Thursday, December 13, 2007

Centos 5.1 Review


CentOS stands for Community ENTerprise Operating System. As a group, CentOS is a community of open source contributors and users. Typical CentOS users are organizations and individuals that do not need strong commercial support in order to achieve successful operation. CentOS is 100% compatible rebuild of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux, in full compliance with Red Hat's redistribution requirements. CentOS is for people who need an enterprise class operating system stability without the cost of certification and support. CentOS is currently ranked #12 at distrowatch

Test Machine
Pentium D 3.4 GHz with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 7300GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor. For this review I am using 64 bit edition.

Booting
The installation DVD does not come with a Live environment. A separate Live CD is available for people interested in checking the environment first.
Fedora and CentOS are amongst the earliest distributions to correctly bring 1440x900@75Hz desktop resolution.

Installation
CentOS uses Anaconda as the system installer. As with the other distributions that use Anaconda; it is really simple to install CentOS without actually burning a DVD. User can install the system from the hard disk containing the ISO image. For detailed description see the installation section in my earlier post.

Anaconda asks for the language, keyboard and allows you to configure partitions. The network configuration tool has been updated and user can separately configure IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. Earlier it was not possible to assign static IP to one and leave the other one on DHCP, but thats not the case now. Anaconda then asks for time zone, root password and the packages to be installed.

User can select additional repositories during package selection, but I did not try that out. The package selection categories made me laugh. Emacs and Editors are different categories :). Seems like Emacs is not an editor any more, but far more better/superior than editors. And even though the fact that Emacs is not in the latest 22 version.

Aesthetics
CentOS comes with a light blue theme and the theme is very well integrated(even with Compiz). The default font set was "Sans" (I personally do not like Sans), which I changed to "Dejavu Sans". For a Sever/Workspace oriented distribution, the look and feel is nice.

Applications
Being a DVD install there are a huge number of applications. I would say that I was really disappointed by version of applications used by CentOS (Red Hat). Firefox is in version 1.5.0.12 and Open Office is in a really old version 2.0.4. But this rant is more appropriate for Red Hat. Pirut is again disappointing as it fails/hangs a lot.

Additional applications can be downloaded from the repository. But the repository seems to be stagnant. There is not even a single application in the main extra repository. Some applications are present in extra testing repository but they are not sufficient. The repository for CentOS 4 is full of all kinds of useful applications.

Multimedia
There is no out-of-box multimedia support in CentOS, and hopelessly the official repository lacks the required binary packages. So if you are looking for multimedia functionality, you have to look of other unofficial repositories or compile the applications/codecs from source.

Eye Candy
Compiz is installed by default and provides basic eye-candy. But for enabling it, proprietary graphics card drivers need to be installed and /etc/X11/xorg.conf needs to be tweaked.

Conclusion
CentOS is just a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and really a good clone. But it seems to be going into dangerous waters. The most disappointing aspect was the lack of good and complete official repository(which is not the case with CentOS 4). It is a really good distribution for server/workstation users who do not want to pay extortion money to Red Hat. But for casual desktop user, I advise to stay clear.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Frugalware 0.7 Review


Things are becoming frugal...
Frugalware is a general-purpose Linux distribution, designed for intermediate users, who are familiar with command-line operations. It is based on Slackware, but uses a different package management system, Pacman. Frugalware's developers attempt to make Frugalware as simple as possible while establishing a priority based on comfortable use. Frugalware is currently ranked #36 at distrowatch

Test Machine
AMD Athlon 64 3800+ with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 6600GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.

Booting
Frugalware does not come with a Live environment. Frugal comes in install only CDs and DVDs; 13 CDs and 2 DVDs to be precise. ISO images for CDs 3-13 or the second DVD is required to be downloaded if the computer on which Frugalware is to be installed, does not have an internet connection.

I like the package all concept adopted by some of the distributions like Frugalware. Its really handy, makes the installation fast(as the packages are read from the disk) and makes network-less installation possible. I just know three distributions that come in more than a single DVD; Debian, Frugalware, and Momonga.

Installation
The installer is ncurses based text installer and frame-buffer makes the screen come up at higher resolution, making the installer look nice & unclustered.

First user is asked about language, followed by the keyboard selection and an option for RAID configuration. In the next step user can create partitions and assign them. First swap partition needs to be selected. Slackware auto-detects the swap partition and highlight it as the only entry, but this is not the case with Frugralware: it lists all the partitions and user has to select. This needs to fixed.

Then user is prompted for root partition. Once root partition is selected, installer gives an option to select additional partitions for mounting. I came across my first bug! The windows ntfs partition was shown as "IN USE" and the mount point was mentioned as "/", a chill went down my spine. The partition that I selected to install Frugalware was also showing the same configuration of "IN USE" & "/". I crossed my fingers and took the risk of continuing. Thankfully the installation went smoothly and did not harm my windows partition.

In the next step user can select the different packages that need to be installed on the machine. The package list is huge and divided in nice groups. All the major desktop environments are included. Installation starts after the package selection and completes in approximately 15 minutes. Seeing the huge list of packages, I consider the installation really fast.

After the installation user can configure the new system by setting root password, creating new user, configuring the network (DSL configuration is also available), selecting the time zone and finally selecting the desktop resolution and colors. The installer detected my monitor for a mere 1024x768, but the resolution was editable. I edited the resolution to 1440x900 and the test screen came up really fine.

Aesthetics
In a single word gorgeous. Making a distribution is more of art then computer science; an art perfected well by Frugalware. The desktop environment is breath taking. The light-blue theme is present every where, from gfxgrub, to splash screen, to login manager, to the desktop, to the wallpaper, to the icons, to the mouse pointers, to the window borders. Its a great unified theme all across, irrespective of desktop environment. I could only hope that other distribution take a cue from Frugalware in this section.

Applications
Being a two DVD install, a lot of packages are installed. Open Office is latest version 2.3 and firefox is 2.0.07(cause of the fact that Frugalware was released a while back). Pacman is the default package manager used by Frugalware, thus any application is just a simple command away.

Multimedia
Frugalware has out-of-box support for all kinds of media. I was able to successfully play WMV, MP3 and DVDs. Java runtime is also installed, and that too the latest 6.3. Flash player was missing, but this could be attributed to my 64-bit machine. As far as I know there is no 64-bit flash player(wake up adobe).

Eye Candy
None of the compositing manager was installed by default.

Recommendation
It would be really nice to have an integrated control-center where average user can configure his complete system

Conclusion
Frugalware has a mission, and a really good mission. It works just great out of the box. There are a few hick-ups (like the installer bug and some minor crashes) but Frugalware is very well on track. It looks awesome, maybe a trend-setter in look-and-feel for linux. This is a distribution to look for in coming time.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Arch 2007.08-2 Review


A lean machine
Arch Linux is a Linux distribution inspired by CRUX and intended to be lightweight and simple for advanced users. According to the project website; "Arch Linux is a workhorse distribution designed to fit the needs of the competent Linux user. We strive to make it both powerful and easy to manage, making it an ideal distribution for servers and workstations. Take it in any direction you like" .It is currently ranked #17 at distrowatch

Test Machine
AMD Athlon 64 3800+ with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 6600GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.

