To the meat: for now, I’m back to Xfce on desktop.
If you’re gonna’ be beautiful and stuff, then get on tablets or go home. When doing desktop, do desktop. I’m going with the “eXtremely fast computing experience”!
I always feel ahead of the curve. I wrote an article a few years ago on Seven Reasons I Chose Xubuntu Over All Else. Then, I switched to GNOME one year before Unity made the big back-to-GNOME announcement. In that time, I wrote my own “break-it-in” script, Vrk at verb.ink. The original goal was to “make Unity less unbearable”. In the end, with stability and options I set through gsettings and dconf, I had Unity 7.5 running as the slickest, most user-friendly thing I’ve seen. Unity was stable. Since using GNOME as of 16.04, every install was buggy and glitchy out of the box. Budgie also just arrived on the scene and UBports is taking off. Mark Shuttleworth really did the world a favor with his “Unity detour”. Thanks, Mark.
So, here I am developing Vrk, trying to make it work on multiple desktop environments. The purpose is to “break in” the desktop—you know that hour you spend after every OS install getting everything set up perfectly. Then, it grew into other stuff…
I have my own subapp that adds my “productivity wallpapers” to the native background selection lists—I’m preparing to offer it to artists. Vrk fetches all the good icons and themes for you, it does down stream work-arounds when upstreamers don’t keep their stuff together, though I may just drop support for environments that are too buggy (more on that later). Vrk even has driver scrips and simple installers for things like Nextcloud and automatically adds ssh profiles to Guake Indicator and FileZilla, all from single commands in the terminal. It beefs up “Templates” and, it changes the home folders to English, if your language is different, which makes work in the terminal a lot easier. Of course, it also creates links with your original language.
Vrk does more too…
Vrk creates a “Work” folder—you know that one folder that you give your own special name that you put your clutter in? Everyone has one. When Vrk installs it asks you what to call it, calls it “Work” if you don’t care, and creates it if you don’t have it already.
Dropbox/Nextcloud/Whatever: Finally use “Documents”
Vrk can also choose your “cloud” folder, usually Dropbox or Nextcloud, but it’s anything you set. Then, it relocates and links-back three folders into that cloud folder: Work (whatever you called it), Documents, and Templates. You know that no one ever uses Documents—whether on your desktop or in your cloud. I’ve seen GNOME try to use Nextcloud to sync with all my local folders, that won’t catch on, just watch and see. If GNOME knew the future they wouldn’t have irked Linus in 2011 and would be on board with Shuttleworth’s “convergence” (more on that later).
We want our desktop sync to be somewhat quarantined in the cloud, keeping our devices somewhat unique from each other. Vrk puts a special “Documents” folder in your cloud and replaces your native “Documents” folder with a link, same with your “Templates”. So, your native Documents folder now syncs across Linux desktop devices, but not your entire home. Your Work folder syncs in your cloud also. But, you can call your Work folder anything. Give it the same name, choose the same cloud sync service folder, and that too will sync across devices. Choose a different name and it won’t, but it will still be in your cloud service folder.
Vrk: Learning for the Linux Prodigy
Vrk “standardizes” several things, regardless of your desktop, making it perfect for beginning programmers, even 8 year olds learning the command line. Install your favorite Ubuntu desktop via tutorials from the inkVerb YouTube channel, install Vrk via verb.ink instructions, then use the learning materials over at verb.pink (notice the different words ‘pink’ and ‘ink’).
Vrk is awesome for learning Linux. For example, native text editors are different in each desktop environment. Mint likes Xed, MATE has pluma, Xfce has Mousepad. Vrk installs Gedit and sets mimeapps to open .html files with Gedit, but leaves the native editor still installed. So, very-early beginner tutorials from inkVerb work easily because app support for commands are standardized by Vrk.
Mom & dad, just go to verb.ink, install Ubuntu with the YouTube tutorials, then run the commands at verb.ink on the front page there to install Vrk, then tell your young genius to start tutorials at verb.pink.
