Elementary OS the Stylish Minimalist Linux Distribution

In a previous article I talked about whether a Linux desktop was ready to become a mainstream OS on a desktop computer for everyday, non techie users, like my Dad or Wife. In that article, I concluded that, Yes, Linux is now at the point where it is becoming a viable option. Linux has been the mainstay on servers for many years now, and powers a large proportion of the internet, but it has never really caught on with standard desktop computing. This has changed though with tablet computing as Linux sits underneath the Android operating system.

In the article I stated that Linux Mint was a very good transitional Linux distribution because it looks and acts very similar to Windows, so this would make a users migration to Linux a lot smoother. There are still a number of hurdles to overcome for the user like giving up any Microsoft specific applications like Office in favour of LibreOffice, and general hardware device compatibility, which driver wise, lags behind Windows.

In the comments for the other article, a reader suggested checking out Elementary OS. Elementary is another Linux distribution based off of Ubuntu, that has been designed to be very easy to use. The user interface as you will see in a bit is gorgeous. Also this distribution is very lightweight in that it doesn’t come with hundreds of installed applications like Linux Mint does. This makes it more like a base install of Windows, where you just get the operating system and a collection of small apps and utilities. I find this quite appealing as I don’t like clutter.

Elementary OS - Install
Elementary OS – Install

So lets take a look at this OS. You download the ISO file image from Elementary OS website. Again I am installing it under Windows 8, using Virtual Box. As this distribution is based on Ubuntu, it has a very familiar installer which is very easy to use. The whole process took about 15 minutes. Once the installation had completed I was at the Login Screen ready to sign in and start using the OS.

Free Software Movement Explained by Richard Stallman

I came across a great video by the Richard Stallman, who is the founder of the Free Software movement and the GNU Public License. There is general a misconception that Free Software means that software is free of charge, but this is not necessarily the case.

In this 16 minute video, Richard explains what free software is and what it means philosophically. He also discusses the Creative Commons Licenses and how they can apply to the Free Software movement. Well worth a watch.


Can a Linux Desktop Ever Become Mainstream?

Professionally and at home, I have been a dedicated Windows user since I can remember. Windows 3.1 was my first foray into the Windows world. I have never really had any need to use anything else. When I used to work in the games industry all of our development was done under Windows, even if we were targeting other platforms like the Playstation platform, Gamecube, Wii etc.

Every now and again, I take a little dip into the Linux world just to see how it is coming along. One thing that has always interested me is if a Linux Desktop can ever compete in the mainstream against Windows and OSX. By this, I mean would it ever become a feasible operating system to use for non developer hacker types. Or to put it another way, could my Wife or Dad ever use Linux as a general all purpose operating system?

Transition from Windows to Linux
Transition from Windows to Linux

Every-time I take a look, the answer I come too is, No. It is just too hard to use for the lay person. For someone like my Dad or Wife, expecting them to do any kind of configuration from the command line isn’t really appropriate, and the GUI’s of Linux past have been pretty grim. Hackers love them, but not the average guy / girl on the street.

I recently took another look to see how Linux was progressing, because fundamentally, I love the idea of it. A Free, and Open operating system that is not tied to any one particular company. First of all I tried Ubuntu with their new Unity interface. After about 30 minutes use of this new GUI I was left thoroughly underwhelmed. Why, because it doesn’t feel like Windows. Don’t flame me just yet, let me explain. In my opinion, to get an experienced or novice windows user to switch to Linux, then they need a certain level of familiarity to make the transition easier and Unity just didn’t provide it. Sure it has it’s own identity and you can’t knock it for this, but the whole experience felt clunky and incomplete. Next up was Linux Mint 16 with their Cinnamon interface.

#Develop – Open Source Alternative to Visual Studio

For my entire working career, I have been a Microsoft boy. I use Windows (including desktop and server operating systems) and I am a .NET fanboy. It’s a fun environment to program with, flexible and the tools are great. Also I have never really given open source much thought. Not because I don’t agree with it, or anything negative, but I have just never really bothered with it. Until recently that is.


About 7 years ago, I tried Open Office, and I didn’t have a very good experience. More recently I have been having more problems with Microsoft Office. It is slow, clunky, and quite unreliable in that I experience more crashes with it than I would like. I decided to try Open Office again, well more specifically Libre Office as that’s what the cool kids seem to recommend. This suite has had quite a while to mature, and you know what, I love it. It is fast, compact, and reliable. It interoperates with Microsoft Office documents perfectly and is a joy to use, so I have made this a permanent switch.


This got me thinking. If something like Libre Office is a slick as it is, and Free (Free as in cost and freedom with the source being open), then what other goodies are out there. This has led me on to switching over to many open source tools instead of commercial tools. I now frequently use Gimp and XMind. I am also looking to switch away from Enterprise Architect to an open source UML tool. I haven’t picked my final tool yet, but Modelio is looking very good.

Block Encrypter .NET Library

I have recently released a small open source library that I thought might be useful to people. The library is called Block Encrypter it is designed to make asymmetric encryption of  data in .NET / C# easier. The code in this library has been developed over the past year and used in my open source tools SafePad and Text Shredder. The way in which this library goes about encryption has been peer reviewed by many people in the open source community so should give you a level of comfort that it is secure in how it goes about encrypting data. Block Encrypter encrypts data using standard cryptographic primitives like AES, HMAC, PBKDF, and cryptographically secure random number generation.

Download the Block Encrypter .NET encryption library.
Download the Block Encrypter .NET encryption library.

I have previously discussed AES encryption in .NET in my cryptography series of articles. I also posted an article linking to some really useful videos by Patrick Townsend about how the AES algorithm works. If you are interested in symmetric cryptography I highly recommend watching them.


First lets look at some usage examples. The main object in the library to call is the Block Encrypter object and this contains methods that allow you to encrypt/decrypt strings or byte arrays of data.

Overview of the Library

The library itself is quite straight forward to use and there are not that many objects to get to grips with. The main entry point for the library is the BlockEncrypter object. This object will then call out to the GzipCompression object, Aes object, and the ByteHelpers object.

Block Encryter Class Diagram
Block Encryter Class Diagram

The library is also well covered in unit tests that exercise the majority of the functionality.

Text Shredder 1.1 Released

I have released the next version of Text Shredder which incorporates some tweaks and features from peer review of users of the application on the internet.

Text Shredder : A Personal Encryption Tool
Text Shredder : A Personal Encryption Tool

The release notes are as follows :

  • Added a HMAC to the encrypted message. The ciphertext + original salt is HMACed using the AES key. When the message is decrypted, the HMAC is recomputed and compared to the original. If it doesn’t match then the message has been corrupted or tampered with.
  • Removed BCrypt from the internal password hash. After peer review it was deemed unnecessary as a PBKFD (Rfc2898) is used with 70,000 iterations to generate the AES key.
  • When setting up the AesCryptoServiceProvider, make the cipher mode and padding schemes more apparent. This application uses AES set to CBC mode with PKCS7 padding.
  • Add a word wrap option to the file menu. This enables/disables word wrap on all the text boxes.
  • When the user first loads up Text Shredder, show an upgrade warning stating that their message recipients must be using the same version of the tool. They can click on a “Do not show this again” checkbox to disable the warning then they next run the program.
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