building a Lubuntu box

Lubuntu logo

This falls into the "anything else that strikes me as interesting to write about" category; most of my readers will not be interested.

It's about my experiences converting from XP to Lubuntu 12.04, which process took a circuitous route via spending a month of configuring Ubuntu 12.04 with the Unity-2D desktop. After all possible tweaks to speed up Ubunut/Unity, I gave it up as a bad job and decided to instead install Lubuntu, a lightweight version of Ubuntu.

My reason for switching to Ubuntu in the first place is that my XP netbook is dying a slow death and buying anything else with XP seemed a waste of time and energy given that support goes away next April. Much of the software I used was not supported when I went to XP, and I assume I'd lose most of the rest if I went to a Windows 7.

And then a friend donated an old laptop to me (thanks Pete!) so I figured since I was going to have to learn all new software anyway, it was time to switch.

So I began with Ubuntu/Unity and aside from speed issues, after a month-long trial, I am very certain I do not like the Unity desktop. I thought it was just a matter of getting used to it, but I never did. Three weeks in, I installed the ClassicMenu-indicator, and never used the Dash or launch bar again. At this point, even with a blazing fast new computer, I'd be more likely to install Lubuntu than Ubuntu with Unity. Also, I freaking hated the scrollbars on Unity; too hard to use.

However, the month spent futzing with Ubuntu was not a loss. Getting Ubuntu installed, a printer configured, and Samba setup to share the printer with hubby took me nearly 2 weeks on Ubuntu; on Lubuntu it took a half day. Similarly, I know how to edit a fstab for a FAT drive and bind to home directories now, so it took 10 minutes instead of 2 days. Knowing what you're doing helps!

Lubuntu was definitly easier than Ubuntu with Unity.

Ubuntu with Unity desktop Lubuntu
Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me
I can see clearly now the rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It's gonna be a bright, bright, bright, bright sunshinin' day.

a few useful Linuxy tidbits

CTRL+ALT+T opens Terminal - a command line interface (CLI) in a window
CTRL+ALT+F1 opens full size CLI/tty
CTRL+ALT+F7 returns to desktop from full size CLI/tty
apt-get install package command-line installation
nano /path/to/file command-line text editing

how I installed and configured Lubuntu

Full details for each step are in the references at the end of this article.

  1. I downloaded the iso file and installed to a USB stick.
  2. I rebooted, hit F2 to edit the BIOS, set it to boot from USB and then ran the install, with a jpatti account (can't install as root).
  3. I reboot, then set BIOS back to boot from hard drive.

    The nice thing when installing Lubuntu is as soon as it opens, with a toolbar and menu system, it looks just enough like Windows that you can pretty much just start using it immediatly. CTRL+ALT+DEL even brings up the Task Manager! Seriously, this is SO much easier than trying to figure out the whole Ubuntu/Unity thing, which IMO, is not user-friendly at all. It was my bad luck I tried it first.

  4. When in the desktop, the Update Manager ran, and I installed everything it told me to immediatly (the wireless issue, which had to be fixed prior to installing updates, is no longer relevant).

    I spent a lot of time with Ubuntu troubleshooting how to get the wireless adapter to work. Once working, it was slow and dropped connection a lot while the XP netbook sitting next to it was connected just fine. Ițm not sure if it was a driver issue or the hardware, but I eventually decided to just plug in the darned thing.

  5. I set root password and then set autologin by editing /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf

    A bit of a rant here: the Ubuntu security philosophy is that disabling the root account is the safe way to go, thus one must sudo and give a password for every administrative action. During my month with Ubuntu, I typed my password on average over 50 times a day. Previously, on my XP box, I typed it ONCE then setup autologin and didn't type it again for YEARS.

    I realize this is supposed to keep me safe from typing in dangerous commands, but honestly do not see how prefacing a dangerous command with "sudo" and following it with my password could save me from stupidity.

    I realize Unix was developed for multi-user boxes, but this is my personal box, physically located miles from the nearest human being. No one but myself, my husband and my cats can access it (the cats like typing, but are poor typists and thus never managed to type "format C:" from a command line on my XP box, so I have decided I shall trust them with my Lubuntu box.)

