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MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

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thomasl
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MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#1

Post by thomasl » Thu Mar 14, 2019 9:37 am

It is now a little over a year that I started to work with MX Linux in earnest (17.1 then, 18.1 now). Before that I played around with various distros but made no effort to install and commit to one of those. The basic idea is/was to complement and ultimately replace Windows 7 on my two main PCs (and in the long run on the other PCs/laptops in use here) with a GNU/Linux distro within a time frame of around two years (Windows 10 being the complete abomination it is).

Perhaps it's time for a first review (warning: not everything ahead will please diehard GNU/Linux fanbois). I should also add this is a journey and that these remarks reflect the state of play as of today. There will changes as (hopefully) my know-how expands, existing software gets better and new software becomes available.

1. The Good
The good news is that MX Linux is mostly capable to be a replacement for my Windows 7 installation. The main positive points I took away from my year-long exploration are:
  • Frugal installation mode and the persistence/snapshot tools of MX are in a league of their own. This toolset is one of the top reasons why I chose MX.
  • wine is a lot better than I thought it would be (mind you, I am no gamer and I am using pretty basic stuff, like IrfanView or foobar2k both of which have been tuned by their respective developers to run well under wine).
  • For those pesky Windows apps for which I can't find an (acceptable) Linux replacement and that won't run under wine I have a full 32-bit Windows 7 guest running in a VirtualBox VM. I suspect that this will be used less and less in the long run but there are still a number of programs I can only use in that VM. (An added bonus is watching the Aaahs and Ooohs of friends or acquaintances when they first see my MX Linux install (on a fast 128GB USB3 stick) boot on their PCs and then me starting a complete copy of my Windows 7 installation in a VirtualBox VM, full screen.)
  • In certain areas, the hardware support of MX seems somewhat better than that of Windows 7. For instance, I have often trouble to get Bluetooth running on laptops. So far, Bluetooth has worked OOTB wherever I booted MX.
  • I spend a lot of time in a command line environment; under DOS/Windows I have for ages used a CLI called 4DOS/4NT/TCC over the decades (now part of TakeCommand by JPSoft). This has, from the word go, been light years ahead of CMD.EXE (OK, so this isn't saying much). Bash is not bad as a CLI but zsh is blowing both TCC and bash out of the water. A real gem.
  • Continuing the CLI theme, the depth, flexibility and ease of use of the available CLI tools and utilities is superb. There's almost nothing in the way of administrative tasks that I can't do (or automate) with a shell script or three and/or a quick Python hack.
2. The Bad
  • By far my biggest gripe is Linux USB support. Copying $BIG_DATA (dozens to 100+ of GB) from/to USB sticks is significantly slower than doing the same copy job on exactly the same hardware under Windows 7. There are some mitigations but I am still wary of doing that. In fact, I might have to keep Windows 7 (or a stripped-down Windows PE install) in a dual-boot scenario for the purpose of these copy jobs.
  • Probably the same underlying problem... formatting certain USB sticks as ext3/4 sometimes takes almost an hour (no typo). Some sticks work reasonably well and are almost as fast as in Windows but others (even branded ones like Kingston or Sandisk) are downright unusable. Again, none of those sticks ever showed that problem in Windows on the same hardware. I can only assume that something in Linux' USB handling is broken (I do not think this is specifically an MX problem, other live distros I've tried showed similar behaviour. I've also tested this with different kernels, including Liquorix, to no avail.).
  • For many programs I use under W7 there are virtually identical Linux versions (ie VeraCrypt, VirtualBox, XnViewMP, various browsers, kdiff3, FreeFileSync, ...). However, for many others there's just no comparable Linux equivalent. Often there is something but that something is just not as reliable/powerful/polished as the Windows app. Just two examples: Keepass v2 and a tool called Drive Snapshot. KeepassXC is not bad at all but it is clearly not as good as the Windows original (for one thing there's no internal viewer for attachments). As to Drive Snapshot, there is simply no better imaging (in the Clonezilla sense) tool around, whatever your OS. For a mere 400KB program its capabilities, including imaging ext2/3/4/Reiser/XFS partitions, are just amazing (actually, Drive Snapshot is another reason why I will have to keep some version of Windows 7 as a dual-boot install for the foreseeable future).
