Distro reviews

Peppermint 4 – An OS for everyone? & The Probem of Linux Advocacy

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Its been a while since I wrote a distro review on Openbytes and its also been a while since I visited Peppermint developments.  To this day I still have a Netbook (Acer) which many years ago I installed Peppermint on and whilst in the days of tablets and just about every device in your house having a CPU and net access, I’ve not been back to see how the project has progressed as far as the rigs I’m using today.  I have written this review rather differently and taken into account readers and users who may have little interest in the “bones” of computing and merely want a decent computing experience, for those people the sections are marked as “new user” although if “experts” want to have a look, I’m sure a few of them will feel slightly perturbed by some of my observations of them.  This review serves two purposes for me, one to highlight Peppermint which I recently looked back into and another to highlight where Linux (as far as advocacy of others) has gone a little wrong over the years with it’s “do as I say” or “you can’t do that” attitude.

Its interesting for me to look back at my original review (found here: https://openbytes.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/review-peppermint-cloudlightweight-distro-considering-the-cloud/ ) as it was a time when cloud computing was still gaining traction.  There were fears about storing your data on the cloud, fears about using web based apps (or machines that required a permanent net connection to be fully functional) and people still harboured strong feelings to owning “physical” things – the idea’s of app purchases or indeed pay for streaming, were still seen by many as things of the future. – One look at the volume of app purchases on mobile devices today suggests to me that the majority of users are boldly moving into “non-physical” purchases at warp 10.  Back in May 2010 when I first looked at Peppermint, I had reservations, but unlike some of the more vocal “do it our way or not at all” GNU/Linux/FOSS advocates, I kept more of a “lets see” attitude.  Whilst the rights or wrongs of cloud computing and non-physical purchases still have the jury out, it was obvious to me at the time which way the wind was blowing with the mainstream consumer.

I digress, back to the Peppermint 4 review which offers itself in both 32 and 64bit flavours for the user.

Running the LXDE desktop environment, Peppermint 4 begins the race at a fast pace.  After selecting it at boottime via the GRUB menu (please see below), its about 20 seconds from being Net ready.  Peppermint has always focused more towards the cloud computing ethos, so the installed apps (as in locally stored) are few in number and mostly relate to system admin/config utilities you will require when refining your desktop.

You’ll find a media player, bittorrent client and IRC client amongst the locally installed applications, however most of your other needs will be served via web based applications through what is called ICE (again see below)


Peppermint offers a very simple and straight forward approach to installing, infact its doubtful if you will really want to start changing things (especially if you are a new user) and one of the things it offers you is to dual boot (that is to install Peppermint along side whatever operating system is already on your machine)

Since I don’t wear a tin foil hat, I facilitate the Chromium ability to store all my passwords, links, history.  For me as soon as the installation was complete (about 30mins on a very slow net connection) I was able to log into Chromium and have my browser exactly the same as it was in my other OS, complete with all my links and saved passwords.


As was touched on above, the majority of local applications (those installed on your harddrive) relate to modifying your system and customizing it for your needs.  Tranmission the BT client is one of the exceptions, as to are the media players.

You’ve got Google integration (for your drive etc) here already, although to be fair, any distro can be set up in the same way in a matter of seconds, but the nice thing here is that Peppermint is, (as far as installation of local applications goes) a bare-bones system which offers complete functionality at first boot.  Dropbox is also present, but most users (both expert and not) spend most of their time in the browser (I’d guess)

Here we have the Twiter website, running through browser/app ICE, as you can see it almost looks like a local app on the desktop.
Here we have the Twiter website, running through browser/app ICE, as you can see it almost looks like a local app on the desktop.


As I said many years ago Peppermint OS is a great system.  Whilst it has a strong leaning to the cloud, it does not force you down that route and is a powerful Linux distribution that will run very quickly on your hardware.  Peppermint is not bogged down with “fluff” and packages that you won’t use, since most of the software is browser based, removing it is merely removing a link.

In the past, I’ve crossed paths with some of the Peppermint team (in a good way) and they are a dedicated, friendly team who have remained true to their vision of a Linux distribution all these years.  Peppermint is a reflection of this dedication which doesn’t force you to adopt their vision, merely presents you with a very fast operating system which you can customize to your own needs very simply and regardless of how much of a toe you dip into the cloud world, Peppermint will serve your needs very well.

Whilst my Acer Aspire One with its old version of Peppermint gets little use now (its tablets, Playstations and desktop’s in our house) I can certainly see Peppermint remaining on my main rig now for a considerable time.  Maybe that’s an indicator that my usage of computers has changed? Or maybe it’s simply that like it or not, the cloud is inevitable and the best way to stay on-top of this without having to put all your eggs in one basket, is with Peppermint.

The GNU/LINUX experts (for new Linux users)

“Experts” come in all shapes and sizes with probably some of the most intimidating (in a tech sense for a new user to Linux) in the GNU/Linux world.  You’ll read all manner of rants about software freedoms, proprietary software and its “evils”.  For most people who use their machine as they would any other device around the house, they leave the experience baffled.  New to Linux? Then get ready to be baffled by “experts” who will tell you about DE’s, proprietary, opensource, GRUB and many more terms.

Linux “experts” and the type who are most likely to baffle you with software “ethics” et al can be quite easy to spot.  Amongst the most obnoxious can be the ones who show screenshots of their Linux system running in the command line.  To them, the less aesthetically pleasing it looks, the more advanced they must be (or thats my theory anyway).

