Wasta-Linux: Custom Tailored Linux Desktop for Everyone

For many colleagues and partners here in NE Africa, and presumably for others around the world, considering Linux is a big change and can be very intimidating. Having a Linux desktop option that looks and feels familiar is quite important to help the transition.

The intention of Wasta-Linux is to provide a good balance between familiarity and functionality for beginning computer users that are coming to Linux from a Windows XP / Windows 7 background.  While there are many good Linux desktops that successfully aim to re-envision the standard desktop paradigm, often this significant change can be too much for many users.  Even Windows 10 is now pursuing a very different desktop paradigm that has alienated many users.  While there are valid reasons behind the design changes in these newer systems, and many advanced users may find them advantageous, the disorientation and struggle to "re-learn how to do things" have also left many frustrated.  Thankfully, with Linux the freedom exists to pursue the direction most appropriate for the needed context, and thus Wasta-Linux was created.  But Wasta-Linux is for more than this audience.  Wasta-Linux is running on high-tech geeks' computers, running as kiosk computers, running as file servers, running as classroom keyboarding computers, etc.  The approach is "one system for (nearly) all use cases". 

Essentially the base Wasta-Linux system which is available here is just a standard Linux distribution with adjustments to the included software selections and minor patches and tweaks to some of the settings and features to enable it to be more effective and intuitive "out-of-the-box" for a beginning computer user (or an advanced one!).

Here is a screen shot of Wasta-Linux:

Why Linux?

One colleague answered the question "Why Linux" concisely using 3 main points.  In brief, Linux is:

  • Partner friendly
  • Budget friendly
  • Customizing friendly

Basically it is about freedom (not just "free as in no cost"), which means freedom to customize for our work and for our specific users (see more below on this topic), freedom for all to use it, and "free from viruses" (yes, eventually there may be Linux viruses).  For more on these freedoms, please read the "case study" on our organization's move from Windows to Linux in NE Africa.

Regional customization of Wasta-Linux: custom tailor it to meet your needs

Beyond individual users that may find the Wasta-Linux system available here "as-is" to fit them well in their situations, it is intended that Wasta-Linux can be used as a base for "location specific customized" versions of Wasta-Linux (providing pre-installed location-specific fonts, keyboards, default applications, settings, reference documents and training materials, etc.).  Once these "location specific customized Wasta-Linux versions" are made available, the ease of install of this customized Linux distribution will provide an opportunity for it to self-propagate throughout the region, even among low-tech computer users.

If customizing is of interest to you, please see this page ==> Wasta-Linux: Customizing for your needs

So, what is "wasta" anyway?

"Wasta" literally means "intermediary", but it implies more: it is seen as having "insider connections", or "special favor or ability to 'side-step the normal process.'"  Think of needing to wait several days in the heat of a government office to get an official "stamp" on a piece of paper.  If you have wasta, then you are able to come around through the "side door" and get the stamp immediately.  So, Wasta-Linux is essentially "cutting to the front of the line" for new users to Linux in order to get a usable system without all the effort of starting from nothing.  The analogy doesn't work when taken too literally, however: don't think there is anything unethical or illegal in the process!  Wasta-Linux is just a light-hearted way to explain that you get the Linux you have been hoping exists without needing to hack on it to get it set up as you want!

What Linux desktop does Wasta-Linux use and what Linux distribution is it based on?

With Ubuntu being recognized as the market leader in the Linux ecosystem, it was determined that using Ubuntu as a base for Wasta-Linux is the best choice.  Using Ubuntu as a base ensures the broadest compatibility with Linux applications for Wasta-Linux.  However, the default Unity interface used by Ubuntu proved challenging to use as it was not familiar enough for users coming from a Windows XP / Windows 7 environment.  After a lot of testing with several different Linux desktops, Cinnamon was chosen as the default "Linux desktop environment" for Wasta-Linux.

The Linux Mint team created Cinnamon, which is a fork of the Gnome 3 desktop called "Gnome-Shell". Since the Gnome-Shell interface has deviated from a "traditional desktop layout" (as defined by Microsoft over the last 20 years), Cinnamon aims to use the underlying updated technology of the Gnome 3 base, but change the appearance and functionality of Gnome-Shell to give a more "familiar and traditional Windows XP style layout".

In summary, Wasta-Linux is based on Ubuntu with Cinnamon added as the default desktop interface.

How is Wasta-Linux different from Ubuntu + Cinnamon?

As noted above, Wasta-Linux has many customizations when compared to Ubuntu with Cinnamon added.  For the curious, here is a summary of some of the significant modifications:

  • "SIL ready": The SIL Linux repository is included and standard SIL fonts have been added, so that applications such as Paratext, Fieldworks, Adapt It, WeSay and kmfl (Keyman) are ready for installation from the Software Center.

  • Several applications added, several others removed.  Notable additions include:
    • Wasta-Backup: simple "version backup" utility
    • Wasta-Offline: offline software updates and installs
    • Wasta-Menus: limits the visible applications in the Main Menu
    • Wasta-Resources: centralized distribution of reference and documentation materials
    • Skype
    • OpenShot: Video editor
    • GoldenDict: Offline (and online using Wikipedia or other sources) Dictionary / Thesaurus
    • Modem Manager GUI: USB 3G modem tool for balance check and top-up commands
    • Pinta: simple to use "MS Paint" alternative
    • Klavaro: typing tutor
    • some useful command-line utilities such as:
      • wavemon: a wifi network diagnostic tool
      • traceroute
      • iperf: a network throughput test tool

  • Centralized update and distribution of "future Wasta customizations": No more being "stranded" as seems to happen with Ubuntu LTS releases.

  • PDF booklet printing support added: for providing "page fold" or "booklet" reordering of pages for A5 booklets

  • "apt-get update" settings adjusted to "harden" the update process: these changes help prevent hangs or corrupt updates due to ISP caching, poor network, etc.

  • "Arc-Darker" theme with Wasta Vertex Ubuntu icons: Ambiance is used as the default theme in Ubuntu providing the familiar "orange and purple" Ubuntu look.  However, it has some compatibility issues with Cinnamon and Nemo (the filemanager used by Cinnamon).  To address these issues, the "Arc-Darker" theme with customized Wasta Vertex Ubuntu icons has been chosen.  The icons closely match the default Ubuntu icons, but exchange the traditional orange with a more generic "light gray" that can better coordinate with other theme colors.

Additional Wasta-Linux Tutorials

Several Wasta-Linux users have come together to write some great user documentation / tutorials for Wasta-Linux on the LingTranSoft website.  Many other useful tutorials for popular language-based software can be found there as well.

Questions or comments?

Leave any questions or comments on the Wasta-Linux Users Forum should you need any help.