The DistRogue

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Review: Xubuntu 6.06 "Dapper Drake"

This review is probably one of the most pointless ones I've made yet. Why? Simple: Ubuntu 6.10 (aka "Edgy Eft") is due out October 26th, barring any spontaneous 6-week delays (*AHEM, Dapper dev team*), and it's supposed to be a revolutionary release. It'll feature Linux kernel 2.6.17 (recently supplanted by 2.6.18), FireFox 2 (which is a beta/RC right now), Compiz, and a ton of other kewl stuff that most people would drool over. Including me. Compiz is a cubic desktop that you can rotate with your mouse, and move windows freely over its faces. It needs a good graphics card to work, so forget about running it on that old Pentium 2 box you have. It also has its own window manager called cgwd (Compiz General Window Decorator) that lets you warp windows as you
resize/move them, among other things. And you can try it out right now!
Well, almost. There's one major problem: While you can download Xgl, Compiz, and some other stuff you need for it via Ubuntu's Synaptic package manager, cgwd is missng, and it's very hard to find. A fork of it called beryl is under development, and isn't even in beta phase yet. And until then, Novell and openSuSE get all the fun (Ubuntu users, watch that link- some useful news might come up). But that's no reason not to like Xubuntu as it is.
Since openSuSE failed to install (I bought and burned 2 separate CDs, both of which came up with the same "Please specify a config file" error), I moved on and blew the dust off my Xubuntu install disc. Ubuntu seems to be perfecting its installer over the months, but they don't really have anywhere to go. My Xubuntu CD booted up into a live interface with a lot of clean, refined graphics. Gotta love XFCE and its Tango icon theme. The install, which took about half an hour total in Breezy (the previous version of Ubuntu, aka 5.10), took almost half the time in Dapper. It was also done completely in graphical mode, thanks to the new "hybrid" live/install CD architecture that almost every distro's using by now. I repeated the install on my gaming machine (yeah, over Zenwalk... I still think that was a bad idea), and proceeded to set everything up. The biggest problem was that installing the "nvidia-kernel-common" and "nvidia-glx" packages in Synaptic alone didn't work, but as usual, there's a script for this sort of problem, called "Envy". After using Envy (text-mode, deal with it), everything worked fine, including SuperTux Milestone 2 (for the first time in a month or so- I was going into withdrawal) and TuxKart. GLXGears wasn't benchmarking, for whatever reason...
On my laptop, things weren't that much different. I set up XFCE to look like GNOME, checked the SuperTux wiki, wrote a blog entry (does this sound familiar?), and copied my FireFox and SuperTux settings over from my Mepis partition- in a matter of seconds. The main reason for the double install was to check to see if the reason I gave Zenwalk and Mepis different reviews, for example, was that they'd been installed on separate machines. Given how well Xubuntu did on both machines, I guessed not for a bit. Of course, I was wrong.
Package management is easy. It's so easy I theorized that my mother could install SuperTux with Synaptic. To install a package, find it in a list of about 20,000 packages (there's a "Search" button, and they're sorted by name), click on it, go to "Mark for installation", and, after marking all the packages you need to install (it calculates dependencies for you), click "Apply", and sit back and watch it download the package files and install them automatically. And speaking of adminning utilities, on Ubuntu, the admin password is the password of the first user. You use sudo for adminning, and never su, since there's no root account. They did this for security- it makes it a ton harder for would-be h4X0rs to log in as root remotely.
Synaptic is so easy to use, I figured that with some basic instructions, my mom (a casual Windows user with almost no Linux experience) could install SuperTux with it. It worked! Important tip: If you can't find a package, go to Settings > Repositories, and check all the unchecked options. Then, click "Refresh". There are your 20,000 packages. You can also use the sidebar to browse by status or category.
Free Image Hosting at
As far as actual performance, Xubuntu is quite an improvement over Mepis, but it showed that there's quite a difference between my 2 test machines. The gaming machine launched FFX in about 3 seconds, but my laptop took up to 8.

On another note, I've decided to start rating the distros I review. Distros will be judged in 4 areas:
  • Friendliness: Will a newbie be able to run/install/use it?
  • Performance: Does it have a bloated UI full of background apps? Or is it a l33t machine?
  • Features: Does it have enough apps to keep newbies happy and make geeks drool?
  • Packaging: How does it handle package management?
Each category is scored out of 5, and the final average is also out of 5.
The score for Xubuntu 6.06:
Friendliness: 4.5/5- It looks very GNOME-ish, and makes the most out of XFCE.
Performance: 5/5- It ran slower than I thought it would on my laptop, but the results were amazing on my other computer.
Features: 4.5/5- Sure, it doesn't have all of Ubuntu's apps, but it has enough. It comes with Abiword and Gnumeric as OpenOffice replacements.
Packaging: 5/5- What can I say? It uses Synaptic and Apt-Get, and I can't think of anything easier to use than that.
Overall score for Xubuntu 6.06 "Dapper Drake": 4.75/5
Sure, I might be a bit biased, but I'd definitely run this over Kubuntu. Overall, Xubuntu is a nice balance between Zenwalk's mad-l33t performance and Ubuntu's newbie-friendly, out-of-the-box ease of use- both of them "Just Work". (By the way, normal Ubuntu would get a 5/5 on my rating system.)
Next distros: Knoppix 5.0.1 and Accelerated Knoppix.
Saturday, September 23, 2006