Let me hopefully make this simple for you: Select what is right for you, learn (if you wish) at your own time, then if you find yourself with opinions on certain software/configurations you can make changes then. – If you listen to many of the sites that will rant on about KDE or BASH and how to use script files to solve all of life’s issues, you will end up confused and nowhere fast, migrating back to Windows or that delicious fruit branded operating system.  This is, I think the problem desktop Linux has had over the years and I think deep down many of these “experts” with Linux and FOSS don’t actually want the mainstream using them as they can then feel special or important that their machine runs on software very few people use – or know how to use.

Whats GRUB? – Its the menu system you get when you switch your machine on that allows you to chose between say Linux and Window (if you have what is called dual boot).  What’s ICE? its basically your Chromium browser stripped down of all the fluff and menus and allows a web page to be run (for example Twitter) like a application. – See? two terms which at first seemed complex, explained in a few lines and shown to be rather simple.

Myths dispelled (for new users)

Here are some of the comments you will hear from people online in respect of Linux.  It’s unclear if these people are just sincerely ignorant or if they have a vested interest in keeping you away from software which is free and will complete the tasks you are currently doing on software you’ve had to pay for.

1. You have to compile your own Kernel. – Rubbish.  I won’t explain what the Kernel is at this time (its not required) but suffice to say, in 2008 I started reviewing Linux distro’s (having used Linux for a long time) and not once have I had the need (or desire to compile the Kernel).  If someone makes this remark, you can ignore it completely.

2. You have to compile your applications, its difficult to install software. – Again rubbish.  For many years most Linux distro’s have the equivilant of the app store that you see on your mobile phone.  Software is categorised with reviews and screenshots within the software center (or similar) and installing is merely a click away.  There’s no zip files, no compiling, no editing script files.  If you can install an application on your mobile phone, then you’ll have no difficulty on Peppermint.

3. Linux doesn’t work with your hardware – Rubbish again, of course there can be issues (just like when some people tried to install Windows Vista for example) so when it comes to installing any new operating system on the plethora of hardware options out there, it’s impossible to say before hand if there are going to be any issues.  I’ve installed Linux on over 100 machines and not had issues – is this an indicator of a “perfect” Linux anymore than a naysayers claiming Linux won’t work? No of course not.  This is why anyone considering Linux should follow the suggestion I make below, if you are wanting to swap your current operating system experience and find out for yourself.

4. You can’t play Windows games on Linux – This is half true.  Just as you wouldn’t expect to play Xbox One games on a PS4, you can, for the moment take it that if you buy the latest Windows game, it won’t work on Linux.  Whilst you are new to the Linux environment its best you stick with that, there are ways to get Windows games running on Linux (using a package called WINE) however, this is something that should be looked at later when you’ve become used to how Linux works.  For now, if you want to play the latest Windows games, stick with Windows, moving to Linux for the sole purpose of playing games made for Windows is not worth it.

5. You can’t run Microsoft Office – For now agree that you can’t, but why do you need to? Do you have a specific need for the Office suite of Microsoft or are you one of the millions of users who merely need a Word Processor et al and it just so happens you’ve always used Office? There’s plenty of options.  My first book which is awaiting publication was 80,000+ words and went nowhere near anything of Microsoft.  GoogleDocs? (as stated above Peppermint already has the integration there for you) Libreoffice? – A great Office Suite that will cost you the princely sum of £0.00.

How to explore Linux

When I’m introducing someone to Linux, I don’t believe the “all or nothing” approach works, so if you are new to Linux and would like to see the benefits it can offer you, download and burn onto disk the latest version of Peppermint and follow these steps.

1. Run it from the DVD/CD – Now that you’ve burned your copy of Peppermint, you can run it from the disk without having to install anything at all.  So put your disk in reboot the computer and look out for a message similar to “press f12 for boot options” select to boot from your DVD and in a short while (please note if you do install Peppermint it will load far faster) Peppermint will boot to the desktop, where you can access the net and have a play around with Linux.

I normally tell people to boot from a CD for about a week, get on with the tasks that they need to do and see fully if they enjoy the Linux experience.  If, after a week they are happy, I suggest the next step.

2. Install Linux alongside your existing operating system.  Peppermint (and many other distro’s) offer you the facility to install alongside what currently installed on your PC.  Doing this will mean that every time you reboot, you will be presented with a menu giving you the option of which operating system you wish to run.

After step 2 has been completed, I usually leave the user for a few weeks to see how they get on.  If they are still happy, then they can make the decision to either remove the old operating system or leave it in there. And finally:

3. Once they’ve had Linux running on their system for a few months and are happy with the experience, I tell them to let other people know.  Probably the biggest myth that needs to be dispelled about Linux is that it is the remit of “experts”.  Ironically since 2008 and this sites creation, the most complex issues I’ve had to fix on friends PC’s have been on Windows machines.  Could I merely be saying that in order to promote Linux? Well I could, but just like a recommendation of anything from anyone, the only way you find out is if you give it go yourself and come to your own conclusion.

You can check out this punchy, simple to use desktop on their homepage: http://peppermintos.com



REVIEW: Sabayon 6 (Xfce) and a look at my migration away from Gnome.

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Xfce customized to be more like my Gnome desktop. After only a few minutes work, the results are already pleasing. Lets not forget though its Sabayon 6 - an excellent distro! (Oh and the Space Marine desktop is due to the fact I'm currently loving it on PS3)

It’s no secret that Gnome 3 (and Gnome-shell) are not being well received by everyone.  Canonical is going with its Unity and for many other Gnome users, the future is Gnome-shell.

