The DistRogue

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Review: Enlightenment Window Manager R17 (Beta)

I think I can name the most underrated window manager in existence: Enlightenment. I learned this after trying out a distro that showcases said window manager, eLive. Based on Debian, eLive 0.5.3, the unstable version, uses the unstable version of Enlightenment, the R17 series. Man, I'm impressed.
The download was 639 megabytes, meaning that I could burn the image onto a CD-RW (it was under 650MB). This also proved that my laptop could, in fact, burn CDs (w00t!), and a boot proved that they weren't corrupt after all. Major w00tness. After asking me some questions (scren res, driver, etc), eLive booted into a GUI login, and one of the coolest window managers I've ever seen.
At the bottom of the screen was a panel that looked suspiciously like Mac OS X's panel (not that there's anything with that). A closer look at the right-click menu revealed even more OS X-stolen icons. But they all looked cool to start with, so no problem. eLive came with a surprising selection of apps, including FireFox, IceDove (aka GNU/Thunderbird), Blender, the Gimp, and MPlayer, among other miscellaneous goodies. It also recognized my sound card (which isn't always a given) and mounted my Ubuntu partition, so I could play some of my MP3s.
Free Image Hosting at
Enlightenment also had some more subtle touches, such as animated wallpaper and panel icons. Unfortunately, despite all this cool stuff, I had one major problem with Enlightenment: Active and inactive windows look exactly the same. Plus, eLive didn't notice my wireless card. Offsetting these, however, is the fact that Enlightenment is a fast, lightweight desktop, and everything ran crazily fast.
All in all, eLive is worth a try, at least. It can't be installed, but Enlightenment can. Try out R17 for yourself and be amazed. Gamers, you owe yourselves.
Friendliness: 3.5/5- Ehh... Friendly, but not Mandriva-friendly.
Performance: 4.5/5- Enlightenment is FAST! Let's just put it that way.
Features: 4.5/5- eLive has a lot of useful goodies.
Packaging: 3.5/5- eLive is based on Debian, and although it doesn;t have Synaptic, it has apt-get. And it works.
Overall: 4/5- eLive is worth a try. Just don't become too attached to it once you find out that you can't install it.
Fedora Core 6 IS next. 'Kay?
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Review: SUSE Linux 10.1

Oog... I don't want to talk about how badly my experience with SUSE Linux went, but I guess I have to...
SUSE was started back in 1994, as a German fork of Slackware. They've forked so much that they're almost completely incompatible since then, and undergone several name changes. What was once S.u.S.E. ("Software- und System-Entwicklung" or "Software and System Development") became S.U.S.E, SUSE, and, after the 3rd alpha of version 10.2, openSUSE. They were bought out by Novell to make SLED, their enterprise Linux desktop, which forked into an open-source version. So, from now on, "SUSE" refers to SLED, and "openSUSE" means the open-source version. I'll just call it openSUSE to avoid twisting your brain any further.
Anyways, openSUSE uses Fedora/Red Hat's "Anaconda" installer, with a bunch of tweaks to make it more customizable. One problem: you can't choose to install- or not install- individual apps, which Fedora's had since version 1. I chose to install a GNOME system. After installing from one disk, it installed GRUB (it gives you a choice between the GRUB and LILO bootloaders), rebooted, and asked for the second disk. By the time I'd inserted the third disk, it wouldn't even recognize it. Just greaaat...
I thought YaST2, openSUSE's system-management tool, would be a major plus. I was disappointed. It refused to recognize Internet-based package sources, and it still couldn't recognize any of the install CDs. At first, I thought it was openSUSE's fault. At that point, I tried installing Compiz and an NVidia driver. Compiz was on the fifth CD, which it didn't recognize, and the NVidia driver required development tools, which wouldn't install. Go figure...
openSUSE could work as a server, maybe, if you had some imagination. It has built-in SYN flood protection (which protects against hackers), a security app called AppArmor (which also protects against hackers), and a setup tool (but good luck trying to get it to work), and as a server, the fact that graphics accelerators can't install worth crud on it doesn't matter. I wiped it eventually, after I figured out that my CD drive was not broken, and that I was just trying to install Fedora Core 6 from the fifth CD. Fedora, to be honest, isn't too bad. I'm just having some trouble with my NVidia driver. It has AIGLX built in, along with brain-dead-easy Compiz controls. openSUSE, on the other hand, needs to have some major changes happen between versions 10.1 and 10.2. They don't need to add flashy effects (Novell is one of the major contributors to the Xgl project that powers Compiz), but rather, basic hardware improvements. Ubuntu gets this- hardware compatibility is supposed to be one of the major goals for the next version, 7.04, aka "Feisty Fawn".
Friendliness: 3.5/5- GUI installer + flexibility - ease of use = points for trying.
Performance: 2?/5- I don't really know without an NVidia driver.
Features: 4/5- Cool stuff (Xen, Compiz/Xgl, AppArmor).
Packaging: 2.5/5- RPM and YaST2. O... kay...
Overall: 3/5- PITA to install, worthless without some major fixes.
Fedora Core 6 is next, followed by Ubuntu 6.10. I'm done with Xubuntu, Ubuntu is better-supported. I'm having some major screw-ups on Fedora, and I'm trying to get virtualization and AIGLX to work. If I can do that, it'll be time for some more screenshots. There's always the Xen Live Demo...
Friday, November 10, 2006