Booting
Arch Linux, on its own, does not provide a live environment. However, for the interested, FaunOS is an Arch derivative and provides live environment. So users can check out FaunOS as well. Also Archie also provides a live environment.

Installation
Arch comes in two flavors, CORE & FTP. Both ISOs are minimalistic and won't result in a working desktop environment. I chose core ISO for this review. Again instead of wasting another CD, I extracted out vmlinux and initrd files from isolinux directory in the ISO, and used them for starting the installation. A detailed procedure is provided in my earlier post.

Arch Linux has two main repositories "core" & "extras". The core repository contains minimalistic software, enough to provide a working command-line-interface. Rest of the packages(i.e. gnome, kde, xfce, xorg, e17) are contained in "extra". For the core installation the user has two option s, either to use the directory available in the ISO or copy the latest packages from any of the mirrors. The repository contains more and recent packages . I chose to copy the latest package from core repository. Copy all the core packages on to some spare hard disk partition before starting the installation

Once the user boots into the install system, there are five different terminals available and BASH can be started by hitting . First, for non-CD install mechanism I used, user has to mount the partition containing the core packages to /src/core/pkg. The installer can be invoked by issuing /arch/setup command.

The installer allows to create and specify partitions. I would like to mention that Arch loads pata modules before sata modules, and thus if you have two hard drives, first an IDE and second a SATA, then IDE drive will be named sda and SATA drive will be named sdb. User can change the module loading order in the final system configuration.

The installer then asks to select the packages for installation. Now its safe to select all the packages. I remember, in version 0.7, if the user selected all the packages for installation, the installation failed. After package selection, package installation comes into play. And it was really fast. The core system installed on my machine in less then 5 minutes.

After installation, system configuration comes into picture. I love the fact that almost all of the system configuration are concentrated in /etc/rc.conf. Spare some time and browse all the configuration files. Arch uses a BSD-style init framework.

Once the core installation is finished, user can reboot into fully functional command-line-interface. Now at this, point users have two options for "extra" installation. If the user can bring up network connection in the command-line-interface, network installation works fine. If, however, the computer is not having a functional network connection, user can download the "extra" repository from any of the mirrors and can copy the contents in "/var/cache/pacman/pkg" directory. Also "extra.db.tar.gz" file needs to be extracted to "/var/lib/pacman/extra" directory.

Once onto the newly installed system, user can customize the installation with "extra" repository.
"pacman -S kde" will install all the required packages to bring up KDE; similarly gnome, xfce can also be installed.In the last release, packages for keyboard and mouse were not installed automatically by the above command; but that is gone now

To boot into the new desktop environment, user needs to do these changes: change /etc/inittab to runlevel id:5, set login manager as kdm/gdm/slim, add hal and dbus to list of daemons (started at boot) in /etc/rc.conf, and execute xorgcfg to generate xorg.conf.

Being a KDE fan, I installed KDE first and then later tried to see xfce as well. I installed xfce4 by issuing pacman -S xfce4, but was never able to get to the xfce desktop environment. It just hung for me.

Aesthetics
Being a workstation and server targeted distribution, not much has been done in the aesthetics department, except a custom wallpaper. But even the base KDE looks really nice. For GTK application to look nice under KDE, users have to install the gtk-qt-theme.

Applications
The core install only provides basic installation and whatever application the user wants, s/he has to get it from the extra repository. The extra repository is approximately 4 GB and provides almost all the applications in there latest version.

Multimedia
With the packages from extra repository, I was able to play all kinds of media.

Eye Candy
Compiz-fusion is not present in the extra repository as of now. So user has to enable other repositories for the eye-candy.

Recommendations
Arch Linux should also think about a single DVD install flavor. Just pack core and extra onto a single CD, for workstation users. This will save the individual downloading of packages from the repository, and will make arch installer easier for system without internet connection. Also, please take some time and clean up the wiki.

Conclusion
Acrh Linux is lean, wicked and it allows all types to possibilities. It allows the user to custom tailor the distribution as per his/her taste. It has a great package manager. A package manager that is being used by lot of other distributions like frugalware, archie and faun. But I am unable the gauze the advantages pacman provides over apt-get.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Fedora 8 Review


Nice new beautiful fedora.
Fedora (previously called Fedora Core) is an RPM-based, general purpose Linux distribution, developed by the community-supported Fedora Project and sponsored by Red Hat. Fedora's mission statement is: "Fedora is about the rapid progress of Free and Open Source software."

According to the project website: "Fedora is a Linux-based operating system that showcases the latest in free and open source software. Fedora is always free for anyone to use, modify, and distribute. It is built by people across the globe who work together as a community: the Fedora Project." Currently Fedora is ranked #4 at distrowatch.

Test Machine
AMD Athlon 64 3800+ with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 6600GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.

Booting
Fedora comes in different flavors: KDE Live, Gnome Live, Games Live, Developer Live, Fedora Electronic Lab Live and the standard DVD install. For this review, I picked up the 64-bit standard install DVD.

I really like Red Hat based distribution from installation point of view. There is no need to burn a CD/DVD for installation. You can have a hard disk installation. This is really cool. No need to burn extra DVDs and then throw them out after six months.

On initial boot, after installation, Fedora brought up X with the correct resolution 1440x900@75Hz. Fedora did the same in version 7 as well, making it the first distribution to correctly setup Graphics for my machine (neither XP nor vista) can do this)!

Installation
Red Hat uses anaconda for installation. Anaconda is really easy and highly configurable installer and is used by a lot of other distributions as there standard installer.

Here I would take some time to describe the hard disk installation process. The user needs three things: a partition(fat32 or ext3) that can be read by the installer, an ISO reading application (e.g. WinRAR) and a Linux boot loader (e.g. lilo, grub or NTLDR).

Copy the ISO file to a free partition; which is readable by installer. Now use the ISO reader application to extract /isolinux/vmlinuz & /isolinux/initrd.img. Now create a new Loader entry with these files to the desired partition. You might have to google for more information specific to the Loader you are using. For grub, the new entries for the second partition on primary hard disk, should be like this:


title Install
kernel (hd0,1)/vmlinuz ro vga=791
initrd (hd0,1)/initrd.img
Now reboot the machine and select the Install option. Anaconda will come up and ask for language and keyboard. Then anaconda will ask for the partition containing the ISO image file. Once anaconda finds the desired image, it will start as normal.

Aesthetics
As mentioned in the title, werewolf (Fedora 8) looks are simply breath-taking. Tango icon theme is now default, the fonts look awesome.

Applications
Being a DVD install, there are a lot of applications, and all of them are in the latest version. Open Office 2.3 is there for office application, and Firefox 2.0.0.8 is installed for web browsing. I had some problems with Firefox; initially it refused to come up. I had to kill all the running Firefox instances (by executing "killall firefox"), and Firefox came up fine the next time.

