Installing Xubuntu 13.10 on my HTPC

raleigh rivers raleigh75 at
Sun Dec 8 16:51:50 UTC 2013

I switched my htpc from Linux Mint 14 to Xubuntu 13.10 last night. 
Things went rather well in the end, despite scares of various sorts as I 
repurposed Xubuntu for htpc use.

Linux distros don't install nicely on my htpc's old Panasonic 42" plasma 
monitor, model TH-42PWD8UK. The problem is the monitor has only 800 x 
600 resolution. Linux distros fail to detect the low resolution of this 
old VGA monitor. It might have something to do with the Linux kernel.

Xubuntu put me at 1600x1200, I think, so that letters looked like 
heiroglyphics. I found this so amusing that I attached two snapshots, 
resized and compressed, to illustrate my point, although I don't know 
whether images are permitted in the mailing list. If not, I hope the 
reader can imagine 1600x1200 displayed on a 800x600 monitor.

Once the installation completed, being a veteran XFCE user, I knew to 
right click somewhere on the desktop, and no, I didn't choose Desktop 
Settings. That sounds right, but is wrong. I went to Applications | 
Settings Manager | Display. That's the one that took me to 800x600 and 
legibility again.

Letting Xubuntu's installer do the automatic genie option (#1) and use 
the whole drive is optimal, but I had data in one of my partitions and 
didn't really want to dig up the backup and copy it over again. I think 
my  drive is partitioned in GPT, which I can't claim to fully 
understand. The more I read about it, the more confused I get.

Xubuntu installed once without the boot-partition, so I booted into grub 
rescue mode and decided to start the install process over again. Through 
online research, I learned to create a boot-special partition, and 
installed again. Then I had another problem, because Xubuntu requires a 
separate /boot partition, which is not the same as the boot-special 
partition, and this /boot partition must have more than 100 mb of space, 
and I had only given it about 100mb, so Ubuntu Software Updater was 
having problems. Later, I learned Xubuntu's installer actually warns 
about this, but I couldn't read the warning or much else on the 
installation screens due to the tiny font size. Through online research, 
I decided to give /boot four gigs. So in total, I installed three times, 
and the third time was the charm. A bit of a bandwidth hog, I was. 
Perhaps there was documentation available on the install screens, but I 
couldn't read much of anything other than things in bold or large size. 
By standing right next to the screen, I could sometimes puzzle out 
enough letters to understand a word or sentence.

Joy and happiness when Xubuntu 13.10 finally was fully installed and 
configured and all my little tricks and bells and whistles were working 
to make my htpc the best little htpc ever. I installed Gparted, 
Gsmartcontrol, Gufw Firewall, and VLC. Now I think that Xubuntu is the 
best Linux distro for htpc and am willing to debate anyone that thinks 
otherwise. It boots lightning-fast, even on a mechanical hard drive. I 
think it boots faster than Linux Mint 14 Xfce.

I also considered SolydX and Manjaro for my htpc, but stablity is 
important for an htpc, and I like Xubuntu's more conservative approach 
to updates. When 14.04 comes out, all I have to do is click the update 
button, while the Linux Mint users will be setting aside a couple days 
for backups and a reinstall. Presumably, I will just be clicking update 
button from now until Doom's Day. No more installs is fine by me. I just 
hope Xubuntu retains compatibility with VLC and 
Xscreensaver/Glphotoshow, two must-have apps. I don't see anything in 
the Linux world that replaces those gems.

One additional thing I learned about Xubuntu 13.10 is that it suffers 
indigestion if a user caps the size of a tmpfs for /tmp in the fstab. 
Reading the details of fatal crashes proved very helpful, and I thank 
the developer that inserted a very understandable error message, 
directly referring to fstab settings for /tmp. I used to set a cap of 
512M, but that will cause problems with the Updater and other things, 
leading to the aforementioned fatal crashes. Now I just have an 
open-ended tmps for /tmp in the fstab, and Xubuntu seems happy with 
that. I don't dare tmpfs /var/lock or anything like that. I remember 
Kubuntu had problems with that, and my guess is Xubuntu would be the same.

My motherboard has both HDMI and S/PDIF outputs, which always causes a 
problem in the beginning, because Linux isn't psychic and doesn't know 
which one to send output to. I think it defaults to Analog.
I remembered from previous research to hit the terminal and run "sudo 
pavucontrol" and then "sudo alsamixer," and I also had some old 
tried-and-true .config files for alsa and /etc/pulse lying around that I 
inserted into the new install. All of that together got the sound 
working through S/PDIF without too much difficulty for 5.1 surround sound.

One thing I can recommend to other distro-hoppers is to backup 
tried-and-true config files to a flash drive. It's nice to get the 
computer up on the network in just a moment by copying smb.conf and to 
get the sound working by copying asound.conf. This is another area where 
Linux has an advantage over Windows. Configuring Windows takes weeks. 
The mere thought of Windows crashing and losing that hard-won 
configuration is enough to make me purchase a new drive and Clonezilla 
the Windows install to the new drive as a perfect clone. So Windows 
actually costs in the hundreds of dollars, counting all the labor 
involved in configuration and installation. I can configure many things 
about Xubuntu on the other hand by copying over a handful of .config 
files. I lost my precious Thunar custom actions, though. I didn't backup 
the right config files. I don't know where Thunar stores its custom 
actions. But I was able to recreate them.

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