Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the tag “Linux on the Bench”

On the Bench: PCLinuxOS 2007, radically simple?

PCLinuxOS released it’s most recent incarnation and has even succeeded to surpass Ubuntu in popularity with (if we use the Distrowatch ranking as an indication of that). With it’s roots solidly in Madriva and dedicated to be even more userfriendly it does deserve a closer look. The slogan “Radically simple” should be promising. However, radically simple compared to what? Debian? Or Windows XP? That does make a difference don’t you think? PCLinuxOS is one of those distributions that want to promote W2L migration. That is at least the focus I chose in this “On the Bench” article.

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What needs to be made simple?

In it’s barest essence the installation of any Linux distribution requires the following steps:
1. disk partitioning (at least swap and / (root));
2. creating the first user and give a password for the root user.
The settings for the time zone, default language and keyboard can be considered essential as well. Oh, and don’t forget the internet connection. So how simple can you make this? Each distribution deals with it in it’s own way. PCLinuxOS will boot as a live CD and asks you about your keyboard, timezone and network before you ever see the live desktop.

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The wizard to setup your network connection is extensive, even providing options for satellite, GPRS and wifi. I wouldn’t call the steps in the wizard easy, especially if you migrate from a Windows environment.

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Installation made easy

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One of the nicer things about PCLinuxOS is the easily accesible installation guide. The icon is right there on the live desktpop. All the steps are explained with screendumps to support the text.

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You can read it alongside the actual installation which you begin by double-clicking Install PCLinuxOS. Draklive-install is your buddy here. The first step of the wizard is to determine whether you go for a harddisk install or a USB drive install.

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I didn’t test the second option, but I am curious about it. Just keep on the lookout for a future article. I went for a clean install on a clean harddrive and PCLinuxOS doesn’t bother you with much questions. Once the files have been copied you give your root password and create he first user. It was at the screen to setup the bootloader that I wondered whether this would make any sense for the novice user. What is the use of the three boot options? We might know, but does the new user know it as well?

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Getting acquainted with the desktop

PCLinuxOS uses the KDE desktop with three easy shortcuts in the taskpanel: package management, setting up your computer and the control center. These are also areas where simplicity of use can be of great benefit to new users. Installing and removing software is still considered problematic by non-Linux users, so it is nice if the default tool for software management removes that prejudice. Well, PCLinuxOS fails in this.

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Synaptic is a great tool, but it doesn’t unlock the vault of the software repositories. You need to know the name of the package before you can install it. Ooops, that is something the novice user doesn’t know. I am not going into a comparison with Ubuntu, but at least that ships with the simple Install/Remove menu. Easily accessible software via a simple intuitive browser. The PCLinuxOS team might want to take a look at that.

The control center icon brings you the KDE Control Center with it’s cobweb of daunting options. It’s part of KDE so I won’t criticize that, but is it really wise for a “radically simple” distribution to put it prominently in the task panel? To have the PCLinux OS Control Center is a much wiser decision. But again it shows that there is nothing simple about making a simple distribution. You have to look at your favorite tools from the perspective of someone who never saw it before. For instance, we know what Samba shares are and we understand the concept of mount points. So when we want to have access to our harddrive on the server we know that we have to set the proper mountpoint using Samba. I can assure you that this is way above the heads of the novice W2L migrator even if he/she is a Windows poweruser. It mght be a good idea for the team to polish this option, remove everything that isn’t of import to the desktop user (and move it to another location for the expert users) and label the functions in non-Linux jargon. That would be radical.

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While playing with Synaptic there were two things I didn’t like. First I did an update and wondered why the X.org ATI driver was included. I don’t use an ATI card. Secondly, the installation of KOffice ended with the cryptic message that extra output was generated. What output? Where? What are the consequences? Well, I did notice that there was no KOffice icon in the menu structure. Could be a bug. Who knows?

