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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Quick Look at Bodhi Linux 1.1.0

A lot has been written about Bodhi Linux in its short existence. Bodhi appeared out of nowhere not even a year ago it seems and quickly gained followers aplenty. Usually there's a good reason for something like this. So much has been written in such little amount of time, I'm not going to go into all the aspects of this little distro, for example that Bodhi means Enlightenment, a nice word play on the default desktop environment of choice E17, just a quick look.

Actually, mentioning or for that matter running Bodhi without this desktop would make little sense as it is its sole purpose to bring us a nicely customized and integrated Enlightenment desktop that the lead developer and founder Jeff Hoogland evidently is so fond of. This is tightly wrapped around a Ubuntu 10.04 LTS core with an updated 2.6.39 kernel in 1.1.0, a good choice that guarantees utmost stability, at least in Ubuntu terms, and steers clear of potential pitfalls later versions might have introduced with all the upheaval moving from Gnome to Unity. Thus, after almost all earlier releases were test releases, this latest one promises a degree of maturity, which is probably underscored by the fact that it hasn't been updated for nearly three months, which for the Bodhi project is a long time.

But let's start from the top, shall we? I've tried several distribution spins show casing Enlightenment/E17 over the years, and E16 too, namely Elive, PClinuxOS E17 spin, and another Ubuntu derived spin, OpenGEU (formerly Geubuntu) which seems to have gone the way of the dodo, like so many, as it has not had an update since 8.10. The last one in particular felt very enjoyable and well put together, and Elive was mainly held back by their decision to charge for a hard drive installer. So there isn't much choice around if you want a well put together E17 desktop 'out of the box', and it seems Bodhi appeared at the right time to give us just that.

I downloaded the Bodhi Linux 1.1.0 ISO which comes in at a meager 382 MB in download size and unfortunately for now is 32-bit and for the low common denominator of i386 only. The aim is obviously to provide a starting point with emphasis on the desktop environment, and to allow people to add their own preferred software from here instead of overloading them with programs they may have no use for, thus Bodhi falls very much into the light or at least minimalistic category, and the minimum requirements are listed as 300 Mhz i386 Processor, 128megs of RAM (confirmed to just about work with the base install), 1.5 GB available drive space.

Some people may complain about having to download extra packages, however I feel this is more than made up for by the small size which should equate to a quicker download to getting started in the first place. You pretty much get only Midori as the browser, a few applications like Leafpad and PCManFM borrowed from the LXDE project (and fear not, also a terminal), Network Manager to handle connections and a few system utilities, and that's it. This however works well and is all you need. Quite like some of the more minimalist Xfce and LXDE distributions out there. As is the usual in Debian and Ubuntu derivatives Synaptic allows the user to easily add more packages while taking care of needed dependencies. Software sources can also be configured there, but the menu also includes an extra entry for quick access, nice touch. You also get the Gdebi package installer for offline installation.

One of the many layouts in Bodhi Linux, with animated wallpaper
Based on Ubuntu Bodhi has also kept the live CD mode, so you can boot into that to try out hardware compatibility, find out if the desktop could be the next hot thing for you etc. The login screen is provided by LXDM by the way, which is not easily themeable, and I find the default a little too bright being almost completely cream/white. I ran Bodhi from CD, in VMware and was also going to install it, but its insistence to format the swap partition made me think twice. Bodhi shares this trait with too many other distributions, and it's not necessary to constantly reformat already existing swap partitions. Formatting changes the UUID of partitions, and if your distribution of choice in a multi boot setup  is using that to determine where to suspend you find yourself constantly readjusting values, so I skipped this time. Sorry, but the fact that it is based on LTS with a newer kernel makes pretty clear what it will work with, at least support the same hardware as the upstream release. Even suspend worked without a hitch from live mode and jumped back to life within a second or two, and even my Huawei Vodafone stick I'm currently relying on when not using free wifi hotspots was detected and prompted for a password. Not bad.

Once booted up you can choose from different profiles according to your machine, that will determine the layout of how your installed desktop will look. The Compositing profile enables some very cool and slick bling, and all without it feeling slow or burdened by the effects. In fact, I'ld wager it's a great way to get a desktop out of the ordinary, read not GNOME Shell or KDE, that probably looks even cooler than those with all their effects maxed out and does not suffer from it. My AMD/ATI 4250 HD in the Acer Aspire laptop was not supported, but it fell back to software rendering without any noticeable effect.
The netbook, desktop and other profiles just give you different sizes and positioning of panel and shelves as E17 calls them, which reminds me of recipes in FVWM-Crystal. If you like to always have a clock and calendar displayed on your desktop, there's a profile already including that. Once you have messed around a bit, choose your profile and one of the elegant themes and you're booting into your brand new Enlightenment desktop. Time to enjoy and play with setting up more gadgets/widgets, or install more stuff.
Enlightenment is built on its own set of libraries (EFL) and many of the usual keyboard shortcuts work. For example Ctrl+Alt+Arrow switches the virtual workspace, Ctrl+Alt+M brings up the menu and the usual Alt+Tab allows to switch between windows.

