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Monday, 2 August 2010

Linux light - SalixOS 13.1 "LXDE"

After looking at SalixOS 13.0 in my comparison of light weight Slackware derivatives for the desktop I thought I should give 13.1 a full standalone review. This also, I'll admit from the start, because I'm very fond of it. Yes, I'm biased.
There's nothing better for me out there apart from Slackware proper, and SalixOS is the unaltered Slackware with a little custom art and a few helpful tools, like easy localization, setting the clock, for adding users, and truly one-click adding of multimedia codecs.

It makes sense that it's tracking version numbers closely as well. It has not diverged in the way Zenwalk and Vectorlinux have. This makes for one very solid, extensible system. But let's take it one step at a time.

The virgin Salix "LXDE" desktop
Adding packages to the LXDE 'Basic' install

SalixOS 13.1 was released 05/06/2010 with Xfce 4.6 which is the default desktop in the main Salix release. It is one of the few if not the only Slackware derivative currently also available in a x86_64 version. The ISO comes in a very manageable 574MB and at 559MB for 64-bit. On 08/07/2010 an LXDE edition was released which comes in at a mere 464MB but is 32-bit only. There is also a Live CD which is currently still at 13.0.1 (maintenance release for the 13.0 series) which brings a graphical installer to the party and show cases the same artwork found in the previous 13.0 release. This should appeal to the many people who complain about the lack of graphical installers in the Slack world, giving it as an example of how it's stuck in the past. Some screenshots can be found here. The Live CD comes in at 662MB and downloaded a bit slowly from Sourceforge, but from experience torrents for SalixOS work very well and are possibly faster than a normal download, plus you get error checking. Actually I downloaded my test image this way in 16 minutes at up to 550KB/s.

At the above sizes you get a subset of packages of the Slackware version the distribution is based on plus the bolt-ons that make Salix special, all geared towards the desktop. You also get additional repositories that can be used with Slackware as well and which include extra packages like LimeWire and terminator, Virtualbox OSE, and also more advanced software like the R language for statistical modelling. On top of this Salix has introduced dependency checking for all repositories used which solves one if not the major complaint often levelled against Slackware. It uses gslapt, the front-end to slapt-get, by default for package management, but slackpkg can be installed and works just as well. There's also an update-notifier for gslapt which is running by default, bringing us even closer to the conveniences other distributions provide. You can use all the repos at slacky.eu, gnomeslackbuild.org, compile from source or make your own builds from the scripts at SlackBuilds.org, or automate the whole process with sbopkg.org.

I already had SalixOS 13.0 Xfce installed and proceeded to download 13.1 LXDE edition to see if it was in any way different apart from the desktop environment. The default artwork is a little updated but the same style when compared to the previous one, brownie points for continuity. Installation is still ncurses based with blue background, pretty much the stock Slackware installer but slightly cut-down like the system itself, to streamline the whole process. I have always preferred this kind of old-style installer as I have found it more flexible, faster and less confusing. It doesn't need a lot of memory just to get the installer going. Having to scroll down the long list when setting timezone and locale can get a tad annoying, but I can live with it. Then it is time to set your partitions and file systems. If you don't have partitions set up or want to change your sizes and layout there is cfdisk. Supported file systems are xfs, reiserfs, jfs, ext2, ext3 and ext4, but no btrfs, but I suppose most people won't miss this. If all this is too much and you just want a newbie friendly Ubuntu-like install there's the 'autoinstall' option that will create the necessary partitions and format them, but you forego some flexibility. For example I always found automatic swap space allocation incredibly wasteful.
There is no choice in what packages to install, but users can choose between 'full', 'basic', and 'core' installation. Very well thought through. Whereas Zenwalk used to provide three different ISO's to achieve the same the guys at SalixOS managed to provide the same functionality in one image, kick starting different package sets as per task chosen. If you choose 'full' install with its one app per task philosophy you end up with a functional desktop that can be customized further from here on. The 'basic' install I chose for my LXDE edition only gave me the basic environment and Midori as a browser, with the Xfce edition you get Firefox, none of the graphical system management goodies that Salix has added. So a basic install may not be the best choice for the newbie who wants to experience Slackware but friendlier. 'Core' will provide only a basic command line environment for the advanced user to build up their ideal desktop or to be used as a server where a GUI is not necessary or wished for. After successful installation you reboot, look at the bootsplash the devs have added to Slackware and are dumped at the Gdm login screen. Here you discover that root login has been disabled. Hopefully you created a user at install time or you will not be able to log in - something to keep in mind. Login leads to a normal LXDE desktop, there isn't much variation you can do with it, but the menu button has the SalixOS Bonsai tree on a shiny dark blue background, and the panel background seems sort of metallic as well. All in all it looks nice.

KDE4 on SalixOS 13.1 - with and without folder view

In the full hard drive install my Asus 22" widescreen monitor was properly detected and set up at an appropriately high resolution. I'm always taken aback by the good looks and crispness for lack of a better word of this distribution. The other sticking point was my Getnet wireless USB adapter with Ralink 2870 chip. No matter what and although I had changed connection details from wlan0 to ra0 Wicd would not see my connection. This is strange because in 13.0 wireless worked for me out of the box and suddenly in 13.1 it seems to have regressed although this chip is now supposed to be supported in the kernel. I made the same observation with Slackware 13.1 while in beta and this is one of the reasons why I have not upgraded so far. Or it may be a problem with Wicd 1.7.0 that 1.6.2.2 did not suffer. For now this means one still, or in the case of Salix again, has to compile the Ralink drivers. My video card is an old 32MB Ati Rage that does not need any proprietary drivers for what it's still capable of doing, so no test here, but from experience I found Ati drivers always easy to set up on Slackware which I ascribe to its standards compliance and cleanliness. Derivatives did not always fare that well, but Salix being essentially Slackware this should not be a problem.