Review: Mepis 6

My review for Kate OS has been cancelled. Yell at me all you want, it's not going to change anything. It installed fine on my laptop, but as far as actual usability, it wouldn't even start X, and crashed about 1-2 minutes into the boot-up. The live CD worked fine on my gaming machine, though, and GLXGears ran 300FPS, without 3D acceleration. I set up 3 songs to play in XMMS in one desktop, left SuperTux's title screen running in another, and launched FireFox with 7 tabs (big sites) in another, while putting GLXGears in a fourth. The 300FPS never dipped below 200, except when I refreshed all 7 tabs at once. Then, it dropped to about 100. The developers aren't kidding when they say Kate can multitask. I'm also pretty annoyed that Kate happens to be a mute (Zenwalk, too, and probably Slackware)- you're not going to be headbanging to Wolfmother while you're gaming. openSuSE 10.1 will be next, followed (maybe) by Xubuntu 6.06 with Compiz, Novell's famous 3D desktop. Cool stuff ahead, expect screenshots.
Mepis 6 sounded like a cool OS when I heard about it. I'd had good experiences with Ubuntu, and the idea of having an OS that was basically Kubuntu with some new features, better software, and different graphics sounded great to me. Unfortunately, I missed one major thing: performance.
Mepis uses KDE as its desktop, which I prefer to GNOME. That was a winning point. The install was a piece of cake, and I had a few fun games of TuxKart (included) on the live CD while the installer did what it does best. With a live CD running and no 3D accelerator, it wasn't the fastest game of TuxKart I'd ever played, but it helped pass time.
Then, I rebooted into the system and did some browsing. A few windows opened, closed, and changed completely later, my machine was almost completely unusable. I got about 45-35FPS in SuperTux at the start, which dipped to less than 20 after 10 minutes of light web browsing and level editing. And this was after installing XFCE. In KDE, the starting rates were well below 40 for levels that went light on the tiles.
The good news is that Mepis can do some other cool stuff. Long-time Ubuntu users will have heard of Automatix, an automatic package installer. Since Mepis is based on Ubuntu's package archives, Automatix works on it too, and comes with a Mepis version that's easy to set up and use. Then, there's the built-in firewall, Guarddog. It has a huge configuration window full of options, none of which let me run my ThinkTanks server. I added the ports to the list, enabled traffic in both directions, but it didn't show up on the server list. But you can't blame the Mepis team for trying. Finally, the live CD has something all good live CDs should have: a graphical partition editor, QtParted in Mepis's case. I personally prefer GParted because you don't have to restart your computer every time you use it, but QtParted's better than nothing, and it makes a vital rescue tool.
Even though I didn't try it, you can install the Compiz 3D desktop and turn your workspace into a cube, since it's been done with Ubuntu. Be sure to install the xserver-xgl, libxcomposite1, libglitz1, libcm7, compiz, and compiz-kde packages (or compiz-gnome if you use GNOME) if you're going to do this.
All in all, Mepis sounds like a nice idea to most people, but if you want bleeding-edge performance, stay away. It's newbie-friendly, but not gamer-friendly. It makes a nice home desktop, overall, and can pull some neat tricks.

Mepis 6 (until I install openSuSE),
The DistRogue aka DJ Gentoo
Thursday, September 14, 2006