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Talking about the menu structure. KDE does make for a crowded menu structure, but is it really necessary to have so many submenu’s. Even when there is only one application in it? OpenOffice.org is divided in three submenu’s. Maybe it is a matter of taste, but I find it overly complicated. The software collection is above criticism by the way. OpenOffice.org, Thunderbird and Firefox are all up to date. Kopete is a fine choice for chat and IRC and there is plenty more to get started with video, music and imaging. The screen, the iconset, the PCLinuxOS theme are beautifully done.

Conclusion

PCLinuxOS is a fine looking distribution. There is much to like about it. It’s goal is admirable but that is also the area where it falls short. I don’t think it added much to the experience that Mandriva is already providing. Synaptic is a solid choice for software management, but not for the novice user and it certainly doesn’t contribute to making PCLinuxOS “radically simple”. There is’t much that could be considered radical and though there have been made efforts to simplify things for the users, it can not be called simple.

Using the KDE desktop as a starting point does provide some challenges of course. It is most similar to the Windows interface, but at the same time it makes as many options as possible available to the enduser which works against the effort of making the desktop simple. If the PCLinuxOS team wants to do something radical it needs to re-design the KDE desktop. Of course this would alienate the more experienced KDE users in it’s fanbase, but then again who is the user you want to create a distribution for?

More screenshots can be found here.

Tags: Linux, PCLinuxOS

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Debian Etch: first impressions

Debian deserves some extra attention. The latest release is being distributed and I have no doubt that it will be installed on quite a few machines over the coming days and weeks. Personally I want to try it on the iMac Indigo and on a virtual machine under VMware. The netinstal images were a breeze to download and that was enough for now. I did not feel like downloading three DVD images or 22 CD images at the moment.

Who should give Debian a try? Besides all the geeks and nerds I think it would be a good idea for the Ubuntu, Mepis, Linspire, Xandros, Knoppix crowds to at least take a good look at the distribution that makes their userfriendly distributions possible. Without the enormous work done by the Debian project their favorite distro’s might not have existed. You might compare it to various large see and land animals that swim or move around very lowly with little fish or birds picking the scraps from their skins or teeth. Debian is moving slowly (though it did have five or six intermediate updates of Debian Sarge), but the best pieces are picked away by the fast moving smaller distributions. Anyway, when such a hue animal crosses your path it is a grand and beautiful sight to behold. Maybe there is talk of extinction, but for now it still moves with grace and power and it deserves some quiet attention.

The install on the iMac went well, but I ran into the same problem as a few months ago: a completely frozen graphical user interface. To it’s credit, Debian did have all the settings for xorg.conf as they should be (in contrast to Yellowdog and almost every other Linux distribution for the PPC I tried). For now, I will have to ask some questions here and there to see whether there is a solution (though last time I asked the solution should have been implemented by now). This article will only deal with my first impressions under VMware then.

Installing Debian Etch

I still remember the first time I installed Debian on a computer. I knew it had a reputation of being difficult, but I was confident enough to think I could beat the odds. Remember, back then -must be about five years ago- I was using Windows98 as my main operating system and was barely scratching the surface of Linux. The installer asked all kinds of questions I had absolutely no clue as to what they meant. Various distributions have improved the way Linux is installed and for most W2L migrators there shouldn’t be any problem anymore. The Debian installer is still text-based with no new shiny live desktop to get you going. This isn’t a bad thing, because it the Debian installer is fast and responsive (even on the old iMac). The questions speak for themselves: language, territory, keyboard layout (where I do miss American English International). Then it is on to the network. You give your box it’s own name and tell it which domain it belongs to. In my case I left it blank.

The next step is to partition your harddrives. For me, it wasn’t really a big problem, having created a new virtual machine specifically for this tasks. The user can choose between three guided options (use entire disk, with LVM and LVM encrypted) or the manual option. I choose the first option, just use the whole disk. You can select the proper disk (if you have multiple disks that is) after which you are asked to select a partitioning scheme. There are three options: one partition, a separate /home partition of separate partitions for /home, /usr, /var and /temp. The first one is recommended for new users, but a separate /home partition might have been better especially if you want to change distributions later on. However, this a matter of taste. The installer then gives you a summary of the partition scheme and you have to confirm your decision. The confirmation questions default to “No”, a wise precaution.