The default applications present on DVD are undergoing a massive change. A lot of applications are missing out. Gvim is dropped, whereas emacs is in the latest version 22.1. Gnome configuration editor is dropped, one thing I personally don't like. But I consider these as side-effects of a massive change. The changes are not yet stabilized, and we can hope to see a stabilized set of applications, tuned to community preferences in future.

Software installation is still a mess. Pirut almost hangs whenever invoked. It would be better to see Pirut as a more responsive applicaiton.

Multimedia
Red Hat is staying clear from proprietary codecs, as a result, out-of-box multimedia support is missing from Fedora. Codec buddy is installed for making codec installation easy, but I ran out of luck while trying to use it. While playing MP3, Amarok simply crashed. And while playing WMV files, codec buddy was unable to find any suitable plug-in.

Eye Candy
Fedora comes with latest compiz fusion, but is not enabled by default. For Nvidia graphics card, I enabled 3D acceleration by compiling proprietary Nvidia drivers from source. Also some additional parameters are required in xorg.conf.

Conclusion
Red Hat ruled the Linux distribution world, before Ubuntu came and took over. With the current release for Fedora, it seems that Red Hat is fighting really hard to control the lost ground. The intense effort is clear from the current release. If we ignore minor hick-ups, werewolf is one of the best releases from Fedora. With this release Fedora is returning to my workstation as distribution of choice, after a long time.

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Zenwalk 4.8 Review

Zenwalk (formerly Minislack), or Zenwalk Linux, is a Slackware-based GNU/Linux distribution with a goal of being slim and fast by using only one application per task and with focus on graphical desktop and multimedia usage. Zenwalk is currently ranked # 15 at Distrowatch.

Zenwalk comes in four different versions: Standard, Core, Live, and Server Editions. I used standard edition for this review. There is no screen capturing application installed by default by Zenwalk; thus the review does not contain any screen-shots from my machine. If you are interested in seeing Zenwalk, look here

Test Machine
Pentium D 3.4 GHz with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 7300GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.

Booting
For this review I chose the Standard Edition, and it does not come with a Live environment.

Installation
The installer is ncurses application, similar to Slackware. For some newbies this, seemingly text based installation method, can be intimidating. The installer asks the standard questions, root partition, swap partition etc. and begins installation.

Once installation is complete the user can configure the system. One of the most annoying fact about a Slackware based distribution is failure to load the required network card module. The installer detects the network card, allows the user to specify the network settings, and then on booting, the network functionality is missing. The user has to manually load the network driver module . Now this issue is generic to almost all Slackware derivatives.

So if you are planning to install Zenwalk, or as matter of fact any Slackware derivative, its better to know your network card name and corresponding module required by Linux before hand. A simple googling will help :). On my machines, I have intel network and realtek network cards and the modules are e100 and 8139too, respectively. So for the intel based driver I have to issue "modprobe e100" as root user. Once the module is loaded, the user has to bring up the network card by going through a control center application called ZenPanel.

Aesthetics
Zenwalk flaunts the most simple and elegant theme; its nice and cool. Zenwalk has xfce as the default desktop manager. And the xfce is left in its original format, not pushed hard to look like gnome, as done by some other distributions like Xubuntu and Mint.

Zenwalk has a really nice login screen; very well integrated with the splash screen and wallpaper. But with this version (4.8), somehow the themed login screen was not selected by default. I had to manually set in Settings Manager.

Applications
Zenwalk has a unique application strategy: one mainstream application for each task. Its nice and can be very helpful for new Linux converts. A lot of confusion is cleared. I used Geany, as a text editor, for the first time and was really impressed.

Almost all the applications are in the latest version. Ice weasel (re-branded Firefox) is 2.0.0.6-g2. Open office is missing from the packages, instead Abiword and Gnumeric Spreadsheets are installed. Although these applications are enough for an average desktop user, but I feel that Open Office would have been a better option. Maybe we can hope to see that in later versions.

With xfce based distributions one serious short-coming is the lack to samba viewer. There is no way to view samba shares on other machines. And the same scenario is there for Zenwalk.

Multimedia
Zenwalk has the complete multimedia support out-of-box. It was able to view/listen all kind to medis formats without any glitch.

Eye Candy
There is no advanced compositing manager installed by default with Zenwalk. A default compositing manager is installed which allows true window transparency.

Recommendations
Kindly load the desired network module during boot: its easy and simple, but can prove to be really annoying to a new user. Also Open Office is much better and complete solution for office related application; kindly consider it for inclusion.

Conclusion
I am just in love with xfce based distributions; they are fast, simple and elegant and Zenwalk is no exception. It has a really good control center and out-of-box multimedia support. Except for few initial hick-ups (network card module) it is really user friendly. I would recommend it to new Linux users.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

StartCom MultiMedia Edition ML-5.0.6 Review


Highly disappointing start
StartCom Linux is a Red Hat clone. The Multimedia edition resembles Fedora. It is currently ranked #81 at Distrowatch.

The last time I viewed this project's main page, I remember seeing a reason for starting the distribution. The project developers expressed their anger about the pricing of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat's decision to discontinue the Base version. As a result of with developers were forced to rebuild the distribution from source. But this time I see that StartCom has converted to a commercial identity. And the original cause is lost.

Test Machine
Pentium D 3.4 GHz with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 7300GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.

Booting
For this review I used the Multimedia Edition DVD, also known as Kessem. The DVD does not provide a Live environment, thus the user is forced to install the distribution first. This is quite amazing, given the fact that Fedora now provides a live environment.

When the system boots for the first time, some configuration is further required. Selinux is removed from Multimedia edition, so the desktop users are saved from a restart. Display configuration is completely messed up in Kessem. Even after selecting "Generic LCD 1440x900" the configuration did not give me the option for setting 1440x900 resolution. I selected 1400x1050 and desktop came up with 1024x768.It looked horrible.

Installation
StartCom uses the same Anaconda installer: used by Red Hat, with some changes in the package selection. Some sets, like Cryptography are available under two headers.

The installer asks about Language, Keyboard, disk partition, boot loader, root password and packages to install. The user account is created on first boot.

Aesthetics
StartCom does not have very appealing user interfaces (I reckon Fedora is better), but they are not so bad either. Dejavu fonts are missing from the default install.

Applications
Being a DVD installation there are a lot of applications to choose from. Latest Open Office 2.3 is installed whereas Firefox is still 1.5; 1.5.0.12 to be precise.

There are a lot of unique softwares present in Kessem which are not found in other distributions; for instance , MySQL Administrator . Wine is also installed by default.

Multimedia
Being a multimedia edition, I was too much excited about the codecs and multimedia applications. Certainly there are a lot of Multimedia applications, but none of the Codecs worked. I was unable to play WMV files and DVDs. Its pathetic for a distribution, calling itself multimedia edition and yet unable to play DVDs.

Eye Candy
Compiz Fusion is installed by default, but all attempts to enable the eye-candy resulted in XServer crash.I had the latest Nvidia drivers and all the required settings in xorg.conf, but still I was unable to have the nice desktop effects.

