Real-world CrunchBang adventures

[Blogger’s Note: From time to time I will step off the soapbox for a moment to let someone else step up and speak. Today, I am letting VastOne, who is a CrunchBang moderator on the forums, take the microphone and post this blog that comes in response to my last blog item. Take it away, VastOne! –LC]

In the blog post “One way or another,” there were several great points made about the need to learn a bit of terminal and bash skills to be effective within any flavor of Linux. These skills are invaluable and after years of using Linux, most of us take our own expertise in these matters for granted when advising a new user.

In another world, there are users who are jumping on the Linux bandwagon out of necessity. A majority are just fed up with the amount of viruses, worms and attacks on their machines. Some are coming over due to financial or fiscal reasons that stem from no longer being able to afford proprietary software’s steep licensing costs.

I work in this world every day. My clients are usually a small business, a non-profit group, church or school district. Since the majority of the work I do is done pro bono, I have an easier time convincing these clients to switch to Linux.

For years, I used Ubuntu as the easy choice for an installation. It was intuitive, popular and was pretty easy to manage a cookie-cutter installation. The objective for me is to have limited return calls and to leave the client with enough resources and knowledge that a simple daily process would guarantee success.

This worked great until Unity arrived. It was such a radical change that the clients I deal with had no clue how to use it and on a dime their worlds changed. I had to revisit every client and start over. I made a decision to find a new platform to work with, where changes would not be so drastic.

A few friends of mine, also in the same line of work, had been telling me about CrunchBang Linux for quite some time. For whatever reasons, I had it in my head that CrunchBang was a terminal-driven distro that was for power Linux users, not far from the Arch world. Once I installed the Xfce version of CrunchBang, the platform I was looking for suddenly opened up. It was nothing that I expected and by far the easiest and lightest Linux distro I had ever seen and a very easy drop in replacement for my clients. The fact that Crunchbang is based on Debian Stable was the icing on the cake, guaranteeing long term stability.

With my client base, I have found that for a new Linux user — coming from a XP, Vista or Win7 world — the Xfce desktop is a perfect leap to a comfort zone in a short period of time. Its menu driven setup is perfect for a user who is accustomed to right clicking the desktop and applications. The fact that most of the new applications installed show up on the this menu makes my long term job easier with the clients. I have not had a single client reject the Xfce desktop and generally after a weeks time they tell me that it is the easiest desktop they have had to use.

The final pieces in a new client install is a simple lesson with Synaptic, how to open terminal and an understanding of how to search Google effectively. As soon as the client grasps how easy Synaptic is and how easy it is to install software, my job is almost done.

I use .bashrc and .bash_aliases to create a cheat sheet of the standard commands that needs to be done for standard Linux tasks. They are basic commands that we take for granted in apt-get update, apt-get install, apt-cache policy etc etc etc.

The aliases are structured so that when I get the call for that important application that is needed, I simply guide the client to a terminal session and have them type

get gimp

Once they have entered their password, they are done. After the second or third time doing this, most clients grasp how easy it is and begin to understand. One of these aliases is an alias to print to the screen what all of the aliases are by typing al in the terminal and getting a list of aliases and what they can do.

Now one would ask, “These new clients have no problem with these commands?” No! Most clients are looking for stability and an easy way to get their jobs done. They couldn’t care less what an apt-get is, but they do care that there is a simple method to the madness.

Is this the best method for client conversions? For my client base it is. Everyone is happy with CrunchBang Linux, although most would look at you funny if you asked them about it. It also keeps the return calls and visits I need to make at a minimum, which is my most important objective.

Moving each client to Linux with CrunchBang Xfce, Synaptic, terminal and aliases is as easy as it gets. My client base could care less as long as they can get their work done with minimal changes.

Sounds like a perfect world to me.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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One way or another

Originally, I had started a “Larry the Free Software Guy” blog item on the newly released, Mideast peace-securing, cancer-curing, saivor-of-all-mankind Head-Up Display from Ubuntu — “head up” what, exactly, is unclear, but not much imagination is needed — in which I promised to try it, but I still wonder aloud about the degree of “innovation” in what appears to be a GUI for the command line, to say nothing of the competing ease between clicking on a menu item versus typing it in a field.

No, I left that pinata alone for the moment to address something else.

