Monday, May 15, 2017

Back to the Future - Enterprise 11 MATE

The recursive acronym MATE stands for MATE Advanced Traditional Environment. It's a fork of the now unmaintained GNOME 2 code base. The acronym is fitting : while some of its features seem like a throwback, MATE's stability, speed and customizability are being taken into the future by developers like Roberto J. Dohnert, whose customers appreciate ease-of-use, lack of surprises and a desktop environment that can be molded to suit their purposes. And same as last time : no surprises, the shots on this review are of the unmodified Black Lab 11 MATE Enterprise Edition.

This is the default desktop; two panels, Applications, Places and System on top left, notification area on top right, Show Desktop bottom left, Windows Buttons in the middle of the bottom panel, Pager on the bottom right.

The MATE version is 1.2.11 :

The kernel version is 4.8 stable, lining up with the Ubuntu LTS base that Black Lab is built on :

Speed and responsiveness are, once again, very good. Resource useage is low.

Suspend works smoothly in MATE, same as Xfce. AC wireless and the 5 GhZ band are quickly recognized and speed is very good. I haven't caught Roberto J. Dohnert at a moment when he's had enough Starbucks' coffee to tell me why Black Lab is so much better with AC wireless than other distros; it's no doubt a kernel-level change beyond my Linux comprehension.

This version includes the default MATE application set (Caja file manager, Pluma Text Editor, Rhythmbox media player, Brasero DVD-burning, Eye of Mate image viewer) - all work smoothly, I encountered no issues whatsoever performing basic tasks in a Live session.

This time around I'm going to try the Evolvere icon set with Black Lab 11 MATE; once again I'll be using a PPA to install :

I enter the PPA in the terminal, select Enter, apt-update and then install evolvere-icon-suite :

This returns an error which requires editing repositories in the Synaptic Package Manager (included by default in Enterprise 11) :

The distribution line is changed from Xenial to Trusty. After this, the icon suite is shown in Synaptic Search :

But again, errors out; when I performed an apt update && apt install evolvere-icon-suite, the software installed as expected. I don't know why that is, but seems to be an upstream issue unrelated to the current release.

After installation, I selected System - Preferences - Look and Feel, customized the current theme and found the Evolvere Sunken selection available among others :

And here's the desktop, once again, pretty vanilla, no real tweaking necessary :

I prefer Xfce, but MATE is super-solid and another very cool release in the Enterprise 11 series. It's worthy of a place on any user's Desktop. Give it a try!

Black Lab 11 MATE Enterprise


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Black Lab 11 - best damn Xfce ever???

In his words, to the dev team and contributors (like me), lead developer Roberto J. Dohnert called this release, #11 in the Black Lab series "the best damn Xfce desktop ever!"
Let's take a look. And just for the record, since he's gotten some stick from customers about screens advertised here on the blog and on Facebook, Roberto advised me to keep the default theme so that everyone can see what it looks like out-of-the-box. Later, I'll show the steps I took to install a custom icon (Papirus) theme. And as a note, all shots and steps taken were from a Live session on my test box, an Quad2 Core Optiplex 780, 8 GB RAM, 320 GB RAID0.

Here's the default desktop, single panel on top, Home, Removeable devices, Trash and Installer on the the left :

The Live session loads quickly, applications in the Panel (Thunar, Libreoffice 5.1, Rhythmbox, Firefox 52.1 ESR) are designed for the Enterprise user - no surprises, work that needs to be done gets done.

The kernel is current 4.8 stable :

Xfce is lean and mean, light on the hardware even while doing some blogging and browsing and installing icedtea-8-plugin through apt.

And to keep it up-to-date, without interruptions, BL 11 Xfce feature the Ksplice Uptrack Manager for on-the-fly no-reboot-required OS and security patches :

Speed and responsiveness are excellent. Suspend works smoothly. BTRFS is an installable filesystem option in v 11, supporting snapshots. AC wireless and the 5 GhZ band are quickly recognized and speed is very good, unusual among distros I've tested. Why exactly? I don't know. Ask Roberto J. Dohnert; if he's had enough Starbucks' coffee or you offer to initiate a support contract, he may be forthcoming.