Rant: Developers, developers, developers, developers!

I've had it with KDE. I'm not saying it just plain sucks, only that I'm bored with it. The UI, to be specific. It just screams "Look at me! LOOK AT MEEEE!!!oneoneone I'm an ex-Windoze user!" And then, there's the problem with bloatedness. I can't start a single session without adding at least 10 widgets to the Kicker. Good thing it doesn't spawn new tasks for each one... I've decided to go back to XFCE and GNOME. I'll be using GNOME a lot more in the future. I'm not going to be a complete GNOME rebel, using Foresight and all (Foresight just plain creeps me out), but if I need any eye-candy, it'll be more subtle than a ton of blue, glossy icons all over my screen yelling "Look at meeeeee!". Even installing Compiz is less obvious than that!
XFCE looks good, but in a quiet way. It's aesthetically pleasing, but not crazy. It looks... dignified. Better to be quiet in dignity than to yell blasphemies. (And if anyone's used that quote before, sorry, but I've never heard it anywhere. As far as I can tell, it was completely original.) Zenwalk carries all that to another level, but Xubuntu makes XFCE look genuinely GNOME-esque, so it wouldn't be too much of a culture shock for a Xubuntu user to try a GNOME-based distro.
And this brings me to the article's title. Like I said, KDE has some tricks to combat its inheritent bloatedness. Mainly, it reuses 2 key libraries: Qt and KHTML. Several apps use Qt to draw their window borders and such, including Skype for Linux. The Kicker (KDE panel) codes its apps in KHTML, so they take up less memory. Instead of every app loading the subroutines for graphics into memory with it, they all use a library that was loaded at startup. This is pretty ingenious, and it results in better performance than usual.
Fortunately, GNOME also has a few tricks up its sleeve, including GTK, the equivalent of Qt for GNOME. XFCE also uses it in some distros, and the results are great. Xubuntu uses as many GTK apps as possible, leaving a smaller memory footprint, and therefore giving better results. But not that many apps use GTK: the only ones that come to mind are the GIMP and Glade (which can also make GTK apps). There are probably more, but there's another weapon rising behind the scenes, and it is...
Mono is a library that gives Linux .NET support. .NET is another tool that can be used to create reusable apps, and is compatible with existing Windows apps that were written using it. (Yes, .NET is a Microsoft technology, so if I sound like a heretic, feel free to tell me to LART myself. I've got a Clue Bat ready.) Between GTK and Mono, GNOME apps can be optimized to be as zippy as KDE apps- maybe even zippier. So, developers, developers, developers, developers, next time you have time to do a total rewrite of your app, do it in Glade, or use Mono. That way, GNOME will have better integration, and maybe the startup time will be a second or two longer, but the apps will launch obscenely fast, and maybe, someday, we'll be able to look back on this article, a reminder of the days when installing KDE was a change for the better.
My 2 cents,
The DistRogue
(PS: To any KDE users I've offended, keep in mind that your desktop really does have tighter integration- for now.)

