When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie... Ah, I love that song. What I also love are Linux distributions that try to make computing a bit less serious and add a bit more “life” into it. moonOS, that recently reached version 3, is one of those distros that can light up your office days. Based on the latest version of Ubuntu (Jaunty Jackalope), moonOS 3 stands up from the crowd by using the artful Enlightenment desktop environment. Ready to download in a 691 MB Live ISO, moonOS 3 can also be taken for a spin straight from the CD without messing your partitions setup. If you do like it and decide it's deserving of your precious GBs, you are, of course, able to permanently install it.
But first, let me introduce you to the specifications of the beast that is my PC. :)
- Pentium 4 @ 2.4 GhZ
- 2 GB of RAM
- Asus ATI AH3450 with 512 VRAM AGP
- Samsung WriteMaster DVD-RW
Booting the Live environment is quite fast, no complaints there. But being the serious Distro Hopper that I am, I obviously chose to first install moonOS 3 to the HDD and then dive into the experience. Either you used Ubuntu before or you didn't, the installer is super easy and straight-forward. A few steps and you're done, regardless if you choose to use all the space on the HDD or decide to put moonOS alongside other OSes.
Once you are past the pretty bootsplash design, you get to the gorgeous and functional login screen, that unlike Ubuntu's, you can simply click on your username inside a list on the left and only type in your password. But it's quite possible that you checked the autologin box during install, in which case you won't see that screen at all and start straight from the desktop. Well, not exactly, cause the first time you boot moonOS, the Assistant will come up, asking a few questions such as whether you want to enable a root account or if you want “fortunes” inside the terminal.
A few seconds later, Enlightenment loads up and you're ready to explore! The wallpaper is an absolute pleasure to look at. With floral motifs, wavy lines and optimistic greens, your eyes will love it. On the top left of the screen, you'll find a “module” containing three huge icons (Home, Root and Desktop - you'll find the Install to HDD shortcut here) on top of an overview of all the partitions, mounted or not. The three icons are very useful, as Enlightenment, by default, won't let you place any files on the “real” desktop. Right-clicking will open a list with favorite applications, while the left click gives you access to a bunch of app and configuration menus. On the bottom of the screen, a panel (or shelf) allows you to switch between the four workspaces, access the main menu, check the time, increase/decrease the volume or switch between open applications. The right-hand side is occupied by a “dock-like” panel hosting app shortcuts, a nifty calendar, the battery meter and the Trash. It would've been nice if moonOS could actually detect whether you're using a laptop and display that battery meter in those cases only, as it is pretty useless to me. Of course, a right click + remove this gadget easily takes care of that. :) Like all the menus in the system, the dock is nicely animated as you hover the pointer over the shortcuts.
But, as I was opening different applications, I noticed that there are some serious graphical glitches. That's what I get for buying an ATI card. I deserve this! To my defense, this was the best I could get for my ancient AGP slot, so don't judge me too hard. Anyway, at least there are official drivers available for Linux, so I grabbed them, installed them and restarted the computer. Thank God (or any other deity), everything was working fine after that. Well, almost everything... Let me elaborate on that. This “HD” capable graphics card also has the ability to stream sound through the HDMI cable. Problem is, the drivers package also includes sound drivers so, somehow, they messed up the perfectly working on-motherboard Realtek sound device. The result? Stutter and high CPU usage whenever I was trying to listen to a song or watch a YouTube video. And that's not a moonOS issue, mind you, it affects all other distributions on which I have installed the proprietary driver. But, fortunately, digging on the Internet led me to a solution: blacklisting the ATI sound device; all seems to be in perfect order now. Phew!
Enlightenment is a very good desktop environment, but I do have some grievances with the default configuration. First of all, the focus follows the mouse, so if you have two windows open, like an OpenOffice document and an IM window, and the document is on top, moving the pointer above the IM window will “channel” the keyboard input to that. You might find yourself passionately writing a hateful email to your imaginary friend, knock the pointer to the conference you're having with your boss and... DISASTER! :) Then, to bring a window on top of another, clicking inside it won't work, you have to click on the titlebar. But, a trip to the focus settings takes care of all those problems. :) Being as configurable and customizable as it is, you can't really complain too much about Enlightenment.
But let's take a look at the software included in the default moonOS installation. First of all, MP3s and most video formats (including Flash in Firefox) play out of the box. Speaking of Firefox, 3.5.2 is not the latest, but I'm glad that it's from the 3.5 series. Pidgin 2.6.1 lets you voice- and video-chat with your XMPP buddies and also solves the Yahoo connection problems and XChat takes you directly to the official Ubuntu help IRC channel. Exaile handles all your audio files, but the non-functional Last.FM and Shoutcast Radio plugins were a big issue for me, so I had to install Rhythmbox. And how did I do that? moonOS borrows a few things from Mint, including the awesome software manager, here named moonSoftware. User reviews, comprehensive categorization and screenshots make choosing the right piece of software a pleasant task.
We also have OpenOffice 3.1.1 (complete with an inspired splash screen), Mozilla Thunderbird 126.96.36.199, an awesome virtual keyboard and per-application volume control. Thunar 1.0.0 handles file management in a lightweight, yet complete, manner and, to make things easier, the developers have included the “Open Terminal Here” and “Open Folder as Root” scripts in the context menu.
If you happen to get bored with all the green, there are dozens of cool looking themes online, easily accessible via the “Settings → Look → Themes” menu.
Screenshots are an important part of a Distro Hoppin` article, and I was quite disappointed to see that the PrtScr button does not link to the screenshot taking app. But, again, the highly customizable Enlightenment allows you to create key bindings for almost anything that crosses your mind so I simply linked the PrtScr key to the gnome-panel-screenshot command and the ALT+PrtScr combination to the “gnome-panel-screenshot –delay 5” one and I was set. Still, this definitely should've been added by default.
The resource consumption manages to stay within normal limits and 512 MB of RAM should be enough for day to day activities.
As good as the song?
Though you're probably tired of all these Ubuntu-based distros, don't hesitate to give moonOS 3 a try. The Enlightenment desktop environment has matured a lot and can provide a solid production platform if you're willing to forgive its bugs here and there. Also, a big plus is the fact that you can tinker with it in so many ways to best suit your computing needs. Last but not least, it's simply b e a u t i f u l, without asking for a monster machine.
Download links: moonOS 3 and MD5.