OS review: Lubuntu 12.10

I previously wrote a little piece on the latest as-of-writing version of Lubuntu, but I thought I’d flesh it out here as that post was a little narrowly talking about performance on one machine. And there aren’t too many reviews of 12.10, though this won’t be comprehensive.

I’ve been using Ubuntu for a number of years now. I briefly dual-booted it (v5.10) with Windows XP on my main desktop and then bought a netbook a few years ago preloaded with 8.04. I’m not a disgruntled Windows user (hey, I own a Windows Phone!) but I liked the chance to try something different without paying a premium (*cough* Apple), and Ubuntu, being an easy mainstream distro of Linux, played nicely with me.
I upgraded that netbook to 10.04 successfully and then had to say sayonara when I went over to 12.04. Not that I didn’t like the new Unity interface; sure it’s a bit rough still, but it gives Ubuntu a distinctive identity (I.e Windows is/was bottom menu bar, Mac is top menu bar and dock) and is productive enough to use if you have the horsepower, which my netbook hasn’t.

I went distro (distribution) hopping but couldn’t find anything as polished as Ubuntu, but fortunately they have some official derivatives. I could’ve just installed another desktop environment from within Ubuntu but I wanted to play with the alternatives from a fresh base.

The only two feasible choices for my Toshiba NB100 (post-BIOS upgrade) were Xubuntu and Lubuntu. Xubuntu seems to be slightly more attractive but at the cost of more resource hogging. It uses the Xfce environment. I liked the look of it and it didn’t use too much RAM, but I found it very processor demanding.
Lubuntu, however, is very efficient with CPU usage, so while boot and logout times were equal with Xubuntu, it was the more comfortable OS to use due to its lightweight LXDE interface. Being ultra-lightweight doesn’t mean that LXDE is ugly though. In fact it’s best to call it stylish minimalist. The default theme also reminds me of spearmint chewing gum; and it feels like you can breathe easy with this on your machine.

The look is sort of Windows 95 so it’s familiar to use and the default application selection is fine, though I dumped AbiWord and Gnumeric for LibreOffice almost immediately. There are a few bugs though; the hardware profiler app shows 2/3 blank boxes that you need to close before you can use the app, but the team are aware of this and there should be a fix soon. Also, I can’t call up the power menu on pressing the power button; again it’s no big deal as you can just use the mouse and also set the power button to just turn off without presenting a menu.

I like the inclusion of Lubuntu’s own software centre as Xubuntu and Ubuntu’s was a hog on my machine. However, I don’t know how to uninstall software from it; I select programs and mark them for uninstallation but that’s about it. Fortunately, I know how to use the older included Synaptic, and can even master uninstalling by the command line.

So, there are a few little niggles, but I appreciated the overall design and performance to want to keep Lubuntu on my machine. I think if you have a netbook you can’t rely on vanilla Ubuntu any more, which is gunning for placement on newer hardware. You should try out Xubuntu and Lubuntu installed rather than off the live CD to get a good feel for speed. I think Lubuntu is the perfect choice for Intel Atom processors even if you have about 2GB RAM, and it should get a few more years out of my machine. The arrival of laptop/tablet hybrids will probably make owning a netbook untenable for anything beyond that.

There are more get-your-hands-dirty-distros, but I just want to use my netbook rather than tinker with it; though I don’t criticise their existence as any kids that tinker with those today will probably be designing an OS that I may choose to use in future.

Lubuntu 12.10 on Toshiba NB100

My 3-yr-old netbook is Ubuntu Certified. It has an orange sticker with the old bouncy Ubuntu logo saying so, and a page on Ubuntu.com shows that the last LTS (long-term support) version, 10.04, was approved for installation on this machine. I used that with absolutely no issues.

When 12.04 arrived I was unprepared for Unity since I only jumped from LTS to LTS versions as I wasn’t enamoured with bi-yearly upgrades. I actually quite like Unity as I do think it’s a refreshing and modern-looking user experience; however, it doesn’t like my netbook as the boot time increased, and though actually quite usable, Unity seemed to strain my netbook and therefore many aspects of my computing experience. I figured that if I’m going to try an alternative desktop environment I might as well change distribution too as I’ve used Ubuntu solely one way or another since 2006.

To begin with I completely broke ties with Canonical by trying Mageia and openSUSE – 2 KDE-flavoured distributions (distros). Mageia looked somewhat unattractive while the latter just irritated me. Though KDE was fun to use, I realised I should maybe go lighter. Though I upgraded my RAM to 2GB, the fact still remains that I have an underpowered Intel Atom chip… So I tried Mint XFCE and found that, although good, it wasn’t stunning. This was the cue to go back to Ubuntu, but preceded with an L.