The next step sets up the first two accounts (root and user) and their respective passwords. Since this is a netbased install you can select a network mirror in order to have more than a basic system. The installer gives you a choice of countries and servers in those countries. If you are behind a proxyserver, now is the time to enter the appropriate data.

Debian likes to know which packages you like and the next question is whether to participate in the popularity-contest, where each week statistics about the use of packages is send to the distribution developers. Why not, especially since it can only benefit you. The final step before the installer starts pulling down the packages is to select the predefined softwarecollections. The standard system and desktop environment are ticked by default. When you want to add a Web, Print, DNS, File, Mail server of a SQL database it is a matter of ticking the other boxes. The last selection is for laptop users. Then, you can sit back and wait until everything has been downloaded and installed. No questions will bother you during the next hour. Almost, because you do get a question about the resolutions the x server can use and about Grub.

Conclusion. The Debian installer is simple and straight forward. It might seem a bit more than the six step process under Ubuntu, but it is almost the same. I can imagine that old style Debian users miss an expert option, where you may have more control on what software to install. I guess experienced users will select to install only the standard system and proceed from there on. The current installer looks like a good balance and I like it.

Image gallery (articles continues below)

First boot

If you are waiting for a great looking desktop, Debian is not really the place to be. With Debian Etch you do get a major update as far as Gnome , KDE and Xfce are concerned. The netinstall gives you the Gnome desktop. But, the developers at Debian did put some work in the bells and whistles. GDM actually looks like something to show off with and the default Gnome desktop is no longer plain and boring vanilla, but almost appears bright. The mirrors also have KDE and Xfce disks for those who don’t want to boot into Gnome first. Still, I would recommend a visit to the gnome-look.org website to add some more shine to the desktop (personal preference, I know).

When you are used to Ubuntu this desktop shouldn’t pose too many difficulties. Applications from the Mozilla family had an identity change (Iceweasel instead of Firefox, Icedove instead of Thunderbird and Iceape instead of Seamonkey). You will also miss the Install/Remove… menu item for easy access to install new software. Synaptic is the tool for that (or apt-get of course), where adding new repositories is a bit more of a challenge. One interesting thing I did find was a small window selector in the upper left corner. Very small, but nice as an alternative to ALT-TAB. The default webbrowser is Epiphany and Evolution is the center for your email. The rest of the usual suspects are present as well. OpenOffice.org, GIMP, GAIM, Rythmbox and Totem. GnomeBaker for your burning needs.

Synaptic is there to expand your desktop. When you start up Synaptic during a session it asks your root password. Logical, but when you start it later again in the same session it remembers you already gave the password. Again, a small thing to make life and use a bit more enjoyable.

Overall, the default Debian install ‘feels’ fast. Firing up OpenOffice.org took only seconds and Abiword came up almost instantly. Synaptic, GIMP and Scribus also ‘felt’ faster than I am used to under Ubuntu. The only downside was that it didn’t add Scribus to the menustructure. Feelings are not a good measure of performance, I know, but the impression stuck that the desktop is really fast.

Image gallery

Conclusions

It is too early to draw major conclusions about this new release of Debian. I like the installer and -having used Ubuntu and Gnome since August 2006- the default Debian Gnome desktop provides a familiar environment with well-known tools. No doubt there will again be discussions on how to reduce the time between the various releases. The good thing about the long cycles is that you have automatic long term support. Stability isn’t necessarily a bad thing then. The way Debian is developed does make it possible for young and shiny (like Ubuntu, Mepis and Linspire) to run ahead and push the unstable to the mainstream and on the desks of a growing number of users.

For now, I will just stand aside and admire the old mastodont passing by.

