The DistRogue

Friday, December 29, 2006

Review: Xubuntu 6.10 "Edgy Eft"

Slashdot has gone after Ubuntu Linux several times (like in this article) for its many flaws. However, true fans of Ubuntu know that, like any open-source project, its true strength lies in the community. For every problem Ubuntu has, there's a script to work around it. No built-in NVidia drivers? Envy. Need more apps? Automatix. With the release of Ubuntu 6.10, aka "Edgy Eft", the focus wasn't on adding new features so much as basic enhancements, such as making it run faster. Since there're already way too many reviews for Ubuntu, I decided to see what was new in my favorite variant on it, Xubuntu, which runs XFCE as the desktop environment, instead of Ubuntu's GNOME.

==Install and upgrade==

I didn't happen to have a working Xubuntu 6.10 CD handy, so I had to use my 6.06 disk. The install was easy, and after the reboot, I upgraded to Edgy. Launching the Upgrade Manager and clicking the big, tempting button labeled "Upgrade" can, has, and WILL break your system! The workaround goes like this:
  • Launch a Terminal window.
  • Type in "sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list" and press ENTER.
  • Enter your password and press ENTER again.
  • Change all instances of "dapper" to "edgy".
  • Press Ctrl+O, ENTER, and CTRL+X.
  • Type in "sudo apt-get update; sudo apt-get dist-upgrade" and press ENTER.
  • Wait for the upgrade- this might take a while.
  • Type "sudo apt-get clean" and press ENTER.
  • Reboot.
If you're scared about an upgrade breaking your system, try that.

==Apps and looks==

I personally thought that the version of Xubuntu's default Clearlooks theme, which the last version used, was a bit... flat. Well, the updated version of Xubuntu's default theme was a welcome improvement:
There's also new boot-splash artwork, and a more sophisticated-looking GDM screen. All of which is a welcome improvement.
Xubuntu comes with a surprising number of cool apps. There's the GIMP, the famous open-source Photoshop replacement:
XFCE's media player, Xfmedia, wasn't too bad...

...but the PDF "playback" was a bit weird.

Xubuntu's a minimalist system by default, but it's enough.

==Customizing Xubuntu==

Ubuntu and Kubuntu have an improved init system called Upstart, but why should they get all the fun? Why shouldn't Xubuntu have boot speeds so fast that one reviewer wondered whether the Live CD had even shut down completely, after his first boot?
Answer: It can.
The code is "sudo apt-get install upstart". If you're feeling paranoid, back up /sbin/init, but I didn't have any problems. I noticed a speed boost in the startup, but it's not always as dramatic as that guy said. On my system, an AMD Athlon XP at 1.4GHz (with 1GB RAM), the startup time dropped to 35 seconds.
If you're having problems getting your NVidia graphics card to work, head over to Alberto Milone's site, the home of the Envy NVidia installer. Technically, it works with any distro, but it's intended for Ubuntu or Debian, since it uses their apt-get system for installing the driver's dependencies. To use it to install the NVidia driver:
  • Download the file.
  • Install it with dpkg or GDebi.
  • Enter runlevel 1 by pressing Ctrl+Alt+2. Then, log back in.
  • Run the script with "sudo envy".
  • Press 1, then ENTER.
  • The script will install the driver's dependencies, download the driver, and launch it, and while this is happening, you might want to get a cup of coffee or go to a rock concert.
  • Follow the instructions in the driver's install wizard. Most of them, you can just press ENTER.
  • It'll start X again after it's done. If all goes well, you should see the NVidia splash screen before XFCE starts.
  • Game to your heart's content. I recommend SuperTux Mi1.9.
Mostly, this consists of doing absolutely nothing. Fuuun.
If you want a ton of kewl stuff, such as Swiftfox or Democracy, without having to do a ton of work, Automatix is worth a look. To install... well, anything:
  • Add the GPG keys: "echo "deb edgy main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list; wget; gpg --import key.gpg.asc; gpg --export --armor 521A9C7C | sudo apt-key add -". Copy and paste that huge block of code, and hit ENTER.
  • Install Automatix: "sudo apt-get update; sudo apt-get install automatix2".
  • Launch Automatix; it should be under Main Menu > System.
  • Check all the apps you want installed. Then, click "Start", and pray that your iPod's playlist lasts long enough to keep you occupied while Automatix is doing what it does best.
  • Have fun.