  • A related observation is that the sheer choice of applications, tools and utilities for Windows is much, much greater than for Linux. This means that there's almost always an app out there that does its job in *exactly* the way I want it, simple or complex. Sure, over time this will change, as more and better software becomes available for Linux but for the time being this is a definite disadvantage.
  • I find the lack of an easy-to-use standard application-level firewall a real omission. No amount of well-meaning arguments will ever convince me that for a Linux system this is not necessary... malware/adware/spyware does exist for all platforms and with more and more people using Linux it will become a more and more attractive target for miscreants of all sorts. So AFAIC there's a handful of carefully chosen apps that I want to give internet access... all the rest has no business whatsoever on the net. Trust is perhaps good, control is definitely better.
  • In two words... GUI apps. I find many if not most GUI applications under Linux a lot less appealing than under Windows. The reasons are manifold (some are found in the Ugly section). If I compare the ease of use, flexibility and yes, the magnificent if sometimes merciless elegance of most GNU/Linux CLI tools with the mish-mash, inconsistency and hotchpotch that is Linux GUI applications... no wonder I prefer the CLI:-/ (Actually, I find it deeply ironic that the Unix CLI culture where the keyboard reigned supreme has given rise to such an unsatisfactory state in the GUI arena.)
  • (Not really a bad point but an interesting observation IMHO.) MX on relatively old or underpowered hardware (ie netbooks) is palpably slower than both Windows XP and 7.
3. The Ugly
Well... here we enter the realm of the IMHOs and YMMVs as one man's ugliness is often another man's beauty. Anyway, here goes... two main points:
  • MX GUI apps (especially GTK stuff) are often a lot less polished and smooth than similar Windows offers. Two things especially bug me: programs that just do not save their window positions/sizes, UI layouts, listbox column arrangements and similar such options. The other is the lack of consistent and reliable keyboard shortcuts in *all* dialog and message boxes. In general I am not a great fan of point-and-click (some people hate CLIs, others hate mice), and I have to reach for this $%£!*&@$ mouse much more often in MX than in Windows. I also find that usage of UI elements is often pretty inconsistent across programs.
  • Fonts. Many apps (chromium-based browsers are prime suspects but there are others) produce dead-ugly screen output somewhat reminiscent of X/motif-based workstations of old. No amount of googling, theme tweaking or changing options gives me a fully satisfactory display: whatever I do, some apps will look well and others 'orrible. OK, so on smaller displays (say 1366x768 on a travel laptop) I normally switch off anti-aliasing... however I also do that under Windows and the font display is significantly clearer than anything that I can achieve in MX. With larger displays (eg full HD) the effect is less noticeable.
  • (Out on a limb here.) I have a feeling that some of the UI "troubles" I am experiencing have to do with GTK and the way it was designed and works. I know very little about the various UI toolkits available for Linux but I have a vague sense that GTK apps tend to be less consistent and "well-looking" than QT apps. I may be utterly wrong here, maybe it's more a case of the specific mix of apps I have installed. Then again, perhaps a respin with say LXQT would be an interesting thing to try...
  • As with any new system, there's some stuff that doesn't work, a bootload of stuff I want to change, other stuff that needs tinkering... no problem, there's always Google. Well... that's true but only up to a point. There are so many different GNU/Linux variants (and variants of variants...) that many perfectly valid solutions turn out to be dead ends. After a while you get a feeling what might or might not work... but this is nevertheless one of the most frustrating aspects of GNU/Linux.("The learning curve is steep, about as steep as the Eiger Nordwand." "True. But if you survive... what a view from the top!" Well... hopefully I will agree with that if I survive scaling the heights ;) )
So there you have it.
Dual-boot MX17.1/64 frugal root persistence + Windows 7 on Lenovo Edge72 i5-3470S/12GB and Tosh R950 i5-3340M/8GB
I used to think that good grammar is important. Now I know that good wine is importanter.