Review: Zenwalk 3

Wow. All I can say about Zenwalk for now is "wow". I'll come back in a few minutes when I can describe it.
Okay, picture this: You boot up into a text-mode install that takes about a minute to set up, and then it automatically installs a complete, XFCE-based system in only a gigabyte or so- unpacked. The whole CD takes up about 400MB. The forums and wiki are friendly, and the distro has its own site for gamers at Also very friendly. And plus, it's based on the oldest OS ever (Slackware), which means oodles of tech support from knowledgeable veterans. Not to mention that even though the OS takes up such little space, it has most of the familiar apps that users have come to know and love, although it's limited to one app per purpose. If you're still with me and picturing this, you're picturing Zenwalk, formerly known as Minislack. True zen.
The install, like I said, was quick. After about 4 minutes of post-install configuration, which is quite friendly, I was launched into a working XFCE system that I could browse the Web with out of the box. Even though it asked me if I wanted to install an NVidia-capable X core, I was dsappointed to notice that OpenGL acceleration didn't work. However, after a quick Google on the topic, I found a Wiki page about it, followed the instructions, and any OpenGL app that I opened immediately crashed. But that might just be my computer. After running videoconfig, it worked fine, and I was able to play SuperTux at a solid 90 FPS on a GeForce 5200FX. GLXGears reported 1100 FPS, and after installing ThinkTanks (another OpenGL-heavy game), I got good enough framerates to play a few online games withoout shouting "LAAAG!". This happens to be a first for me. Once that was done, I launched FireFox in about 4 seconds, which isn't all that shabby either. GKSudo (that box that asks you for the admin password when using an adminning app) launched in half a second, as did Thunar, the boxed file manager. By the way, when installing the NVidia driver, it won't prompt you for anything, just install quietly after uncompressing the archive. It's supposed to do this, but it will install.
Zenwalk uses Slackware's package-management system, which means downloading a .tgz file (aka .tar.gz), extracting it, and executing a script to install it as root. Fortunately, this system's come a long way since it was made, and Slackware comes with a script to do all this for you. So does Zenwalk- it's called "netpkg". You can also use "pkgtool", but netpkg's easier. To use it, go to XFCE Menu > System > netpkg, and you get a GUI front-end to it, complete with GKSudo to run it as root. It gives you a list of packages you can install directly from the Web, including GNOME (in only a few modules, which Zenwalk has been widely praised for) and KDE (see GNOME). You can read more about netpkg here. By the way, if the install's still too big for you, I recommend uninstalling Python and GlibC first if you don't need them- they take up the most space.
Overall, Zenwalk is impressive. I recommend it for any user who wants good performance and customizability in a minimalist system- perfect for gamers. This dolphin that can jump through a few hoops, and is flexible enough to break-dance. As usual, if this review isn't enough info, you can always check out Zenwalk's Wikipedia article, where there's a lot more information. I also recommend Zenwalk for French Linux users- if you can read this review, try Zenwalk's official French site, since Zenwalk is actually based in France and translated into English. They can explain it better than I can, but I'll give it a try anyways: Je recommende Zenwalk pour les users Francais, parce-qu'il est un distro Francais, avec translacion Anglais. Perdonne mon Francais, il est tres mauvais. And as for Kate OS, I'll get to it eventually, don't worry! It lives up to its hype as far as multitasking.

From Zenwalk 3.0,
the DistRogue aka DJ Gentoo.
Saturday, September 09, 2006

Review: Gentoo 2006.1

Forgetting my alias for a second (no, this will NOT be biased) Gentoo Linux is somewhat of a legend. Its concept is simple: build an entire distro from source without the user having to do much, and you get a l33t machine, perfectly tuned for the system it was installed on. Well, most of the time, it doesn't quite work that way. Compiling from source has a ton of problems, most of which are solved by Gentoo's high-tech, hyped-up packaging system, Portage. It figures out what a package needs to compile, compiles them, and then compiles it. The whole process takes a long time even to install 1 package, but it usually runs really fast when you actually use it. Now, think about how long it'll take to compile hundreds of programs from scratch, and you get the idea that installing Gentoo isn't for the meek...
The dev team does what they can to make this easier on you. Gentoo installs off a live CD, with a clearly labelled icon on the desktop that says "GTK+ Installer". It pops up a wizard that guides you through the install. There are 4 ways to install Gentoo:

  • Stage 1: download a huge file with the entire system in it, and it needs to be "bootstrapped" for your platform and the kernel has to be compiled.
  • Stage 2: same as Stage 1, except that it's been bootstrapped, which means a larger download.
  • Stage 3: compiled and bootstrapped, but an even bigger download. A good idea, since the kernel can take forever to compile.
  • Dynamic Stage 3: uses packages from the CD instead of a file, which means no download. HIGHLY recommended.
From there on, it's pretty straightforward. It gives you an amazing choice of packages, but keep in mind that the more you choose, the longer it'll take to install. Mine literally took all day, with nothing selected except for XFCE, X11 (which you'll need), Blackbox, XDM, and Firefox. I recommend saving the install info to something in case something else goes wrong.
About 15 to 45 hours later, you'll have a working system- or maybe not. The good news is that the Gentoo forums are friendly and helpful. A guy named "ChickensDon'tFly" helped me through every step of my problem when XDM stopped working.
If your display manager works, the results are amazing. Firefox launched in 2 seconds, which pwns my test system, using Xubuntu 6.06 and clocking in at 6 seconds. But pretty soon, you'll realize that you're missing something. Gentoo installs packages by using the emerge command, followed by the package name. You have to do this as root, so it would be a good idea to emerge "app-admin/sudo" first for adminning, then using visudo. Remove packages using emerge --unmerge.
All in all, Gentoo is definitely something to look at if you're a gamer with a lot of time on your hands. There are also a ton of clones of it that install faster, like Kororaa. If you're a newbie, stay away! You'll freak out when you learn what you have to do just to get it to work. For more info, check out Gentoo's Wikipedia article.
Next stop: Kate OS.

