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2024: Barebones Desktop Linux Setup

Below my research into choosing a Linux distro.

I've used Crunchbang, which is based on Debian with a customized OpenBox. Crunchbang folded when Debian transitioned to systemd. The userbase resurrected as Bunsenlabs and Crunchbang Plus Plus.


Objectives

History with Windows OS

My experience with Windows 98, xp, and 7 was a focus on streamlining the following, which I am looking for parallels in Linux:

Operating System:

  • Reducing the size of the OS
  • Removing unneeded features
  • Reducing the number of running processes on startup
  • Automating the OS and hardware driver installation

Hardware:

  • Tool (DriverPacks, Snappy Drivers) to automatically detect and download hardware drivers

Windows Shell:

  • Adding shell extensions to add functionality
  • Adding themes

Software:

  • Portable software collection that doesn't require installation
  • Methods to convert software installers into portable
  • A custom menu with shortcuts to the portable software

Parallels in Linux

I want to choose a barebones Linux distro to which I can add and customize. Barebones file system, barebones init, barebones window environment.

I could start with Slackware which makes you do everything manually so I can learn basics and then better understand the strategies different distros employ to achieve being barebones.

I would like to have portable applications: AppImage instead of a package manager. People are running virtual machines just to get some functionality with a lot of dependencies, so AppImage is the lesser sin. Doesn't hurt to start with software that isn't bloated.

I can start with a full fledged desktop environment (DE), then install window managers (WM) to play with in different sessions until I get them running like I want.

I can have the WMs as portable applications, or at least as modules/containers so I can quickly add and remove them, along with their dependencies, from the system.


Init Systems

Systemd

Thread about MX Linux and Devuan Linux on debian.net

Linux purists, are saying that Systemd is bloated software. The Linux philosophy includes having singular tools that do one job well. Systemd should be a collection of independent tools, not a conglomerate mass that does everything that most won't need. The outcome is a heavy, inefficient, overly complex mess.

Even worse is that because Systemd is being used by so many distros, some programs are being written that are dependent on it. These programs won't run on distros without Systemd. Linux software should be modular/portable, without dependencies on huge sets of libraries like systemd.

Systemd is a takeover of Linux by power seeking individuals.

It happens over and over again in history, and the sheep are blind to it. Is being conscious of reality too much of a burden?

The complexity will increase until an individual is not able to grasp it all and organize it. Then there is chaos. It won't matter that Linux is open source. The wrong people will take advantage of the chaos for their own ends.

“ Because after systemd, no one will be able to work on their own system any more. They will just pull down systemd, and accept whatever it is - because it is a massive, deeply interconnected rat's nest, and no one but its very small group of creators will ever be able to extend or maintain it. ” Jim Lynch, infoworld.com 2017

Perhaps what is needed is a systemd alternative. A modular approach that keeps the init simple, while providing systemd libraries that can be downloaded as dependencies or included in apps like with AppImage. Specifically ONLY for those apps that actually need functionality from systemd.

I think MX Linux uses a systemd shim, in order to be more compatible with software, while retaining an independent init system.

I searched for “systemd modularity” and could only find this page, which is by a developer of systemd, stating the myths surrounding the controversy surrounding systemd. Despite all of what he may say, which I am not necessarily disagreeing with, the KISS philosophy is usually the safe bet.


RunIt

Runit’s size makes it much faster than most inits and especially suitable for older hardware. Its size also makes it easy to understand and learn. In fact, a few hours is all that is needed to learn runit. The fact that it was developed on Debian may make it especialy suitable for Debian derivatives. init Alternatives, linux-magazine.net

Does not matter that last update was 2015: Why is the init system still Runit despite it no longer being developed? Reddit


BusyBox

BusyBox provides many common UNIX utilities in a single small executable for embedded systems. The package includes runit… archlinux.org


C Standard Library

musl is a C standard library implementation for Linux. This is a wiki maintained by the enthusiastic user community of musl. Some of musl's major advantages over glibc and uClibc/uClibc-ng are its size, correctness, static linking support, and clean code. https://wiki.musl-libc.org

Distrowatch poll results for: Does your distribution run the musl C library?