What causes the bloggus interruptus today is an exchange I had a couple of days ago on a CrunchBang forum with rhowaldt — it was completely tongue-in-cheek by both parties — where doing a task had more than one method to fix what a new user wanted to achieve.

In the exchange what was said, in effect and in jest, is that you can do it the cool, “l33t h4xx0r” way using the command line, or you can use the n00b-oriented, menu-driven program written for the window manager that comes with the program. While poking fun, the subtext here still speaks to a digital caste system where the more experienced are put in a position of superiority, either real or imagined (and I choose the latter), than the inexperienced.

Naturally, I concur that there is more than one way to a solution: Yes, the command line is the more direct way to get things done. However, not everyone using Linux — even CrunchBang, if the threads on the CrunchBang forum to which I refer are any indication — is that well-versed in using the terminal, and when it comes to tools, some of the menu-driven ones can be a godsend.

The point I’d like to make is that there are folks out there who have made and maintained programs like Obmenu and Obapps in Openbox, to use the example from the forum exchange, that essentially give the keys to those less experienced to change their digital experience without having to traverse the potential landmine the command line can be for new or less-experienced users.

For that reason, when the tools are available I use them, and when asked on a forum about how to do things and I know an option like this exists, I’ll make this Plan A in my suggestion. Again, there is more than one solution, and if someone goes to the effort of explaining the commands to use in a terminal, more power to them.

In fact, I should thank rhowaldt and others on the CrunchBang for taking the time to make these command-line instructions available, since it is to the new users’ benefit that they get into this mindset. Learning some of the more basic commands — even some simple bash scripting — should be part of every Linux users repertoire. It may be intimidating at first to new users, but over time it is something one can get used to.

Meanwhile, back at the original topic: Yes, it may be a little less “h4xx0r” to do it from a program, but using these tools gives those who put in the effort a tip of the hat for going the extra mile and providing a method that helps out.

So to those of you who work on developing tools like Obmenu and Obapps — thanks for your efforts and keep up the work that, though anonymous, is vital to the success of distros everywhere.

We now return to writing another blog item, which is already in progress . . . .

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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A perfect 10

I’m going to try to say this in my best movie-preview-guy voice.

More than 100 exhibitors.

More than 130 presentations.

Nearly 2,000 people in attendance.

These factors together are what makes the Southern California Linux Expo SCALE 10X a perfect 10.

With 101 exhibitors, 132 presentations and 1,962 people in attendance over the three-day event (roughly a 9 percent uptick in attendance), SCALE 10X nailed it. I’m going to let Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier take the helm here on this one, since his blog item on the event is outstanding and is something I can’t improve on.

But do you think, for a moment, that would stop me from talking about CrunchBang’s presence at the show?

Ha.

Yeah, I’m that guy: OK, so if I thought so many people were that interested, I would have made a bigger deal about it; maybe even holding a press conference or something. But yes, I am now primarily a CrunchBang GNU/Linux user and advocate after ramping down my activities with the Fedora Project (though I did use my pull as a former Fedora Ambassador to help out a Fedoran stuck at the hotel). As I mentioned to just about everyone I saw at the show who asked me about it — that’s about 90 percent of the folks I regularly see at shows — there were really two factors involved: a.) I really like CrunchBang a lot since I started using it six months ago, and I think the distro, their lead developer Philip Newborough, and their community have a lot going for them, and b.) under the skillful guidance of Mark Terranova and Scott Williams and other Fedoristas in California, I don’t think I’ll be missed by the Fedora Project all that much.

There. I’m glad we had this little talk. Now go and try CrunchBang — it’s great.

Presenting about CrunchBang: I gave a presentation called “On Beyond Zenwalk,” a riff on the Dr. Seuss book “On Beyond Zebra.” It was about distros that do not get their due, and are somewhat more high performance than their average “street legal” counterparts and, of course, I spoke a bit — OK, more than a bit — about CrunchBang. There was live streaming of the presentations available during the show, and I would thank that means that the video lives somewhere that will allow me to post a link. So when I find out where that is, I’ll post it.

Flocking together for CrunchBang: There was a Birds of a Feather gathering for CrunchBang on Saturday, where I got to continue my talk about CrunchBang to those who were interested. About 10 people made it up to the meeting, and while I was unable to make any printed matter (I’m working on that, still), I was able to show off CrunchBang on two different laptops. I also made four live usb sticks that I gave away (that’s all I had in my pocket), and one woman who ran the live usb stick on her Lenovo netbook was so impressed that she said she was going to install it.

