Thursday, March 19, 2015

Just Testing

I have left OS X in favor of Xubuntu. I don't know how anybody can use Emacs in OS X Mountain Lion. I guess some people do. I got sick of the crashes. However, Aquamacs is stable. Emacs and Aquamacs are approximately the same thing. There are a few features that are slightly different. Aquamacs does not play nice with custom. Changing colors, for instance, in Aquamacs through custom is buggy. Tabs are buggy. Frames can be buggy when scrolling. But it is easy to steer away from a bug once you get used to it. I could have done okay on Aquamacs. The reason why I departed OS X is because the equipment is so expensive. It is great equipment, but too expensive for me. Besides build-your-own is fun. Hacking on hardware and configuration files is fun, too much fun to pass up. You don't know how much fun till you have tried it. I still have the Mac; I can't bring myself to sell it. But I keep it as hardware. I am hoping that one day somebody will figure out a way to Libreboot 8,3. Then I'll run GNU on it like Gluglug does with Thinkpads. But now I have Trisquel and Xubuntu installed on my desktop and Apple OS on the Macbook to compare.

Who wins?

All three OSes are on SSD's, though one is a Seagate hybrid. The disk Trisquel is on is a 65G SATA2 Kingston SSD. You can still use small SSDs with most Linux distros. A complete installation of Trisquel is 8.9G, that is with 2.6G of Auctex files. So the install uses about half of /. That leaves 40G of free space in /home. I have piggy backed a 650G 7200rpm Western Digital Blue for archiving and downloads directory. Ubuntu is on a 500G Seagate hybrid. Since they each boot up on their own disk, neither one or the other is on a virtual disk. I believe this is a fair way to compare them. Both have been long term trials: I used Xubuntu for four months. Then I set up Trisquel as similarly to Xubuntu as I was able to. Trisquel is GNU free software. The browsers in Trisquel are Icecat and Abrowser, which are similar to Firefox and Chromium, the two Xubuntu browsers, except no Flash, which may be a deal breaker if you are addicted to You Tube. The disgusting situation with Flash is a good subject for another blog. But most videos in Abrowser do play. Dropbox is not available in GNU, though there are other possibilities if you need to sync across multiple machines. Emacs in Xubuntu is the latest 24.4 which has the internal browser EWW; I have not installed the latest Emacs on Trisquel yet. EWW is nothing to run around in joy about.

First let me describe the hardware. It so happened that one day I ran across an Acer/Gateway desktop that somebody left at the dump. I have worked the Phenom Quad and the extra RAM into my existing installation. The parts are probably four to five years old. The board I am presently using is an ECS board. Everything works together and though the hardware is less than average, I have not had any problems with it. The SSDs are snappy, as snappy as my Macbook Pro in which is a modern i7 quad and an up-to-date board. You may find that statement hard to believe, but there is only so much that human beings can notice. I am not interested in numbers.

Let me say first of all to anybody interested in my personal testimony: for launching apps the hybrid is equally quick as the SSD. I am unable to detect any difference. Also, I am unable to detect any difference between the OWC SATA3 Extreme (I love these names!) SSD I have in my Mac and these other solid state devices I have in my desktop. Even when downloading large files, I can't detect any difference between SATA3 and SATA2. You can refer to the numbers if that is your thing. I can't even say that the hybrid is slower than either of the SSDs. At first it was, in fact I thought it was another phony ripoff, though I got it for $75 on sale. Then I couldn't tell the difference between hybrid and SSD until I had opened six or so tabs in a browser and a folder of photos. Then the hybrid might have been a little slower. The only other way I could tell the hybrid was SSDs are, of course, silent. The mechanical part of the hybrid is easy to hear, especially in a laptop when you are sitting right over the disk. The disk is turning at 7,200rpm, which makes a distinct obnoxious whine that I am sensitive to, and I'd bet a lot of other writers are sensitive to it also. When anyone tells you a mechanical drive is quiet, they mean one is slightly quieter than another. They all make noise. The OWC SSD was more expensive. Both machines, the Macbook Pro and my ragtag desktop have 4G of RAM and they both have quad-core CPUs. I believe both machines are comparable in feel, though not exactly comparable in hardware. The Mac is slightly more modern. The best way I know of to upgrade a system is to put an SSD in it. You may not see much difference with extra RAM but you will see a big difference with the SSD. If your board does not support SATA3, buy a SATA2 SSD for $50 and piggy back. Or so they tell me, you can buy a SATA3 and when you get around to it a more modern board. SATA2 SSDs can be got cheap. If you use your machine to write on, almost any hardware that will run quietly will do.