I run a distro that uses musl C: 90 (9%)
I do not run a distro that uses musl C: 623 (62%)
I do not know if my distro uses musl C: 284 (28%)

The only distro I know that runs musl by default is alpine. Void and gentoo have musl or glibc as separate options. Projects using musl, musl-libc.org

Firefox has glibc as a requirement. Firefox on musl compiling error (gentoo) with proposed patch.

Gentoo page on muscl.

Fortunately, Alpine has a ready made build of Firefox.

Most of the software will work fine, as mentioned, rust is a pain, but look into Alpine Linux packages (and patches) whenever you have troubles. Not tested recently, but qtwebengine should work.

Forget systemd, it won't compile, go for openrc or something else. Some GNU stuff have issues with musl, (e.g. Gnupg)

If you get packages that don't compile, often it is just a missing include, easy to fix. Any Musl LibC users? r/Gentoo reddit

What is the advantage of compiling software manually over installing from the downloaded binary? quora.com

Compiling firefox from scratch would take maybe 20 minutes on my 2011 laptop.


Rolling vs Stable Release

I like to customize, and I need things under the hood to be stable. The only person making changes needs to be me, otherwise when things go wrong there will be too many variables to deal with. A rolling distro placates creativity and drives complacency. You end up accepting what's given to you, because it's too hard to do otherwise.

Any distro will do because updates aren't mandatory.


Repositories

Compiling from source vs using package managers, Reddit

Ubuntu and Debian combined have the largest repository base.

Just because you don't have access to all the software in the two largest repositories, isn't the end of the world. Usually, the stuff that may not be compatible, is that way because it's a bloated piece of junk. Good software is integrated to have fewer dependencies.


Dependency Hell

When software is written, developers will often use existing libraries for certain functions. Existing functions and API's make programming easier because the developer doesn't have to reinvent the wheel.

“In an ideal world, libraries would be fully backward compatible, so that a program that depends on one version of a library, would work with any newer version of that library. But library developers don't do that, and I don't know why. Linux wants to be ideal, and take up less hard drive space and resources (like RAM), and therefore use only one version of each library. So sometimes you want to install two programs that both use the same library, but different versions, and this makes for dependency hell. The portable theology, says “lets bundle the library into the program itself, so that it doesn't use the one that comes with the system”. This is contrary to the Linux ideal, but makes things much easier for the end user.” 2018: Portable Software

Since the amount of RAM available in current hardware is usually more than sufficient, one solution would be that each program load its own library versions.

Needing additional libraries means that the developer didn't take the time to extract the parts used within a library and add those to the main program, reducing the overall footprint. This requires more work: software developers are usually not interested in taking this step.


Portable Software

Modular software is easier to take with you when you move from one system to another. Or when you boot from a different OS on the same machine.

There are groups like https://appimage.org, that package program dependencies and make a singular module. Also see AppImage page on github.

There is also Flatpak and Snap packages. These articles covers all three:
https://ostechnix.com/linux-package-managers-compared-appimage-vs-snap-vs-flatpak
https://linuxhint.com/snap_vs_flatpak_vs_appimage

https://www.orbital-apps.com/ ?

“I ran Slackware for a few years and then switched over because lots of Linux software is now targeted for RedHat-based or Debian-based systems and to get it running on Slackware you basically have to set up enough stuff on Slackware to fool the software you want to run into thinking it's on either a RedHat or Debian system. Think startup scripts, config files, things like that.” What's the deal with Slackware? supenguin on Reddit

“I'd just like to mention that using programs distributed as appimages on slackware is a wonderful desktop experience.” What's the deal with Slackware? Silver on Reddit

Some here describe how to achieve the following: Why can't Linux executables first look in the path from which it was launched for any dependencies? quora.com


File System

The only current file system capable of larger partitions and which does not have journaling or user permissions is exFat. Also it is supported by Windows. denabre on Reddit veprof.com

“exFAT isn't supported for booting on UEFI systems but for BIOS systems it should work.” porteus.org


Desktop Environment

Comparison & List of Desktop Environments, eylenburg

A full desktop environment is a complete graphical user interface (GUI) that includes not only a window manager, but also a range of other applications and utilities, such as a taskbar, a system tray, a compositor for transparency, a file manager, app launcher, wallpaper setter, theme engine, and much more. The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Own Desktop Environment, Michael Neuper

Not to mention hardware interfaces like for audio and bluetooth, and gpu.