KDE is/was never an option for me, I simply don’t like it.  Over the last few years I’ve tried to get on with KDE, but found myself time and again going back to Gnome after only a very short period of time.  Maybe that’s because when I migrated fully to a Linux desktop, I mostly used Gnome and have now become indoctrinated in working with it.   Series 2 offered everything I wanted, it was simple, clean and familiar, however with its move to 3 series I find that it no longer has a place in my heart.  Without repeating views which I’ve stated many times in the past, I will merely say that Gnome-Shell to me feels as if it should be on a smart phone, not a desktop form factor.  My personal comfort zone in desktop computing is not having a “cushion” between myself and the OS (Gnome-shell).  People may disagree, people may like Gnome-Shell.  I do not.

My first Xfce experience came a couple of years ago with the distro Wolvix and at the time Xfce impressed me with the same simple functionality that Gnome had previously offered me for so long, it seemed then only natural that when Sabayon (my distro of choice) was returned to my desktop, I went with Xfce.

My previous Sabayon (Gnome) desktop. As you can see, I'm not far off realizing my goal of an Xfce alternative.

So lets look at  Sabayon 6 Xfce, where I’ll be dropping in my observations of Xfce as we go along.  For this review I’m running the 64bit version.

Sabayon is a strange distro, in all the experiences I’ve had, it offers out of the box support for hardware, rock solid stability but its never achieved the ranking on DistroWatch that it so rightfully deserved.    I understand (as I highlighted in a recent TechBytes episode) that the ranking is in no way indicative of the actual usage stats, but even so, I would expect Sabayon to have more people talking and ergo more hits on its Distrowatch page.

Installation – Sabayon the unsung hero!

Whilst its common to read about the simple installation of Ubuntu, Mint et al, Sabayon has been running with a simple installation certainly before I migrated over originally.  After choosing your partition options (in simple English) you are taken step by step through the rest of the process without the “l33t speak” which can put some users off.  Again, I go back to what I said earlier and it’s a surprise why Sabayon has not received more attention.

Sabayon prides itself on providing many proprietary packages at install time, its no bad thing for the user who does require some proprietary solutions.  I am almost 100% sure that on previous releases of Sabayon you could “bulk accept” licenses, which now seems to be replaced by having to click on each one separately.

So whats included in a default install?

One comment I’ve made time and time again when looking at a distro is the need to customize much of the default flavour with my own preferences.  This is not said as a complaint and its to be expected that all an individuals requirements are not going to be met out of the box with the developers vision of the distro.  That being said, Sabayon Xfce really was by far the most “ready” after install for me.

Entropy covers all your package needs. Its very simple to use however can be rather sluggish on operation.

Xfce is 4.8.0  which is the most recent version, released on January 16 this year, Thunar 1.2.2 is the file-manager, a lightweight offering that serves its purpose well and compliments Sabayon Xfce as a distro for those on more limited hardware, however more powerful machines will be given an easier time – more time to dedicate to running essential applications, not the platform from which they are launched (the OS).

Chromium as its default web browser scored points since I’ve been using it from early in its development (and I believe 5.5 bundled Midori so it was a relief to see that gone), LibreOffice is presented in version 3.4.3

There’s none of those play once games included either, which saves the job of removal after installation.

There were a couple of surprises for me though.  There was no mail client (Thunderbird at the ready!) and instead of Audacious (or similar) we were given Exaile, a package which I have never used before.  Quite why this decision was made I’m not sure, in terms of footprint and cpu usage there’s very little difference (that I’ve found) so to me, the aesthetically more pleasing Audacious would have been a better choice (that’s if you choose to run it in Winamp Classic interface!). – I think Sabayon Xfce needs to consider that it will no longer only be a choice mostly for those on very limited hardware.

The default image viewer is ristretto 0.0.93 which is a rather bemusing choice, it’s quite laggy (especially when zooming in and out of large files), that I replaced almost immediately with Eye of Gnome 3.0.2 which offers a far better experience on my rig.  There was also no screen grab utility present, so currently I’m using Shutter – something I think will be replaced shortly.

Unless I’ve missed it, there is no media burning software included.  That didn’t matter much to me, as I’ve yet to see a non-KDE distro package K3b, my package of choice there.

Transmission 2.33 is present and I think its been (unofficially) decided that as far as most people are concerned, it’s the defacto BitTorrent client for the desktop (in the Linux world).  I’m still waiting for anyone to come forward with advantages of Deluge over Transmission.

Entropy Store is your package manager and whilst its a simple enough affair to use, its a little bit of a pig performance wise, even running on a quad-core.  That doesn’t detract from its flawless operation and simplicity – however I think its something which should now be addressed (its been this way ever since I first tried Sabayon).

My requirements had me introducing a few packages, LottaNZB, K3b (as stated above), Skype, VLC and as I’ve said in the past,  Sabayon repo’s are large and comprehensive.


Previous versions have had some complaining about boot-time.  Whilst Sabayon is not the fastest “booter”, it’s certainly no slouch and I can have a net-ready machine in around 35 seconds.   I’m sure with a little work, I could trim that down a little, however in days of Windows machines that I’ve seen taking over 2.5 minutes (and apparently being acceptable to the user) I don’t really feel the need to complain about 35 seconds of my life.  Conversely, shut down takes around 10 or so seconds which again is respectable.

Having been a Sabayon user previous (albeit in a Gnome incarnation) you have a Gentoo based distro which is speedy (more so with Xfce) and reliable.  The Sabayon repo’s are comprehensive and the default packaging on the whole (with a few surprising omissions) was good.