Tags: Linux, Debian, Ubuntu

Mandriva Corporate Desktop 4: First impressions

It took a while but after downloading for 24 hours I finally got the image file. Tonight I installed it under VirtualBox and I was impressed. Installing a default setup (with Open SSH, KDE and IceWM) took less than half an hour. I thought “Wow”. After that I was curious how the KDE desktop would turn out in this business edition. It is no surprise I admire the balanced choices that Ubuntu has made. So, what did Mandriva have to offer.

Very little, it turned out. No default Office suite for starters. The install procedure just isn’t finished during first boot. You are confronted with a slick looking set of choices, called “stacks”. The problem is that you have install each stack separately and that takes up a lot of time again.

The Mandriva KDE desktop is just that. Your well-known KDE desktop without a real business-like style. According to the articles I read there is supposed to be a lot of business-specific features and I will definitely look into them for an “On the Bench” article. But, so far, the comparison with Novell’s offering and Ubuntu’s desktop is not good for Mandriva.

Tags: Mandriva, Linux, Ubuntu, KDE

Mandriva Corporate Desktop 4 beta

Mandriva is a weird company without a real sense of direction, but that is just my opinion. Some of the released distributions have been great, others mediocre and uninspiring. Now they are developing a desktop focused on the corporations. Well, if they want to go head to head with Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop I wish them all the best.

Hence, I signed up for the beta, because I am interested in the road they have taken.

Mandriva Linux Corporate Desktop 4 Beta Program

We are happy to announce that the Mandriva Corporate Desktop 4 Beta Program is now open! This beta program is open to corporate users willing to have early access to the latest Mandriva technology. It is designed to improve your favorite server distribution and meet the needs of our development teams and our clients.

What you can expect for registring to this beta program:

* Free licences for 1 year for official Corporate Desktop 4.0 (depending on size of testing company), and/or discount on Mandriva corporate products and programs (Corpo Club, Pulse…).
* Early access to product code.
* Involvement in development cycle, which includes the ability to influence the final code and submit enhancement requests prior to release.
* More stable code due to multiple individuals testing in many environments.
* Direct contact with the Development team, Product Management, Marketing, etc.,
* Relationship-building opportunities with other registered clients for this program.
* Improved documentation.
* Resulting knowledge gained from participating on the beta test program.

We look forward to working with you. Your continued input to our product development is of tremendous value and is crucial to our product’s success.

You can choose to download 5 CD images or 1 DVD image. One thing that already irritates me: the download speed is all but “corporate”…. between 25 and 50 kB/s? And no torrents?!!?! You would expect something better from a major company.

The one year free license and/or discounts might just be worth the hassle. Just 16 hours to go for the download.

PCLinuxOS: Super Gamer DVD 2

 

Link to Super Gamer

I really need to find myself some time to play with this one. This DVD is packed with Linux based games. Though I am not really into 3D shooters I want to see how Linux is holding up as a gaming platform. Another candidate for the On the Bench series, together with LinuxXP SR2.

On the bench: Xandros Professional 4.1

A few years ago there were two noticeable distributions in the western realm that wanted to cater to W2L migrators: Xandros and Lindows, later Linspire. Both were commercial version based on Debian, both had there own commercial frontend as a package manager (Xandros Networks and CnR). Linspire released Freespire in 2006 and -shortly after that- made access to CnR free. This leaves Xandros as one of the few commercial desktop distributions. Fortunately, we are able to test Xandros Professional 4.1 for free in a 30-day trial. As distribution that explicitly tries to easy and promote W2L migration it is interesting to see how this release contributes to that goal. And, specific for Xandros, is it worth the money?

Installation

The installation routine is the almost ubiquitous six step process. You can either choose the express or custom install route as far as package selection is concerned. I chose the express route to see what results that would bring. The next 14 minutes Xandros was busy installing it’s 1.4 Gb footprint with a slide show that already revealed that under normal circumstance buyers of Professional or Premium would have an extra applications CD. On that CD would have been applications like Adobe Reader, OpenOffice.org and TheGIMP. That made me wonder what applications were installed by default?