==Installing Beryl==

Beryl is a set of 3D desktop effects that make bizarre things happen on-screen. For instance, a Beryl desktop might have windows that wobble when they're moved. Or a cursor that makes ripples when it moves, like a duck on a pond. Or transparent windows that float on each other. Or... well, let your imagination run wild for a bit. Point is, it's awesome. There's a tutorial on Beryl's wiki that lets you install it yourself, on any desktop (including XFCE)- but it's only for apt-based distros like Ubuntu, and you need a graphics card with an appropriate driver installed. Read it here. There's also an instruction manual here- READ IT.
This screenshot is only a taste of what Beryl can do. If you've ever seen a cube on someone's screen with their desktop on it, that's another example- probably one of Beryl's more famous effects.

==My opinion==

Xubuntu Edgy is a major improvement over the last version. It's fast, cool-looking, and easily expandable. If you have an Internet connection, give the companion apps a shot.
  • Fast
  • Looks cool
  • Expandable with community apps
  • Nothing major; some minor bugs
Friendliness: 4.5/5- With these tutorials, it's easy to get basic tasks done.
Performance: 4.5/5- XFCE + Swiftfox + NVidia drivers + Upstart = Mad l33t.
Features: 5/5- Standard set included, myriad of stuff easily installable.
Packaging: 5/5- Apt-get and Synaptic. What could be easier?
Overall: 4.75/5- Xubuntu is an awesome OS. Ubuntu is probably even better.
And a PS: Back to sources.list, and change "edgy" to "feisty" to join the "herd".
From Xubuntu 6.10,
The DistRogue.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

First look: Xubuntu 6.10 "Edgy Eft"

I've used Xubuntu Edgy in the past, and it remains my distro of choice. Why? Simple:
  • It's fast. XFCE is, simply put, one of the fastest desktop environments in existence.
  • It looks cool. I don't know about you, but I prefer Xubuntu's blue color scheme to Ubuntu's orange one- it's there, but it's quiet.
  • It's small. One of the computers I use for testing only has 4GB of free space on its Linux partition.
  • It's easy to use. Okay, so ease of use is subjective. Relative to some distros (AHEMM, DebSlackToo), it's a piece of cake- it's one of the easier ones.
  • It's underrated. I root for the underdogs- that's why I like SymphonyOS. And speaking of root...
  • It's easy to do stuff as root on it. You're in the sudoers file by default (/etc/sudoers says who can use the sudo command), and the root password is your OWN password. How easy is that? Bonus: no root = harder to hack.
Now, for the changes in Edgy:
For starters, an eft is a newt. Ubuntu names their releases after animals (with an adjective in front), hence names like "Dapper Drake (duck)", "Breezy Badger", and, coming up next, "Feisty Fawn". Edgy's name proves the point that it's more cutting-edge than previous versions, with an improved init system (faster startup, which now kicks Ulteo's behind to Mars and back), better support for Compiz (Feisty promises even better support), and support for the Xen virtualization software (run other OSes inside Edgy). It also has better artwork, in the form of new wallpaper, a cooler USplash screen, an updated GDM login screen, and the new version of Clearlooks, which Fedora uses. And while Xubuntu doesn't come with a 3D driver, there's a workaround, and it involves clicking here.
From Xubuntu Edgy,
The DistRogue.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Brief update: PCLinuxOS