Lubuntu is a lightweight derivative of Ubuntu which uses LXDE instead of Unity as the graphical interface. On loading the 12.10 live CD, which allows you to trial the operating system, I immediately set about installing it and I’m glad I did. While lightweight in terms of default application selection and environment, it’s actually beautiful to look at and a joy to use. Boot time is less than half for Ubuntu 12.04 and my only issue appears to be an easily solvable one with the power button – I can only turn the netbook off through clicking the power icon. I’m sure a fix in an update will appear.

My netbook needs are relatively small and so I didn’t have to install much from the repos (repositories). I plan to install LibreOffice sometime but AbiWord is okay for me at the moment and is a sensible default for this distro. Dropbox, though designed really for use with the Nautilus file manager (in most GNOME/Unity desktops), integrates well with Lubuntu’s PCManFM; the only deficiency is no file emblems (green circle white ticks etc.) which is barely a minor issue.

All my hardware worked ‘out of the box’ and virtually all the OS defaults were apt for me to just get on with computing straight away. I can’t test battery life as mine is dead and I run it off power mostly anyway, but the machine does run cooler and I can even watch YouTube videos in a more acceptable way than with Ubuntu. I got to install proprietary things like Flash and Java etc. at install time.

I wholeheartedly recommend Lubuntu 12.10 to anyone with older hardware as you can still have a great experience on those with this; and there are a few even lighter distros which could even run on late 90s computers.
The IT press have proclaimed the netbook dead but thanks to this sanctioned derivative mine will keep running until it produces smoke. Tablets are indeed faster and great for media consumption, but netbooks, even with their flaws, are still better for writing documents, managing photos and all the other things that aren’t so pleasant on a tablet.

I did update my BIOS prior to distro-hopping and that didn’t present any problems.

Here’s a screenshot:

NB100 Lubuntu


Review: Level 42 – Running in the family (25th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Edition)

Though perhaps not the most cherished by many die-hard Level 42 fans, RITF, nonetheless, remains an important node in the band’s career for two reasons: it took them right to the peak of their commercial success, and it was the last album to feature all original members.

Twenty-five years on many might think this wouldn’t age well as it is entrenched in 80s appeal, but, seriously, it’s still a high calibre pop album today as it was back then; when I picked up a cassette version of this as a child!

So, why should you cough up for the super-deluxe edition? Well, the album has to have some sort of meaning to you to want to part the cash, but you do get decent goodies in the silver box…

First, there is the 2012 remaster of RITF itself (inc. the non-vinyl Freedom Someday) with a couple of related single remixes. The sound quality compared to the original is improved (listened to through some great headphones) as you can hear subtle things not in the original; Phil Gould’s hi-hats sound very shiny. Compared to say, the RITF song remasters on The Definitive Collection, there is less obvious or perhaps no brick-walling; I can’t really tell if it’s non-existent, but the songs are (positively) quieter and need to be turned up quite a bit compared to on that hits collection. For example, I find the chorus piano to be a bit distorted on It’s Over from TDC, but not on this remaster; so overall it’s a better remastering job than with previous Level 42 re-touchings.
I like the colourful Shep Pettibone remix of Lessons In Love but don’t think much of the stodgy Dave ‘O’ remix of Running In The Family. The It’s Over remix just features very audible slide guitar.

The second CD features acoustic re-interpretations of the original 9 tracks, and I must say, they sound very interesting; worth playing over a few times. Most of them aren’t carbon copies of the originals as there’s slightly different rhythms and arrangements more appropriate for a stripped rendition. However, I thought it a shame that we had Mark replacing Mike on Two Solitudes as the latter’s voice was made for that song; as compensation we could’ve maybe heard Mike sing lead on It’s Over but, nope. The only acoustic re-interpretation that really struggles is perhaps Fashion Fever; but respect for trying to turn a dance song into something that Bobby McFerrin would be proud of.

The Live At Wembey (sic) CD is a straight remastered audio rip of the Live At Wembley video/DVD from the RITF tour and it sounds fine without the visuals.

Disc 4 (DVD) features all 6 promo videos for the album as well as a TV-edit version of the Fait Accompli documentary. This, though, is a slightly strange addition as it might’ve been better attached to any possible Staring At The Sun remaster, seeing as it covers that period with the replacements for the Gould brothers; still, it’s interesting to see.

To top off the box we get a bunch of postcards of the Warhol-esque pictures from the album cover, alongside an original tour promo and a booklet that looks back on the album through the eyes of Mark King.

Overall, I like it as it takes me way way back and it seems a fitting homage to an album that was the borderline between going off the rails completely and still showcasing how good the classic Level 42 line-up could be.