First Impressions

As it turned out the default install is seriously low on applications for day to day use. Firefox is there, as well as Kopete, Evolution and KMail. But no office applications whatsoever. Not even KOffice which would have been expected on the KDE desktop. I could find the CrossOver Office demo. That’s nice if I wanted to install Word or Excel, but it also means that after the trial I have to shell out some more cash ($25 for a premium member).

Let’s take a little step back. The KDE first run wizard is a bit enhanced by Xandros. First, when you choose to have the desktop behave like Windows the whole desktop will look like a Windows95 desktop. Not really an improvement, but maybe the XP desktop is too copyrighted to include that. Another is extra is the add printer wizard, both for a local or a networked printer. Unfortunately Xandros did not recognize our networked printer, but it is not the only distribution that has that problem (or it could be my network setup 😉 ).

Digging deeper

Xandros has really made an effort to cater to the needs and desires of W2L migrators. Three building blocks are available to ease the migration: Xandros File Manager, Xandros Networks and Xandros Security Suite. The Xandros Security Suite (XSS) looks almost exactly like the Windows Security Center including the warning shield and layout. XSS is an interface to the antivirus package, the firewall, intrusion detection and the update server (Xandros Networks). On the downside, it looks like the antivirus package is a 30-day trial as well after which you have to subscribe (at least that is what it says in Xandros Networks). I don’t know about you, but I hate these kind of things. I have seen too many Windows boxes that came with Norton pre-installed. Nice, since you are protected from day 1 but after x days it is either pay up or remove the software. I do hope that Xandros Professional includes the subscription.

The Xandros File Manager looks just like your regular Windows XP Explorer. It completely hides the Linux File Hierarchy System and allows for easy access to network shares. This might not be to the liking of the Linux purists, but I do believe that this is the way a file manager should look like for W2L migrators.

Xandros Networks is the online frontend to the Xandros repositories and it contains a mixture of free and non-free applications. Where the default desktop is barren Xandros Networks should be your easy access to rectify that. It does, kind of, in a limited way. Under Office Suite I could find OpenOffice.org along with only three language packs. TheGIMP was there, but no KOffice. KMyMoney was only available for Premium subscribers. Same thing for Scribus. GNUCash wasn’t even in the Xandros repositories.

Fortunately it is easy to extend the range of packages when you go to Edit -> Set application sources and tick the box for Debian Unsupported. Also go to Settings -> Expert View and then you have a wide access to the Debian repositories (main, non-free and contrib). However, at that point Xandros Networks becomes the graphical frontend for apt-get and not really a good one compared to Synaptic. Only if you know what you are doing and know which packages you would like to install Xandros Networks will be of help. But when you know what you are doing, would you actually buy this distribution?

First conclusions

Xandros Professional 4.1 is a great looking distribution with three major contributions to ease W2L migration (Xandros Networks, Xandros File Manager and Xandros Security Suite). The inclusion of Paragon NTFS for Linux 5.0 Personal Edition shows that it wants to play nice on the same box in a multiboot environment. I did not have the second applications CD so I could not test that one. However, the default install is extremely bare. Of course, there is only so much you can cram into one ISO, but other distributions like Ubuntu are able to include GIMP and OpenOffice on one ISO along with basic security packages.

Xandros Home Edition is priced at $39,99 and the Home Premium Edition at $79,99. The Professional Edition is going to cost $20,– above that. Is it worth the money? Mind you, this is still way, way cheaper than a similar Windows setup. I believe that 2007 will see a major push for Linux on the desktop. Between competition of Freespire and Ubuntu (free distributions) on the home user market and from Novell’s implementation of SUSE Linux (commercial distribution) on the business market Xandros is finding itself in a tight spot. There are better free and commercial distributions out there and I sincerely doubt whether this 4.1 release can take away market share from either of those.

