Lenovo X131e – Cheap and Tough As Nails (Does That Even Make Sense?…)

I know, I know, this laptop is so old it could have grand-kids. Thing is I honestly think its a hidden gem of the tech wold. Nowadays our cheapest laptops are Chromebooks (and really not so cheap when it comes down to it in my opinion) but they are limited in what they can do. I mean sure they will perform what you need as long as you don’t need to use any other software than Google’s cloud services.

That said we are looking at an 11.6 inch AMD E2 1800 (1.7GHz) dual core powered laptop that was initially designed for the educational sector. Yeah the E2 1800 is a relatively weak processor nowadays but it’s still good enough to play some lightweight games in between tackling some email and commenting on your sister’s latest chocolate lab picture on Instagram.

While mine was successfully upgraded to Windows 10 Pro for free during Microsoft’s upgrade campaign at the launch of Windows 10 I really found the computer to be sluggish. I mean it was more responsive than Windows 10 but you could tell that the E2 1800 was really at the edge of real functionality. That combined with a 5400 RPM hard drive it really moved slow. Of course slow is relative and I am comparing to my Ryzen system Tantalus equipped with an overclocked R7 1700, 32GB of memory, Samsung EVO boot OS drive and crossfire RX 480s. Yeah so we’re looking at two extremes here.

As you’ve seen with some recent posts I have been exploring the world of Linux deciding if Linux would be the way to go for this laptop. Turns out Linux makes this laptop really sing. While the E2 1800 is ancient nowadays most Linux distributions are super speedy on the older hardware. Even with the slow laptop hard drive this system runs pretty quick. Again quick is relative but believe me I can tell the difference.fedora

So the final distribution I went with is Fedora. Now I didn’t use the default desktop environment of GNOME 3. I can’t stand GNOME 3. It’s just a slow way to navigate to anything you have installed on your computer. Graphically it looks neat but if functionality suffers that a negative point in my book. After the initial installation of Fedora I went ahead and installed the MATE desktop environment. It’s slightly lighter on the notebook’s resources but still looks good doing it’s thing.

I customized the desktop a bit to be sort of a hybrid of Windows and Mac. The default setup is to have a top and bottom taskbar. The top taskbar is really more of a menu bar for your programs and your settings. It also contains the clock, status icons and quick launch icons. This is OK to me but to make it better I removed the bottom taskbar completely to give me some more screen real estate in fullscreen mode and I added what’s called the Windows Selector which is the same as seeing what programs are open on the taskbar in Windows.

See this is what is great about Linux. It’s very customize-able and because of this you can really make your computer feel your own.

At idle the CPU runs at about 5 to 10 percent which is isn’t too bad and memory usage is around 1.1GB out of my upgraded 8GB of memory. Pretty great eh?

I haven’t gamed on the system yet though as this is primarily a mobile computer to use while I am on the road. Just basic web browsing, some YouTube and of course writing these articles for redbluegreen.ca.

Linux is a far cry from yesteryear where every five minutes something would go wrong and you’d inevitably have to open a terminal window and run some obscure commands you’ve never seen before but someone says to run them on a website somewhere, operating system. Yes that was a run on sentence but I think we can all agree. At least those of us that have used Linux in the past.

This all said right now on Ebay you can buy THREE of these laptops for $280 dollars US. That’s a bargain people especially if you are looking for a tough as nails laptop that can take a few hits and doesn’t take up a lot of room in your luggage.

Linux and You

I recently wrote about how the traditional operating system is declining in the consumer market and how devices like smart phones, tablets and Chromebooks are taking a commanding lead as they are simpler and deliver a lot of functionality for a smaller price.

It has come to my attention that lately one really does not need a powerful computer to do most of the things that one does. In fact my own Ryzen 7 system Tantalus is probably sitting on my desk wondering what all the other 15 cores are supposed to do while I surf the web. If course this changes when I fire up Forza Horizon 3 or any number of other games.