  6. Login as root and ignore jpatti account forever. :)
  7. Discover that the default browser, Chromium, won't run as root! Google and discover I need to edit the shell script that launches the browser. Edit /usr/bin/chromium-browser by adding "--user-data-dir" without the quotes to line that opens browser (mine is not like example in references, as it's nestled in an if statement).
  8. Applied a fix to speed up Chromium and/or Chrome discovered while messing around with Ubuntu by editing /etc/nsswitch.conf
  9. Next up is getting the printer working so Steve can print his daily paperwork for his job. I downloaded and extracted the printer driver. Within the file manager (while there, I set preferences to show hidden files and list view), I right-clicked on the cups-common file and choose to install, then repeated with the ufr2 file. Next, I restarted the cups through Terminal via service cups restart and then used the printer applet to install the printer and printed a test page.
  10. Next up was sharing the printer. I installed Samba, then edited /etc/samba/smb.conf to add the Windows workgroup. I then installed a Samba GUI and set a share and printer, both with permissions for everyone. Restarted Samba from Terminal via two commands: service smdb restart and service nmbd restart. Then I tested the share and printer from XP box. Eureka!
  11. Since I had no computer up until this point, I then stopped and transcribed these notes from scratch paper. Until now, I'd edited files with Leafpad (sort of a Notepad equivalent), I installed gedit instead (I was using it during my time on Ubuntu/Unity and it does 95% of what my old Windows favorite, Textpad, did).
  12. Because this is a low-memory box (under 1 Gig), I edited /etc/sysctl.conf to reduce swappiness and also installed zram-config. Overall, this transfers some of the RAM work to the CPU, makig the box much more zippy, until you approach the limits of what it can handle and CPU goes to 100% and you have to SLOWLY close things. But I can run GIMP, Chromium with several tabs and gedit all at once with no problem, so it's all good.
  13. During install, all my hardware was found, including my big external drive (NTFS), but not my small external drive (FAT) as it runs on USB and was unplugged for the USB stick during install. I plugged it in and let it automount itself. Then I edited /etc/fstab to both automount and to bind my L, M, N, O and P directories into the root home (these directories were once shares on a networked server and are thus named this way for historical reasons). I also used bind to map all my special folders (Documents, Pictures, Music, etc.)
  14. Right-clicked on the taskbar and edited it's settings and the panel settings.
  15. Ran a bunch of applets from Preferences menu: Customize Look and Feel, Desktop Session Settings, Disk Utility, Keyboard and Mouse, Display Settings, Openbox Configuration Manager, Power Manager and Screensaver and set things as desired. During this process, was required to run xhost +localhost (screensaver daemon won't start).
  16. Copied my Windows fonts over. I noticed that one thing missing from Lubuntu is a "Network Neighborhood" applet. In the file manager's address bar, type: smb:// to access your workgroup, then doubleclick to see the list of PCs, then click on the PC name to see the list of shares. I bookmarked the workgroup (ATUIN) in the file manager so I'd not have to remember this later.
  17. Ran Synaptic and set preferences. Installed lubuntu-restricted-extras (Flash, codecs, fonts, etc.), Thunderbird, Gimp and Wine. NOTE: while it's running, click the Details to see the EULAs for things and "click" on them or the install won't finish.
  18. Rebooted after all those installs, then configured Thunderbird to use my old profile: in Terminal, cd /usr/bin then ./thunderbird -profilemanager - make a new profile and set the folder to point to my previous profile on the external drive.
  19. Decided not to install either Firefox or Chrome for now as Chromium is working fine and fast and looks almost exactly like Chrome, it even has Developer Tools. I logged into Google so as to sync my bookmarks, passwords and settings and am thus far happy. I opened Candy Crush Saga to verify that Flash was working properly and inadvertently verified my soundcard worked (LOUD!)
  20. Decided not to install LibreOffice for now as Lubuntu comes with AbiWord and Gnumeric and I figured I'd try them first as they were likely chosen for being compact and fast rather than having all the bells and whistles, most of which I never use. We'll see over time if I'm missing crucial word processing or spreadsheet functionality or not.
  21. Installed Dropbox - downloaded the 32-bit Ubuntu version from then right-clicked in File Manager and chose the installer, which only seemed to partially work. So in Terminal, I did cd /usr/bin then dropbox start -i and ran the install app. Though the documentation talked about it being integrated with Nautilus (the Ubuntu file manager), it worked just fine in Lubuntu's file manager (PCmanFM).

