tried editing with it. The first time it imported the clips and crashed. The second time I was able edit clips, create transitions and set the sound track before it crashed. The third time it crashed on opening and the fourth time it crashed just after importing the clips. I gave up. Most of crashes seem to be due to the timeline freezing as mentioned in the release notes, but without a way to get Pitivi to create proxies, there is no way for a user to fix this when editing.
For working with .mov video files Pitivi 0.98's rating is 0/10, completely useless.
I did an additional test of Pitivi 0.98 using a set of .avi files from my previous camera and it loaded those and created proxy Matroska .mkv files automatically. I was able to edit those without crashes and render a webm video from them just fine, although the two and a half minute video took just over two hours to render. It seems that Pitivi 0.98 works fine with some video formats and not others. The Pitivi user manual does not list supported formats, saying, "it is not feasible to list every possible combination of supported video or audio formats", which adds to the difficulty of knowing with which files it will work and with which it will crash.
For working with .avi video files Pitivi 0.98's rating is 9/10. The only downside is the very slow rendering times.
My attempt to find a Linux video editor that actually works continues.
My recent review of Pitivi 0.97 indicated that, with proxy editing, it was stable and actually worked without crashing. That was a fine solution until I got a new camera, an updated Nikon Coolpix L340 that produces .mov files in place of my earlier Nikon Coolpix L27's .avi video files. In testing a couple of small .mov files they worked fine, although Pitivi doesn't make proxy files for them. But recently I tried making a movie with 16 clips and Pitivi just endlessly crashed, just like in the good old days. It was, once again, totally unusable.
This development sent me back to some old standbys. I first tried Avidemux, but there is no version for Ubuntu anymore. It seems that, even though development continues, no one is handling the packaging, so it has been dropped from the Ubuntu repositories.
Next I tried Kino, another old standby, but it has been out of development for so long that it no longer renders modern files right.
That brought me to trying a new video editor, this time from the KDE desktop, Kdenlive. This is a mature project, started by Jason Wood in 2002 and currently developed by a team at KDE. It is based upon the Media Lovin' Toolkit (MLT), relying on libraries like FFmpeg, instead of Pitivi's GStreamer. That is a good thing, as Pitivi's interface with GStreamer is an issue in Pitvi's instability. With Kdenlive 15.04.0 the application became an official part of KDE. The project has fairly stringent standards for applications, so that endorsement gives some confidence.
The Kdenlive interface will be fairly familiar to Pitivi users, as it is laid out the same way, with a clips library at the top left, a viewing screen at top right, with effects and transitions in between. The time line is below and tools at the bottom.
The time line is used slightly differently, as you drag and drop video clips onto it in the order you want, but alternately onto different video tracks to allow inserting transitions. The transitions are created by clicking the green triangles in the corners of the overlapped videos, with a "dissolve" as the default type. Kdenlive makes nice smooth dissolves, as well. I did try other transitions, just for variety and they seem to work just as well. Even though they may not play smoothly in the viewing screen, they render just fine in the completed product. Similarly fades and other effects are easy to insert.
The application has a good manual that helps with the learning curve as well. Reading the manual is time well-spent as new video editors are always different from the last one you were using.
Rendering is easy and fast as well. Under "file rendering" it supports MP4, MPEG-2, Matroska, HDV and raw DV (in NTSC), or a sequence of images in BMP, DPX, JPG, PNG, PMM, TGA and TIFF formats. Hidden under "web sites" it allows rendering in webm, therora and flash of all things. Other choices include AVI, Windows Media Player, FFV1, H.264, ProRes and MJPEG, among other formats. So there are lots of choices in free and non-free formats. Rendering a video that would have taken hours on Pitivi was completed in Kdenlive in about 12 minutes.
The most important feature Kdenlive offers is stability. There are no crashes; it just works. So far this seems to be the best video editor for Linux I have used yet, I can't find any issues with it at all.
This is a video I created on Kdenlive 15.12.3 and rendered in MP4 format:
My last Pitivi review was about version 0.95, which was the version provided in the Lubuntu 16.04 LTS repositories, when that new operating system version came out in April 2016. That version of Pitivi worked fine on several simple video projects I put together and I was generally happy with it, until I tried something more complex.
This more complex video project involved 56 clips, removing the audio and adding a music track. Two attempts in 0.95 resulted in the transitions disappearing after all being set by hand, in some odd form of crash. That wasted a lot of time.
To try to correct this problem I installed the latest version of Pitivi, 0.97. It isn't available in the repositories for Lubuntu 16.04 LTS, so I resorted to the Pitivi developer's recommended flatpak system. Flatpak is now in the repositories for Ubuntu 16.10, but not earlier versions. It allows installing outside applications, like the latest version of Pitivi. Flatpak works through Curl, which is a "command line tool for transferring data with URL syntax". I did the whole thing from the command line, as suggested, and it all worked:
At the end of running the installation process it actually launches Pitivi 0.97, although you have to log out and back in for it to appear in the menus.
Pitivi 0.97 is the seventh beta release on track to produce a stable 1.0 version. It has many stability improvements, plus a few new features, including a better rendering dialogue box. It also retains the proxy video editing feature added in 0.96. This creates proxy versions of my input .avi video files in Matroska format for editing, instead of the .avi files themselves. The proxy files are created when added to the project, which takes a few minutes to accomplish.
This new version of Pitivi fixes some issues from 0.95, like the mostly-invisible time line. The 0.97 interface itself is now quite good. Best of all, 0.97 was able to handle my video project, with 56 clips and music, with no crashes. The only drawback to this new version of Pitivi is the rendering time, which may be due to the proxy system. The render of this same project in 0.95 took two and a quarter hours, but in 0.97 it took seven hours, although the render dialogue predicted it would take sixteen hours at the start!
Because Pitivi is resource intensive when rendering for both RAM and CPU, it is best to edit a video project and then leave the computer to render overnight or at least when not otherwise in use.
This is a video I created on Pitivi 0.97 and rendered in WebM format:
After initial success with this version of Pitivi using .avi files under proxies, I got a new camera that produces .mov files. Pitivi doesn't make proxies from these and just crashes endlessly, making it useless.
This week I installed a routine update for Lubuntu 16.04 LTS on my desktop computer. It was a kernel update and so needed a reboot. On reboot the screen simply said, "Reboot and select proper boot device or insert boot media in selected boot device and press a key".
Other Ubuntu users didn't have this happen, so it was unlikely to be a bad update. This sent me to the forums for some idea as to what happened. Unfortunately they were not very helpful, as I found hundreds of opinions as to what the problem is and lots of responses from users indicating that some things worked and others didn't. One Russian You Tube video suggested taking the hard drive out, hitting it with a hammer and then getting a new one.
The error actually just indicates that the computer can't find a bootable operating system and nothing more. It doesn't tell you much about what the problem is. It can be caused by a failed, or failing hard drive, some sort of issue with the BIOS, the boot sector or bootloader (GRUB in the case of Linux) on the hard drive itself. It will also show this message when booting to a blanked drive, one missing an operating system or with a corrupted operating system.
I was able to boot to a Lubuntu DVD just fine and all the hardware tested out as serviceable. I was even able to access the hard drive and do a document back-up from the hard drive just fine, too, although I had done a full back up just before the problem appeared. The hard drive and BIOS both seemed serviceable.
A simple re-installation of Lubuntu from DVD didn't fix the problem. Assuming it was a corruption in the hard drive boot sector, I ran DBAN over the disk, blanked the drive overnight and then installed Lubuntu from scratch and that solved it. The total work time to fix this was about 18 hours.
Perhaps the biggest lesson here is "make document back-ups". Hardware can be replaced, but don't lose your documents in the process.
When I last reviewed Pitivi it was version 0.93, which came in the Lubuntu 14.04 LTS repositories, two years ago. That version sort of worked a bit on videos with a few clips, but any attempt to edit videos with many clips resulted in it locking up and crashing. It was pretty much worthless, just like most previous versions of Pitivi.
Pitivi 0.95, code-named "Enfant Suisse" (Swiss child) is the fifth beta release on track to produce a stable 1.0 version. As such it has lots of improvements aimed at reducing crashes. These include rewriting the timeline to eliminate the use of Clutter libraries and using GTK+ instead. This does however result in the timeline being hard to read, due to low contrast. I have tried different GTK+ themes but I haven't found an easy fix for for this.
Other changes in this version include:
The clip transformation box has been re-implemented
New video sink
Direct importing to the timeline from file managers
Integration with GstValidate
Works on small screens again, including 1024 X 768 pixel screens
This all seems to add up to better stability than past versions and that is exactly what Pitivi needs.
As in past versions, Pitivi 0.95 is extremely easy to use and requires minimal technical skills. All you have to do to make a movie is import your clips (or drag and drop from your file manager), arrange them on the timeline, cut them as required, drag them to overlap a second or so to produce nice fade transitions, perhaps add a fade to black at the end and then render the video. For posting on YouTube this is best done in the WebM HTML5 video format.
As in the past, Pitivi uses quite a bit of RAM and CPU power to run and rendering can take a while. One ten minute video rendered in WebM format took an hour to complete, so it does require some patience. Due to the high system use, the computer is best left to render without being used for other tasks, but the resulting video is worth the wait, though.
This is a video I created on Pitivi 0.95 and rendered in WebM format:
Wifi Radar is a simple little utility written in Python/PyGTK2 for managing wifi networks. It was recommended in a training session presented by Andrew Asare of National Capital FreeNet. It fits the Unix philosophy of doing one thing and doing it quite well.
The package is quick to install and only uses 2 MB of disk space when installed. It provides a very simple graphical interface that shows local wifi networks within range and allows you to connect to them. The GUI shows the SSID name, the MAC address, a signal bar strength graph, mode and channel in use. This makes it handy for solving local wifi interference problems, as you can quickly see which are the strongest stations and which channels they are on.
The GUI does allow creating and managing connections to wifi stations as well as saving profiles for connections.