Conclusion
The previous versions were a lot better, and I strongly supported their cause. Now with this release the cause is gone, and a new commercial identity is in place. The system crashes a lot, seems like there was no testing done at all. Just stay away from StartCom, Fedora is lot better, stable and reliable.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ubuntu 7.10 Review


A mixed bag
Ubuntu is a predominantly desktop-oriented Linux distribution, based on Debian GNU/Linux but with a stronger focus on usability, regular releases, and ease of installation. Ubuntu is sponsored by Canonical Ltd, owned by South African billionaire entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth.. It is currently ranked #2 at distrowatch. For this review, I used the DVD distribution.

Test Machine
Pentium D 3.4 GHz with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 7300GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.

Booting
Ubuntu comes with live CD installation environment. The user can boot into the actual system, check how the distribution is going to look like and then finally install the operating system.

This XServer configuration was a lot better this time. Earlier the live CD came up with 1280x1024 resolution and looked really bad. This time the XServer came up with 1400x1050: its not optimal 1440x900, but still it is close. At least Ubuntu identified that the computer has a wide-screen monitor attached.

Installation
The installation is similar to previous versions, except for the migration assistant: it is removed. The installation summary screen shows information about it though.

In the previous release, Ubuntu introduced the concept of scanning all the hard disks after every change done in the partition table. Just for selecting the root partition, the user had to wait patiently for three scans: one initial scan, second when root mount point was selected and third when the root partition was marked for formatting. And on top of that, each scan took a lot of time. This time, scan time is reduced a lot. Seems that the installer is doing fine-grained sensible checking. But all this makes me wonder; why did they replace the original file-system selection screen from the installer? It was fast and efficient.

The installation starts and seems to go fine. Around 75%, the installer asserts "less than a minute remaining". And at 82%, while scanning mirrors, the installation stands still. I waited for an hour, but the installation would not move beyond 82%. After an hour, I was certain that the installer has entered an infinite loop and started digging the net. And it was not only me, who was facing the problem but a lot of other people too. he user has to disable networking; mirror scanning will time-out and the installation will proceed.

After Drapper (Ubuntu 6.06), I am yet to see a bug free installer in Ubuntu. Why every time I have to google for installing the most user-friendly distribution? Why can't the developers put a simple "skip" button? Why the installer does not time-out automatically? Why can't Ubuntu test these simple installation scenario? If I have to deal with installation nuisance, then why should I use Ubuntu and not FreeBSD or Arch?

Aesthetics
Ubuntu has moved back to dark brown theme, and it looks really nice. At some places the older orange-brown color is still present, but that is acceptable. As usual the fonts look really good

Applications
Ubuntu comes with standard set of applications. If you have downloaded the DVD image, a lot of applications can be installed via DVD. With Gutsy, deskbar applet is shown in upper panel with the user name. Alt+F3 will invoke deskbar and its lot better than the application launcher.

Open Office 2.3 and Firefox 2.0.0.6 (both latest) are installed by default. Bug reporting tool, python 2.5 and Ubuntu device database are also installed by default.

Multimedia
Ubuntu has chosen not to distribute the multimedia codecs. So out-of-box multimedia support is missing. Still when the user plays a multimedia file, he has an option to search and install the required codec.

Eye Candy
Eye-candy was the much awaited feature in Ubuntu. And it is as simple as it gets. Personally I feel that it is too much dumbed down. Nvidia-glx-new package is present on the DVD and contains the driver required for Nvidia 3D support. Installing it is a breeze. User can select the visual effects from System > Preferences > Appearnce > Visual Effects. There are three options: None, Normal, and Extra. Xorg.conf is not updated to incorporate Extra effect, and the user has to do it manually.

Now comes the shocking part: Ubuntu is targeted for windows migrators, that should not mean that one has to bring in ugly windows aspects! In windows, after every driver install, user is asked to reboot, and that is not the case with Linux. Linux supports modules and thus every driver installation does not require a reboot. But with Ubuntu user is forced to reboot, in order to use the new graphics drivers. Restarting X Server should have been more than enough.

Also people who are too much excited about the cube, will be disappointed. Ubuntu has left compiz configuration utility out of standard install. User needs to explicitly install "compizconfig-settings-manager" to get System > Preferences > Advanced desktop effects settings. The required packages only 527.1 KB. I don't know why these were kept out of the media, they could have been easily incorporated both in CD and DVD format

There is a saying "My way or Highway", but this is not amongst the open source principles. I have nvidia graphics card and explicitly compile the drivers and then load them through xorg.conf. But Ubuntu does not allow me to manually load the compiled drivers. And even if you somehow manage to load it, visual effect settings go for a toss (as they are bound with nvidia-glx-new package).

Conclusion
Ubuntu has quickly achieved mass attention, it was also #1 distribution for a long time. It has done some great work like ship-it to promote Linux. But I am really disappointed with the current trend. The current release is a mixed bag, but is completely unacceptable in terms of Ubuntu's glorious past.

Installer bugs are a strict NO, for any software. Right now, Ubuntu needs to only focus on "Bug-free, efficient installer". No software can beat the competition if the installer is buggy. Also Ubuntu should not limit the options given to open source enthusiast.

The next release 8.04(hardy) is supposed to be LTS(long term support) release, just hoping that Ubuntu is able to set things right in it.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mandriva 2008 Review


Losing the Magic
Mandriva is a commercial Linux distribution: emerged from the ashes for Mandrake and Connectiva. Mandrake was the trend-setter for user-friendliness in Linux. Mandrake was Ranked #1 distribution for a long time before Ubuntu took over. Currently Mandriva is ranked #8 at distrowatch. Mandriva comes in different versions; one (single CD), free (OSS only), PowerPack, Discovery. I am using free DVD version for the review.

Test Machine
Pentium D 2.8 GHz with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 7300GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.

Booting
"Mandriva One" is the live CD; "Free" does not come with a live CD environment. So if you are curious whether all the hardware will properly function or not, you have to download a separate CD. I preferred to wait and see once the installation is complete.

After installation, desktop came up with native 1440x900@Hz. Only a few distributions are actually able to correctly configure a wide-screen monitor, thus Mandriva scores high points for this.


Installation
The installation process is a bit changed; changes seem to be influenced by PCLOS. Graphical Installer comes up and walks you through the installation process. The standard questions are asked. The security configuration that used to be the first screen, has been moved to post-install configuration page.

Mandriva searches for all the installed linux distributions and provides you the option for upgrading the compatible distributions. For my system, the installer gave me option to upgrade existing Centos, Ark, PCLOS distributions. I have never tried the upgrade path, but would certainly like to try them out once.

You can easily manage your partitions to accommodate the new installation. A new desktop selection screen is added. With this you can pick either Gnome or KDE as your default desktop environment. After the selection, installation starts and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.

Post-Install configuration shows the most changes. It is now much more similar to the PCLOS configuration, and it is really awkward. Time-zone and country selection is a complete mess. The configuration for auto-login is missing. My wireless network card was not detected. The only good part came with desktop resolution. The driver for the graphics card was nv instead of nvidia.