Xandros Professional 4.1 screenshots can be found here.

On the Bench: Ulteo Sirius Alpha

The open source movement has it’s share of heroes. Individuals that can motivate groups of individuals and rally them behind a certain part of the development process. People like Gaël Duval, who created the Mandrake (now Mandriva) distribution, one of the most accessible and user-friendly distributions for W2L migrators. Enough has been said about him being fired from the company he helped to found. Today is today and Gaël Duval is putting himself behind a new project, a new distribution, a new way of using open source software.

The concept -as I understand it- is not just to build a new distribution. The concept is closer to the Web 2.0 buzz: to create an always accessible desktop environment, no matter where you are. Ulteo is aiming to be one of the most userfriendly and most easy to main Linux distribution. The concept encompasses an upgrade function that always and automatically checks whether updates and upgrades are available and implements them seamlessly.

I will look at the alpha release of the Ulteo distribution later, but I have a few words to say about the concept as well. It is good to have a vision. Visions can motivate, can gather resources, can provide direction for creative talent. In this case the vision is not novel, but we may finally have achieved the technological level and access to it at reasonable enough prices to make it happen. The Google Desktop which comprises of more and more webbased productivity tools or the Windows Live environment are other nascent signs of things to come. One of the key arguments in the development of always accessible desktops and documents is the issue of privacy, of integrity of your documents since they are/will be stored on someone else’s server. It will be interesting to see how that part of mr. Duval’s vision pans out. Web 2.0 is a buzz word, but you can see a definite trend to provide server-based applications accessible through thin-client like setups.

Secondly, do I need a new Linux distribution to make that happen? Today I carry along a 10 Gb USB harddrive filled with about 1 Gb of portable applications ranging from OpenOffice.org, Abiword, Thunderbird, Firefox to more esoteric network tools. That leaves me 9 Gb for my documents and I only need a USB socket to plug it in. With so many computers using Windows I hardly have a problem to use it. There isn’t even a need to reboot. What can the new Ulteo provide in functionality that wasn’t provided already by Mandrake Move in the past or by the many live distributions today? In the November 2006 issue of Linux Format there were some screenshots of Ulteo running inside a webbrowser and it would be interesting to see how this is implemented on a larger scale as well.

Well, that was a lengthy introduction for a review of a new distribution, but I do believe that in this case it is warranted. Ulteo is not just the new distribution. The alpha release is the first step for the whole concept. And since it is an alpha release there is a need to be careful with the review. You can’t judge the quality of a house based on the truck with concrete that just entered the construction site.

First boot and installation


Ulteo is based on Ubuntu and hence it boots up as a live CD. From then on it is as easy as double-clicking the install button. The usual six step process appears where you can set the language, the keyboard, the time zone, your name and password and the partition table. In step 6 you commit the whole thing. While the install continues there is some time to look at the KDE desktop. For now Ulteo only comes with KDE, but other desktops are part of the roadmap. It does make sense for W2L migration to look at KDE first. (release notes here http://www.ulteo.com/main/sirius_release_notes.php)

Like Ubuntu, Ulteo is not covering you with tons of application but with a decent selection. Hence, no KOffice, but OpenOffice.org, Amarok and VLC, Kopete, Thunderbird and Firefox, Scribus and KMyMoney. Overall it is a small selection and this results in a very, very, very fast install. From the commit instruction tot the message “Installation complete” it took only 4 minutes on the virtual box. This is amazingly fast. So fast that I wondered whether anything had gone wrong. But no, everything was working fine.

First impressions

For W2L migrators this KDE desktop should be extremely easy to work with. The default KDE icon for the KDE menu is replaced by a “Start” button. There is only one virtual desktop by default and the minimal selection of packages makes the menu easily browseable and accessible.

The System -> Install function is not meant for you to install new software. Actually, either I missed it completely or it isn’t there, but at the moment there is no option to install new packages through a GUI interface. Within the concept of Ulteo this makes sense. You only get a small set of applications which cover most of the daily needed functionalities, both offline and online. This greatly simplifies management on the server side as the repositories can be kept very small.