The information provided isn't perfect. It lacks actual signal strength numbers, for instance, just showing a little relative signal strength graph with no data to go with it for each station. It also shows all stations as 802.11g, regardless of protocol used, although this is noted as a bug. While the stations shown can be dragged and dropped into any order you like, it would be useful to allow sorting by channel number or signal strength when trying to troubleshoot interference issues. All of these would be nice features to have.
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS was released on and I upgraded my laptop the next day, on , followed by my desktop on .
Being a long term support release, Lubuntu 16.04 LTS is supported for three years, until April 2019.
This release was once again only a very minor update, a bug-fix, with just some updated applications and some new artwork, as the main development effort still continues to be towards a future LXQt-based version of Lubuntu that was announced in 2014, but seems to be getting no closer over time.
I elected to do a fresh installation from a DVD on both my computers, rather than an upgrade, and the actual complete installation took just 15 minutes, which is quite fast, with all configuration and such done in about 1:25 on each computer.
There were only two installation issues. First the ISO's built in test feature did not work. It works on the Ubuntu and Xubuntu DVDs, but not on Lubuntu for some reason. This has happened in the past as well and the DVD itself is is fine, ironically it is just the built-in test that is broken. That is annoying, but not a "show-stopper".
My initial laptop installation also had a wifi error. The wireless card was identified and the modem's router could be seen, but no connection could be made, as the passwords were rejected for no identifiable reason. As a test Lubuntu 16.04 LTS connected fine when run in "live-DVD" mode, but not when installed, indicating some sort of file system error had occurred during the installation. I did a re-installation from the DVD and that fixed the problem.
The desktop installation was very smooth, however, with no issues at all.
As with Lubuntu 15.10 the artwork bears some mention, because once again in place of the attractive "wave" series of wallpapers that Lubuntu has traditionally sported from its very beginning with version 10.04 right through until 15.04, the new wallpaper is once again an ugly spiderweb design! Fortunately it is easy to replace with wallpaper from elsewhere.
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS is the first version that uses a pure systemd boot sequence. Here is a comparison of boot times between versions on the same hardware:
Ubuntu-Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
The boots times are the same for my desktop, but 17 seconds faster for my laptop.
Here is a comparison of RAM usage after a fresh boot:
Lubuntu RAM Comparison
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
Idle RAM usage is slightly up for the laptop and slightly down for the desktop.
Printing and scanning both set up smoothly and work fine.
Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 16.04 LTS are:
*Indicates application versions not upgraded from Lubuntu 15.10.
I didn't install it this time around, but it is worth noting that the Midori web browser in the Ubuntu repositories, has at long last been updated. For a number of years the version provided was 0.4.3, which was very old. Getting the newest version, 0.5.11, required adding a PPA and updating that way. Since PPAs are untrusted this was not an ideal way to go. So kudos to the Midori maintainers for getting the latest version up and running in the repositories. I hope they manage to keep it up to date as new versions come out.
There were just two outstanding issues from Lubuntu 15.10 and these were both fixed in Lubuntu 16.04 LTS:
My laptop often had disconnects just after connecting the first time after coming out of "suspend". I had thought it might be due to interference from nearby stations, but it seems to now be fixed, so may have been driver-related instead.
There was also one repeat minor glitch from Lubuntu 15.10, that was easily fixed:
GPRename not on the menus
The GPRename bulk file-renamer once again did not show up on the Lubuntu main menu or the PCManFM application menus, due to lacking a desktop config file. It can still be run from the main menu run command, though, so this is an easy work around. As with Lubuntu 15.10, I installed it on the menus, with thanks to NCF's Andre Dalle and the Ubuntu Forums. I used an old GPRename desktop file and using Run → gksudo pcmanfm to act as root, dropped it into /usr/share/applications and that resulted in it immediately showing up in the accessories menus.
Lubuntu 16.04 LTS was a good solid release, the best version of Lubuntu yet, at the time it came out. I used it for two years and it turned out to be just about flawless, as would be expected in a long term support version. I ended up running it until Lubuntu 18.04 LTS came out in April 2018.
Since the last time I tried this lightweight web browser in version 3.10.3 on Ubuntu 14.10, it just crashed a lot, I thought I would give the new version, 3.16.3, shipped in the Lubuntu 15.10 repositories, a try. As usual this is not the current version of Epiphany, which, as of this week is 3.18.1.
Epiphany is also called Web in the new Gnome naming scheme, although the Linux package remains epiphany-browser, so that is what I call it. I still think it is far too confusing to call a web browser Web.
I installed Epiphany 3.16.3 from the command line using APT and the installation went very smoothly. Lubuntu added it to the main menu, although for some reason made it the default browser.
Next I went through the set up and discovered that the menus have been re-arranged and are very simple and easy to follow through now, including the "preferences". I did an "import bookmarks" using a Firefox exported HTML file and that worked pretty much flawlessly. Bookmark export to a .rdf file works well, too.
In use Epiphany 3.16.3 is actually quite smooth, stable and fast. In testing RAM usage on five standard web pages Epiphany 3.16.3 uses much more RAM than Firefox, but it now runs each tab as a separate WebKit process, like Google Chrome does. This creates better crash resistance and security, but uses more RAM and means that this is not really a lightweight browser anymore:
Browser RAM Comparison
Testing page loading speed as a total of three standard web pages, Epiphany 3.16.3 scores far faster than Firefox 42.0, giving it a real speed advantage that is noticeable when browsing:
Browser Page Loading Comparison
This version of Epiphany scores 386 on the HTML5 test which is a negligible improvement over the 385 score for Epiphany 3.10.3. Most importantly it supports all HTML5 video formats, important for Adobe Flash-free use, although it relies on external codecs for playback, unlike Firefox.
Epiphany 3.16.3 has a user interface that has evolved since 3.10.3. It is is very clean, simple and has simplified menus and preferences. The preferences menus now includes ad-blocking, pop-up blocking, blocking third party cookies and a choice of three search engines: DuckDuckGo, Google and Bing, with DuckDuckGo as the default at last! Spell-checking is enabled by default and passwords work and are saved, but require a key-ring open after a reboot, which is a bit odd.
With ad-blocking and third party cookie blocking both enabled you only get cookies from the main websites you visit, which works reasonably well.
As in the past, PDF files are handled by downloading them to your home directory and then opening them in your default PDF reader, in my case Evince. Web page coding (Ctrl+U) opens in your default text editor, in my case Leafpad, which works fine.
This version also supports most common browser keyboard shortcuts. One new shortcut for Epiphany is Ctrl+Shift+T which opens the last and subsequent pages recently closed. This is a real boon for this browser, as before you had to go back into the page history to reopen pages.
A new feature is a "speaker" icon that appears in the tab when audio is playing. This is handy when some website auto-loads a video and you can't figure out which one to kill to silence it.
As in recent versions of Epiphany this version has no "bookmarks bar", although bookmarks can be called from the URL bar quickly enough. The new tab page includes a browser-collected selection of "most visited" pages. The selection is pretty random, many end up with no images and the only user control is to delete unwanted ones, one at a time, so it is pretty much useless for most users. Personally I would rather have a blank page than that mess.
Downloads are reasonably well handled, but as in the past the only option is to designate one place to save them, which lacks flexibility. In comparison, Firefox allows you to choose where to save downloads individually if you like.
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/602.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/8.0 Safari/602.1 Ubuntu/15.10 (3.16.3-1ubuntu1) Epiphany/3.16.3
Epiphany 3.16.3's stability is pretty much rock-solid. I only saw two tab crashes in a week, neither of which took the browser down, just the offending tab. Now that is definitely something new!
Overall Epiphany 3.16.3 seems to be the best version of this browser yet and far better than recent versions in key areas, such as stability. The refined, clean interface makes it very user-friendly to set-up and browse with. Overall it is a good web browser and worth using if you value page load speed and simplicity over rich features.
Good as it is, I had to stop using Epiphany 3.16.3 some time ago, as it seems that a Lubuntu system update removed the browser's scroll bars, making it very hard to use. This is probably related to running Epiphany outside the Gnome desktop environment and the developers do say that may be problematic. In this case it proved a "show-stopper". I was hoping that a later update would restore the scroll bars, but that didn't occur while I was running Lubuntu 15.10.
Lubuntu 15.10 was released on and I upgraded my laptop the next day, on , followed by my desktop the subsequent day, on .
This release was once again only a very minor update, a bug-fix, with just some updated applications and some new artwork, as the main development effort still continues to be towards the future LXQt-based version of Lubuntu.
The upgrade took just over an hour to complete and went very smoothly, although it requires monitoring and some human input along the way, so you can't just go out and leave it to upgrade on its own. This time there were no error messages during the upgrade process, although there seems to have been some upgrade-induced problems introduced, described below.
The new artwork bears some mention, because in place of the attractive "wave" variation wallpaper that Lubuntu has sported from its very beginning with version 10.04, the new wallpaper is really quite ugly! Fortunately it is easy to replace with something better, although it will have to come from elsewhere, as the three wallpapers provided with Lubuntu 15.10 are identical. I used Whisper for my new wallpaper.
Here is a comparison of boot times between versions on the same hardware:
Ubuntu-Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
This is the second version of Lubuntu to use systemd for boot-up and it is notable that overall boot times do not seem to be improving over time.
Here is a comparison of RAM usage after a fresh boot:
Lubuntu RAM Comparison
Idle RAM usage is slightly down for the laptop and slightly up for the desktop.
Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 15.10 are:
*Indicates applications not upgraded from Lubuntu 15.04
The upgrade process turns off any PPAs in use, and so once the upgrade process was done I had to go to Preferences → Software & Updates → Other software and turn the PPAs for Midori on again. This resulted in a slightly updated version of Midori 0.5.11, optimized for Wily, to be installed.
Here is the one issue from Lubuntu 15.04 that was fixed in Lubuntu 15.10:
The notification dialog boxes that previously showed an ugly set of horizontal lines that made reading the text difficult was caused by a background file that was tiled in the notifications. There is a filed bug report on this that includes an easy work-around. This is fixed in Lubuntu 15.10 and now shows a nice light grey dialogue box that matches the default Lubuntu window colour scheme.