I have spent a lot of time comparing Ubuntu with Mac OS 10.8, Mountain Lion. Ubuntu is a good running OS. It is rare that anything odd pops up that needs immediate attention. You can run around through Linux for years, have a great time amazing your friends and acting like a geek. Some geeks like it when a bug pops up and they take care of it. Others hate bugs passionately, attack them with fervor and hope that finding the fix won't take too long. Ubuntu is dependable. Dropbox, for instance, may not be in a big hurry to adapt the newer version to Linux. The newer version is suddenly swilling RAM to the point where the system locks up. A twitter feed to the desktop may cease working, and so on. But that is not Ubuntu's fault. Some people may be reluctant to shut off Dropbox and switch to Google Drive—I personally love the words, maybe we can do a workaround—it is music to my ears. In OS X or Windows these sorts of happenings are unusual but don't say never. In OS X Aquamacs I can no longer send an Email in Gnus! That is after doing it for five years. Some phenomenal hocus-pocus has happened. For the most part you can boot up Ubuntu and write all day and nothing will happen; everything that works will continue to work; you might wish something would happen to break up the routine.1 You are as likely to waste time playing in OS X as you are in Linux. Neither Ubuntu or Trisquel require a lot of maintenance. Updates come along in rhythm, and they don't seem inclined to break the system. One reason I moved away from OS X is, as I have said, I couldn't get Emacs to work. Text interests me; pictures and video not so much. Apple's thing is all about pictures. They do pictures not necessarily better than anyone else. If you want to watch a movie or fix up a photo, make it look nice, Apple will do the job. At one time Apple did a lot of work on fonts. They have passable fonts and colors. Many times I have returned to OS X for the fonts and colors. But the later versions of OS X since Tiger have been less stable than anyone would like. The machines have not dropped off. The hardware is the best, but the software is in a decline right now. That probably won't last long. I should not say that Apple OS is in a decline when I am primarily interested in writing text. I still haven't sold my Macbook but that is only because I want to load Linux on it later on, because I have a feeling I will be wandering around occasionally in my retirement, and a laptop will be useful. Sometimes I go back to the Mac to remind myself of its faults.

Now when I first loaded Trisquel, frankly, I wasn't expecting much that was different. I was just curious. It made sense to me that Emacs, my favorite app, the foremost GNU app, in my opinion, would run nice on a GNU distro. Trisquel is basically Ubuntu and Debian. Trisquel does a few things a little differently. Everything is open source. If your thing is spending money on apps, then you won't like GNU because nothing is for sale. If you want to buy a lawn mower and research them on the web before buying, and you use a GNU browser, Google will not necessarily know about it. There are people who do not mind Google's googling, who tune out the subsequent ads via extension or frame of mind, but anyone must admit that seeing lawn mower ads for months after the lawn mower situation has past can be noisome. None of that will happen in GNU. Then as I got the OS set up and it became comfortable (non-obtrusive) for me to write on, I began to notice a feel to the OS that had not been present in any OS I had used previously. That goes back to Windows 98 and OS X Tiger. I think XP was good and enjoyable to work on and Tiger was so good it got me started with Apple hardware. There were at least two Linuxes, Debian Lenny (5.0) and Linux Mint Helena (8.0), that I used a lot. I think highly of them still. But I used them both before I started to get into the richness and common sense that is Emacs. I found that the more I learned about Emacs the more efficiently I could write and output to typeset quality PDFs, HTML and UTF-8 and so on. The problem was finding distros that ran Emacs without a hassle. One distro might run Emacs better than another.2 Emacs 24.4 is in Synaptic. That is not the latest Emacs. But I always run at least a version behind because I am in Emacs 95% of the time, and I do my work with it and I don't want any screw-ups.

My Emacs setup is extensive and complex. It took me awhile to set it up on Trisquel. That is a big problem with Emacs. Still, usually you can do a lot with stock basic Emacs if you happen to work on different systems and different machines by work or habit. In Mac, when I switched to Aquamacs, I switched init from .emacs to init.el basically because Finder in Mac doesn't play nice with dot files, and I didn't want to be in the terminal all day. Xubuntu didn't seem to mind that init was in .emacs.d named init.el. But Trisquel would have no such bullshit. It wanted .emacs. Once I realized that, Emacs went in like a charm, and brother does it work nice. After a month and a half, other than the fact that twittering-mode doesn't work in Linux at all, Emacs has been solid. Everything I put on it works. In fact Trisquel has been so good that there is no comparison between it and Xubuntu. That's saying a lot. It has a "feel", a cooperation between the forces that used to show up occasionally in Tiger and XP.