First conclusions

The question is whether this alpha release is on it’s way to attract the W2L migrators? If Ulteo were purely another Linux distribution it would not get any high marks. For the Linux user it is too barren and lacking in all those nifty tools. The fact that there is no easy way to install new software prohibits it from being attractive. But… this is no distribution for the Linux user, this is the first step in delivering a new way of computing for the Windows user. Ulteo is going head to head with the likes of Xandros and Linspire and for an alpha release it is doing a good job. Ulteo has provided a solid first building block for it’s vision.

However, I don’t think this distribution will satisfy W2L migrators. Those are the users who are adventurers, who are used to thinkering and playing with their operating system. I don’t think they will be satisfied with this kiosk-style operating system. There have been experiments with simplified, easy-access, basic functionality computing before, targeted for instance at the more elderly among us with little or no prior experience. Without a lot of success.

Maybe Ulteo is more suitable for the W2L migrators who use their computer as a tool for day to day tasks, but even for that group I do believe the concept has to mature. Is that the target audience that really needs access to data and applications anywhere in the world? The business user maybe. But for Joe Smith or Aunt Agatha I doubt that.

Screenshots can be found here

On the Bench: OpenSUSE 10.2

Suse 7.2 was my first Linux distribution ever, around five years ago. I was impressed but also had to struggle with all kinds of issues. That was part of the fun. I remember the sales pitch that working with Linux is like working on the engine of a car while it is running. You were supposed to fix things as you went along. Ever since, the distributions became more and more userfriendly. Suse was bought by Novell, Yast was open sourced and recently Novell made a pact with Microsoft. Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is considered by many as a solid enterprise ready desktop and community development is taking place in the OpenSUSE project. Over the years I have been impressed and disappointed with the Suse releases. I had serious issues with either 9.1 or 9.2 that would destroy the ability to multiboot to XP. There was a simple patch, but in the Novell Linux package six months later that patch was still not integrated. Then there were the issues with the software update module in 10.x. On the other side there were the spit and polish and the ease of use of Yast, so SUSE and OpenSUSE are distribution I like to keep my eye on as serious contenders to convince Windows to Linux migrators.

OpenSUSE 10.2 is available in either 5 CD’s (plus 1 Add-on packages disk), 1 DVD (http://en.opensuse.org/Download) or a retail double-layer DVD. For this testrun I downloaded the DVD through bittorrent.

Installation

Yast is still taking care of the installation routine and that remains a solid and powerfull tool. You can select either KDE or Gnome as your favorite desktop. The option “other” only provides two new options, minimal or no graphical interface. I decided to stick with Gnome for now and accept the default packageselection, which left me with a 2,33 Gb install. This is somewhat bigger than a default Ubuntu install. One thing I really like about Yast is the overview screen where you can tweak all installation settings. This would certainly appeal to the Windows powerusers, but could overwhelm the more average users.

Personally, I like to play with the partition scheme. By default OpenSUSE offers you separate root and home partitions which definitely make sense. As an experiment I decided to take the route of customizing the partition scheme and I was impressed. Even in this route you have the option to go less expert and it results in the scheme you like. From then on Yast will take it’s time to install all packages, which takes about 40 minutes. Just accept (or reject) the licenses for Adobe ICC and the flashplayer.

The configuration part of Yast can be daunting for new time users. The Hostname screen asks some questions, but without any explanation there is no idea what consequences your choices might have. The Network options are extensive, but the defaults were okay for me.

Next is the challenge of the online update, the weak spot in previous releases. After a few scary minutes I got the message that the configuration was succesful and an updateserver was added to the configuration. I decided to run the online update and was surprised to see two security updates already along with the option to install the Microsoft TrueType fonts. After this I was provided the option to add two new repositories to the list. Nice. I always want maximum access to packages through an easy interface. Be patient, it takes some time to finish this step and it isn’t free of errors. After adding the users comes the tricky step of configuring the hardware. It is always a wise decision to check the graphics configuration.