Here is the one outstanding issue:
This is an old issue that is still not fixed. The Pitivi movie editor has been updated to version 0.94-4. It can now actually be opened without crashing, but it still crashes every time you try to edit a video with it. I am still using reliable Avidemux for video editing, which is an easy work around. I was the only person to note this problem, as Chris Long of Red Hat could not get Pitivi 0.94 to work either and noted that it just endlessly crashed.
There was just one other issue that was easily fixed:
GPRename not on the menus
After the upgrade the GPRename bulk file-renamer was no longer showing up on the Lubuntu main menu or the PCManFM application menus. This seemed to be due to lacking a desktop config file. It can still be run from the main menu run command, though, so this is an easy work around. I did manage to install it on the menus (with help from NCF's Andre Dalle and the Ubuntu Forums). I used an old GPRename desktop file and using Run → gksudo pcmanfm to act as root, dropped it into /usr/share/applications and that resulted in it immediately showing up in the accessories menus.
The upgrade process seems to have introduced some software errors. These are easy to detect, as they just affect one of my computers and not the other one and so are not operating system-wide, but specific to one installation. They are hard to fix in situ, though. These were:
ALSA sound system frequently crashed, producing the error, "ALSA error: send_pcm_open failed: No space left on device."
Power management to power down the display did not work in automatic mode, required manually locking the screen
Boot times were very inconsistent. Often it took 2:40 to boot, but sometimes a more expected 0:57.
Guvcview webcam crashes while shooting video
The problems with my desktop computer were annoying enough that I decided to reformat it and do a fresh installation on . The actual installation of Lubuntu 15.10 only took 17 minutes, but configuring the system and re-installing documents made that into a three hour job. The re-installation initially fixed the power management issue, but not the long boot time or the ALSA crash issue, although both of these were fixed over time, probably by Linux kernel or firmware updates. I had asked a question about the ALSA crash issue on the Ubuntu Forums, but did not get any answer.
Joey Sneddon of OMG Ubuntu somewhat humourously noted, "Lubuntu 15.10 is another highly minor bug fix release." He wasn't wrong.
Lubuntu 15.10 is a good solid release, with very few issues to report. It seems to be a worthy successor to Lubuntu 15.04 in the run-up to the next LTS, which will be version 16.04, due out on 21 April 2016.
My last review of Midori was version 0.5.8 in . At that time it was improving, but was still lacking some basic features.
I thought it was time to try out the current version and see how it is coming along, including its usefulness as a main browser for everyday web browsing.
The version of Midori in the Ubuntu 15.04 repositories remains Midori 0.4.3, which hasn't been updated in three years, even though newer versions are available. The developers indicated in September 2014 that is due to lacking a person to manage the Debian and Ubuntu repositories. Many people volunteered back then, but it seems no one is doing the job yet. This is really too bad, as it slows uptake of Midori considerably.
As I noted in my last review, the development team keeps an active PPA that is easy to install and gives the latest Midori version, which is currently 0.5.11. All you have to do is run:
and then run the Ubuntu Software Updater and it will be installed.
This version of Midori is code-named "Heads or Tails", it is better than earlier versions and is worth installing. It is available for both Linux and Windows.
Midori uses the WebKit rendering engine and is fast and easy to use. It scores 356 on the HTML5 test, compared to 477 for Firefox 40.0.3. Midori does have MPEG-4 ASP video support though, which Firefox lacks at this point in time.
Midori 0.5.11 does have a lot of good features. The interface is clean and straightforward. It handles tab overflow in a similar manner to Firefox, compressing the tabs to some extent and then moving them off the page with arrows to access them.
This version also has full bookmark management: you can import from an HTML file, add, edit, remove and back-up or export bookmarks as an .xbel file.
Midori lacks a "bookmarks bar", but does have a new tab page with a "speed dial" feature much like that found on Chrome, Firefox and Epiphany. The main difference is that Midori's speed dial doesn't automatically collect recent pages, it requires the user to decide which pages to display, which is far better than any other browser. I always found that Chrome just collected random stuff there and not what you wanted. With Midori you decide and it stays there. Pages can be added to the speed dial on the new tabs page or by right clicking on any web page and selecting "add to Speed dial" from the context menu.
Midori has a "reopen recently closed page or tab" feature which works well. Unlike on Firefox, you can pick just one to reopen and don't have to go back through them all. The toolbar has a "trashcan" icon to access this feature. The common browser Ctrl+Shift+T shortcut to reopen closed tabs also works, although it opens tabs in reverse closing order, just like Firefox does.
The default search engine in Midori 0.5.11 remains DuckDuckGo, with Google, Yahoo, Google Translate and other options presented when searching from the URL bar. Of course any other search engine can be called up if it is in your favourites, just by starting to type the name in the URL bar or it can be easily added to the search box options from "manage search engines".
When I tested Midori 0.3.6, Google Docs and Google Calendar wouldn't work in it, but it does work on Midori 0.5.11, thanks to a feature at Menu → Preferences → Network → Identify as, that allows the user to change user agent strings to Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, to fool services like Google into working right. The one drawback is that by default it identifies as old browser versions, such as Chrome 18, Firefox 4.0 and Internet Explorer 6! The user agent string is user-editable at Menu → Preferences → Network → Identify as custom. It can be found stored at ~/.config/midori/config, which is a plain text document, although not user editable as Midori over-writes it.
Midori 0.5.11 finally has full spell-checking, including underlining errors and right-click suggestions from a menu. This was worth waiting for and in many ways it works better that Firefox's spell-checking!
Standard browser keyboard shortcuts seem to work on Midori, such as:
Highlight URL bar
Find on web page
Move to tab number
Move to last tab
back one page
forward one page
F5 or Ctrl+R
The very common shortcut of Ctrl+U to display web page coding doesn't work, but this feature is available from the right mouse click menu on any web page. The right click context menu also allows the display of page elements, which is a useful web developer feature.
There is a browser chrome bar at the bottom of the window, which is used to display the URL on mouse hover-over, as well as downloads, but it can be hidden with Ctrl+J, in which case mouse-over URLs appear in the URL bar and downloads are hidden.
In testing RAM usage on six standard web pages Midori scores comparably to Firefox:
Browser RAM Comparison
Midori 0.5.11 still does not have any integral password management, although it can be combined with a password manager, such as KeePassX or similar.
Midori comes with a suite of 23 different extensions found at Menu → Preferences → Extensions. I like Advertisement Blocker 2.0, Colorful Tabs 0.5 and Cookie Manager 0.2, but Form History Filler 2.0 and Toolbar Editor 0.1 don't seem to work. Midori 0.5.11 seems to have fairly good stability, except when the Cookie Security Manager 0.1 extension is activated and used in its default "ask for a decision" mode on each cookie, as it causes the browser to crash every time. It works fine in other modes, such as when it is just used for blocking named site's cookies.
In testing Midori 0.5.11 over 24 hours I saw five crashes, three of which were caused by the Cookie Security Manager 0.1 extension. Midori 0.5.11 does have some problems with some websites, including grab-scrolling in Google Maps and some clipboard cut and paste errors in Gmail.
Downloads are well-handled and the user is given a choice of where to save them or to display them with an appropriate application. Midori does not have an integrated PDF reader and so PDFs are displayed in the default PDF reader, in my case Evince.
Testing page loading speed as a total of three standard web pages, Midori scores comparably to Firefox:
Browser Page Loading Comparison
Overall Midori is steadily improving and is recommended for use. It still needs password management, but outside that missing feature, it is fully functional for day to day use. It also does display blogspot websites correctly, including showing images!
Privacy Badger is an extension for the Firefox and Chrome browsers that was developed by The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as a public service. The extension is designed to be a better privacy tool for dealing with third party content on web pages that do not respect "do not track" requests.
As a non-profit foundation acting in the public interest, the EFF has more credibility that some of the makers of other browser extensions that are selling white-list opportunities.
Privacy Badger uses some of the code from AdBlock Plus, but it is not primarily an ad-blocker. Instead it assesses third party content on web-pages, including cookies, images and scripts to see if they are designed to track you and blocks them. This means that it also blocks some ads, too, but only ones that are tracking you. Some third party content is there to make the page work, like blog comments for instance and Privacy Badger just blocks the cookies for those.
I have long used Firefox's settings at Edit→ Preferences→ Privacy→ Accept third party cookies→ Never, to block third party cookies, but Privacy Badger goes further than that in protecting your privacy, so it is worth having in addition to the settings.
Privacy Badger is easy to use, just install it and it goes to work immediately, without any need to mess around with settings. It puts a small badger logo on Firefox at the top right, next to the search box. It normally works silently, but clicking on the logo shows a box with all the third party cookies on the web page and what Privacy Badger is doing with them, with a green-amber-red slider bar. You can change the settings on any single bar or enable all trackers from the menu or even disable Privacy Badger on that single page if you like. It remembers settings and also learns as it goes along.
Privacy Badger was first released just over a year ago, on 01 May 2014, and is currently in beta, although in testing it out it seems to work well.
Future plans for the extension include making it available for Opera and Firefox Mobile, as well as fingerprinting countermeasures and first party privacy protection.
Web browsers generally allow users to send a "Do Not Track" signal that lets advertisers know the user prefers not to be tracked for the purposes of serving up personalized ads. But it's largely a futile exercise, because websites and advertising networks are free to ignore the signal. Even Yahoo, which had been honoring Do Not Track requests, decided to stop doing so this week....Privacy Badger works, but it's an "alpha" release so the EFF wants interested users to test it out before attempting to convince larger populations of people to install it.
...it is an easy-to-use tool, and it both offers protection against web trackers and sheds light on just how pervasive web-tracker deployment is; both are useful outcomes... There is no telling how well the project will fare as a DNT enforcement tool, but it may be the best option currently available.
Considering that using a blocker is somewhat of a political statement about privacy — users don’t opt-in to third-party tracking, and by running Privacy Badger can they opt out — it’s more than good enough, and its relative “purity” compared to the others on the market should make it the cypherpunk’s choice.
Youtube-DL is yet another one of those neat Linux command line programs, except this one is also available for Windows and Mac as well. In all cases it runs from the command line, but don't let that intimidate you, as it is very easy to use.
One interesting thing about this application is its licensing, which is "public domain", leaving it open for any use at all. The source code is available, so it is free software. The application is under rapid development, with new versions out each week or so.