This release features the default Xfce application set (Thunar file manager, Leafpad text editor, Parole media player, Xfburn CD-burning program, Ristretto image viewer) and all work exactly as expected - straightforward, no-nonsense. In the theming department, v 11 uses the GNOME icon set. As I said, I've customized sessions before, and people get an incorrect idea of what the finished product is going to look like; this time around, I'm going to show interested users how I install the customized icon set (Papirus) that I'll be using and how to apply it.

This install will use a PPA (Personal Package Archive). I enter the PPA in the terminal, select Enter, apt-update and then install papirus-icon-theme :

And it's now an option:

And now, the Desktop, after the only customization that I've done during the Live session (and probably the only one necessary for me after installation) :

Give v 11 a try. Black Lab Linux will be offering the OS for free, concentrating on its hardware. You have nothing to lose and a really cool OS (particularly this Xfce spin) to try.

Links :

Black Lab 11 Xfce Enterprise


Stay tuned for the MATE review!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Q&A with Roberto J. Dohnert

This week PC/OpenSystems LLC made some radical announcements and changes regarding their hardware and software policies and we will be discussing that with the lead system designer and CEO, Roberto J. Dohnert.

Q) Good evening Roberto how are things going?
A) Good.

Q) How hectic was today?
A) Whenever we have  a major release its always hectic especially with this one because this has been worked on since September 2016.

Q) So what happened to netOS?  There was a lot of disappointment that that release was scrubbed.
A) Back in October of 2016 we put out our new road-map and in there we showed the merging of the projects.  So netOS was not scrubbed it was merged.  You still have the same software and the same features that were present in netOS.  Like any other software project we looked at our resources and we were paying for two development teams.  Basically two different teams doing the exact same thing so we decided to merge the teams.  The reason it took us 8 months is because we had to merge two different development tree's into one and that's a lot of work.

Q) Hardware question, why Dell and not Lenovo or stick with ACER?
A) When we looked for hardware we looked into our target segment.  Education, enterprise and consumer and Dell by far has the highest visibility.  Dell unlike ACER also had the ability to ship the fastest and in bulk.  So its an awesome experience.  Now this is not a shot at ACER.  ACER makes good products but ACER is more a consumer company than an Enterprise company and for what they do they do an awesome job.  BTW their Chromebooks are really good and that's why we still sell the ACER Chromebooks.  In that segment they fit and fit very well.

Q) You also said price had nothing to do with the decision.  What did you mean by that?
A) When we talked with our education and business customers the message was simple.  They don't care about price as much as they care about quality, durability and availability.  We also have to look at whats on their buying list.  When you look at Dell, they are pretty much on everyone's buying list.  They are one of the top brands if not the top brand.  Lenovo is #2 and HP is #3.  ACER is the top of the list for, once again, Chromebooks but not for general desktops and servers.  Customers want their systems within 14 days not in a month and a half.  With a 20 system order we were getting 10 through ACER and having to go to Walmart and Best Buy to get the rest and that's no way to run a business and that's not what customers want.  We just fulfilled a 30 system order and with Dell they had all the systems to us in 4 days.

Q) I noticed some of the systems we offer are a tad on the premium side.  What makes our systems cost more?  Are they a value when customers can just go to Amazon and buy it for much cheaper?
A) Well what makes us different from our competitors is that our systems come with a 4 year extended warranty out of box on all desktop hardware and a 3 year extended warranty out of box on portable systems.  All systems also come with a UPS system.  Our competitors charge a lot more for what comes as standard on systems you order from us.  Are we a bit more expensive?  Yes but look at what comes with it.

Q) I notice we offer many All-in-one systems and very few traditional desktop PC's.  Are we essentially copying Apple or is this a trend?
A) Its actually a trend.  When we did our customer studies we asked them what systems did they want the most.  All-in-ones were at the top of the list along with notebooks.  Some pro customers wanted traditional desktop systems for the expandable options.  So we offer the best systems for what our customers want.  Copying Apple had nothing to do with the decision.

