Q4OS First Tentative Steps

This article is not an in depth review of Q4OS, it’s more of a tale of my first weeks using it. It’s a user in transition story about a dyed in the wool Windows user changing to a Linux based operating system. If you are considering trying or switching to Q4OS or another Linux distribution then you might find it useful. I have had to tackle a few tasks to make the system do what I want it to, just like we all do so the solutions may give you an insight in to what it’s like living with it.

I have a couple of older laptops/netbooks and Windows has long since killed any performance that they may once have had. I’ve reduced the level of virus protection so that they don’t scan all files on startup and even that has left the idea of a five minute startup time being a hard task to meet.

The thing is that on the whole I like Windows. It’s something that has grown up during my lifetime and I’ve got used to it. It just doesn’t work for older machines in a way that makes the system a happy one. The increasing size and feature bloat limit the ability of an older machine to cope with startup and running the things that a user wants to do, leaving a machine that spends so long doing housekeeping that the user experience degrades rapidly.

How often do I have to start up the laptop and find it has to update its operating system. Or perhaps download bandwidth is strapped because Windows is downloading updates in the background. Both are not a big deal with enough horse power in the PC but both knock the hell out of the user interface of a low spec machine. We can’t all update our hardware every four or five years.

There are quite a few alternatives, there are a lot of Linux distributions, there are operating systems that replicate Windows and there are some that are completely different.

For a while I tried running an Acer aspire v5 as a chromebook using Cloudready, a Chrome OS distribution that basically converts your machine to a Chrome book. It works well, the only problems I have are that when it updates it forgets what sort of keyboard you have setup previously. And my main grouse is a problem with me, I can’t get to grips with the idea of having all that processing capability and disk space and it has to be linked to the internet to work. I know there are apps and extensions that work offline but they don’t do everything that I want to.  Others have found it to meet their needs, unfortunately it’s not for me.

So that leaves a quandry.

I found that a lot of alternate operating systems like Haiku and Reactos are OK but they feel like a kit of parts and leave me feeling unconnected to the information centres that I use to get my work done. They also tend to leave me with tools that don’t fit what I want to do.

In the end the answer came down to some form of Linux.

I’ve worked with Linux in a software design and development environment several times, editing, compiling etc are all things I’ve used. But we always went back to Windows to create and share documentation. Odd perhaps but it’s just easier on the whole. Especially when companies spend a fortune paying licenses for Microsoft office to have a consistent set of document types across a company.

Linux keeps moving on and it is stable and provides a working platform. There are lots of different flavours of Linux too which means that the look and feel is different all over. So there could well be one that works for me.

All the programs I need are there, in different qualities. I will even put up with Libre Office if I have to in order to create documents. It may work better under Linux that it does under Windows.

So which Linux will cause me least grief if I put it on a netbook or laptop?

I found Q4OS. It’s in the title of the post so I guess you worked that part out.

Q4OS has a live implementation that can be booted  as a pendrive using Rufus or something similar, or it can be burned on to a DVD for a more traditional approach.

I used the USB route since neither laptop has a DVD drive. Changing the boot priorities is straight forward so I ran up the live version. If you’re not familiar with the concept, the live version boots from the memory stick and doesn’t install anything on the PC so if it crashes and burns then you just turn it off and move on. Or get stuck in and try to make it work. I favour the former approach simply because if the live form of the system doesn’t work then it’s probably an uphill struggle to get it working. And at the end of the day I want to do things with the PC, not spend my days tweaking it.

So there’s a bit of a paradigm shift but Q4OS has a surprisingly Windows look and feel but it’s always going to feel a bit clunky because it’s not how Linux works under the hood.

I found it close enough to be comfortable though. It boots faster than Windows did on the same machine, and the desktop is not a million miles away from Windows.

So first thing to do was to get to grips with loading software. it’s not quite as easy as with a PC program and that’s overall a good thing and prevents a lot of trojan horse software because the software you load has been built to support the distribution.

It means that there is overall less choice of software but so far I’m not having a big problem with that. It was part of the trade off when finding an operating system that would allow the laptop to breathe and work.

There are two levels of software.

There is a Software Centre that provides basic program installation of:

  • Synaptic package manager
  • Google Chrome
  • Chromium
  • Firefox
  • Libre Office
  • Update Manager
  • VLC player
  • Multimedia codecs
  • Thunderbird
  • LookSwicher
  • Nvidia drivers
  • Network Manager
  • Skype
  • Wine
  • Blue Man
  • GParted
  • Virtual box

Doesn’t seem much but it’s enough to get you going.