I forgot to mention PCLOS's 3D features: this doesn't mean Compiz, but just the NVidia driver. To install an NVidia driver on PCLinuxOS, just go to Synaptic and install the "nvidia-xorg" package. It's as easy as that. It'll restart X, and then you're done, if it gives you the NVidia splash screen. And it works- GLXGears reported [s]1012[/s] over 3000 FPS- the highest score ever on my PC. I haven't seen any distro that's as easy to make 3D-capable as that (other than Mandriva, which PCLOS is based on). One problem: Games ran in an annoyingly low screen res, at an unnaturally low frame rate- just like on Mandriva. Hmm...
From PCLinuxOS 0.93a,
The DistRogue.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Review-let: nUbuntu 6.10

nUbuntu is, in one word, evil. It's supposedly a tool for securing a network against hackers, but it could, in theory, double as a script-kiddie's wet dream. It's based on Ubuntu 6.10, except that it uses Fluxbox, a lightweight desktop environment that's way faster than GNOME, KDE, or even XFCE. It has a web browser, some basic apps, and a huge selection of hacking tools, like AirSnarf, WireShark, and MetaSploit. Most of these apps, I haven't even heard of.
I tested nUbuntu as a live CD, although it can be installed. It was a 275-or-so megabyte download, meaning it can fit onto a CD-RW. It's a shame it couldn't be a bit smaller- then, it could make it onto a business-card CD. Even as a live disk, apps still ran fast, thanks to Fluxbox, nUbuntu's window manager- also used by Damn Small Linux for small size. CAUTION: Fluxbox does NOT have a panel- you do stuff by right-clicking the desktop.
After starting it, I tried out some of the tools. Firefox 2 worked excellently, and even though nUbuntu didn't have Synaptic for installing programs, it had Ubuntu's apt-get subsystem, which could be used from the command line. If you miss Synaptic, here's how to get it:
sudo apt-get install synaptic
Type that in, and you're set. There were also a number of network/penetration-testing tools, which probe for flaws in a network.

Of course, nUbuntu isn't really for hacking. It's for securing a network against hackers. I tried securing my laptop to see if there were any problems. I tried an NMap against it, and it showed ports 139 and 445 wide open- and Samba's an easy target. After killing the Samba daemon from my laptop, I tried again- and NMap said all my ports were closed. Translation: unhackable laptop. Boo-yah!

nUbuntu is a handy tool for black-hat and white-hat hackers alike. The knowledge that something like it actually exists should make paranoid people want to get a copy for the opposite reason.
Friendliness: 2/5- Fluxbox needs work as far as familiarity, but it looks cool...
Performance: 5/5- Fluxbox... Whaddya expect?
Features: 4/5- Lotsa apps, and it comes with some basic apps you know and love- or hate.
Packagng: 3/5- Apt-get, with Synaptic available.
Overall: 3.5/5- Paranoid? Get a copy.
I'm having trouble booting from openSUSE 10.2 to install it, but I'm hoping to get it to work eventually- if it boots once (which it did), it can boot again. After that, let's hope 10.2's better than 10.1- I'm a glutton for punishment, but I've heard praise for it from across the 'Net.
From nUbuntu 6.10,
The DistRogue.


Fedora caution: Please look!

Logical volumes. Sooo annoying... I almost lost my sanity completely because of them. By default, Fedora Core 6 sets up a "logical volume" that's hard to access from other distros, and when I tried to uninstall it (to make room for SymphonyOS), SymOS wouldn't even recognize it. Ouch. So, I called in Knoppix to clear it off with its trusty QtParted partition manager. No cigar- Knoppix wouldn't boot. The backup was Xubuntu 6.06, which came equipped with GParted, which was close enough. So, I wiped it (GParted didn't even recognize the type, but it noticed it there, and boom! Buh-bye...)- and tried, unsuccessfully, to make an ext3 partition over it. OK, so now what?
Well, for starters, there wasn't any bootloader installed after the wipe.
Finally, I tried PCLinuxOS, which I've also reviewed before. After an install, GRUB was working, with a timeout and Windows as the default (so my parents were happy). And the best part? To do the rescue, I didn't do anything other than install PCLinuxOS. Of course, you could do the same thing with most other distros, in theory. But be warned: If you use the default settings for installing Fedora, it's not gonna go quietly. @Fedora dev team: Consider this a bug report for version 7! Change the defaults- change is good.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Review: Ulteo 1.0 Alpha 1 "Sirius"