Q)  Black Lab Linux was considered the crown jewel of the company and it used to be a major revenue source for PC/OpenSystems.  What changed?
A)  Once again we looked at sales reports and looked at customers.  Hardware sales are on the rise.  Software sales are on the decline.  People no longer have to buy Windows systems and wipe out Windows and install Linux.  With System 76, Dell, Pogo Linux and others Linux now comes as the default OS on systems shipped from the factory.  We were shipping a lot of hardware units a month and less physical copies of Black Lab Linux.  So we made the decision with our enterprise versions; lets just give it away for free and sell hardware and support subscriptions.   It also allows more eyeballs on our products which is also very important in our industry.

Q) How do you plan to compete against hundreds of thousands of Linux distributions?
A) Well if you look at the community itself you have hundreds of thousands of distributions.  If you look at the business and education markets you have 5 commercial distributions.  Red Hat, SUSE, Oracle, Black Lab, and some Ubuntu.  In the education market you have Red Hat, Black Lab and Chrome OS.  We took a tour of a clients site recently.  It was a US government research facility and they use a lot of Linux and they don't just use one.  You see SUSE on the IBM z mainframes, Red Hat on the servers, and they use Black Lab on the desktop and that's what they needed.  They needed a distribution focused on the enterprise desktop.  Not a server distribution with a half baked workstation option.  Customers want a distribution that they can stick on a developers laptop and take the same distribution and stick it on an administrators desktop and a secretaries desktop and call it a day.  Red Hat, Oracle and SUSE are great on the server.  They are award winning.  Yet not so much on a desktop.  The two community distributions that I have seen in business that don't have a focus on enterprise is CentOS and Gentoo and they are used for specific reasons.

Q) Chrome OS as you know has a major presence in education.  How do you successfully compete with a total cloud offering?
A) If you look at Chrome OS, its actually quite interesting.  Its not new technology.  Its a client server solution.  The same we saw in the 1980's and the 1990's but it has a prettier user interface.  It has a much wider reach as well.  In the 80's and 90's you were restricted to what was running in the basement where now you can reach out across the internet.  But, its what customers want and we sell Chrome devices, we create applications for it.  But some customers are not comfortable with web only storage and they aren't OK with their work not being on site.  Chrome OS also lacks traditional client side applications and some of the popular Linux titles aren't there.  With Black Lab Enterprise for Education you can run traditional and popular titles and web based applications and your data is stored on the web or locally.  Its the customers choice.  Some customers want that flexibility, some want Chromebooks and we are glad to be able to offer both.

Q) What made the team standardize on the GNOME desktop?  Why not XFCE, why not MATE, why not KDE or the others?
A) Because its what customers wanted.  If you look at the major distributions in enterprise and education they standardize on the GNOME desktop.  We delivered releases based on different desktop options but customers always came back to GNOME.  Customers can install whatever desktop they wish and for embedded systems we offer DWM on the same ISO.  But we are here for the customers and what they want.  Not what we want.

Q) We are primarily a desktop company.  Black Lab Linux and Black Lab Enterprise Linux are desktop distributions.  So whats Black Lab Server?  and who is the target audience for Black Lab Server?
A) We originally just had desktop distributions only.  Customers came to us and said they needed a server solution.  They didn't want to go to Red Hat or SUSE and pay thousands of dollars and they wanted something that we could service and support.  So we created Black Lab Server which is more of a small or medium sized solution and we have seen an uptick in that product in education.  You wont see it on mainframes and you wont see it in racks of servers in Googles data centers.

Q)  The support options.  Black Lab Enterprise Linux is now available for free under whats called the self support umbrella.  Yet customers can buy a support subscription.  What value does a support subscription bring?
A) With self support you get your support through our forums, social media and community.  With the support subscription you get 12 months of phone and e-mail support.  You get an option of onsite or remote installation, management and deployment.  When you purchase the unlimited facility license you also get the option of a custom spin generation.  We create a custom spin for you that includes the applications that you want, desktop styling and more.  So yes we bring tons of value to our support subscriptions.