OpenBox Addons Collection, github
OpenBox Themes Collection, github

Data from Distrowatch:

environment/manager # of distros
openbox 41
fluxbox 29
jwm 15
awesome 15
bspwm 4
icewm 22
i3 13
lxqt 34
lxde 36
enlightenment 18
gnome 76
kde 86
kde plasma 67
mate 54
cinnamon 35

Top Linux Environments for Theming:

Top Linux Environments for Theming

The Phenomenon of r/unixporn, by Reluctant Anarchist on YouTube. Widget in video is fly pie.

Most Used Tags on Unixporn

Despite openbox only having a little over a third of the unixporn userbase of i3 or bspwm, it has the same number of rices in the top 100. Openbox is on par with awesomeWM in top 100 rices per userbase.

Openbox: Floating, minimal
i3: Manual tiler, minimal
Awesome: Dynamic (both ways), not minimal

RAM Usage of small window managers - a comparison, reddit:

Window Manager RAM Usage
mcwm - not maintained 303.0K
2bwm 342.0K
frankenwm - *not maintained?* 411.0K
monsterwm-xinerama 588.0K
evilwm 800.0K
musca - not maintained 949.0K
herbstluftwm 1.4M
dwm 2.3M
ratpoison 2.5M
cwm 2.6M
notion 2.9M
fluxbox 4.4M
i3 5.5M
icewm 6.2M
openbox 8.3M
awesome 26.9M

You can keep using KDE as your main desktop, and then in your login screen just change session to Awesome or i3 and start working on them until you are comfortable to move, that way you will always have KDE as something to fallback on incase you need a desktop to just work. hearthreddit on Reddit

I am head-over-heels in love with OpenBox. Was using it exclusively for years, and would happily continue doing so if only it worked on HiDPI screens. As it stands, it's completely and utterly unusable on my 4K screen 😓 I'm cautiously hopeful about labwc providing a future-compatible version of OpenBox. kaqqao on Reddit

HiDPI on arch linux wiki


Choosing a Distro

Reviews

Rankings

Distro Table

The following do not use systemd. List of “Not SystemD” on Distrowatch.

Questions/Considerations:

Key: indep: independent, alternativeto.net hearts, distrowatch page hit rank, distrowatch rating, google trend

distro init system package manager desktop environment forked from hearts rank rating trend founded updated
artix runit & openrc pacman many arch-manjaro 9 69 9.2 53 2017 2023-08
void runit containers + xbps xfce indep 10 93 9.21 35 2008 2023-07
antix runit apt icewm > fluxbox > jwm mepis 16 15 8.15 38 2007 2024-02
devuan runit apt many debian 8 33 9.14 59 2016 2024-02
alpine openrc apk-tools openbox, now many indep 25 27 9.06 11 2005 2024-01
slax sysvinit modules + apt fluxbox slackware or debian 26 79 6.75 42 2006 2023-10
porteus sysvinit modules + slpkg many slax 13 106 9.07 - 2011 2023-09
puppy busybox ppm + many jwm indep 98 19 7.51 31 2003 2022-12
slitaz busybox tazpkg openbox indep 50 150 6.29 - 2008 2014-05
easyos sysvinit many jwm puppy 3 29 8.86 - 2017 2024-02
pclinuxos sysvinit apt many indep-mandrake 25 24 8.18 70 2007 2023-07
tiny core busybox tce-load flwm, many indep 19 75 6.7 - 2009 2024-02
dcore busybox sce self contained extension flwm tiny core - - - - 2023 2024-02
damn small linux runit apt fluxbox & jwm antix 2005 2012-09

Data above as of February 2024.