The Synaptic package manager is a key piece of software here. It is your main access to programs that have been collected and massaged to run on the system. That’s not to say that you can’t download other software, it just becomes something that you have to know how to do. And I’m not there yet. So to start with I’m in that place where I have to work out what I want and find the best offerings from the Synaptic package manager.

I have installed a couple of image editors, a video editor, a Digital Audio Workstation and of course Google Chrome and Libre Office and a couple of text editors. It sounds a bit sparse but when I looked at what I use most that’s about it.

There are games and alsorts of utilities but so far I have decided to stay with what I need to have rather than be distracted. For once I have a decide what software I want to have on the PC.

Apart from feeling a bit clunky, it’s looking after me. It asks for confirmation when I delete things. Because it feels a bit different I’m learning things as well as remembering things.

The first major thing I needed to do (major in my mind only I hasten to add) was the working of my touchpad. I find that typing often leads to some part of my hands or fingers touching the touchpad and moving the cursor position in the document writing. It’s a right royal pain in the posterior when you’re touch typing away and realise that the insert point has just jumped up the page. I need to turn off the touch to select feature of the touchpad to stop that happening. I hedged around it for a while because I’m always skeptical about the up to dateness of documents.
Eventually I ended up editing the config file for the libinput driver that configures the touchpad.
The thing here is that when you find the file (/etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/60-libinput.conf) that is suggested in the setup information provided by Q4OS. The first thing you find is that you can’t edit it. It’s the basic security available in Linux, you have to edit the file as root user, so that it has the permission to change it.

You’ll have to give your login password to authorise it, then you’re good to go. I changed the Tapping option to false.

That was a guess, I don’t know anything else about the driver configuration, I’ll find out if and when I need to.

One of the things I do like is being able to share information between my machines using things like Dropbox and Google drive.

For Dropbox, and there’s a package called caja-dropbox available for that and it works really well, it gets you to log in to your dropbox account online and it gets authorisation to access the account.

For Google drive and others there is a package called rclone that does that but it’s a command line utility and my brain just says that having to type at a command line for something like this is just wrong. If I had a similar situation in Windows I would have created a batch file. In Linux you can create bash (shell like dos or cmd in Windows) scripts or use the installed Python interpreter to create scripts. I’ve used both in the past so I chose the Python script route.

I did a bit of research, I created a folder for my scripts, I added the folder to the PATH so that the operating system can find them from anywhere, and I added some clunky automation to the Google drive synchronisation so that I don’t have to remember the commands or where they are.

It’s an interesting example. Rclone (https://rclone.org/) is described elsewhere in detail so I will not dwell on functionality other than what I include here. It will happily access a lot of different cloud storage types.

So I followed the instructions, the ones at rclone.org are good but there are several others on the web if you need a different viewpoint to help you understand. Also doing it is so much simpler than it could have been.
I started by creating a configuration for rclone, I opened a terminal window (just like a dos prompt in Windows) and typed rclone config.
There are some options that say you can leave them blank so I did and that worked ok.
I selected n for new remote and gave it a name gdrive. That means in future when I use rclone i can refer to the cloud storage drive as gdrive: (the colon is required).
From the list of storage types I selected Google Drive, you enter the number from the list and the number may have changed now.
For scope of access I chose full access all files, option 1.
I gave no root ID
When asked for auto config I answered y for yes. It opened the web browser, let me log in and click the button to allow the program to access the files, and then when I came back it let me review my choices.
It looked OK so I said Y for OK.


When I ran rclone config again it showed gdrive as one of the current remotes. You can delete it and start again if you get it wrong so although command line utilities often seem a bit final and terse, it does have a friendly side.
I created a directory in my Documents directory (folder) for my local copy of the google drive.
The command structure for copying and synchronising files is simple.
rclone sync Source Destination
rclone copy Source Destination

So:

rclone sync gdrive: /home/username/Documents/gdrive

will synchronise the Google drive files to the local gdrive folder.

rclone sync /home/username/Documents/gdrive gdrive:

will synchronise the local files to the Google drive. Changing sync command to copy will copy the files as opposed to performing a two way synchronisation.

You can see that although it’s not onerous to type the line, you still have to do a lot of typing.