For Ubuntu users it is available in the repositories. The currently provided version is a few months old, dating from 28 February 2015, but still works well. Installing it is easy from the command line:
$ sudo apt-get install youtube-dl
The application has a lot of features built in, all of which are explained in the included manual file, which can be read at:
$ man youtube-dl
One nice feature is that it can download Flash videos even if you don't have Flash installed, which can then be played in a media player such as VLC, thus avoiding using non-free software.
In basic mode the application is very simple to use, just open the command line, add the name of the application to call it up and the URL that the video to be downloaded is located on and it does the rest, querying the page, finding the video and delivering the video to your home folder.
These sorts of command line applications work well and are easy to use, so hard to improve upon!
This is another of those great "no-nonsense" Linux command line tools, that I recently learned about from a National Capital FreeNet discussion group. It is amazing what you can learn just by watching problems being solved on line and making notes!
Whois does not come with Lubuntu, but it is available in the repositories. Oddly enough it doesn't show up in the Lubuntu Software Centre, but then no command line utilities do, including clamav, scrot and exiv2. Whois is easy to get from the repositories by command line, though:
$ sudo apt-get install whois
The tool is very easy to use. When you want to know who owns an internet domain or IP address (IPv4 or IPv6) you just call up whois and then add the address to be queried. The resulting report is usually long and detailed, pulled from a number of RFC 3912 internet registry sources. As usual there is a manual of commands at:
$ man whois
The main advantage of whois is that it saves you going to multiple websites to look up data using a web browser, it does it all for you and very quickly as well.
Like most Linux command line utilities whois is hard to improve upon. The syntax is simple and it works fast.
Lubuntu's webcam application is Guvcview, an ungainly name which means "GTK plus UVC viewer", as it uses a GTK+ interface and the Linux UVC driver. I presume that it is pronounced "G-UVC-View", but it could be "Gov-see-view".
In Lubuntu 14.10 the supplied version was Guvcview 1.7.3 and it didn't work, just crashed on opening each time. With Lubuntu 15.04 you get Guvcview 2.01 and it works!
Guvcview is designed as a lightweight webcam controller, using the Linux UVC driver, luvcview, for video and the portaudio library for audio.
Guvcview's controls are very simple and easy to use and still images can easily be taken using the default settings in .jpg format.
Video takes a bit of adjustment to get things working right. By default it records in .mkv, using the MPEG4-ASP codec. With both my webcams that resulted in bad interference on the video. Setting the container format to .webm required going to Video→File→File Format and choosing .webm. This also sets the video codec to VP8, which is the correct codec for .webm. That works, and with a microphone, will also record audio. As a bonus .webm format is one of YouTube's supported file formats, along with .avi, but not .mkv, so the resulting video can be uploaded to YouTube, if desired, although Avidemux, my current video editor, will not edit any videos made by Guvcview, for some reason.
The video capture mode includes a few basic special effects, including mirror, invert, negative, mono (black and white), pieces and particles. These can be combined, too, by selecting more than one.
In comparison to Cheese, the Gnome webcam application, Guvcview is lighter weight and easier to use.
GUVCView, from my perspective, is a much better means of recording video than Cheese. This especially applies if the video you are recording is to be used for something other than, say, Skype chatting.
Jim Lynch, wrote about the application's inclusion in Lubuntu in May 2011:
I actually like Cheese so I can’t say I’m real thrilled about it being replaced by guvcview, but it’s sort of six of one or half dozen of the other when it comes to these two programs. I could get by fine with either one though your mileage may vary depending on your needs and preferences.
Lubuntu 15.04 was released on 23 April 2015 and I upgraded my laptop on , followed by my desktop the next day, on .
This release was only a very minor update, a bug-fix, with some updated applications and some new artwork, as the main development effort continues to be towards the future LXQt-based version of Lubuntu.
This was the first upgrade I had done in many years, in the past doing fresh installs each time, instead. This upgrade took 67 minutes on my laptop and 63 minutes on my desktop to complete and went relatively smoothly, with just a couple of error messages along the way, that seem to have been inconsequential.
The upgrade resulted in a couple of application surprises, some good and some bad. On the plus side the Guvcview webcam, which always crashed on opening before, now works. On the bad side the Pitivi video editor won't even launch now, just crashing instead of opening. I even tried uninstalling and purging it, but it still crashes on opening. Fortunately there is still reliable Avidemux for video editing, so this is not much of a loss.
Here is a comparison of boot times between versions on the same hardware:
Ubuntu-Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
The boot time comparison is particularly interesting because this is the first new version of Lubuntu to replace upstart with systemd for boot-up. I was very curious to see if it improved boot times, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
Here is a comparison of RAM usage after a fresh boot:
Lubuntu RAM Comparison
Lubuntu 15.05 seems to use about 1% less RAM. While this is not much, the trend is away from "bloat", so that is good.
Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 15.04 are:
*Indicates applications not upgraded from Lubuntu 14.10
Here are the issues from Lubuntu 14.10 that Lubuntu 15.04 fixes:
The Guvcview webcam application has been upgraded from 1.7.3 to 2.01. Guvcview 1.7.3 crashed on opening every time, but 2.0.1 now launches, so this is fixed in Lubuntu 15.04.
On Lubuntu 14.10 occasionally the mouse pointer crashed, resulting in two pointers in a horizontal row. The left pointer still works fine when this happens. I discovered that both a reboot and just opening a text editor and typing any text will fix this, rendering it a minor issue. It seems to be fixed in Lubuntu 15.04.
On Lubuntu 14.10 the wireless connection would sometimes be lost, requiring re-selecting it each time. It seems to be fixed in Lubuntu 15.04, so it must have been a driver issue.
Here is the one issue that I have found in Lubuntu 15.04:
The Pitivi movie editor has been updated to version 0.93-4.2 which which moved it from occasional crashes to not being able to launch at all. I reported Bug 1449616 on this, although there are many open bugs about Pitivi crashes. I have continued to use Avidemux instead.
That is all! There are a couple of minor glitches that needed fixing or configuring as well, as described below.
Due to problems with the switch from Python 2 to 3, hplip was broken at the upgrade from 14.10 to 15.04. This problem affected all 'buntus and not just Lubuntu. Hplip is the system that allows most HP printers to work.
Run the command in a terminal to make it executable: chmod +x ~/hplip-3.15.4.run
Run the command in a terminal and follow through the dialogue: sh hplip-3.15.4.run
Set up the printer from the printer GUI at Main Menu→System Tools→Printers if not already set-up.
Printing now works!
This issue, consolidated as bug 142004, was resolved on 08 May 2015 when the changes in hplip 3.15.4 were incorporated as 3.15.2-0ubuntu4.1, which was set to replace version 3.15.2-0ubuntu4. Once the update is propagated to Ubuntu users all HP printers should work and the problem should not recur.
Originally I thought that freshclam, the command line virus scanner definition updater for Clam AV, did not work. In the past I manually updated the definitions with the "freshclam" command, but this returns ERROR: /var/log/clamav/freshclam.log is locked by another process. In investigating further and reading the /var/log/clamav/freshclam.log file it looks like freshclam is running in daemon mode by default, is updating definitions automatically and that is the process that is locking the file out to manual freshclam.
That is fine that it is running automatically, but it would have been nice to know!
The notification dialog boxes show an ugly set of horizontal lines that makes reading the text difficult. This is caused by a background file that gets tiled in the notifications. There is a filed bug report on this that includes an easy work-around though. If you select "run" and "gksudo pcmanfm" to allow modifying system files, you can then just remove /usr/share/themes/Lubuntu-default/gtk-2.0/images/panel-bg.png which is the offending file and the notifications will display with a very elegant dark grey background instead.
...the Lubuntu 15.04 operating system comes now with updated artwork, which includes an updated theme, more beautiful icons, and an updated GTK+ infrastructure for better compatibility with Qt applications.
Lubuntu 15.04 is a good solid release, with very few issues to report. It may well be the best version of Lubuntu yet! With Lubuntu 14.10 support running out in June 2015 it is worth an upgrade to this new version.
Lubuntu 15.04 turned out to be one of the best operating systems ever released, with almost no issues at all to report. I can only hope that Lubuntu 15.10 is nearly as good.
For quite a while, when I validated my web pages, some of them have validated fine (green), but showed a warning that says:
Byte-Order Mark found in UTF-8 File.
The Unicode Byte-Order Mark (BOM) in UTF-8 encoded files is known to cause problems for some text editors and older browsers. You may want to consider avoiding its use until it is better supported.
A Byte order mark (BOM) is a series of unicode characters that indicate the "endianness" or byte order of a text or html document. As the validator indicates it isn't necessarily well supported and isn't required. Since I hand-code my web pages I have no idea where it came from and why it is in some of my web pages and not others.
Ever since the warning started appearing, I began trying to figure out what it was and how to get rid of it. I read a number of articles about it and they detailed the characters that the BOM includes for UTF-8 encoded pages, but reading the page in my text editor they were not found, because they are hexadecimal characters.
Next I tried installing a hexadecimal editor from the Ubuntu repositories, Bless 0.6.0, and then searched the pages with that. I figured I could just remove the characters and then save it, but it didn't find them.
Then, finally, I had a flash of insight. It occurred to be that if my text editor, jEdit 5.1.0, couldn't read the BOM, then perhaps it also couldn't copy it. So I tried opening the offending pages, cutting all the text out of the page, saving it as a new document, deleting the old page and then renaming the new page to replace it (in other words Ctrl+A, Crtl+X, Ctrl+S, Ctrl+W, Crtl+N, Ctrl+V, Ctrl+S). I then uploaded it and re-validated it. Lo and behold the warning was gone!
That turned out to be a very simple solution! I carried out that "cleaning" on all my affected pages and it solved the BOM problem. Now, if I knew how it got on those pages in the first place I would have a complete story!
I have recently been having problems with Nautilus, the Gnome file manager, running on both Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and more recently on Ubuntu 14.10 too. In both cases this is the same version of Nautilus, 3.10.1, that has been crashing fairly regularly, sometimes only minutes apart. In many cases it loses functionality, like the ability to rename files, or it maxes out the CPUs until it is closed. It often needs the whole operating system to be rebooted to fix the crash, which is quite annoying.