Once you are ready, the system installer can be found under Preferences --> Install Release and  is very Ubuntu-like, or more probably the same as found in 10.04 LTS, but I'm not using it that often to be sure. It took literally less than five minutes to install the tiny base.

Bodhi Linux has a well thought out, clear and attractive website in a fresh predominantly orange and green color theme with white background just like to the login screen. There's a forum and IRC web chat for support and a documentation section including Wiki, a guide to Enlightenment and a quick start guide. Shortcuts to the quick start guide with an introduction to E17 basics, a software install section and to Bodhi art are also easily accessible in the Bodhi submenu on your desktop. Nice for the newbie as I think, and I consider myself new to E17, the way it works is quite alien to most people who will need some time for settling down with it. I certainly never got my head round to it.

Traditional foldout menu and funky window decorations
But the real interesting bits are the previously mentioned software install section and the available themes and art work section.

The first one offers two different software bundles aka meta-packages to get your system fully functional asap. A good compromise between including a whole slew of apps by default and adding everything bit by bit searching through Synaptic. On the other hand, you're of course stuck with somebody else's choices, but these are educated choices and include some of the arguably best programs around. The first set, the full collection, weighs in at 450 MB and includes many applications made popular by the GNOME desktop. The second set is only 168 MB and consists of lighter applications often also found with Xfce installations. Both come with VLC as media player.
All applications in the software section are installable with the Install Now button straight from the page, or can be downloaded for later use. The Download button even goes as far as to explain how to save the link. Now that is newbie friendly, no messing with apt-get or Synaptic for people just dipping their toes into Linux, and more familiar to people used to download their software from CNET or other websites for that other OS. Plenty of applications are available across several sections, with a Recently Added overview at the bottom for the veterans who would like to quickly check what's new. Brownie points.

The art section offers additional Gtk and Enlightenment themes, dozens of backgrounds with some real gems among them and some animated wallpapers in edj format (check the screenshots on this page for changes), and plenty of  icon sets nicely bundled up instead of installing them manually from gnome-look.org for example. Again, not necessary but nice nevertheless.
As it is all about the looks with this desktop, the Bodhi team also run a weekly screenshot competition for the best Enlightenment desktop of the week, and you can find some truly beautiful inspiring shots there, and I'm not even that creatively or artistically inclined. If you are, my suspicion is you can go wild here.

So what's the Verdict?
Actually, this was more than just a quick look, and it goes to show that I genuinely enjoyed playing with and exploring this distrolet.
I think it's got a lot going for it and introduces some interesting concepts. It is stylish. The one-click install from the Bodhi website paired with the Ubuntu base and good and easily accessible documentation and support channel are making it extremely user friendly and a good alternative to other friendly distributions like PCLinuxOS.
I almost regret not to have tested Bodhi several months ago, but that was because it was so new and I wanted to give it time to mature. It seems the frantic development payed off, and the decision to stick with an LTS base was definitely a good one. The infrastructure is all there now and looking at the team page it is obvious a lot of people got involved in what was in the beginning a one man project. It looks like Bodhi Linux is here to stay, and all the better as there is currently no other project dedicated to bringing Enlightenment to the desktop and keeping up with its releases in the way Bodhi does.

The thing with Enlightenment is that its metaphor is very different to any other window manager out there. People looking for refuge from GNOME Shell that still provides eye-candy, or something blingy that is lighter and a little less encompassing than KDE 4 will have to relearn how to interact with their entire desktop. If you are fine with that you might stick as well to the Shell. For me it always felt too different, and although enjoying the looks in the end always return to a more traditional desktop. All the animations and transitioning effects are cool, but too much bouncing and pulsating is seriously distracting if you want to get something done, and that is without compositing turned on. On top of that I have bad eye sight, and find usage of many effects at the same time irritating. E17 presents a serious learning curve, and so far I've seen no need to go through this. However, if you like it that much and are prepared to put in some time it can be seriously rewarding aesthetically.

If I had a spare netbook that only gets some casual use I'ld put it on there just for fun, but the truth is that I'll be visually less distracted and more productive in Xfce or LXDE.

