The DistRogue

Friday, June 15, 2007

Full-length review: Ubuntu, Xubuntu and Ubuntu Studio 7.04, and dyne:bolic 2.4.2

Well, the promised uber-review is finally here. With the release of Ubuntu 7.04 (aka "Feisty Fawn"), a new fork of Ubuntu, named "Ubuntu Studio", was released, to go along with Kubuntu ("LinuKs for KHumans", released with 5.04), Edubuntu ("Linux for Young Humans", 5.10), and Xubuntu ("Linux for Gamers and Humans with Old Hardware", 6.06 LTS). It focuses on content creation, containing numerous tools for audio, video, and picture manipulation and creation. Of course, there are numerous other unofficial forks, not to mention ideas (both serious and non-serious). There's an Ubuntu fork for everyone!
Armed with a working wireless connection, I decided to put Ubuntu, Xubuntu, and Ubuntu Studio through their paces, and compare Ubuntu Studio (aka "Ubustu") with dyne:bolic, a rival content-creation OS.

== Ubuntu and Xubuntu ==

For starters, I repartitioned the disk setup that came with my new laptop and installed Xubuntu over it. Since Ubuntu was installed already, that might seem like a dumb move. Well, I needed to repartition the disk so that the computer had a 40GB shared /home partition (need somewhere to store my music collection...) and various other partitions for other OSes. A 2-gig swap partition seemed like a good idea at the time, but proved invaluable while gaming. (Nexuiz needs at least 512MB of RAM to itself, nothing a simple "sudo swapon /dev/sda5" can't fix.)
Also, I had a taste of the new installer. Other than completely redesigning the partitioner, the major change is the new "Settings Migration Wizard", which swipes settings and documents (!) from other OSes (like Windows) and changes them so that they'll work on your newly-installed system. Oddly enough, my Ubuntu partition didn't show up on the wizard, even though it did on other test systems...
I then installed Automatix and used it to get some codecs, media players, and other things. Automatix is frowned upon by the Ubuntu officials, but it's an easy way to get a working system in minutes. I also added some games- from penguin classics like TuxKart and PPRacer to full-blown shooters like Tremulous and Nexuiz. All with a few apt-gets and a lot of patience- the local ISP was having issues (is a ping of 1500 to Google normal for a DSL user?)
Performance (as always) was a huge problem. Compiz and Beryl (as of Feisty, Compiz is installed by default) ran flawlessly (okay, nearly flawlessly...), but because of crappy on-chip 3D acceleration (and bad drivers from Intel), I scored less than 25FPS in ThinkTanks, a record low, and Nexuiz was barely playable with all the effects turned off. (With the defaults, it was pretty choppy...) Sauerbraten refused to run, and I'm not the only one having this issue- it looks like something's up with Intel chips. BZFlag was just barely playable online with a ton of effects disabled and 800x600 resolution, but in solo, it worked great with the defaults. At least SuperTux Mi1.9 worked, and Tremulous cranked out 60+FPS... (And the problem isn't my hardware. BZFlag worked fine with Sabayon.)
Ubuntu did have some other perks. A new disk-usage analyzer not only looks cooler, but makes it easier to find files and folders that take up disk space. A restricted-drivers manager allows unsupported drivers to be turned on and off. A simpler networking manager allowed for 2-click wireless connectivity from a blank desktop. A codec installer takes care of a longtime complaint of Ubuntu users- easy access to commonly needed multimedia codecs. And Compiz was integrated, with easy-to-use controls.
Ubuntu has been, is, and, judging by the plans for the next release ("Gutsy Gibbon"), will be a great distribution for a while. I once recommended Mandriva to a friend who was drooling (okay, not exactly drooling) over Compiz, but with Feisty, that's not even an excuse anymore (and it's about time!). Compiz was considered for Edgy and almost dropped for Feisty. According to rumors, Gusty will include Beryl, and maybe even Metisse.
Friendliness: 5/5- Other distros, such as Linspire and PCLinuxOS, are still friendly, but Ubuntu 7.04 set an even higher standard. The new changes are worth it.
Performance: 3/5- Xubuntu is much better in this regard. Ubuntu is a somewhat bloated OS, running various Apt-related processes in the background, alongside GNOME. Using XFCE helps.
Features: 4/5- Still not a complete feature set, but the new additions help you get there. So does Automatix.
Packaging: 4.5/5- There's nowhere to go from here except to use openSUSE's YaST2 packager, and only because of its superior filtering options.
Overall: 4.13/5- PCLinuxOS might be the top-dog distro for now, but Ubuntu is still the first choice for any newbie.

But wait! Don't hit that "Back" button yet!