With similar projects, I created write.pink as a young English learner’s resource and 52bible.com for reading and basics of what the Bible says. verb.pink is part of my own teaching rollup, Vrk is designed to help, and it’s all in mid beta.
That’s where Vrk fits into my little universe.
Verb to Vrk
I’m also working on “Verb”, an Ubuntu server manager, more or less. It sets up databases, adds web domains, installs many different web apps—incl. Ghost, WP, Drupal, OrangeHRM, SuiteCRM, Roundcube, PostfixAdmin, Nextcloud, and more—all with single-line terminal commands. It even installs Letsencrypt certs, fully automatically! Verb is awesome, the “one-command” manager for Ubuntu servers.
The goal of Vrk is to connect to a Verb-controlled server so you can type a single command, maybe answer some terminal wizard questions, and use your “Vrking” Ubuntu desktop machine to control your “Verber” in the cloud.
So, with Verb on your Ubuntu cloud and Vrk on your local machine, you can control your own Verb-run cloud server. Get Ubuntu with Vrk on your desktop, then Ubuntu with Verb on your VPS for $5 or $10 a month, and you are your own man.
Wouldn’t it be awesome to put Vrk on your phone!
My Word on Convergence and Roadmaps
Hot corners and widows spreads are a must for anyone who works faster than molasses. Touch screens, whether on phone, tablet, or with keyboard, are useful and coming like a train. Get on board, get run over, or get left behind. People need to be able to use a desktop environment with their fingertips on the screen. They need to be able to scroll with two fingers, both on a mouse pad and with a tablet pen button. Swiping from screen edges should do things. Tech needs support. Working people work fast, so should their computers. No hot corners, no touch screen smarts—that’s a dinosaur.
Is that about “convergence”? Maybe. I have two points on convergence: 1. support human input tech—side-swipe touch screen, writing tablet and pen click, multi-touch mouse pads, hot corners in conventional mouse and non-touch displays. 2. support ARM—test apps and desktop environments on ARM distros of Linux so that your project can be used when people port it to their phone. Who can argue with these two points? I mean, it’s motherhood and apple pie.
Shuttleworth has a lot more in mind for convergence, and I think he is right on the money. ASUS already has phones that dock with a tablet screen—though don’t get me started on ASUS and their inability to not act like China’s Forbidden City. You can’t literally unlock their tablets and phones (most all), you literally can’t knock on the front door like you can with Acer, and when you call them on the phone they only speak Mandarin. But, the concepts are already in production to support convergence. The talent is there, but the cooperation is not. And, that’s most of us, isn’t it?
Mark is right about convergence between mobile and desktop. I say, do it or your project will be dead in five years. Maintaining two OS environments is a lot of fat to keep on board. Apple and Microsoft are doing that and it could be their common fatal flaw, but the Linux community has a prophet named Mark telling us the path forward. And, we definitely have enough people to make it happen as a community.
With all the different, highly talented people writing so many different unnecessary desktop environments, it’s anarchy of the brilliant. Come together, at least a little, please. I know that “do it my way” is part of our blood as “Linuxists”. But, my main comment on Mark’s “convergence” topic is about community. Convergence is really about “converging” Linux developers to work together, only then can we get different devices to work together.
When it comes to roadmaps, I’m generally with Shuttleworth and Torvalds. Funny, I often find myself agreeing with the big leaders who empower others. So, don’t listen to me, listen to them.
Vrk and the Super-Geek
Whether he knew it or not, Shuttleworth’s vision was for the up-and-coming super-geek. The journalist in my would love to have coffee with Mark in front of an interested gaggle, but we’re all so busy. Ubuntu Touch was a champaign, a “great accident”. Converse All-Stars were developed as the first basketball shoe, but they became immortal in the unofficial casual shoe hall of fame. Unity 8 on tablets is not a replacement for Android, iOS, or Windows Phone; it’s a way to let us VPS daddies do our work on the go.