To address this problem I decided to install an alternate file manager, one I have used before and like, PCManFM 1.2.3 from the LXDE desktop. In checking I discovered that PCManFM is included with the minimal Lubuntu installation package called lubuntu-core, which is an alternative to the full lubuntu-desktop and can be easily added to an existing Ubuntu installation. Installing this meta-package gave me a chance to try out the 64-bit version of Lubuntu 14.10 and see if it fixed some other outstanding Ubuntu 14.10 issues like the screen locking only working sporadically.
I ran Lubuntu back in 2010-11 for about a year and it worked well enough most of the time, but versions 11.04 and 11.10 had some stability problems. I moved back to Ubuntu to take advantage of progress on Unity in the Ubuntu desktop.
In looking at the list of current problems in Ubuntu many of them are related to Gnome applications, like Nautilus, Epiphany (Web) and gEdit crashing, plus applications like Brasero not working right either. I am not sure what is going on with previously stable Gnome applications, but all of these factors have caused me to seek other, non-Gnome alternatives. Along the way I have often discovered that the alternatives, like PCManFM, jEdit and XFburn work better anyway. All of this makes it more attractive to move back to the LXDE desktop once again.
Downloading the lubuntu-core package for my existing Ubuntu 14.10 installation was quick, as it is only about 43 MB in size. This provides the LXDE desktop, artwork and icon sets, but very few applications beyond the LXDE keystone PCManFM file manager. To add screen-locking functionality I installed light-locker 1.4.0, the Lubuntu screen-locker.
PCManFM has improved greatly since I last used it and it now includes a much-needed file search capability that is actually better than Unity's in many ways, as it can quickly search individual folders. The only feature PCManFM is lacking these days is the ability to show exif file meta-data, but this is easily made up with the exiv2 command line utility for those odd occasions when I do need meta-data, usually from photos.
The resulting Lubuntu installation is a bit of a hybrid, with mostly Ubuntu default applications, so it is not entirely representative of a pure Lubuntu 14.10 ISO installation. To do a more full evaluation, after I had run the lubuntu-core on my desktop for a few days, on 07 December 2014 I did a fresh clean installation of Lubuntu 14.10 on my laptop. This went reasonably well, with few glitches, until it refused to log into anything but an OpenBox session, requiring me to reformat it and start again on 08 December 2014. That installation seems to have gone better.
On 13 December I did a full, fresh installation on my desktop computer. The installation had problems, but they seemed to be related to Grub and EFI. Once I got them sorted out the installation worked fine.
Lubuntu 14.10, even in this hybrid desktop installation, boots up 15% faster than Ubuntu 14.10 on the same hardware. The pure Lubuntu 14.10 installation on my System76 laptop boots up 30% faster:
Ubuntu-Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
RAM usage after a fresh boot is 273 MB for Lubuntu 14.10 versus 421 MB of RAM for Ubuntu 14.10 on the hybrid desktop installation and 217 MB on the laptop pure Lubuntu installation.
Some of the applications included in the Lubuntu 14.10 ISO file are:
Overall Lubuntu 14.10 has a pretty good suite of lightweight applications for basic computing tasks and with some additions from the Ubuntu repositories can be turned into a very capable system for getting work done. It has some nice detail finishing touches as well, such as how Ctrl+Alt+Del brings up the LXTask system monitor, which allows you to see what is going on and kill any processes needed.
Here is a look at what Lubuntu 14.10 does to address the outstanding issues from Ubuntu 14.10:
The Pitivi movie editor seems to work a bit better in the Lubuntu environment, but still crashes. I have continued to use Avidemux as a back-up.
The screen lock in Ubuntu sometimes fails to work, but the Lubuntu light-locker seems to work fine, so this is fixed.
It is not hard to see that most the issues from Ubuntu 14.10 seem to be basically fixed. This is actually quite remarkable and makes Lubuntu better than Ubuntu in almost every respect. As a bonus, in the normal Lubuntu installation the annoying Ubuntu "edge scrolling" handles are replaced with normal scroll handles. I wasted a lot of time trying to find them with my mouse and they are one of the worst features of Ubuntu.
The notification dialog has horizontal bars through it
Whenever notifications are displayed they show an ugly set of horizontal lines that makes reading the text difficult. There is a filed bug report on this that includes an easy work-around. If you select "run" and "gksudo pcmanfm" to allow modifying system files, you can then just remove /usr/share/themes/Lubuntu-default/gtk-2.0/images/panel-bg.png which is the offending file and the notifications will display with a very elegant dark grey background instead.
Occasionally the mouse pointer crashes, resulting in two pointers in a horizontal row. The left pointer still works fine when this happens. I discovered that both a reboot and just opening a text editor and typing any text will fix this, rendering it a minor issue.
The wireless connection is sometimes lost, requiring re-selecting it each time. This doesn't seem to happen to other wireless devices in the house, pointing to an issue with the Lubuntu installation.
"One of the main characteristics of Lubuntu is the fact that it's fast, even on older computers. Basically, Lubuntu is able to run on anything built in the last decade, and there are very few operating systems out there that can claim the same thing...Just like its Ubuntu base, Lubuntu 14.10 has seen very few important visual modifications, although many packages have been updated under the hood. The theme and the icons have been updated, but the developers are preparing to make the switch to LXQt, a project that is still in the works."
"Make no mistake, Lubuntu 14.10 is in itself a good release. It is stable, bug free and offers incredible performance even on low powered machines. However, the only constraint is it's rather limited support of 9 months. I wish this was the LTS release! And did I forget to tell you that Lubuntu also supports touch screens. It is a perfect replacement for Win8 for the low powered laptops with touch screen being released these days. Anyway, definitely recommended from my side if you are ok with 9 months of support. I can surely bet that Lubuntu 14.10 will match up to your expectations."
There's nothing functionally wrong with Lubuntu. It's not bad. It's simply not interesting. It's meat without flavor, it's a hybrid car, it's accounting lessons at the local evening school, it's morning news, it's a visit to Pompei while blindfolded. There's no excitement...I liked this desktop environment in the past, but it's stagnated. It hasn't evolved at all, and its competitors have left it far behind. And that reflects poorly on Lubuntu, which, despite a calm and stable record of spartan behavior, has left with me an absolute zero of emotional attachment toward it.
These days Lubuntu is a very simple and elegant distribution, from its stylistic blue wave wallpaper to the default windowing theme. Behind the scenes it also seems to have an elegance of design that outperforms Ubuntu on the same hardware.
Work flows are different moving from Ubuntu's search-based desktop to Lubuntu's menu-driven system, but, once your brain makes the switch over, no real work efficiency is lost.
Overall Lubuntu 14.10 seems like a great release and solves many of the problems that Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and Ubuntu 14.10 suffers from. I made it my sole operating system once again on 13 December 2014.
The time has come to upgrade to Lubuntu 15.04, which was now released five days ago and say goodbye to Lubuntu 14.10, which I have run for almost five months now. I have found Lubuntu 14.10 to be one of the best releases of any Linux distro I have ever used. It is very stable, fast, easy to use and elegant, with almost no problems. Hopefully Lubuntu 15.04 will continue that tradition.
The Ubuntu Browser is a simple web browser intended for tablets and phones, but it has been included by default with the desktop Ubuntu ISO since Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr and available in the repositories since Ubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander. The first version seems to have been 0.20 and I first noted the existence of this application in my review of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.
The browser is the default for all Unity web applications, meaning if you accept features like "Gmail integration" in Firefox, Gmail will be displayed in the Ubuntu Browser.
The browser on the desktop and the Ubuntu Software Centre is just called "Browser", which is a bit confusing, although its package name is "webbrowser-app". Its package description says "Ubuntu web browser - A lightweight web browser tailored for Ubuntu, based on the Oxide browser engine and using the Ubuntu UI components." Oxide-qt is a web browser engine library for Qt that facilitates using WebKit as the layout engine.
Although it has a very simple interface, it does lack a lot of features that are normally considered desirable in a browser. Missing are:
No password management - passwords are not stored.
No bookmark manager - although bookmarks can be saved and recalled, they have to be managed by opening the web page and then "starring" or "unstarring". There is no list of bookmarks.
No downloads - downloads are not opened, such as PDF documents. If you click on a download, nothing happens.
No H.264, MPEG4 or Flash video support - meaning it can play some You Tube videos, but not others.
No support for HTML5 "abbr" tags.
No web page source code display.
No cookie blocking or management.
No display of link targets on hover-over.
Expected keyboard shortcuts often don't work - such as Ctrl+C for copy, Ctrl+R or F5 for reload page, etc.
Almost no menus - the few features the browser has can be accessed from the HUD, but there are almost no menus to read through to see what features it actually has. The browser does have one small menu with just three items on it, but has more features than this shows.
In many ways the application is not very complete and feels like alpha software.
On the plus side it is a very fast browser, rendering pages quickly. It has a unique tabbing system, where the open tabs are kept on a separate page, accessed from the "hamburger" menu or the HUD, rather than on tabs along the top of the browser like Firefox or Chrome does. This is a simple method of dealing with "tab overflow" problems.
The Ubuntu Browser scores 507/555 on the HTML5 Test, which is a very high score. It is odd that it lacks H.264 and MPEG4 video support, limiting its use for watching HTML5 videos.
Copy and paste functionality is also odd, also. If you right click on a section of text you can use a button that appears to copy it, fairly unconventional as Ctrl+C doesn't work. You can only copy whole paragraphs this way, as there is no way to highlight individual words or lines of text.
The lack of normative keyboard and mouse functionality can be a bit disconcerting. It took me quite a while to learn that reloading a page won't work by hitting "F5" and instead you have to tap "Alt" to open the HUD and then search for "Reload (Leave page)" instead. Hitting Ctrl+Left Click to open a link in a new tab does work, but the new tab is hidden and you may not realize it has opened.