So I created four script files:

SyncFromGoogle.py
SyncToGoogle.py
CopyFromGoogle.py
CopyToGoogle.py

The code for each is pretty simple and is a variation on this:

#! /usr/bin/python

print(“Synchronising gdrive folder FROM Google drive”)

raw_input(“Press a key to continue:”)

import os
os.system(‘rclone sync gdrive: /home/username/Documents/gdrive’)

print(“Operation complete”)

What does it do? The first line tells Linux that it’s a script file and that it can be interpreted by the python interpreter.
The print command just writes to the screen.
raw_input writes the text in quotes to the screen and waits for keypress.
import os tells the program to import the commands for interacting with the operating system.
os.system will pass the text to the operating system so that it will be executed as if you had typed it at the command line. The text output by the command will appear on the screen.
Then there’s another print as before.
This one synchronises the gdrive folder From the Google drive.
I saved the file in a folder called myapps that I had created earlier. It’s just a way to keep my scripts together.
If you right click on the file in the file manager, there’s a checkbox to tick to say it’s executable, tick it to tell Linux that it’s an executable script.

 

You could do that from the command line but I will leave chmod 755 for you to work out if you really need it, and so far I haven’t needed to use it.

In the file manager if you go to to /home/username and select view>show hidden files you will find that there are loads of things that look really scary. So leave them alone unless you know what you’re doing. It’s more important to heed that advice in Linux.
The .profile file is the Linux equivalent of the autoexec.bat file where you can configure things to be set up on startup.
Edit the .profile file and look for a place where it says PATH=something or other, it should be at the end of the file that will be pretty short if it’s a new system.

Add the location of your apps directory with a comment to say what you’re doing.

# Add in my script directory path.
PATH=”/home/username/myapps:$PATH”

The # is a comment line. Whenever you add something to a script make sure you add a comment.
PATH is an environment variable that lets Linux find applications. The command above sets PATH to the apps path for myapps (/home/username/myapps in my case) and including it in the existing PATH. The colon (:) separates paths to search. $PATH represents the current path. So the command sets PATH value to the new directory location plus the existing path. You can get the path to your apps directory from the file manager location line.

I created a folder on the desktop called Google drive and added links to the applications (scripts) that I had added. Now I only have to double click on the links in the folders to execute the scripts. Clunky but operational and in control.

If you’re used to all that stuff then it’s simple, if you’re new to it then it might take a bit to get your head around it. Keep clicking and typing and you’ll get there and find that you learnt some useful stuff about Linux.

I’m not an expert, but I have been here before with Windows, Dos and Linux and I can search using Google to find the information that I need. At one time you had to read a book to learn it, think about that for productivity.

There are configurations that you can change in the operating system desktop. I have continued using the Trinity desktop because I find it most simple.

You can look at the programs by going to the start menu and clicking on Applications, then Programs and searching the list. If you use a program a lot then you can do right click and add to favourites. Or Right click and add to desktop.

You can add things to the quick launch area on the task bar by right clicking and unlocking it.

Then go to the programs that you want to add, right click and add to quick launch. You may have to resize the areas in the task bar to make room to see the program icons you add. Then lock the task bar again. It can be a bit fiddly with a touch pad but it works.

It takes a while to get used to things but when I think back, it took a while to get used to Windows in the early days (yes I am that old). It takes a long time to reconfigure Windows each time there’s a big release now too. Some people still don’t bother configuring their Windows to make life easy, but I’m not one of them.

So Q4OS, is it worth the effort?

If you take it steady, find out what you want to change and go and dig and play then you get there. There is forum support and online documentation to help and it feels a little familiar, even if it’s not quite what I’m used to. The point is that compared to some Linux systems I’ve used in the past it’s really getting there.

It works.

Some of the programs are iffy, I found one or two that don’t completely work, but it’s part of the learning. I’ve downloaded plenty of Windows programs that didn’t work.

Q4OS is a bit like being in a straight jacket at times, but that’s only because I haven’t learned how to undo the buckles with my toes yet. Nothing is really obvious, but Windows isn’t really obvious. I remember showing my Dad how to use Windows and he got there but for a while the single click, double click, click drag and all those actions we tend to take for granted, was a real trial for him. It’s only intuitive when you’ve been shown and accept the paradigm on offer. It’s just something we’ve been around for a long time.

I think that if I stay around Q4OS for a while and learn it bit by bit, it should be OK.

So far so good, I’m still using it.

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