Best. Compliment. Ever. So during one lap around on the show floor, seeing if anyone needed anything in the way of publicity and the like (in my capacity as SCALE 10X publicity co-chair), I had one exhibtor, a woman, tell me this: “This is a great show. In fact, I worked AVS and this show is much better than that one.” I thought I was more worldly than I am, apparently, becuase I had to ask: “AVS?” “Adult Video Show,” she replied. Ah. So noted. On that note, there’s nothing that can beat that.

Except maybe SCALE 11X next year.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Somebody give me a cheeseburger

[Blogger’s Note: This originally ran as a item in the Larry the Free Software Guy blog in June 2011. I am repeating it here in order to urge those who use CrunchBang to donate to the distro at the link here, and the way this can be done relatively painlessly — and how we all benefit — is explained below. Thanks, and a report from SCALE 10X is forthcoming -Larry.]

During my campaign for Insurance Commissioner of California in 2006 — where I just missed being elected to state office by a mere 46.5 percent of the vote — one of my campaign fundraising materials was a handout with a sandwich on it. It said, in effect, that if you give up one of these a week and send the money — $5 per week, in this case — to the campaign, you could have proper representation in Sacramento.

[It should be noted that, as a Green Party candidate, I did not take corporate campaign donations — not that any were forthcoming — so I needed a lot of sandwiches to mount an effective campaign. Thank goodness for FOSS, since I didn’t have to buy any software, but that’s another story.]

Yesterday’s blog item about the Ubuntu earrings that are being used as a fundraiser for Partimus started me thinking about how some people shy away from donating to groups or, in our case, FOSS projects because they think it takes a lot up front.

Nope, it doesn’t have to. It takes one sandwich at a time. Or coffee. Or dessert. Giving up one of these just once a week, multiplied by a significant number of people, can put some well-deserved projects in some pretty good financial shape.

It’s very simple — instead of having that grande iced mochajavafrappamacchiato at Starbucks today, send the money via PayPal to a FOSS project that you use regularly, as a way of saying, “Thanks.”

Give to Partimus, the project that is putting Linux-based computer labs in low-income schools in Northern California (or buy a pair of earrings). Or the HeliOS Project, since “a child’s exposure to technology should never be predicated on the ability to afford it.”

Like GIMP? Give to them here. Don’t like it? Give to Inkscape instead.

The possibilities only end at the number of FOSS programs that are taking donations. Go to the programs that you use and look for a “donate” button.

Then give ’em a sandwich.

[Extra points to whomever can identify which song the title of this blog comes from. No Googling.]

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Six months ago . . .

SCALE 10X

About six months ago — on July 24, 2011, to be precise — I became a CrunchBang user after giving the distro a test run for my blog, “Larry the Free Software Guy.” I wrote about it with glowing praise here, and unlike some of the other distros I’ve tested, used for a few days and moved on, I stuck with CrunchBang for a good reason.

I wrote these two paragraphs toward the end, which I still stand by today:

“CrunchBang is probably not for the neophyte, but if you’ve been using GNU/Linux and FOSS for about a year or longer and you are comfortable tweaking your system, you should have no trouble getting up to speed on this quick distro. The site does have a caveat on the ‘about page’ at the bottom that ‘CrunchBang Linux is not recommended for anyone needing a stable system or anyone who is not comfortable running into occasional, even frequent breakage. CrunchBang Linux could possibly make your computer go CRUNCH! BANG! Therefore CrunchBang Linux comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by applicable law.’

“I think the lawyers made them say that, because after four days of tweaking, some of which not exactly the most advised (but nonetheless corrected), I have yet to make it go “CRUNCH! BANG!” In fact, I think I may keep the drive with this distro installed in the ThinkPad for awhile for use on a daily basis.”

I should add that I never replaced the drive in the ThinkPad and I’ve been using CrunchBang on it — my main computer, really, since this laptop never leaves my side — ever since I wrote this.

The reason I bring this up is because I’m about to give two presentations at SCALE 10X this weekend, and I had to go back and re-read this blog item (among other things) to talk about CrunchBang in a presentation entitled “On Beyond Zenwalk,” which is a riff, of course, on the Dr. Seuss book title “On Beyond Zebra.” You can be certain that the Debian representative in this mix, CrunchBang, will be ably represented.