My hardware is old and most users would say sub-adequate. I don't have a lot of RAM to waste, or disk space. I have used the 65G Kingston SSD in both Xubuntu and Debian Lenny besides Trisquel 7.0. There was always plenty of room. Both OS X and Windows have outgrown 65g disks. A simple arrangement of Mountain Lion on my Mac is 65g alone! (That fact is slightly unbelievable to me.) You could still run on the Mac a 120g SSD, but if you are into pictures, you'd have to be careful. It is frustrating to have to worry whether a download of six movies, for instance, will break the bank. Mount the 650g mechanical drive and send your downloads there. The only problem is backing up your big disk with all that valuable stuff on it. Let me tell you, once you get into Linux and understand its basic procedures, it is easy to back up a non-bootable disk to either a partition of the same disk, not too bright in my opinion, or to another disk of equal size. If you have a bootable disk, that is easy to back up too. Linux makes backups easy, a subject for another blog. I have on Xubuntu my present writing projects and two or three hundred family photos. Root is about 9.5g and /home is less than 3g. Since the disk that it is on is 500g, there is essentially nothing on the disk. I could imagine the free space getting filled in a hurry if I ever got into movies. The problem with substandard hardware in modern versions of some Linux distos is not room on the disk, any disk bigger than 30g will do, it has to do with RAM.

As ridiculous as it sounds even if you decide to get into BSD, which will provide added security, or another lightweight Linux distro, 4G of RAM is about the minimum.3 Six to eight gigs makes you a happy camper. My Mac runs up to 2G of RAM quite often. Xubuntu comes with XFCE, said to be a lightweight desktop, but it is easy to utilize 1G of RAM, and lots of times you will be well over 1G. It can even get into swap on occasion even with 4G RAM. (So much for the theory that you don't need swap.) The basic desktop for Trisquel is a fixed up and deflated Gnome. That seems to use less RAM than XFCE; Trisquel stays around 800mb RAM though it can explode over 1G if three or four apps are launched and open and a browser running full time. But Fluxbox in Salix is 400mb to 600mb, and if you are careful you can get by on 2G of salvaged DDR2, and be happy with it, and have a nice running computer besides. Salix also has a version with Ratpoison desktop. The boys have been working on Ratpoison so that Emacs and Ratpoison function keys don't clobber each other. Last time I used Ratpoison, I was averaging 50mb of RAM, which means I could operate fine on 1G RAM total. Salix is touchy about Wi-Fi. It is derived from Slackware, so you know that after a while of familiarization, you will get work done on it. I am anxious to give the Ratpoison version a try out. Both Ubuntu and Trisquel and Debian will do Wi-Fi on almost anything. Salix didn't like my Athos Wi-Fi card, but if you are on the wire, you can get the Internet from any distro. I have never run across one that did not pick up the wire. And besides, I am talking about a desktop with lots of I/O. Why would you not be on the wire?

At times I cannot come to a decision about which distro is best. They all have different features and you can find out about all that on the Net, pictures and all. If you want to use Ubuntu, Ubuntu is selling you to Google. Go here to see Stallman on that subject. But I don't care about that as much as I probably should. I write on my computer, I blog and I research my blogs on my computer. I don't see any reason for secrecy. I take care of my own files. And I know how to keep a secret. I don't need the cloud or specifically Dropbox to help me. I do my backups, and I hope everybody one day will go to StoryNoir and read my blogs and follow the links to other places such as Scribd where I have published other writings. Free software is not less useful or serviceable than non-free software. Emacs is free however you want to think about it; it is one of the oldest apps on the planet and it is still as vital and useful as ever. The fact that it seems so far to work on Trisquel as well or better than anywhere else I have been able to discover gives Trisquel a leg up in my opinion. But also in Trisquel there is a feel that comes with FSF philosophy. It is as if all the apps are pulling together. You don't have to fight with any of them. They flutter around Emacs like bees around the hive. The Gnome work over is splendid. I am going along fine with my old friendly board and 4G of RAM. Ubuntu wants more; Ubuntu wants an almost new board and at least 8G of RAM. I don't think it was much of a battle. Trisquel has so far won this battle. Trisquel by philosophy allows me to be minimal. But all that means nothing until we build the system into a server.

To sum up: Xubuntu doesn't match up very well with either OS X or Trisquel. The match up is between OS X and Trisquel. On the inexpensive equipment I like to run and the fact that I derive enjoyment from build-your-own, for me and my purposes Trisquel is the easy winner in this battle. But with 8G of RAM on the Mac and Yosemite installed, which is on the 100% POSIX compliant list, maybe...

Hope you will be reading here again soon.

Footnotes:

1 They say Faulkner used to swill Bourbon to break up the routine of writing. But you have your computer to play with. And it is much better for your health. Another good reason to write on a computer.

2 I don't know why this is so. I give up. But Trisquel has not disappointed me too much so far. Every system even my favorites are off one way or another. One programmer pointed out to me that I wouldn't have to look too far to find programming that didn't work any more.

3 That makes me angry, and I don't believe there is any reason for it. When some OSes went to a DVD or a thumb drive to load an install disk, and they took my old CD Rom out of the picture, I also became angry. Trisquel needs a DVD. The download of the OS is over 1G. There is a lightweight install that fits on a CD. But you won't get to serious work on it right away. Xubuntu comes on a CD Rom. I finally found a DVD Rom at the dump. Forget floppies except for emergency boot disk. All this is sad and driven by profit.