I was both impressed and disappointed by Ulteo Linux. Mainly disappointed. Here's the deal: back in march, Gael Duval was fired from the company he started, MandrivaSoft (makes Mandriva Linux). That was a boneheaded move, but Duval fought back with his own distro, forked from Kubuntu Linux at version 6.06, Ulteo. So far, it's still in beta testing, but that's no reason not to try it.
At the boot, I found out Ulteo's major weakness: performance. It runs the slower KDE over GNOME or XFCE. But that's to be expected with a fork from Kubuntu. And besides, Duval likes KDE! So, it's his call. The boot-up, however, was inexcusably slow, even for KDE, which usually starts slow because of how many libraries it has to load. Total time from boot to running KDE desktop: about 10 minutes. Ouch!
The install went fine, but one thing bugged me: the installer still had Kubuntu's icon. Minor bug, maybe they'll rebrand it in the beta.
After the reboot, things got weird. Ulteo forked REALLY far from Kubuntu, as it happened, and I hadn't really noticed how far until now. For instance, the kernel was re-written, and while Kubuntu had support for PCMCIA cards, Ulteo didn't, which meant my wireless card didn't work. It did under Kubuntu 6.06...
Another major quirk was package management. Ulteo came with apt-get and aptitude, but the sources.list file (which tells apt where to get files) was blank by default. I had to copy it over from an Ubuntu partition. Synaptic, the graphical package manager, was missing, as was the KDE equivalent, Adept. I thought that the "Install Software" icon would help, but guess what? It turned out to be Ubiquity, Ulteo's rebranded installer- that installs the OS, not extra software. Yeah, it was still on the system after the install. It did, however, come with FireFox (which I'm using now), and the GIMP for picture management, along with an extra goodie called Kbfx, which was completely new to me. This expanded KDE's already-enormous customizability, giving the user the ability to do things like change the K button. Awe-SOME!

Like I said, performance was weird. KDE started slowly as usual after my first login (after the install, of course), but became snappier later. For a benchmark, I installed SuperTux, which scored a pathetic 24FPS. Warning: Ulteo is NOT for gamers! On the plus side, however, those 24FPS were consistent. They never fell below 20, and the game never stopped. I did a speed run, beating the game in a record time of 32 minutes and 56 seconds (the previous record, 34 minutes and 16 seconds, was also held by me).
Since it's apparently "Cliche Day", I can say "What a long, strange trip it's been" and not get LARTed by Grateful Dead fans! w00t! Anyways, Ulteo isn't for Ubuntu fans, neither is it for gamers or experienced users. It's for the same people who would like Mandriva- people who aren't up to date on technology, and struggling out of the Windows world and looking for familiarity. And about that "system-on-a-pendrive" thing... Not happening. Ulteo won't mount a pendrive on boot, so it won't work.

-Familiar to Windows users
-Consistent (albeit low) FPS scores
-Customizable out the wazoo
-Painfully slow live boot
-No graphical package management
-PCMCIA support will have to wait
Friendliness: 5/5-
Windows users will be relieved to find a button labeled "Start". For a change.
Performance: 3/5- Someone set up us the bomb! We have no chance survive, start Ulteo!
5 minutes later...
Make your time!
Not "take your time"...
Features: 4/5- Decent set. Comes with OOO, FFX, Gimp, etc...
Packaging: 2/5- Apt-get is there... Just missing a major file.
Overall: 3.5/5- Nothing I haven't already said.
I don't know... What should I do next? I'll probably start with Ubuntu Edgy- it's about time.
From Ulteo 1.0a,
The DistRogue.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

First look: Ulteo 1.0 alpha 1; Review: Fedora Core 6

I've put off my review of Fedora Core 6 too long, and you know it. So, I've decided to say what I know and bail. Ulteo, as everyone knows by now, had its first alpha released yesterday, and since a picture is worth a thousands words...

...a screenshot should be worth ten thousand. (Click to blow it up.)
Ulteo uses KDE with a Windows Aero-ish look (Aero is what Micro$$$oft calls the UI in the next version of Windows), sorta like PCLinuxOS. However, the system tray has more of a Freespire-Windows look to it.
The techical details:
  • It's based on Kubuntu Linux, which means it uses Debian's DEB package management system. Major plus.
  • It's based on Kubuntu Linux 6.06 "Dapper Drake", which means the packages are way outta date- but at least they're stable. Plus-ish, for the market Duvall's targeting.
  • It looks brain-dead easy to use. HUGE plus.
  • For more, DistroWatch's description of it has been updated heavily.
I'll blog about it later, once I get it installed. Complete with a tutorial on how to set up a hybrid hard-disk/flash drive system- assuming you've got at least a gig of free space in your flash drive.

