Whatever Tim Feels Like Posting

Author: ramblings

DISTRO FEVER! Why Did I Switch From Linux Mint Cinnamon To Kubuntu?

Tim Hilliard, 4/22/2022

Background: Using Mint Cinnamon:

I’ve been using Linux Mint Cinnamon as my day-to-day operating system on my most-used computer system for years now. I was settled on it for my Linux computing by about 2010, and when I stopped using any Windows about 2015 it was my choice for my “daily driver” as they say. I also use it on my Intel-based laptop, though I use the Arch-based Manjaro distro (with a KDE-Plasma desktop environment) for my ARM-based PineBook and my RaspberryPi. I had started to really like the KDE Plasma desktop (I’ll say KDE from now on).

Why was I using Mint? Well, it’s stable, it has good online support, and it’s attractive in a conservative, old-version-of-Windows way. Almost all my software and services worked well. Also, it has regular updates for security and bug-fixes yet rarely changes much in look, feel, and usability. No surprises.

On the other hand it doesn’t allow easy customization and is slow to adopt cutting-edge services and standards. Also it tends to lag with the Linux kernel adoption, staying with older ones. I also lost my ability to do screenshots without a third-party add-in, which was irritating. One more thing was that I was having problems with my printer connection – to use my wireless printer I had to turn it off and on to refresh it.

Considering KDE:

However, as I said, I was using KDE on my PineBook and RaspberryPi. I had come to like the almost endless configurability of KDE, and have come to be less conservative in my Linux preferences, and more appreciative of cutting-edge updates and more current kernels.

Looking at KDE I considered the Manjaro version I was using on the ARM machines, but decided not to use that. First, I am used to the whole “Aptitude” world for software package management and find it more instinctive to use. Manjaro uses the Arch-based PACMAN. Second, I could not get my VPN software to run on the Manjaro.

Kubuntu is a “flavor” of Ubuntu. If you count standard Ubuntu, its various flavors, and the Distros based on it (including Mint), a lot of the Linux world is using some sort of Ubuntu. That makes for a huge base of users and developers for support. It has a very reliable update system for security and bugs and a regularly scheduled system for feature updates.

The feature updates are every April and October, with long term support (LTS) every even-numbered year in April. The versioning uses the year and month hence 22.04 for the current version – yes, the month I am writing this.

Long story short, or at least shorter, I decided to try Kubuntu on my desktop computer. First I tried it on an older desktop computer I was working on (actually a Mac) and found that the printer problem was gone, and the VPN software loaded with no issue. So, I used a live-boot USB thumb drive to test it on my desktop, with very good results. Finally, I decided to do some backup and make the plunge to install.

Target Computer:

My desktop is an older but still powerful Dell Precision Xeon-based tower, with 36 GB RAM, a 120 GB SSD for /root, a 2 TB hard drive for /home, and a 4 TB hard drive for more storage. It has two 6-cored Xeon processors, NV50 nVidia graphics card, and is connected to two 27-inch 1080p monitors.


I have not previously used any Ubuntu except to load briefly and look at.

In the past, I have mostly used Mint with Cinnamon and Manjaro with KDE on various machines.


I chose the latest version, Kubuntu 22.04, released on the very day I installed it. I waited a few days when I realized the new version was about to be released. I selected support for proprietary drivers for NVIDIA and third-party graphics codecs. I downloaded it from Kubuntu’s site (3.4 GB). I used a USB thumb drive with Ventoy for installation (see https://www.ventoy.net for info on this great tool for “distro-hoppers”).

The installation was very smooth and went quickly. It first takes you to a live desktop and they you can run the install from there. As with most Linux distros you get a choice of installing full-disk or “other.” Even though I was “nuking” my old Mint install, I went with “other” so I could save the /home (all my data, settings, etc.) on the 2 TB hard drive.

I rebooted and did a bunch of coordinating my data and settings from the old user directory (from Mint) to my new Kubuntu user. I’d chosen a slightly different username so the old data wouldn’t be overwritten. Copying the setup from my browser (Firefox) and e-mail software (Thunderbird) to the new directory meant that both packages ran seamlessly. All my accounts, mail, addresses, add-ins, etc. in Thunderbird and all my bookmarks, add-ins, customization, etc. in Firefox worked the first time I ran them.

General Use:

So, now I am really “there” and first, let me say the default wallpaper is UGLY! It is a retro abstract graphic. Quickly I went to change it to some of my own photos (see screenshot below).