Q) Can users contribute to Black Lab Linux and Black Lab Enterprise Linux?
A) Users can contribute whatever they want.  If they want to donate to us, use the donate button on the website, if they want to donate hardware, contribute code or artwork contact if they want to contribute documentation contact  Rich Dennis,

Q) Thank you very much for taking time out to speak to us.  Where can users and potential customers get more information?
A)  Your welcome and customers and users can get more information about software and hardware from the website.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hardware and Software changes for PC/OpenSystems

Today we are making a few announcements for our hardware and software lineup.  We have spent the last several months streamlining business and software developments.  This change will not affect current customers.  All your hardware and software solutions will be supported until the EOL and all warranties and service contracts are intact.  These changes pertain to new customers and renewing customers only.

Software Changes

All software development will be handled by the Black Lab Linux team, subsequently netOS becomes Black Lab Enterprise Linux, Black Lab Enterprise Linux for Education and Black Lab Studio.  These releases will be hosted on the Black Lab Linux website.  Some of the changes include:

  • Black Lab Enterprise Linux and its variants are now free to download for a self-support package.  Users will get all the software and features that are bundled with Black Lab Enterprise Linux but they are limited to support through forums and community resources only.
  • Black Lab Enterprise Linux, Black Lab Enterprise Linux for Education and Black Lab Studio will be based on the GNOME desktop ONLY.  For legacy support and QT users they will come with the KDE Runtime so you can run any QT based and KDE application that you wish.
  • We will no longer have a 30 day waiting period for the download editions of Black Lab Enterprise Linux or Black Lab Linux.  After watching trends and looking at sales records most of our revenue has started coming from system sales and business and educational support licenses rather than consumer and user sales.  We will continue to sell live install media for users who have data caps from their providers and want the convenience of physical install media.

You can order Black Lab Linux physical media here

You can download and get more information about Black Lab Enterprise Linux here

Hardware Changes

Today we are announcing our hardware partnership with ACER is over.  ACER was a great partner and provided us with years of faithful service, some great products and provided awesome support for our customers.  During our audits and customer feedback we discovered customers didnt care about price as much as they do about quality, availability and durability.  So starting today we have enlisted Dell as our hardware provider.  Dell has a much more robust presence in enterprise and education which we primarily target.  Dell also has the ability to deliver more systems in a shorter period than many hardware companies.  So with that change we are making the following announcements regarding our systems.

  • All desktop hardware will come with a 4 year extended warranty out of box.  All portable hardware will come with a 3 year extended warranty out of box.
  • While Barton George and his team at Dell on Project Sputnik only provide Ubuntu 16.04 as an install option from the factory we will support ALL 1st generation and current generation Project Sputnik systems.  If your company already utilizes that hardware we will provide you with installation support, hardware and software diagnosis, and hardware and software repair.
  • With every desktop and portable purchased you will get a 3 year support subscription for Black Lab Enterprise Linux that includes all updates and all security and bug fixes for 3 years.
  • All current customers who have ACER hardware provided by us will have the option of trading in your system for a $200.00 USD discount on any new system purchased.  The BriQ systems and Server hardware are EXCLUDED from this deal.
  • All Server hardware will continue to be built by our team here at PC/OpenSystems LLC
  • While Black Lab Enterprise Linux will be the default OS that we ship with.  We will also provide Oracle Unbreakable Linux, SUSE Enterprise Linux, Windows 10 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux as available options.

You can get more information on our hardware solutions here

So we have made the changes we feel that customers and users want.  With our hardware warranties we go far and beyond what ANY of our competitors provide by default.  With our software solutions now being streamlined and handled by one development team vs two we will be able to deliver the innovations and features customers want and need at a much faster rate.

Welcome to PC/OpenSystems LLC

PC/OpenSystems LLC. is dedicated to providing top customer service including integration, providing Linux compatible hardware and enterprise desktop software solutions. We provide solutions tailored to your needs whether its building systems to suit your needs. Whether its a custom database solution, providing Linux powered PC and Server Solutions. Whatever you need you can rest assured that PC/OpenSystems LLC. will deliver a high performance and stable product

PC/OpenSystems LLC. Web Search

About PC/OpenSystems LLC.

PC/OpenSystems LLC. is a small consulting firm and the only Linux retailer in NC for Linux PC's and custom systems located in Franklinton North Carolina. We specialize in hardware repair and we resell custom Linux based computers, software maintenance as well as custom application development.