    I have a rant about the fact that I am using Dropbox instead of Google Drive...

    I never used cloud storage before I got my smartphone this year, which runs Android, a Linux-based OS. I found it handy to have a few files on my phone as well as my PC - my menu and recipes accessible when I'm in the grocery, my garden layout spreadheets available in my yard, my post ideas file for whenever I'm away from the computer, etc. It's just a few small files, well under a megabyte. So I had Google Drive on both my XP netbook and my Android phone.

    It never in a million years even OCCURED to me that Google Drive wouldn't be available for Linux. While doing my aborted Ubuntu/Unity build, I just went straight to Google Drive and discovered there was no Linux version. I thought I must be mistaken and Googled about it and found an employee response in one of their support groups saying the Linux version would be out soon - posted over a year ago. :(

    So... most people seem to use either Ubuntu One or Dropbox. Dropbox had an Android app, so they won.

  22. I noticed I've lost a few settings on reboot. Edited /etc/xdg/lxsession/Lubuntu/autostart to make monitor resolution on external monitor stick. Ran dpkg-reconfigure keyboard-configuration to fix keyboard mapping. While Googling to resolve those issues, ran across advice to install numlockx and parcellite so did that.
  23. Via Samba, set up shares for HIS directory on my big hard drive (Steve's backups) and OURS directory (shared files). Connected via the XP netbook and added then deleted both a file and directory. Sent email to Steve notifying him this stuff is back.
  24. Steve and I each have a big-ass hard drive, 2 TB each. He has exclusive use of his own. I have 3 partions on mine HIS (1.5 TB), HERS (472 GB) and OURS (28 GB). This is what is called "compromise" where he has a total of 3 1/2 terabytes and I have less than half a terabyte. And he hardly ever does the dishes either!

  25. Ran Audacious and set preferences. Made a handful of playlists based on my singles directories, randomly sorted each, and played with shuffle. Then loaded an album and got it playing in order by track number.
  26. Discovered a weird bug that Audacious plays even when the Volume Control is muted and turning the volume up or down doesn't actually work; the icon changes but not the volume. The volume controls within Audacious were also not working. I installed pulseaudio and pavucontrol, then edited .config/openbox/lubuntu-rc.xml and rebooted. The Volume Control gave an error that it couldn't find pulseaudio until I ran it from the "run" on the taskbar menu. Apparently, pulseaudio is a command-line program and pavucontrol is the GUI for it, pavucontrol gives an error if pulseaudio is not running. I edited my /etc/rc.local file to run pulseaudio on startup.
  27. While researching how to get pulseaudio to start, I discovered shortcuts for all applications are located in /usr/share/applications so I cut-and-pasted the file for Task Manager to ~/.config/autostart so it would start on boot as I like to keep it open all the time and thus become familiar with the "normal" processes on any OS I use. I noticed there was a shortcut to the bluetooth manager in the autostart directory, so deleted it as I don't use that. Rebooted to check.
  28. Installed my Everett Kaser Software games. First, I ran the Configure Wine applet and set preferences. Then I opened a Terminal and navigated via cd to where the games files were located on my external drive. Once there, I ran wine setup.exe to install them. Installed smoothly with no problem and I played a few rounds of Honeycomb Hotel.

    Somewhere around 15-20 years ago, I downloaded a demo of a game called Sherlock from a BBS somewhere. Sherlock is a puzzle/logic type of game and quite compelling. And though the demo only had a limited number of levels, I played that thing for about a year. Then I searched for the author on the web and downloaded another demo and played that for a year or so. Then I met and married my husband and got him addicted to several of the games.