The presentations will be streamed, and when I get the information, I will post it in a blog item as well as posting it on the CrunchBang forums. Watch this space.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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T-minus 96 hours and counting

Those who know me well know that, among other things, I really don’t like ice hockey. Oh, I root for the San Jose Sharks in the National Hockey League because they’re the “home team” here, just over the hill in the Silicon Valley. But to be honest, it’s a sport that makes me grind my teeth. The truth of the matter is that I don’t like it because I can’t play it.

SCALE 10XSkating on ice is hard enough. Canadians, Scandinavians and Russians: I know you all have a gene that allows you to turn pirouettes on the ice straight from the womb, and that’s great. But I can’t stay perpendicular for very long while on skates on frozen water. Add to this that I’d have to stay perpendicular on the ice and keep a rubber disk in front of me with a stick; difficulty squared. The clincher? Keeping perpendicular on the ice while keeping a rubber disk in front of me with a stick while people are trying to knock me down (which, of course, would anger me to bodily harm on the ice, and I understand that you can’t legally hit people with your stick, unfortunately).

“So,” you ask, “are we going to get to the point of this blog anytime soon, Larry?”

Yes.

While I don’t like hockey, currently my favorite article of clothing is my SCALE hockey jersey, which is now packed and ready for SCALE 10X. SCALE 10X is being held Friday to Sunday of this week, a mere four days from today, at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel.

A little history: At SCALE 9X last year, the powers that be at the show figured there should be some way to identify the staff on the floor of the show — something that would make them stand out. The result: SCALE hockey jerseys, with the name of the staff person across the back. If you were a speaker, a vendor, an exhibitor or anyone else at the show and you needed something, you needed to give a hip check to the person you saw running around with a hockey jersey.

Or you could find me: I’d be the one in the hockey jersey taking five steps and immediately falling down, but I digress.

I’m giving two presentations at SCALE 10X this year — “User Groups 2.1: Noob Morning in America” (a reprise of last years “User Group 2.0” talk) at 10 a.m. Friday in the hotel’s beautiful Catalina D room, and “On Beyond Zenwalk” on Saturday at 3 in the hotel’s Los Angeles B room. I’m also your host for the CrunchBang GNU/Linux “Birds of a Feather” event on Saturday evening as well — so everyone, from the CrunchBang faithful to the merely curious, are welcome to stop by.

Just don’t ask me, over the course of the weekend, to shoot and score.

More on SCALE 10X coming this week in this blog. Watch this space.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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A response to a FOSS skeptic

[Blogger’s note: This is not a CrunchBang-specific blog item, but since it has to do with Free/Open Source Software and it explains a lot of how the paradigm works, it might be beneficial to CrunchBang users and the FOSS advocates among us. Thanks. –Larry]

Don Parris wrote a book a while back called “Penguin in the Pew.” The book is an outstanding guide for nonprofits — aimed at churches, but it can apply to any other nonprofit — in the way to use Free/Open Source Software, which Don like to call “libre,” but you know it’s the same thing.

SCALE 10XWhile the book is due for an update (I say, nudging Don . . .), I also have to confess that I’ve used the points the book makes to apply to the for-profit business advantages of using FOSS in a business environment. This is important to me in my work at Redwood Digital Research, where a great part of our business is to provide small businesses and home offices with FOSS solutions instead of the closed-source proprietary software they are, for the most part, forced to use.

But I digress. Don wrote a brilliant blog item this morning in crossing verbal swords with a FOSS skeptic. It starts out as follows:

“Someone I know well and admire greatly recently sent me a question about the premise of my book, ‘Penguin in the Pew.’ His question, I think, reflects the mindset of many who remain outside the realm of the libre software domain. It has taken me some time to get around to answering his question, but I thought I would expand on my response to him here on my blog.”

And that he does, in a very complete, civil and concise way. It’s definitely worth a read.

Meanwhile, I have two presentations (three if you count the UpSCALE talk I’m doing with my daughter Mimi), a tsunami of press releases and other media work to do for SCALE 10X before next weekend (not to mention studying for the LPI-1 exam), so posts are going to be a little sparse over the next two weeks; unless, of course, they’re about SCALE. That could be disappointing to some and a relief to others.

But, as always, watch this space.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, Redwood Digital Research, in the redwood-covered hills of Felton, California, USA. RDR is a consultancy that advises small business/home office owners on the benefits of using FOSS in the business environment.)

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