Sunday, 15 January 2012

Three Spins You May Not Have Heard Of

Always on the lookout for something interesting I found three more esoteric spins of major distributions and set out to give them a quick test run.
This was helped by a streak of bad luck recently which resulted in me suddenly having two partitions available.

To give you a quick run down on the string of events, I set out to upgrade my Fedora 14 LXDE (i686) install I intended to use for gaming. There's a well documented but unsupported procedure for Fedora called Preupgrade which allows to skip one release, in my part straight to F16. The software will then inspect your system, determine the packages that need to be upgraded, and download them into an archive that is installed at next reboot. You are warned that you need a wired connection if you just download the installer (Method 2), but that it's ok to interrupt package download to resume at a later time. I did just that half way through to attend some business, but found out later that somehow even initiating the download of updates without installing them had already corrupted or removed wireless drivers.

On top of that, Archbang finally after 15 months of rolling release seemed to get slower and bloated, and it had recently started to use a lot of memory (up to 600 MB), so I decided to start off fresh with a new install. That particular Archbang release, 2010.09, had several problems anyway, which is why an update was issued back then just a week later. I had managed to iron most of them out, but it always seemed to be very slow spinning the disks back up when on battery. The whole episode is giving me some room to experiment.

BEWARE! The openSUSE 12.1 KDE 3 Spin

This community spin offers 32-bit and 64-bit editions that you can get here, right near the bottom of the page. Both are using a very lovingly polished KDE 3.5.10 on a 12.1 base, an older unofficial 11.1 release can be found there as well but is really too old now. Both are following the proud tradition of installable live Cd's, giving you a chance to try before you buy so to speak.

I actually downloaded both, and both seem to suffer the same problems. Be careful when playing with these and best only use as live systems.
I still love KDE 3 as well, and this is one highly polished lovely olden desktop. Even the penguin in the framebuffer console has been replaced by a blue KDE with gears square logo, such is the attention to detail, and you log in to one smooth blue wallpaper. There's also a hidden easter egg in the KDM login screen. Most of the time it will appear with blue background just like the default wallpaper, but on one occasion I got a background with icy landscape and igloos in a Supertux'ish style with penguins walking back and forth, and one on top of the login manager window. Like the old package in KDE Toys.

Well, this was fun and made a good impression. How wrong can you be? Basically, the part dealing with the boot loader is completely broken. By default, in my configuration with 13 partitions, the boot loader was set to install to the beginning of the extended (logical) partition. What? Why? Changing that to the root partition for chain loading from MBR seemed to work but left both checked for installation, so I went back and made sure Extended was unchecked. It all looked good until reboot, when I was informed that no operating system could be found. So this unofficial openSUSE spin did not only NOT install Grub to where it was supposed to, it had also wiped out my perfectly good pre-existing boot loader configuration. [Update: According to a comment, see further down, this is a rare bug in yast2 and not specific to only the KDE 3 spin.] Added to what led me here I haven't had so much trouble in years. Next.

Salix 13.37 Fluxbox Edition

After above experience I felt slightly scarred and just wanted something that worked, so naturally we're gravitating back to the universe of Slackware derivatives. At least you can rely on sane defaults that will do what you tell it to.
The Salix Fluxbox edition is also available in 32 and x64 bit versions and features a streamlined ncurses Slackware installer. It's easy and straight forward and installs an image of less than 600 MB in about 10 to 15 minutes, including setting mount points, creating users etc. Basically it's like the main Salix edition, only with an even lighter window manager, and it works very well. The procedure to set up wireless for my Broadcom 4322x chip is the same as in Slackware which is also using Wicd, and because it's the same kernel version I just reused the broadcom-sta package I had created there and off we were.

OpenSolaris theme
The Fluxbox version is light and fast and I can only recommend it. Many different styles and backgrounds are included, and if you drop in some of your own from the little that you see of it will look even better.

Salix 13.37 Ratpoison Edition

This is more of the same, the Ratpoison edition is available in 32 and 64-bit versions and features this window manager on a slimmer Salix base with a somewhat adjusted choice of applications in keeping with the ultra light and only use the keyboard philosophy. This somewhat unusual spin only operates via keyboard commands, and there is not much to see as you're starting in a terminal in run level 3, go to the desktop with startx, and it's only the wallpaper there as Ratpoison does not have a desktop menu accessible by mouse.

The entire desktop is operated via the commands Ctrl+t, Ctrl+t+? for help, and basically all you'll see is the terminal with the Salix wallpaper shining through on the fringes at the right and bottom. It's educational and fun, and I recommend running it in a virtual machine for trying out as setting up wireless can be a bit of a challenge this way. Check out the User Guide for 13.37 (draft) with a section dedicated to getting you up and running with this window manager.


  1. Thanks for the info, but Ratpioson installer needs work, as does the ncursers Slackware..
    I appreciate the thought...

  2. The problem you reported about the KDE3 live is not directly related to the spin but to the yast2 live installer (+you seem to have a very special setup, in most cases it just works).

    Please be so kind and report a bug at


  3. Thanks Marcus for being so responsive. I had a look and they want people to register a Novell account, so I'll have to arrange for a disposable email address first and go back when more time.

    Cheers ~


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