Saturday, 23 March 2013

I've been trying a few new distros recently.

Ben reckons I change operating systems as frequently as many people change underwear. I HOPE that's wrong, because if so, there are a lot of seriously disgusting people out there, but I DO like to experiment.

I installed Pear Linux 6.0 32 bit 5 months ago (feels like longer) having run pear 3 as a trial distro alongside Sabayon and then moved across to Pear 4 about this time last year when Sabayon kept falling over (they sometimes ship mis-matched graphics drivers and kernels - I don't know why, but it's a long term problem). I've been happy with Pear mostly - it's reasonably quick, visually pleasing, does most of what I want. But it's also designed to look a bit like OSX, though with fewer annoying design flaws, and some versions of key software like DigiKam and GIMP were very out of date.

I happen to have a spare 320Gb western 2.5" drive (warranty replacement from my Macbook) so bunged that in the case and had a look around at what took my fancy.

Mint 14 KDE
This is a nice looking distro if you don't mind some of the same issues with Pear regarding old packages and slightly staid looks. It works really well from the 'box' with DVDs playing back, audio working correctly, recognising network connections and printers. DigiKam was at 2.8 (which was better than 2.5 in PL6) Libreoffice at 3.6 and KDE at 4.9. It's very nicely sorted to install, and went in painlessly. This is linux for the refugee from windows Vista, 7 and 8 who has a real hankering for XP again, but with modern functionality.

Also good - I hooked up a Fuji HS30EXR camera and it was immediately recognised, images imported into DigiKam and both .jpeg and RAW formats (RAF in this case) fully functional. The 3 images below including the woodpecker were all edited while I was trying Mint 14. However because this is an older version of DigiKam the correct data for correcting lens aberrations in RAW images wasn't available, and they showed distinct distortion.

Some of the standard KDE irritations were still present, like mounted DVDs not always ejecting predictably, but generally working very well indeed.

Open SUSE 12.3
I downloaded this on the first day it was released, just a couple of weeks back, and it was a big download at 4.3Gb plus another 340Mb for the non-free codecs etc (more of that later). Installation was reasonably easy, with a clean installer (new in this version IIRC) however it also failed to install the non-free software off the separate DVD despite that checkbox being ticked. It's really nice to have the option of different types of file system and security setup, so it offered Btrfs alongside ext for fs management and also LVM (which essential makes your HDD unreadable outside the OS).

This version has really upped the ante for SUSE IMO, with a much cleaner, darker desktop theme. All the usual KDE facilities to change EVERYTHING about the desktop and interface are resent and correct. Also correct were recent versions of software including KDE 4.10, DigiKam 3.0, GIMP 2.8.2 and Libreoffice 4.0. Kernel was at 3.7, and this seems significantly quicker than distros running 3.5.

The non-free codecs etc didn't install off the DVD, so a general hunt had to be made for libdvdread, LAME etc etc. In theory there's a one-click facility that should run the first time you try to play a DVD and fail, but the script that downloaded failed to work, so I had to manually add the repository for the non-free stuff & then choose to install. Not a problem for me, but a BIG issue for a total noob. Disappointing, because the guys at SUSE have put a huge amount of work in, and tried to make things like this work as easily as they can.

Next downer, importing images from the Fuji into DigiKam completely failed, and I had to copy/paste from the camera memory as if it were a USB drive to my hard drive. However the RAW file tools do include data for the HS30 to correct lens faults etc.

The same characteristics of KDE were present in openSUSE as Mint KDE, however KDE 4.10 felt a little slicker, possibly quicker, and looks classier in the SUSE livery. The toolbar icons and plasma control centre have been tweaked, and it *feels* more intuitive.

Sabayon 11
I have this love-hate relationship with Sabayon. It's the best of all the KDE-based distros, with the most bleeding edge software versions, sharpest screen images, greatest number of packages available and it just looks better than anything else.


This distro just isn't stable, and I know that at some stage an update will break it. Last time it happened when it was my main OS I had to go in and rescue all my data using the command line to transfer files to external drive. And because it forces the user to have their drive partitioned under LVM then it's not possible to simply access the HDD externally & recover data that way.

So I ran it as a live DVD.

Sabayon is home for me, as Linux Desktop environments go. It's like XP but better, screen fonts are the crispest you'll see in any Linux system, everything looks really good and, generally, everything works really really well. All the negatives that go with KDE still apply, but this is where my heart is. Even as a live DVD it was quick and responsive, and that's not common.

Pear Linux 7 beta 2 Corella
Which is what I'm typing this from tonight.

This is the latest and greatest pear Linux. It's what OSX might have been if they'd not made some bad design choices in window management, and it's nearly as quick, running off a standard HDD, as Mountain Lion is running off an SSD on my dual core Macbook. If you're a Mac lover and you've got a winbox laying around then do yourself a favour and install this as a dual-boot option when the final release is made.

New in this version is a better dock, a take on Time Machine (not tried yet) improvements to system tools and a good polish to the interface. Software versions have been updated, so it's running the 3.7 kernel (hence the speed lift) DigiKam 2.8, GIMP 2.8.2, Libreoffice 4.10.

It's being released in 2 versions: desktop and server, both 64 bit only right now. Once the release candidate is out then I shall migrate from Pear 6, adding in Thunderbird for email (Gearymail - who?) Audacity, something to rip CDs and a few other tools I've come to use along the way.


It looks & feels quite a bit like OSX. I also had to install libdvdcss manually, though that may be different in the final release. There are some inconsistencies (just as you find with OSX) with non-native applications not all conforming to the Pear interface. Overall though it's a good OS, and I'll probably stick with this for some time.

Nerdgasm over, normal service will be resumed shortly.

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