== Ubuntu Studio vs. dyne:bolic ==

To get Ubuntu Studio working, I typed in "sudo apt-get install ubuntustudio-audio ubuntustudio-video" from the command line and waited for the download. Ubuntu Studio, being an official variant of Ubuntu, includes metapackages that can be installed from Synaptic or apt-get. These packages install all the necessary programs for a working Ubustu desktop.
dyne:bolic, on the other hand, is a separate distribution altogether. Put together by Jaromil the Rasta Coder, the inventor of the forkbomb (a code that shuts down a computer: :(){ :|:& }:; ), dyne:bolic fits on a CD-RW and packs 650MB of audio, video, text and image-manipulation/creation programs- all licensed under the GNU GPL. (Translation: The CD is 100% open-source.) It also happens to be optimized for a Pentium or later CPU, and claims the ability to run on as little as 64MB of RAM, thanks to an XFCE desktop. The killer: It's a Live CD, but can be installed nondestructively.
Ubuntu Studio, not to be outdone that easily, has two main edges. The biggest one is the sheer range of available programs. The image is 100MB too large to fit on a CD (if that's how you choose to install it), but it has many more programs than dyne:bolic. I counted 67 programs under my "Multimedia" menu after the install (of course, I also installed some programs of my own, such as XFMedia). There's also a handy launcher to give you an instant, customized recording studio.
The other important part of Ubustu is the kernel. Ubuntu Studio's kernel is of the low-latency flavor- It gives 95% of the CPU power to the currently running program. This is perfect for audio, where robbed CPU power disturbs audio playback, and gaming, where it can cause lag- and in fast-paced games like Quake, a little lag can mean an easy frag.
As far as performance, though, dyne:bolic beat Ubustu by a considerable margin. i586 optimization, combined with a lightweight desktop and little-to-no background bloat, was much more powerful than just tacking on a low-latency kernel.
Also, Ubustu's enormous app selection worked against it. The distributed copy of Audacity was compiled without JACK support, and the JACK drivers for amSynth and Hydrogen didn't work. As a result, some programs needed JACK to be running to work, while the major ones needed it to be disabled. Having QJackCtl handy only helped slightly. Dyne:bolic's selection of programs was more polished and interoperable.
Artwork on both distributions was great. Ubustu included a custom black-and-blue theme that looked sleek and polished. Dyne:bolic included calm, subtly-themed wallpaper that may well have been made using the CD itself. A clean, subtle XFCE theme and an out-of-the-way panel provided a serene, uncluttered workspace.
Both of these distributions are worth a try if you're considering a distro for content creation. Ubuntu Studio will give multimedia enthusiasts all the tools they need, while dyne:bolic is an indispensable tool for people stuck on old computers.

Ubuntu Studio 7.04:
Friendliness: 5/5-
See notes for Ubuntu 7.04.
Performance: 2.5/5- In multimedia creation, low performance can have a serious effect on sound quality, even with a low-latency kernel.
Features: 5/5- It's a complete studio.
Packaging: 4.5/5- See Ubuntu 7.04.
Overall: 4.25/5.

dyne:bolic 2.4.2:

Friendliness: 4/5- Takes the pain out of having to use a Live CD.
Performance: 4.5/5- A lightweight, fast CD.
Features: 3.5/5- Not exactly a paltry feature set, but clearly not ultra-complete.
Packaging: 4/5- You can download modules from the site, and they're relatively easy to use- except that they require a hard disk or USB drive. (But where else would you store your files?)
Overall: 4/5.

What's next? SAM Linux 2007. Vector didn't make it past the install. (But Canada still has User Friendly and Billy Talent, eh?)
From Xubuntu Linux 7.04,
The DistRogue.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hardware review: Dell Inspiron E1505N with Ubuntu Feisty

By now, you should certainly know that Dell's offering computers with Ubuntu installed. After just getting one, here are some points about the entry-level Inspiron E1505N laptop:
-Hardware detection: With an Intel PRO/Wireless card included, wireless Internet access was out-of-the-box. It also came with an Intel GMA950 for graphics acceleration, which also works out of the box. W00t.
-CPUs: The 1505N comes with an Intel Centrino Duo (which is dual-core) as well, even with an entry-level config. It's detected out of the box- Ubuntu Feisty's kernel comes with i686 and SMP optimizations. Double w00t.
-Graphics acceleration: On the other hand, the GMA950 is pretty slow for gaming. GLXGears reported 740FPS, and ThinkTanks ran at a piddling 24FPS- just barely playable.
-Screen res: The default screen resolution (nothing extra) is 1280x800. Sweet. However, Ubuntu thinks it's 1024x768, which can be fixed by using the command "sudo apt-get install 915resolution". Easy fix.
-CD booting: After "fixing" the BIOS (just hit F2 during the boot) to boot from the CD drive first, the laptop recognized my PCLinuxOS and Xubuntu CDs with no issues. I didn't try DVDs yet.
-Other problems: My biggest pet peeve is that the screen kept switching itself off- and there's no way to turn it back on short of rebooting. It was fixed with the XFCE screensaver prefs; however, the same problem (only worse- it shut off whenever I closed the lid) happened on PCLinuxOS. I don't have a fix for that at the time. So beware.
Other than that, the new Inspiron E1505N is worth a look if you want a cheap, usable Linux system.
From Xubuntu 7.04,
The DistRogue.

It's here.

The laptop got here today. I've already repartitioned the hard-disk setup. 40GB for /home should be enough...
Next up: A review of Ubuntu, Xubuntu, and Ubuntu Studio 7.04. PCLinuxOS follows that, and after that, it's time for a little-known Slackware derivative from Canada: Vector Linux. (It's Canadian, and they seem to do everything more sensibly than us Yanks, so you know it'll be good...) So far, it looks suspiciously like Zenwalk. They're both XFCE-using Slackware derivatives aimed at novices, they both come from French-speaking countries, they both have separate Live/Install CDs...
Still need to install Ubustu over Ubuntu and Xubuntu and add an SMP kernel, though...
From Xubuntu Feisty,
The DistRogue.

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