With Sabayon almost certainly making the move to Gnome 3 sooner or later, perhaps what critics once touted as a flaw of Linux (the amount of diversity and choice) is now paying dividends.  For Linux users, we are not forced to follow the visions of the big name distros and as you will see in the Xfce observation below, the amount of choice means that finding replacement is usually no problem at all.

For those looking for a rock solid, punchy distro I would wholeheartedly recommend Sabayon.  For those wishing to migrate away from Gnome, I can thoroughly recommend Xfce.

The XFCE Solution?

Whilst I have briefly reviewed Sabayon, the main purpose of this article was to explore Xfce.  As mentioned earlier, Gnome 3 is not for me.  I am not alone either since it appears from numerous forums that many people are already looking for Gnome alternatives.  Prior to installing Sabayon Xfce, I spent a couple of hours with LXDE.  I’ll probably be covering that over on Diaspora in due course.

With moving to Xfce, my first task was making it as similar to my Gnome 2 series desktop as I possibly could.  Having a taskbar at the top of the screen for my applications menu/shortcuts and the bottom for virtual desktop management and open packages.  It’s the way I work, maybe not the way you do.  I was recently talking about DE’s and noted that any machine running just the single “tradition” single taskbar at the bottom of the screen, has me getting flashbacks of Windows, not pleasant ones I hasten to add.

Getting to grips with Xfce was rather simple.   As you can see in the screen-shot, I have what already resembles a Gnome desktop and this was only a few minutes of work.  I have noticed a few aesthetical features missing from Xfce (which maybe someone can answer) the main one being I’m offered no transparency on my taskbars – hardly a deal breaker though. I should just elaborate, for some reason, the transparency slider just does not effect the taskbar (this may be an issue my end and I’m looking into it)

I am very happy with my Xfce “emulation” of my familiar Gnome desktop and I believe people would be hard pushed to differentiate my rig now from its previous Gnome incarnation.  I can confidently say for anyone looking to jump off the Gnome ship before 3 settles in, you can not afford to ignore Xfce, especially if, like me you were less than comfortable with KDE.

I said earlier that migrations away from Gnome have been mentioned in many forums and that in itself poses many question, notably:

How will the (presumed) surge of users to Xfce affect the development? – With the last release (4.8.0) being in January this year, can we expect a more rapid (with assumed more contribution) cycle?

If Gnome 3 is in the most part to appeal to the more casual/average user, will this fragment further the Linux desktop? With Canonical moving in its own direction (and doing very well I believe) we could see a very different Linux landscape this time next year.

These questions will be answered in due course, but I think that one thing is for certain, the Xfce user base will expand considerably over the next few months – and rightfully so, its a fantastic collection of projects.

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights on freenode.net.

A look at: MikeOS 4.1.1 – A barebones OS written totally in Assembly.

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MikeOS and is application launcher, barebones and a wealth of learning to be had from experimenting!

With so many projects in the world of Tech, its very easy to spend time merely focusing on the most common apps/distros, be it Firefox, Chromium, Ubuntu, Fedora or discussions about Gnome3, Unity or other hot topics from recent news.

Today we are looking briefly at MikeOS which is a rather unusual project and at the same time one with plenty of scope and rather exciting for those who really do wish to try their hand at coding.

Created by Mike Saunders of Linux Format fame, MikeOS is a basic functioning OS written entirely in assembly language.  It appears to be aimed at getting users interested in coding (in particular at an assembly language level) and its got the potential to be a very rewarding experience and much fun for those of you who have never tried their hand at assembly language.  From the homepage. MikeOS offers:

  • A text-mode dialog and menu-driven interface
  • Boots from a floppy disk, CD-ROM or USB key
  • Over 60 system calls for use by third-party programs
  • File manager, text editor, image viewer, game…
  • Includes a BASIC interpreter with 27 instructions
  • PC speaker sound and serial terminal connection

The OS itself requires only a 386 with 1mb of ram and with its ISO coming in at around 1.8mb and upon boot which is measured in miliseconds, you are presented with a simplistic, but function application launcher.  I think its a given that MikeOS is not intending to be a viable desktop solution, but even though it has few features, its speedy and stable, which already makes it a challenger to Windows. ;)

The applications MikeOS come bundled with are a simple affair, amongst which contains a text editor which allows you to run txt files as Basic code, a Hangman game and various monitoring dumping utils.  Theres also a PCX viewer and a photo of MikeOS 4.1.1 proudly displayed by its creator (presumably).

The MikeOS home page is simplistic but functional and includes some rather good manuals for those interested in starting out with a little assembly language, there is also a manual for MikeOS Basic, which proudly boasts 27!, yes 27! instructions – More than enough to have you coding a Call of Duty clone in no time!!!! ;)  Joking aside its nice to see a Basic interpreter included as part of the MikeOS package.

One of the included binaries - Its hangman....guess the city!


I think you can guess from the introduction that MikeOS was very well recieved, this project has so many benefits to users, but most importantly from an educational viewpoint.  With it becoming easier and easier to get into development there are many people who will not have the solid grounding of coding a machine at a low level, the skills you will develop experimenting with MikeOS will serve you well whatever language/platform you settle on and its a shame that over the years in the race for easier and easier development, many have lost sight of the core processes that make a computer work.

I would hope you will not only support this project but experiment with it and further your own understanding of what exactly makes your PC work.  Download yourself a copy today, for some people this will be a series of firsts – looking at assembly language and firing up Nasm!

You can visit the MikeOS homepage here: http://mikeos.berlios.de/

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights, #techbytes on freenode.net.