Aesthetics
Mandriva still retain the La Ora theme introduced in the earlier version. For the Free version its light blue and really pleasing to the eyes. But the fonts were looking really bad.

Applications
Being a DVD install there are plenty of softwares available. But majority of the software is of older version. Open Office is 2.2.1 instead of the latest 2.3.0 and Firefox is 2.0.0.6 instead of the latest 2.0.0.7. Additional repositories can be configured to install more software as well. This installation failed for me though.

Multimedia
Surprisingly the Free version comes with the audio/video codecs preinstalled. The kaffeine wizard reported lack of win32 codecs and libdvdcss. But, astonishingly, I was able to play MP3 files, WMV files, and DVDs.


Eye Candy

Mandriva comes with Mettese and Compiz Fusion. But I was not able to use them with the default nv drivers. I needed nvidia drivers for 3D acceleration but was unable to install the nvidia drivers.

When I tried installing the drivers from on-line repositories, the installer was unable to set up any repository as it was always "unable to parse media.cfg". When I tried to manually build the drivers, nvidia.ko failed to load because either there was a version mismatch between the gcc used to build the kernel and gcc present on the system, or something regarding mis-configured headers.

This experience makes me think about the beta testing employed by Mandriva. These bugs should have been ironed out in beta and should not have made it to the release candidate. But, here they are in the release.

Conclusion
Mandrake used to have a unique identity. Initial versions of Mandriva continued with that identity. But the latest version seems to be shedding that identity, and becoming a shadow of other distributions. If you want to lead, don't follow someone else.

The current version is at best pathetic. It is below the expectation level of a free distribution, leave out commercial distribution. Hope that Mandriva tries to regain its vision and identity with future versions.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Foresight Linux 1.4 Review


A nice green appliance
According to the project website "Foresight Linux is a Distribution which showcases the latest and greatest version of the GNOME Desktop Environment and Freedesktop.org. Foresight includes some of the more innovative and new software being built for Linux today, including Beagle , F-Spot , Avahi , and the latest HAL".

Foresight Linux 1.4 features the latest GNOME 2.20, which includes updates to Evolution Email and Calendar, Tomboy Notes, Power Manager, Epiphany Web Browser the GNOME Image Viewer, Eye of GNOME and more. It also features the latest Conary package manager and an updated GTK theme.

Foresight is currently ranked #32 at Distrowatch.
Test Machine
I have switched to another Machine. Now I am having a Pendtium D 2.8 GHz with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 7300GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.

The whole point of specifying a test machine, is to give an idea about what I am using. It shall not be taken as minimum requirements.
In general, a processor that is more that 1GHz, a RAM more than 1GB and a separate graphics cards (preferably Nvidia) should be fine for majority of the distributions. A separate graphics card is required if you want to enjoy the eye candy, or if you have a wide screen monitor.

Booting
Foresight Linux does not come with a Live CD environment and you have to actually install foresight in order to see how it looks. After installation, the new user account is created via a dialog.

Foresight came up with 1280x1024@60Hz instead of native 1440x900@75Hz. The xorg.conf had mode lines for almost all the resolutions except 1440x900; closest was 1400x1050@75Hz. Also the resolution section was messed up. I was seeing resolutions like 1440x1440, 1280x1280 etc. On the brighter side, nv module was loaded (in earlier releases, vesa was loaded).

I commented out unnecessary mode lines and specified 1440x900 as the only resolution. After restarting X Server, it came up with a nice 1440x900@75Hz.

Installation
Foresight uses the Anaconda installer. It would be right to call it minimalistic anaconda, as some steps are removed. Installation was more or less same except for the fact that my wireless card was not detected.

Anaconda asks for the language, keyboard and allows you to configure partitions. It then asks for time zone, root password etc and starts the installation process. The installation process lasted for approximately 15 minutes.

Aesthetics
I am fond of the color green, and the bright green used by Foresight is just fabulous and soothing. The theme is disconnected at some places, like the gnome splash screen in blue and no splash screen while booting. But overall, foresight scores high in this area.

Applications
Foresight comes with the latest and the greatest of almost all the stuff. The DVD image being 1.3 gig, allows a lot of applications to be installed by default. Foresight's user guide is also accessible from the main menu.

Standard accessories with search and tomboy notes are included. All gnome games are bundled as well. Gimp, Desktop Drapes and SVG vector illustrator are installed as part of the graphics package. Epiphany is the default browser along with Thunderbird, Firefox, Ekiga, Liferea, pidgin, openVPN and XChat. Latest OpenOffice 2.3 and evolution are installed for office applications. Banshree, Brasero, Totem and Last Exit are available under multimedia.

Foresight is having mono installed but the build tools(gcc g++ etc) are missing. Foresight uses a web interface for system administration. This requires more work, as some settings are duplicated, some are missing and some don't take effect before a reboot.

Foresight comes with conary package manager. It is supposed to be an evolutionary package manager from rPath, but I did not have too much luck with it. I wanted to install proprietary nvidia drivers and thus issued "sudo conary nvidia". Conary downloaded around 6 meg of binary file and then failed while installing it. The error message clearly stated that it was a bug in conary and I should file a bug report. I wanted to give conary a second try and fired the same command again. Conary started to download 6 meg again! Come on, I just downloaded the non-corrupt package, why can't an advanced package manager identify that?

Multimedia
Foresight has an out of box support for almost all types of media. I was able to play WMV and MP3 files. I also enjoyed watching DVDs.

Eye Candy
Foresight comes with latest compiz fusion. A system tray icon is included for the same. All the beryl configurations are available. But because of the lack of proprietary nvidia drivers I was unable to test it.

Recommendations
CD has a limit of 700 meg. Once a distribution has crossed this limit and has moved on to a DVD format, the distribution can go on a wild package hunting. And Foresight should look around and see some more useful packages to include by default. Build tools, drivers, IDEs are a few recommendations.

Conclusion
Foresight is really great for seeing the latest gnome; one can show off the bleeding edge desktop. Foresight also has a great out of box experience. Foresight is having a great theme and is quite user friendly. I would recommend it to every one, coming to me, asking for which Linux to start with.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Linux Mint 3.1 Review


Great Vision, Great prospects, but losing some it somewhere in the crowd.
Mint Linux is a buntu derivative. According to the project website; "Linux Mint's purpose is to produce an elegant, up to date and comfortable GNU/Linux desktop distribution". Mint Linux is currently ranked #6, on distrowatch. Celena (codename for Linux Mint 3.1) boasts about mintAssistant, mintUpload, proprietary drivers, plug-ins, stability, performance and usability.

Test Machine
My workstation is a dual core 3.4 GHz intel processor, with 4 Gig RAM and 512 MB Nvidia 7950 graphics card. I have a 19" wide screen monitors which supports 1440x900@75Hz.

Booting
Like Ubuntu, mint offers a live CD environment where you can see how the distribution works on your computer before actually installing it. On my machine live CD booted at 1280x1024@60Hz instead of native 1440x900@75Hz. The live CD environment seemed too slow to me. The new artwork introduced with Celena was with black theme and looked nice.