And Fedora? Engfeh. It was a major pain. However, maybe it was just my system. Here's the deal: FC6 comes with built-in ATI and NVidia drivers, but they're the open-source ones, not the binaries- which run faster. It also comes with AIGLX/Beryl 3D desktop effects, and they're brain-dead easy to use. The problem is installing a binary driver.
The install was long, but easy. Not really easy, but simple enough. If you select too many packages for installation, Fedora will ask you to swap disks during the install, like openSUSE (by the way, openSUSE 10.2 just came out today). After a reboot (by the way, Fedora's bootloader is completely incompatible with any other type of Linux), I tried turning on the desktop effects, by going to System > Preferences > Desktop Effects, and clicking the big, shiny button that said "Enable desktop effects". Problem was, it didn't work. GLXGears ran the usual 200 FPS, so I installed the binary NVidia drivers. That went awry, so I asked the Fedora Forums for help. They were friendly, and in a few days, I had the driver installed- but still not working. Oog.
But here are the scores for Fedora Core 6 anyways:
Friendliness: 4/5- It makes turning on Compiz a piece of cake. The install isn't live (live CDs come separately), but it's 100% GUI. Better than Windows.
Performance: 3/5- I couldn't really easure gaming performance without a decent 3D driver, but it's kind of bloated, what with all the services running.
Features: 4/5- There are enough. Let's just put it that way.
Packaging: 4/5- Not disappointing. It uses a tool called Pirut, sort of like Synaptic for Yum (YellowDog Updater, Modified) instead of Apt.
Overall: 3.75/5- Solid. I had some problems, but that might just be me.
Like I said, Ulteo is next. I'm downloading the CD image NOW.
From Xubuntu 6.06,
The DistRogue.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Useful Rant: Ulteo Linux

Not many Linux enthusiasts haven't heard of Mandriva Linux, the distribution started back in 1998 by Gael Duvall. However, Gael's side project still remains shrouded in mystery- but not for long.
Here's the story: In 2005, Mandrake had evolved into an enormous corporation. That year, they brought in Connectiva Linux and changed their name to Mandriva. Earlier the next year (this year, as it happens), they made a stupid decision to go with their previous good one: They fired Duvall. Translation: "Thanks for starting us up and leading us to the top and everything, but we don't need you, despite all you've done. Bye, we'll take it from here!" This sparked massive protest around the open-source community, but they stood by their decision. Now, Gael's out for revenge- and even though revenge is "a dish best served cold", his scheme could give Mandriva some hot competition.
Enter Ulteo Linux. Ulteo's description on Distrowatch reads, "Ulteo promises to bring new concepts designed to help individuals with limited knowledge to accomplish many common computing tasks." It's clearly designed to be as newbie-friendly as possible, but one has to wonder how it could be any friendlier than Mandriva. Maybe ("maybe"? More "probably") Duvall will draw inspiration from it. We can assume the whole "kit and kaboodle" will be in there (literally, if "Kaboodle" refers to one of KDE's media players). MP3 support? Duh. NVidia/ATI drivers? Obviously. 3D desktop effects? Clearly. God knows what else? "Whatever it is... you can find it on [s/eBay/Ulteo]!" But for now, we only know a few useful things:
-It'll be based on Kubuntu.
-It'll use Debian/Ubuntu's package management system, which kicks Mandriva's poorly-set-up RPMed fanny all over the place (see my review for Mandriva One 2007).
-It'll be user-friendly. EXTREMELY user-friendly.
-It'll set up Mandriva the bomb. All their base will belong to Duvall.
-The first release is due out soon. Obscenely soon. As in TOMORROW.
So, barely anyone knows anything about Ulteo as of now, but everyone will. Very soon. Can anyone stand the suspense? 0_o... TAFN.
From Xubuntu 6.06,
The DistRogue