With this all in mind if you are building a computer that is really going to focus on browsing the internet and other sort of light tasks you really have to consider whether you want to spend the $150 to $250 CAD on Windows 10 Home or Professional when you can download Debian/Ubuntu or Fedora Linux for free.

So let me “sudo apt-get install” or “sudo dnf install” some knowledge in to your brain about the current Linux situation and why you should seriously consider Linux as your next operating system.

The first step in to the Linux environment can be a bit daunting to some as there are hundreds of flavours to choose from. In the land of Linux these are called distributions. They often are a slight customization of the Linux kernel (the stuff running in the background) but in more cases they use a highly customized desktop environment. A desktop environment is merely the graphical user interface you see when you login to your computer. If Linux does not have a desktop environment installed you only have access to the terminal command line which can be a bit of a pain. No worries though, most versions of Linux have a desktop environment installed by default (usually GNOME, KDE, or MATE).

Whoa now you say. GNOME? KDE? MATE? What language are you speaking? Well to tell the truth I don’t really know but what I can tell you is these are basically different user interfaces and again some versions of these you may like while others you may not. One of the most popular distributions today, and one you may have even heard of, is called Ubuntu. It used to use the GNOME desktop environment but with their latest editions they switched to an environment called Unity. While it certainly looks nice it has not been received well.

Here’s where things get interesting. Say you like Ubuntu but can’t stand the user interface. You’d like something more traditional with something like a start menu from Windows or something like the persistent title bar on a Mac. You can install a different desktop environment to make Ubuntu look and feel more like either of those. For instance, if you want a desktop environment similar to Windows you can install the Cinnamon or even the KDE desktop environment. Both are great choices. No they aren’t Windows but they do a pretty good job regardless. The only really good Mac desktop environment I have seen is the one included with Elementary OS which is based on Ubuntu.

I know. It still seems pretty daunting doesn’t it? I promise you it really isn’t. If you are interested in trying any of these Linux distributions out most have a live CD option that you can use. It will boot up to a temporary installation of Linux inside you RAM and let you try it out without erasing your already installed system and files. Pretty cool huh? Now a lot of people don’t have optical drives anymore and there are tools for that too. Just do a search for booting a Linux live CD from USB on Google. It will set you on the right path.

Now where Linux often fell flat in the past was with the actual installation of the operating system. Good news! Gone are the days of the non graphical user interface installation. We now have very easy to use installers. They are even good enough that if you want to keep Windows or Mac OS for any reason they will allow you to install Linux beside Windows so you can boot to either whenever you like. The installers all make it very easy if you read the instructions. I won’t lie, it’s still not as easy as installing Windows 10. That is incredibly easy now. But don’t let that discourage you.

I have, over the last half a year, been installing and trying out different distributions of Linux and I gotta say the easiest to install was Fedora. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the installer used but it’s so easy it almost feels like one forgot to do something. Debian/Ubuntu installations are almost as easy though.

I can hear you screaming your question. How is Linux to use everyday? Again, I won’t lie, it may take a little bit to get used to where things are and how to get programs but after an hour or so it really feels good. All your regular apps are here for the most part. Firefox and Chromium (Linux’s version of Google Chrome) are both easily available on software repositories to download.

O.O

Software repositories? What the heck, Jeff? You said this was easy.

Stay calm. Think of software repositories as Linux’s version of an App Store. Except everything is free. Yep, welcome to open source. Free software baby! Almost every distribution has a different name for their repository so the best thing to do is look through your menus for something like Software Manager or Software or something to that affect.

If you are willing and want to look like a script kiddy to all your friends you can bring up the dreaded TERMINAL!!! Back in the day you had to drop down to the terminal all the time to get things to work in Linux. Now it feels more like using the Command Prompt on a Windows machine. Yeah you may need to pop open a Terminal window sometimes but you don’t really need to unless you are really playing around with Linux. That said, if one wanted to install say, Libre Office on to a Debian/Ubuntu or Fedora based system you would type the following:

Debian/Ubuntu

sudo apt-get install libreoffice

Fedora

sudo dnf install libreoffice

What you are saying with the above commands are as follows:

sudo – this puts you in to a super-user/administrator mode and after you type in the rest of your command it will ask you for your username password to continue.