One point I would like to mention is about the drivers. Mint boasts about proprietary drivers but nvidia graphics drivers are missing from the selection. Module nv was configured for my nvidia graphics card and thus native 3D support was missing. I tried to manually change the driver in xorg.conf, but xorg refused to start because nvidia module was not installed. Finally I have to manually install proprietary drivers for nvidia. This is somethings that needs to be looked at by the distribution developers


Installation
The installer is the same 6 step installer used by Ubuntu. And I personally feel that the installer is bloatted and does unnecessary operation that seem to make you feel that your computer is slow and outdated. But this is rant is directed to Ubuntu instead of Mint.

The installation process is fast took around 15 minutes to finish and comparatively fast. On first boot user is shown mintAssistant.

I was really exited about it but was greatly disappointed . The number of configurations for a new machine are enormous but only three options are provided by mintAssistant, namely root password, disk configuration and fortune. I feel that all these options are extremely irrelevant. sudo is far better, nobody cares how the disks are managed (as long as they see the contents) and fortune is stress reliever.

Aesthetics
I really liked the earlier blue theme found in Mint. But now with new black wallpaper and green logo, I feel really bad about the looks. Its good to stick to two colors at max, otherwise the theme feels disconnected.

Applications
The first thing to notice is custom application launcher. The launcher is well organized and easy to use.

Being a single CD installation distribution, the application set is limited and oriented to a desktop user. Tomboy notes is a noticeable addition to Accessories. Gimp is present for image manipulation. The latest version of firefox, thunderbird, sunbird, pidgin, java runtime are installed by default. Open Office version installed is the outdated 2.2.0. instead of 2.2.1 or latest 2.3.0.

Multimedia I was able to watch videos, DVDs. and listen to music.

Eye Candy
Both Beryl and Compiz are installed be default, leading for more confusion for a novice. come on guys even beryl and compiz agreed to merge back why are we still having them differently in Mint?

The default configuration for xorg crashes beryl and you have to manually edit xorg.conf to add special parameters in order to make beryl work. I think it will be long time before we actually see a distribution with runs beryl/compiz out of box.

Recommendations
Version 3.1 is supposed to be minor update over 3.0, but even the kernel remains the same. With gibbon around the corner users would have been more happy with a new version based on gutsy. The changes made in Celena do no warrant a new version. Why does mint need to frequent releases? Have a better release plan for Mint. Mint needs more focused efforts.

Conclusion
I have to admit that Mint is one of the most beginner friendly distribution out there. It is the only distribution that I installed on my dad's machine and he is really happy with it.

But with the current release I feel that Mint is getting derailed. It is emphasizing on frivolous decorations instead on usability. Mint has a great vision and have fulfilled it so far; it reached the distrowatch top ten. It just need to make sure that good work continues.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Sidux 2007-03 Review.

Sidux is a desktop-oriented distribution and comes with as a live CD.Its based on the unstable branch of Debian GNU/Linux. It was originally created by a group of developers who split from the KANOTIX project and launched their own distribution. Sidux has a relatively speedy release cycle.

Test Machine
My workstation is a dual core 3.4 GHz intel processor, with 4 Gig RAM and 512 MB Nvidia 7950 graphics card. I have a dual 19" wide screen monitors which support 1440x900@75Hz.

Booting
Sidux comes with a live CD environment, and has couple of options for booting. The default option worked fine for me. The monitor resolution was set to 1280x1024, instead of native 1440x900. Only a few linux distributions can actually run the native 1440x900 resolution, and vista starts only with 1024x768. So in screen resolution I will say , its good .

Installation
Installation is as easy as it gets. Sidux has its own custom installer. There is a warning message on the installer application, stating that the installer is currently under heavy development and not completely stabilized yet. But the installer worked perfectly fine for me.

It has a good installer consisting of six screens in a tabbed wizard mode. First screen is the welcome and last is the actual installation screen. The second tab asks for hard drive partitioning. User can start a partitioning tool (if required), and select the root partition where the system is to be installed. Third tab asks for boot loader configuration and timezone. Next screen requires username and password. Fifth screen asks for network and service. The installer is still in early version and needs some refinements in terms of layout of fields.

The installation was really fast and took less then 10 minutes to finish.

Aesthetics
Sidux comes with an earthly theme; plain and simple light brown colored. Definitely appealing to the eyes.

Applications
The best part was the inclusion of build tools and Linux headers. Even though Debian does not include these tools with its default install, Sidux does. In my opinion build tools and Linux headers are the two most important ambassadors of free software foundation. These are the tools every aspiring geek should know.

Graphics applications included are - gime gwenview, kpdf, digikam, kghostview. Couple of games are als0 present. For internet, firefox (iceweasel), KTorrent, KBluetooth, Kget, Kopete, Akregator, WengoPhone, Kvpnc, Kwifimanager exist. Multimedia applications included are kaffeine, amarok, k3b, kdetv, KMix. Open Office is present with all the applications.

Sidux is based on an unstable Debian and comes along with apt and a lot of applications; which are just a click/command away.

Sidux comes with a couple of utilities to configure different parts of the machine. But they are disconnected. A single control center would have been a better approach.

Multimedia
Neither Win32 codecs nor libdvdcss were installed by default and thus I was not able to watch dvd and play windows media files. Also there was no luck playing MP3 files. Sidux has acknowledged this fact and has provided a hot fix on its home page.

For a desktop oriented, bleeding edge distribution like Sidux, it is not at all acceptable to stay clear from multimedia support. Even if it meant delaying the release.

Eye Candy
There is no eye candy application installed by default.

Recommendations
Sidux should concentrate more on an out of box experience, as this is really crucial for a live CD environment. The configuration applets are nice but they need to be unified under one application which does all the configurations. Its more important to give a steady and stable experience to the user than to just give away frequent releases.

Conclusion
Sidux is a nice distribution but requires a lot of work to get ready for the prime time.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Absolute Linux 12.0.2 Review


According to Absolute website "Assembled to make installation and maintenance of Slackware easier. Built for speed, stability, security, ease of use and development (if you are so inclined.) I am as confident in it's stability as a stock Slackware box -- and that is saying something"

Test Machine
The test machine that I am using is an AMD Athlon 2600+ XP, 1 Gig RAM, 64 Meg ATI 7200 with 15" LCD capable of 1024x768@75Hz

Booting
Absolute does not come with a live cd mechanism. You have to wait for full installation to complete in order to see what an absolute linux machine looks like.

Installation
The installation process is standard ncurses based installer created by Slackware. You can add a swap partition and root partition. The installer allows you to select amongst reiserfs, ext3 and xfs file systems. It also recognizes any NTFS/FAT partitions found on the machine and allows you to configure them. User is prompted for installation mechanisms; "Install from Absolute CD/DVD is the default option". One interesting point to note is that Absolute comes only with single CD install media but it lists DVD media as well.

Once the installation method is selected, the installation starts. It takes approximately 15 minutes to install Absolute on my machine. Thereafter the modem configuration screen is displayed. The user can configure LILO as the boot loader. I prefer Grub though, but there is no such option.

