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The Ideal Linux Desktop - page 2

What Goes Into a New (or Gently Used) System

  • February 5, 2009
  • By Bruce Byfield

Right now, I'm using Debian on my main workstation and Fedora on my main laptop. I use Debian because of my long familiarity with it and because stability is what I want in a workstation. By contrast, I use Fedora to keep me in touch with RPM-based package management and because many innovations in GNU/Linux generally appear in Fedora first.

However, software freedom is an increasing priority for me. More and more, there seem to be fewer and fewer reasons for compromising it. Since Debian has voted to ignore the inclusion of proprietary firmware in its repositories, my next workstation may use GNewSense, which is based on Debian by way of Ubuntu, but at least tries to remove proprietary elements. For the same reason, I am inclined to replace Fedora with Blag, although I'll check first to see how whether the Fedora install option to remove proprietary firmware is permanent or whether the proprietary package needs to be deleted with every kernel upgrade. I will also look closely at GNewSense's and Blag's repositories to check what software is available.

Software selection

Desktops tend to accrue to my systems, because I am always experimenting with new ones. At installation time, however, I generally install GNOME, KDE, and Xfce. Although I spend most of my time in GNOME, I refuse to cut myself off from such KDE applications as digiKam or KPDF, or Xfce ones like Xfmedia, whose small desktop footprint makes it ideal for transcribing recorded interviews. Often, too, I switch my main desktop in the hopes of keeping myself informed. In total, the three desktops occupy only a few gigabytes -- a small exchange in hard drive space in return for the freedom to work with the applications I prefer.

Once I finish installing, my second step is to upgrade the system. The third, whenever the distribution is supported, is to run Bastille to tighten security. The average modern distribution has become so lax about security that you can easily increase security several notches without any inconvenience. I prefer programs like Bastille to ones like SE Linux (although I use both kinds), because Bastille takes a pre-emptive approach to security rather than a reactive one. When Bastille does not support a distribution I'm going to use for a while, I run it on another machine and use it as a guide to doing my own system hardening.

Much of my everyday software is installed by default by most distributions, including Firefox, the GIMP, and OpenOffice.org. To these basics, I make a point of adding SpamAssassin to help deal with junk emails, Inkscape for vector graphics work, gFTP for file transfers, Amarok for music, and Xchat for IRC. My bias is towards programs with small desktop footprints and extensive customization features, because I like maximum space for my work, and have strong opinions on the subject of fonts and backgrounds.

I submit much of my work in HTML, so HTML editors are an important consideration. For quick and dirty HTML, I add KompoZer, but much of the time, I work in Bluefish, a non-WYSIWYG editor that automates the adding of format tags -- the perfect compromise, I think, between the clean code you get with manual inputting and the convenience of graphical editors.

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