Apt-get/dnf – These are the different package installer programs in Debian and Fedora. They both do essentially the same thing which is unpack the software you want to install.

Install – is just as it says. This commands the software un-packer to install the software that you specify next.

Libreoffice – that is the software you wanted to install. You can put anything behind this if you know what you are looking for. If the installation errors out that often means that either something was miss-spelled or the software you are looking for is not listed in the repository.

Now there are other commands you can run before this to make sure you get the latest software but you can discover these things on your own. That’s part of the fun of Linux. The community has gotten very large and often the solution to questions or problems are only a Google search away.

Now many people write-off gaming when it comes to Linux and when it comes to what is available on the repositories I wouldn’t blame you. That said Steam is available on Linux and there are a good amount of titles that will run on Linux. After you install Steam you can explore what is compatible in your library already and you can search for more compatible Linux titles on the Steam store.

If I haven’t scared you off yet I’d love to recommend a few different Linux distributions to try out.

Debian – This is the distribution that Ubuntu is based on. Debian tends to be more conservative in it’s approach to updates in favour of complete stability. Debian based distributions also tend to have more available software-wise on their respective repositories that other based distributions.

Fedora – This is currently my favourite distribution. Fedora tends to be the most up to date and is usually on the bleeding edge of the latest and greatest as it comes to Linux. The drawbacks are sometimes compatibility and stability suffer sometimes (though I have not had a problem). Fedora also tends to have less software in their official repository but there are ways to add more. Again a Google search is the best way to figure these things out.

ZorinOS – This is the one of the nicest looking distributions out there right now and if you are familiar with Windows this distribution will keep you happy. It is based on Ubuntu so it has all the advantages and disadvantages of Debian.

ElementaryOS – I mentioned this earlier as a great starting point for someone moving from Mac OS. This has a very similar interface and again it is based on Ubuntu so it has all the advantages and disadvantages of Debian.

So can you use the above out of the box to surf the web? Yes. Absolutely. They have all you need. You can even play some games. Linux no longer has to be relegated to your older PC (though that’s a great place for it if you want to revitalize an old piece of hardware) installing it on modern hardware can create a speedy and pleasurable experience to be sure.

Have you tried any distributions of Linux? What was your favourite? Did you have any struggles? Let me know in the comments.

Is the Traditional Operating System Dead?

First, this story is dry. I mean, who cares about the operating system their running as long as it allows them to do what they need. Am I right? We are more interested if we can “like” a post on facebook or see the latest perfect chocolate cake on Instagram. It’s hard to make a post about operating systems interesting. But bear with me, this article may just enlighten you or at least you’ll learn how a truck driver spends his off time waiting for his hours to roll over so he can drive again.

This question has been coming up lately as the relevance of Windows and Mac OS seems to be declining. The rise of what I call the “pseudo-OS” ,like those of Android and iOS, have made phones and tablets relatively powerful in the grand scheme of things. While I am more likely to recommend a regular PC, for what I call “real computing”, more and more mobile devices are capable of handling these tasks.

In fact, today it’s hard to think of a task that really requires Windows or Mac OS to complete. One can do all their internet browsing and social media(ing?) on their phones quite easily with all the available apps out in the wild. In fact there are apps out there now that you can’t even use a PC or Mac to access like Instagram.

So I guess I should start with “pseudo-OS” and what they are all about. Well as, I have said, these OS’ tend to be locked down on mobile devices. Android, iOS and Tizen are all examples of these. They are operating systems that are less configurable than a regular Windows or Mac desktop and are limited to using the applications found on their respective app stores.