Super geeks, VPS daddies, do-it-yerself copywriters and entrepreneurs—they are the ones who need Ubuntu phones. If we need Android apps—which can really be awesome at times—we’ll take an Android device with us. Android gets along great with Ubuntu, usually (that part’s coming). For our work number and a simple device to just get email without proprietary apps filibustering our day (Sony, HTC, cough, cough) Ubuntu Touch would be awesome.
How Desktop Envs Relate
So, here I am trying to finish my first release of Vrk, the client part of Verb and the upstream gods are causing thunder and lightning with Unity. Whenever the desktop gods make it rain, I have to ask myself questions about desktop environments all over again. Here’s my review about desktop environments in mid 2017.
Bear in mind, I’m reviewing these from the eyes of developing Vrk, which serves the purposes already described. I add “advice” lines for each environment because a critique is mere disrespect without some kind of useful advice. I’m trying to be polite, not pretentious.
Xfce is my main pick because it doesn’t change much. I know that every six months I will need to write work-arounds and do upstream developers jobs for them, even though I love them, usually. When I have to rewrite my universe, Xfce is my delight because stuff won’t break. Themes will generally still work, though that text shadow and highlighting in dark themes is a nuisance. That provoked me to write my own Xfce theme. Debian chose to ship with Xfce a while back and I can see why. If any desktop-only environment survives “convergence”, it will be Xfce. But, why not be “convergenceable” also?
Advice to Xfce: Don’t change. Get Xfdashboard native, good work, finish. Grow and mature, don’t run from touch screen convergence if it knocks on your door, but remain the awesome person you are.
One lesson I’ve learned after having to restore one too many hard drives: don’t copy large numbers of files in the GNOME GUI; use command line. Booting to my USB GNOME 17.04 installer was a craps shoot. Maybe it would crash and I’d have to reboot. Next time, it might work and I’d actually be able to install it. After installing GNOME, get used to those “crash report” windows. GNOME is a great concept and it isn’t all that buggy, but it’s not my first pick. I really understand why Mark and Linus did what they did and said what they said in the past. Still, Vrk was written primarily for GNOME and plays well there—if only GNOME doesn’t crash all the time. Then, GNOME doesn’t tether with my Sony. A lot of drivers work on other distros, but don’t work in Ubuntu GNOME.
Advice to GNOME: Stability and streamling should be your priority over your wonderful GUI plans on the horizon. Above all, listen to Mark and learn from Linus.
I’m glad Budgie is on the scene. It’s just a delight. But the plank conflicts with Docky, so does GNOME Tweak. It seems they just copied and modded, which is okay, but it creates duplicates. If you’re going to copy and mod something, make enough changes that the “real slim” doesn’t know that you cloned him. If you install GNOME Tweak on Budgie, two “Tweaks” appear in the app menu and the both think they are the other guy. And, I really wish that Plank on the left would get out of my face by default, and hot corners separate us from Microsoft. Other than that, Budgie really is awesome and stable, which is more I can say for GNOME. I can’t change the theme all that well, but who would want to!?
Advice to Budgie: Get along better. Make the plank act like a plank and keep it pulled in. Don’t let Docky settings mess with the plank. Make your mods think that they not what you modded from. The hot-corner window spread I’m sure will work out, which will really expand your user market. This you have: you’re stable and predictable. I like writing Vrk for you. But, be ready to get mobile. You only need sideswipe support and scrolling with my Wacom pen would give you the last and final edge.
KDE is out and finished. A year ago, when Vrk first installed Dolphin in GNOME, it had a hideous white bar in the window because the theming didn’t match up. Now, in 17.04, Kate does the same, blasted thing. I love Kate and I plan to keep it in Vrk as a second, more loaded-up editor on hand. But seriously KDE guys, get along with the known Ubuntuverse and stop breaking every time we turn a corner. KDE, in both Kubuntu and Mint, weren’t stable enough to even start testing them to develop Vrk. Most of all, if I can’t tell my YouTube channel students to Ctrl+Alt+T into a terminal, what good are you for anyone who learns or contributes? Who needs to NOT have a standard terminal hotkey? Are your only target users Baby Boomers still learning mouse or phone gamers who only consume and never contribute? KDE in four words: So brilliant, yet #headdesk.