A few first impressions:

  • I was pleased that Kubuntu allowed different pictures on each monitor right out of the box. Mint needed a third-party add-in to allow that.
  • My printer was automatically installed and seems to work every time now.
  • My VPN software installed and ran with no problem.
  • Almost all my other software installed without a hitch.
  • Even some software that is native to non-KDE desktops, such as Gnome Boxes (virtual machine manager) worked.
  • Screenshots worked again.

A few things needed more effort.

  • My media server software ran fine but I had to jump through some hoops to get it to find my media directory which is too big to fit on the SSD I use for the /root drive which is where the software seems to like it. I eventually got it working.
  • Google Earth (I know! Not open-source) isn’t in the repository of software packages so I downloaded the package from Google and double clicked on it. It did not want to install at first, saying I was missing dependencies. So I tried opening the downloaded package with Ubuntu’s software store, Discover, and amazingly it installed and works fine.
  • While I am confessing to non-open-source software, I still can’t live without the Windows-only graphics utility IrfanView (https://www.irfanview.com/) Wine was not preloaded so I had to install it but it went easily and recognized IrfanView right away.
  • I’m still playing with the configuration – remember that KDE lets you play to no end with look and feel.

Memory Use:

With nothing explicitly running except the System Monitor, the machine was using 2.2 GB of RAM. Seems like a lot, but with this machine’s 36 GB RAM it’s not much of an issue.


  • Easy to install.
  • Runs well.
  • Fairly snappy despite not being a lightweight operating system.
  • Stability seems very good.
  • Good-looking interface.


  • Memory use may be a bit high.


I am happy with the switch (after just one day) but will update this blog after I have been living in this environment for a while.


The PinePhone: a smartphone aimed at computer enthusiasts


I have been playing with a PinePhone, specifically the “PinePhone Beta Edition with Convergence Package Linux Smart Phone” according to their website.

PinePhone – Yes, I have already managed to crack the screen, through no fault except my own! Operating system shown in all pictures: Mobian.

The company, known as Pine64, describes itself as “a community-driven company focused on creating high-quality, low-cost ARM devices and, more recently, RISC-V devices for individuals and businesses around the globe.” They make a wide variety of devices, including computer components and accessories, single-board computers, ARM-based laptops, tablets, a smartwatch, a soldering iron…

One focus of Pine64 has been developing an open-hardware smart-phone that will run Linux and other operating systems that are not necessarily developed by Google, Apple, or Microsoft. As a long-term Linux user, I was interested in Linux on a phone but put off by the difficulties of putting Linux on a commercial phone, including finding a compatible device, “rooting” the hardware to allow me to put the software on it, finding the software version that would work, and so on.

See https://www.pine64.org/ for more information about the company and https://wiki.pine64.org/wiki/PinePhone for more about the PinePhone.

Obtaining the PinePhone:

You order a PinePhone from Pine64’s web page. They do business a little bit differently than other companies. When you make an order, it goes into a queue and when they have enough orders based on some number they have in mind they ship a bulk order to a major destination and then ship the individuals from there. So the shipping time can vary quite a bit – my phone took about 4 weeks.

Visit the PineStore at https://pine64.com/ for details.


As much of the hardware as possible is open source. This means the designs are available and nothing legally stops another party from building it. It comes with six physical privacy switches that allow you to actually turn off various parts of the hardware (as compared to just telling the software to turn it off, and trusting the software to do so). These switches are for the cellular modem, WiFi and Bluetooth, microphone, rear camera, front camera, and headphone. This allows a privacy level unheard of in major commercial phones.

The PinePhone is “rooted” from the factory. In other words, the user can put operating systems on it without hacking. In general, it has fairly low hardware specs compared to modern “flagship” phones like the iPhone 11 or Samsung Galaxy S21. The PinePhone is clearly for a different market than those phones. If you want flashy hardware and the latest features, stay away from the PinePhone. However, it’s the phone for you if you want to be able to run an independent operating system, control the hardware, hack and experiment, and have full control over privacy.

PinePhone connected to the USB-C docking station included with the Convergence Edition PinePhone.

Operating Systems:

The PinePhone comes with internal memory which can be used for the operating system. There is also MicroSD slot that also can be used to boot the operating system, like some computers but unlike any other phone I can think of. This makes it very easy to try different operating systems.