A look at: ArtistX (1.1) – LiveCD (3.6GB)

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ArtistX running on a WM. There's some surprising bundled packages (for a creativity distro) that being emulation.

Ubuntu is probably the most common for distro’s to derive from, the number of Ubuntu variants is staggering and whilst many can share aspects rendering them virtually identical, the one thing about a distro based on Ubuntu is that there is an accepted (high) level of functionality you can expect out of the box.

ArtistX is no exception to this continuing trend and here we look at a distro aimed at the creative souls amongst us.

The LiveCD comes in at a whopping 3.5gb, which may be a slight deterrent to some prospective users on limited data plans or slow connection speed, with that in mind though ArtistX comes with a wealth of creative apps that pretty much cover every task you would wish to perform (and some surprising extras which I will cover later.)

The test machine for this review is currently running Mint 11 (again based off 11.04) so in this reason ArtistX will be examined via a VM.

First impressions were that as an Ubuntu variant, boot-time, hardware recognition were flawless.  I was surprised that the devs being ArtistX had not changed the boot loader to personalize their distro, which still proudly displays “Ubuntu 11.04”

As already mentioned, ArtistX has its roots in 11.04, Kernel 2.6.38 with Gnome 2.32 / KDE 4.6and Firefox as its pre-packaged browser, as you would expect Libreoffice is here too.

The “meat” of ArtistX is in the packages included which really do represent a massive selection of the best free software.  From the site (a tiny example of the total included packages):

  • 2D Graphic Software: Gimp, Inkscape, Nip2, Krita, Synfig, Rawstudio, Skencil, Hugin.
  • 3D Graphic softwares: Blender, Wings3D, K3D.
  • Video softwares: Cinelerra, Openshot, Kino, Openmovieeditor, Kdenlive, Pitivi, Avidemux, Devede, and many others.
  • Video and Music players: Mplayer, Videolan, Xine, Kaffeine, Kmplayer, LastFM and many others.
  • Music software: PD and externals, Rosegarden, Ardour, TerminatorX, Cecilia/Csound.

I looked at 11.04 recently, albeit with a Unity focus.  You can read that article here.


Any review on 11.04 will represent (more or less) ArtistX, though its the software pre-packaged which will be the draw here.  It’s often very interesting to see distro’s such as ArtistX because the pre-packaged software (presumably chosen by the devs on recommendation) are someone else’s views on what is the best application for a specific task.  Often I discover new software as a result of this and I think its safe to say that when choosing the application for you, its best to get any many different alternatives as you can to make a balanced choice.

I mentioned earlier that there were some “extra’s” and it was these extra’s that came as a surprise to me.  Readers of OpenBytes will know that in the past I’ve covered many emulation projects in varying stages of development.  ArtistX, amidst is creative frenzy also caters for a few old platforms such as Amiga and various machines in the Atari family of computers, which was surprising but very welcome.

Unity, which has caused so many differing opinions is absent upon boot from ArtistX, however this I think would be expected as ArtistX is probably more geared towards existing Linux users or people with a specific purpose for the ArtistX distro.

Audacity presence is a welcome familiarity for me, with TechBytes and the soon to be released Byte.Me facilitating its powerful yet simple features for audio editing/remastering.  With so many other packages offered it affords me the opportunity to try out other alternatives, a few of which will be covered in the future on OpenBytes this is one of the advantages of running someone’s realization of Linux – the introduction to new packages.

Built on the strong foundation of Ubuntu 11.04, ArtistX will blow you away by the sheer choice in its pre-bundled creative application.  There is everything here you could conceivably need to be creative – and who knows, amongst this plethora of choice you may discover the killer app you have been looking for.  I only hope that the large .iso filesize doesn’t turn some users away.

You can visit the ArtistX homepage here: http://www.artistx.orgl

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights, #techbytes on freenode.net.


Mageia 1 – A new distro and a new DE experience for me.

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The one thing that did impress me about Mageia was the low demands on resources, even with multiple packages/processes running.

In 2008 I tried a well known distro called Mandriva, even back then the bar was set pretty high for what you could expect out of the box from Linux.  Suffice to say it failed me, from regular yet apparently random freezes to a bug in its update manager pestering me to “upgrade” to a previous version,  I suffered with it for a few days before replacing  with Ubuntu 8.04 and swore that I would never again look at Mandriva.

Years passed and I stayed with my comfortable Gnome environment, I tried KDE numerous times and couldn’t warm to it, so it seemed fitting that with a new distro on the block and KDE considerably more mature than when I last gave it try, that I dive into both, giving them the OpenBytes treatment.

Mageia is a fork of Mandriva Linux formed in September 2010 by former employees and contributors to the popular French Linux distribution. Unlike Mandriva, which is a commercial entity, the Mageia project is a community project and a non-profit organisation whose goal is to develop a free Linux-based operating system.

Source: http://distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=mageia

So here is Mageia, the fork of the Mandriva product, three years on the scars are still visable but I’m ready to put aside those dark days and delve into a distro that is not only “new to the market” but also offering me a DE (KDE) which I have to date never really felt at home with.


I had an “interim” distro on my main rig (Mint 11), so after one last Dent declaring my departure, I burned and booted the 64bit DVD iso for the first time.  As modern distro’s go the installation process was very simple.  This is probably to be expected in today’s Linux, but even so, it offered a punchy installation process which took around 15 minutes to complete.  One thing that did disturb me was the absence of a live boot, which often allays any reservations I have of “throwing my eggs in one basket”.

Everything was detected successful by Mageia and as is par for the course with Linux these days, on first boot my machine was functional and ready to go.