Advice to KDE: Your awesome talent is wasted on desktop. Your website has too much about the past (your history). Steve Jobs sold his museum when he returned to Apple. Linus won’t keep a museum either. Look to the future and help us all get there rather than giving us yet another desktop environment to keep up with. Bring lift, not dead weight. I think your awesome apps should really work great on Unity 8. Look at Mark’s concept for Ubuntu Touch and your fluidness of KDE: they’re the same! Other people needs your skills in apps and convergence. Help them!
That raises the topic of “too many environments already”. We don’t need more desktop environments, we need fewer and we need to get mobile.
MATE is wasted talent, much like KDE. MATE is a legacy maintained, by definition. MATE wallpapers are awesome, really. It’s well thought through, but it doesn’t have hot corners, no quick search, and it brings nothing to my touchscreen notebook. Go help Budgie, Mark, KDE, and the gang. The premise behind MATE was the original critique Mark and Linus made about GNOME 3. Your shared passion is to get desktop going where it should be. That’s the future, not the past. Keep MATE in the archives and let people maintain it if they want. Keep your desktop backgrounds available and maybe even start theming.
Then, there’s Mint. Cinnamon ain’t bad. But, support for Xfce, MATE, and KDE really is about auto-theming more than about distro-dev, just sayin’. I like Cinnamon and I like what you’ve done—a man after my own “Vrk” heart.
Advice to Mint: I don’t have any for number one in distrowatch desktop. I’m grabbing my popcorn to see how this movie ends for you.
Ubuntu Touch… My dream is to get the time to use it. I’ll opine then. Advice to UBports: Go, go, go! You are the future.
Eventually, I may only develop Vrk for Xfce, Budgie, and Ubuntu Touch—unless GNOME stops breaking and I don’t have to yank it from scope.
As for my “Today’s news, yesterday.™” MO… I think the Mint gang will be around a long time, but Cinnamon will either die or morph and “nichify” its DNA into theming in the wake of convergence and the Internet of Things. Right now, Mint serves as the Manjaro of Debian—a slow channel for the sake of stability; everything else is interior decorating. Once security updates are no longer as buggy, Mint’s purpose as a distro will be obsolete.
Red Hat could go down or get bought and fundamentally change or nichify. Status quo won’t last and Red Hat is not the biggest fish making the waves. Canonical just does that job better, though I applaud more than one fish in the pond. I hope Red Hat survives and offers something awesome. Red Hat’s future, to die or thrive, will be the end of GNOME. GNOME has irritated too many people and contributed too much. Like Persia and Media tore up Babylon, GNOME will get eaten, probably resources bought by Canonical and its existence living on through Budgie. When it does, maybe we’ll see MATE 2, another white elephant squandering the time of the brilliant people who just won’t let the past rest in peace; I’d love to be wrong about that, though.
My Word to These Developers
Who am I to “criticize”? I’m not. I’m the guy trying to get prodigies and entrepreneurs to learn Linux and I’m deciding whether to support your environment as I do. I won’t tell you how to roadmap your product. I’ll only ask you to make it stable enough upstream so that your product can be part of my roadmap. I humbly ask you to converge desktop with mobile, merely for your own survival. Today, any desktop environment needs to be able to work on a touch screen, from notebook to phone. Make sure Ubuntu for ARM can accept your environment, that stuff happens if I swipe at screen edges, and for goodness sake let me scroll with my Wacom pen!! Please give me less work, not more, and help me finish the work I already have. I want to support your work now and keep supporting it the future. Let me.
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