Review: Mandriva One 2007: KDE edition

Mandriva 2007 was codenamed "Ia Ora", which is French Polynesian for "Hello". I can think of 5 different letters to describe it: "Oy vey". It might be easier to use, but it's caused me some royal pains that I didn't get from Xubuntu, Zenwalk, or PCLinuxOS. I still have it installed as my "gaming" machine, but it might be a bit of a misnomer. Sure, it has a working copy of Compiz, the live CD still boots into it without a hitch, and for general use, some Windows users might even like it (actually, they probably will), but for a gamer, it's not what I want. Not quite.
The installation was easier than normal, using a 100%-graphical Live installer that didn't ask me for as much information as some installers. After about 5 minutes, I was ready to try my new, Xgl-enabled system. After the reboot (which featured a nice GRUB bootloader with shiny colors and pictures), I copied my files off my pendrive, and noticed that Mandriva was missing something in the /media folder: my Windows partition. (Yes, I dual-boot. My parents' faults, not mine!) Be warned: Mandriva does NOT support NTFS-fomatted Windows drives as of now! It still exists (thank God for that, my parents would have killed me), it just doesn't show up.
Another quirk was package management. I added all the archives I could to Mandriva's URPMI package manager, and refreshed it several times, but nothing new showed up in the package listing. I liked PCLinuxOS's Synaptic+RPM combination better.
Compiz was crazy. It has so many nooks and crannies for exploration that it's almost impossible to learn how to use it in one day. It's not a window manager, it's a complete rewrite of the way we use our computers! On the surface, it's just a bunch of effects that make windows wobble and sway, but they all have their own triggers. I still can't figure out how to rotate the desktop cube on all 3 of its axises, but just watching it spin like a top is fine for me.
While it might look like Xgl wasn't a big issue, something went wrong somewhere. My NVidia driver loaded successfully at boot time, and GLXGears reported framerates in the 1600s WHILE the cube-top was spinning, but when I tried a real benchmark, things went awry. After copying all the files off my pendrive, I launched ThinkTanks, my favorite game. I joined some servers, trying not to notice that I was gaming at 640x480 screen resolution (my monitor is 800x600), and I felt like I stepped into Narnia. All the maps were white. The texture maps were missing for the terrains. Maybe I missed some of the files in that copy, but it was weird. Then, to take advantage of my lower res to up my framerate, I changed the resolution to 640x480 (so my graphics card wouldn't have to render as many pixels), and cranked down the quality. Every server I joined crashed the game. This has never happened before. So, I stuck with the defaults, where I got an annoyingly-slow 15 FPS. Bleah!
All in all, while an average user might not notice the difference between Mandriva and other distros, it'll be a pain in the... err, adminning utilities for their sysadmins. Gamers are better off with Xubuntu. Like I said, if you're a newbie to Linux, just coming out of the Windows world, you'll blow your friends and coworkers away with the cool 3D effects, and everything'll seem familiar for the most part.
Friendliness: 5/5- Not even a Windows user can turn up their noses at it.
Performance: 2/5- Mandriva's weakest link is performance, far and away. Quirks abound for Linux gamers.
Features: 4/5- Lots of software on one CD. Very Knoppix...
Packaging: 3/5- Quirky, unintuitive... Hey, it's RPM-based.
Overall: 3.5/5- Newbies: This could be your distro! Sane people, move along, nothing to see here.
I'm installing SUSE 10.1. Yeah, the CD works. Something's in my DVD drive (not another DVD) that's preventing me from installing Fedora instead, so I'll buy a set of FC6 CDs (my DVD was FC5, anyways. Outdated...), and tell you how it goes.
From Xubuntu 6.06.1 (upgrade to Edgy in the works),
The DistRogue
Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Review: PCLinuxOS 0.93a "Big Daddy"