From Mepis 6,
The DistRogue aka DJ Gentoo.
Friday, September 01, 2006

The Rogue has spoken!

Welcome to the DistRogue blog. If you think:
A) Windows is cool and user-friendly, but I wish it would just stop crashing,
B) Windows isn't cutting the mustard for gaming, or
C) Windows just plain sucks,
you're in the right place.

== What's this all about? ==

Right now, there are about 500 Linux distributions (or "distros") out there for you to choose. Most of them either are based on existing ones, fill a niche (want "50MB of penguin power", anyone? Didn't think so...), or just plain suck (a phrase I'll be using a lot). My goal is to explain to the clueless ex-Windows user which distro they'll be happy with, adapt to quickly, and get some decent performance out of.
Just an FYI: I use Ubuntu 6.06 right now, but I want to use something else myself. So here's how it works: Every few days, I find out about a distro I really like, download the CD image (more on that later), and install it and test it out. Then, I blog about my experience there, and tell you whether you might like it or not (in detail).

== What's this Linux thingy, anyways? ==

I actually get people saying that. Some people say Linux is a complete alternative to Windows XP (Personal Computing World magazine, August '06). Others just call it a competitor. Linux is an OS, or operating system. The term "Linux" actually refers to the kernel, the part that forms a bridge between hardware and software. The rest of it makes distros different, because they choose what else to put in there.
The thing that makes Linux different from Windows is that it's "open-source", that anyone has access to the high-level code used to build it, and all of the software that runs on top of it. This means, among other things, that:

-Anyone can find and fix a bug that a hacker could use, so it's more secure.
-Anyone can add drivers for hardware they use to the kernel, making it more compatible.
-Hundreds of thousands of people could be working on it at once, meaning that they each have to do less work.
-Anyone can work on it at all, making them feel like part of the team.

Clearly, Linux has some advantages. So why isn't everyone using it? The simple answer is this: People think it's not user-friendly. When Linux was publicly available in 1994 (the first distro, Slackware, was available before that), people had to compile it all from scratch- not pretty. But Linux has come a long way. There are CDs for installing it on different platforms (stuff like Intels and AMDs, all the way to more exotic systems like S/390s and Sun SPARCs), eliminating that step. Also, earlier this year, the Live/Install architecture caught on, allowing you to try the distro out without installing it, and getting a graphical installation wizard if you decided to use it. Finally, the Debian APT package-management system now allows users to download hundreds of programs and libraries with 1 click.

== What's this GNU thing? I've heard about it... ==

A gnu, aka wildebeest, is a large grazing mammal. It has nothing to do with the GNU Project (stands for "GNU's Not Unix"), a huge project that includes just about every open-source program on the planet. You might even use some of the apps, like Firefox, the Gimp, and maybe even Audacity. The thing they all have in common is that they're all distributed under the GNU GPL (General Public Licence), meaning, basically, that they MUST distribute the entire source code used to build the app, and that other users can redistribute their software for money- but so can they (this is how some distros get away with selling pre-burned CDs for cash).

== Two more things... ==

-Graphical desktops: There are 3 main graphical desktops, which allow programs to make pretty little boxes with buttons on your screen instead of running from a bland, boring text-mode prompt. Here they are:

GNOME: A desktop aimed at anyone (but it looks more Mac-like than Windows-like), it has a wide selection of apps and runs a bit lighter than KDE- or so everyone says.
KDE: Aimed at Windows users (it looks very Windows-ish), this desktop has fewer apps, but some of them are better than GNOME's (check out amaroK first thing you do). Some people think it looks cool, others don't like all that blue.
XFCE: The dark horse, most people don't know about it. I use it all the time, but mostly gamers and people with old hardware need it because it runs fast.

-Burning CDs: Linux CDs are upoaded as raw CD images, and they show up as ISO files. If you try to copy the whole file onto a CD as one file, it's not going to work. I recommend Alex Feinman's ISO Recorder for Windows because I haven't had any luck with burning my past 3 CD-Rs with KDE's k3b (on the plus side: 3 coasters). Most images nowadays won't fit onto a CD-RW, but they'll fit a CD-R nicely (CD-Rs have 50MB more space), which just plain sucks, but you'll have to deal with it.

To see the tip of the iceberg of distros, try going here and looking at the sidebar. Pretty scary- that's just the top 100.
From Ubuntu 6.06,
The DistRogue aka DJ Gentoo.