The user agent string is likewise a bit unusual, in that it mimics Chromium 35, but doesn't report its own identity. It also reports running on Ubuntu 14.04 when it is actually running on 14.10 in this case:
On the Ubuntu Software Centre the application currently has 13 reviews, most of them quite negative. The positive ones note that it is a work in progress and suggest it will get better in time. Several reviews report crashes and stability issues, although I have only seen one crash, a SIGABRT fault, which is an abort command.
The browser is quite useful on the desktop for web developers to test page coding on a webkit-powered browser to see how your pages render, an alternative to the Gecko-powered Firefox browser that also comes with Ubuntu.
Overall the Ubuntu Browser has the potential to get better over time and thus bears watching, although most users will greatly prefer Firefox, Chromium or another "full-featured" browser at the present time.
My recent discovery that gedit on Ubuntu 14.10 was causing problems with Xorg, lock-ups and crashes, lead me to install an alternative text editor and see if that worked better.
It was back in 2007 that I first started using jEdit on Windows XP and wrote a review. At that time I found jEdit to be effective, but a bit geeky and a bit of work to configure. Given gedit's problems I considered just installing the very simple Leafpad text editor, but decided to give jEdit another try as I really wanted a text editor with syntax highlighting and spell checking and Leafpad lacks those features.
jEdit is easy to install from the Ubuntu repositories, although, because it is based on the Java virtual machine (formerly called the Java Runtime Environment), it requires quite a number of dependencies to be installed along with it.
jEdit does work fine "right out of the box", but its strength is that it has a lot of plugins available, which allows users to customize it to add capabilities.
It doesn't come with spell-checking installed. To add that I needed to go to Plugins→ Plugin manager→ Install→ Spellcheck. Ubuntu comes with the Aspell dictionary already installed, but even after installing the spell-checking plugin jEdit doesn't recognize the dictionary! That requires: Plugins→ Plugin options→ Spellcheck→ General→ Spellcheck engine→ Aspell→ refresh list→Apply, to get it working.
I customized my text display at Utilities→ Global Options→ Editing→ to set "word wrap soft" and "wrap margin 120", so it wraps text by default, instead of displaying each line without wraps (i.e. off the screen to the right). I also set Utilities→ Global Options→ Saving & Back-up→ Max number of backups to zero, to stop jEdit making constant hidden back-up copies of files.
One strength of jEdit is that users can apply key bindings right in the application itself, creating keyboard shortcuts for common tasks. I set just two at Utilities→ Global Options→ Shortcuts, setting spell checking to the commonly used "F7" and setting toggling between word warp and no word wrap as "F2".
Lastly I customized the theme to make it fit the Ubuntu Unity desktop a bit better, by adding the GTK+ theme to replace the default Metal theme at Utilities→ Global Options→ Appearance→ Swing look and feel→ GTK+.
jEdit doesn't support Unity's global menus, but that is a minor drawback. Like most applications it displays normal menus across the application window top, although the menus are a bit unconventionally organized. Probably the most unusual thing is that what would normally be found under Edit→ Preferences on most Linux applications is found under Utilities→ Global Options instead. jEdit does take a bit of work to customize it, but once it is done it works very well and the high degree of customization available means that you can configure it the way you want it.
jEdit does have some advantages over gedit, for instance it displays syntax highlighting in HTML headings and indicates unencoded ampersands, whereas gedit doesn't. jEdit's key bindings and customization are also unmatched in gedit.
Being Java-based, jEdit is available for all computer platforms, including Windows, Mac and Linux. Overall it is hard to improve on jEdit. Best of all it doesn't seem to consume excessive resources or crash, unlike gedit in Ubuntu 14.10. With a bit of work setting it up it makes a good alternative text editor to gedit.
I was intending the skip this new version of Ubuntu, that came out yesterday on , in favour of just staying with 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr for two years, but the ongoing crashes motivated me to download 14.10 Utopic Unicorn, give it a try and see if it is an improvement or not.
The problems with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS have included regular crashes of Epiphany, gedit, Nautilus, Pitivi and Unity, with occasional crashes of GIMP and Firefox as well.
Switching from the LTS releases to the regular releases does mean going from a five year support period to nine months and so commits me to more frequent upgrades, but it would be worth it to get better stability.
I downloaded the ISO file via bit torrent using Transmission and that went very smoothly. The download is not that easy to find, as the Ubuntu website doesn't offer Ubuntu 14.10 on the main download page. I had to click through to the alternative downloads page to find it at all. The download took about 20 minutes. I did an MD5 sum check on it from the command line and that confirmed that I had a good download.
Next, in an effort to save a DVD, I used the Startup Disc Creator on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS to make a USB device that I could boot to for the installation. This failed to work and I located the reason in the release notes: "Due to changes in syslinux, it is not currently possible to use usb-creator from 14.04 and earlier releases to write USB images for 14.10; we believe that it is also not possible to use usb-creator from a 14.10 system to write USB images for earlier releases." Instead I made up a DVD, that booted fine and the installation went very smoothly and quickly.
There is a nice selection of wallpaper available, including a subtle "unicorn" themed one. The default wallpaper is the same "origami" one that was also the default on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.
I installed Ubuntu 14.10 on my laptop on and my desktop on . In both cases the completely fresh installation went relatively smoothly, although I had to removed and re-install Firefox to get it working right on both machines.
Boot times to the complete desktop (including sign-in) are generally slower than past releases:
Ubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Ubuntu 12.04 LTS
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS
The laptop slowness is probably due to the encrypted home directory. Ubuntu boot-up is definitely not getting faster over time.
My laptop idles at 406 MB of RAM after a boot-up, while my desktop clocks in at 421 MB of RAM, which is only 71% of the RAM used by Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.
Ubuntu 14.10 comes with Unity 7.3.1, a development version of Unity 7.2.2 used on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.
Ubuntu 14.10 uses the same version of Gnome and so most of the base applications have not changed from Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. Some of the applications included in the ISO file are:
As with the last few releases I did not install any non-free software, including skipping Adobe Flash. I have found I can easily get by without it.
Old Issues Fixed
One of the things I wanted to do was see if the issues from Ubuntu 14.04 LTS had been addressed. Here is an update on the old issues that have been fixed:
The gedit (Text Editor) crashes on opening seem to be resolved.
Nautilus slow and pop-unders
The problems with Nautilus (Files) opening directories very slowly and "popping under" seem to have been solved, although it is still crashing (losing functionality).
The printing problems in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS seem to be resolved although I had to run: $ sudo hp-setup -i to get it working properly and consistently.
Unity HUD crashes seem to be resolved.
New and Outstanding Issues
Here are the ongoing issues left over from Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and the new issues that I have identified so far:
Brasero breaks DVDs
The Gnome CD/DVD burning program Brasero is the same version as used on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and so probably performs as badly, although I am not going to waste any DVDs to find out. so I installed Xfburn once again. This is a new version, Xfburn 0.5.2, which has added some nice new features, like holding the last ISO file for multiple burning. As usual, XFburn continues to improve, while Brasero doesn't.
Epiphany crashes & video
The Epiphany web browser (Web) HTML5 video is now jittery and unusable and it still crashes on closing most of the time, as it did on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. In many ways the new Ubuntu Browser is a better WebKit-based browser for simple page testing and other basic tasks than Epiphany is.
The gedit (Text Editor) seems to cause Xorg to consume a lot of CPU power while just typing, causing the cursor to constantly disappear and often crashes gedit. To work around this I installed jEdit 5.1.0 instead and it works fine. See my review.
GIMP HUD loss of focus
When accessing GIMP menu items from the Unity HUD, GIMP often losses focus on the window, meaning that the HUD shows menus items for another open application that it had focused on instead. This seems to be a Unity issue.
Mounting a blank DVD
Putting a blank DVD in the drive still results in it mounting correctly, but it produces a spurious error that says, "Unable to mount blank DVD, location is already mounted".
Nautilus (Files) still crashes, often losing functionality, like the ability to rename files. This is the same problem that the same version 3.10.1 had on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. It sometimes crashes in a way that results in it still working mostly, but it maxes out the CPUs, which is new. I installed PCManFM 1.2.3 from LXDE as a work around when Nautilus crashes.
Pitivi movie editor still crashes, but can be used with some care. New is that it crashes on attempting to open an .xges (gstreamer) file by clicking on the file. This would actually be an excellent video editor if they could solve the crash problems. To work around this I have installed Avidemux 2.5.4.
The screen lock sometimes fails to work, not turning the screen off after a specified period of inactivity.
Overall Ubuntu 14.10 is not getting bad reviews, just not lighting a fire for anyone.
Ubuntu 14.10, codenamed “Utopic Unicorn”, is saddled with a modest changelog, composed largely of bug fixes, stability improvements and key software updates. All worthy, but falls a little way short of the “fresh ideas and new art” that should “raise the roof” – quotes from Mark Shuttleworth’s “U” name announcement...For the release taking place in the week of Ubuntu’s 10th anniversary, this may all read like a bit of an anticlimax. No headline user features, no visual changes (bar a few new icons for the sidebar of Nautilus) — there’s not even a new default wallpaper to look at...But on the flip side it’s perhaps the most fitting release; the one that shows just how far Ubuntu has come in the past few years. Mature, dependable and sure in its own (Ambiance-themed) skin, buggy feature churn has given way to a sustained era of assured stability...Ubuntu 14.10 is a rock-solid, hearty and dependable release. Perhaps more here than ever before. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s an uninspiring update on paper, and is far from being anything approaching essential.
At the end of the day simple end-users won't see much of a difference over Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, which is a bit sad given that this is the tenth anniversary release of Ubuntu Linux. For everyday Linux desktop users the many upgraded packages are great but there isn't too much more to celebrate about today on the desktop front.
I've been covering Ubuntu for seven of the release’s 10 years and 14.10 is the first time I've had to dig deep into the release notes just to find something new to test. If you needed further proof that Canonical is currently solely focused on bringing its Unity 8 interface to mobile devices, 14.10 is the best evidence yet. Almost nothing Canonical develops has changed in this release - there isn't even a new desktop wallpaper. There are some updates to be sure, but they don’t hail from Canonical. The lack of updates isn't unexpected, in fact that's been the plan all along. Desktop Ubuntu is currently in a kind of suspended animation, waiting on Unity 8 and Mir to be ready for its coming metamorphosis. The short story is that it makes no sense for Canonical to keep refining Unity 7 when it will soon be retired.