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Re: MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#2

Post by richb » Thu Mar 14, 2019 9:55 am

Thank you for your thorough comments regarding your experience with MX. Many are Linux specific rather than MX specific. That is since MX is a Linux distribution it inherits the basic characteristics of Linux.
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Re: MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#3

Post by chrispop99 » Thu Mar 14, 2019 10:08 am

Thanks for the lengthy post. It's always useful to hear opinions, good or bad.

Are the issues you experience with slow USB transfers always on one particular piece of hardware? The reason I ask is that I don't see the same results as you, except one machine doesn't like USB 2.0 sticks in its USB 3.0 ports. Otherwise, I see no discernible difference in speeds between my one Windows 7 machine, and a number of MX Linux ones. I do see a longer time to transfer files directly from one of my cameras, but that's on the Windows machine!

I wonder if Windows uses its own USB drivers for your ports, and that is the difference?

Chris
Test machines:
32-bit non-PAE - Thinkpad T41, 1.6GHz Pentium M, 1GB RAM.
32-bit PAE - DELL Latitude D610, 1.73GHz Pentium M, 2GB RAM.
64-bit - Lenovo T61, 2GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM
64-bit - Gigabyte Z77P-D3, Intel i3-3220, GeForce 8400 GS, 4GB PC3-12800.

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Re: MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#4

Post by bled » Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:32 pm

regards
in mx linux

transfer to or from usb-much better
than in windows!!!

format usb or hdd in 5 seconds-gparted!!!

windows-mx linux-comparison as goat and
horse!!!

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Re: MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#5

Post by dreamer » Thu Mar 14, 2019 8:46 pm

I like both MX Linux and Windows (LTSC version which is similar to Windows 7). Linux and Windows have different strengths and weaknesses. I don't think either system will ever completely match the other. If you expect Linux to be Windows or Windows to be Linux you'll be disappointed. I was, but then I accepted that dual-booting (or a VM) is perfectly OK.

In fact there is reason to believe that Linux and Windows won't get better than they are today. I'm a pessimist, but if you look at what is being pushed by Red Hat, Canonical and Microsoft there is reason to worry. I just set up Redshift in MX Linux (probably not possible on Wayland). It's the smartphone system (meaning locked down) that is being pushed both on Linux and Windows.

Enjoy the PC while you're still in control. Maybe if you are a CLI guy you won't be negatively affected by Wayland, but as a GUI guy Wayland is likely to be the end of my Linux journey. Of course it's Wayland so will probably take another 10 years before it's impossible to avoid. ;)

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Re: MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#6

Post by figueroa » Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:34 pm

Interesting review, but you may have display and other hardware problems. Everything is slower in Windows, and definitely not more beautiful. Almost everything in Linux is free and open source. That doesn't leave a lot of room for whining. Firewall? You want a "easy to use standard application-levl firewall?" The standard firewall is built into the Linux kernel -- iptables. Application-level tools tweak how iptables are configured. Don't expect standard. Everybody in Linux does their own thing. There is a firewall client in MX by default or you can install many others. It's your choice.
Andy Figueroa
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Re: MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#7

Post by rs55 » Fri Mar 15, 2019 12:34 am

In my 45 year history with computers, I have seen a lot . And MX Linux is easily at the top of the heap - just a joy. Clearly the developers are sophisticated ( just reading the MX Manual gives you a sense of the quality of thought and effort). And they treat their users as sophisticated folks. What a contrast to the windows experience.

But in any event when it comes to Win10 , we are no longer comparing apples and apples. Win 10 is a service, that is clear. MS is Root. You are relegated to a pleading, passive victim status as the consumer - praying to your service-provider(MS) that they will show mercy and not shut down your computer in the middle of a presentation or some such.
Its not about the "number" of viruses floating around. Its about the fundamental design of the thing that makes it inherently insecure. As the user you are not root - you are a mere "administrator". And the back door is always open. Again, you are at the mercy of MS to make sure bad things dont sneak in through that back door.
Their new SAS model may fit the needs of large companies, but it sure as heck is not for me. A big part of the joy of having your own machines is you OWN them. You learn all about them. You keep them well oiled and fixed up. Like a fine old car. I have a few 8 year old thinkpads that are blazing fast, even a 17 year old x40 that runs great.