There are benefits to systems like Android and iOS however. These mostly have to do with security. Having a locked down store for downloading applications is a great way to keep dodgy software away (though not completely sometimes). Also having many aspects of the devices locked is a benefit to security as well since applications can’t slip code in where they aren’t supposed to do so.

A full operating system like Windows, Mac OS or Linux (Debian, Fedora, etc.) has access to a software/app store (at least nowadays – this wasn’t always the case) but also a plethora of other applications by other companies specializing in different types of unique software. Windows and to a certain extent Mac OS and Linux also provide access to triple-a gaming that often can’t be found on lesser powerful devices that often run the “pseudo-OS’” mentioned earlier.

However with the ability to use all these different programs there becomes a problem with security. Inherently, with a system that can use all kinds of programs from anywhere that is also not locked down like Android or iOS, it becomes important to become wary of what you download and install. Since these programs can run at a much lower level they can do nasty things to computers.

But with the sales ever increasing with notebooks with Google’s Chrome OS (Chromebooks), that rely heavily on Google’s cloud services over an internet connection, and the recently announced Windows 10 S, that will only run applications downloaded from the Windows Store, are we seeing the end of the traditional operating system as we know it?

I think in the consumer space the traditional operating systems of old are diminishing in their relevance. The traditional PC has been seeing a decline in sales for years now and for the most part on the consumer side of things the PC enthusiast is what’s keeping the PC alive. That is likely why AMD decided to launch their enthusiast and gaming Ryzen CPU’s first instead of their data-centre and APU chips.

That said when it comes to PC sales the bulk are being sold in the commercial sector to offices all around the world. It turns out a lot of the software companies who sell us their services or products still rely heavily on traditional operating systems to fulfill their tasks. Let’s be honest here, can you really see yourself doing spreadsheets and word processing on a tablet or phone? Sure in a pinch you can but it’s much easier to complete these tasks with a larger screen, keyboard and mouse. Sure there are wild cards out there that are more than happy to just use their tablet or phone for these things but they are in a small minority, at least at this point.

Another fact we have to look at here is that the sales of tablets and smart phones are declining as well. One of the best known producers of tablets and smart phones, Apple, has been seeing declining sales on their iPad devices and to help curb this recently dropped the price of their iPad’s and added more power under the hood hoping to rekindle the tablet spark in their customers. It remains to be seen if they are successful or not.

So on one hand we are seeing the decline of personal computers along with the traditional operating system. On the other hand we are seeing a decline in smart phone and tablet sales and thus the “pseudo-OS” along with them.

Confusing, no?

These trends can be explained for the most part and don’t really rely on what kind of operating system they are running.

Personal computers used to be where everyone went to communicate and do their social networking. That just isn’t the case any longer. Smart phones have become powerful enough that they can do all these things.

But then why have smart phone sales dropped? Well as it stands now most consumers have powerful enough phones to do what they want already and, in a lot of cases, are loathed to sign up for yet another contract just so they can afford to buy the latest Samsung or Apple devices that cost upwards of nearly $1000 CAD. Why buy a phone when the one they have is working just fine?

So is the traditional operating system dead? No, not completely. As long as there are commercial users of these things the traditional operating system will never die.

Will “pseudo-OS’” take over on the consumer side? Yes for the most part they will. Right now you can get flavours of Android, such as Remix OS that will run on many personal computers. Many rumours are going around that Apple is interested in dropping Mac OS altogether in favour of iOS on all it’s devices.

There will always be niche sectors for the traditional operating system. One of the largest niche’s is gaming. Many games out there require high-end hardware to run at reasonable speeds and quality that just aren’t available on the mobile market or “pseudo-OS’”.

As much as it makes a computer enthusiast like me shudder to think that we are looking at a future of these newer operating systems it’s also becoming a necessity to run these as they are mostly more secure that a traditional operating system like Windows or Mac OS.

The operating system is dead! Long live the operating system!