I have to agree that the lack of flashy new features mean that Shuttleworth and the developers think that Ubuntu is just about where they want it now, that there isn't much to fix or change. Ubuntu development has become a very careful, incremental evolution, which is a good thing. I think, at this point in time, that they are right, overall Ubuntu is a very good operating system.
Ubuntu 14.10 is a mostly solid release with few new features or applications. It does offer some stability advantages over Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, which made it worthwhile upgrading for me, although it hasn't solved all these issues.
One thing I wanted to do, starting with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, was get rid of the last non-free software I was using and that meant going Adobe Flash free.
Adobe Flash is used to provide videos and animation on websites and it is becoming obsolete and being replaced with HTML5 instead. As far as I am concerned it can't go away soon enough. Apple's Steve Jobs actually helped force the issue by refusing to have Flash on his iPhones or iPads, relying on HTML5 instead for video.
My objections are:
Flash is unstable and causes browser crashes
Flash has all kinds of security issues which have in the past allowed exploits
Flash uses totally unnecessary cookies
Flash isn't even being developed any more for Linux, outside of Pepper Flash by Google for Chrome. While Windows and Mac are on Flash 14 today, Linux has only Flash 11 in maintenance status.
Flash is proprietary freeware, meaning the source code is closed, so no one knows what it really does.
When I installed Ubuntu 14.04 LTS I left out installing Flash and relied on HTML5 in the Firefox and Epiphany browsers as my main way of accessing video, with the VLC media player's networking capabilities as a back-up. While the browsers without Flash installed revert to HTML5 video, VLC will actually play Flash video, but without the Flash Player.
Overall I have found very little on-line video content that I can't watch with this combination, although it occasionally takes a bit of creativity. For instance on AVweb the way they embed You Tube videos only works with the Flash Player. I have to open the page coding (Ctrl+U) to get the You Tube link and then open it directly instead. Some You Tube videos won't play in Firefox as either they haven't been converted to HTML5 video yet, which is an ongoing project at You Tube, or else because Firefox doesn't support the format yet. Firefox 30 does not currently have MPEG-4 support. In those cases I just copy the You Tube URL and play it in VLC via Ctrl+N instead.
Google StreetView also runs on Flash, but the new version of StreetView currently available as a test uses HTML5 instead and will work fine without Flash.
Some CBC News Flash videos are offered as MP4s for download instead, which work fine, playing in VLC or Totem (Videos). In some cases I can find the videos on the CBC News Touch mobile site. In a few cases the video isn't available, but CBC do seem to be doing development work in this area right now and standardizing on MP4 format.
Otherwise I haven't run into any problems being on the internet without Flash, in fact many pages that have Flash content now load more quickly without the Flash Player installed and, of course, stability is greatly improved with no Flash crashes.
As soon as you open Firefox 29 you can see the changes, starting with much more rounded tabs, better colour scheme, URL bar line refinements and a new menu. It really looks good. The rounded tabs look better and more up-to-date, but that might be only if you are used to Google Chrome as they look like Chrome's tabs. The colour scheme changes render the open tab in a very light colour and the non-open ones in dark, which is ideal to quickly figure out which one is open.
The main menu has been completely changed to a wide rectangular shape and a symbolic type that works well. It is found by clicking on the "three bars logo" at the top right of the window and uses the same symbology that Google Chrome adopted a while ago. At least it makes switching between browsers easier.
Also found on the main menu is the "customize" menu, which allows dragging and dropping icons on the UI bars and also removing them. I prefer to remove as many as possible, leaving more space to view URLs and such, using keyboard shortcuts, such as using Ctrl+P for printing, rather than having a print icon.
This version of Firefox is more than a pretty face, it also includes some behind the scenes improvements, such as a new Gamepad API and Firefox Accounts, an improved method of setting up and synchronizing bookmarks and settings using end-to-end encryption.
This version of Firefox has an HTML5 test score of 467 which is up from 446 in Firefox 26.0 and this shows that the developers are slowly gaining support for HTML5. I have no Adobe Flash installed on any of my computers right now in an attempt to avoid non-free software with all its stability and security problems, so HTML5 video support is important to me. This version of Firefox still lacks H.264 and MPEG-4 video, which puts it behind Epiphany 3.10.3, but I am able to generally make up that deficiency with VLC's networking capabilities or just downloading and saving videos.
In comparing page loading speed, Firefox 29 is faster than previous versions. In fact it consistently loaded a set of test web pages about 25% faster than Epiphany 3.10.3 does, which is a good reason to use Firefox 29 right there.
In a test of RAM usage Firefox 29 used 547 MB of RAM on a standard set of six websites, compared to Epiphany 3.10.3, which used 425 MB of RAM on the same pages.
Other tests conducted show that Firefox 29's PDF reader still works well, as do downloads and all other features. This version of Firefox gives users more options and more control over how the browser looks and works. Cookie management is still the best there is in the browser market. Firefox's menu organization is still far above Google Chrome's too, which are a mess.
Firefox 29 is a bigger download than past versions, the Windows version weighing in at 29.0 MB versus 25.2 MB for Firefox 28.0, a 13% increase in size.
Past versions of Firefox have never played well with my TP-Link DSL modem's user interface, often failing to load pages properly and producing errors. Firefox 29 seems to have addressed this and the modem interface works flawlessly now.
With its improved page-loading speed, nice modern interface, simple menus, free software pedigree and built-in PDF reader, Firefox 29 is hard to improve upon! It is probably the best browser available today.
Fixing the passwords issue
I also I managed to fix an existing Firefox problem with the download of Firefox 29. As I had previously mentioned Firefox had stopped accepting passwords soon after Ubuntu 14.04 LTS was installed and a removal and re-installation didn't fix it. With the arrival of Firefox 29 I decided to give it another try. So before the update was delivered I removed Firefox and purged it as well:
I last reviewed PiTiVi (as it used to be spelled) when it was in version 0.15.2 and concluded that, due to frequent crashes, it was pretty worthless. With Pitivi 0.93 somethings have changed, including the capital letters. "PiTiVi" was rebranded as "Pitivi" with the release of version 0.91 in August 2013.
Version 0.93 is a bug fix for 0.91, which was itself a complete rewrite of the graphical front end for Gstreamer and it brings some improved stability. As long as you just try simple tasks then it doesn't crash, grey-out and lose features and that makes it an improvement.
Pitivi has always had a simple, intuitive design and the potential to be a really great video editor, but it still isn't quite there yet.
With Pitivi 0.93 you can import clips, edit them, add effects and render the video. There is a wide choice of containers, video and audio codecs, but the defaults are .ogv and .webm, both open formats. WebM format is especially welcome, as it is the Google-developed open format that is natively used on You Tube, making it a great choice for uploads there. Other output choices include ASF, MPEG, MP4, FLV, AVI, 3GPP, ISML, Matroska and Quicktime.
Pitivi 0.93 integrates nicely with both the Gnome desktop and Unity, displaying global menus and showing up where expected on the Unity menus themselves.
The application is still pretty resource-heavy when rendering, maxing out one of my CPUs, but not using up much RAM in the process. Rendering can be a bit slow, one video I did that turned out to be 39 MB and 1:37 in length took 21 minutes to render, so a bit of patience is required.
Transitions are achieved by simply dragging one video clip over another, with the default a very nicely done fade transition. Many other transitions are available, just by clicking on the overlapped video portion.
When it works Pitivi 0.93 is smooth, stable, simple to use and produces a nice finished product. As a video editor, with improved stability it could become everything most home users will want.
Over a month of use Pitivi 0.93 worked well on simple projects with only a few clips. The problem I encountered was on more complex projects with twenty to thirty clips. In these cases it often locked up and lost functionality. On at least two of these more complex videos I just could not get it to work at all and had to install Avidemux 2.5.4, instead.
Avidemux 2.5.4 is still the current version on Ubuntu 14.04 and it can handle any number of clips with ease. Its main drawback is that it is slower to work with and the fade transitions between clips are just not as smooth as you can see in this video. I can do "fade to black and from black" transitions between clips, but it isn't as a nice as a smooth fade transition. On the plus side Avidemux renders the finished video much more quickly, often in five to ten minutes instead of an hour or two for Pitivi.
This is a video I created on Pitivi 0.93 and rendered in WebM format:
Gufw is the graphical interface for the command line Uncomplicated Firewall (ufw) controller, built especially for Ubuntu. Both Gufw and ufw control the Linux iptables firewall.
Ubuntu comes with ufw and iptables already installed, but by default turned off. I guess they figure that most computers are firewalled at the modem level and don't need extra protection.
As installed, the firewall can only be controlled from the command line. Gufw provides a simple GUI to control ufw and it is indeed very simple to use. For most home users all you have to do is turn the status to on and leave the default settings at Incoming: Deny and Outgoing: Allow and it is all set.
There is a simple log to let you know how many attacks it has turned back, although I have not seen any yet on the three computers I set the firewall up on, probably because they are all operating inside the dual modem firewalls.
Gufw also allows setting rules to permit selective access, such as for a virtual private network (VPN) or other use, but for most home users these will be non-applicable.
The documentation is pretty complete and is hosted by Ubuntu. It shows how to create rules and other more complex firewall tasks.
Overall it would be hard to improve on Gufw; it just works.
Since trying out Epiphany 3.6.1, the version which shipped with Ubuntu 13.10, and finding that it worked pretty well, I was keen to try out Epiphany 3.10.3 in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and see if it is any better.
Epiphany is also called Web in the new Gnome naming scheme, although the Linux package remains epiphany-browser, so that is what I call it. It is too confusing to call a web browser Web.
Once I had Ubuntu 14.04 LTS up and running I installed Epiphany 3.10.3 from the command line. The installation didn't go smoothly, though. Once installed it didn't show up in the Unity menus until I had rebooted the computer, which is very odd. Furthermore it never shows up as "recently used" in Unity, although it is under "installed".