The next screen allows the user to configure the mouse which is followed by the Network configuration. Then the user can select which services to start when the system boots. Console font configuration, timezone configuration follow. The last step is to set a root password.

There is no initial user configuration allowed by the installer, so the user has to login as root on first startup. During this Absolute tries to configure XServer. The resultant xorg.conf was completely screwed up; it did dot detect the frequencies correctly.Moreover, there is no DefaultDepth specified and for the Depths specified, Modes configuration is missing.

The default run level is 3; thus you land onto command prompt. I don't get this; what's the point of configuring X if you are not providing it as default login. Also, Absolute is supposed to be a desktop oriented distribution, they why the default run level 3 instead of 4.

Aesthetics
In this department I will say that Absolute is just bad taste. The look and feel resembles that of windows 95. I can see some of user interface blunders. There are two panels configured by default, both are having the same size and almost the same color.The second one floats over the first one; confusing the user. (In the screen shots I have placed one of the panels on the top)

Applications
The applications found in absolute are limited and suited for a single person only. There are two different file browsers, Rox and Alt. There are a couple of educational applications and some dedicated to configuration tools.

Internet applications are limited to Firefox, gFTP, sylpheed. ktorrent, pidgin and putty. Some games are also thrown in. Graphics applications include gimp, screenshot, monitor calibration, color selector etc. There is a video player, an audio player and a sound controller. Nedit, Abiword, vim editors are available. pAgenda Calendar is also available as calendar application. QtCrust, HTML Page and pyCrust are availbale for development.

Absolute linux uses XPKGTOOL as a front end for installing applications.

Multimedia
I was able to play MP3 and windows media files with absolute linux.

Eye Candy
Absolute linux is meant to be installed on low end older machines, thus ruling out the possiblity of eye candy.

Recommendations
Absolute needs to evolve, it needs to have a community and thus become less specific and more generic.

Conclusion
I seriously do not understand the need or vision for Absolute linux. It does not provide anything extra over Slackware. Slackware offers icewm, fluxbox, kde and some other window managers to be selected during installation process.

Absolute is based on slackware and thus started with version 12; highest version number existing for any distribution. But wait a second, where are version 1 to 11?

Making a distribution is really easy now-a-days, pick a package manger, pick up a list of open source applications to install, create custom packages and burn them on a disk. But the soul of any distribution is the vision. What do you want to acomplish with your distribution. And in my opinion absolute linux is absolutely missing the soul.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Asian Linux 2.0 Review


This distribution comes with 5 CD installation media, and there is no DVD iso image available on the download site. All the five CDs are required for installation and changing CDs during installation is a real pain; they also slow down the installation process. The logo used by Asian resembles adobe's logo in blue color.

History
According to the poject website "AsianLinux is one of the complete Linux Distributions developed in India. It has a lot of additional Entertainment & Development tools as compared with other Linux Distributions. It consists of Mozilla Firefox Browser with Flash Plugins & Java Runtime which makes it fully compatible for Internet Applications"

Test Machine
The test machine that I am using is pretty old; it is an AMD Athlon 2600+ XP, 1 Gig RAM, 64 Meg ATI 7200 with 15" LCD capable of 1024x768@75Hz

Booting
AsianLinux does not come with a live CD mode. So you have to install the distribution before you can check it. I think it is pretty outdated, and some users will be petrified by the fact that they have to install the distribution first. Anyways this is a personal opinion, and the standard installation method was the norm before MEPIS changed the whole landscape.

Installation
The installer application gives you an option to check the validity of the installation media. This is a really long process and I recommend users to just give it a pass.

The installation asks for user language, keyboard, and partitioning. In the partitioning application there is no option to resize an existing windows partition. It picks up any existing swap partition, and the user is left to just select the root partition.

Then the user has the option to select networking options, timezone and boot loader. The options are reasonably defaulted and should not be a concern for a newbie. Then comes the software package selection.

Redhat based, anoconda package selection is one of the best; its simple and yet provides you with full flexibility. I advise that users give a complete thought to what they want to install, as using yum/pirut at a later stage can be a unpleasant experience.

Thereafter the installation process starts, and its a really lengthy process, it took more than an hour to finish.

The installer does not give an option for creating default user. So on first login you have to log in as root and create a new user by using KUser application. It should not allow root to login.

Aesthetics
Asian Linux reminded me of my first encounters with linux. The look and feel is similar to what Redhat had around 10 years ago. There is nothing good for this section.

Xorg configuration was completely screwed up. I was getting 800x600 @60Hz and the color depth was only 16. The driver was correctly loaded to radeon though.

Applications
Being a 5 CD install, Asian Linux provides you with lot of software. But the majority of the application software provided is outdated; open office 2.0, firefox 1.5.0.8. And so on.

Multimedia
Win32 codecs and libdvdcss were installed by default. So the user can easily watch movies. But when I tried to play MP3 songs, the only thing that i got was static noise. The sound card was properly configured and auto test produced correct sound.

Eye Candy
Fedora 6 was one of the early adopters of compiz, still there was no eye candy provided by default in Asian Linux.

Conclusion
I would recommend to stay away and clear from Asian Linux, until you are feeling too much nostalgic. If you feel good about Redhat 7/8 and want to relive the same experience over again, then you should check Asian Linux. In one word, it is simply outdated.

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Linux Mint 3.0 Xfce Review


Linux Mint is an Ubuntu-based distribution whose goal is to provide a more complete out-of-the-box experience by including browser plugins, media codecs, support for DVD playback, Java and other components. It is compatible with Ubuntu software repositories. The 3.0 Xfce edition was released on August 7, 2007. Some snapshots for Linux Mint can be found here, but these snapshots are not specific for Xfce.

Test Machine
The test machine that I am using is pretty old and well suited for lightweight distributions like this. It is an AMD Athlon 2600+ XP, 1 Gig RAM, 64 Meg ATI 7200 with 15" LCD capable of 1024x768@75Hz

Booting
On the boot screen, user is given three choices. Default one is to open a live session with Linux Mint Xfce. The booting takes a little time as it configures all the hardware. It correctly identified the screen resolution of 1024x768@75Hz. The system seems similar to the gnome version.

Installation
The installation is the same seven step installation used by Ubuntu. It asks you about the language, time zone and key board. The worst part is the hard disk partitioning.

The partitioner takes too much time to identify all the partitions. Then whenever user changes something, it requires to rescan the whole partition table again. Why does one need to rescan the whole partition table with every single edit; this could be done at once when the user selects to write the changed partition table to disk. Anyway this rant should not be applicable to Mint as they are using the standard *buntu installer.

Then it provides you with an option to migrate your user settings from any existing operating system. It shows you the final configuration and you can go ahead with the installation. The installation was relatively fast; it took approximately 10 minutes to finish.

Aesthetics
Now this is one of the most awful aspect of *buntu family. Three years in making and nobody could ever come up with a good grub menu. Why are users offered an outdated black & white boot loader with no image. Some distributions have advanced to gfxgrub, but if that seems a huge effort then at least provide a nice image for the grub. Again this rant is not something specific to Mint.