    And eventually, a few years back, I sprung for the $100 to buy the CD of all the games, over 20 of them (and he's added 10 new games since then). Since each of these games is the sort of thing you can play for a year or two before you get bored and move on and since there are two of us playing these games, we have already MORE than gotten our money's worth from the purchase - and there are several games that I have never even played yet!

    This was my biggest concern about moving to Linux as the games are not available. There are a few available for Android, but the phone screen is too small to get the really complicated levels happenning (even the netbook screen was too small to do high levels, had to use an external monitor).

    I knew I'd find a decent browser, a good text editor, a graphics design program, a word processor, a spreadsheet - all my old Windows software would be replaced. But there is no replacement for these games. I know there are other puzzle/logic games out there, but I don't want those, I want Honeycomb Hotel and Knarly Works and Fermat's Fences and Knarly Branches and Baker Street and Knarly Hexes and Greek Squares and Knarly Combs and... I had to get these working under Wine - these games are why I installed Wine at all.

    And hubby will never convert from Windows to Lubuntu unless he sees the machine is usable - which by definition means the EKS games are available!

  29. Downloaded XAMPP and ran file to install. Installation was fine and Xampp is available by browser at http://angua/xampp/ and via command-line at /opt/lampp/xampp but the GUI control panel was not added to the menu. The command for it is: /opt/lampp/share/xampp-control-panel/xampp-control-panel so I made a shortcut /usr/share/applications/xampp.desktop and ran lxpanelctl restart.
  30. Gimp tutorial - I tried out Gimp, using it to build the graphics for this blog's Facebook page. However, during the process, I realized there was a major shortcoming in Gimp, given how I make graphics, so I installed Macromedia Fireworks 4 and MS Image Composer 1.5 under Wine and they both work fine.

    Gimp handles text formatitng by adding layers. So if you have a piece of text, and add an outline, or shadow, it makes a new layer with the outline or shadow. So if you decide to edit the text, you have to delete the layers and remake them as they are for the old text.

    In Fireworks, I can apply all the effects I want to my text, and when I change the text, the effects go with them.

    I had 50 quotes to put on the same background, just changing the text of the quote and the text of the name of the person being quoted. In Fireworks, this would take me maybe 2 minutes each. In Gimp, it's more like 20 minutes each. No can do.

  31. About this time, I started actively using my computer though I have the few items below still on my "to do" list. I began surfing the web, Facebooking, writing blog posts, editing images, doing email... and then I checked Amazon for memory prices and realized I could upgrade my box from 512 Meg to 1 Gig of memoery for around $25. SCORE! So the rest of this list will happen after I install my memory.
  32. Install Filezilla and configur with all my connections from SmartFTP on the XP netbook.
  33. In my online travels, frozen-bubble was recommended as a particularly addictive game, so install that.
  34. Install Clonezilla and make an image of the current state of my hard drive to the big external drive so I have a "restore point."
  35. Install rdiff-backup and setup backups of F and root home directory to run weekly Wednesdays at 2 AM to the big external drive.
Lubuntu 12.04 download
Canon imageCLASS MF4350d driver
set root password (unlock root account)
how to set autologin
how to run Chromium as root
how to speed up Chromium (or Chrome)
install Samba
install Samba GUI
reduce swappiness
Ubuntu fstab documentation
copy Windows fonts
how to access shares via the file manager (equivalent of Network Neighborhood)
Dropbox download
make screen resolution stick after booting
make keyboard choice stick after rebooting
After Installing Lubuntu - Guide
fix for broken Volume Control
how to run command-line commands on boot
how to add startup applications
how to install Windows apps under Wine
Everett Kaser Software games
XAMPP download
how to install XAMPP control panel
how to edit menu
Gimp tutorials
general Ubuntu intro for newbies
Ubuntu forums - community support
Disclosure: Affiliate
If you have advice for a newbie, I'd love to hear it!