As for a couple of your "Bads". I posted on this USB thing just yesterday - and after a few hours of fiddling have solved my issues. The key is to get your hands dirty on vm.dirty ! The default parameters are kind of optimized for external drives that are semi-permanently attached. Not optimized for thumbdrives . The overall transfer speed is largely a function of the read/write speed of the usb device. But the caching parameters can be tweaked to optimize things your way.
I also found a perfect fix for my USB camera connection. gphotofs . This was frustrating for a while until I found this - and its a trivial fix. really should be installed by default.
As for Apps- I am delighted will all the open source apps that have replaced my windows apps. My last gripe was the apparent lack of a good photo managemt/raw tweaking app..... well as of now I have discovered RawTherapee and absolutely love it - I think for my needs its far better than Lightroom which I used for years.
I am not a gamer - so I cant speak to the issues gamers may have.
I do like to tinker with R-Studio and Python/tensorflow etc - and have all the latest stuff installed - and these run much better on MX Linux than on Windows.
Keep confidential notes, passwords and stuff in keepassx. Keep confidential archived stuff like tax returns in Archive Manager ( brilliant design). LuckyBackup which I just started using yesterday seems to be very well designed as well.
SpaceFM is a fabulous file manager, QTerminal is terrific ( I use Firacode fonts with ligatures - which the xfce-file manager cant handle).
Love my customized conky - which displays all the timezones and system info I need in an unobtrusive way ( this is not eyecandy- but actually very functional).
WXMaxima is a wonderful computer algebra system developed at MIT over decades. Better than the pricey Mathematica it is replacing for me.
Audacious music player - simple and does what I want. VLC - of course is the swiss army knife.
Libreoffice is great. I am a heavy former Excel user - no complaints with Calc.
Gedit for text editing and Qpdfview for pdf files ( I like to carry my library around in my laptop!). - are excellent.

A of course - MX tools !!! Best designed thing I have seen on any operating system. Truly useful. 10 mintes to put the entire system on a iso snapshot , another 10 minutes to burn a live usb with it. And if needed , 10 minutes to build the machine back from the ground up. Amazing. And that one iso installs on all my machines - I have quite a few. Smart that things like fstab and disk UUIDS etc dont get carried into the iso - which is what I worried about the first time I did it.
So - good bye to all worries. HDD crash? user error blow things up? Update messed up? malware/virus crashed the system? - no worries. 10 minutes and I can get back to a pristine machine with all my stuff on it. Just back up my high frequency data - no more tha 1 GB on a frequent basis on a seperate usb drive.

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Re: MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#8

Post by rs55 » Fri Mar 15, 2019 12:49 am

When I think about it - this 10 minute restore from a thumb drive really solves a lot of problems. All the handwringing about viruses , updates etc that we see with windows - is because a crash is catastrophic - may take hours or days to get back to normal - assuming your machine gets "validated" !!
If it takes 10 minutes - I am willing to live with the tiny risk of catching a virus. First of all, as root - I can be as careful as I want. And frankly in the last 30 years, I only had one event - a catastrophic takeover of my machine by a virus. Oh the fear. The nervousness. The daily updates 100s of megabytes from MS . All those antivirus programs, firewall programs ( yes - I have been there).
Not needed any more. Just burn a couple of $10 thumbdrives wilh your iso. Done.