First boot, first impressions

OpenSUSE boots into a barren looking Gnome desktop, with the menubutton in the left bottom corner screen (where about every Windows users would look first 😉 ). The new menupanel should make novice users at home with a decent list of default applications (Firefox, Helix Banshee, F-Spot, Evolution, OpenOffice.org Writer) and easily accessible, categorized other applications. Two other options interest me now, the control center and the software installer. The software installer comes with three main options: by pattern, by package or by patch. The pattern selections deal with various developer packs, the KDE desktop, the various server possibilities, Xen and Voip. Personally I ran into a snag immediately with Bluefish. Bluefish is a nice PHP editor and it is not in the repositories.

To test the installer I decided on getting the KDE desktop. And there was snag number two. As a user you are confronted with an error message. Of course, you need root privileges for this action but why not take the route Ubuntu takes and come with a request for the root password. Now we first have to add the single user to zmd, the Zenworks install tool. This might make sense in a multi-user environment, but even there a less recoiling message would have been better. The overall impression of the interface is not good. Too geeky, especially when compared to Synaptic (apt-get frontend) or Kuroo (portage frontend). No casual browsing through categories or applications, which prohibits new users to find new and attractive packages.

The Control Center gives easy access to fine tuning hardware settings, look and feel, personal settings and system setop. The original Yast Control Center is still accesible by choosing Administrator settings. I could only find one problem with using the Control Center: it doesn’t give any indication whether your double-click was actually working. This way I wound up with three screens for the same function.

The KDE desktop

To round of this first impressions review let’s have a look at the KDE desktop. The new KDE menu again should be recognizable by Windows XP users and the new Vista users. For others it might take some getting used to. For me it feels less organized and less polished than the Gnome desktop that is part of OpenSUSE, especially when compared to the KDE desktop under Sabayon.

Final impressions

OpenSUSE 10.2 is a nice next release in the series, but certainly not mind blowing. The installation procedure is still one of the longest compared to other distributions and it doesn’t result in a larger set of packages. The installation of new software from the desktop interface really needs some work done on it. It is too rough around the edges. That, along with the unpolished KDE desktop, would not make OpenSUSE 10.2 a first recommendation for novice Windows to Linux migrators.

Linux on the Bench

At least once a month I download one or more recent distributions. Some mainstream, some not so mainstream and install them under VMware. Great tool, especially now that VMware Server is for free. I play with the distro’s for a couple of days. I check the default install, how to manipulate the settings and whether you can install new software easily.  Last week I downloaded Ubuntu Feisty Fawn Herd 1, Ulteo Sirius Alpha and OpenSuse 10.2. So for me it became time to organize this kind of testing and create a new category in the blog: “Linux on the Bench”.

I am not worried with the question whether Linux is ready for the desktop. It is more than ready. It should be more than ready. The development of Linux as an operating system has taken place in the same time period as Windows from version 3.0 onward (something like that). If -and I agree that could a big if- the model of open source development is superior to the “cathedral-style” of development, then Linux should be ready for the desktop now!

So, the articles in this category will not deal with the nifty details of the kernel development, nor the legal or moral trifles about including non-free software, proprietary drivers, non-source revealed applications. Nor will they stand in aw about the hours and hours of coding that were put into whatever to include the latest of the latest, nor applaud the many itches that were scratched. In here you will find articles and reviews about various Linux distributions from the perspective of a Windows user that stumbles into the Linux realm. In essence there is only one question that needs to be answered: Is this distribution going to convince me to ditch Windows now! It’s about first impressions, about intuitive GUI-driven functionalities, about hiding the complexities behind great looking, appealing and easy to use desktops. It’s about providing feedback from the perspective of the ones that really are important in getting Linux on as many desktops as possible: the current Windows users. Next on the bench will be OpenSuse 10.2.

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