Sorry for the late review. Xubuntu 6.10's out, and I'm trying to upgrade it, and failed miserably for a while, until I got the hang of it. According to Slashdot, I'm not the only one... But I'm still not dead yet.
In any event, I can think of a lot of words to describe PCLinuxOS 0.93a:
Free Image Hosting at
Yeah, that too. It's still not quite in the same league as Ubuntu, but it's got enough features for the common user. Like Knoppix, it uses compression to squeeze 2 gigs of software on one ordinary CD, including KDE. However, it boots faster than Knoppix, and is much friendlier and easier to use. You can install software on the live CD (but Texstar's repository is dwarfed by Ubuntu's...) using an odd combination of Synaptic and RPM, and even play a few games. PCLOS also recognized my wireless card out of the box, like Ubuntu (a Belkin F5D7010), so I could do some browsing as well.
Like I said, PCLinuxOS also uses the ever-popular Synaptic, but with a twist: instead of opting for Debian's DPKG system to install stuff, it uses Red Hat's package manager, RPM, and a hacked Synaptic to do that. This shouldn't mean much to you. I installed SuperTux as one package (instead of two, which is what Ubuntu uses), which might explain why their archives are so small (less that 1000 packages last time I checked). Also, you can download RPM files and install them with "rpm -i"- most people who put up RPM files don't offer Debian's equivalent DEB files. It's the best of both worlds.
I installed PCLOS without any hitches (and the install included the copy of SuperTux that I Synaptic'ed), but the boot loader didn't notice my Ubuntu partition. A GRUB transplant fixed it, but still... Minor nuisance. The K>Configuration>KDE menu has an obscene number of options, but most of them are straightforward. A Windows user should be at home in PCLOS. One odd thing was performance. On the live CD, SuperTux scored up to 65 FPS, which dropped to 45 FPS when installed. I also kept getting tiny, brief freezes (fraction of a second) on both of them, but they weren't like the game-stopping brain cramps [warning: adult humor in the link] that Mepis kept tossing out. (Yes, I'm a Steelers fan. Got a problem with that?) The rates were a bit higher when I turned off some Panel effects, and the lag was low enough for me to get through IcyIsland without lag killing me (it happens!).
In my mind, PCLOS kicked out Mepis and Kubuntu as a KDE desktop/workstation. It's not the "poor man's Windows", it's stable, friendly, and flexible. As far is performance, it's not a born-to-frag l33t machine, but hey, it uses KDE. What do you expect?
Friendliness: 4.5/5- Helpful, but not search-companion-and-paperclip smarmy.
Performance: 3.5/5- Gamers, stick with Sabayon. Not horrible, but milinag is annoying.
Features: 5/5- A ton of apps and config utilities.
Packaging: 4/5- Synaptic and RPM, but limited repository size.
Overall: 4.25/5- Solid, helpful... Serious newb-magnet.
I made a comment about Sabayon. That was supposed to be next, but the copy I ordered (from refused to boot. Instead, I'll take a more newb-friendly route with Mandriva One 2007, KDE edition. I tried the CD, and the 3D effects (which are easily enabled at boot) are AWESOME. I'll probably remember it as the first distro I used with a working copy of Compiz on it. It also comes with a ton of non-free components, like 3D drivers and MP3 playback. Best of all, it's still free, unless you pick up one of their "PowerPack" editions, which cost big bucks. Screenshots ahead!
After that, it's on to Xubuntu Edgy. My upgrade worked by hacking the sources.list file, instead of following the "official" method, which broke the system. More on that later, and @the "officials": So much for the method I used being less stable than yours, eh?