There are already around 20 available operating systems, most being derivations of Linux or Android. Users may find that some operating systems fit their needs better than others.

On the graphical desktop many Linux programs will work, especially if they have a somewhat low demand for resources. I even got LibreOffice to run – though not well! Using Linux-based systems also means that PinePhone users can open a terminal window and work from the command line.


Briefly, the edition I have is about the size and weight of an iPhone 11, has a 6-inch 1440×720 display, 3Gb of RAM, and a 2800 mWa battery. This model comes with a version of Manjaro Linux installed, with a desktop based on KDE. It also includes a nifty little USB-C docking station that can connect to an external monitor, wired Ethernet, power, USB3, and other things. Using the docking station, the phone can drive an external display up to Ultra-HD (3840×2160 display).

You can also get a less expensive edition that has only 2GB of RAM and does not include the USB-C docking station.

Full specifications at: https://wiki.pine64.org/wiki/PinePhone#Specifications.

First Impressions:

When I am ready, I will be posting another entry on detailed use of the PinePhone, so I’ll be brief here.

  • Software availability is still somewhat limited. For example, you won’t find an app for your bank or coffee shop!
  • Each of the available operating systems is unique and has a different level of development, so you should try several.
  • Software capabilities are also somewhat limited. The chat app can’t accept images, and the camera app takes mediocre pictures at present.
  • Cellular, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity work as expected.
  • The USB-C Docking Station works great, even on my laptop.
  • Driving an external monitor works well from a hardware standpoint, but integration of the screen on the phone with the external one takes some fiddling.
  • External keyboard and mouse work fine.

Bottom line? This device is a lot of fun, but it’s not ready for being your daily-use cellphone unless simple calls and basic pure-text messages are all you require, and you are ready for some hacking.

PinePhone (little thing in middle) with dock, keyboard, mouse, and external monitor and a few things running.

​A Slice of Raspberry Pi 400

How I got baked into this…

I was offered the short-term use of a brand new Raspberry Pi 400 Personal Computer Kit, and leapt at the chance. The kit comes with the actual Raspberry Pi 400, a matching mouse, a power supply a 16 Mb MicroSD memory card and a cable for connecting an HDMI monitor or TV to a Micro-HDMI port on the Pi.

I have been a longtime users and fan of the Raspberry Pi family of single board computers. These little boards can be used as regular computers, as the “brains” in a robot or drone, as the controller for a scientific or industrial system, as a file server, or about anything you can think of.

Part of what I love is that they come as a simple little board and anything else you want you can make or buy and add on to the board. This leaves a lot to the imagination, and the original purpose of the Raspberry Pi was as an educational tool, so imagination is key.

So I had a bit of skepticism about a Raspberry Pi that was a complete computer, in a case that was also a keyboard, and even (in the current configuration) as a kit which just needs a monitor added.

First taste of Pi

It’s really too cute – a tiny keyboard, white on top and red underneath, no bigger than the keyboard area on a small laptop. And, with a computer inside it. The attractive package is also solidly built and solid feeling. The Super Key (“Windows key” to some people) has a raspberry on it. It has led lights for power, capslock, and numlock.

On the back there are ports for gigabyte wired Ethernet, USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, USB C (for power-in only), two Micro-HDMI ports for connecting monitors, a slot for a MicroSD card (used as main storage memory), and a 40-pin GPIO port that can be configured for anything a tinkerer can think of.

Inside is a quad-core 64-bit ARM processor running at 1.8 GHz. Bluetooth connectivity, and b/g/n/ac wireless.

As I noted above, the package I borrowed includes the power supply, HDMI cable, memory card, and mouse. It also has a well-written 250 page book on getting started with the Pi 400.

Rolling out the Pi crust

One way that this system still allows for the imagination to roll free is that you can have some choice in operating systems. The kit comes with a memory card that boots into a menu that allows you to choose and install an operating system. I chose the default, Raspberry Pi’s own RaspberryPi OS (PiOS), a version of Debian Linux with small modifications for Raspberry Pis.

First run/setup was easy, mostly automatic, with an update and a restart following.

After rebooting, it’s ready to use. It comes with a small but useful component of software including Chromium Browser (open-source version of Chrome), LibreOffice Suite, some games and some programming tools, VLC for multimedia, etc. One interesting add-in is Wolfram Mathematica software that they put in under a special license from Wolfram that allows non-commercial use of this scientific software.