Alpine

“Alpine Linux was designed with security in mind. All userland binaries are compiled as Position Independent Executables (PIE) with stack smashing protection. These proactive security features prevent exploitation of entire classes of zero-day and other vulnerabilities.”

Pros and cons of PIE, fedoraproject.org

Why not always use fpic (Position Independent Code)? stackoverflow.com

KDE under musl is incredibly lightweight, C4H8N8O8 on Reddit

glibc support needed for AppImage:

Alpine Linux Review: Ultimate Distro for Power Users, Nitish 2021

The Most Prolific Packager For Alpine Linux Is Stepping Away


Hardware Support

Analog to DriverPacks or Snappy Drivers

Is there something like DriverPacks for Linux? This question was asked on Linux Mint forum in 2009.

There doesn't seem to be anything equivalent to Snappy Drivers on Linux: alternativeto.net.

But at least I would like a distro to have automatic hardware detection.

There is an easy and quick method to check all hardware devices on the motherboard for Linux-compatibility with the help of recently added hw-probe package in Edge/Testing. The tool checks operability of hardware devices by analysis of logs and tries to find missed drivers with the help of LKDDb. https://wiki.alpinelinux.org/wiki/Check_hardware_compatibility


How do drivers differ between Windows and Linux?

Optimized Drivers

Slitaz Bluetooth Mouse


Linux on Macbooks

Something as ubiquitous as a Macbook, should have plenty of support, right? See that the 2016 and 2017 models are not 100% supported, and battery life is poor:
State of Linux on the MacBook Pro 2016 & 2017

There are instructions on tweaking the Macbooks on the following distros:

User's experience with both MacOS and Linux on a Macbook Air:
https://medium.com/@alex_nekrasov/installing-linux-on-macbook-air-838f9b087338

User's experience switching to Linux on a 2015 Macbook Pro:
https://medium.com/swlh/running-linux-on-my-macbook-9738b3b4f84d

This article compares power consumption between MacOS and Linux. However, he used Linux with no power optimizations (like from PowerTop):
https://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTE2Njk

July 2019: Linux 5.3 Will Surprisingly Support The Newest Keyboard/Trackpads Of Apple MacBooks, phoronix.com. The drivers had to be reverse engineered, because Apple purposely tries to avoid Linux progress.

Booting without ReFit/ReFind: https://glandium.org/blog/?p=2830


Why Has Linux Not Become Mainstream?

Android is linux with Google on top.

People use whatever they are given. If they were given computers with linux (laptop, desktop, phones), they would use linux. They can't be bothered to install something else unless it's super easy, such as installing a web browser like Chrome.

Perhaps if linux was given out as a usb drive and just worked right out of the box with the option to dual boot the original operating system, then more people would try it out.

However, sometimes it doesn't fully work, requiring additional drivers one must go out and look for. This is mostly not the fault of Linux, but of industry with no incentive to make Linux work on their devices. Industry actually works against linux becoming mainstream, because they make money by having proprietary operating systems. Cough, microsoft, cough.

In the case of Google and Android, Google took the free and added a proprietary layer on top which makes them money.


Looking for Additional Controversies

Trying to make sure I'm not missing any other controversial aspects of Linux, I found in the Wikipedia article:
“ Some security professionals say that the rise in prominence of operating system-level virtualization using Linux has raised the profile of attacks against the kernel, and that Linus Torvalds is reticent to add mitigations against kernel-level attacks in official releases. “
I read this as: The establishment wants to complicate something simple, so that it can later use the complexity to leverage power. History repeats itself over and over. They want to add complexity to the kernel in the name of “security”.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3km9qb/linus-torvalds-is-back-with-linux
Article about news sources criticizing Linus Torvalds, and Linus Torvalds being influenced by the criticism. This could be good, and this could be bad. Good if the meritocracy continues; good if people treat each other well. Bad if this is an underhanded way of controlling the developers.


Discussion

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information-technology/linux.txt · Last modified: 2024/03/19 17:51 by marcos