Next the set-up failed, as it wouldn't accept "import bookmarks" at all. I found a work-around by saving my old ephy-bookmarks.xml file and then replacing the existing one at ~/.config/epiphany/ephy-bookmarks.xml. A system reboot then installed the bookmarks, but that is not the way it is supposed to work! That is pretty broken.
Once that was out of the way the browser actually worked quite well, thankfully. Epiphany 3.10.3 is actually quite smooth, stable and fast. In a test of four standard web-pages it consumed 336 MB of RAM, versus 287 MB of RAM for Firefox 28.0.
New in this version, Epiphany has been split into two separate processes, epiphany-browser and WebKitWebProcess, which consumes most of the RAM. Pages loads with Epiphany 3.10.3 are usually faster than Firefox 28.0, sometimes twice as fast, so it looks like Epiphany may have its speed edge back, like it had in the days of Firefox 3.5 versus Epiphany 2.22.2.
This version of Epiphany scores 385 on the HTML5 test which is a slight improvement over the 367 score for Epiphany 3.6.1 and definitely shows development in the right direction. Most importantly it supports all HTML5 video formats, giving it an edge over Firefox 28.0 in Adobe Flash-free use.
Epiphany 3.10.3 has a completely re-designed user interface that is very clean and incorporates some good changes. Page searches are now at the top of the window, just below the URL bar and stay open to search the page repeatedly. Once you click a link the page find closes. This rectifies an old gripe of mine. In fact in this version many old issues that I had noted before in Epiphany 3.6.1 have been fixed. Here is the current list of outstanding issues:
All downloads go to the same place, you cannot click to save them in different folders, which is inconvenient.
The lack of auto complete when filling in web forms makes it slow to work on repetitive on-line tasks, like editing Wikipedia.
Not saving some passwords
Epiphany 3.10.3 does offer to save most passwords, but somehow misses a few of them on some pages that Firefox catches.
Epiphany 3.10.3's password manager is always blank, even though it has saved passwords. This problem has cropped up before, such as in Epiphany 2.30.6. It isn't a major issue and may even be a good security feature, as no one can read your passwords from the manager, but it does mean you can't selectively delete them either.
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr, the new Long Term Support (LTS) version of Ubuntu, was released on . It replaces Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin as the current LTS version of Ubuntu available, although 12.04 is still supported for three more years, until April 2017.
Mark Shuttleworth indicated back on that by the time Ubuntu 14.04 was released that Ubuntu would support smartphones, tablets, TVs and smart screens and good progress has been made towards that goal!
The name for this release, Trusty Tahr, was announced by Shuttleworth on , along with its release date of 17 April 2014. Shuttleworth indicated at that time that the focus for this development cycle would be "performance, refinement, maintainability, technical debt" and, because it is an LTS release, he encouraged developers to make "conservative choices". Technical debt refers to back-work needed to support changes made in other software to improve stability and usability, in other words, "catching-up".
From the start this looked like it was going to be a solid long term release without a lot of new features. The 14.04 development cycle focused on refining the tablet interface, specifically for the Nexus 7 and 10 tablets, with very few changes planned for the desktop interface over Ubuntu 13.10.
The next LTS will be Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, scheduled for April 2016. Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is supported for five years, until April 2019.
Ubuntu 14.04 does include a few new minor features:
the ability to turn off global menus at Settings→ Appearance→ Behavior→ Show the menus for a window
retention of good old reliable X.org (and not Mir or XMir, which aren't ready yet)
I downloaded the ISO file on , the day it was first available and installed it on my laptop the same day and my desktop two days later, on . The completely fresh installation went very quickly, taking only 14 minutes from the DVD on the desktop. Re-installing my documents and configuring took an additional 30 minutes and I was done.
5 GB of hard-drive space (or USB stick, memory card or external drive but see LiveCD for an alternative approach) (was 15 GB)
VGA capable of 1024 X 768 screen resolution (was 800 X 600)
Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB port for the installer media
Internet access is helpful
This should all add up to make this version of Ubuntu lighter and quicker on the same hardware.
Boot times to the complete desktop are actually slower than past releases. On the laptop Ubuntu 12.04 LTS booted in 40 seconds, while 13.10 booted in 36 seconds and 14.04 LTS boots in 1:04, in all cases including sign-in. On my desktop 12.04 LTS booted in 36 seconds and 14.04 LTS boots in 1:10, almost double the time, although it isn't critical on a desktop computer, which is usually left on and running anyway.
The idle RAM after a fresh boot is 590 MB on my desktop, so I am not sure how well this would do with the recommended minimum of 512 MB of RAM. There could be lots of swap going on, which slows things down.
Ubuntu 14.04 includes Unity 7.2.0, now a very mature and well tested user interface, a growth version of Unity 7.1.2 used on Ubuntu 13.10.
Some of the applications included in the ISO file are:
The inclusion of Cheese in the ISO file is new and shows how Ubuntu is trying to be complete out of the box for laptops and tablets. It also helps explain why the ISO file is now 1.0 GB. In the last three releases it has grown 300 MB.
The Ubuntu Browser (package name: webbrowser-app) is an odd animal, a very simple WebKit-based web browser with minimal features. It is apparently intended as a cellphone or tablet "app" browser for displaying single web pages launched from a dedicated Unity icon as an "app". When you accept a "web integration" feature in Firefox it opens in this new browser. Joey Sneddon of OMG Ubuntu said of it:
...the browser is neither as featured as Firefox, or as intuitive to use. What’s more, I found the integration with Ubuntu’s Messaging Menu, notification system, launcher, plugins, etc to be buggy and hit-and-miss in my hands-on with it.
When apps do work, they work okay. Sessions are saved, cookies stored, and scrolling and resizing generally do what you expect them to. Clicking links that would typically open ‘in a new window’ is when things can get confusing. To access and switch between tabs you have to pull up from the bottom of the app (fiddly to do with a mouse) and work things out from there.
But, in swapping out the browser now, in this release, Canonical is making things easier for themselves down the line. With five years of support on the horizon, and Firefox and Chromium development plans ever evolving, they won’t have to keep patching this feature back in.
I opted to skip installing the non-free-software Adobe Flash with all its insecurity and stability issues and see if I can live with HTML5 video only on my browsers, plus VLC as a networked media player when I need it. I have been trying this for the past two months on the laptop and haven't got stuck yet with video, but I'll write more about this move in the future and report on how successful it is. In this respect Epiphany is a great browser as it has complete HTML5 video support, including MPEG4 and H.264, which Firefox lacks. As far as application software goes my installation is all free software only.
I also didn't install the Midori web browser that I have been testing out recently. The current version remains 0.5.8 and while I like it a lot, its lack of password storage, plus inability to work with Google Calendar are show stoppers for me. If the developers can solve those two issues then I would be using it as my main browser right now. I'll install it and try it out when the next version comes out.
I removed Rhythmbox, Shotwell and Thunderbird, none of which I use.
This version of Ubuntu was supposed to ship with Chromium as the default browser, but showed up with Firefox 28.0. For some reason Firefox on my desktop broke soon after installation and refuses to remember passwords. The laptop version works fine, though. Uninstalling it, purging and then re-installing it didn't fix it, either. (Note: I later got this fixed) On the plus side Epiphany 3.10.3 is really good and does remember passwords, so I am using that as my main browser. I have a separate review of Epiphany 3.10.3.
I skipped installing Avidemux 2.5.4 video editor, as good as it is. This is the same version of Avidemux that was available on Ubuntu 12.04, and my use of it shows that it works quite well. Instead of Avidemux I wanted the chance to check out the new version of Pitivi, version 0.93 and see if it works better than past versions. If I need Avidemux 2.5.4 then I'll install it later on.
One of the things I wanted to do was see if the issues from Ubuntu 13.10 had been addressed. They have mostly been fixed, but over six months of use I discovered that there are new issues:
Brasero breaks DVDs
The Gnome CD/DVD burning program Brasero continues to not work very well. It does now hold a burning speed, but it still occasionally breaks disks, mostly due to hang-ups in the final checksum process. I broke three DVDs out of 12 I tried before I gave up on Brasero and installed Xfburn once again. This seems to be a Gnome problem, rather than an Ubuntu issue.
Epiphany web browser (Web) crashes on closing almost every time.
gedit (Text Editor) suffers from occasional crashes on opening, just like in Ubuntu 12.04, but unlike in Ubuntu 13.10. I had thought this was fixed.
GIMP HUD loss of focus
When accessing GIMP menu items from the Unity HUD, GIMP often lost focus on the window, meaning that the HUD shows menus items for another open application that it had focused on instead. This is still an issue, although minor.
Mounting a blank DVD
Putting a blank DVD in the drive results in it mounting fine, but it produces a spurious error that says, "Unable to mount blank DVD, location is already mounted". Hopefully an update will correct this in the near future.
Nautilus file browser (Files) often suffers partial crashes and loss of functionality that requires closing and re-opening to fix. Sometimes it is very slow to open directories. It also often "pops under" other windows when being opened, which is annoying.
Printing almost always goes to "hold" and requires restarting the printer to clear it.
The Unity HUD sometimes loses functionality and cannot find any menu items. This requires a reboot to fix.
These are the new things that I discovered that are better in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS than past versions:
Camera, USB and SD card mounting
This version of Ubuntu mounts cards and devices lightning fast, usually in under a second, compared to 6-10 seconds in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.
The XFburn CD/DVD burner from the Xfce desktop works even better than past versions, now remembering the last file used, which saves time when making multiple copies. While Brasero continues to disappoint, Xfburn is getting better all the time.
The Shopping Lens Controversy
As described in my review of Ubuntu 13.10, despite a certain amount of hoopla by certain critics this has become a big, fat, non-issue. The searches are now fully anonymized end-to-end and many Ubuntu users actually like the feature. If you don't want it, then, with one selection at Settings→ Security & Privacy→ Search, you can turn it off. End of story.
I used this release for a total of six months and while overall it is not bad, it has some annoyances that weren't fixed through updates. Overall these issues make using 14.04 LTS less than an ideal experience, caused me to drop its rating to 8/10 and, ultimately I switched to Ubuntu 14.10 Utopic Unicorn as a result. Users just expect better from an LTS release.