It’s running an up-to-date version 5.10 Linux kernel. Overall responsiveness seems pretty good. It connected to my network file server easily (some systems don’t). Even with software that asks a lot of the system (for example, LibreOffice, or browsers) it moves along at a pretty acceptable pace.

While the small selection of software is pretty useful, the “Recommended Software” entry in the menu doesn’t give much extra. I immediately added Synaptic, a powerful tool though a little less that user-friendly tool for adding more software packages. I had to add Synaptic from the command line (“sudo apt install synaptic”) and then could use it to add more software like Mozilla Firefox to replace the Chromium browser, and other favorites to the user’s tastes.

I also tried out a 4K monitor, to see if it would work, and it did but only at 30 Hz, a slow refresh rate.

Did you try other flavors?

I also tried the Pi400 with Manjaro ARM, which has been my favorite distro for ARM-based computers lately. It is on my Pi4 and my PinebookPro laptop. For the Pi400, I used it with KDE Plasma desktop environment. Since Manjaro is a “rolling” release, it updates frequently and supports the latest hardware and software.

The installed software is similar to that of PiOS, but does have Mozilla Firefox in place of Chromium, and, unlike PiOS, includes GIMP for higher end graphics editing. Software management is not user-friendly, but the provided package manager (PAMAC) is very comprehensive.

So all in all how did the Pi taste?

It’s worth repeating that it’s a pretty cute little unit! It is also well-made, pretty snappy, and supports a lot of software and hardware. While the original modular Raspberry Pi form factor still is more appealing to me, I concede that this would be a better choice for anyone who wants a small, inexpensive computer and doesn’t want to do a lot of customization.

The complete kit is available for about $100 in a variety of online merchants.


A light-hearted poke at people who say they don’t need online security because they “have nothing to hide”

Please fill in the following
information and send it to me.

See below for more information.

Name ___________________________________

Address ___________________________________

Social Security Number ___________________________

Phone Number _______________________________

Phone Password/Code _________________________________

Drivers License Number ____________________________________

Passport Number ___________________________________

Credit Card Number __________________________________

Three-Letter Code On Back Of Credit Card ___________________________________

Credit Card Expiration Date __________________________________________

Bank Name ______________________________________

Bank Account Number _____________________________

Debit Card PIN ____________________________________

Mother’s Maiden Name ______________________________

E-mail Address _____________________________

E-mail Password ____________________________________

Amazon Username _________________________________

Amazon Password ______________________________________

If you wouldn’t want to make this info public,
you should be taking measures to ensure your online privacy! For example…

  • Security measures in your browser
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN)
  • Anti-virus / malware software
  • Advanced password management (complex passwords, different for each site, two-factor, password manager, etc.)
  • Secure your phone
  • Take steps to avoid tracking
  • Never respond (or even open) Spam mail
  • In general, learn about privacy and security and take it seriously!

A year of using a Pinebook Pro as my main laptop computer

Tim Hilliard

I have been using my Pinebook Pro as my main laptop for a year now. While I still use a desktop computer most of the time, I use the Pinebook Pro for anything I would use a laptop for including quite a few online meetings using Jitsi and occasionally Zoom.

The Pinebook Pro (PBP) is a laptop computer designed as a prototype (maybe a proof-of-concept?) of an ARM-based, inexpensive, Linux-centric laptop aimed more at hobbyists and die-hard Linux users than at general users. Basic specs are:

Rockchip RK3399 SOC with Mali T860 MP4 GPU
1080p IPS Panel
Magnesium Alloy Shell body
Bootable Micro SD Slot
64GB of eMMC (Upgradable)
USB 2.0, 3.0
USB-C (Data, Power and Video out)
Lithium Polymer Battery (10000mAH)
Stereo Speakers
WiFi 802.11 AC + Bluetooth 5.0
Headphone Jack
Front-Facing Camera (1080p)
ISO & ANSI Keyboard Variants
Privacy Switches for Camera, Microphones and BT/WiFi
Large Trackpad
UART Access via Audio Jack
Barrel Power (5V 3A) Port

For details see the PBP webpage.

Is it a viable low-cost laptop for anyone to use?

Maybe not everyone, but it is a reasonable alternative for many people. I would say it was good for anyone who is already used to using Linux, is willing to deal with a few quirks or limitations that require some adjustments or tweaks on the user’s part, and doesn’t need blazing speed.