It would be a time-consuming exercise to list all the packages included in a vanilla install of Mageia and since users will “dilute to taste”, there are a few items of note.  The first would be the sheer number of apps presented to the user upon first boot.  The default browser (as you would expect) was Firefox 4.01, which whilst arguably the most popular browser for Linux users, its not mine.  That would be going if indeed I was to spend any time with Mageia.  LibreOffice 3.3.2 is included as default and certainly an office suite most people cannot do without.  I was pleased (though not surprised) to see K3b present as a default package and even with Gnome, ranks as my favourite disk burning package.

I was disappointed that Thunderbird was not present as default (although obtainable through the repo’s) as I would defend the position vigorously that it’s the best all-in-one mail suite out there.


So where to start? Lets start with KDE and some points which have no relevance to Mageia at all.  Ive decided that KDE is definitely not for me.  I said many years ago that whilst it was very difficult to put into writing what I didn’t like, I said it felt, cheap, plastic and uncontrollable.  The plethora of GUI’s and utils to customize your system (in comparison to say Gnome) is akin to travelling from the UK to America via Saturn.  KDE still for me, goes around the houses to perform the simplest of tasks and I have neither the time nor inclination to flick around in menu’s and sub menu’s to do something I could accomplish in Gnome within about 2 clicks.

KDE also has this silly tradition of sticking a K infront of its native apps, which whilst I’m sure is very “cool” and obvious to seasoned KDE users, to me who has spent his years with Gnome, it makes menus look like I’ve accidentally selected the wrong language setting at install time – its all rather confusing, with a game of “what on earth does that application do?” – Having now been reminded of a KDE desktop, I certainly won’t consider exposing a new Linux user to the complexities of the “K” naming system and Ive yet to see a KDE desktop where the taskbar doesn’t look crowded and cramped.

So lets now look at Mageia, on first impressions it was quite impressive, everything appeared to be working fine and within a few seconds I was proudly sending my first dent to say I had returned with my new distro.

It didn’t take long though for cracks to show and probably the first major one was when I innocently plugged in a USB stick with some bookmarks/newsfeeds that I’d exported out of their respective clients prior to installing Mageia.   As soon as the USB stick was inserted the screen when black (albeit with a few graphical artifacts) and the system completely hung, forcing me (for the first time in many years) to perform a hard reset.  Yes, I can report this bug, yes I’m sure it will be fixed, but with no error message or indeed any clue as to what had just happened, I had no time to perform surgery on the distro.  It should be noted that I have not researched this bug and have no idea if it is widespread or merely unique to me.

As would be expected, the Mageia repo’s are tiny, software that I would have liked to have seen was not present (Mupen,E-UAE) and for example, the emulators section (GUI apps) were little more than Dosbox, Wine and Zsnes.  I know you can add your own, I know Mageia is new, but the level of expectation in today’s distro is far higher than in the past.  If Mageia is to be offered to existing Linux users, I’d ask what is it offering that they don’t already have, if its being offered to new users I would ask what is there here that would make their transition from a Windows lifestyle as painless as possible?  In both cases with Mageia in its current state I’d say very little.

Whilst installing packages of my choice from the repo’s, I noticed a rather annoying “feature”.  Despite specifically selecting an application of my choice from the rather limited repo, I was prompted to put in the Mageia DVD.  I believe this is due to the package already being including on the disk and the package manager is being “helpful”, but this feature was rather annoying since like most people, upon install, the DVD is thrown into some dark corner of the room.  I am sure this feature can be disabled easily, but at this point it became clear Mageia would not be staying on my rig, so I went along with its demands for the sake of time.

On the plus side CPU usage was surprisingly low.  I’ve taken the opportunity over the past few weeks to keep an eye on quite a few distro’s demands on the processor.  I’d say that at present Mageia is the best performer, as when I was going about my daily net activities none of the cores went above 10% and if they did it was for a very short period of time.  Memory wise Mageia held at around the 1gig mark and I was impressed at the low demands a modern distro was putting on my resources.

There has been much work put into Mageia but in today’s computing world your product has to be far more than merely functional  With so many other distro’s competing for your attention, I think Mageia is not yet ready to become a player at the top of the league for Linux distro’s with the RC seeming more like a beta. My requirements of an OS are not satisfied with Mageia and should I remain with this distro, I would not be as productive.  That is not acceptable and so for me its goodbye, with an appreciation that KDE is not for me either.  I will certainly be looking at the Gnome flavour of Mageia on a secondary rig and I would expect a more favourable opinion since I do love Gnome.

On a positive note, I have already spoken to some members of the Mageia team.  They are certainly open to all comments and very keen to continually improve Mageia, for many people I expect the improvements will be exciting to watch as they are part of the Mageia user base and it is nice to see a distro in its infancy, with the last one I covered at this stage being Peppermint.   I wish the Mageia team all the best for the future.

You can visit the homepage of Mageia here: http://www.mageia.org/en/

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights, #techbytes on freenode.net.

Looking at 11.04 Natty/Unity – Good or bad?

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Theres been a 1001 different reviews of Ubuntu 11.04, so I hope to put a little bit of a different spin on the review.  Theres been much criticism regarding the direction Canonical have taken with Unity and then with every release of Ubuntu you always get a flood of FUD with people capitalizing on the issues of a minority as “proof” that Ubuntu is not fit for purpose.  This seems to mainly happen with Ubuntu so I can only surmise that Canonical’s offering is seen as the biggest threat to those who would rather you stayed with “traditional” products.

For this review,  I want to explore how much of the “doom and gloom” reported by other people is actually true in respect of 11.04 but in particular Unity.