A lot of times, I see people referring to Xfce as "tasteless mimicking of Gnome". This is because distributions like Xubuntu and Linux Mint Xfce actually make them believe that. Come on, Xfce has its own identity, there is no difference in desktop context menu and start menu. Distributions like Zenwalk and Vector actually keep the original Xfce feel and look great.

Linux Mint shares the wallpaper and icons across all the versions; Gnome, KDE and Xfce. Other editions of Mint include specialized launchers, and I was expecting something on similar terms for Xfce edition, but there was none.

Applications
I feel that the set of applications included is very limited as compared to other Xfce based distributions. User gets standard accessories with catfish, mousepad, thunar and tomboy notes. For graphics you have gimp. For Multimedia you have mplayer, xfmedia, gnormalize, exaile, brasero. Internet applications contain, Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Java 6, Deluge. For office, you have open office.

User gets a lot of configuration options via system settings. Linux Mint XFce edition also has its own control center. XServer-Xorg application really requires an applause, it is a really nice front end for editing xorg.conf and its does its work very well. One key application missing is the one for taking screenshots. I was unable to find any pre-installed screenshot application and thus this review lacks screenshots :(

On the plus point all the Ubuntu repositories are compatible with Mint and thus you can install any application you want from the repositories.

Fortune is installed by default and displays humorous quotes every time you open a terminal. Fortune cookies are great fun, but not many distributions include them by default (the only other distribution which I know is Slackware)

Multimedia
As part of Mint mission statement, it is supposed to provide better out of box experience to the user and it does the same to some extent. I was able to play windows media file, MP3 file and DVDs. Flash was also enabled for web surfing. Only missing point was that my sound card was not configured properly.

Eye Candy
Beryl is installed, which you can easily configure. For me the default driver loaded was ati and not radeon and thus I had initial problems with beryl. Once the driver was changed to radeon beryl worked great. Beryl came up with default red window borders which was inconsistent with the generic green theme.

Recommendations
Linux Mint Xfce requires some polishing, and in doing so it should stop mimicking gnome. It also requires lot more applications out of the box.

Conclusion
Linux Mint is a good distribution but I was really disappointed by the Xfce edition. There are a lot other Xfce based distributions which are far more superior to Mint. I would like to just wait and see Linux Mint Xfce edition getting polished.

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Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sabayon Linux 3.4 review


A bright red star at open horizon
Sabayon is the new name for earlier RR4 distribution. It is based on Gentoo and modified according to the needs of users. It comes in two version; one full DVD version and another in single CD mini-edition. Recently they have also launched a Business Edition for Sabayon.

This is what the project has to say on its website "Get rid of Microsoft Windows. Install the Sabayon Linux Operating System and unleash the full potential of your Computer. Sabayon Linux features the most advanced Industry Open Source technologies: no hassles."

You can visit the project homepage read about it more and see some more screenshots.

Test Machine
This is one distro that has been occupying one partion on my personal workstation. Its a dual core 3.4 GHz intel processor, with 4 Gig RAM and 512 MB Nvidia 7950 graphics card. I have a dual 19" wide screen monitors which support 1440x900@75Hz.

Booting
Sabayon gives you a lot of options for booting. The default option is full fledged live CD environment. Sabayon has supported accelerated graphics even in live CD environment for a long time (with the help of proprietary drivers). When you boot in the live CD user is given an option to select the acceleration package to be used; namely AIGLX or XGL or no acceleration. This is one unique configuration that is not available with other distributions.

The live CD could not start my Xserver at desired resolution of 1440x900, instead it was just able to have 1024x768 even with required nvidia drivers loaded. I think it has to do something with the accelerated graphics. But any way the resolution was enough for installing my system.

When you log in to live environment, you see a really nice blend of red and black. This makes sabayon a lot different from standard blue style, found in other distros. On the desktop you see nvidia driver configuration icon. Also there are lots of games ready to be tested.

Installation
The installation icon is placed on the desktop. Sabayon uses a modified version of Anaconda (well known redhat installer) for installation. The installation is lengthy but complete with all configuration. Installer detects your wireless network card and allows you to configure it during the installation.

Anaconda ask for language, keyboard and allows you to configure partitions. It asks which desktop environment you want to have; namely gnome, kde or fluxbox. KDE is the default desktop and fluxbox if for users who have power restrained systems.

Installer then asks for different group of applications that you want to install. There are lot of games to be installed and played on linux, and sabayon proves this point very well. For the blogger who says that linux is not ready for gaming, i say "go check Sabayon".

The installation process is lengthy, processor intensive and time consuming. For my machine it took approximately one hour to finish. For a system that is more that 2 years old, it can very well take four or more hours.



Aesthetics
The theme adopted by sabayon is different at the best. I feel that the theme aspect is half cooked in sabayon. If doesn't feel like one continuous theme. At some places the theme puts extra strain on eyes. If you try to run any GTK based applications the menu entries are completely unreadable. The console starts with prompt color light green with white background, a color combination that is hard to differentiate.



Applications
Being a DVD based installation there is a really huge set of applications. Sabayon uses Portage as application manager. Thus the applications installed are really fast and optimized to the tastes for the user. There is a front-end for Portage with the name protato which helps in finding and installing applications.

Google Earth, Google Picasa, skype and virtual box are some of the applications installed by default in sabayon that you will not find in an other distribution.

Qt, bean shell and glade are installed by default for application development. With all other unique applications, I was expecting eclipse to be installed by default but I think I was expecting too much.

For games all the standard gnome and kde games are installed by default. And along with that there are a lot of 3D games to try out; Danger from the deep, Savage, Nezuiz, sauerbraten, Second life, Battle for Wesnoth and many more.

A lot of applications are also installed for graphics; DjVu, gimp, picasa, digikam, fspot, kooka etc. Same goes with interenet applications; azureus, google earth, filezilla, wireshark, amule, firefox, thunderbird, skype, NX, wlan manager. Coming to multimedia application you see the same trend; mplayer, real player, kaffeine, dvd::rip, elisa, lightscribe labeler, tvtime and so on. Open Office 2.2. is installed for office productivity suite.

I wanted to see a specialized control center for sabayon to make it more user friendly, but it was missing. Except that, I think i was very much impressed by what sabayon has to offer to a new user.

Eye Candy
Sabayon is the only distribution to include the new compiz fusion 3D accelration manager to provide great eye candy to the user. Compiz fans have a reason to rejoice, compiz now works with xinerama.

Configuration options for compiz, are enourmous, there are lots of plug ins to add extra effect. Its just plain fun game to configure and use different effects.

Multimedia
Sabayon comes pre-loaded with all the required codecs. I was able to view DVD, listen mp3 files, watch windows media files.

Conclusion
Sabayon is one distribution that can give all major distributions a run for their money and it is almost there as well. The power of open source can not be felt with binary distribution packages, the real power comes with custom compilation, and an environment that provides an easy way to do the same. Sabayon is the kind of environment that one should be looking at if s/he wants to harness the true power.

Hope that sabayon mantains its right track and iron out the rough corners so that we can rely on a really briliant star.

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