Since it is different from other laptops I would hesitate to suggest a user who hasn’t used Linux start right in with it; they would be having a hard time knowing whether issues were due to Linux or due to the PBP.

Some of the quirks or limitations I think the user would have to be accepting of include the smallish keyboard. I haven’t used the ISO keyboard, just the ANSI, so my comments refer to it. The keyboard has the letters standard size, but not as many other keys to make up for the small overall area of keys. For example, the backspace and delete keys are combined so you need to use “function-backspace” for “delete.”

Additional quirky aspects include the lack of a graphics subsystem aside from that built into the ARM chip, no easy way to add internal SSD drives, and the inability to upgrade the memory from 4 GB. For me, the biggest hardware issue was related to external monitors, of which I will address more completely below. The solution to my issues was simple but is a clear example of why I don’t recommend the PBP to someone not willing to get their hands a bit dirty, so to speak…

As for the speed, it’s a $200 laptop running on an ARM chip with memory fixed at 4 GB – the somewhat slow speed is a given and if that is a deal-breaker for a user, they should shy away.

So why does it work for me?

As a longtime Linux user the fact that it comes with Linux was a point in favor of it for me. The quirks of the hardware don’t bother me. I usually prefer to use external storage for files I plan to work on when I am on a laptop anyhow, which the USB-C and USB-3 ports make easy. The keyboard is not an issue for me aside from the aforementioned lack of a delete-key, which I am now used to. And the speed isn’t a problem for me – running Manjaro ARM, avoiding tasks that bring it to its knees, and occasionally being patient are enough to make it work for me. Booting up, loading the OS, etc. are quick, the slowness is usually only noticeable when starting a new software instance where the package is fairly large – LibreOffice for example.

Using it over the last year as my secondary home computer (any time I want to use a computer away from my desktop), traveling machine, and go-to platform for videoconferencing, it has been great. Traveling it has been nice to have such a compact machine in cafes, hotel rooms, and when in other people’s homes.

It runs very cool. There is only passive cooling and it has no internal moving parts. It seems pretty rugged for such a lightweight item, and the hinges are suitably stiff. The screen is maybe slightly dark but I only notice it when I have a second monitor attached to compare it to.

I first used the OS that was included last year, Armbian Mate, and had some issues. I don’t really like Mate and when I heard that Manjaro was the new shipping OS, I tried it and was hooked. The KDE desktop is so clean and snappy, and almost everything has been working well.

Almost everything? Well, the Armbian had better PBP-specific utilities,such as a CPU speed “applet” that showed the speeds of all 6 cores. I haven’t found such a beast for Manjaro.

The ARM chip might limit some software choices, but I haven’t really had a problem. I don’t think you can use Wine, and sometimes a piece of software in the repositories will say something like “not available for this architecture. Nothing I could do would make the LibreOffice spellchecker work until I tried installing it from Snap (https://snapcraft.io/) and it has been flawless since. The repositories did not let me install DarkTable so I assumed it was incompatible, but then I tried it from a from Snap and again it works well. I use DarkTable on the PBP for editing RAW graphics files on the road and it does severely test the machine’s speed!

The issue I mentioned before with an external monitor was that an upgrade to version 5.8 of the Linux kernel broke my USB-C to HDMI connection. The solution, easily found in the great PBP forums, was to use a PBP-specific kernel installed at the command line. After a few weeks I went back to the regularly updated kernels and the problem was fixed. I am letting it update as Manjaro wants to now, which means you get a newly updated kernel about 2 weeks after it is released – time for the bugs to be sorted out, I guess.

One other hardware issue for me has been that the touch-pad is very sensitive and messes up my typing – already poor – when I brush across it. Since I rarely use a touch-pad I just turn it off by clicking on an icon in the system tray. I think Pine has a fix for this on their website but I haven’t applied it.

I bought a generic, inexpensive USB-C hub from Anker to use as a pseudo-docking station, and it works very well. The HDMI output drives the external monitor without issues. Anything I have connected has worked well, including wireless mouse, printer, camera, and phone. The KDE Connect software was preinstalled and works well with an Android phone, something I find especially handy when traveling.

Battery life is excellent.

The tiny size, light weight, and rugged magnesium case are real pluses.

What’s the bottom line?

As I see it, most existing Linux users would be able to use the PBP without being cutting-edge addicted Linux nerds, but on the other hand Linux “noobs” with an aversion to tinkering a bit should be wary of getting one.