So firstly the introduction.  I am coming from Sabayon, a Gentoo derivative.  Through my own silly fault and trying to partition whilst very tired, I hosed my system.  As much as I would like to blame Sabayon I can’t,  so being OS’less there seemed no better time than to test out Ubuntu 11.04 on my main rig and more importantly get my own views on what all the fuss about Unity is.

I deploy alot of Ubuntu to new Linux users, so for me it goes without saying that Ubuntu and “out of the box” are synonymous.  I usually stay at least one/two versions behind when deploying to new users, so this journey into 11.04 was more for my own curiosity and to check out Unity which seems to have caused so much fuss. When I deploy Ubuntu to a user its my reputation on the line every time i switch them from Windows. Happily, Ubuntu has not let me down yet.

First things first.  Unity is not a big deal, it’s not this digital monster invading your house and destroying your Ubuntu/Linux experience.  If you can get past some of the knee jerk reactions on the net and actually give it a go, you may find that it offers a surprisingly well thought out and smart UI for your desktop experience. That’s speaking as someone who enjoys for the most part a minimalist desktop and from someone who shies away from most desktop effects and widgets.

Unity represents a massive departure from my traditional way of working and in its default presentation, I expect many others would be the same.  So lets move onto the things I disliked about the experience.

1. The sidebar is not what I am used to.  My Gnome desktop usually consists of two taskbars, one at the top, one at the bottom.  The top to give me access to installed apps and system utils, whilst the bottom to keep hold of all my running apps.  I have multiple desktops so a switch between desktops and apps is usually very quick.   The side bar I found, was present when I didn’t want it, drawing my eye and then absent when I did.

2. Alerts from packages are brought to your attention with a “Zookeeper” like wobble.  It’s a nice effect to alert you say to a message in IRC with X-Chat.  Blink though and you’ll miss it.

3. Apps that have focus put their pull down menu into the taskbar at the top of the screen rather than contain them in their executing window.  This is concept which I’m finding difficult to get used to.  This also applies for your minimise, maximise and close window buttons when you have a given app maximised. If you have several small apps running in windows then giving them focus then moving to the top of the screen to access pull down menus saw me engaging in far more mouse movement than I should.

I’ll make a quick comment on Ubuntu 11.04 itself in that all my hardware was detected out of the box and just like previous experiences.

I did find though that my Mic was muted by default which meant I needed to quickly run alsamixer in order to rectify. Not an issue though.

Next up, I don’t like Evolution, I never have. Thunderbird, whilst with its issues does provide my all in one solution. Whilst Evolution is integrated well into the Ubuntu experience, it just doesn’t have the features I require.

I didn’t notice an IRC client packaged as default (I’m wrong here?) and maybe this is a sign of its declining/specialist usage on the desktop, however one of the important things about Ubuntu is community and since there’s much going on in the IRC ubuntu community then I suggest it’s a necessary package to include. – Please feel to correct me if I have missed a feature here.

Ahhh! Ubuntu is for newb’s not the l337!

Certainly more so in the past, I’ve seen a select few regarding Ubuntu for “newbies, newbs, lamers” et al.  In todays Linux world I think this elitism exists only in rare circumstances.  Its completely silly too, just because Ubuntu wants to assist in setting up your system and get you up and running as quickly as possible does not make it “for newbs” I know many very experienced Linux users who favour Ubuntu purely because they have better things to do then mess about with their OS just to become functional.  Anyone can install proprietary drivers, its simple, but if Ubuntu takes that task away by automating the process, I’m all for it.  There was a time where I enjoyed the challenge of getting one of the more “exotic” distro’s functioning on my system, but now with several projects on the go, what I want in a new distro is to be up and running as quickly as possible.  I’ve deployed (and used off and on) Ubuntu since 8.04 and can happily say that this has always been the experience I’ve had.


I always wonder why Canonical seems to be hit with the largest amount of critics, this undoubtedly is due at least in part to its popularity with the adage “you can’t please everyone”.  That being said opinions on Unity have me rather bemused.  For starters you can easily select the classic Gnome DE if you so wish and if you feel that strongly about Unity, then you can still have 11.04 in a “classic incarnation” – problem solved.

This review has been written over the period of a few days and one of the successes of Unity for me was that my wife immediately felt comfortable with it.  My initial reservations have melted away with the realization that a different way of working can, until accustomed to, be a frightening place.  Now that I’ve settled with Unity over the last few days, I will be keeping 11.04 on my main rig, I had intended to return to Sabayon, but now that I’ve got accustomed to Unity, there really is no reason for me to switch back at the present time.

Have I still got features I’d like changed? Well yes, little things (some of which I’ve mentioned above) although it should be noted that customizing Ubuntu to your specific requirements is something that everyone can do.  I intentionally did not do that for this article as I wanted to experience Unity and 11.04 in its default configuration (presumably how Canonical want you to experience it)

There are so many facets to discuss about Canonical and Ubuntu – “for purchase” software in the Ubuntu Store, Ubuntu One, Mono and many others, however I think these are side issues which distract from the fact that yet again Canonical have put a lot of work into a quality release.  A quality release I hasten to add which I will happily be deploying to the next batch of new Linux users.

As with any software, there will be people with issues, until such a thing as a standardized PC exists, the plethora of hardware configurations will undoubtably cause issues for some – that goes for any software and in respect of what I want to see changed I always say that the only application which is tailored exactly to your needs is the one you code yourself.