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Re: MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#9

Post by JayM » Fri Mar 15, 2019 12:54 am

(Long reply to long original post)
The issue with GUI apps in Linux stems from the fact that Linux is free software, unlike Windows in which standards are set on high in Redmond, WA. In Windows the desktop environment and window manager are all part of the OS, so the look and feel of all apps will depend for the most part of the Windows theme and settings selected. For example in Windows XP you could set it to look like classic Windows 95/98 or keep the new XP default theme. In Linux you can choose window managers, desktop environments, etc. plus there are several app GUI tools that devs can build with: GTK, QT, Java Swing, JavaFX, and they can also choose which version: GTK2 or 3, QT4 or 5... Then the user is also free to choose a GTK theme, and possibly a QT one, which will make apps made using those tools look different, rather than their appearance being tied to the DE/WM/OS as in Windows.

Take scaling for hidpi 4K-capable video cards and monitors for example: when Windows detects your video hardware it automatically sets the scaling such that you can see things on your screen, then asks you if you want to use that scaling setting or change it. In the Linux world, some DEs do scaling better than others: KDE isn't bad, Cinnamon only supports 1x or 2x, and some DEs don't have any scaling support at all. And then you'll find that your scaling only affects the basic OS: your desktop, your DE's settings tools and perhaps your "Start menu". You still have to manually increase the height or width of your panel. Your GTK apps will still come up in tiny postage-stamp-sized windows until you install the Gnome Tweak Tool and set GTK font scaling in it, separately from the scaling adjustment in your DE. QT has its own settings tool and has to have font size set there for QT apps or else they're tiny too. I never did figure out how to scale Java apps properly other than setting font sizes larger within the individual apps if they even allow that, and if they offer larger or scalable icons which also varies from app to app. Supposedly Java 9 and newer handles scaling a lot better than Java 8, but even then only apps that were written to take advantage of the newer Java's scaling will be affected (they have to be coded to import the scaling/font size from your Java settings.) All your legacy Java apps, written before hidpi systems existed, will remain tiny on a hidpi computer, and as I mention below it's up to that app's developer to fix it. Or not.

The majority of Linux app devs are recreational coders so they're free to write their apps however they want to. They can make them as simple or as feature-rich as they want That's why some apps let you choose fonts, font size and color, etc. and others don't. Some let you resize their window, others don't, some apps can inherit the DE's scaling, some offer their own internal scaling, and still others don't support scaling at all, depending on how the individual devs wrote their apps. If (as a purely hypothetical example) QT4's scaling sucks but QT5's is much better, devs would have to port their QT4 apps to QT5 and they may or may not have the time or inclination to do so. This leaves owners of hi-res computer systems who wish to use Linux with little choice other than to reduce their system's resolution to where things on the screen are readable, such as from 4K down to 1080 HD, to accommodate all of the apps they want to use.

One way around this would be if individual distros "locked down" their DE/WM/GTK/QT, so to speak, and set design standards for apps, saying "if you want your app to work in our distro it has to use these particular tools and versions, and conform to these standards", then devs would have to port their apps over to distro-specific versions. This ain't gonna happen in Linux: no distro is big enough, popular enough, nor its dev team or parent organization powerful enough to get away with trying that. There are too many choices of other distros out there. People can even build their own Linux From Scratch distro that flies in the face of other distros' standards if they wish. Another way would be if someone created a unified GUI environment that combined the best of a DE, a WM, the various GUI and theming tools (GTK/QT/etc.) and tightly integrated them all, then made this desktop new system free to use and GPL licensed. If it became very popular, then users would have one place to set their system's look-and-feel, scaling, theme, etc. and that would carry over to everything else in the distro including apps. Just like in Windows, kind of, except for being open-source.
OS: MX-18.2 x64. Kernel: 4.9.170-antix.1-amd64-smp x86_64. CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ 2.6GHz. GPU: AMD RS780 (Radeon HD 3200). Mobo: ASRock A780GM-LE. BIOS: AMI P1.50 (5/25/2010). HDDs: Gigabyte 120GB SSD+Seagate 1TB. RAM: 8GB (2x4GB) DDR2-800

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Re: MX: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (long post!)