Different icon set,  Bodhi logo fading in. Image thanks to the Bodhi website's art page.

The Bodhi team are going to release updates on a quarterly basis, and from what I hear version 2.0 is well in the works, adding ARM support for predominantly mobile devices and lower power consumption. I can't wait, Enlightenment on a phone or tablet could be just the ticket and seems like a natural home for it to me.

Read Jeff's blog here or follow him and announcements relating to Bodhi Linux on Google+.

13 comments:

  1. "Enlightenment is built on Gtk+" isn't true, E is build on EFL: http://www.enlightenment.org/p.php?p=about&l=en (look at "building blocks")

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Anonymous
    Thanks for that. Never too old to learn. Have corrected the text.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I played around with Jeff's (aka Jeff91) work for a while. Putting to one side the Jeff and team are all really nice guys, I found Bodhi was a lovely distro to use. The support from the team is prompt, even though they all have day jobs.

    Only reason I have decided to not stick with Bodhi (awesome name btw) Linux as my choice for home, is because Arch Linux was just simply better for me. Bodhi is minimal allowing the user to customise their environment and experience, but ArchLinux was just even more low level and outstanding documentation with ArchLinux.

    If it wasn't for Arch, I'd still use Bodhi.

    ReplyDelete
  4. If it weren't for PCLinuxOS lxde and WattOS R4, I would install Bodhi Linux on one of my two desktop rigs.

    I tried Bodhi 1.1 for about a fortnight and found it fast, sleek and refreshingly different. But I loathe eye-candy so I have opted for the simpler lxde.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @Zenettii
    I can certainly understand that, Arch is great for all that like you said and hard to beat. On top of that always up to date.

    Thanks for the comments so far guys.

    ReplyDelete
  6. i installed it on my usb-pen with Universal USB Installer to have a spare OS with me and its awesome for this use. :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. With the way Ubuntu is going Unity.....and the functionality Bodhi offers....EVERYTHING is customizable EVEN right and left click menus.....It really doesnt get any better. All the BS about lightweight distro for lower power machines etc....use Bodhi on a quad core...it runs EVEN quicker....

    Ubuntu, KDE DONT offer the speed of right click functionality BUT Bodhi offers that AND all the desktop candy that these offer......GO FOR IT!

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Zenettii
    I too love my Arch:) There is nothing like building and configuring your system from a base install. I learned a lot about Linux through a few Arch installs I bunked up!

    However, I also have room for Bodhi on my laptop. I have tried many E17 distros and have found Bodhi to be the most stable. I don't use it all the time, but when an E17 mood hits, I fire it up. Why not?

    ReplyDelete
  9. As a long time crunchbanger, I decided to give this a spin for fun. I tried an earlier bodhi and had some hardware issues off the bat - was too impatient to play with it.

    Then I tried this version of Bodhi (1.2), and I have to say, it is very comparable to crunchbang in system resources used, yet it's quite a bit flashier. It's also clear a lot of care has been put into it's aesthetic - nicely done. A distro that is light on resources and elegant at the same time is NOT so common.

    It's also very fast and responsive. I've not tried it as a production machine, so I can't personally attest to it's reliability/stability, but at first glance, it looks impressive. I think the people working on this distro are doing good things and I commend them.

    Peace

    P.S. As to the criticism about Bodhi, Linux has TONS of distro's. You can call them re-spins, or whatever. But if more than a handful of people find them useful - than that is the best that can be expected. Bodhi has a place - because people are using it and enjoying it. The beauty of Linux is it's versatility. There is no "right" Linux, only a community of creative free spirited people experimenting with computing. Bodhi is very much an expression of creativity and integrity - my 2 cents.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great! Thank you very much for your well-considered comments.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I have put installed on my older computer, it is only since 5 or 6 years old, it seem a little bit slow, so switch to LXDE. LXDE is win.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "I have put installed on my older computer, it is only since 5 or 6 years old, it seem a little bit slow, so switch to LXDE. LXDE is win. "

    ------------------

    I'm much the same. Have a 2006 Acer with 768 MG RAM. Ran Ubuntu GNOME 2x for years.

    Wanted to upgrade in Nov 2011 .... almost went for LXDE-based distro, but in test runs of Live CD ... run about 5-10 apps .... uses over 300 MG RAM.

    Tried my old friend ICEWm/ROX (in AntiX) ... in comparable tests, used about half the RAM.

    So back to ICEWm for me, am loving it!! Can't believe it's not more popular. Light as Fluxbox, much less nasty.

    ReplyDelete
  13. P.S.

    Tried Bodhi too, really cool, but found AntiX more comfortable

    ReplyDelete

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