I think Canonical is on the right path and certainly have confidence in the distro which is probably the most “household name” of all the Linux distributions.  If desktop Linux is to become common place and not merely a talking point when people enquire what you are running if you don’t use Windows, then I think Canonical certainly has the product and determination to do that.

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights, #techbytes on freenode.net.

REVIEW: GhostBSD 2.0 (LiveCD)

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I would expect it’s a welcome release for established GhostBSD users but new users may find that it’s neither polished or packaged as fully as they would like.

Its been a while since I wrote a review and it was GhostBSD that caught my eye over on Distro Watch.  It’s nice to look at BSD for a change and its also nice to spend a little time reviewing something that is not derived from Ubuntu – thats no insult to Ubuntu or its derivatives, but I think its long been established that a distro derived from Ubuntu is a winning formula for an OS that works out of the box.

So on to GhostBSD and BSD is something which I have shamefully spent little time.  My distro hopping days are rare occurence now since Ive settled on what I consider to be a solid Sabayon and my other machines have a selection of more “exotic” distro’s to fit a specific task.

The site (whilst currently incomplete and with typo’s) does much to introduce Ghost and I have to say from the outset I was looking forward to my run of it.


The LiveCD booted in reasonable time, not the fastest Ive ever experienced but certainly not the slowest and after its finished you are presented with a plain but aesthetically pleasing Gnome 2 DE.

The first issue I encountered when clicking on Firefox 3.6 was that my router had not been detected and setup automatically and whilst a very simple issue to fix, is it too unreasonable to expect a liveCD to have this sorted? Nearly every other distro I tried in the last year provides this small (but relevant) feature and I think its important that little things like this are considered. I see the LiveCD as being the medium which many users will either decide to install or not.  Its the first chance you get to “sell” your product and if you fail to deliver on the LiveCD the chances of install are slim.

I digress, after a few clicks I was up and running and I certainly don’t need to go into any detail on page rendering for FF3.6 and the surfing experience in general.


GhostBSD offers a Python script as its installer.  There’s nothing difficult to it and its very straight forward, again though if you were trying to sell the idea of GhostBSD to a new user (especially an ex-Windows one) I don’t think the script really endears itself to them.  For everyone else though its functional and does its job fine.

Some have commented on very quick installation times, I didn’t really notice and since its been such a while since I did a real install (no VM fakery for me!) so  I can’t really comment.  My distro of choice (Sabayon) is a rolling release (and Ive been very happy with all its releases) so maybe Ive been spoiled by that feature for too long to appreciate a complete fresh install.


Here’s a section I found myself a little disappointed with. GhostBSD doesn’t claim to be stuffed with every package under the sun, but then I expected a little more than what I found. We have the usual (or expected) AbiWord 2.8.4 , Python 2.6.6 , Thunderbird 3.1.7 , Firefox 3.6.13 et al, but I would dare to describe my first impressions as bare.

The limited amount of software packaged with GhostBSD I suppose is a good thing.  I have often complained that I found many distro’s being far too bloated with multiple packages doing  the same thing, however I would have hoped for a little more.  Of course you can install software until your heart is content but in an age where most Linux distro’s offer stability (the BSD selling point IMO) and out of the box functionality, GhostBSD is in a far more competitive world to get users attention.

Proprietary codecs/drivers/software are not present in the initial install.  Whilst this may be great news to the FSF, its not for me.  Yes, I know its easy to install but again I find myself comparing install time experience to that of Sabayon, where if you wish, proprietary software can be installed (and agreements digitally signed on mass) with a click of a button.  I don’t intend for a debate to ensue over proprietary but suffice to say at the present moment in time it does play an integral part of my desktop choice.  If its not in yours then great, I think you will be more than satisfied.


It’s been said by others that GhostBSD is designed with the new BSD user in mind. On that level it performs its job adequately however the Python install script is far from friendly looking for the person who is moving away from a computing life with Windows. I don’t think it would hurt for future releases to jazz up the install script and there are plenty of python bindings to help them do just that.

There is no doubt that GhostBSD is rock solid in the stability stakes however over in Linux land this stability is in the majority of cases (in my experience) the norm anyway. Debian for example prides itself on such stability although I’ve always found myself staying away for the sole reason that packages wise its hardly runs with bleeding edge (and rightfully so – its stable!)

As I find myself migrating towards a KDE DE and with amongst other things the review copy of Ghost being a Gnome DE, I see it as a step back for me.   It’s not bad, but there’s not enough here for me to justify a migration.

Looking at GhostBSD from the view of a migrating Windows user, again there is nothing wrong with what’s on offer here but I think for someone who has led a Windows lifestyle, they are going to want more “bells and whistles”.  I say that though with a little reservation since I have seen nothing from the developers which suggests its specifically aimed at such a user.

For established Linux users, again, I cannot see anything which would tempt them over.  I say that not to create flame as I would really love to say that GhostBSD offers something really special, much hard work has obviously gone into this but as it stands I can best sum up the distro as: stable, solid and “does what it says on the tin”.

The homepage for GhostBSD is certainly starting to look the part. I say starting because it has typos and incomplete sections to it. I would stress that this is not a harsh criticism because a lot of hard work has gone into the distro and its very generous of the GhostBSD devs to spend their time working on this great project. With that in mind I think new users will not be filled with confidence in a project where the site intended to promote it has so many obvious errors and omissions. This is a shame because GhostBSD is in no way lacking functionality or stability and I think errors on its homepage will undersell GhostBSD.

In closing, I would expect it’s a welcome release for established GhostBSD users but new users may find that it’s neither polished or packaged as fully as they would like.


If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights, #techbytes on freenode.net.