#10

Post by thomasl » Fri Mar 15, 2019 7:42 am

richb wrote:
Thu Mar 14, 2019 9:55 am
Thank you for your thorough comments regarding your experience with MX. Many are Linux specific rather than MX specific. That is since MX is a Linux distribution it inherits the basic characteristics of Linux.
That's certainly right. However, MX happens to be the actual system I have been working with during the last 13 months and which I know best (maybe not well but best).
I do not want to make comments about GNU/Linux in general without knowing whether they are warranted or not. That's the reason why I am limiting my remarks to the one system I can make comments about.
chrispop99 wrote:
Thu Mar 14, 2019 10:08 am
Are the issues you experience with slow USB transfers always on one particular piece of hardware? The reason I ask is that I don't see the same results as you, except one machine doesn't like USB 2.0 sticks in its USB 3.0 ports. Otherwise, I see no discernible difference in speeds between my one Windows 7 machine, and a number of MX Linux ones. I do see a longer time to transfer files directly from one of my cameras, but that's on the Windows machine!
I have worked with USB2 and 3 sticks in USB2 and 3 ports on my two main PCs (see sig) and a couple of others. There is no discernible pattern to this, some branded sticks are nearly unusable, some unbranded ones are fine. The point here is that I have very rarely experienced any great USB copy delays in my Windows installations whatever stick is in whatever port. In MX USB copying is often measurably slower and, worse, the system itself is at times unusable (ie it seems to hang for a minute or so and then comes back). As I wrote there are mitigations but whenever I have to copy dozens of GB worth to a stick I boot into Windows. It's a riddle.
dreamer wrote:
Thu Mar 14, 2019 8:46 pm
If you expect Linux to be Windows or Windows to be Linux you'll be disappointed. I was, but then I accepted that dual-booting (or a VM) is perfectly OK.
:confused: I think my post makes clear that I don't.
dreamer wrote:
Thu Mar 14, 2019 8:46 pm
In fact there is reason to believe that Linux and Windows won't get better than they are today. I'm a pessimist, but if you look at what is being pushed by Red Hat, Canonical and Microsoft there is reason to worry. I just set up Redshift in MX Linux (probably not possible on Wayland). It's the smartphone system (meaning locked down) that is being pushed both on Linux and Windows.
I could not disagree more. Nobody forces you to accept "what being pushed by Red Hat, Canonical and Microsoft". The fact is that in my "digital life" more and more stuff is replaced with open source which I can control and I have under control (or at least could control if I wanted to). Any device with an internet connection I buy nowadays (and those I have bought in the last two years or so) has to come with or allow installation of an open source OS or firmware. If not, I just won't buy it. It is as simple as that.
All my routers, the PCs, the smartphones I own are running open source software. In fact the only items with proprietary, closed systems on them are the dual-boot Windows PCs (even my MP3 players with no internet connection have an open source thing called Rockbox on them). I do not have, do not need and certainly do not want "smart" speakers or "smart" TVs. Maybe in time there will be open source firmware or OS versions for some of those... then perhaps. Or perhaps not.
figueroa wrote:
Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:34 pm
Interesting review, but you may have display and other hardware problems.
Maybe, I am not a hardware guy. But to my simple mind it must be a funny sort of hardware problem that consistently shows up when I boot Linux but not when I boot Windows. Both PCs I am talking about have been running flawlessly for many years (the Lenovo desktop is a 2014 machine, the Tosh laptop I have since 2015).
figueroa wrote:
Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:34 pm
Everything is slower in Windows, and definitely not more beautiful.
If you say so. :rolleyes:
rs55 wrote:
Fri Mar 15, 2019 12:34 am
I posted on this USB thing just yesterday - and after a few hours of fiddling have solved my issues. The key is to get your hands dirty on vm.dirty !
Thanks, I will certainly look into that, perhaps it helps.

@JayM: I agree with a lot of what you wrote, especially the fact that MS can and has dictated certain UI standards. I know that a complex, organically grown eco system like GNU/Linux can't have the same sort of consistency. And yet... I can still dream and wish it had ;)
Dual-boot MX17.1/64 frugal root persistence + Windows 7 on Lenovo Edge72 i5-3470S/12GB and Tosh R950 i5-3340M/8GB
I used to think that good grammar is important. Now I know that good wine is importanter.

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