The desktop includes a cute selection of wallpapers the Salix guys have added, although probably not to everybody's taste. These are the same backgrounds in both editions. In the full install you get Abiword and Gnumeric for office needs instead of the OpenOffice.org of the Xfce version. The somewhat lighter and faster Claws-Mail has replaced the ubiquitous Thunderbird for email in both editions. Good choice in my book because it has better filtering capabilities for Usenet newsgroups than Thunderbird and is in general more powerful once you get under the hood. If you prefer the Seamonkey suite it is in the Slackware repository, which is all set up together with the Salix ones. I like that the email client has more of a Thunderbird 2 feel to it as they hadn't made the jump to Thunderbird 3 when the Seamonkey 2 suite was done. I also occasionally like to use Chatzilla and the Composer. The rest of the apps are much the same between the two editions, File-roller for archiving, Exaile for music, Leafpad for editing, except the terminal which is of course environment dependent, so here you get LXTerminal.

Where the standard Xfce4 version of SalixOS gave us a few extra panel plugins for the desktop than standard Slackware, LXDE is pretty sparse, but then it isn't available in standard Slack at all and is supposed to be even lighter. Kernel versions are exactly the same 2.6.33.4-smp - did I say they're sticking close to the original? - but in SalixOS you get the huge-smp kernel rather than the generic one which would require an initrd. Boot time was around 40 seconds to the Gdm login and another 5 seconds to the desktop on my underpowered AMD Spitfire overclocked to 1000MHz with 512Mb Ram. This sounds good to me and overall speed and responsiveness mean it definitely passes the test for a light weight distribution for older hardware for me. Shutdown also took only a few seconds.

Salix does not feature a control panel but has several utilities written from the ground up for this distribution. Under 'Sound & Video' one can find the 'Install multimedia codecs' shortcut. It places all neccessary codecs to play music and video on your hard drive, including Flash, and offers to remove itself after successful transaction. Several other small tools allow to review new configuration files, set up your keyboard, set up the lilo boot loader, system language, clock, running services, users and groups, and one to install wireless drivers with Ndiswrapper.
As previously shortcuts on the desktop make it easy to get to the Salix website or to join the chatroom on Freenode IRC in your browser to ask for advice. Although chat is not exactly busy you will get an answer there in a friendly manner as a few developers and other hardcore users always hang out there. There is also a forum accessible from the website which may be preferable to some to hanging out on IRC and waiting for an answer. As usual, Linuxquestions.org and most Slackware resources also apply.

Konqueror is back

I also tried SalixOS LXDE in Virtualbox 3.1.6. The guest additions installed fine and before long I was able to run a full-screen or seamless mode desktop on top of my other desktop. Mouse integration worked too. To make it a bit more interesting I had a look at the latest official KDE4 (4.4.3) in Slackware stable. I'm emphasizing this because there are unofficial newer KDE packages for Slackware 13.1 and for Slackware-Current from Eric Hameleers  which can be found here.  Just be sure to choose the right ones, whether you want cutting edge KDE4 on your Salix 13.1 or upgrade to Current.
Like in Kongoni GNU/Linux I found myself surprised at how responsive and complete the desktop appeared. It even ran well within the 320MB Ram originally allocated to LXDE. I have to say that with KDE 4.4.3 they have finally arrived at something I would consider using again if I wasn't so firmly entrenched into Xfce4 and other lighter window managers by now. Anyway, I really enjoyed the new KDE this time, but I'm unsure if this is just a Slackware feature or if it's now just as fast and responsive on all distributions. Probably not, but that will be the underlying system's fault then, just as there were always differences with performance between Linux distributions.

Openbox managing KDE4 - Salix 13.1
KOrganizer on Salix "LXDE"
                         
After testing 13.0.2a and writing about SalixOS this February I replaced Slackware64 13.0 on one PC with it. Why would I use Salix instead of the real deal? Because for reasons of compatibility, gaming, Wine and a few other packages that won't work on 64-bit it seemed better to go back to 32. Having already jumped through configuring a virgin Slackware several times, incl. system wide localization for non-US language settings I did not feel like doing the same yet again, although I could have cloned the image with a spare hard drive. SalixOS comes in really handy for instances like this, where you just want an easy quick re-install of Slackware to be fully functional in no time. Just as much as for a new user who would like to try out Slackware in a friendlier way.

To sum it up, SalixOS is smooth and there really isn't more to say about it. Particularly the LXDE install is a great way of starting with a basic fast but still functional desktop that can be built and upgraded into a fully featured work space with KDE or Gnome should you wish. Or you can use standard with Xfce. I'll conclude with the same findings as in the previous article. Whether you're an aspiring ex-Ubuntu or ex-Mandriva user, want a quick and easy Slackware install or just something light but with lots of possibilities, give Salix a try. It's easy, very easy.

Download SalixOS here.

Next week: Absolute Linux 13.1

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete
  2. hello,

    how do you install nvidia driver 173.xxx on salix?

    thanks

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't have any Nvidia cards so no experience with this, sorry. I'ld suggest to register with their (SalixOS) forum and ask the question there. Or use the IRC link on your desktop.

    ReplyDelete
  4. just download the kernel sources and run the Nvidia installer

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thus it makes sense that it's tracking version numbers closely as well

    it's = its, plus using numbers as a verb doesn't work here // closely follows Slackware ????

    ReplyDelete
  6. 'numbers' isn't used as a verb there.

    ReplyDelete

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